Old Gold; or, The Cruise of the Brig Jason, by George Manville Fenn.
Here we have yet another suspense-filled adventure novel by Fenn. There seems to be no end to the situations into which the people in the book can get themselves, and from which there seem to be no escape.
A couple of wealthy Englishmen are determined to sail as far as they can up one of the great rivers of South America, perhaps the Orinoco or perhaps the Amazon. At the time this has never before been done. After finding a ship and skipper they are joined by Briscoe, a rather pushy young man, who has some good characteristics, but whom none of them really like, and who gets on board, with all his stores and a servant, by a series of subterfuges.
As they make their way up the river—they choose the Amazon—they are attacked by the local natives, armed with bows and arrows. Then a boat they send out to explore near a great cataract is sucked in by the towback of the falls. This is normally fatal, but the wind slightly changes, and they find an eddy which carries them clear.
Creating a trackway to enable them to haul a large ship's boat past the falls, they leave their brig at anchor below the falls, and continue with the exploration. They find an extraordinary rock-hewn city in the cliffs bordering a canyon, abandoned perhaps for centuries, and now inhabited by serpents, bats and possibly with various deadfalls guarding the various chambers. Needless to say they find golden artefacts in profusion, but just as they find them they are attacked by a huge fleet of local savages in canoes, so they leave in a hurry.
Re-equipping the brig next year, they cannot find the way back to this El Dorado, and it is the same in future years.
A most enjoyable book.
OLD GOLD; OR, THE CRUISE OF THE BRIG JASON, BY GEORGE MANVILLE FENN.
It was very, very hot. That is to say, it was as hot as it knows how to be in Johnstown, Guiana, which means a damp, sticky, stifling kind of heat. The sun made the muddy river look oily, and the party of three seated under the great fig-tree which shaded the boarding-house by the wharf seemed as if they were slowly melting away like so much of the sugar of which the wharves and warehouses and the vessels moored in the river smelt.
Let us be quite correct: it was more the smell of treacle, and the casks and sugar bags piled up under an open-sided shed all looked gummy and sticky; while the flies—there, it was just as if all the flies in the world, little and big, had been attracted to hum, buzz, and in some cases utter useless cries for help when they had managed to get their wings daubed with the sweet juice and strove vainly to rise in the air.
Captain David Banes, a weather-beaten sailor of about forty, took off his Panama hat, drew a yellow silk handkerchief out of the crown, and dabbed the drops off his face, brow, and the top of his head, which looked as if it had been rubbed and polished till all the hair for a broad space had been cleared away.
Then he said: "Phe-ew!" put the handkerchief back, and nursed his hat upon his knees, as he stared across the rough table, upon which coffee and breakfast-cups were standing, at the sun-burned gentleman who looked something like a modern yachtsman, though it was a good seventy years ago.
The latter looked back at him half-smilingly, took out a handkerchief and wiped his face, and glanced across at another sun-burned individual, to wit, a young man something like him in face, who was driving away flies from the sugar-basin, at which interference with their sweet pleasure they buzzed angrily, and the moment a spoonful of sugar had been taken out settled back.
"It's hot, Brace," said the second personage.
"Yes, I know," said the young fellow, smiling. "I found that out myself."
"Ay, youngster," said the captain, "and it don't want a man o' genous to find that out. I always say this is the hottest place there is, for I never found a hotter. I dessay it is worse in our cook's oven, but I never tried that."
He looked first at one and then at the other, as if he expected them to laugh; but as they did not he screwed up his face, coughed unnecessarily, and then said:
"Yes, it is hot, gentlemen. Wants to be if you mean to grow sugar."
"And coffee, captain," said the second personage; and just then there was a dismal creaking sound made by a windlass, a musical yo-yo-ing came from a vessel moored to the wharf, and a big sugar hogshead was wound up to a certain height, the crane which bore it was swung round, and as the wheels creaked the great hogshead began to descend slowly towards a gaping hole in the vessel's deck, while the captain swung himself round as if bound to follow the motion of the crane and the cask of sugar, and then lowered himself imitatively by bending his back till the cask disappeared, when he started upright, banged the table with his fist, and exclaimed sharply:
"I don't believe they're using a bit of dunnage, and if they don't the first storm they get those hogsheads'll be rempaging about in that hold, and if they don't mind that vessel'll sink, to the bottom of the sea, the sea. She'll sink to the bottom of the sea!"
He half sang the latter words, with a merry look upon his face; but it did not sound like singing, for his voice was not musical, and he turned then to his young companion.
"Know that song, squire?" he said.
"No," said the lad, smiling in turn. "Is it a song?"
"Yes, and a good one too. That's 'The Mermaid,' that is."
"But we did not come here to breakfast and discuss old songs, captain," said the second personage.
"That's a true word, sir; and we—Hullo! there you are again, are you? Anyone would think you wanted to know. See that chap, sir?"
"Oh, yes, I've seen him several times; and he does seem as if he wanted to know something. He has been watching me about ever since my brother and I have been here."
"So he has me, sir. He's one of those chaps who take a lot more interest in other persons' affairs than they do in their own, and if he comes poking his long thin sharp nose in my business he'll be getting himself into trouble."
It was a long thin nose, and on either side was a very sharp black beady eye, which did not set off or improve a thin, wrinkled yellow face, as the owner sauntered by with a roughly-made cigar in his mouth, the smoking of which seemed to necessitate the sucking in of the smoker's cheeks, as he gazed eagerly at the seated party and went on.
"He's a slave-driver; that's what he is, for a guinea," said the captain sourly. "So that's your brother, is it, sir?"
"Yes, this is my brother," was the reply.
"Thought he was. Be just like you when he's a dozen years older."
"I doubt it, captain. You don't suppose I shall stand still during the next twelve years?"
"No, of course not, sir."
"But this is not business, captain."
"No, sir, it isn't," said that individual angrily; "and if I'd known that I was going to be played such an unbusinesslike trick you wouldn't have caught me off Johnstown in my brig, I can tell you. I was as good as promised a full cargo of sugar back to Bristol, and I'm thrown overboard for the sake of saving a few dirty pounds by the agents here. But it ain't my business."
"And my proposal is, captain?"
"Well, I dunno, sir. You've come to me in a very pleasant, straightforward sort o' way to make me what sounds like a good offer. But, you see, we're strangers; I don't know you."
"And I did not know you till yesterday, when I was making enquiries about a vessel."
"That's right, sir. Well, you see, I'm a business man, and I always speak out straight what I mean."
"Speak out then, captain."
"Who may you be?"
"There is my card," was the reply, and a slip was taken out of a pocket-book and pushed across the table, to be picked up by the captain, who read:
"'Sir Humphrey Leigh, Pioneers' Club, Pall Mall.' Humph! Pall Mall's in London, isn't it, sir?"
"Then now I know your name, sir. But do you know anyone here, sir?"
"The bankers will be my reference, and, what will suit you better, captain, credit your account with any sum you and I agree shall be paid to you for the use of your ship."
"Yes, sir, that's all very straightforward and nice; but, you see, before I close with you there's the what for!"
"Yes, sir; I can't go blindfold into a bargain like this. I want to know who you are and what you want to do. In plain English, sir, what are you up to?"
"You know who I am, Captain Banes, and you can satisfy yourself at the bankers' that I am in a position to pay you well and to make your voyage a far more lucrative one than carrying home a cargo of sugar would be."
"That's right, sir; but I'm, so to speak, answerable for my brig and for the lives of my crew. Just have the goodness to tell me again what you want me to do."
"Take on board an ample supply of stores for a year's cruise, and then sail with me to the mouth of the Amazon."
"And up the river as far as you possibly can, and then anchor, and man a boat to go on up the river or rivers as far as we can go."
"That's what you said yesterday, sir. But what for? What's the good of it?"
"That's my business, captain; and here is your friend coming back wanting to make it his apparently," said Sir Humphrey, for the keen-looking yellow-faced man came sauntering back and approached the table so as to pass closer to them.
THE CAPTAIN'S BARGAIN.
"Then he isn't going to know," said the captain, and then aloud: "Yes, sir, as you say, it's a hot country, and those who settle down to a sugar plantation must have rather a rough time of it. If you think of settling down I should advise you to look round a bit first. Don't be in too great a hurry."
By this time the yellow-faced man had passed, and the captain gave each of his companions a solemn wink.
"Let him turn that over," he said. "I like to put chaps like that on a false scent. He's a Poll Pry, that's what that chap is. P'raps he'll be wanting to sell you a plantation. But now then, sir, business. Directly I tell my mates and crew where we're going—if so be as we agree—the first question will be: What are we going for?"
"I don't know myself, captain," said Sir Humphrey.
"You don't know yourself, sir?"
"Not thoroughly. But I will be as open with you as I can. I am an Englishman of some means, and it is my wish to travel with my brother here, collecting."
"Oh!" said the captain.
"At the present time comparatively nothing is known of the central parts of South America."
"Wrong," said the captain. "I can tell you something: it's all big rivers running into one another like a net o' waters."
"Exactly, and that should make travelling in ship and boat easy," replied Sir Humphrey.
"But what's to be got by it, sir?"
"Who can tell," was the reply, "until the country is examined? We want to search. It may mean gold."
"That's good," said the captain.
"That's better, sir."
"Or other precious stones. This is, of course, doubtful; but it is sure to mean an infinity of discoveries about the country and its flora and fauna."
"Its what, sir?"
"Well, its botany and zoology."
"Its flowers, plants, and wild beasts."
"Oh, I see: you'd be hunting, shooting, and collecting a bit?"
"But it's a feverish sort o' place, gentlemen, very hot. There's lot's o' dangerous and poisonous things about, and I have heard that the Injuns on the banks have a bad habit of shooting poisoned arrows from their bows, or little tiny ones from their blowpipes. Ain't it rather a mad idea?"
"That's what the sailors told Columbus," said the younger man, who had been sitting in silence.
"Yes," said his brother, "and it was not a mad thing to discover America."
"Well, no, sir," said the captain, dabbing his dewy head once more; "but you can't discover America over again."
"Of course not, but though North America has been traversed over and over again, how very little is known of the interior of South America!"
"Ha!" ejaculated the captain, screwing up his face; "if you put it in that way, gentlemen, we don't seem to know much about it, certainly: only that there's some big rivers there. I s'pose about as big as any of 'em. I did sail up one of the mouths for a bit once."
"Ah!" cried the younger man excitedly, "and what did you see? Strange wild beasts—wonderful trees on the shores—beautifully-coloured birds— great serpents—monkeys, and the great sea-cows?"
The captain's face shone as he wrinkled it up till his eyes were nearly closed.
"Well, why don't you speak?" said his questioner. "You could not go up that vast river without seeing some wonders. What did you see?"
"Water, sir: lots of it," said the captain bluffly.
"Of course," said the young man impatiently.
"We sailed up for three days."
"And then we sailed down again."
"Oh, absurd! But the shores: what were they like?"
"Don't know, my lad. I never saw them."
"Too far away on either hand. It was like being at sea off that coast, where the water's all muddy. That river and the big ones that run into it, according to the charts, from north, south, and west all seem as if they were hard at work washing all the land away and carrying it out to sea. It's bad enough here, but down south yonder it's wonderful: the water's muddy for miles away out to sea."
"Oh, but you couldn't sail far up that great river without seeing something interesting if you kept your eyes open," said the young man contemptuously.
"My eyes were wide open enough, my lad," said the captain, with a laugh. "I don't shut 'em much when I'm in strange waters, I can tell you. Too fond of David Banes, Esquire. Never was skipper of a ship, was you, squire?"
"Never," said the young man, laughing.
"Then take my advice—never you do be. Ships are shes, as you well know, and they're about the most obstinate, awkward creatures to deal with there are. Let 'em have their heads to themselves for a few minutes, and they give their bowsprits a toss, and if they don't run on the first rock they can find they rush into some outrageous current, or else go straight ashore, to get knocked to pieces by the breakers. That's the sort o' character I give a ship. I'd a deal rather sit behind a wild horse without any reins than trust myself in a ship without a good man and true at the wheel."
"Yes, yes, that's all very right, Captain Banes," said Sir Humphrey drily, "but you'll excuse me: we are not talking business."
"I beg your pardon, sir, but we are," said the captain stoutly. "I suppose you'll own that you propose rather an outrageous thing?"
"I do not look upon it as outrageous, captain; but certainly it is wild and adventurous."
"Same thing, sir. Wants thinking about, and I'm thinking as hard as ever I can. It means risk of life to my men and me."
"I will pay well to balance the risks," said Sir Humphrey.
The captain smiled grimly.
"I don't want to drive a hard bargain, sir," said the captain, rather sternly now. "I only want to say that I don't know what pay you could offer me and my crew that would balance the loss of our lives. I s'pose you're a man of property?"
Sir Humphrey shrugged his shoulders, and smiled at his brother.
"Then look here, sir," said the captain, "if you'll reckon all you're worth, multiply it by ten, and then do that again and offer it to me for my life, I won't take it—there!"
"No, captain, I don't suppose you would," said Sir Humphrey, smiling. "But if you feel disposed to undertake this journey, and in an honest business-like spirit set down what you consider would be a fair payment for the use of your brig and the services of yourself and crew, I have no doubt that I shall close with you at once."
"And about what we get during the voyage—gold and silver and precious stones?"
"Or more likely strange specimens of unknown animals, plants, and curiosities, captain. Well, of course they would belong to me."
"Yes," said the captain thoughtfully; "that would be only fair. But there's another thing, sir: I've got a medicine-chest, and I know how to mix up a powder or a draught for the men in an ordinary way; but I don't think anyone ought to go right up country like you talk of doing without having a doctor on board who could physic for fevers and stop holes and plaster up cuts, and deal with damages generally. It wouldn't be fair."
"You would have such a person on board, captain, for I have studied medicine and surgery, and practised for six years busily before I succeeded unexpectedly to my property and title, and then determined to see more of the world in which we live."
"H'm!" said the captain, looking from one to the other thoughtfully; "I don't like knocking about in strange places begging for a cargo, and I don't like driving my brig through the sea light in ballast. You've took me at a weak time, sir."
"Stop!" said Sir Humphrey sternly. "I don't want to take advantage of any man at a weak time and bribe him into undertaking a task over which he would repent."
"I'm not that sort of chap, sir," said the captain shortly. "If I make a bargain I stick to it, and I answer for my lads."
"That is what I want," said Sir Humphrey. "There are plenty of foreign and native skippers that I could engage; but I want a staunch Englishman whom my brother and I can look upon as a trusty friend: one who, if it came to a pinch, would fight for us as we would fight for him: a good sailor, patient, enterprising, but at the same time cautious and thoughtful, while ready to take as well as give advice."
The captain smiled grimly at the younger man, and gave his head a jerk in the direction of Sir Humphrey.
"He wants a good deal for his money, young gentleman," he said, "and I'm afraid he won't get a skipper with all that stuff in him unless he has him made to order. Look here, sir," he continued, turning upon Sir Humphrey almost fiercely, "I'm a very ordinary sort of man, and I can't strike a bargain with you, promising all sorts of things of that kind. I've got a well-found vessel, and if there's water enough I can make my crew sail her anywhere; but I've got a bit of a temper if people cut up rough with me, and don't do their duty honest. That's all I can say, I think. You want a superior sort of skipper altogether, and I don't like you any the worse for that. We've had a very pleasant chat or two, and it's been a pleasure to me to meet a couple of English gentlemen out here, and there's no harm done. I wish you and your brother good luck."
"Stop!" said Sir Humphrey; "let us understand one another. You refuse to enter into an engagement with me?"
"Yes, sir. I couldn't honestly promise to do all you want. I'm not such a perfect man as you've made up your mind to get."
"And you don't like the risk of such an expedition as I propose?"
"I never said so, sir," cried the captain bluffly. "It's what I should like."
"Then why not go?"
"Because, sir, I tell you I am not the sort of man you want. I dessay I could do a bit of fighting if I was put to it. Anyhow, I should try if anyone began to meddle with me or those who were with me, but—oh, no, you want too much."
"Brace," said Sir Humphrey, turning to his brother, "speak out frankly. It is dangerous to be hasty in choosing one's companions, but I want to know what you think of Captain Banes."
"He's just the very man we want," cried the young man, flushing.
"Thankye, my lad, thankye," said the captain, clapping the young fellow on the shoulder. "That's honest, for your eyes say it as well as your lips. But you're a pretty sort of fellow to drive a bargain! Why, you're asking me to raise my terms because you want me. That's not business."
"Never mind about that, captain," said Sir Humphrey, smiling. "Hullo, what's the matter?"
"I want to go and ask that tall thin yellow chap what he means by spying round this table and trying to hear what we're talking about."
"Let the man alone, captain, and take my advice. Don't quarrel with strangers in a foreign port."
"Advice taken, sir, and paid for," said the captain, stretching out a big brown hairy hand and gripping Sir Humphrey's firmly. "Quite right. Thankye, sir. I like you better for that than I did ten minutes ago. You make me feel half sorry that I can't come to terms with you. You want too much."
"No, he doesn't," cried Brace warmly. "We want you."
"But I'm not the sort of man for you at all, gentlemen."
"A man does not know himself so well as others know him," said Sir Humphrey, smiling. "Captain Banes, I shall be sorry if we do not come to terms, for I believe we should soon become firm friends."
"Well, I've some such idea as that, gentlemen," said the captain.
"Think it over for a couple of days, Captain Banes," said Sir Humphrey. "I will wait till then."
"Nay," said the captain firmly; "a man wants to be careful, but he doesn't want two days to go shilly-shallying over such a thing as this; and if you gentlemen think that you can trust me—"
"There's my hand," said Sir Humphrey.
"And mine," said Brace, eagerly holding out his.
"And there are mine, gentlemen," said the captain bluffly; "if you think I'm your man, your man I am, and I'll stick to you both through thick and thin."
THE PUSHING STRANGER.
Wise people say that one ought to get up very early in the morning, and that it makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.
It is a matter to be settled to a great extent by climate, and Brace Leigh wanted no urging to hurry out of—or, rather, off from his—bed just as the stars were beginning to pale, and open his window more widely, to breathe in the comparatively cool air.
His first thought was, of course, a bath or a plunge into the river for a swim.
But the latter was not to be thought of, for more than one reason. Mud was one, but that might have been borne; another reason was that certain loathsome lizardy creatures lurked about in those waters on the look-out for food.
It a pity, for the hotel was rather a primitive place, and did not boast a bath-room, nor even a good tub or a large basin, and the young fellow had to sigh and make believe with a sponge before dressing hurriedly and going out to wait for the sun's rising and the first notes of the birds.
"Morning is the time out here in the tropics," he said to himself, as he stepped out into the cool darkness, apparently the first person up that morning, for all was very still.
"I'll go down to the waterside and have a good look at Captain Banes's vessel."
He found out directly, though, that he was not the first person up, for the door was open, and as he was in the act of stepping out a peculiarly harsh, wiry voice said:
The young man felt taken aback, for he dimly made out the figure of the thin, inquisitive-looking personage who had hung about them the previous day during the interview with the captain.
"I thought you'd be up early, so I waited for you."
"What for?" said Brace sharply.
"Just for a chat. Folks get friendly when they're thrown together in an out-of-the-way place like this. I took to you as soon as I saw you. Brother up yet?"
"No, he is not," said Brace surlily.
"Ha, ha!" laughed the man. "You want your breakfast."
"Do I?" said Brace. "You seem to know."
"A man don't want to be very knowing to find out that. One always feels a bit snappish first thing. You're going down to have a look at the skipper's brig."
"Well, really—," began Brace.
"Don't be huffy, squire. It's quite natural that you should."
"And pray why, sir? I saw the vessel lying moored yonder yesterday."
"Of course, but when one's going for a voyage in a ship one likes to look at her a bit."
"Then I'm going on a voyage in that ship, am I?" said Brace.
"Of course—you and your brother. Up the Amazons, eh?"
This was said in a questioning tone, but Brace made no reply.
"Well, of course you've a right to choose, but I say you ought to go up the Orinoco. Deal more to see there, I believe. Dessay, though, there's plenty up the Amazons. They'll do."
"That's a comfort," said Brace, smiling in spite of his annoyance, for the man was as cool as he was imperturbable.
"Is it?" he said. "Glad of it. Glad too that you young Englishmen are so enterprising. As a rule you're downright sleepy and leave nearly everything in the finding out way to us Amurricans. Didn't know I was an Amurrican, did you?"
"I never doubted it from the moment you spoke."
"Didn't you, now? Well, that is curious. It's my pushing way, perhaps."
"Yes, that was it," said Brace, laughing.
"Well, there's nothing like it if you want to get ahead. So you're going up the big rivers, are you?"
"Look here, sir," said Brace: "my brother will be down soon. Wait a little while, and then you can ask him about his plans."
"No, thankye, sir," said the man. "He's short and sharp, and maybe he wouldn't like it. You're easier to deal with. Don't be huffy. Two fellows meeting out here in a place like this ought to help one another."
"I see," said Brace good-humouredly. "Now then, you want me to help you in something?"
"To be sure. That's it exactly."
"Well, sir, what is it?"
"Look here, never mind the sir. That's so English. Now you're getting stand-offy again, as if you thought I was a sharper with a story about being hard up."
"H'm!" coughed Brace.
"Hah! that's what you did think?"
"Well, perhaps so."
"No perhaps about it, squire. But you're wrong. I am hard up, but it isn't for dollars."
"Then what help do you want?"
"Friendly help. I'm down in a hole, and I want you and your brother to pull me out."
"Don't be in a hurry. You've been too sharp for me as it is."
"How? I never saw you till yesterday, when you came hanging about our table."
"Enough to make any man hang about. It made me wild, squire, to see the ground cut from under my feet. I'm not used to it."
"I am quite ignorant of having done anything to injure you, sir," said Brace. "Will you explain yourself?"
"Oh, I'll precious soon explain. You and your brother pushed in before me and stole my skipper."
"Did what?" cried Brace.
"Stole my skipper, squire. I came here straight, after being too late over a schooner at Trinidad. Found out that Skipper Banes had been disappointed of a cargo and was just the man likely to make a bargain with me, but before I could get in tow with him you and your brother had hooked on."
"Really, I'm very sorry for you."
"Never mind the sorrow, squire: I want something more substantial than that. What do you say to tossing for him?"
"Nothing," said Brace.
"Of course I knew you'd say that. What do you say to letting me have him, and I'll take you with me, both of you?"
"Nothing again," replied Brace, laughing.
"Why not? Lookye here: I'm going up the Orinoco exploring and collecting, shooting, fishing, and hunting, and finding every precious thing there is to be found. That's just what you're going to do."
"Yes, of course it is: only you two say Amazons, while I say Orinoco."
"You seem to know all about our affairs, sir," said Brace stiffly.
"Yes, I do, pretty tidy," said the American. "Come, what do you say? You and your brother can pay half, and we'll share everything we get. What do you say to that?"
"You had better explain your position to my brother, sir," said Brace quietly; "that is all that I can say."
"That means your brother won't come unless he can boss the whole show."
"Yes, that's it," said Brace, laughing. "It's a way we English have."
"That's true, but then, you see, we Amurricans have got the old AS blood in us."
"AS—Anglo-Saxon?" said Brace.
"That's the stuff; sir, and all the best of the British race in us along with our own qualities. It came out over the row with George Three, and it's come out more and more ever since. We like to boss the whole show too, and we do it."
"Or try to."
"Yes, and try wins, squire. But look here, I suppose you're right. That's what your brother will say. He has made his plans and he don't want any Yankee meddling in them, eh?"
"Well! But I believe he will put it in a more gentlemanly way."
"Fine words won't better it, squire, and the disappointment will be as hard as ever. Look here: I want to go, and I'll pitch over the Orinoco and make it Amazons and go with you. Now then, what do you say to that?"
"Do you want the plain truth?"
"I want the words of an English gentleman," said the American sharply.
"Then I must say that I feel sure he will decline."
"You are a perfect stranger."
"Can't help that."
"Well, I'll be frank," said Brace: "he would not like it because of a certain English feeling of exclusiveness."
"Yes, that's it, squire; and that's where you Britishers go wrong. But look here: do I speak plain? I'll pay a fair half of all it costs— straightforward dollars."
"My brother would not be influenced by money. But there, take no notice of what I say. He will be down soon: ask him."
"But I want you to back me up, squire."
"I can't do that, sir. Can't you see that it would be very unreasonable?"
"No," said the American shortly; "can't see anything, only that I want to go in that captain's vessel, and I don't mind whether it's up the Orinoco or the Amazons. I wouldn't mind if it was only up this bit of a river here to where the gold grows. They say there's plenty up there."
"Then go up this river and seek it," said Brace, "and you'll soon get over this disappointment."
"Maybe," said the American; "but it's getting light now: the sun comes up quickly in these parts. Let's go down to the waterside and have a look at the skipper's boat."
Feeling that it would be a welcome change in the conversation, Brace walked with him to where they could get a good view of Captain Banes's brig, whose taut rigging and shapely sides began to show plainly now in the early morning, a flash of sunlight seeming to have fallen just beneath the bows on the head of the white painted figurehead beneath the bowsprit; but it proved to be only the gilded Phrygian cap which the carvers had formed, while as they walked up, admiring the trimness of the well-kept vessel the while, there was another gleam of sunlight, but only on the gilt name "Jason."
"Ah," said the American, "'Jason': that had hold of me as soon as I saw it. He was the chap who went after the golden fleece, wasn't he?"
"I believe so," replied Brace.
"Yes, that's it; and if I'd had that ship I might have got a cargo of golden fleeces, or other things that would have done as well. You'll have to back me up, squire. I feel as if I must go."
"Impossible, sir. Charter another boat. You are prepared for such a voyage, I suppose?"
"Prepared?" exclaimed the American. "I've got a dozen cases ashore here where I'm staying, full of guns, ammunition, tackle, and all sorts. My servant's got 'em in charge. There's not too much of anything, and nothing but what's likely to be useful to a man going to where he's surrounded by savages and wild beasts."
"Then you take a great interest in exploration?" said Brace.
"Interest? I should think I do, sir. I'm a regular Columbus, Marco Polo, and Captain Cook rolled up into one. Only just wish I'd a dozen smart chaps instead of only one. I'd go off in a boat, capture that brig, and sail right away."
"To be followed, caught, and put in prison for piracy," said Brace, smiling contemptuously.
"Eh?" said the American. "Yes, I suppose that's about the size of it."
"Ship ahoy, there! What cheer, oh? Morning, sir," came from the brig, and Captain Banes, who had just come on deck, took off his hat and waved it, but stopped suddenly as he made out who was Brace Leigh's companion.
"Morning, skipper!" cried the latter.
"Morning, sir, morning," shouted the captain gruffly, and then, turning sharply round, he began to give orders to the crew, which were immediately followed by sounds of holystone upon the already white boards, and splashing of water as buckets came over the side and were hauled up again.
"Don't seem as if he's going to ask us aboard," said the American.
"No," replied Brace, smiling. "Which way are you going, sir, because I am going to stroll along by those sugar-warehouses and back to the hotel on the other side."
"That's just my way; so I'll walk with you. Ah, here's the sun. Going to be another stinging hot day."
"It's hot already," said Brace, whose cheeks were beginning to tingle at the man's persistency.
"Yes, it is hot, and—I say, ain't that your brother coming this way?"
"Yes," said Brace eagerly, and he uttered a sigh of relief as he felt that an unpleasant business would be brought to an end at once.
He soon saw that there was a frown on his brother's brow, and Sir Humphrey's voice told plainly what he felt upon the stranger attacking him at once about the business he had in hand.
He heard him courteously to the end, and then, with a few words of sympathy for the disappointment he was causing, plainly told the applicant that his proposal was quite out of the question.
"Humph!" said the American. "Well, I don't like it, mister. I've come all this way to go up one of these rivers, and I don't mean to be put off. They're as free for me as for you."
"Quite so," said Sir Humphrey, "and you will go your way while I go mine."
"Ye-e-es, but it seems a pity. I like you two gentlemen, and I don't think you'd find much harm in me."
"I have nothing against you, Mr—Mr—"
"Don't you mind about the 'mister.' My name's P Franklyn Briscoe, squire, and I should like to be friends with you."
"So you shall be," said Sir Humphrey, smiling, "for I promise you I will not quarrel."
"Then you'll make a bargain of it?" cried the American eagerly.
"Decidedly not, Mr Briscoe," said Sir Humphrey firmly. "Make up an expedition of your own, sir: and I wish, you success."
"But we should do so much better, squire, if we joined hands."
"Possibly, sir, but I must decline to enter into any kind of partnership."
"With a stranger, eh?"
"Well, yes, with a stranger. Once more, sir, I wish you success."
"I'm a very useful sort of man, squire."
"That I do not doubt; but I prefer to take my own journey my own way."
"Wouldn't stop to pick me up, I suppose, if you found me drowning or starving, eh?"
"I hope I have an Englishman's share of humanity towards a fellow-man in distress, sir," said Sir Humphrey coldly; "but on your own showing you have a goodly supply of necessaries and ample funds for prosecuting your journey."
"Well, yes, tidy."
"Then once more good morning. Come, Brace, my lad, I daresay we can get some breakfast now."
Sir Humphrey bowed to the American and turned away, followed by his brother, after the latter had saluted the stranger, who stood looking after them.
"All right," he said. "People don't take to me don't like my ways, I suppose: I thought I was as polite as a man could be. But if you keep on whittling you're sure to get through the stick: whether it take a long time or a short time, PFB, my friend, depends upon the blade. Now, is your blade a sharp one, or will it only cut cheese if you put a lot of strength into the stroke? Well, we shall see."
Before the brothers had finished their meal Captain Banes was ashore, and an earnest conversation ensued about ways and means.
"Let's see," said the captain; "what about your luggage and stores? You haven't much, gentlemen?"
"Indeed, but we have," said Brace: "tons."
"Oh, that's nothing."
"I think you will say it is something when you see," said Brace. "We have stores of all kinds to last for a couple of years if necessary."
"Then you have plenty of ammunition, I suppose?"
"Plenty," said Sir Humphrey. "In fact, we brought everything we could think necessary. When will you have it on board?"
"Some time this afternoon, gentlemen. I shall warp in alongside the wharf so as to get it under hatches easily. The sooner it's aboard the better. I'll give orders to the mate, and he'll see to that while I arrange about what fresh stores are necessary. That won't take long."
"Then you propose sailing soon?" said Sir Humphrey.
"Yes, sir, as soon as you like. We can settle our little business affairs in five minutes, or I can take your word. That's enough for me."
"Thank you, Captain Banes," said Sir Humphrey gravely; "but I should prefer you to draw up a business letter that would be binding upon us both."
"Very well, sir: it shall be done."
"But what about your mate and the crew?" said Brace.
"Oh, I had a talk to them last night, sir."
"You mean that they are willing to come?"
"They all look upon it as a holiday, sir, and are as pleased as can be."
"But they've not seen us yet," said Sir Humphrey.
"What, sir?" cried the captain, laughing. "They all came ashore as soon as I'd told 'em about you, and crept up to the open window of the room where you two gentlemen sat talking by the lighted lamp."
"Indeed?" cried Brace. "I did not hear them."
"Only came one at a time, sir, and they'd no shoes on."
"Well, what did they say?" cried Brace.
"Like to hear, gentlemen?"
"Of course," cried Brace.
"They're good trusty lads, gentlemen, but, like all British sailors, a bit plain-spoken. P'raps Sir Humphrey here mightn't like it, though I answer for 'em that they meant no harm."
Brace looked merrily at his brother as if asking a question.
"Oh, yes, speak out, captain," he said.
"Well, gentlemen, they all agreed that they thought Mr Brace here would turn out a regular trump as it would be a treat to follow."
"Come, that's a good character," cried Brace; "eh, Free?"
"The poor fellows don't know you yet, Brace, my boy," said Sir Humphrey drily.
"Oh, my chaps aren't far wrong, sir," cried the captain, smiling.
"Well, what did they say about me?" asked Sir Humphrey.
The captain's eyes twinkled, and he cocked one of his eyes at Brace; but he did not speak.
"Was their report so very bad?" said the young man.
"Yes, sir; pretty tough," replied the captain.
"Never mind," said Sir Humphrey, "so long as it was honest. What did they say, captain?"
"Said they didn't quite know what to make of you, sir; but they all agreed that you looked a bit hard in the mouth, and bull-doggy—that's what they called it. The first mate said, too, that he quite agreed with them, for he could see that if ever it came to a fight with any of the natives, two-foots or four-foots, you'd never flinch."
"I hope not," said Sir Humphrey; "but I also hope we may never be put to the test."
The captain stopped.
"Oh, there's a but," said Brace merrily. "It would have been quite a decent character if it had not been for that but."
"What was the but, captain?" asked Sir Humphrey.
"He couldn't say how you'd come up to the scratch if it was trouble with the long twisters that swarm up the rivers and in the damp forests of these parts."
"Snakes?" suggested Brace.
"That's right, sir: boa constructors, as the showman said they was called, because they constructed so many pleasing images with their serpentile forms."
"Well," said Sir Humphrey, "to be perfectly frank, I don't know myself how I should behave under such circumstances, for I have a perfect dread of serpents of all kinds. The poisonous ones are a horror to me."
"Or anyone else, sir," growled the captain. "I'd rather have a set-to with one of the tigers here."
"Tigers!" cried Brace; "there are no tigers in the New World."
"They call 'em tigers here, sir, though they've got spots instead of stripes. Jaggers I suppose is the proper name. Fierce beasts they are too. But poisonous snakes—ugh! They give me the creeps. But there, these things always get away from you if they can."
"Let us change the subject," said Sir Humphrey; "I am quite satisfied with your men's judgment, Captain Banes, and I daresay we shall become very good friends."
"Of course, sir," said the bluff man addressed. "I'll answer for them, as I told them I'd answer for you two gents. By the way, I hear the Yankee chap wants to charter a vessel for some such a voyage as you gentlemen mean to make."
"Yes," said Sir Humphrey; and the brothers related their interviews of the morning.
"Want'll have to be his master," said the captain, who had listened, smiling grimly during the narration. "I don't see myself going on such a trip with him. I took a dislike to that chap as soon as I saw him. Well, I wish him luck. Then if it's all the same to you, gentlemen, I'll have your stores on board a bit late in the afternoon when the sun's getting lower, and—Well, now! look at that. Think he heard what I said?"
"I hope not," said Sir Humphrey quietly. "It's as well not to excite people's dislike by making remarks about their appearance before them."
"Right, sir," said the captain. "That's one for me."
"I beg your pardon, Captain Banes," cried Sir Humphrey earnestly. "I did not mean to—"
"It's all right, sir; I deserved it," said the captain bluffly, "and I hope now he didn't hear. Poor beggar! It is his nature to. Now, gentlemen, what do you say to coming and having a look over your cabin and berths? All being well, they'll be your quarters for many a long month to come."
"By all means," they cried, and started for the brig at once.
ABOARD THE "JASON."
"Sits like a duck, don't she, gentlemen?" said the captain proudly, as they approached the riverside. "I don't say but what you may find faster boats, but I do say you won't find a better-built or better-proportioned brig afloat. Look at her."
The captain had good cause to be proud of his vessel, and he showed his pride by having her in particularly trim order, while his crew of a dozen men were smart, good-looking young fellows, as trim as their vessel, and very different from the ordinary run of merchant seamen, being quite the stamp of the smart, active, healthy-looking Jacks of Her Majesty's Fleet.
Everything was smartly done, beginning with the manning and rowing ashore of the captain's boat, while as the little party ran alongside and stepped on deck the crew were gathered together ready to salute the brothers with a cheer.
"Why, captain," said Sir Humphrey, after a sharp glance of satisfaction around him, "you surprise me. The 'Jason' looks more like a yacht than a merchant brig."
"No, no, no, no, no, sir," said the captain, in a remonstrant tone; "as clean and smart, p'raps; but there isn't the show. Look here, though," he continued, nodding to one of the brothers and taking the other by the edge of his coat, "things happen rum sometimes, don't they?"
"Certainly," said Sir Humphrey, smiling at the skipper's mysterious way of taking them into his confidence. "With regard to what? Has anything happened rum, as you call it?"
"To be sure it has," said the skipper, screwing up his eyes. "You want a boat suitable for going up rivers, don't you?"
"Certainly," said Sir Humphrey, "and I seem to have found her."
"You have, sir, and no mistake, accidentally, spontaneous-like, as you might say. Do you know, I planned the rigging-out of that boat so that she might go up big rivers in South America?"
"Indeed?" said Sir Humphrey, looking at the speaker curiously.
"Ah, you think I'm blowing, sir, as the Yankees call it—bragging."
"I have no right to doubt your word, captain," said Sir Humphrey stiffly.
"Thankye, sir," said the captain; "but you do," he added sharply, turning upon Brace.
"That I don't," said the latter quietly. "I don't know much about you, captain, but you look too much of the straightforward Englishman to boast."
The captain's eyes closed quite up now—well, not quite, for a sharp flash came from out of the narrow slits as their owner chuckled softly and clapped his young passenger heartily upon the shoulder.
"And thank you, youngster," he cried. "You and me's going to be good friends, I see. No, my lad, there's no brag in my make. I've got plenty of faults, including a bad temper; but sham was left out when I was made. But about the 'Jason': I did contrive her for river work."
"So much the better," said Sir Humphrey. "She draws little water, I suppose?"
"Bit too much, sir; but I didn't mean that. I was alluding to her rig."
"Indeed!" said Sir Humphrey.
"Why, you ought to have had her schooner-rigged," said Brace sharply.
"Nay, I oughtn't," said the Skipper, screwing up his features more tightly. "Schooner wouldn't do so well for these river waters. A brig's best."
"Why?" said Sir Humphrey.
"Square sails up aloft come in handiest. I've seen the Hightalians who do the fruit trade up the big rivers that run north from the Plate—La Plata, you call it. They sail up for months to go and buy oranges to bring down for Europe and the States. They use brigs with spars so long you'd think they'd topple their boats over. Do you know why?"
Brace shook his head.
"Then I'll tell you, my lad. They sail up and up, and the banks close in till at last they're going up what looks like a great canal with the forest trees right down to the water's edge, shutting them quite in."
"That is just the sort of place we want to sail up, eh, Free?" said Brace.
"Exactly," replied his brother.
"Plenty of 'em up where you're going," said the skipper, "and you'll be able to sit on deck and fish and shoot without going ashore. But a schooner of the regular sort would be no use there."
"Why?" asked Brace.
"Because a schooner would be becalmed. Her big fore and aft sails would have all the wind shut out from them by the trees. With a brig like this all you have to do is to run up a couple of topgallant spars like those you see tucked under the bulwarks there, long thin tapering fellows like fishing-rods, and hoist a couple of square sails high up on them, and you catch the wind, and on you go."
"Yes, I see," said Brace. "Then those long thin masts are ready for such an emergency."
"That's right, squire," said the captain, smiling; "only I don't call that an emergency, only a matter of plain sailing. It makes one ready to go straight on, for I don't know anything more wherriting to a sailor than having a nice breeze blowing overhead and not coming down low enough to fill his sails. I've been like that before now in one of these rivers, but I don't think I shall be again. Of course one must expect a stoppage now and then in the dry times when the water falls and leaves the river shallow. There's no fighting against that, and no seamanship will teach a skipper how to find the deep channels in a river where the banks and shoals are always shifting. But come and look at the quarters below. You won't find any polished wood and gilding, squire," he continued, turning to Brace, with a dry smile.
"Do you suppose I expected any?" said Brace shortly.
"Well, no, I suppose not. But there is some polish, because the lads put that on with elbow-grease. No stuffing neither on the seats."
"Of course not," said Brace. "We did not try to find a fancy yacht."
"That's right," said the captain; "but anyhow, when a man's tired, a wooden seat is a bit hard, so I've got some horsehair cushions to go on the lids of the lockers. I like 'em myself. Now then, gentlemen, can you make shift here?"
"Yes, and a very good shift too," said Sir Humphrey as he and his brother stood looking round the fairly roomy cabin, whose fittings were of Quakerish simplicity, but scrupulously clean.
"As clean as on board a man-o'-war," said Brace.
"To be sure," said the skipper drily. "Why not?—Then you think it will do, gentlemen?"
"Excellently," said Sir Humphrey.
"That's right, gentlemen. There are your berths in there. That's mine, and those two belong to my mates," he continued, pointing out the different divisions in the stern of the brig. "I've got a good cook too, for I like decent eating and drinking. He can't make what you call side dishes and French kickshaws. But he can make turtle-soup when we catch a turtle, and I'll back him against any cook in the British Navy to make a good cup of coffee."
"That will do," said Brace.
"Frizzle a rasher o' bacon."
"So will that."
"And make bread cakes."
"Why, Brace, we shall be in clover," said Sir Humphrey, laughing.
"But he has his faults, sir," said the captain solemnly.
"All cooks have," said Sir Humphrey, smiling. "What is his worst?"
"His plum-duff isn't fit to give a pig."
"Is it like the one of which the passenger complained?" said Brace, laughing.
"Eh? I dunno," said the skipper, staring. "I don't know that I ever heard of that one. What sort of a pudding was that?"
"It must have been worse than your cook's, for the passenger said he did not mind putting up with flies for currants, but when it came to cockroaches for raisins he felt bound to strike."
The skipper screwed his face up till there were so many wrinkles that there did not seem to be room for another.
"No," he said, "my cook's plum-duff was never so bad as that, squire; but there's no knowing what may happen. If it ever does get so bad you and me'll drop him overboard. Now then, gentlemen, like to see the men's quarters?"
"Oh, no, captain," said Sir Humphrey; "we're quite satisfied."
"You take the rest from the sample you've seen?"
"Certainly," replied Sir Humphrey.
"Then the next thing is to get your traps on board, sir—later on, as I said."
"Exactly. We'll go back ashore, and you can look at them, and then I suppose we may leave it to you."
"Yes, gentlemen; I'll give orders to my first mate, and he'll have 'em brought aboard and stored in a compartment below that I've got partitioned off with bulkheads. There's a hatch in the deck, and a way in as well from the cabins, so that you can get to the stores when you like."
"What about the ammunition?"
"There's a place below communicating with the compartment by a trap, sir. Come and see."
The captain led the way into the dark store-like place, which proved to be eminently satisfactory, cut off as it was from the brig's hold. Soon afterwards the brothers went ashore, congratulating themselves upon how capitally matters had turned out; and the first face they saw upon landing was that of the American, who was seated under a tree smoking an enormously long cigar and making the fumes of the tobacco hang round beneath the wide brim of his white Panama hat.
"Keeps the flies off," he said, nodding to Brace. "Try one?"
"Thanks, no," said Brace, as he had a whiff of the strong, rank tobacco. "I'd rather have the flies."
"So would I, Brace," said Sir Humphrey angrily, as they went into the hotel; "and the smoke too, rather than that man's company. Bah! how he does annoy me with his inquisitive ways!"
Inquisitive ways indeed, for as the evening drew near there was the American still smoking as he sat in a deck chair watching the crew of the "Jason" busily getting the packages belonging to the brothers on board.
Brace had made up his mind to see the luggage and stores placed on board the brig, which had now been warped alongside one of the wharves; but, on going out from the hotel and catching sight of the American, he went back and joined his brother, who was having a long final chat with Captain Banes.
Consequently, so to speak, the American had a clear course, and he sat in the deck chair he had borrowed, smoking cigar after cigar, as if, like a steamer, he could not get on with the simplest thing without sending up vapour into the hot air.
But he did not sit in silence, for his tongue ran on, and he found something to say to the second mate, who was superintending the getting on board of what he called the passengers' "traps," and something else to every man of the busy crew, who, in consequence of a hint given by Captain Banes to his first officer, carefully took everything on board themselves, without invoking any of the black or coolie labour to be obtained upon the wharf.
"He's a rum one, my lads," said the second mate to the men. "Let him talk: it pleases him, and it don't do you any harm."
"All right, sir," said one of the sailors: "I don't mind. He's pretty free with the terbacker."
"What?" said the mate, putting his hand in his pocket and fingering one of half a dozen cigars lying loose therein: "has he given you some?"
"Yes, sir, a lot: says it's real Virginny."
"Humph!" ejaculated the mate. "Must be pretty well off.—Mind those chests, my lad. Those are ammunition."
The men went on unloading a rough truck piled up with chests, portmanteaux, and cases of various kinds, before attacking a second truck-load, while the American sat lolling back in his chair, smoking away, his eyes twinkling as he scanned each package in turn and watched for every opportunity to have a word with the busy mate, never letting a chance go by.
"Why, lufftenant," he said, "why don't you smoke and make your miserable life happy?"
"Because I'm at work," said the mate bluffly.
"My skipper don't stand smoking when we're busy."
"Don't he now? Bit of a tyrant, I suppose," said the American.
"Humph!" ejaculated the mate gruffly.
"I like him, though," said the American: "seems to know the ropes."
"Oh, yes, he knows the ropes," said the mate. "Easy there with that chest."
"Easy it is, sir."
"Now, I wonder what's in that case," said the American. "It's marked with two X's and a cross and SpG and OG. Now, what would that be, lufftenant?"
"Dunno," replied the mate. "Rareohs for meddlers, I should say, sir."
"Should you now?" said the American drily. "I shouldn't. Yes, I like your skipper, and I should have liked to have a voyage with him."
"Pity you didn't, sir," said the mate.
"Yes, that's jest how I feel; but I was too late. They're taking a deal of luggage with 'em, ain't they?"
"Yes," said the mate, as the men had the empty truck wheeled out of the way and attacked the next. "A pretty tidy lot, and it's heavy too."
"Seems to be," said the American. "Fine lot o' gun tackle, ammunition, and suchlike. Wish I'd been going too."
"Wish you had, sir," said the mate, fingering the presentation cigars, and then to himself: "What a whopping fib! I wouldn't sail in the same craft with such a nuisance."
"I'd tell my men not to let that case of cartridges down if I was you, lufftenant," said the American, as the men raised a heavy chest.
"What case of cartridges?" said the mate, turning sharply. "Humph I didn't know that was ammunition."
"Looks like it," said the would-be passenger drily.
"'Tarn't branded," said the mate. "Oh, yes, it is. But what fool marked it there at the bottom instead of the top?"
"I reckon that is the top," said the American, taking his cigar from his lips to send forth a great puff of smoke.
The loading and unloading went on, the heavy packages being swung on board by means of a crane, the lighter being carried over a gangway on the sailors' backs; and as fast as they reached the brig's decks they were lowered through an open hatch.
As the packages were taken off the truck, the American's eyes twinkled, and he had something to say about each.
"Strange deal of baggage," he said, when nearly all was on board. "Must say it's a big lot for two passengers."
"More than you've got, sir?" said the mate.
"Twice as much, lufftenant. But hullo, what have you got there—barrel o' brandy?"
"No," said the mate roughly; "it isn't juicy: it's dry."
"That's queer, lufftenant, but so it is: there's holes in the top. What do they mean?"
"I haven't been inside, sir," said the mate roughly.
"Ain't you though? Well, I s'pose not. Ain't anything alive, though, is it?"
"Alive? Pooh! Ventilation holes to keep the things from fermenting. I dessay it's something in the eating line."
"Be nice too, I dessay," said the American. "Wish I was going. I should like to have had some of that. Anyhow, mister, I think I'd be careful with that hogshead in case your men might let it go down. It'd be a pity to spoil it by letting it slip 'twixt the wharf and the ship."
"We'll take care of that, sir," said the mate, as the chains were hitched to the barrel and it rose slowly from the stones of the wharf, swinging slowly in a half-circle, and was lowered through the deck of the brig.
"There we are," said the mate, with a laugh, as he turned to the American.
"Yes, there you are, lufftenant. Bit heavy, wasn't it?"
"Oh, no, nothing much.—Now, my lads, look alive!"
There was a chorus of: "Ay, ay, sir!" and a few minutes later the contents of the last truck were reposing in the partitioned-off space in the brig's hold.
Then, and then only, the second mate turned to the American, and, taking out one of the cigars presented to him, bit off the end.
"Now," he said, "work done, play begins. I'll trouble you for a light."
"A light? Oh, certainly, lufftenant," replied the American, handing his match-box. "You'll like those cigars. They're good ones."
"I'm sure of that," said the mate.
"Stop ashore, and have a bit of dinner with me up at the hotel."
"You're very good," said the mate; "but I must get back on board. There's a lot to do. I expect we shall drop down the river to-night."
"Eh? Soon as that?"
"Yes. The skipper is off to sea."
"Oh, but you might find time for that. A man must eat. Ask the boss to give you leave."
"Humph! I hardly like to ask him, as the time for sailing is so near; but well, there, I will."
"That's right. Come and dine at the hotel just for a pleasant chat. Wish I'd been coming with you on your voyage."
"I begin to wish you were," said the mate, smiling. "You'd have found me handy when you wanted to ask questions."
The American looked at the speaker keenly, and then smiled.
"I understand," he said. "So you think I ask a lot?"
"Well, yes," said the mate, laughing. "You are pretty good at it."
"I suppose so. Way I've got. Pick up knowledge that how. Seems to me the way to learn. Hullo! What are they doing with your ship?"
"Warping her out again so as to be ready for dropping down when we start."
"Is that better than going off from the wharf?"
"Yes, a dear; but excuse me: there's the skipper yonder. I'll go and tell him I want to be off for a few hours."
"You do," said the American, "and you'll find me here when you come back."
"If the skipper knows where I want to go," thought the mate, "he'll say no directly, for he hates that Yankee, so I won't say anything about him. Not a bad sort of fellow when you come to know him; but of all the inquisitive Paul Prys I ever met he's about the worst. Never mind: he has asked me to dinner, and I'll go."
The next minute the mate was face to face with Captain Banes.
"Ah, Lynton," cried the skipper, "there you are, then. Got the gentlemen's tackle and things on board?"
"Yes, sir, all on board."
"That's right. We shall drop down the river about one; so see that all's right."
"All is right, sir, and I want you to spare me for three or four hours."
"Spare you to-night?"
"Yes. I want to dine with a friend."
The skipper raised his eyebrows and stared.
"Want to dine with a friend? Why—oh, well, I'm not going to imitate that Yankee and ask questions about what doesn't concern me. I was going to ask you to join us in the cabin, to meet the gentlemen; but that will do another time. Yes, of course, Lynton, and I wish you a pleasant evening; but no nonsense: I sail at the time I told you."
"And if I'm not back you'll sail without me?"
"No fear, sir," said the mate.
"I know there isn't, my lad, or I should have said no. I'll tell Dellow to send a boat ashore for you at ten."
The skipper walked off leaving the mate looking after him and frowning.
"He needn't have been so nasty about it. But he wouldn't sail without me if I were not back."
The mate did not stir till he had seen Captain Banes on board. Then and then only he went in search of the American, but did not find him, and after a certain amount of search and enquiry he was walking along with overcast brow, thinking that there was some cause for the skipper's dislike to his host in prospective, and that the American was a bit of an impostor, when he came suddenly upon Sir Humphrey and his brother, followed by one of the men from the hotel carrying a portmanteau, and on their way to the brig.
"Wonder whether they'll know me again?" thought the mate; but the next moment he ceased to wonder, for he received a friendly nod from both as he passed them and went on to the hotel to enquire whether anything was known about the American gentleman there.
"Mr Franklyn Briscoe?" was the answer. "Oh, yes, he's coming in here to stay now those two gentlemen are gone. He has ordered a dinner for himself and a friend."
"Oh, here you are then," came from behind him the next moment. "I've been looking for you everywhere."
"So have I for you," said Lynton, rather surlily.
"Oh, I see. I am sorry. You see, I had to find a place where they would give us some dinner. Here, come into my room. This is the place. It won't be a New York nor a London dinner, but it's the best I can do here, and it won't spoil our chat."
"Of course not," replied Lynton, "and I came for that more than for the eating and drinking."
"That's right," said the American bluffly. "There, come on: this is my room now those Englishmen are gone."
The mate followed his host, and after a certain amount of patient waiting the dinner was brought in, and he found the American friendly in the extreme, so that the time passed quickly, and the hour of departure was close at hand with the guest wishing that he had asked the captain to make the hour eleven instead of ten for the boat to be sent ashore from the brig, which was once more swinging from the buoy in mid-stream.
THE FIRST NIGHT ON THE BRIG.
"The night is pleasanter out here on the river, captain," said Sir Humphrey, as he sat with his brother on the deck in company with the captain and the first mate.
"Yes, sir, one can breathe," said the gentleman addressed, "and I can always breathe better out at sea than I can in a river. Well, have you thought of anything else you want from the shore, for time's getting on?"
"No; I have been quite prepared for days," replied Sir Humphrey. "What about you, Brace?"
"Oh, I'm ready," was the reply: "as ready as Captain Banes."
"But I'm not, my lad," said the captain. "I can't sail without my second officer. By the way, Dellow, did you give orders for the boat to go ashore for Lynton at ten o'clock town time?"
"I?" said the first officer staring in the dim light cast by the swinging lanthorn under which they sat talking. "No. Do you want one sent?"
"Of course," said the captain tartly. "I told you to send one."
"I beg pardon, sir," replied the first officer. "When?"
"Tut, tut, tut!" cried the captain angrily, as he glanced at his watch. "When I came aboard: and it's now half an hour later. How came you to forget?"
"Well, really, sir—" began the first mate warmly. "Tut, tut, tut! bless my heart!" cried the captain. "Really, Dellow, I beg your pardon. It quite slipped my memory."
"Indeed, sir," said the first officer stiffly. "It did not slip mine."
"No. How absurd. I forgot all about Lynton. Send a boat ashore at once to fetch him off to the brig. He must be waiting."
"No, sir, he's not waiting, or he would have hailed," said the first officer, as he strolled off to give the orders, while the two passengers, being tired after a very busy day, bade the captain "good night," and went below.
"You won't sit up to see us start, then?" said the skipper.
"No, for there will be nothing particular to see," replied Sir Humphrey. "I'll keep my admiration till we are well out at sea."
"And that will be at breakfast-time to-morrow morning, gentlemen. I should not mind turning in for good myself. As it is, I'm just going down to snatch a couple of hours before Dellow comes and rouses me up."
As Brace Leigh and his brother closed the door of their cabin the former saw the captain in the act of lying down upon one of the lockers, and as, about half an hour after, Brace lay awake listening to the strange sounds of the night which came through the open window, he distinctly heard the plash of oars, and soon afterwards the rubbing of a boat against the brig's side, followed by sips on deck, then upon the stairs.
After that there was a rustling sound as of someone passing into a cabin and closing the door, while after a little pacing about all was still on deck, and then a cloud of darkness seemed to come suddenly over the young man's brain, one which did not pass away for many hours, and not even then till his brother took him by the shoulder and shook him.
"Come, Brace, lad, wake up. Going to sleep all day?"
"No, no," cried the young man, springing out of his berth. "Why, the sun's up!"
"Yes, long enough ago. I've been sleeping as soundly as you, and the cook has been to say that breakfast will soon be ready."
"How stupid! I meant to have been on deck at daybreak. Where are we— out at sea?"
"No; as far as I can make out we are not above a mile or two below the town, and at anchor."
"Why's that?" said Brace, who was dressing hurriedly.
"I don't know, unless the skipper is repenting of his bargain. I was afraid he was too easy over everything."
"Oh, don't say that," cried Brace, in a disappointed tone.
The brothers were not long before they stepped on deck, to find all hands looking anxious and strange of aspect, as they stood watching the captain and first officer.
"Good morning, captain," said Sir Humphrey warmly. "Why, I thought we were to be out at sea by now."
"It's a bad morning, gentlemen," said the captain, frowning, "and I don't see how we are to start."
"What!" said Sir Humphrey, frowning and speaking angrily.
"Ah, I thought you'd take it that way, sir," said the skipper, scowling; "but you're wrong. I'm not going back on what I said."
"Then what does this mean?"
"It means, sir, that I've lost Jem Lynton, my second mate."
"Lost him?" said Brace quickly. "Why, he stopped ashore to spend the evening with somebody."
"That's right, squire."
"You mean he hasn't come back," said Brace contemptuously.
"No, I don't, sir," said the captain; "because he did come back."
"But you said you had lost him," cried Brace.
"That's right, sir: so I have," the captain answered. "He was to be fetched back from the shore, as you heard last night."
"Yes, I heard you tell Mr Dellow to send the boat for him," said Brace. "Well?"
"Boat was sent, sir, and the men say they brought him aboard. That's right, isn't it, Dellow?" and the captain turned round to his first officer.
"Quite," said the first mate, who looked very much disturbed, and kept on wiping his dewy forehead with the back of his hand.
"Tell 'em," said the captain. "Speak out."
"Tom Jinks was with the boat, gen'lemen," said the first mate slowly; "and he says Mr Lynton come down a bit rolly, as if he'd had too much dinner. He'd got his collar turned up and his straw hat rammed down over his eyes. Never said a single word, on'y grunted as he got into the boat, and give another grunt as he got out and up the side. Then he went below directly, and they've seen no more of him!"
"Tell 'em you didn't either," said the captain.
"No, I didn't neither," said the mate.
"To make it short, gentlemen," said the captain, "Dick Dellow here went on deck about one to cast off and go downstream in the moonlight, and sent the boy to rouse me up; and when I come on deck Dick says: 'Jem Lynton don't show his nose yet.' I didn't say anything then, for I was too busy thinking, being a bit sour and gruff about Jem, and with having to get up in the middle of the night; and then I was too busy over getting off with a bit o' sail on just for steering. Then I felt better and ready to excuse the poor chap, for I said, half-laughing like, to Dick Dellow here: 'Jem aren't used to going out to dinners. Let him sleep it off. He'll have a bad headache in the morning, and then I'll bully him. He won't want to go to any more dinners just before leaving port, setting a bad example to the men.'"
"Then, to make it shorter still," said Brace, "the second mate did not come back?"
"Didn't I tell you he did come back, sir?" said the mate huskily.
"Yes, but—" began Brace.
"You don't mean to say—" began Sir Humphrey.
"Yes, gentlemen, that's what I do mean to say," growled the captain. "He came aboard right enough, and went below. Nobody saw him come up again, and there's his bed all tumbled like. But he must have come up again and fallen overboard, for he isn't here now; and as soon as we found it out I give the order to drop anchor, and here we are."
"But how did you happen to find it out?" said Sir Humphrey.
"Tell him, Dick," said the captain.
The first mate shrugged his shoulders, and said gloomily:
"It was like this, gen'lemen. The skipper said one thing, but I says to myself another. 'Jem Lynton's no business to go off ashore the night we're going to sail,' I says, 'and I shan't go on doing his work and leaving him sleeping below there like a pig.' So I waited till the skipper was busy forward talking to the look-out, and then I slips down below to get hold of poor old Jem by the hind leg and drop him on the floor."
"Yes?" said Brace, for the mate stopped.
"Well, sir, I goes to the side of his berth, holds out my right hand— nay, I won't swear it was my right hand, because it might have been my left; but whichever it was, it stood out quite stiff, and me with it, for there was no Jem Lynton there: only the blanket pulled out like, and half of it on the floor."
"One moment," said Sir Humphrey. "The second mate slept in your cabin?"
"Yes, sir. I see what you mean. Did I see him? Yes, I did, fast asleep and snoring, with his back to me."
"And when you went down again he was not there?"
"That's it, gentlemen," said the captain, breaking in; "and he's not aboard now. There's only one way o' looking at it: the poor fellow must have been took bad in the night, got up and gone on deck, and fell overboard."
"Horrible!" exclaimed Brace.
"That's right, sir. Soon as Richard Dellow here found it out he come up to me on deck and give me a horrid turn. 'Poor Jem's drowned,' he says, 'for he aren't down below.'"
"But have you thoroughly searched the vessel?" cried Brace.
"Searched, squire?" replied the captain. "Where is there to search? He wasn't here, and as soon as I could think a bit I let go the anchor, for we must go back to Johnstown and give notice, so that an enquiry can be made. Not that there's anything to enquire about, for it's all as plain as a pikestaff. I don't know what I could be thinking about to let him go, when he ought to have been aboard at his work; but I didn't want to be hard. There, you know all we know, gen'lemen, and as soon as the tide begins to make we must run back to port, for we can't do anything more till that bit o' business is settled."
Sir Humphrey and his brother were silent, for there seemed to be nothing to say in face of such a terrible catastrophe; and, as if moved by a mutual desire to separate, while the brothers walked forward towards where the crew were gathered together watching them, the captain and mate went aft, the former shaking his head sadly, the latter looking terribly depressed and out of heart.
THE MISSING MAN.
"This is a terrible business, Brace," said Sir Humphrey.
"Yes; it quite puts a damper upon our plans."
"Seems like a suggestion of unknown horrors of a similar kind which will dog our footsteps all through."
"Don't say that, Free," said Brace earnestly. "I know it is terrible; but it might have happened under any circumstances. You talk as if it was to do away with our expedition."
"I'm afraid it will as far as Captain Banes is concerned, my lad. He is sure to back out of it now."
"I'm afraid so too," said Brace sadly; "but only for a few days."
"I don't know, my boy: sailors are very superstitious and fond of looking upon things as omens. It is very sad, for that second mate was a smart, intelligent fellow, and I looked forward to his taking an interest in our work and being our companion in many a pleasant trip."
"Oh, it's horrible," said Brace bitterly. "So well and strong only yesterday when seeing to our cases and luggage, and now—"
"Dead," said Sir Humphrey sadly, "and—"
"Boat ahoy!" shouted one of the men, drawing attention to a canoe paddled by a black, coming down with the tide in mid-stream, and only a few hundred yards above where the brig swung from her chain cable, which dipped down from her bows into the muddy water.
At the hail a second man; a white, with a coloured handkerchief tied about his head, rose up in the stern of the fragile vessel, snatched off the handkerchief to wave it above his head, and nearly capsized the canoe, only saving it by dropping down at once.
"Ugh!" yelled one of the crew, a big bronzed fellow of six- or seven-and-twenty, and, turning sharply round, he upset one of his mates as he made for the forecastle hatch, but was hindered from going below by the brothers, who were standing between him and the opening.
"What is it, Tommy, mate?" shouted one of the men.
"Look, look!" groaned the scared sailor. "His ghost—his ghost!"
In an instant the rest of the men took fright and shrank away from the bows, to hang together in a scared-looking group, the first man, addressed as Tommy, holding one hand to his mouth as if to check his chattering teeth.
"Stand by there with a rope," came from the boat; but not a man stirred, and just then the captain and mate came trotting up from aft.
"Here, what's the matter, my lads?" cried the former.
"Master Lynton's ghost, sir," stammered the trembling sailors.
"Mr Lynton's grandmother!" roared the captain, snatching up a coil of rope and flinging it to the bareheaded man in the boat, who caught it deftly as it opened out in rings. "Here, what do you mean by that cock-and-bull story, Dick Dellow?"
"Cock-and-bull?" stuttered the mate, scratching his head.
"Yes, cock-and-bull," roared the captain. "Can't you see he's there, all alive, oh! in that canoe? Here, you, Tom Jinks, lay hold of this rope, and don't stand making faces there like a jibbering idiot. Catch hold."
"No, no," faltered the great sailor; "it's his—"
"Catch hold!" roared the captain; "if any man here says ghost to me, law or no law, I'll rope's-end him."
The big sailor's hands trembled as he took the rope, but before he had given it a pull one occupant of the canoe came scrambling on board with the other end of the rope in his hand, while the canoe, now lightened of half its load, glided astern, with the black paddling hard.
"There's going to be a row," whispered Brace merrily to his brother, as they stood there, feeling as though a great weight had been removed from their breasts. He was quite right, for before the supposed drowned man had taken a couple of steps the captain was at him.
"Here, you, sir," he roared, "do you want to have sunstroke? Where's your hat?"
"I dunno," was the reply.
"Here," shouted the captain, who was in a towering passion, "where's that Tom Jinks?"
"Here he is, sir; here he is, sir," cried half a dozen voices, and the men opened out to give him a full view of the trembling sailor.
"Now, sir, what call had you to tell us that you had brought Mr Lynton aboard last night?"
"So we did—didn't we, mate?"
This to another of the sailors, who was staring hard at the new-comer.
"Oh, yes, we fetched him off in the little boat," said the man addressed.
"No, you didn't," said the second mate sourly.
"Well!" exclaimed Tom Jinks, who began to see now that it was real flesh and blood before him. "Why, we did, and you was—well, I ain't going to say what. Wasn't he, mate?"
"Oh, yes, that's a true word," said the other man.
"You don't know what you're talking about," said the second mate indignantly; "and if either of you says that I was on I'll knock you down."
"No, you won't, James Lynton," said the captain warmly. "You don't handle either of my men. Look here, did you come aboard last night in the boat?"
"No, of course not."
"Then who did?" cried the captain. "The men must have brought somebody."
"Oh, yes," said Tom Jinks, "we brought him aboard."
"I say you didn't," cried Lynton. "I went to sleep, I s'pose, after dinner, and I didn't wake up again till this morning."
"Then you ought to be ashamed of yourself, James Lynton," said the captain indignantly.
"I ham," cried the second mate boldly: "right down, and no mistake."
"A warning to you not to go out eating and drinking more than is good for you," said the captain.
"I didn't," replied the mate. "I took just what was good for me, and no more."
"It seems like it," said the captain sarcastically. "Instead of coming aboard in your own ship's boat according to the terms of your leave, you come back in a dug-out after your vessel's sailed, and without a hat."
"Yes, I know," said the mate testily; "but didn't I tell you I felt ashamed of myself? Eh? what say?"
"Is this here yours?" said the first mate, who had suddenly gone below to the cabin, and returned with a straw hat in his hand.
"Yes, that's mine. How did you get it?"
"You came aboard in it last night."
"I didn't," cried the second mate, who looked staggered.
"Oh, yes, you did, sir," cried Tom Jinks. "Didn't he, mate?"
"That's so," said the man addressed.
"But I tell you I didn't. I went to sleep after dinner, and didn't wake till this morning, and found the brig had sailed."
"Of course she had—to her time," said the captain angrily. "He don't know what he's talking about, gentlemen," he continued, turning to the brothers. "I'm very sorry, but I'm not going to have any more time wasted. Now then, my lads, capstan bars, and bring that anchor up with a run. You, James Lynton," he went on, as the men ran to obey their orders, "I'm ashamed of your goings-on. What have you been about? Walking in your sleep, I suppose."
"I dunno," said the second mate, scratching one ear. "I can only recollect Mr Franklyn Briscoe saying—"
"Mr Who?" roared the captain.
"That American gentleman who wanted to come with us."
"You don't mean to say you've been with that inquisitive chap, do you, sir?"
"Yes. What harm was there in that?"
"What harm? Look at you this morning."
"Oh, well, I don't know how it was," said the mate.
"Then I'll tell you how it was, sir. It was my second officer making an excuse to go ashore, and getting into bad company. But never no more, James Lynton: never no more. You don't deceive me twice like this."
"It was all an accident," grumbled the delinquent.
"Yes, of course, and a nice state we were in, believing that after you came aboard you fell over the side and were drowned."
"You didn't think that, did you?" cried Lynton.
"Didn't think it? Why, of course we did, sir. Didn't I come to an anchor as soon as I found you were not aboard?"
"I don't know," said Lynton, looking from one to the other.
"Then you know now, sir. Pretending to me that you were going to a dinner—eating."
"So I was," cried the mate.
"Not you, sir. Going somewhere drinking."
"That I wasn't. Mr Franklyn Briscoe came and asked me to go and have a bit of dinner with him."
"What! that American?" cried the captain.
"Then that makes worse of it."
"There, I don't know: bad or worse," said the mate. "All I know is that I went to sleep after dinner, and when I woke up he was gone and I couldn't find my hat."
The first mate exchanged glances with the captain, who spoke out at once.
"Then how did your hat come on board, sir?"
"I don't know, I tell you, captain," cried Lynton. "All I know is that as soon as I woke up I went half-mad, and ran down to the river, to find you'd sailed without me; and then I got that black fellow to paddle me down after you in his canoe."
"And a deal of good that would have been if I hadn't anchored," growled the captain. "There, sir, get to your duties, and let's have no more of it."
"But I want to clear my character, captain, before the crew and these two gentlemen."
"You hold your tongue, my lad, or you'll be making worse of it."
"But there's some mystery about it," said the mate warmly. "Yes, I can see you nodding and winking, Dellow, and making signs to the men. Here you, Tom Jinks, you said I came on board last night?"
"Yes, me and my mate here rowed you aboard; didn't we, mate?"
"Ay, ay, lad," was the reply, and their questioner banged his right fist down into his left palm as if to get rid of some of his rage.
"There," he cried, "have it your own way, all of you; but you don't catch me going ashore to dine with a gentleman again."
"No," said the captain sharply, "I shan't. Now then, look alive there."
The anchor was soon after swinging from the bows, the sails filled, and the brig began to glide down with the stream, and by the time the cabin breakfast was at an end the banks of the muddy river were growing distant, and various signs pointed to the fact that they were approaching the open sea. That evening, with a gentle breeze from the north sending them swiftly along, the low coast-line looked dim and distant across the muddy waters, the mighty rivers discolouring the sea far away from land, and, glass in hand, Brace was seated in a deck chair trying to make out some salient point of the South American coast.
Then all at once something dark eclipsed the picture formed by the glass, and Brace Leigh lowered it suddenly from his eye to try and make out what it was. He found that it was the second mate's head.
"Evening, sir," said Lynton. "Growing too dark to see much with a glass, isn't it?"
"Yes; I was just going to shut it up and put it in the case," replied Brace. "I say, don't you go and sham dead to upset us all again."
"There you go!" cried the mate angrily. "I did think it was going to drop now. Nobody seems to believe my word."
"Don't say nobody, for I will," said Brace quietly. "I was only joking you a bit. But tell me: that coast-line I could see before it grew so dark was all forest, I suppose?"
"A lot of it," replied the mate, with a sigh or relief; "great thick dense forest with dwarfish trees growing out of the mud, and if you could see now, you'd find all the leaves sparkling with fireflies up the creeks and streams."
"Then the sooner we reach our river and begin to sail up, the better I shall like it. How soon it grows dark out here!"
"It does in these latitudes," replied the mate.
"But I say, Mr Leigh, don't you go thinking that I went ashore carrying on and drinking, because I didn't."
"I promise you I will not."
"Thankye," said the mate, as he stood looking along the darkened deck, with the lanthorns now swinging aloft. Beneath a rough awning the captain had made the men rig up over the cabin, that gentleman was seated chatting with Sir Humphrey, while the first mate stood by them, listening to their conversation, and occasionally putting in a word.
Three or four folding-chairs had been placed aft for the benefit of the passengers, one of which Brace had marked down for his own use, and he was thinking of fetching it along to where they stood, as he talked to the second and fastened the strap of his binocular case.
"Ah," said the mate, "you'll find that little glass handy when you begin shooting for picking out the birds and serpents and things, and—"
He took off his straw hat to wipe his forehead, for the air was hot, moist, and sultry. He did not, however, apply his handkerchief, but stood with it in his right hand, his straw hat in his left, gazing down at it.
"Puzzles me," he said, changing the subject suddenly.
"What: how to find the birds and reptiles among the leaves of the great trees?"
"No, no," said the mate impatiently. "I mean, how it was this straw hat of mine came on board."
Then, in a hoarse whisper: "Mr Leigh, sir: look—look there!"
He stretched out his hand with the hat in it, using it to point towards the spot where one folding-chair stood, dimly seen, close up to the starboard bulwark.
"Well, I see it," said Brace. "It does not seem any the worse for coming on board without you."
"But I can't make it out," whispered the man, in a strange way. "I hung it up in the American gent's room—the one you had, sir—and the last I remember is seeing him sitting opposite to me across the table; and now look there. See him?"
"No," said Brace; "I can see no him. What do you mean?"
"The American," whispered Lynton, catching the young man by the arm. "There, can't you see him sitting in the dark yonder?"
"No," said Brace quietly. "I say, Mr Lynton, you'll be better when you've had a good night's rest. You talk as if you could see a ghost."
"That's it, sir; that's it," whispered the man wildly. "Come away—come away."
"Nonsense, man. There's nothing over yonder, only—"
Brace stopped short in blank astonishment, for the nearest lanthorn turned round a little as the brig heeled over, and there, faintly seen, and looking strangely transparent, the seated figure of the inquisitive American seemed to loom out of the shadow.
But the startled fancy that it might be anything supernatural passed away in an instant, and he felt ready to laugh at the superstitious sailor, as he saw a glowing spot of light about on a level with the figure's lips, and directly after smelt the peculiar odour of tobacco as it was wafted to him by the warm night air.
"Come away," whispered the mate, gripping Brace's arm with painful force.
"Nonsense," said Brace firmly. "That's how your hat came on board."
"Ugh!" ejaculated the mate, and he sent the straw hat he held whirring away from him with all his might.
He meant to have sent it overboard, but straw hats have boomerang-like ways of behaving peculiar to themselves, as most wearers know to their cost; and the one in question, instead of rising and skimming like a swallow over the bulwark and dropping into the sea, performed a peculiar evolution, turned in the direction of the group under the awning, dived down, rose again, just touching Sir Humphrey's ear, missing the first mate, and striking the captain with its saw-like revolving edge just below the chin.