"The first shot was followed by a second, which very nearly did for the jollyboat, as, after striking the water, it bounded over her, smashing one of her oars, and knocking in her gunwale, happily hitting no one. Not wishing to be exposed to this sort of peppering, as shot after shot came in quick succession, giving us not a most agreeable kind of shower-bath, we at once dashed at the brig, I boarding on the starboard side, and Norris on the port. We fully expected to have some hot work, but on reaching the deck, not a soul appeared, and we found ourselves masters and, as we supposed, possessors of as fine a brig as I have ever seen engaged in the slave-trade.
"I could not help feeling, however, a little uncomfortable on recollecting the tricks the rascals are apt to play, and I half expected to find myself and my men hoisted into the air by the explosion of the magazine, when, as I was about to send below to examine the vessel, I heard voices in the after-cabin, and presently a Spanish officer in full rig appeared, followed by half a dozen men-of-war's men. He announced himself as a midshipman belonging to the Spanish man-of-war schooner which lay at anchor in shore, the same craft which had fired at us, and said that he had been put in charge of the brig, which had been captured by his vessel.
"'And pray, then, why did your schooner fire at our boats?' I asked, eyeing the young fellow narrowly, for I much doubted that he was really a midshipman.
"'Your boats were seen approaching our prize under suspicious circumstances in the dusk of evening, and you probably were taken for pirates,' he answered, quite coolly.
"'There was light enough when we were first seen to make out our ensign,' I answered. 'If that schooner is a man-of-war, her commander shall be made to apologise for the insult he has offered to the British flag.'
"'Of course he will, and if you choose to send on board you will find that what I have told you is the case,' he answered, biting his lips, as if, so I supposed, he disliked having his honour doubted.
"'Well, you will remain here, and I will send one of my boats on board the schooner. Should any treacherous trick be played, I shall make you answerable,' I said, eyeing him sternly. He did not quail, and I was pretty well satisfied that he spoke the truth. I accordingly ordered Norris to go on board the schooner and ascertain the facts of the case, and to tell the captain that I wished to see him immediately on board the brig; after he was gone, I felt no little anxiety as to the reception he might meet with. The Spanish midshipman, however, appeared at his ease, and accompanied me over the brig; I found that she was a brand-new vessel, having never before been to sea; she was laden with cotton goods, and had the planking for a slave-deck, with leaguers, and a large cauldron for boiling farina; indeed, she was in every way fitted for a slaver, and would, I felt sure, if we could not stop her career, bring back some seven or eight hundred slaves in her capacious hold.
"'She is a slaver, you will allow?' I said, turning to the midshipman.
"'A slaver!' he said, 'worse than that. She is a regular pirate; as such we captured her.'
"Notwithstanding what he said, I was convinced that she was simply a slaver, though the Spaniards are generally in no hurry to take such vessels. We returned on deck, and I kept my eye on my friend and his men.
"The brig's crew had all been removed, he told me.
"'We shall see them, then, hanging at your yardarm tomorrow morning,' I observed.
"'Oh no! we do not treat our prisoners in so summary a manner,' he answered.
"We paced the deck for some time together, while I turned a somewhat anxious eye towards the schooner, hoping soon to see Norris return.
"Norris, as I afterwards learnt, as he got near the Spanish schooner observed her guns pointed down at his boat, ready to sink her in a moment. Undaunted, however, he pulled alongside. No opposition was offered to his coming on board. When he got on deck he found the fighting-lanterns ranged along it, sixty marines drawn up with muskets in their hands and swords by their sides, and fully two hundred men at their quarters. At the gangway stood the captain, a thin, short, wizen-faced man, with an immense moustache, who, as Norris appeared, began stamping with his feet, and swearing roundly in Spanish—
"'Who are you? How dared you go on board yonder brig?' he asked.
"'I am an officer of her Britannic Majesty's frigate Plantagenet,' answered Norris, having a good notion of the proper way to meet such a fellow. 'I obey the orders of my captain. He supposes her to be a slaver, and if she is not, all I can say is, she is very much like one.'
"'She is not a slaver, but a pirate, and I have captured her under the same treaty that you English take slavers, and she is therefore mine and under my charge, and no one shall interfere with her.'
"'In that case, why did you fire at us, I beg to know?' asked Norris.
"'Because it was dark, and I could not see your flag,' answered the little Don.
"'You could have seen our frigate, and you must have known perfectly well all the time that the boats you were firing at were English,' replied Norris. 'My superior officer, who has taken possession of the brig, wishes to see you on board her immediately.'
"While Norris was carrying on this conversation, the Spanish crew looked so bent on mischief, and the moustaches of the marines curled so fiercely that he expected every moment to be attacked, and he saw his own men put their hands on the hilts of their cutlasses as if they thought the same. They would have had to contend with fearful odds, but I have not the slightest doubt that they would have made a good fight of it, and perhaps have got off scot free, though they had not a pistol among them.
"The Spanish captain considered a moment, and Norris heard him order his gig to be manned.
"'Well, remember that my superior officer expects you,' he said, and having no inclination to remain longer on board than was necessary, ordering his men into the jollyboat, he came back as fast as they could pull to the brig.
"He had just time to give me an account of what had occurred, when we made out a Spanish boat coming towards us.
"I should have said by-the-bye that alongside the captain was an Englishman, or a man who spoke English perfectly, and interpreted for Norris—or at all events, helped him out with the conversation.
"I stood with my men ranged behind me, their shirt-sleeves tucked up and their cutlasses in their hands, ready to receive my visitor. I determined to show him that I was not to be trifled with. After his impudent behaviour, he had no right to expect any courtesy from me, so I let him find his own way on deck.
"'Well, senor,' I asked when he appeared, followed by his interpreter, 'how did you dare to fire at my boats?'
"Instead of stamping and swearing as he had done when on board his own vessel, he was in a moment an altered being. Taking off his hat, he stood before me humbly bowing, and with his hand on his heart, declared that he much regretted what had occurred.
"'Indeed, senor, I had no notion that the boats I fired at were English, and took you for pirates, about to attempt the recapture of the brig.' This was said by means of the interpreter.
"'That's as big a bouncer as ever was spoken,' I heard some one behind me growl out. I don't know whether the interpreter thought fit to explain the polite remark to his superior.
"'As to that I have no means of judging, but how comes it that I find one of your officers on board this vessel? She is evidently fitted for the slave-trade, and as such she will most certainly be condemned,' I observed.
"'Of course! no doubt about it,' answered the Spanish captain, quite coolly, 'she is not only a slaver but a pirate, and discovering such to be the case I captured her, and I give you my word of honour that I am about to take her into Saint Jago da Cuba for adjudication.'
"'Of course I cannot doubt the word of honour of a Spanish officer,' I replied. 'I must consequently leave you in possession, and I only hope you will take care that she is condemned and her piratical career stopped.'
"'Oh, of course, senor. I will take good care of that,' he answered, again bowing, and putting his hand to his heart.
"I fancied that by the light of the lantern which fell on his countenance, I could see a twinkle in his eyes as he said this, and I felt strongly tempted to pitch him and his crew into their boat, cut the brig's cable and make sail. However, as I was compelled to take his word for the truth of what he asserted, I had nothing to do but to trundle with my men into our boats, and pull back to the frigate. Hemming approved of what I had done, though he agreed with me that it was all humbug, and that the Spanish captain pretended to have captured the brig for the sake of saving her from our claws. He determined therefore to watch the two vessels, and we accordingly hove-to to see what they would do.
"It was not till nearly dawn that the breeze came off the land, when we saw the brig stealing out, followed by the man-of-war schooner. The latter, by the bye, was a magnificent vessel, one of the largest schooners I have come across, requiring the numerous crew she carried to handle her enormous canvas. We at once made sail and followed them into Saint Jago, which is about thirty miles west of Guantimo. We there found that the Spanish captain had actually brought the brig to trial as a pirate, though, as he well knew, there was not the slightest proof that she was one. As the trial was likely to last some weeks, or, at all events, till we were out of the port, Hemming considered that it would be useless to remain, so we sailed again, and were on our passage round to Havannah when we sighted you."
Such was Adair's account of his adventure.
A breeze soon afterwards springing up, the Plantagenet proceeded on to her destination, while the corvette and brig, with the prizes, continued their course to Jamaica. It was not till the return of the Plantagenet to Port Royal, that Jack heard of the full rascality of the Spanish captain. On the arrival of the frigate at Havannah Captain Hemming laid a complaint before the Admiralty Court for the adjudication of slavers. He then discovered that the brig belonged to Pepe, or, as he was now called, Don Matteo, who had bribed the Spanish captain to keep by his vessel and to pretend to have captured her should an English man-of-war appear. On the acquittal of the brig for piracy at Saint Jago, the Spanish captain who had pledged his honour on the subject escorted her through the windward passage as far as seventy degrees of longitude, when she was out of the range of West India cruisers. Jack afterwards heard an account of her from a friend on the African station. She had then really become a pirate. She used to watch for the slavers after they had run the gauntlet of the British cruisers, and would then capture them, take their slaves out, and give them her cargo of coloured cottons in exchange. When she did not manage to fall in with slavers she occasionally took a run in on her own account, and her captain being well informed of the movements of the blockading squadron, she invariably managed to pick up a fresh cargo and get clear off again. Being, however, in no ways particular, if she had no cargo of coloured cloths, she would sink the slavers she took, with their crews, so as to leave no trace of the transaction behind.
Being armed with a long gun amidships and six long nines, not a slaver had a chance with her. It was not till long afterwards that Jack became acquainted with the last-mentioned particulars. She at length disappeared from the coast, and he could never hear what ultimately became of her. She was probably either burnt, or driven on shore, or, still more likely, she was capsized and went down with her living freight of eight hundred human beings.
THE TUDOR AND SUPPLEJACK AT TRINIDAD—JACK'S ACCOUNT OF HIS TRIP UP THE ORINOCO—THE VICE-CONSUL AND HIS BELONGINGS—A KNOWING PILOT—TOM BIT BY A TURTLE—TORTOISES—THE BRIG AMONG THE TREES—SPIDER'S ATTEMPT TO ESCAPE—THE MIDSHIPMEN GO IN CHASE AND LOSE THEMSELVES—BOARDED BY ANTS—NEARLY TAKE THE BRIG—SEARCH FOR THE MIDSHIPMEN IN THE FOREST—A NATIVE HABITATION—ANGOSTURA AND ITS PEOPLE—LAND THE CONSUL AND HIS BETTER HALF—RETURN.
The Tudor once more came to an anchor off Port of Spain, in the beautiful island of Trinidad. Terence Adair had been appointed to her as first lieutenant, and Higson as second; she was accompanied by the Supplejack, of which Rogers still retained the command, with Bevan as his senior officer, Jos Green as master, and Needham as boatswain.
The old shipmates were thus, much to their satisfaction, still employed together. As soon as the sails were furled, Murray went on shore, accompanied by Jack and Terence, taking with them Tom and Gerald. Higson had insisted on doing Adair's duty.
"Of course you will want to go and call on your fair cousins, and I never have been nor ever shall be a lady's man, so they would not be well pleased to see me in your stead," he said as he made the offer which Terence very readily accepted.
After Murray had delivered his despatches to the governor, he rejoined the two lieutenants, who had in the meantime gone to pay a visit to Antonio Gomez. They found the Don just starting out for his country house, and he, as they expected, at once ordered horses, and insisted that they should accompany him.
"Donna Caterina and her daughters will be delighted to see you, and would not pardon me if I did not bring you along with me," he said in a warm, hearty tone. "They will be anxious to hear all about their sweet friend Stella, and what you have been doing since you were here last. We some time ago received an account of Colonel O'Regan's death. Well! well! poor man, I confess it was only what I expected, he seemed determined to court such a fate; and I could never make out why a person who could honourably live at his ease at home should be so eager to knock his head against stone walls—however, the tastes of people differ."
The horses having arrived, the philosophical Don led the way, with Murray by his side.
The party received a hearty welcome, as before, from Donna Caterina and her fair daughters, and Terence as usual had a long conversation with the old lady about Ballymacree; he had, however, not much news to tell her; he had only occasionally heard from home, and the letters he had received were brief, stating simply that things went on as usual; Gerald, however, pleased her much by showing her the letter from his mother, in which she expressed her gratitude for the kindness he had received from his West India cousins.
Though they had not been informed of Murray's engagement to Stella, they very quickly guessed the truth, and by adroitly questioning the midshipman, ascertained all particulars as far as they were known.
Jack and Terence very nearly lost their hearts, as the young ladies were thus able to concentrate all those efforts to attract them, which might have been expended in vain on the young commander, but as they returned to their ships early the next morning they quickly recovered their usual serenity of mind.
"I am afraid they would be very miserable at Halliburton, and I somewhat doubt whether Mary and Lucy would quite like them as sisters-in-law," observed Jack to Terence while they were freely discussing the young ladies.
"May be, the dear creatures wouldn't be quite as happy as I should wish them to be at Ballymacree, seeing that they mightn't take altogether to our ways," said Terence. "So I don't think that I'll make the promise I was meditating, of coming back some day or other, when I am a commander for instance, and carrying one of them over to Ireland with me."
On returning to town Murray again called on the governor, who told him that he had received a communication from a certain Senhor Bernado Guedes, acting as British consul at Angostura, up the Orinoco, complaining of outrages inflicted on certain British subjects as well as on himself, and requesting that a man-of-war might be sent to punish the offenders.
"As the navigation of the river is, however, very difficult, I doubt whether a ship of any size could get up it, though, perhaps, the smallest of your vessels would be able to do so," he added.
Murray, of course, said that he should be happy to send the Supplejack up, should her draft of water not be too great, and that he could perfectly trust her commander, Lieutenant Rogers, to act with discretion in the matter. Senhor Bernardo soon afterwards made his appearance. He had not only come himself to make his complaint, but had brought his wife with him, without whom, he observed, he never moved from home.
He was not a very favourable specimen of a British consul, and it was difficult to say how he had attained the post. He was a short, dark-skinned personage, with apparently a mixture of negro blood in his veins. With considerable volubility, though in somewhat broken English, he repeated all his complaints, and finished up, requesting that he might be conveyed, with his wife, back to his home.
"But as we are not acquainted with the navigation, it would be impossible for the brig to go up without a pilot," observed Murray.
"Oh! dat sir, I will provide," he answered. "I will obtain the services of Anselmo; he knows ebery inch of de way up to Angostura, each sandbank and ebery snag, I might almost say."
"You saw the brig-of-war in the harbour, do you think she will be able to get up so far?" asked Murray.
"Oh yes, captain; your big ship even would get up as the waters are rising at present, sure. She might, to be sure, stick coming down, though," answered the consul.
"Thank you, I should prefer then not attempting to take her up," said Murray, laughing.
"Well, Captain Murray, I will leave you to make arrangements with the consul, and I conclude that Lieutenant Rogers will be ready to give this gentleman and his wife a passage?" observed the governor.
"I can answer for that," answered Murray, as he took his leave, accompanied by Senhor Guedes.
He returned to the quay.
"I conclude, Mr Consul, that you and your lady will be ready to go on board the brig this evening, as she will sail tomorrow morning by daylight," said Murray. "Where is Senhora Guedes residing?"
"She, my wife, is on board that schooner dere, the mail-packet, in which we came from Angostura. I left her locked up in the cabin," answered the consul.
"Locked up in the cabin!" exclaimed Murray, with no little surprise, beginning to suspect that Rogers would have curious passengers on board the Supplejack.
"Oh yes, sare, I always lock up my wife when I do go out, for she is young, you see, and it is the safest plan; she can then no run away herself, and no one can run off with her—that what I always fear. It make my life miserable at Angostura;" and this curious representative of the "majesty of England" shrugged his shoulders and made a grimace which showed the intensity of his feelings.
"Well, go and get your wife and your traps, and I will inform Lieutenant Rogers of the governor's wishes, that he should afford you and your wife a passage home."
"Thank you, sare," answered Senhor Guedes, bowing low as he strutted off to a boat, and returned on board the schooner, which lay at a short distance from the shore.
Murray had invited Rogers to dine on board the Tudor, and a very pleasant party the three old messmates had. They talked of times gone by, and enjoyed a hearty laugh at the description Murray gave of the consul and his fair partner.
"I shall be happy to give up my cabin to the lady, but I hope her husband won't lock her in it during the whole voyage; at all events, he cannot be afraid of any one running away with her while we are at sea."
"I wish you may at all events enjoy the company of your passengers," said Adair, laughing; "I want you to write me a full account of what occurs, or the chances are that by the time you rejoin us you will have forgotten all about it."
Jack, promising to comply with Adair's request, returned to the Supplejack somewhat earlier than he would otherwise have done, that he might be on board to receive his expected guests. He at once gave orders to his steward to clear out his cabin and prepare it for the reception of the consul's lady; however, as Jack faithfully fulfilled his promise to Adair, we have the opportunity of giving an account of the expedition in his own words:—
"I had been walking the deck for some time, thinking now of one thing, now of another, when a boat with two persons in the sternsheets came alongside, and answered to the quarter-master's hail—
"'Her Majesty's British Consul of Angostura and his family.'
"The accommodation-ladder had already been rigged in preparation for the arrival of these important personages. The sides being manned, the next instant a stout gentleman who must be, I knew, the consul, began to ascend, shoving up before him a veiled female figure. She, I rightly guessed, was his wife. I advanced to meet them, and was about to address the lady, when her husband informed me that 'She no speak English—and, as she is very tired, she wishes at once to go to her cabin.'
"I accordingly conducted the veiled lady below. From her figure, and a glimpse I caught of her countenance as the light from the lamp fell on it (as by chance, of course, her veil fell on one side), I saw that she was young and undoubtedly pretty, thus accounting for the jealousy displayed by her 'lord and master.'
"The old gentleman followed and remained for a short time in the cabin. When he came out I observed that he examined the door, and seemed rather nonplussed on discovering that there was no key with which he could follow his usual custom of locking up his better half. I invited him to walk the deck with me, that he might give me a fuller account of the circumstances which had occurred at Angostura, requiring the visit of a British man-of-war.
"He told me a long rigmarole tale of an attack which had been made on his house by a party of brigands, as he called them, from Venezuela, the chief object of which, as he suspected, was to carry off his wife; however, they, or some one else, had pulled down the consular flagstaff. A half-caste, who claimed to be a British subject, belonging to Trinidad, had been killed, and two or three others had been made prisoners. All the time he was speaking he was in a state of agitation, and soon hurried back into the cabin, to ascertain (as he said), whether his wife wanted anything.
"He supped with us in the gunroom, and though he played a very good knife and fork, he exhibited the same uneasiness, jumping up two or three times during the meal, to pay his spouse a visit.
"McTavish, who had not suspected the cause of his anxiety, remarked, 'that he had never seen more devoted affection displayed, and that he could not help admiring the old gentleman,' though he owned that he possessed very few other likeable qualities.
"For my own part, I did not anticipate much pleasure in the society of my guests.
"By break of day we got under weigh and stood for the 'Boca de Huevos,' or the Umbrella Passage. Till I consulted our sailing directions I had fancied that we might have made a short cut to the southward through one of the Serpent's Mouths, but the hot current which sets into the Gulf of Paria, caused by the immense mass of water flowing out of the Orinoco, would have effectually prevented us from gaining our object. The longest way round, therefore, was the shortest to our destination.
"A fresh breeze on our quarter enabled us to get out into the open sea sooner than I expected, when we stood along the northern shore of Trinidad to the eastward. We carried the breeze with us till we rounded the point of Galera. I should not have supposed that Trinidad is the fertile place it really is, from the appearance of its northern shore, which is that of an immense ridge of barren rocks. Not, indeed, till we were running down the eastern coast, did its rich and smiling valleys again appear in view.
"I had good reason to be glad that we had not attempted the Serpent's Mouth; for when standing across from the southern end of Trinidad towards the Orinoco the wind fell light, and we were nearly swept by the current back again into the Gulf.
"Even before we came in sight of the mainland, we found ourselves sailing through the brown waters of the mighty stream, which as we got nearer its many mouths, became almost the consistency of pea-soup, and we had to keep a lookout to avoid the huge trunks of trees swept out by the current, the ends of some of which, broken off by lightning or the wind, might have made an ugly hole in our bows. We stood for the centre and broadest entrance of the river, the only one through which we could make our way up against the current, and hove-to off the far from attractive looking town of Cangrayos—here we were to find, the consul informed me, the trustworthy pilot Anselmo.
"A signal having been made for a pilot, a canoe speedily put off from the shore, bringing on board a big mulatto, dressed in an excessively dirty white jacket and trowsers, with a broad-brimmed straw hat which had seen better days, on his head. He greeted the consul with a profound bow, and introduced himself to me as 'de pilot of de Orinoco,' who 'knowed ebery part of de river from one end to de other, and take up all de English ships which come dare.'
"'Well, Senhor Anselmo, do you think you can pilot this brig and carry her back again, without leaving her high and dry on a sandbank?' I asked.
"'Oh yes, sare, if she twice the size, I take her up all de same,' he answered with a scornful laugh at the supposition that he might not fulfil his engagement.
"'Senhor Guedes assured me that you were the best pilot to be found for the river,' I remarked. At his request we hoisted up his canoe, which contained a hammock and several articles which he had brought off to administer to his creature comforts. The only fresh provisions that we were able to procure at the place were three turtles, one of which was immediately put to death; the others were slung in hammocks, and secured to temporary stanchions fixed to the bulwarks; we kept the reptiles alive by covering them with damped swabs which were continually wetted as the heat absorbed the water. We had to wait till the next morning, when the sea-breeze set up the river, to enable us to stem the muddy current. The shores on either side, as far as the eye could reach, were covered with dense masses of mangrove trees which rose up out of the water, no firm ground being visible on either side; the scenery, indeed, was not attractive, though we supposed that in time we should come to something more interesting. It was satisfactory to find that we did make headway, though slowly.
"I have said nothing about Senhor Guedes and his better half. He allowed her to come out to meals; but he sat opposite to her at table, and fixed a glance at her all the time, and frowned savagely if he saw her for a moment turn her eyes towards me. Had I not suggested, for the sake of her health, that she should be allowed to come on deck, I believe he would have kept her shut up in the cabin for the whole voyage. When she did appear she was closely veiled, and he stood by her the whole time, looking expressively angry when any of the officers approached her, though as she did not speak English, few of them could exchange a word with her. Before we got into the river, he had some reason for keeping her in her cabin; for the poor lady was very ill. Several times I heard her Bluebeard of a husband scolding her fearfully, and I felt strongly inclined to pitch him overboard. She recovered rapidly when she got into the river, and was able to hold her own, and prove that she could scold as well as he could.
"I won't bother you with an account of our daily progress, which was as I have said, dreadfully slow. I had expected to witness grand and majestic views on the Orinoco, the second river in point of size in South America; but its very width is a drawback from any beauty it might possess; and although aware that the trees on either side are of great height, they are so far off as to appear like mere bulrushes growing out of the water, while the mountains of which we caught sight were at such a distance as to produce but little effect in the landscape. When the breeze was fresh we made tolerable way through the water, but directly it fell we were compelled to anchor, or we should have speedily been swept down, and lost all the distance we had gained.
"We had to bring up every night and for some hours during the day, so you will understand what toilsome work it was.
"I suggested one evening to Anselmo, that as he knew the river so well we might run on when the breeze favoured us during the night: he shook his head, answering, 'Oh no, sare, that is not to be done; we get into mischief; I only pilot for the day.' As the rascal was paid by the day he was in no hurry; nothing I could say would induce him to take charge by night. I tried what threatening would do, but he only smiled, as he well knew that he had us in his power.
"Having gone on deck some time after sunset one evening, and found a steady breeze blowing up the stream, I thought I would again try to overcome his resolution. I sent the quartermaster of the watch to look for him, but he was nowhere to be found. 'Anselmo!' was called along the lower deck; no answer came. At last, turning my eyes aloft I observed something unusual in the rigging, and there between the main and foremast was slung a hammock, in which the rogue had stowed himself. After he had been repeatedly hailed, he looked out of his eyrie, and getting into the main rigging came down. I asked him why he had taken up his berth aloft.
"'Because, sare, it dare cool and pleasant; no mosquito; plenty air.'
"He certainly was not likely to have been interrupted as long as the sails were furled, though had he suddenly awoke he would have run a great risk of toppling down on deck. Habit, however, is second nature, and he, I dare say, recollected, even in his sleep, where he was.
"Had I at the time known one of his peculiarities I should have kept a stricter watch on him that I had done hitherto. I soon, however, found it out. We were brought up one day for want of a breeze, when an American schooner loaded with hides came rapidly gliding down the stream. Anselmo begged to have his canoe lowered, as he said that he had friends on board whom he wished to see. I gave him permission, and after a brief visit to her he returned singing merrily as he got alongside, and his canoe again at his request was hoisted up. It did not occur to me to send any one to look into her, or to look myself. Soon afterwards the schooner was out of sight. After waiting for some time a breeze sprang up, and as we had not anchored in any great depth of water we soon got the anchor to the bows and made sail. Anselmo was more loquacious than usual. We had gone up a mile or two when I felt the vessel touch the ground. As the breeze freshened, however, she glided on, stirring up the thick mud at the bottom.
"I rated our pilot soundly, but he only laughed, observing, 'Oh, senhor capitan, that is noting.' I happened to remark that he made frequent visits to his canoe, and in a short time after I went below. When I returned on deck I found that he was completely drunk, and not willing to trust the brig any longer to his charge, as the wind also was falling, I brought up; of this fact, however, Anselmo did not appear to be aware, for he stood at his usual post conning her with the gravity of a post-captain who has royalty on board his ship. 'Starboard now,' 'steady,' 'port,' he sung out every now and then, while holding on by a stanchion to support himself, notwithstanding which he occasionally surged forward, and I thought would have tumbled over on his nose, while, of course, he afforded infinite amusement to the midshipmen and crew. We were unable to move again during the day. Notwithstanding his condition he managed to climb into his hammock and sleep away the fumes of liquor.
"Next morning he seemed greatly surprised to find that the brig had not made better way, and declared that she had dragged her anchor, as to his certain knowledge we had sailed on three or four hours after we had left the spot where we were now brought up.
"We had eaten another of our turtles. I had ordered the last to be killed, and was standing aft watching a large cow-fish which came sweeping by on our quarter, its snout and shining body rising just above the surface, when I heard a loud cry from Tom, and I saw him with one hand in the turtle's hammock dancing up and down, and crying lustily, 'Quick, quick! if you don't, he will have my thumb off.'
"I ran forward to his assistance, and found that having forgotten at which end the animal's head lay, he had intended, as he said, to give its tail a pull, when to his dismay the creature's mouth caught his thumb. With a boathook, fortunately at hand, I managed to wrench open the turtle's mouth and extract Tom's thumb. Had the creature been in full strength it would undoubtedly have bitten it off; even as it was, though at its last gasp, it had given him an ugly gripe, which necessitated his being under the care of McTavish for several days.
"Of animal life we saw but little, though birds of gay plumage flew across the stream, and cow-fish, porpoises, and other creatures gambolled in the waters. We met, also, several floating islands, composed of trunks of trees bound together by their branches, and interwoven by sipos or long vines. Sometimes they were even covered with grass, and on one of them was a jaguar still feeding on its prey, and not aware of the fate which to a certainty awaited it. The animal had probably leaped on the island to seize a deer which had taken refuge there, when the victim and its destroyer had been together swept away, the latter being afraid to venture into the rushing stream to make its escape. It was too far off to shoot; indeed, I had no rifle ready. When passing near the trees which grew in the water—for land was nowhere visible—I caught sight of flocks of herons resting on the branches.
"I went on one occasion, when we had brought up, in Anselmo's canoe, and in an hour killed a sufficient number of them to serve all hands for breakfast.
"Having consumed our last turtle we became badly off for fresh provisions, as we generally anchored too far from the trees to get a shot at a bird, or to catch any of the animals which inhabited them.
"Occasionally, however, we were visited by the canoes of the natives, who supplied us with bananas, cocoanuts, and the dried flesh of some large fish. The most welcome provisions they brought us were a number of small land-tortoises, a foot and a half or two feet in length, which were as delicate as anything I could wish to eat. As we got higher up, the river became somewhat narrower, and we thus frequently had to pass close to the trees.
"We had been making good way one morning with a fresh breeze, when as the day advanced the wind began to fall: still Anselmo encouraged us with the hope that it would get up again, and we continued our course under all the sail we could spread.
"As he appeared to be perfectly sober at the time, I had not, as I generally did, kept an eye on him, and therefore did not bring up as I should have done. Finding, however, that we were going astern I ordered the anchor to be dropped, and sent the hands to furl sails. The topsails and topgallant-sails had fortunately been handed, and the men were coming down from aloft when the brig swung right in among the trees, and the end of a thick bough which had been shivered by lightning, or broken off by a storm, ran through the head of the mainsail just under the gaff. There we lay with our fore-topgallant and topsail yards caught in the branches, and our mainsail securely locked.
"'A pretty job it will be to get clear,' I thought. Though at present the brig had suffered no great damage, she was in a position in which it would not have been satisfactory to remain long, and I therefore ordered a boat to be lowered to carry out a kedge. As it was necessary, however, first to clear our mainsail and yards, I sent some hands aloft with axes to chop away the network of vines, the nooses of which nearly caught two or three fellows and swung them off the yards into the trees.
"The most excited person on board was the midshipmen's pet, Master Spider. Seeing the green foliage overhead, he became inspired with the idea of visiting the haunts of his childhood. The owners, not thinking of this, had allowed him to be loose: up the rigging he sprang, with Tom and Gerald after him. They were very nearly as nimble as he was. He had reached the fore-topgallant-yard, close to which temptingly hung a mass of vines just such as one might suppose he had been accustomed to swing in, in his early days: into it he sprang, and began to climb one of the many widespreading branches to which the vines were attached. Tom and Gerald, afraid of losing him, followed and were soon lost to sight among the dense foliage. I did not myself see this, but supposed them still to be among the men on the yards, for I was busy at the moment in getting the boat lowered, and pointing out the direction in which the kedge was to be carried. Calling the men down, I ordered them to haul away on the warp to get the head of the brig out again into the stream. While, however, the branch was fixed in the mainsail, this could not be done. Needham, who saw what was necessary, called for the assistance of the pilot, who was a wonderfully strong man, and having lowered the peak, the two put their shoulders under the boom, and by a wonderful exertion of strength lifted it out of the crutch and let it run forward. At that moment a large mass fell from the branch on deck: I turned round to ascertain what it was, when I saw issuing from the fragments myriads of large ants, which went crawling all over the deck.
"'Oh! they will bite us to death,' exclaimed Anselmo, making a bolt up the rigging. Needham, who had already had his feet attacked, followed his example; the consul, who had been sitting on deck with his wife, well knowing the biting powers of the creatures, seized her round the waist and attempted to carry her down the companion-hatchway, but in his terror he let her go by the run, and she lay shrieking at the bottom, for she was much hurt, while he pitched down headforemost after her, a whole army of ants following. The deck literally swarmed with them; the creatures came creeping forward, attacking our shoeless feet and biting in a most frightful manner. For the instant I thought that they would have driven me and my crew overboard; the men at the warp quickly recovering hauled away as before, though they were unable to withstand stamping and leaping in their vain efforts to free themselves of the fiery pests. We had managed to get the brig free of the boughs, when I bethought me of attacking the creatures with water, and ordering all the buckets to be filled, we immediately began deluging the decks, the ants which still remained on it being quickly swept through the scuppers. Numbers having, however, already gained the hammock-nettings and rigging, it was no easy matter to dislodge them. Bevan, with the boat's crew, who had gone off with the kedge, fortunately for themselves, escaped; and he told me afterwards, that not knowing what had happened, he fancied for a moment that we were all gone mad, from the curious way in which, I setting the example, every one on board had begun suddenly to leap and skip about. A gouty gentleman, subjected to the discipline we went through, would quickly have been cured of his complaint. Our next puzzle was to get rid of the creatures in the rigging. I partly accomplished the task by sending hands into the tops with buckets, who dashed the water down in every direction. To clear the cabin of them, however, was a more difficult task; as soon as the deck was somewhat free, I went down below, where, from the conversation I heard, with occasional cries which proceeded from the cabin, I guessed that the consul and his wife were employed in freeing their persons from the pests. Senhor Guedes presently afterwards appeared with a basin, in which were floating countless numbers of the slain; still I saw them crawling about the cabin in every direction, and it struck me that the youngsters might be usefully employed in catching them. I accordingly sent for them, when, to my dismay, I was told that they were nowhere to be found. At last one of the topmen said that he had seen them chasing Master Spider among the boughs of the forest. A vision of jaguars, venomous sea snakes and other reptiles, rose up before me, and I began to fear that they might have met with some accident. We looked towards the forest, but they could nowhere be seen. We shouted to them to show themselves, but no answer came to our repeated hails. I immediately ordered Anselmo's canoe to be lowered, and as soon as the brig had been brought safely to an anchor at a distance from the trees, I paddled off to look for them. I was quickly under the boughs, but as far as my eye could reach water alone was to be seen, with huge trees apparently growing out of it. By sounding I found that the depth, even some way in, was fully six feet. Again and again I shouted, but got no answer, and as for seeing anything above my head, that was impossible, from the mass of sipos, as Anselmo called them, or vines, which hung in festoons from the branches of the trees, uniting them in one vast network. I began to fear that the youngsters had, in their hurry to overtake Spider, slipt from aloft and fallen into the water, where they might have stuck in the mud, or been carried off by some voracious alligator watching for his prey. Going a little farther, I again shouted, when a cry came from among the branches above my head: I looked up, expecting to see the lads, but could not make them out. At last I distinctly heard Tom's voice, exclaiming, 'Here we are, sir, but Spider will hold on by the boughs with his tail, and we cannot get him along.'
"'But that is nothing, sir,' added Gerald. 'We are surrounded by hundreds of monkeys, and are afraid that they will carry him off if we let him go again.'
"'Wring his neck and pitch him down, and then come down yourselves,' I shouted out, losing temper.
"'That's not so easily done, sir,' cried Gerald. 'The monkeys may take it into their heads to carry us off.'
"'No fear of that,' I shouted out; 'tie Spider's tail over his head and you will easily bring him down by some of these vines. If you happen to fall into the water I will pick you up.' The youngsters did as I directed them, though Spider showed fight and bit Gerald while he was trying to perform the operation. Tom, however, very wisely thought of tying his handkerchief over the monkey's head, and now dragging him along they began to make their way down to the lower branches. Not being able, however, to ascertain how near the vines reached to the water, they came down by some which hung eight or ten feet from the surface. This was too great a height to drop from into the canoe. Supposing that I was losing patience, and that I might punish them for their freak, they let go, and monkey and midshipmen came down by the run into the water, where the three adventurers cut a ludicrous figure, splashing, spluttering, and kicking till I got up to them. The latter were not much the worse for their ducking, but the monkey was very nearly drowned before I had helped him out. 'We have got Spider anyhow,' sung out Tom, not holding me in much awe, but Gerald took matters more seriously.
"'Faith, sir. We could not help it,' he exclaimed, 'the baste of a monkey would set off to join his brothers in the bush, and if we had not gone after him they would have made a hathen of him to a certainty.'
"'I suppose, then, Master Gerald, you consider that he has become a Christian under your instruction?'
"'Well, sir,' answered Gerald, looking up with a comical expression, which reminded me of an old shipmate of mine, 'he is as good a Christian, any how, as many who call themselves so, and considering that he has got a tail he is a remarkable civilised baste.'
"'Well, I will overlook your offence of quitting the ship without permission,' I said, trying to keep from laughing. 'You were not aware probably that you were to be left among the tops of the trees when we hauled off from them? I don't accuse you of intending to desert.'
"'Thank you, sir. We will promise not to go monkey-hunting again, without your leave,' answered the two midshipmen in chorus.
"As I was in no hurry to get on board, and the youngsters were not likely to suffer from sitting in their wet clothes, I paddled away for some distance among the trees. The greatest number were palms, but there were others of all descriptions, of which I am unable even to give the names. After going a little way we came to a somewhat more open space, when we heard a peculiar chattering overhead, while showers of sticks came pattering down on our heads. On looking up to ascertain the cause, we saw, high above up, among the tops of the tallest trees a whole clan of large bushy-tailed monkeys; there must have been a hundred or more, some old, and some young, gambolling about and playing all sorts of pranks. No sooner did they catch sight of us than they stopped, and scampered off helter-skelter, the old ones catching hold of the young ones in their arms, all equally anxious to make their escape. Some took prodigious leaps, catching the branches with their long tails, and, after a swing or two, throwing themselves to another branch, and so made their way amid the boughs till the whole of them were quickly lost to sight. They, however, had not gone far, when Tom's quick eyes detected several bushy faces grinning out from among the boughs where they had concealed themselves. We paddled on a short distance and then remained quiet, when in a few minutes, first one bolder than the rest came out from his hiding-place, and then another, and another, uttering sharp cries; presently the whole troop came back, and began amusing themselves as before, the spot for some reason or other suiting their tastes. It was great fun, I confess, and Tom and Gerald enjoyed it immensely. They declared that the monkeys were the same fellows who came to look at them and had threatened, as they supposed, to make them prisoners. I had paddled for some distance into the forest when I considered that it was time to turn back, for the sun was getting low; it was just possible that I might lose my way, and I suspected it would be no easy matter to find it in the dark. How far the water might extend over the country I could not tell, probably for miles and miles. I had begun, as I believed, to direct the head of the canoe towards the brig, steering by the rays of the sun, which still came across the forest and struck the topmost boughs of the trees, of which I occasionally caught a glimpse, when presently Tom caught sight of some tempting fruit like plums, which hung from the branches almost within our reach. I tried to get at them with my paddle by standing up in the canoe. On finding this impossible, Tom and Gerald volunteered to climb along the branch, when they managed to get hold of a good number, which they threw into the canoe, though, by-the-bye, they very nearly toppled down head foremost into the water when making the attempt. I tried the plums and found them excellent. Knowing how welcome they would be on board, we took as many as the canoe would hold: no one enjoyed them more than Spider, who munched away at them with amazing gusto, till his masters declared that he would burst if he took any more. Some time was occupied in gathering and eating the plums. We had turned about so often that when I began to paddle back, on my life I could not tell which direction to take; not a gleam of sunlight could I see on any of the trees, and before we had gone far the gloom of night began to settle down among the tall trunks. I did not wish to spend a night in the forest, with a chance of being capsized by an alligator, or cow-fish, or grabbed by an anaconda.
"'Well, at all events, we shall not starve,' said Tom; 'these plums are very pleasant after the salt pork and dried fish we have had between our teeth for the last few days.'
"'You forget the turtle soup and the tortoises.'
"'We did not have a very large share of the former in the gunroom,' answered Gerald, 'and the tortoises were such ugly looking beasts that we did not take to them kindly.'
"'That was your own fault then,' I remarked; 'I should advise you to try the next you get sent in, and you will find it superior to fish, flesh, or fowl, dressed according to a receipt Senhor Guedes gave the cook.'
"On going round the spot where we fell in with the plums, I discovered the branch on which we had first seen them, and recollecting its position, I was able to pull on in the direction we were then taking. Thinking that we might be possibly near enough to the ship to be heard, the midshipmen and I shouted at the top of our voices, but no reply came; indeed, among those huge trunks, sounds penetrate to no great distance. Still hoping to reach the brig, I persevered, as far as I could judge, in the same direction. I felt that with all the scientific knowledge possessed by the white man, how helpless he is in one of those mighty forests, while a native would have found the way without the slightest difficulty.
"Monkeys poked out their heads from the boughs on which they nestled and chattered at us; macaws, parrots, toucans, and other strange birds, screamed at us, and Gerald and Tom declared that they saw huge snakes wriggling along the branches, and about to drop down and attack us, but I suspected they were merely sipos, which, seen in the uncertain light, as we went along, appeared to be moving. At last I began to fear that we should not find the brig till daylight, and should have to pass the night in the forest. The canoe, laden as she was with plums, not allowing us space to lie down, I proposed, if we failed, after a further attempt to find the brig, that we should look out for a tree with widespreading branches, into which we could climb, and remain till daylight.
"'But pray don't think of such a thing,' cried Tom; 'we should have a whole troop of monkeys down upon us, and be carried off in our sleep by an army of anacondas.'
"I laughed at his fears, though I thought that we should very likely be attacked by ants, such as had almost taken the brig from us. I never like to be beaten in an object should it seem possible of attainment, and so I persevered, and again we all shouted, but with the same want of success as before. I thought that very possibly by this time we might be two or three miles away from the brig, just as likely as near her, for I confess I was extremely doubtful as to the direction we had taken.
"'Well, youngsters, I am afraid there is no help for it,' I remarked; 'if you do not like to sleep among the branches, we must run the risk of turning our plums into jam. We will make the canoe fast to a tree, and try to get some rest. One at a time, however, must keep watch, though I don't think we run much risk of being attacked by human or savage foes.'
"I was looking out for a branch to which to make the painter fast, when Tom declared that he saw a light far off between the tall trunks. By moving a little on one side, I also caught sight of it, and at once paddled away in that direction. It grew brighter as we advanced, and appeared to be elevated some little distance above the water. I was very certain that it could not proceed from the brig; it seemed, indeed, to be produced by a fire, but how a fire could exist in such a place, it was puzzling to say, unless it was on the bank of the river, or on an island elevated some height above the surface of the water. At all events, we were likely to meet with human beings, who, if natives, would probably be able to pilot us back to the brig.
"I told the youngsters to keep silent, and paddled cautiously on. It was necessary, indeed, to be very careful, for fear of capsizing the canoe against a floating log or projecting branch, unseen in the darkness. After going on for some distance, what was our surprise to find directly ahead a large platform, secured to the trunks of several lofty palms, elevated about six feet above the water. A fire was burning in the centre, round which were seated a number of dark-skinned natives, with scarcely a particle of clothing on their bodies. Above the platform was a roof of palm leaves, below which were hung a number of hammocks, of various sizes, the small ones containing children, and under them were a variety of other articles, while two canoes were made fast to the crossbeams which afforded support to the structure. The flames from the fire lighted up the figures of the natives, and cast a ruddy glare on the trunks of the trees, the dark foliage, the surrounding water, and on our canoe. As we approached, the men perceiving us, started up and seized their lances. Guessing that they understood Spanish, I shouted 'Amigo! amigo!' and paddling on towards them, they were soon satisfied that we came with no hostile intent; and as Tom made fast the canoe to a ladder which rested against the platform, they stretched out their hands to assist us up. Though unable to speak any language but their own, they seemed to comprehend that we were officers; and when I uttered the word 'navio,' they nodded to show us that they knew we had come from a ship out in the river, and that we wished to return to her. As I had no wish to pass the night among them, I tried to explain to them that I would reward them well, if they would at once pilot us back. After some time I got them, as I supposed, to understand my meaning, for they again nodded their heads, and pointed in the direction from which we had come, showing me, that when I fancied I had been paddling out towards the stream, I had in reality been directing my course inland.
"They offered us some of their meal, consisting of broiled fish and cakes, made, I suspect, from the flour, or pith of the very palm-trees on which the platform was erected. They gave us also some palm-wine; we did not ask how it was made, but it tasted very well. Indeed, our hosts showed every wish to be friendly. The flooring of this strange habitation was, I found on examination, composed of the split trunks of small palms; the hearth consisted of a mass of clay thick enough to prevent the heat from injuring the wood below. The people I afterwards found from the consul, belonged to a tribe of the Guarinis, who are the only inhabitants of this submerged region of the Orinoco. When the waters subside, they take up their abode on shore. Their only vegetable food is what they obtain from the palm-trees, and they subsist generally on turtle, tortoises, and the flesh of the manatee or cowfish, and other fish, which they spear or take with nets. Some of the young women were pretty good-looking, and wore scant petticoats made of the cabbage palm leaves, but the men had on little more than a belt round the waist with a few leaves hung from it.
"As I was afraid that my people would be going in search of us, and very likely lose themselves, I made the natives understand that I should be glad to take my departure; they nodded, and two of them got into the smallest of their canoes and paddled a little way, to show that they were ready to pilot us. Shaking hands with all round, the youngsters and I got into our canoe and followed our guides. I had to exert myself, however, to keep up with them, but as I knew that where they went my canoe could pass, we made good way. We had gone some distance when the sound of a gun reached us echoing from trunk to trunk throughout the forest, but it was not easy to ascertain from what direction it came, and had I been alone, it would scarcely have served to guide me. The natives, however, paddled on in their former course, showing me that they knew perfectly well what they were about. We soon came out into an open part of the river, a short distance above where the brig lay, and I at once made out her spars rising against the sky.
"Our absence had caused some anxiety to Bevan and the rest. He had just lowered a boat and was about to send Norris and Needham to look for us. The natives were well satisfied with the reward I bestowed on them, not so Anselmo at seeing it given.
"'One bullet through the head or poke with a pike, good enough for dem,' observed the rascal.
"I resolved the next time I went plum-picking to carry a compass, and to get back before the sun should sink below the tops of the trees.
"By-the-bye, the sun is often not to be obtained as a guide, for I afterwards visited parts of the forest where even his rays could not penetrate.
"We got under weigh the next morning as soon as the sea-breeze reached us, but again Senor Anselmo managed to get drunk as a fiddler, and after we had nearly been run on shore, I was obliged to bring up, a fact of which he was totally unaware. There he stood at his usual post, shouting out to the helmsman, 'Starboard! port! steady!' and at last, as grave as a judge, he observed to me—
"'It's time to bring up, captain; us no make headway, I see.'
"'I should think not, mate,' said Needham, 'vessels don't often go ahead with the anchor down. We are not going astern either, as we did yesterday, eh?'
"It would have been useless to flog the fellow or to put him in the black-list, for he would probably have slipped into his canoe, and left us to find our way as best we could; besides, when he was sober, he was as good a pilot as could be desired. I determined therefore to bear with him and to keep liquor out of his way. I was fortunate in finding his calabash, which I hove overboard, and gave notice that I would flog any man who supplied him with liquor beyond his portion. This had a good effect, and Anselmo kept sober for some time afterwards.
"I made frequent trips in the canoe, taking the youngsters, and always returned with a good supply of plums. We fell in with several families of the wild natives I have described. They seemed quiet and well-disposed, though somewhat low in the scale of humanity.
"I should like to give you an idea of the sort of scenery we met with. Starting from the ship, we began to force our way under the branches and amongst dense bushes, till we got into a part where the trees were much loftier, and the lower branches were level with the surface of the water, most of them covered with flowers. Besides the plums we found bunches of delicious fruit growing on the branches of a smaller species of palm. Frequently we heard the rattle of leaves overhead and caught sight of troops of monkeys peeping down among the thick foliage. Paddling on among the lofty trunks which rose like columns out of the water, presently down came a shower of leaves, and on looking up, we discovered a flock of parrots or a family of trogons, large gaily-coloured birds, with clamorous voices and heavy flight, who made the branches shake as they alighted to seize the fruit pendent from them. Palm-trees of various species prevailed; there was no underwood, or it had been destroyed by water, but the sipos or vines hung in dense masses among the upper branches. I wish that I could describe the wonderful birds we saw, one perfectly black, with a headdress like an umbrella, while some lovely specimens of the feathered tribe had white wings and claret-coloured plumage. Flowers were of all hues, and of immense size; some of the more lofty trees were literally covered with clusters of rich golden flowers. On the decayed trunks we caught sight of crabs of every variety of tint and size, watching for their prey, while butterflies and dragonflies of gorgeous hues flitted amid the more open spots wherever the sunlight found its way, some of the latter with crimson bodies and black heads and burnished wings, others with green and blue bodies. A fine region this for frogs, but many of them live in trees, finding, I suppose, that they are likely to be gobbled up, if they keep, as frogs in northern countries do, in the water. As night drew on, we heard them 'hoo-hooing, quack-quacking,' keeping up the strangest concert imaginable; indeed, had not the consul assured me that frogs produced the noises, I should have supposed that they were caused by some species of nightbird; however, I am, I confess, no great hand at description, nor had we a naturalist on board, or I might have given you a better account of the various trees and curious things we met with. Now and then we caught sight of an alligator, but the monsters generally betake themselves to pools and quiet places, while the waters are, as at present, at their height. By-the-bye, we did pass a town, which was seen in the distance. I did not touch at it, but Anselmo informed me that the inhabitants were engaged in a little civil war of their own, murdering each other to their hearts' content. Had we had time, I dare say we might have supplied ourselves with monkey and sloth-flesh, opossums, snakes, crabs, and a variety of birds, but I doubt whether the crew would have appreciated the exertions of the sportsman. At last Anselmo informed me, much to my satisfaction, that we were drawing near to the termination of our voyage. The trees receded to a distance, and on either side of us appeared fields of grass, I should think, nearly a mile in width. Though web-footed birds here and there stalked over it, not an animal was to be seen; the reason of this was that the grass floated on the calm surface of the water. I should think we must have sailed through at least fifteen miles of it. At last we came to off the town of Angostura. Though not a place possessed of many attractions, I never dropped anchor with more satisfaction.
"I was not sorry to get the jealous consul and his veiled lady out of the ship, for, as you may suppose, I wanted to be back among more stirring scenes, and escorted him and his wife on shore at the head of a score of bluejackets and five marines, to make as imposing an appearance as I could. Having seen him reinstated in his abode, and the consular flagstaff set up again with the flag of old England flying from it, I delivered my despatches from the Governor of Trinidad to the chief authority in the place, and informed him that the Majesty of England must not be insulted in the person of one of her consuls.
"'But Senhor Guedes is very jealous of his wife, and that is all about it,' answered the governor of Angostura, who, I found to my surprise, was able to converse pretty freely in English. Such, I had suspected, was the case, and I could not help feeling that I had been sent up on a fool's errand.
"From the appearance of Angostura, I fancied that it must have been a place of some importance in the past days of Spanish glory, but like every other former dependency of that unhappy country, it everywhere shows marks of decay. There are churches and priests, but the best thing it can boast of is a very good market, in which being able to supply all our wants, we revelled luxuriously on fresh provisions during our stay. The town also can boast of the very fattest negress I ever set eyes on; she would make her fortune in an exhibition in England or America. The midshipmen asked Needham if he would like to marry her.
"'Bless my heart, no, young gentlemen; she's big enough to be the wife of six men, twice my size,' he answered.
"I can think of nothing else to tell you about this remote city. It has some commerce, for there were three or four American vessels in the harbour loading with hides.
"Having paid farewell to the obnoxious consul, who, shedding a flood of tears, gave me a hug which nearly drove the breath out of my body, I returned on board, and ordering the anchor to be weighed, directed Anselmo to pilot us back the way we had come, and 'mark me, my friend,' I added, 'if you get drunk, and run us on shore, I will give you three dozen as sure as you are a living man.'
"'But, cap'n, I would no' do that same, on no account,' he answered, with a bland smile; however, I had given Needham instructions to keep a watch on him, and to throw overboard any liquor he might have stowed away. Three or four cocoanuts full of rum were discovered among his traps, the contents of which were started, and water substituted. It was amusing to see Anselmo's face, when he found out the trick that had been played him.
"'Never mind, pilot, it's better to go without your grog than have a taste of the cat,' observed Needham, patting him on the shoulder, 'when you get home you shall have enough to keep you drunk for a week; at least, you will then be ready to pilot another of her Majesty's ships up the river, if one of them ever comes this way.'
"As we could now sail or drift on all day by sending the boats ahead occasionally to tow us off the trees, we made good progress, and soon reached the mouth of the river.
"Though our trip was not destitute of interest, I can only hope that I shall never be sent up the Orinoco again."
Terence thanked Jack for this description of his trip when they next met, which they did off Georgetown, the capital of British Guiana, at the mouth of the Demerara river. Its gaily painted wooden houses, with broad verandahs, raised on supports some feet above the ground, its canals and dykes, and numerous windmills, might make it easily mistaken for a Dutch town, were it not for the tall palm-trees which rise in its midst and the rich tropical scenery around. Here the corvette and brig remained for some days, and then sailed to join the squadron ordered to rendezvous at Rio.
A bright lookout was kept for slavers, which, notwithstanding the treaty lately made by the Brazilian Government with England, were known to swarm on the coast; the local authorities, like those of Havannah, encouraging the nefarious traffic, which put thousands of dollars into their purses.
THE CORVETTE AND BRIG PART COMPANY—THE FORMER CHASES A SUSPICIOUS SAIL—CAPTURES A FULL SLAVER—ADAIR IN CHARGE—TAKES PRIZE TO BAHIA—AN IMPORTANT WARNING—PREPARATIONS FOR AN ATTACK—ANECDOTE OF LIEUTENANT WASEY—THE SLAVE-DEALERS ATTEMPT TO RETAKE THE PRIZE—GALLANT DEFENCE— ENEMY DEFEATED—THE SUPPLEJACK APPEARS IN GOOD TIME.
The Tudor and Supplejack had crossed the line, and had got some way to the southward, when a heavy gale came on, such as is not often experienced in those latitudes. It blew with especial fury during the night. Murray hove the corvette to, and believed that Jack would have done the same, but when morning broke, and the brig was nowhere to be seen from the deck of the corvette, he could not help feeling somewhat anxious on the subject. During the day the weather moderated, and a lookout was kept for her from aloft. Two days passed, however, and she did not appear. The wind was from the north-east, and he hoped by a quick run to Rio to have his anxiety soon brought to an end by finding that the Supplejack had arrived before him.
Morning had just dawned, the breeze was fresh, the tops of the seas sparkled in the rays of the rising sun, when the lookout from aloft shouted, "A sail on the lee bow!"
"What is she?" asked Adair, who was officer of the watch.
"A brig, sir," was the answer.
"Is she like the Supplejack?" he inquired.
"Can't say, sir. She is anyhow running to the westward, and the Supplejack would be steering to the south."
"You are right. Call the commander," said Adair to Desmond. The youngster had rejoined the ship at Georgetown. He himself then went aloft with his glass, to have a look at the stranger. By the time he came down Murray was on deck.
"She is certainly not the Supplejack, and, as she is running in for some Brazilian port far to the northward of Rio, she may possibly be a slaver."
"We will overhaul her, at all events," said Murray, and the corvette, bearing up in chase, made all sail she could set.
The stranger did not at first discover that she was pursued, and by the time that she did so the corvette had gained considerably on her. She was then seen to be a large brigantine, and by her square yards and white canvas, lighted up by the rays of the sun, Murray was more than ever convinced that she was a slaver.
The chase had set all the sail she could carry, and still kept well ahead of the corvette. The weather, as the day advanced, gave signs of changing, dark clouds gathered in the sky, and squalls, not very strong at first, but sufficient to make the commander look with anxious eyes at his spars, swept across the ocean—the dark clouds as they rushed along changing the hitherto blue, laughing waves to a leaden hue. Still the corvette persevered. The crew were at their stations, ready to shorten sail the moment it became absolutely necessary. The eagerness of the chase to escape made it still more probable that she was a slaver. She was dead before the wind, carrying topgallant-sails and royals, and studding-sails on either side. A dark cloud passing over her threw her into shade; on it went, and once more the bright rays of the sun falling on her canvas brought her more clearly into view; another squall swept by, making the corvette's studding-sail-booms crack and bend as if they were about to break away from the braces.
"Hold on, good sticks!" cried Murray, apostrophising them, "the toughest spars will win the day."
The crew cast their eyes aloft, fully expecting to see them carried away, but they held on, and the trim corvette went dashing forward amid the dancing seas, which rose up, foam-crested, on either side.
"Hurrah!" exclaimed Terence, "she is ours!" At that moment the squall had reached the chase, and away flew her studding-sails, the booms breaking off at the irons. Still she held on her course. The corvette was now rapidly gaining on her; the attempt was made to rig another lower studding-sail, but that also was carried away almost as soon as set, and in less than half an hour the corvette had got her well within range of her long guns; but Murray refrained from firing as long as he found that he was gaining on her.
"It is useless to run the risk of injuring her spars," he observed to Adair; "she will haul down her colours when she finds that she has no hope of getting away."
"Those fellows are up to all sorts of dodges, and will make every effort to escape," said Terence.
"We will take in the studding-sails at all events, and be ready for him should he haul his wind," said Murray. The light canvas was taken in with a rapidity, which must have astonished the crew of the slaver. Just, however, as the operation was about to be commenced, she had put her helm to port, and braced her yards sharp up on the starboard tack; but a couple of shot from the corvette, one of which struck her starboard quarter, showed her that she was too late; and fearing that other iron missiles might overtake her, she immediately hauled down her colours. The corvette's topgallant sails and royals having been handed, she also was brought to the wind and hove-to on the weather beam of the prize. Murray now directed Adair to go on board the brigantine with a midshipman and ten hands, and to carry her to Rio, unless, from a scarcity of provisions or want of water, he should find it necessary to put in to Bahia, or any other neighbouring port on the Brazilian coast.
Adair and Desmond were quickly ready with their carpet-bags, as were Snatchblock and nine other men with their bundles, and the boat which had, meantime, been lowered, pulled off for the prize, although there was some sea on; yet as she was low in the water, she was easily boarded. She proved to be the Donna Maria, a noted Brazilian slaver which had often before escaped capture. According to Murray's directions, Adair sent back the captain and officers and some of her ill-looking crew, who were likely to prove troublesome if left in her.
He found that, though only measuring a hundred and fifty tons she had nearly five hundred slaves on board, stowed away as thick as they could be packed between decks.
Having had a remarkably quick run from the coast of Africa, the captain informed him that he had not lost more than twenty people. As he looked down the main hatchway, the haggard countenances of the mass of human beings packed close together—as Desmond observed, like herrings in a cask—showed him that had the voyage continued much longer, the number of deaths would have been greatly increased.
Although there was food enough and water for the slaves, either the crew had hove overboard some of their own provisions, or had brought but a small supply, so that Adair found but a scant allowance for himself and his men; he therefore sent on board the corvette for such articles as he thought would be required. Just as all arrangements had been completed, and he had put the brigantine on her course, he saw the corvette haul her wind, and stand away to the eastward. As she did so, Murray signalised that a strange sail, which he hoped to overhaul, had hove in sight in that direction.
A sufficient number of the slaver's crew had been kept on board to attend to the unfortunate blacks, and carry them their provisions and water. Adair himself went round among them, and endeavoured to make them understand that he was their friend, and that as soon as possible they should be sent back to Africa. At first they looked on the Englishmen with an expression of terror in their countenances, many of them believing that they would be taken on shore to be killed and eaten, or to be offered up to the white man's Fetish. Fortunately one of the seamen, who had been long on the coast, could make himself understood by some of them; and, by his means and kind treatment, Terence succeeded at length in banishing their fears. One of the Brazilians also spoke a little English, and so was able to act as interpreter. Pedro was a better-looking fellow than most of his companions, and by the kind way he treated the blacks Terence was inclined to trust him. He declared that poverty alone, and a wish to support his family, had induced him to ship on board the slaver, and that it was the last voyage he would ever make.
"These countrymen of mine are great rascals," he observed; "you take care what they do, or they play you one great trick."
Pedro then told Adair that the brigantine was somewhat leaky, and that it had been necessary to pump her out at every watch.
He at once ordered the well to be sounded, and Snatchblock reported "two feet of water in the hold;" he accordingly ordered the pumps to be rigged, and set some of his own people to work them. Pedro again came aft, and assured him that he felt certain he could pick out a score or more of blacks who could be trusted on deck, and that they would willingly take the duty, glad to escape from the confinement of the hold.
"We will try them," said Terence, and in a short time Pedro sent up the number he had mentioned, all of them well-made, stalwart negroes. The scant clothing they wore exhibited, however, how much they had suffered by confinement, even during their comparatively short run across the Atlantic. Half of them quickly understanding what was required set to work with a will, being relieved by their companions. By their exertions the brigantine was at length almost freed from water. During the night it had, however, again gained on the pumps, and the weather coming on worse soon after daybreak Terence judged it prudent to bear up for Bahia.
He was thankful to believe that he would soon be in smooth water, for the poor slaves suffered dreadfully by the way the vessel tumbled about in the heavy seas, and several of the weak ones were found to have died during the night. The Brazilians hauled them out, without the slightest exhibition of feeling, and hove the bodies overboard as if they had been so many dead sheep. The heat and effluvium which arose from below were almost unbearable, the instant the hatches, which had necessarily been closed during the night, were taken off.
It was the first full slaver Desmond had ever been aboard.
"I have always heard the African coast abused, but I can only say that I should be ready to go and serve there, for the sake of catching some of these rascally slavers before they have had the opportunity of making the poor blacks suffer so horribly, as they must do during the middle passage," he exclaimed, as he warmed with indignation at what he witnessed.
At last, a short time before nightfall, the brigantine entered the harbour of Bahia, which is easy of access, and came to an anchor at some distance from the town. Scarcely had she brought up than the weather moderated, and Terence began to regret that he had not continued his course for Rio; still he hoped that Murray, judging by the weather, would take it for granted that he had put in there, and would come and look for him.
It was too late that evening to communicate with the authorities; several boats, however, came alongside, though as no officer appeared among the people in them, Adair would not allow any one to come on board, with the exception of an official who was sent, he said, by the captain of the port to make inquiries about the vessel. At last all the boats took their departure. There was no moon, though the stars shone forth brightly overhead, reflected on the calm surface of the water. It was rather dark all around where the brig lay; here and there only, distant lights glimmering from the shore. The watch, of which Ben Snatchblock had charge, was set, and Adair and Desmond retired into a small cabin on one side of the deck to take supper.
"Well, I hope these poor fellows may be sent back safely to their homes," said Desmond. "I am afraid a good many more will die before they get there, if they are not placed in some healthy spot and allowed to take exercise first."
"Not one of them will ever get back to their homes," answered Terence. "They are all brought some hundreds of miles from the interior, and would be quickly seized and carried back into slavery were the attempt to be made. They will be sent to Sierra Leone, or some of them may find their way to Liberia, a colony established some years ago for liberated blacks from the North American States."
Adair was giving Desmond further information on the subject when Pedro put his head in at the door.
"Senhor Capitan, I want to have one word with you," he said, putting his finger to his mouth. "You be on the watch; I heard things said by the people in de boats, and I make sure they come off and take all de slaves away, and knock you and your people on de head. Hist! hist! Don't let my comrades know I tell you, or dey cut my troat as sure as I now a living man. No time to lose."
Adair asked Pedro further questions, but he could elicit no more information. Pedro was evidently in a hurry to be gone, and again making a sign to show that caution was necessary he stole forward, keeping close under the bulwarks, as if afraid of being observed.
"The information Pedro has given us must not be neglected," observed Adair. "He may be mistaken, but if the Brazilians think that they can get hold of the slaves they will try to do so without scruple, and will cut the throats of every one of us should they find it necessary to carry out their object. Go and turn out our people, and I will have a talk with Snatchblock on the subject."
Desmond, making his way forward, roused up the prize crew, cautiously awaking each man separately, so that the slaver's people should not hear them.
Adair followed him on deck, and told Snatchblock what he had heard.
"Well, sir, to my mind the first thing we have to do is to secure the Brazilian fellows we have on board, for if we are attacked by their friends from the shore, as Pedro thinks likely, we shall have them, may be, playing us some trick," answered Ben. "Either they will let the slaves loose and set them up to murdering us; or if they can get hold of arms they will set on us themselves, should they see a chance of helping our enemies."
Adair thought Ben's advice good, and told him to get a sufficient number of lengths of rope to secure the fellows. This was quickly done, and Adair and his men went into the berth, and soon had all the Brazilians secured, almost before they were awake. He had Pedro lashed like the rest; Adair whispered, however, into his ear that he did so for his own sake, as should he be suspected of having given the Englishmen information he probably would be murdered by his countrymen. Pedro, indeed, seemed perfectly satisfied to be so treated.
"They no countrymen of mine, though," he answered, in a low voice, "they Brazilians, I true-born Portuguese."
"Well, whatever you are, I am much obliged to you, and hope to reward you some day for the assistance you have given us," answered Adair.
"I should have taken the fellow to have a larger share of negro than white blood in him by his looks," observed Adair to Desmond as they went aft; "however, I really believe that he is honest, and we should not despise his warning."
He had all the arms and ammunition to be found on board collected, each of his crew being provided with a musket and a brace of pistols, in addition to their cutlasses; he and Desmond also armed themselves. A dozen spare muskets which he had carefully looked to and loaded were arranged, some aft, others midships and forward. There were also two small brass guns, used for signals rather than defence. No shot, however, could be found for them, so he sent a couple of men to collect all the nails and scraps of iron they could find in the carpenter's store-room.
"These will make cruel wounds, but it will be the fellows' own fault if they venture to attack us, should some of them stick in their bodies," he observed, as the guns were loaded. A dozen boarding-pikes were also found and served out to the men.
"I rather suspect that these weapons will prove more serviceable in the hands of our stout fellows than muskets or pistols, which take time to load," observed Adair. "They may serve us in good stead, should the Brazilians attempt to climb up the side."
These arrangements being made, Adair and Desmond returned to the cabin to finish their supper, which they had just begun when Pedro came to them.
"Don't you think after all that that Portuguese fellow may have been trying to frighten us for some object of his own, perhaps to ingratiate himself into your favour?" asked Desmond.
"No! no, I think not," answered Adair, "the Brazilians have played similar tricks on captured vessels before, in this very port, and they are capable of any atrocity. There was an old friend of mine named Wasey, a capital fellow, kind-hearted and brave, as true a man as I ever met with. We were shipmates for a short time on the coat of Africa; Rogers and Murray knew him well, and liked him as much as I did. He was one of those quite unpretending characters who don't know what is in them, except to those with whom they are intimate.