Jack now descended in the same way that he had got up. His first care was to cut a thick stick to serve as a weapon of defence, for he thought to himself, "If the tigers about here are so bold as to carry off a black man, they are just as likely to attack me." He accordingly kept his eyes about him, and, steering as well as he could by the sun, he pushed away towards the north. He could not help expecting to see a tiger spring out towards him, and every now and then he was startled by a snake crawling across his path; while the cawing of parrots and parrakeets, and the chattering of monkeys, made him feel like one of those knights in fairy stories, who have to traverse a forest haunted by evil spirits, who do their utmost to turn him from his gallant purpose of rescuing a lovely princess from the enchanted castle in which she has been shut up. Jack, however, was not to be turned from his intention of getting down to the banks of the river. He forgot that he would have to cross through a mangrove swamp, unless he could hit upon one of the few paths used by the negroes for the purpose of crossing it. Night was now rapidly approaching. He saw that unless he would run a very great risk of serving as the supper of some hungry wild beast, he must get up into a tree and pass it there. He was getting very hungry also, and he had but a few scraps of the biscuit he had shared with the monkey. Still, as long as there was daylight, he was anxious to push on, for he was sure that the boats would be sent in to look for him the first thing in the morning, and he wanted to be near the river to signalise to them. So he pushed on, beating down the bushes with his thick stick. Many a snake, lizard, and other creeping or crawling thing hissed or croaked at him as he passed. At last he saw before him an open space. "Ah! now, at all events, I shall be able to push on rapidly," he thought to himself. So he did, and he went on some way, when on a sudden he found himself in front of a pailing with some grotesque-looking figures carved in wood grinning above it, and within it a bamboo-leaf-covered hut, before which stood a remarkably big ugly-looking blackamoor. Jack looked at him, and he looked at Jack, and uttered some words which clearly were meant to express, "Hillo, youngster, where are you hurrying to?" Jack followed a very natural impulse, which was to run as fast as he could. Under other circumstances this might have been a wise proceeding, for he certainly could run faster than the black man, who was not only big but fat. He had scarcely begun to run when a piece of painted wood came whizzing through the air after him, which would certainly have knocked him down had it hit him. He dodged it, however; but the next moment he heard the gruff voice of the black hounding on a dog, and when he turned his head he saw a huge Spanish bloodhound leaping over the pailing, followed by the negro. To attempt to escape was now hopeless, so he ran forward, flourishing his stick in the hope of keeping the dog at bay. When the negro saw he was coming back he called the hound off him.
"For why you run so?" exclaimed the negro, who saw that he was an Englishman.
"For the same reason that a pig does, because I was in a hurry," answered Jack, who saw that his best course was to put a good face on the matter.
"Ah, you funny young ossifer, you laugh moch," observed the negro.
"Yes, it runs in the family, we are addicted to laughing," replied Jack with perfect coolness. "And now, old gentleman, I'm very sharp set, and as I doubt not that you have, plenty of provender in your house, I shall be much obliged to you for some supper."
The negro evidently could not make out what Jack was about, and seemed to have an idea that he had run away from his ship. Jack was not sorry to encourage this. The black was evidently balancing in his mind whether he should make most by giving him up and claiming a reward, or helping him to hide, and then getting possession of any wealth he might have about him. He, in the most friendly way, led Jack into his house. It was very neatly built of bamboo, of considerable size, oblong in shape, and divided into four or five rooms. In one was a table, with some chairs; and the negro, having given some orders in a loud voice to several ebon-hued damsels, who appeared at the door, in a short time several dishes of meat and grain were placed on it. "Come you eat," said the host. Jack stuck his fork into the meat. It was not a hare, or a rabbit, or a pig, or a kid. He could not help thinking of his friend Quacko, as he turned it over and over. However, he was very hungry, and he thought he would taste a bit. It was very tender and nice, so he resolved that he would not ask questions, but go on eating till his appetite was satisfied. There was a sort of porringer of farina, and some cakes of the same substance. He ate away, and felt much more satisfied than at first with the state of affairs. His host informed him that he was a grand pilot of the river, and showed him a variety of certificates which he had received to prove the fact, from the masters of English, American, Spanish, Portuguese, and French traders. Some praised him, but others remarked that he was one of the greatest rascals unhung, and that he would cheat and rob whenever he had the opportunity, and tell any falsehood to suit his purpose. "A nice sort of gentleman," thought Jack, but he did not express his opinions, and tried to make himself as comfortable as he could. The negro placed wine and spirits before him, but he partook sparingly of them.
"You say I good man," observed his host. "Go off to fight ship. Tell moch. Ah, ah!" And he winked and nodded and turned his eyes about in a curious way.
Jack concluded that he proposed going off to the ship, and would give some information about the slavers, and that he wanted him to vouch for his character.
"All right," answered Jack; "you come on board; we shall be very happy to see you, and bring your book of certificates—remember that." Considering the small vocabulary possessed by the negro, he managed to carry on a good deal of conversation with his guest. At last he made a sign that it was time to go to bed, and, pointing to a bundle of mats, he told him to lie down, and that no harm would come to him. Jack did as he was bid, and, having a good conscience and a good digestion, was very soon asleep.
The household was astir by an early hour. When Jack opened his eyes, he saw that two or three strangers were in the room. They looked at him askance, with no friendly glance. His host soon after entered, and it was very evident that a change had come over the man's feelings towards him. Jack, however, got up, and, shaking himself, tried to look as unconcerned as possible. The bloodhound also, which had been very good friends with him the previous evening, walked in and stalked, snuffing, and growling round and round him. Jack did not like the look of affairs. Some food at last was brought in for breakfast—baked yams, fried fish, farina, and other delicacies, of which his host invited him to partake, but was evidently inclined to treat him with very little ceremony. When the meal was over. Jack intimated that he should like to begin his journey to get on board his ship. The negro laughed and said something to the other men. "You no go dere now, you go wid dees." Jack's countenance fell. The other blackamoors grinned, and without ceremony took him by the shoulder to lead him off. The midshipman's impulse was to resist, and he began to lay about him with his stick, which he snatched up from a corner, but the blacks threw themselves upon him, while the horrid bloodhound sprang at his legs, and in an instant he was overpowered, and his hands once more bound behind him. Jack thought that before he was carried off, he would try and induce the big negro to help him, so he exclaimed, "I say, friend pilot, perhaps you can't help this; so just let them know on board ship where I am, and you will be well rewarded." He saw the negro grin, but before he could get an answer, he was hurried off by his new masters. They conducted him along over ground very similar to that which he had passed the previous day. Now and then he saw fields of Indian corn, and small patches cultivated with other grains, but otherwise the country was covered mostly with a dense jungle, very narrow paths only being cut through it. After travelling five or six miles, they reached the river, and having dragged a canoe from among the bushes on the banks, all the party got into it, and paddled away up the stream. The cords were by this time really hurting Jack's arms, and he made all the signs he could think of to induce the negroes to remove them. To his great satisfaction, after talking together, one of them got up and slackened the knots, so that he could throw the rope off. He expressed his thanks to the negro, and placed it gently by his side. Scarcely had he done so, when his eye fell on a piece of board floating by. He stretched out his hand and got hold of it. That instant the idea flashed into his mind, that this board might enable him to communicate with his shipmates. It very soon dried, and then, as if to amuse himself, he took out his knife and began cutting away at it. If he could carve but a few words, they might be sufficient to signify where he had gone. He carved, in no very regular characters, "A prisoner, up south branch.—Jack R." As soon as he had done this, pretending to be tired of the amusement, he threw the board into the stream and watched it floating down towards the sea. "It is a hundred to one whether it is picked up," he said to himself with a sigh, "I'll double the chances though." So he looked out for another board or piece of stick; and having before long got one, carved that in the same way. The blacks did not seem to suspect his object, and allowed him to continue the operation. After paddling about an hour, they ran up a small creek with black mudbanks; and when they had drawn the canoe on shore, Jack found himself standing before a strong stockade or fort with a deep ditch round it. There was no gate on the side turned towards the river, but going round some way, they arrived at an entrance over a rough drawbridge. The negroes talked a few minutes together, and then led Jack in. The object for which the fort was used was very clear. In the centre stood a large barracoon full of slaves. This barracoon was a shed built of heavy piles driven down into the earth, lashed together with bamboos, and thatched with palm-leaves. Jack, as he passed, looked in. Sad was the spectacle which met his sight. The negroes who had charge of Jack did not appear to have found the person of whom they were in search; for after waiting some time they led him again out of the fort and took the road up a hill away from the river. After walking some way they reached a village or town. It was surrounded by a bamboo fence. They entered by a narrow gateway at the end of a street. The houses, or rather huts, were all joined together, forming one long shed of uniform height on each side of the road. Each habitation had a small low door, which alone showed the number of separate dwellings in a row. The sides were composed of broad strips of bark, and bamboo leaves served for the thatch. Here and there were larger houses built of bamboo, with raised floors, marking the residences of chief men. At last they reached a house nearly a hundred feet in length, and, having ascended some steps, Jack found himself ushered into the presence of a burly negro, who was sitting in oriental style on a pile of mats smoking a pipe. He had on a cocked-hat and a green uniform coat covered with gold-lace, wide seamen's trousers and yellow slippers, a striped shirt, and a red sash round his waist. From his air he evidently considered himself a very important personage, and Jack did not doubt that he was in the presence of some Indian potentate. Round the room were several mirrors in gilt frames, and on a table stood a large silver bowl, while there were a couple of chairs and a sofa covered with damask or silk. The king, for so he called himself, looked at Jack sternly and said, "For what you come to my country, eh?"
Jack answered that he had been brought there against his will, and that he had no intention of coming. But his Majesty seemed to doubt him, and asked him a number of questions to elicit the truth. At length, however, he seemed satisfied. Jack was in hopes that he had made a favourable impression, and as he was getting hungry, he intimated that he should like some dinner. The king seemed pleased at the request, and ordered it to be brought into the room. It was a very good repast, and Jack was getting very happy, and hoping that there would be no great difficulty in making his escape, when the aspect of affairs was once more changed by the appearance of the two Spaniards who had picked him off the wreck of the slaver. They looked very fierce, and made threatening gestures at him, and abused him to the king for running away from them, and he discovered that they knew all about the expedition of the Archer's boats up the river, and the capture of the schooner. He, however, went on eating his dinner, and tried to look unconcerned about the matter. This enraged them still more. What they might have done he could not tell; but suddenly a man rushed into the room, and gave some piece of information which seemed to put them all into a state of great agitation. They seized upon Jack and dragged him off, and they and a number of other people, headed by the king, rushed down the bill towards the fort. From the few words dropped which Jack could comprehend, he understood that they expected an attack to be made on it for the purpose of rescuing the slaves, and that they were resolved to defend it to the last. He found himself dragged along till he was carried into the fort with the crowd; he was then shown a gun, and it was intimated to him that if he did not do his best to fight, he should forthwith have his brains blown out—a dreadful alternative, but from which he could discover not the slightest prospect of escaping.
IN THE NEGRO PRISON.
Jack Rogers stood near the gun at which he had been placed in the slavers' fort. He had plenty of time to consider how he should act; but, turn the matter over in his mind as much as he would, he could not arrive at a satisfactory decision. The alternatives left for his choice were to fire at his friends or to be shot himself. The slave-traders and their assistants, and the slavers' crews who stood around him, were fellows whose very ill-looking countenances showed that they would not scruple to execute with very scant warning any threat they had made. An older man than Jack might have felt very uncomfortable under such circumstances. A more evil-disposed band of ruffians could not often have been collected together. They were of all colours, from those who called themselves white to negroes of the most ebon hue. Not that the whites had much claim to the distinction, for they were so bronzed by sun and wind that they were almost as dark as the Africans, and certainly they were not the least villainous-looking of the gang. Two of them especially, who had belonged to the crew of the schooner Jack had assisted to capture, seemed to have recognised him, and paid him very particular and disagreeable attention. One of them politely handed him a rammer, and showed him how he was to load his gun, while the other put a pistol under his nose, and exhibiting the perfect condition of the lock, explained with a mild smile that it was not at all likely to miss fire. Jack smelt at the pistol, and flourished the rammer.
"Very good powder I have no doubt," he remarked, looking as unconcerned as possible, "but I cannot say that I admire its odour. If any of you have a pinch of snuff to offer me now, I should be obliged to you. I want something to overcome the smell of the mud, which is anything but pleasant, let me assure you."
The Spaniard, though he did not understand what Jack said, comprehended his signs; and, thus appealed to, could not resist pulling out his snuff-box and offering it to him, though he fully intended, in case of any sign of insubordination, to blow out his brains at a moment's notice. Jack dipped his fingers into the snuff-box with all the coolness and as great an air as he could command. He knew that his best chance of escape was to throw his captors off their guard. "Bueno, bueno," he remarked, scattering the snuff under his nose as he had seen Spaniards do, for in reality he had no wish to take any up his nostrils. The slave-traders could not help shrugging their shoulders, and thinking that they had got hold of a very independent sort of young gentleman. They talked together a good deal, and from what they said Jack made out that they were proposing to invite him to join them. "A very good joke," he thought to himself; "the rascals! I'll humour them in it, however; it will certainly afford me a better chance of escape."
During this time a number of blacks were pouring into the fort, carrying all sorts of arms, most of them matchlocks of very antique construction, though some were muskets which had probably not long before left the workshops of Birmingham. Jack, hoping that he had thrown his captors a little off their guard, shouldered his rammer, and walked about to try and obtain a more perfect notion of the state of affairs. Looking through the stockades, he saw that the fort commanded entirely the reach of the river, at the extreme upper end of which it was situated. The stream there made a sudden bend, nearly doubling back on itself; and as the fort was placed almost on this point, the guns in it could fire point-blank right down the stream. No boats had yet appeared, but from the look of intense eagerness exhibited on the countenances of all the blacks, he had no doubt that they were near at hand. The whole fort was in a great state of bustle, if not of confusion. The black warriors were running about here and there, chattering away to each other, and examining not only their own arms, but those of everybody else. Some of them Jack saw squinting down the barrels of their companions' muskets, to try and ascertain the cause, apparently, of their not going off, while the man at the other end would snap the lock without giving the slightest warning. One of them after this came up to Jack, and, by signs and a few words of English, requested him politely to look into the muzzle of his musket and ascertain why it would not "fire! bang!" as he expressed it, intimating that he had already put in several charges.
Jack declined that mode of proceeding, but begged to look at the other end. Jack burst into a fit of laughter. "The reason, amigo, is this intendez ustedes," he answered, as soon as he could find breath to speak. "There's no flint to your lock, and if there had been, the touch-hole is well stopped up with rust, so you had two very secure preventives against its going off. I only hope that the rest of you have arms of a like character. Not much fear for my friends then." He picked out the touch-hole, however, for the negro, telling him that he must put a match into the pan when he wanted to fire it. He resolved, however, to stand clear of the negro when he fired it; for he had little doubt that when he did so the barrel would burst, and do much more damage to the defenders of the fort than to the assailants. Jack was in hopes that the guns mounted in the fort would prove to be in a similar condition; but on examining them he soon saw that they were ship's guns, and were in very good order. He had managed by his independent manner, by this time, to throw the slave-dealers off their guard. He waited for an opportunity when they were not watching him, and then hurried back to the gun of which they had given him charge. As he could not manage to withdraw the shot, he knocked in a wedge, which gave it an elevation calculated to carry it far over the heads of any of the attacking party. He looked round when he had done this, to ascertain whether he had been observed, but the white men had turned round for some purpose, and the blacks did not seem to comprehend what he had been about. "At all events, I shall not have to fire at my friends," he thought to himself, "and now the sooner they come on the better for me." Scarcely had these words passed through his mind than he observed a great commotion among the motley garrison of the fort, and, looking through the embrasure at which his gun was placed, he caught sight of several boats just rounding the point at the other end of the reach. He could not make out who was commander-in-chief of the present gang of villains with whom he was associated. The two Spaniards, who had at first paid him so much polite attention, were evidently not even officers. A huge black man, with a very ugly visage, seemed to have considerable authority. He was engaged in marshalling the negroes, and posting them at the stockades ready to make use of their firearms. The burly sovereign of the territory was nowhere to be seen. He probably thought discretion the best part of valour, and had retired again to his capital, to await the results of the contest. At last Jack's eyes fell on a little wizened old Spaniard in a straw hat, nankeen trousers, and a light blue coat, who, as soon as he made his appearance, began to order about everybody in an authoritative and energetic manner, and very quickly brought the confused rabble of defenders into order. Two or three other Spaniards, who from their appearance seemed to be officers, came with him. He had evidently just arrived from a distance, summoned in a hurry, probably, to defend the fort. He went round, looking at the guns, and Jack was very much afraid that he would examine his. Just, however, as he was about to do so up went a rocket high into the sky, let off probably as a signal for some purpose or other. It had the effect of calling off the old man's attention from him. The people in the advancing boats seemed not to have any notion that they were so near the fort, for they pulled on, without in any way quickening their speed, right up towards the guns.
Jack had remarked the mode in which the place was fortified, so likely to lead strangers into a trap. In front of the stockades was a deep broad ditch, and then beyond it rose a low bank of soft slimy mud, held together by reeds and aquatic plants, and which sloped away again down to the river. This bank was covered at high water, but even then Jack doubted whether a boat could be got across it. The slave-traders and blacks grinned as they thought of the trap into which the British seamen were about to fall. Jack watched the approach of the boats. Oh! how he longed to warn his friends of the danger threatening them. He would have shouted out to them, but they could not have heard him; and then he thought that he would climb up to the top of the stockade and warn them off; but he knew that the moment he was seen by the blacks to make any signal, a pistol-bullet would be sent through his head. Jack was perfectly ready to run any risk for an adequate object; but after a moment's reflection he felt perfectly sure that the boats would come on notwithstanding anything he might do, and that the moment for sacrificing his life had not yet arrived.
As the boats drew near so did the flurry and excitement among the blacks increase: the white men looked along their guns and prepared for action; the little wizened old Spaniard posted himself in a position whence he could observe all that was going forward. Jack saw that he was watching him, and he also heard him tell one of the Spaniards, who had before paid him so much polite attention, to keep an eye on his movements. The old man, probably, had no great confidence in Jack's honesty of intentions. Luckily no one found what Jack had been about with the gun, or it would have fared ill with him. Jack cast many an anxious glance through the embrasure, to catch the movements of the boats. There were a good many of them—that was one comfort. His friends were not so likely to be overpowered as he at first feared. Evidently another ship, or perhaps more, had joined the Archer and accompanied her boats up the river. He could not help also turning round to see what the old Spaniard was doing. There he stood on his perch surveying his motley crew—the impersonation of an evil spirit—so Jack thought. Yet he looked quite calm and quiet, with a smile—it was not a pleasant one, however—playing on his countenance. In a moment afterwards his whole manner changed; he sprang off the ground and clapped his hands, crying out loudly, "Tira! tira, amijos." "Fire! fire, my friends! and send all those English to perdition." He was under the belief that the boats had just come in a direct line with his guns, and that every shot would tell on them. The Spaniards and blacks were not slow to obey the order. Off went the guns, and the small-arm men began peppering away till the whole fort was in a cloud of smoke. Jack delayed firing as long as he could, that he might be more certain that his shot would fly over the heads of his friends. He would have waited still longer, had he not seen a Spaniard near him cocking his pistol and giving a very significant glance towards him. He had already begun to stoop down to fire, when a bullet whistled by his head, and he heard the sharp voice of the old Spaniard, "Take that, young traitor, if you don't choose to obey orders."
Jack felt that he had had a narrow escape of his life. Looking along his gun, and seeing that the arc he believed the shot would make would extend far beyond the boats, he fired. He could not see where his shot went, for at the same moment the British, though at first not a little surprised at the warm reception they had encountered, had brought the guns in the bows of the boats to bear on the fort, and had opened a hot fire in return.
With loud cheers they advanced; but Jack guessed that they had something in store which would astonish the blacks much more than the round shot; nor was he mistaken. Up flew, whizzing into the air, a shower of rockets, which came down quickly into the middle of the fort, and made both Spaniards and negroes scamper here and there at a great rate, knocking each other over, shrieking out oaths and prayers in a variety of dialects, and trying to hide themselves from their terrific pursuers. It was as if a number of wriggling serpents had been turned loose among a crowd of people. The old Spaniard stamped and swore with rage, calling the people back to their guns, abusing them, and firing his pistols right and left at them to bring them to order. Jack ran a great risk of being shot in the melee, either by friends or foes. Oh, how he wished that the former knew the state of affairs inside the fort, and would make a dash at that moment and get into it! It was high tide, and the water covered the mudbanks. The favourable moment was however lost, and by the fierce energy of the little old Spaniard the defenders of the fort were driven back to their guns. Jack pretended to be very busy loading his. He had managed to get in a shot during the confusion, and one of the blacks next rammed in the powder and put another shot in after it. "All right! now blaze away, my hearty!" he sang out. He had piled up a good quantity of powder over the touch-hole, so there was an abundance of smoke, and the negro whom he addressed fully believed that the gun had gone off.
"Now more powder and shot, old boy," cried Jack; "ram away!"
Jack's gun was not likely to hurt his friends, but had the old Spaniard seen his tricks, he would very likely have had another bullet fired at him. Fortunately the old fellow was too much engaged. The whole fort was full of smoke, and the defenders, having got over their first alarm at the rockets, were blazing away with all their might. Jack caught sight of the boats for an instant, separating on either hand so as to avoid the direct fire from the fort, and then he heard in another minute that true hearty British cheer, which has so often struck terror into the hearts of England's enemies. On either flank there came pouring into the fort a fresh flight of rockets, and almost the next instant Jack saw the boats' bows run stem on to the mudbank, which almost surrounded the fort. In vain the seamen endeavoured to shove the boats over it—they stuck fast. Jack shouted as loud as he could, in hopes that his voice might be heard, for he caught a glimpse of Alick Murray in one of the boats and Paddy Adair in another, using every effort to get up to the stockade. Perhaps they heard him, for he saw them leap overboard, followed by their men, with the intention clearly of wading up to the stockade, ignorant of course of the deep ditch between them and it. Jack felt sure that they would be shot down by the blacks if they made the attempt. He could restrain himself no longer, but ran towards them, shouting out, "Back, back! you can't get in that way!" Whether they heard him or not he could not tell, for a heavy blow on the head was dealt him by the butt end of a pistol, the owner of which, one of his Spanish friends, would certainly have shot him had it been loaded, and he fell to the ground, stunned and helpless.
How long he thus lay he could not tell. It could not have been for any length of time, for the battle was still raging when he came to his senses. He instantly crawled to one of the embrasures, and looked out. The English had suffered severely. One boat lay on the mud, disabled, and the dead bodies of several men strewed the mudbank, which the falling tide had left dry. Then he turned his head, for he heard loud cheers and shouts, and cries and howls, on one side of the fort. A fresh attack, he suspected, had just been made. It was resisted with all the desperation of despair by most of the Spaniards and many of the blacks. The British were forcing their way in. He caught sight of the heads of the seamen surmounting the stockade, and then he saw that it was Alick Murray leading them on. The spectacle gave him fresh life. He jumped on his legs and gave a loud huzzah.
He had better have been silent. The old Spaniard, who had been flying about in every direction with the most wonderful activity, encouraging the people, pointing the guns, and showing himself the leading spirit of the gang, caught sight of him. It had now become evident that the fort would be taken; there was but one outlet by which the gang could escape; the ruffians began to give way. Numbers were wounded; many lay dead on the ground. Several of the fugitives passed him. He was hoping that the moment of his deliverance was at hand, when he felt his shoulder grasped by the little old Spaniard, and found himself dragged along by a power he could not resist. He struggled, but struggled in vain. Small as the old man was, he was all sinew and muscle; his clutch was like that of a vice. There was a fierce rush, blacks, Spaniards, and mulattoes were all mingled together; and good reason they had to run, for at their heels came fast a body of English seamen, slashing away with their cutlasses, and firing their pistols. Hemming, Murray, and Adair were leading them, and Jack recognised some of the officers of his own ship, the Ranger. He now knew how it was the expedition had been strengthened. He sought to escape from his captor. "If you shout, I'll shoot you!" said the old man, in English, grinning horribly. He was in hopes his old schoolfellows would have recognised him. Back he was hurried. Still he felt sure that his friends would overtake him. The retreating villains had got close to the barracoon, and not far from the last entrance to the fort. The seamen pressed on. There was still some space between the parties, when the old man fired his pistol into a cask sunk into the ground; a thick smoke came out of it. Back, back the pirates pushed. In an instant more a dense mass rose before them of earth, and stone, and timbers, horribly mingled with the arms and legs and bodies of human beings;—a mine had been sprung. Jack was in an agony of fear for the fate of his friends. He could see nothing of them. He observed only that the mine had taken effect under one end of the barracoon. The terrible shrieks and cries of its wretched inmates rang in his ears. A large number of them had been liberated, and with loud yells were following in the rear of the slave-dealers, for whom they served as an effective shield against the shot of the seamen. The slaves had been told that the English would kill them, so they ran away as soon as they were let out of the barracoon, as fast as the rest. The piratical crew, for such they really were, took their way up the hill, towards the king's residence, followed closely by the slaves and all the rabble who had escaped out of the fort. Jack expected that his friends would have pursued, and should he escape the pistol of the old gentleman who had him by the arm, he hoped before long to be rescued. They had not, however, got far up the hill when he saw flames burst forth from the barracoon, in which he knew, judging from those following, that a number of poor wretches had been left in chains, and he truly guessed that his countrymen were stopping to try and rescue them. The flames burst fiercely, and blazed up high, as they caught the dry inflammable timber of which the building was composed. Nothing could arrest their progress. The gallant seamen, he knew, would be dashing in among them in spite of the hot smoke, and doing their best to rescue the unfortunate wretches, but he feared that few would be saved. Even where he was he could hear their piteous shrieks, as the flames caught hold of them, chained as they were and unable to escape. As was too likely the pirates had set fire to the barracoon on purpose to delay the English; this plan succeeded perfectly. Often the same sort of thing has been done at sea, and when a slaver has been hard-pressed, blacks have been thrown overboard by the crew, to induce the English cruiser to stop and pick them up, and thus enable them to escape. Jack was dragged away up the hill, through the gateway of the town, and into the king's palace. That worthy was seated where Jack had first seen him, and employed much in the same way—smoking a pipe.
"Why have you brought him?" inquired his sable majesty of the little old Spaniard, whom Jack heard addressed as Don Diogo.
"He will serve as a hostage—they have got some of our people," was the answer.
"But will they give us back any of the slaves?" asked the king.
"Not one—whatever we may threaten," replied the Don, grinding his teeth. "They will not have got many, that is one comfort. A considerable number came with us, and most of those we were unable to set loose have been burnt. Our enemies have not gained much by their victory in any way, for we killed a good many of them, and destroyed some of their boats. We have had a desperate fight of it, though."
"It may be as well, then, not to kill the youngster, though it might be a satisfaction to you," said the king, looking at the Don.
"Not for the present," said Don Diogo. "We will keep him for a short time, and see how high his friends value him. If they refuse to give enough in exchange for him, as he can be of no use here, we can then shoot him!"
Jack, of course, could not understand all this conversation; but he made out enough to comprehend its tenor, which was certainly not of a character to enliven him. After a little time he found himself hauled out of the king's presence and thrust into a small hut by himself. A black, with a brace of pistols in his belt, and a musket which looked as if it would go off, was placed sentry over him. He either would not, or probably could not, reply to any of the questions Jack put to him, whenever he thrust his head in at the door, apparently to ascertain that his prisoner was all safe.
Thus passed the day. Towards the evening Jack began to be very hungry and very sick, and to wonder whether he was to be starved to death. He pointed to his mouth, and made every sign he could think of to show that he was hungry, but the sentry appeared to take no notice of him. At last, however, another man opened the door and placed a bowl of farina before him. It was not very dainty fare, but he was too sharp set to be particular, and so set to on it at once and gobbled away till he had finished it. He was wondering whether he should have to sleep on the bare ground, when the same man appeared with a bundle of Indian corn and other leaves, and threw them down in the corner, making a sign that they were to serve him as his bed. "Thank you, old fellow, I might go farther and fare worse." His spirits rose somewhat, for he judged rightly that his captors would not take so much trouble about him had they intended to murder him. He did not forget how mercifully his life had been preserved during the day, and he offered up his thanks on high before he threw himself on his bed of leaves to go to sleep.
He slept as soundly as a top all night, and when he awoke he could scarcely remember what had occurred during the previous day. Before long his former attendant appeared and placed another bowl of farina before him. "If they were cannibals, I might have some suspicions of their intentions," he said to himself; "they don't propose to eat me; but I know that I shall grow enormously fat if I go on long ramming down such stuff as this." However, as he was very hungry, he did swallow the whole of it. Hours passed away; no one else came near him. He fully expected to find the town attacked by the English, and waited impatiently to hear the sounds of the commencement of the strife; but, except that occasionally he heard tom-toms beating at a distance, and a few shots fired, everything in the town was quiet. It was sometime in the afternoon when two armed blacks appeared, and marched Jack out of his prison up to the king's palace. The king scarcely took any notice of him as he entered the reception-room. Soon after Don Diogo appeared.
"Will they give up the slaves?" asked the king.
"Not a bit of it," answered Don Diogo. "They say that if we kill that lad, then they will kill six times as many people of ours."
"That can't be helped," observed the king. "The people were born to be killed."
"Certainly," answered Don Diogo; "but there are some Spaniards among them, and I require their services."
"But is it not possible that they may come and burn my town? I have no wish for that to happen, even for your sake, my friend," said the king.
"Shoot the midshipman if they do," answered Don Diogo, turning a not very pleasant glance at Jack. "At present, however, they do not seem disposed to attack us. We have given them enough to attend to for the present. We killed a good number, and the boats have gone back with the wounded and prisoners."
"Then the young jackanapes of an officer may be shut up in prison again," said the king.
Scarcely had the order been given when a Spaniard rushed with fierce gestures into the room. "Those English have killed some of our friends, and we are resolved to have our revenge," he exclaimed, looking savagely at Jack, and handling his long knife.
"Don't kill him yet, though," said Don Diogo, with his usual coolness; "it will be time enough when he is of no further use. Take him away now."
These were not exactly the words Jack heard used, but he made out that such was their tenor.
Poor Jack! He was thrust rudely back into his dark, dirty hut, and the only food he received was a bowl of the ill-dressed farina, of which he was getting heartily tired. His spirits began to fall lower than they had ever before done. He saw no hope of escape; for he was certain that should the English threaten to attack the town, that instant he would put be to death, even should he escape the long knives of some of the Spaniards who had evidently a hankering for his blood. At last he fell asleep. Midshipmen have a knack of sleeping under the most adverse circumstances. His powers in that way were very considerable. It was daylight when he awoke; but there were no sounds to indicate that the negro population was astir. He could not help fancying that some attempt would be made by Captain Lascelles and Captain Grant to rescue him; but the day passed on, and no one except the man who brought him his insipid farina came near him. If he had had any mode in which to employ himself, he could, he thought, have the better borne his imprisonment and the dreadful state of suspense in which he was placed. All he could do was to walk about or sit on his bed of leaves with his head resting on his knees. Now and then, as the evening approached and his weariness increased, he jumped up and thought that he would force his way out and make a run for it: but then the feeling that he would most certainly be killed if he made the attempt, besides recollecting not knowing where he should run to, induced him to sit down again and chew the cud of impatience. Night came again. He was more melancholy than ever. He thought that he was deserted, or that probably his friends fancied he was killed, and would not trouble themselves further about him. He had no inclination to sleep even after it grew dark. He listened to the various noises in the village, or rather city it should be called. They amused him somewhat—the odd tones of the negroes' voices, the shouts, the laughter, the cries of babies, the barking of curs, the beating of tom-toms. At last, however, even they ceased, and he dozed away till he forgot where he was and everything that had happened. How long he had slept he could not tell; or rather, had he been asked he would have asserted that he had not been asleep at all, when he opened his eyes and saw by the light of the moon, which shone through a hole in the roof, the round face of a black boy looking down upon him with a friendly and compassionate expression.
IN SEARCH OF JACK.
Three of the Archer's boats were manned, and under the command of Lieutenant Hemming, Murray having charge of one and Adair of the other, were about to shove off and proceed up the river to search for their missing shipmates, when a sail was seen from the mast-head standing down toward them. She was quickly made out to be a large ship, and in a short time little doubt remained that she was an English frigate. Captain Grant, therefore, ordered the boats to delay their departure that a more powerful expedition might be forthwith despatched to compete with any enemies with whom they might fall in. "Hurrah! she's our own ship the Ranger," exclaimed Adair, who had gone aloft to have a look at the stranger, and now came below to make his report to Hemming; "Captain Lascelles is just the man to back up Captain Grant; if he knows of any barracoons or slavers' strongholds of any description, he will be for going in and blowing them all up without a moment's delay."
To prove that Adair was right, the Ranger soon after made her number, and at the same time another sail appeared to the northward. She turned out to be a brig-of-war, the Wasp. Captain Grant immediately went on board the frigate. Captain Lascelles entered fully into his plan, and instead of three, as soon as the Wasp came up, fortunately ten boats started on the expedition. Hemming was much gratified when Captain Lascelles declined to supersede him, assuring him that no one was better qualified to be entrusted with the command. There is always something very exciting in an expedition, no matter what the object, but when there is some uncertainty and danger, and a prospect of fighting, everybody gets into the highest possible spirits. Murray and Adair would have been in high spirits also had they not been anxious about Jack. Not that they were very unhappy. They had all so often missed each other, and been in difficulties and dangers, that they thought he would turn up somewhere before long. The boats dashed over the bar, and pulled up the south branch. As it was flood-tide they made rapid progress. They had gone some way up when they saw some one on the bank of the river beckoning to them. "A mere naked nigger," said Adair, looking through his glass, "not worth waiting for him I should think." Hemming seemed to be of the same opinion, for the boats continued their progress. Seeing this the negro set off running as fast as he could go, and was soon lost to sight in the jungle. Not long after they came to the end of a reach, and then it appeared that the river doubled back as it were on itself.
"Hillo, there is something in the water ahead of us," sang out Adair to Murray.
"It is a negro swimming off to us. Do you see him, sir?" said Murray to Hemming, whose boat was near his.
The negro lifted up his hand, as if trying to make a signal to them, and wishing to be taken into one of the boats. Hemming told Murray to pull towards the negro, and ascertain what he wanted. In a few minutes Murray had hauled a young negro lad into his boat. "What is it you want, my lad?" asked Alick, in his usual kind way. The poor negro evidently wanted to speak, but could not find English words enough to express himself, though he was very voluble when employing his own language. No sooner, however, had Murray returned to the line of boats and retaken his place near Hemming, than the black lad's countenance brightened up. "Ah, Massa Hemming, Massa Hemming," he exclaimed, trying to spring into the lieutenant's boat. He would in his eagerness have jumped overboard, had not some of the seamen held him back.
"He seems to know you, sir," said Murray.
"Is, is—me know Massa Hemming; is, is, kind massa," exclaimed the young negro, eagerly catching at the words.
"Let him come into my boat, and I'll hear what he has got to say," said Hemming, greatly to the delight of the negro, who clearly understood him. No sooner was the black lad on board Hemming's boat, than he seized his hand and kissed it, and showed every mark of affection. Then with evident eagerness and haste he made all sorts of signs, aiding them by such few words as he knew. "Man come—bad, no, no," he said, pointing up the river. Hemming understood that some one would come and try and mislead them, and that they were not to trust to him. Then Hemming tried to ascertain the fate of the missing boat's crew. His heart sank when the negro explained by signs that he could not mistake that they had all been murdered.
"No one escaped?" he asked.
The negro shook his head, no, not one survived, it appeared. Murray and Adair were soon made acquainted with the information, and then indeed they began to fear that Jack Rogers, their gallant jovial companion, was lost to them for ever. Grief and indignation, and a desire to punish the perpetrators of the deed, took possession of their hearts. That was but natural. It is difficult to distinguish between revenge, which is wrong, and a desire to punish evil-doers, when we ourselves are affected by their misdeeds.
The young negro, after talking away and making signs to Hemming for some time longer, desired to be put on shore. Murray was ordered to convey him there.
"Good man—good man, Massa Hemming," he kept saying all the time. "Take care, bad man come off shore."
As soon as he landed, off he darted again through the mangrove bushes, and was lost to sight.
"He seems to be an old friend of yours, sir," observed Murray when he got back.
"Yes, I find that he is a lad I once, when he was a young boy, jumped overboard to save in the West Indies after he had been taken out of a slaver," answered Hemming carelessly. "He made me out when we were in the river before taking the Spanish schooner, and has ever since been watching for an opportunity to speak to me. I cannot make out exactly what he wishes to guard us against—some treachery, I conclude. I could not fancy that he would have recollected me so long. It shows that blacks have grateful hearts."
Hemming sympathised much with Murray and Adair, for he knew of their attachment to Jack, and he fully believed that he had been lost with the rest. Bitter and sad were their feelings. "Oh, Jack, Jack!" muttered Adair in a tone of grief, "are you really gone?" The flotilla of boats proceeded some way farther, when a large canoe was seen paddling out towards them from the shore. A burly negro sat in the stern and made a profound salaam with his palm-leaf hat as he approached.
"Me first pilot in dis river," he shouted with a stentorian voice, "take me board—me come show way."
Hemming ordered his crew to cease rowing, and took him into his boat to hear what he had got to say for himself. He had, however, exhausted nearly all his vocabulary in his first address, and there was some difficulty in understanding him. In vain Hemming tried to gain some information about the missing boat and her crew. The negro either knew nothing or was resolved not to tell. At last he produced a book of certificates, and when Hemming had glanced over them he burst into a fit of laughter, and handed them back. The big negro looked exceedingly indignant, and, striking his breast, repeated vehemently—
"Me good man—me show way."
Many of the certificates had been far from complimentary to the negro, but still Hemming thought that he might be useful as a pilot, till he recollected the warning he had just before received.
"This is undoubtedly the very fellow I was to expect," he said to himself. "No, no, you go on shore; we can do without you," he exclaimed, addressing the negro.
The burly savage blustered and protested, but he was made to step into his canoe, which had been paddling alongside, and Hemming signified to him clearly that he must take himself off. They observed him watching them for some way; then he hauled up his canoe, and taking a path inland, they saw no more of him. They had pulled on for half an hour or more when Murray caught sight of a board floating in the water. He could scarcely account for the impulse which made him steer towards it and pick it up. His eye brightened as he looked at it.
"Hurrah!" he shouted joyfully; "hurrah! Jack Rogers is alive; here is a note from him. There is no doubt about it. It is short though—he says, 'A prisoner. Up south branch. Jack R.'" The shout was taken up by his own crew and the crews of all the other boats, and the banks of the stream rang with their loud hurrahs. This brief notice instigated all hands to make still greater exertions to try and recover Jack, wherever he might be. On they went; reach after reach of the winding river was passed, and they had got a long way up, higher than any of them had been before, when a shot, seeming as if it came out of the bank, flew over their heads. Another and another followed.
"We are just in front of the pirates' battery," exclaimed Hemming; "on, lads, on! we'll storm it without delay." The seamen required no further encouragement. A shower of rockets was first fired into the enemy's fort, and then on they dashed, in spite of the heavy fire of musketry, as well as of grape-shot and langrage, which was opened on them in return. To their rage and disappointment, the boats stuck on the mudbank just outside the stockades, which they only then discovered. Many of the seamen leaped out of the boats and attempted to wade onwards, but they either at once sank into the mud or fell forward into the deep ditch, where several were shot down before they could be rescued by their comrades, while others were drowned or smothered in the mud. It was horrible work. An enemy whom they despised was close to them, and yet could not be got at. Hemming, his heart burning with anger and grief at the loss of so many poor fellows and the almost hopelessness of success, ordered the boats to shove off, with the intention of making an attack on some other part of the fort. The blacks continued firing away under cover without much fear of being hit in return. It was melancholy to have to retire, and to see the bank, from off which the water had begun to recede, strewed with the bodies of those who a few minutes before were as full of life and energy as themselves. Before getting to any great distance, Murray thought he saw a channel to the right, which must run near the fort. He pointed it out to Hemming, who told him to lead the way. He was right; the negroes had neglected to fortify it, and in a few seconds the boats were close up to the stockades. Not a moment was lost in storming them and hauling them down. In rushed the gallant bluejackets, led on by Hemming, Murray, Adair, and other officers, and at length they got their black enemy face to face.
"There's Rogers, there's Rogers!" shouted Murray and Adair, for they both saw him at the same time. They were certain of it, though his features were considerably begrimed with powder, smoke, and dirt. This was incentive enough to make them push on with still greater haste, had they not been eager to punish the abominable slave-dealers and their crew of ruffians. The brave fellows little knew the terrible trap prepared for them. Murray and Adair had sprung on ahead, and believed that in another minute they would have rescued Jack from the grasp of his captors, when they felt themselves suddenly pulled back by Hemming and Will Needham.
"Back, back, lads, back!" sang out the lieutenant. At that moment up ascended right before them a mass of earth and stones and wood, with a dense cloud of smoke and dust, accompanied by a terrific roar, and they felt themselves lifted off their feet and sent heels over head, while down upon them came showering all the more solid portions of the above-mentioned materials about their ears, as they lay half stunned and stifled and vainly endeavouring to rise. Another foot in advance, and they would have been blown to destruction. Hemming had seen the old Spaniard fire his pistol into the tub, and guessed what was coming. Murray and Adair felt themselves very much hurt, so indeed were Hemming and Needham; while several poor fellows were maimed or killed outright. The two schoolfellows, after lying stupefied for a few seconds, lifted up their heads and began to crawl out from the mass of ruins which surrounded them.
"Where's Jack?" exclaimed Murray.
"Where's Jack?" cried Adair, getting upon his legs and helping Murray, who was hurt more than he was.
These were the first words they uttered. He had not been out of their thoughts, in spite of the dreadful commotion. As the smoke cleared away they caught sight of the group of fugitives, among whom they supposed he was, ascending the hill which rose beyond the fort. They were eager to pursue, but when they looked round and saw so many of their companions disabled, and Lieutenant Hemming himself on the ground, they could not help fearing that pursuit would be hopeless. Still they were moving on, when Hemming, recovering himself, called them back.
"It is of no use, lads," he cried. "The scoundrels have escaped us this time. See, see, too, we have work here," As he spoke, flames burst forth out of the barracoon, part of which had been blown up by the mine. The seamen who could stand, wounded or not, rushed forward, led by their officers, to help the miserable slaves. They hacked away desperately to get them free of their manacles, trying to cut through the solid iron or the beams to which the chains were secured. Meantime the hot flames were raging around them, and almost prevented them from performing their work of mercy. Still, in spite of the fire, the heat, and the smoke, and the possibility of being again blown up, the undaunted fellows laboured on. Numbers of the poor slaves had been liberated, and several children had been carried off who would otherwise have been left with their mothers to perish; but at last the terrific element gained the upper hand. The seamen's clothes were literally scorched off their backs before they would quit the work of humanity on which they were engaged, but even they were at last obliged to retreat, leaving the miserable captives to their fate. Again and again, however, now one, now another, would make a dash in among the flames, and try to haul out some poor burning creature whose imploring cries their tender heart could not withstand. One gallant fellow was killed by the falling of a burning beam before they would desist altogether from their brave efforts.
By this time the retreating slave-dealers had got completely out of sight, and when Lieutenant Hemming looked round and saw the number of men he had lost, and the disabled state of some of his boats, and of so many of his followers, he felt that he could in no way be justified in attempting to continue the pursuit. An officer often shows his bravery and fitness for command as much by his discretion and by holding back as by pushing forward.
Hemming was just one of these men. If he thought a thing ought to be done, he did not stop to consider what others would say about it, he did it. He now ordered his party to collect, and having conveyed some of the lighter guns to the boats, and spiked and turned the others over into the mud, and set fire to what would burn in the fort, he ordered all hands to make preparations for embarking with the rescued slaves, as well as with four Spaniards, three of whom were wounded, and several negroes who had been captured. He had formed a plan which he hoped to carry out. Some time, however, was occupied in repairing two of the boats; one was so completely destroyed that he could not carry her off. Before all these arrangements were concluded and the party were prepared to embark, it was late in the day. Hemming wanted, by a show of retreating, to throw the slave-dealers and negroes off their guard; and then to make a sudden dash up the stream and to come upon them unawares, having previously sent down the river to the ships some of the boats with the captured slaves. The rest of the officers agreed to the plan as soon as he propounded it to them, and Murray and Adair were consoled at the thought of soon being able to return and attempt Jack's rescue. The state, however, of his wounded men, and the difficulty of navigating the river in the dark, compelled Hemming to bring up sooner than he had intended. A spot of high ground near the river which he thought might be easily defended induced him to land. Some bamboos and young trees were cut down to form a stockade, fires were lighted, sails were spread to form tents, and every preparation was made for passing the night.
"I only wish that Jack was here; he would enjoy this," observed Paddy to Alick. "I say, by hook or by crook, we must get him out of the hands of those ruffians. I've been turning the matter over in my mind, and I am resolved, if Mr Hemming does not think fit to go back and try and rescue Jack, that I will make the attempt myself. I could very soon black myself all over, and a nigger's costume will not take long to extemporise. I would soon frizzle up my hair, and with an old palm-leaf hat on the top of it, and my shirt with the tails hanging down, and tied round the waist by a piece of rope-yarn, I should look every inch of me a blackamoor."
"Capital," observed Murray; "I'll accompany you if we find better measures fail; but still I fear that we should run a great risk of being discovered by the blacks."
"Not a bit of it," answered Adair; "the very daring of the thing would throw them off their guard. They would never expect that two white people could so speedily turn themselves into niggers. Of course we must pretend to be dumb: though we can talk first-rate nigger gibberish in the berth, it won't pass current, I fear, among the natives of these parts."
"Not very likely. However, your idea of pretending to be dumb is good. I think I had better pretend to be an idiot," answered Murray. "But the question is, who will they take us for? where do you fancy they will think we have come from? My idea is that we should rather try and find where Jack is, without falling foul of any of the natives. I want to set off directly it is dark, clamber up the hill where we saw him last, and cut him out. It is to be done, I am certain, and Jack is well worth all the risk we should have to run."
"That he is," exclaimed Adair warmly. "There's nothing I wouldn't do for him, and I'm sure he would do anything for us."
The subject was fully discussed, and then the midshipmen went to Hemming, and asked leave to put their plan into execution. Hemming might on another occasion have been inclined to laugh at the proposal, but he was too anxious to get Jack out of the slavers' power, for he felt his hands tied somewhat with the fear of what the blacks might do to the midshipman should he attack their town. He was, therefore, ready to try any plan, however desperate, to recover Rogers. Having obtained the leave they wanted to put their plan into execution, Murray and Adair set to work to devise the details. As they could only hope to carry out their scheme at night, they agreed that they need not be very particular as to the correctness of their masquerade. There was no time to get any dye, but burnt cork well rubbed in with oil they agreed would answer the purpose. It was too late, however, to take any active steps that night. It was settled that the next morning the flotilla, with some parade, should proceed down the river, while they, with Dick Needham and a picked crew, should lie hid in the smallest boat till dusk the next evening; then they were to land and try and find out where Jack was.
Once discovering the locality of his prison, they fully believed that they could, as they called it, "cut him out as easily as many a rich Spanish galleon has in days of yore been cut out from an enemy's fort, even though protected by the guns of the fort."
The night passed away quietly. The party had expected an attack from the slave-dealers, but these gentry had received a sufficient notice of the warm reception they were likely to encounter, not to make the attempt. In the naming, however, Murray, who had the lookout while the rest were preparing to strike their tents, observed a party approaching with a white flag. He reported what he had seen to Lieutenant Hemming.
"The impudent scoundrels," he exclaimed; "no flag of truce ought to shelter them. However, while poor Rogers is in their power we must treat with them as we best can."
The party soon arrived at the temporary encampment. The most prominent person was the burly negro who had introduced himself down the river as a pilot, and there was a Spaniard and several blacks. The big negro was spokesman, as he professed to know more English than any of the rest. Hemming received them in a very haughty way.
"What is it you want? Have you come to excuse yourselves for firing on my boats and killing my people?" he asked in a stern voice.
It was difficult to understand exactly what the negro said in return, but Hemming made out that he knew nothing about firing on the boats, as he had not been at the fort, but that he had been sent by the king of the country to demand back some prisoners who had been taken while defending the territories of the said king against an unlawful attack made on them by the English boats. Also, there were some Spanish cavaliers, his honoured allies, who must be likewise restored to liberty: there were some slaves too, who must be given up, or the king would visit the English with his intense displeasure.
The long rigmarole speech, of which this was the substance, would have made Hemming laugh on any other occasion. However, now he merely replied, "Listen. Tell the king, or whatever he calls himself, that the English are here to punish evil-doers, to set slaves at liberty, to put a stop to the slave-trade, to encourage commerce, and to prevent wars. If the people we have caught are found to be pirates, as such they will be hung. We keep no terms with people who, like him, support piracy and the slave-trade."
Hemming said something more to the same effect. The negro had, however, a last card to play, which he fancied would win the game.
"Ah, then, if you kill our people, the king says he will kill a little officer we have of yours. His life may not be worth much, but he shall die." The negro grinned horribly as he said this.
"If he does," exclaimed Hemming furiously, "tell the king that we will never rest till we have pulled him off his throne and his town about his ears, and burnt up all his country. Now you have got my answer. Go." Hemming wisely would not condescend to say another word after this. He knew pretty well how to treat such barbarians. The sable ambassador and his motley suite, finding that nothing more was to be got out of the English officer, took his departure. Scarcely had he gone, when a figure was seen to creep out from among some bushes in the neighbourhood. It proved to be the negro lad who had warned them of the black pilot's intended treachery. He ran forward and threw himself at Hemming's feet, showing every sign of delight at finding him again. Hemming at once thought of asking him about Jack. The very thing it proved he had come about. He had heard of him, had gone and discovered where he was shut up, and understood that his captors talked of killing him should any harm befall their people who had been taken prisoners.— Hemming felt sure that he might be fully trusted, so did Murray and Adair. They therefore explained their plan to him, and asked him to assist them. This he at once joyfully undertook to do. Very little change in their plan was necessary. He agreed to act as their guide. They were to assume the character of slave boys belonging to a distant tribe whom he was conducting to his uncle, a chief of some influence in the country, and who was secretly favourable to the English. Wasser, the negro lad, assured them that he was very glad they had not ventured to make the attempt by themselves, as their detection would have been almost certain. Hemming delayed as long as he could before embarking, and he promised to wait for Murray and Adair some way down the river while they went on their expedition. Their boat, with Dick Needham, their new friend Wasser, and three other picked men, all well-armed, shoved off with the other boats, and soon darting in towards a sheltered nook, which they had before observed, lay as they believed perfectly concealed from all passers-by. Wasser, however, advised them to cut down boughs, and to fasten them in front of the boat. This they did, and, as Paddy observed, they could not desire to pass the day in a pleasanter way than in a shady bower with nothing to do and plenty to eat.
A FLIGHT FOR LIFE.
The time passed slowly by while the Archer's boat, with Murray, Adair, and Dick Needham aboard, and the young African lad Wasser, lay hid under the bank of the river, waiting for the time when they might sally forth to the rescue of Jack Rogers. Everybody was eager for the moment, for all longed to have him safe among them.
Wasser's deep gratitude to Hemming was very remarkable, after a separation of so many years, as was also his recollecting him. Murray felt sure that if any one could rescue Jack Rogers, Wasser was the person to do it. The day at length passed away, and after the party had taken a supper, as soon as Wasser thought it was safe, they issued forth from their leafy bower, and with rapid strokes pulled up the stream towards the fort which had been the scene of contest. Wasser remarked that none of the blacks would be venturing there at night, and that it would be the best place for the boat to remain at. Murray and Adair only landed. Needham had directions to wait for them till within an hour of daylight, and then, if they did not appear, to conclude that they were taken, and to pull down as hard as he could to inform Mr Hemming, and to bring him up to their assistance.
Wasser led the way, Alick and Paddy following close after him. Little would any of their friends have recognised in the two half-naked blackamoor lads the neat midshipmen who were wont to walk the deck of Her Majesty's ship Ranger, in all the pride of blue cloth, gold-laced caps, and gilt buttons. Now, except a pair of scanty drawers, a shirt fastened round the waist with a piece of rope-yarn, and a tattered straw hat, clothes they had none. Their feet were tolerably hard, from the custom in which they indulged, in common with most midshipmen, of paddling about without shoes or stockings when washing decks. They were not however unarmed, for both of them had a brace of pistols and their dirks stuck in belts concealed by their shirts. It was curious also to see one of the despised negro race taking the lead as Wasser did on the present occasion.
They landed close to the fort, when without hesitation he led the way inland, and then after a little time they found that they were going up hill. Up, up they went for a long distance, it seemed a mile or more, over a well-beaten path.
It was not so dark as it had been. The light was increasing, it was that of the rising moon. They found that they had arrived in front of some palisades. They formed the wall to the negro city. Wasser signified that they must get over it to see their friend, and conducted them to the left, along the outside of the palisade. At last they got to a spot where he showed them that they might climb over, and whispered that there were no houses near whose inhabitants might discover them. The moon, as I was saying, was rising, so there was no time to be lost in reaching Jack's prison before the light might render the approach more difficult. Cautiously they crept on under the shadow of the houses. The inhabitants appeared to be asleep. Now and then a dog barked, but they saw no one. At last, at the end of a street, they came to an open space, in which stood a solitary hut. Wasser pulled up, and said, "Dere your friend." How Alick's and Paddy's hearts longed to get at him! Their impulse was to run across the square and to let him out, but at that moment a sentry appeared from the other side of the hut with a musket on his shoulder. Though they did not fear the musket, they knew he might possibly let it off and alarm the town, so they stood under the dark shade of a wall, deliberating what was to be done. They watched him for some time, and ascertained that, like a clockwork figure, he always made the same round at the same pace.
"We shall have time to get across the square and to seize him before he makes his round," observed Murray. Adair signified that he thought the same, as did Wasser.
"Then," added Murray, "you and I, Paddy, will seize him, while Wasser lets Jack out of the prison, and he can come and help us bind and gag the sentry."
"Now is our time," whispered Murray. "One, two, three, and away!" Down the square they dashed at full speed. Paddy leaped like a wild man of the woods on a sudden on the astonished sentry's back, and pressed his hand tightly over his mouth, while Murray grasped his musket, putting his hand on the pan, to prevent it going off (he need not have taken so much trouble, as it had no flint in it), while Wasser climbed up to the top of the hut, where he had ascertained there was a hole. It was his honest countenance Jack saw looking down upon him. Jack little thought all the time how near his friends were, and what essential service they were rendering him. Wasser put down his hand, and Jack catching it, Wasser, with a strong tug, enabled him to grasp some of the rafters. Jack very quickly was on the roof, and seeing two negro lads struggling with the sentry, guessing that they were in some way trying to serve him, leapt down to help them. The sentry had very little chance against four stout lads, and so they soon had him down and gagged, and dragged inside the hut.
"Now run, run," whispered Wasser, "no moment lose."
Away they all ran as hard as they could pelt. They reached the palisade and began to scramble over it. Jack had not recognised any of his deliverers, but he was much obliged to the little black fellows for the help they had afforded him. Just then a dog barked, then a man's voice was heard shouting, then another and another joined in the outcry. There could be no doubt that the town was aroused.
The wild hubbub in the negro town increased. The midshipmen and their sable ally had too much reason to fear that they should be captured. Wasser led the way over the palisade, Jack followed, Alick and Paddy brought up the rear. Jack had not yet discovered his friends, as in consequence of their dread of being discovered no one had spoken. Jack only thought that some negro lads, for some reason or other, had come to his assistance.
"Run, run!" cried Paddy, as they jumped down on the outside of the palisades. There was little necessity for his saying this though.
"Who are you?" exclaimed Jack, the truth breaking oh him.
"Alick—Terence," they answered.
"Oh, capital! just what I should have thought you'd have done, if I had fancied it possible," said Jack. "Then let's stop and fight them."
"No, no," said Wasser, "too many men come to fight. Run on, run on!" His advice was evidently the wisest, so run they did, and at a very great rate too. It was clear that by some means or other the sentry had made himself heard. He probably did not describe, in the most complimentary of terms, the people by whom he had been knocked down, gagged, and bound. Some horrible fetish had done it, that of course he believed and asserted. The blacks must have thought that their town was attacked, and very quickly tumbled up from their beds (they had not many clothes to don) and flew to their arms. Shots were heard in different quarters, and the previous stillness of the night was rudely broken by shouting and hallooing of men, barking of dogs, and crying of children, and screaming of women to each other to inquire what it was all about. The noise, however, was not a thing to be much-dreaded. It showed that the negroes were awake, but it was also pretty evident that they had not yet begun the pursuit, so Jack and his companions thought. Wasser led them back into the chief pathway up the hill. There was no other by which they could reach the boat. They had, therefore, to pass very close again to the principal gate of the city. There was a great chance of their being seen as they did so. There was no help for it, so on they dashed. Never had any of them ran faster in their lives, for they were running for their lives. Down the hill they went. They heard a shout; some men were rushing out of the gate of the city in pursuit.
"On, on—mans come—neber fear," cried Wasser.
"I should think not," observed Jack, but he did not slacken his speed. Their pursuers came on at a great rate. They knew the ground and their feet were accustomed to it. Alick and Paddy found theirs hurt horribly, while Jack, having on shoes, could not run as fast as the negroes. It was a long way to the boat. Happily, however, the path wound about a good deal, or probably their pursuers, who had arms, would have fired, that is to say, if the arms had locks and were loaded—slight points in which negro soldiers are not always very particular. Luckily they had to go down the hill instead of up it. At length they reached the bottom; still they had some way to go. The voices of their pursuers grew louder and louder. They fancied that they heard some Spaniards among them, uttering their usual horrid oaths. They knew that those wretches were far more barbarous than their black brethren. With the negroes they might have had some chance of escape, with the Spanish pirates none. On they went. They dared not look round. There was a sharp report of a pistol—a bullet flew by them. Another and another followed. Happily, as their pursuers were running, they could not take steady aim; still they were getting dreadfully near. Another enemy was added to the pursuers. The midshipmen heard the baying of a bloodhound. There could be no doubt about the sound. The brute was still at a distance though; probably let loose by some of the Spaniards not roused till late to join in the chase. Murray and Adair remembered their pistols, and it was a satisfaction to feel that they might possibly shoot him before they were torn to pieces. Not that the task would prove an easy one though. Just then appeared before them through the dark foliage a sheet of silvery hue; it was the river. The sight nerved their limbs afresh; they had need of something to encourage them. Scarcely thirty yards behind them came the savage rabble. The fugitives had difficulty to keep ahead of them. Fierce were the shouts of blacks and Spaniards, and more savage was the baying of the bloodhound. Paddy, who brought up the rear, could scarcely help shrieking out, for he felt the brute close at his heels. He cared much more for it than he did for the bullets. He was certain that in another moment the animal would have hold of his legs, when up there started, just in front of the fugitives, honest Dick Needham and two seamen, well-armed with muskets and cutlasses. Dick, springing forward, made a cut at the savage brute, which almost severed its head from its body, and then shouted, "Back, back, you villains, or we'll blow you into the sky!" and then, in another tone, he cried out, "Run for the boat, young gentlemen, we'll cover your retreat." No one required to be told this a second time, and Needham and the seamen, facing the crowd of blacks, and firing as they retreated, kept the enemy completely at bay till the midshipmen and Wasser had reached the boat. They were not long in jumping in after them, and, shoving off, away they pulled, shouting with delight at their success, and leaving their enraged pursuers swearing and grinning with rage on the shore.
"A miss is as good as a mile," cried Paddy, as he seized one of the oars; but they were not altogether out of the fire. Many of the people collected on the shore had muskets, and began blazing away at them, several of the shots striking the boat, and others coming uncomfortably near; this only made them pull the faster however. While some of the slave-dealers' people were firing, others ran along the bank, and, launching several canoes, paddled off in pursuit. This was much worse than their shooting. The British boat, a light gig, pulled well, but the canoes would probably paddle faster. Nothing daunted, however, Jack and Murray set to work to reload all the muskets and pistols, to make as good a fight of it as they could, should they be overtaken. They could count the canoes as they appeared darting out from among the bushes on the banks—one, two, three, four, five, six, came out one after the other. It was a long way down to the spot where Hemming had said he would await their return. Before they could reach it the blacks must have overtaken them, unless Jack and Murray could manage to pick off some of their chief men, and so perhaps frighten them back; both said that they would do their best to effect that object, however. Wasser sat quiet; he could do no more for the present—not all men even can sit quiet. The canoes drew nearer and nearer. However, a sailor feels very differently on the water and on shore, for even when compelled to run away on his own element, he can face his enemy and show fight: this Murray and Rogers now did to some effect. The canoes had got well within range of their muskets: the sooner, therefore, they began to fire, the better chance they would have of stopping their pursuers. Old Brown Bess, however, was never celebrated for carrying very straight, and neither Jack nor Alick did much execution. At the same time, now and then, they saw the negroes bob their heads as the bullets whistled unpleasantly near them. Some of the people in the canoes fired in return, but, as Dick Needham observed, they might as well have been firing at the moon for all the harm they did.
The English boat pulled on, the canoes following. A long reach was before them. Surely and steadily the canoes were gaining on the boat. The greater portion of the distance to the end of the reach was got over, and now in another five minutes, perhaps less, the canoes would be up with her. "While there is life there is hope;" so thought Jack and his companions, and so they continued making every effort to escape. The voices of the negroes chattering away in the headmost canoe, sounded very loud. Jack and Murray had ceased firing—for the best of reasons— they had come to the end of their ammunition. Perhaps it was fortunate; they could have done no good, and would only the more have enraged the negroes. The latter also had not fired for some time, probably on the same account.
"I feel somewhat inclined to squeak, as a hare does when a greyhound catches hold of her, but I won't," said Jack, as the headmost canoe got almost up to them. "You two in the bows, Johnson and Jones, keep pulling, while all the rest lay about them to drive off the blacks. We are not going to be beat by a parcel of pirates and niggers."
The men cheered at Jack's address, and, grasping their cutlasses, stood ready to obey his directions. Now came the tug of war. The other canoes got up and crowded round them, but again the undaunted seamen cheered, and firing their pistols right and left among the pirates, laid about them most lustily with their well-sharpened cutlasses. As they cheered, what was their surprise to hear their cheers answered, and at the same moment five dark objects on the water were seen coming round the next point. Murray exclaimed that they were men-of-war boats. They must have made out that their presence was much needed. On they dashed towards the canoes. The pirates saw them coming, and dared not stand their onslaught. Before they turned to fly, they made a desperate attempt to capsize the boat, and to carry off some of the English as prisoners. They very nearly got hold of Paddy, whom, in spite of his costume and colour, they had discovered not to be a negro; but Jack and Alick hauled him back, with the loss only of part of his shirt. Poor Wasser was in the same manner saved by Needham; had they got him they would, to a certainty, have killed him. The other boats, now dashing on, put them to flight, and off they went at a great rate up the stream. Hemming himself had come to their rescue. He had felt some misgivings about them, and had returned, intending, if he did not meet them, to land and threaten to ravage the black king's whole territory with fire and sword if they were not given up. Jack was received with warm congratulation by his friends; but there was not much time for compliments, as Hemming instantly went off in pursuit of the canoes. The canoes paddled fast, but the men-of-war boats pulled just then faster, and the negroes and their Spanish allies, finding escape problematical, ran the canoes in on the bank, and, leaping on shore, left them to their fate. As they were undoubtedly employed to assist, directly or indirectly, the nefarious slave-trade, Hemming set fire to them all with the exception of one, which he carried off as a trophy. As it was important to get on board as soon as possible, Hemming pulled at once back to the place where the rest of the boats, with the prisoners and liberated slaves, had been left. They were all safe, and by noon the next day the expedition returned once more to the ship. Sad indeed was the loss they had to report—so many fine fellows cut down in a nameless fight with a band of rascally pirates. The captives not only exonerated Hemming of all blame, but assured him that they believed he had done all that a man could do under the circumstances of the case. Everybody on board both ships welcomed Jack, and poor Wasser was highly delighted with the way he was received and praised for the assistance he had afforded in rescuing him from the slave-dealers; nor did Murray and Adair fail to get their meed of applause.
"I am much obliged to you for all what you have to say," answered Paddy, laughing, "but I wish some of you would tell me how to wash a blackamoor white. I have heard that it was a difficult operation. The burnt cork would have come off by itself, but Dick Needham rubbed in the oil and grease so hard that soap and water won't do it."
Doctor McCan, when applied to, looked rather grave, and, after he had heard the circumstances of the case, delivered a long lecture to prove that black powder rubbed in in that way, in such a climate, when the pores were open, would take root and become ineradicable.
Terence saw a twinkle in the doctor's eye, which made him suspect a quiz, and the laughter of Jack, Alick, and some of his other messmates who stood round, confirmed this suspicion. At first he felt that he ought to be very indignant, but his good-humour seldom kept away many seconds together, and he quickly joined in the laugh against himself. He then accompanied Alick into the hospital, where, in a tub with some hot water and soap, and some alkali the doctor gave them, they very soon got washed white, and returned on deck as spruce-looking midshipmen as they usually appeared. Theirs and Jack's great regret was, that as Alick had to go back to the brig, and they must join the frigate, they would again be separated. Rogers and Adair were once more or board the Ranger, with Lieutenant Hemming and Needham, and the rest of the people who had escaped the various dangers to which they had been exposed since they quitted her. Captain Lascelles was of opinion that it would be necessary to inflict a severe punishment on the slave-dealing king and his white allies, and accordingly resolved to send another expedition up the river without delay, to burn his town and any other barracoons which might be in the neighbourhood; or to induce him to break off all intercourse with the Spanish slave-dealers. The Commodore was able to carry out his object even sooner than he expected, by the arrival of two other brigs, the Rambler and the Tattler. Jack and Terence were very much disappointed when they found that they were not to go. To their earnest request to be allowed to volunteer, Captain Lascelles replied, "I admire your spirit, my lads, but as you are not made of iron, and I cannot afford to expend my midshipmen, others must take their share of the work. You are both of you already as thin as thread-papers."
Certainly by this time they had become very brown and wiry, and bore but a slight resemblance to the rosy, jolly-looking midshipmen they were when they left England. Hemming, however, again went in command, and Wasser begged that he might accompany him as interpreter. With somewhat of an envious feeling the midshipmen saw a considerable flotilla of boats cross the bar and pull up the river.
The day passed away, and so did the greater part of the next, and still the boats did not reappear. Captain Lascelles became somewhat anxious. Hour after hour went by. "There they come, there they come!" was shouted by several who were on the lookout on deck. Not only were all the boats seen, but several large canoes were in their company. In one of the latter, as they drew near, Jack recognised his friend, the negro king, seated in the stern and dressed in the same magnificent uniform in which he had appeared in his own palace. He seemed perfectly happy, and was smoking a pipe with true regal dignity. The side was manned to receive him, and with a grand air he stepped on deck, making a profound bow and a wide flourish with his cocked-hat. Captain Lascelles, on this, went forward to meet him, and, ordering up some cushions from the cabin, begged him to be seated and to continue smoking his pipe, while he ascertained from Hemming the particulars of the expedition. The expedition had proceeded up the greater part of the way towards the fort without meeting any one. When near it a canoe appeared approaching them. In it were the stout pilot, Jack's friend, and three other blacks rigged out in what they considered full fig. They came, they said, as ambassadors from the king. He wished to inform the English that Don Diogo and the rest of the Spanish slave-dealers had gone away overland, to the south—he could not tell where—and that, as he wished to be friends with everybody, he hoped that no further harm might be done to his country. Hemming replied that he was very glad to hear this, but that profession was not practice, and that he must have stronger proofs of his sincerity. The pilot said the king hoped all the English would visit his capital. Hemming answered, that half would go and half would stay to look after the boats. Whether treachery was intended or not, the idea was, it appeared, abandoned, and Hemming, with thirty of his men well-armed, proceeded up the hill to the king's capital. They found it to be a tolerably strong place, and though they might have taken it by storm, not, perhaps, without difficulty and loss. The king received them very courteously, and seemed to be really a sensible fellow, perfectly alive to his own interests. During a long palaver, Hemming explained to him that if he persisted in carrying on the slave-trade, the English would destroy his barracoons, and injure and annoy him in every possible way; but that if he abandoned it, and refused to have anything to do with slave-dealers, but would engage in commerce, encourage agriculture, well treat his people, and act like an honest man, they would assist and encourage him in every possible way; that the Queen of England would be friends with him, call him her well-beloved brother, and send him presents of far greater value than any he got from the Spaniards. So eloquently, indeed, did Hemming put the case before him, that his negro majesty expressed his eagerness to come off to the good queen's big ship and ratify the treaty, which he desired might forthwith be drawn up. Captain Lascelles lost no time in clenching the matter. All sorts of presents were bestowed on the black sovereign; a gun, some crockery, a pair of boots, a tooth-comb, a pair of epaulets, and half a dozen gaily coloured pocket-handkerchiefs, the pilot and the other chiefs coming in for a share of the good things, the captain hinting that this was only a forestalment of what they might expect if they behaved well. Highly pleased with all that had occurred, under a salute of eleven guns from the frigate, and more than half-seas over, the negro potentate and his great ministers of the realm, and other followers, betook themselves to the shore.