The Wanderers; or Adventures in the Wilds of Trinidad and up the Orinoco, by W.H.G. Kingston.
For political reasons the Macnamara family are forced to leave their old home in Pennsylvania, and elect to resettle in Trinidad. A big mistake because it is being administered by a bigoted Spanish religious government. The mother dies and is buried, but two Roman Catholic priests arrive with the intention of carrying out the funeral under their rites. So once again the family are displaced, this time for religious reasons. They escape to South America, and make their way into the Orinoco river. There follow innumerable adventures and near shaves of various kinds. But it was a mistake again, because the Spanish are administering the territory, and wish to root out anyone who has no business to be there.
On escaping all this they hear that a new administration in Trinidad has abolished the malpractices of the Spanish priestly regime, and they are welcome to return.
They sell the Trinidad plantation at a profit, and return to England, though always hankering after their original settlement in Pennsylvania.
THE WANDERERS; OR ADVENTURES IN THE WILDS OF TRINIDAD AND UP THE ORINOCO, BY W.H.G. KINGSTON.
OUR OLD HOME IN PENNSYLVANIA—REVERSE OF FORTUNE—ARRIVAL IN TRINIDAD— UNCLE PAUL AND ARTHUR FOLLOW US—SETTLED ON AN ESTATE—SUSPECTED OF HERESY—OUR MOTHER'S ILLNESS—DON ANTONIO'S WARNING—OUR MOTHER'S DEATH—THE PRIEST'S INDIGNATION—WE LEAVE HOME—ARTHUR'S NARROW ESCAPE.
We lived very happily at the dear old home in the State of Pennsylvania, where my sister Marian and I were born. Our father, Mr Dennis Macnamara, who was a prosperous merchant, had settled there soon after his marriage with our mother, and we had been brought up with every comfort we could desire. Uncle Paul Netherclift, our mother's brother, who was employed in our father's house of business, resided with us; as did our cousin Arthur Tuffnel, who had lately come over from England to find employment in the colony.
Our father was generally in good spirits, and never appeared to think that a reverse of fortune could happen to him. One day, however, he received a visit from a person who was closeted with him for some hours. After the stranger had gone, he appeared suddenly to have become an altered man, his vivacity and high spirits having completely deserted him—while both Uncle Paul and Arthur looked unusually grave; and young as I was, I could not help seeing that something disastrous had happened. My fears were confirmed on overhearing a conversation between my father and mother when they were not aware that I was listening.
"We must start without delay. I must not allow this opportunity of retrieving my fallen fortunes to pass by," I heard my father observe, as he pointed to a paragraph in a newspaper which he held in his hand. "The Spanish Government have passed an edict, permitting all foreigners of the Roman Catholic religion to establish themselves in the beautiful and fertile island of Trinidad, where they are to be protected for five years from being pursued for debts incurred in the places they have quitted. Now, if we can manage to get there in safety, my creditors will be unable to touch me, and I shall soon have the means of paying my debts and recovering the position I have lost."
"But, my dear husband, it would soon be discovered that we are not Roman Catholics; and we should be placed in an embarrassing, if not in a dangerous position, were we to do as you propose," observed my mother in a tone of expostulation. "You would not, surely, have us conform, even outwardly, to a religion in which we have no faith?"
"Depend on it, no questions will be asked, as it will be taken for granted that all persons settling in the island belong to the ordinary form of religion sanctioned by the Government," answered my father.
My mother sighed, for she saw that my father was wrong, and that, blinded like Lot of old by his desire to obtain worldly advantages, he was ready to sacrifice the religious principles he professed. I am compelled, though with much pain, to write this.
It was settled that we should start at once for Baltimore, to embark on board a vessel bound from that place to Trinidad. Uncle Paul and Arthur were to remain behind to arrange my father's affairs, and to follow us as soon as possible.
The only other person to whom my father made known his intentions, was Timothy Nolan, who had come out with him from Old Ireland, when quite a boy, as his servant.
"I must leave you behind, Tim; but you will easily find a far better situation than mine, though I shall be sorry to lose you," said my father, after telling him of his intentions.
"Shure your honour won't be after thinking that I would consent to lave you, and the dear young lady and Master Guy, with no one at all at all to take care of them," answered Tim. "It's myself would be miserable entirely, if I did that same. It isn't the wages I'd be after asking, for to make your honour doubt about the matter. The pleasure of serving you in the days of trouble will be pay enough; only just say I may go, master dear, and shure I'll be grateful to ye from the bottom of my heart."
My father could not resist Tim's earnest entreaties, and so it was agreed that he should form one of the party.
It was a sad day for us all when we set out on that rapid journey southward in the waggon, without wishing goodbye to any one. Baltimore, however, was safely reached, and without delay we got on board the good ship the Loyal Briton, which immediately set sail.
My father seemed to breathe more freely when we were clear of the harbour. Our chief consolation was, that Uncle Paul and Arthur would soon rejoin us, as they expected to be ready for the next ship—to sail in about a month—and they would not have the difficulty in getting off which my father had experienced. It is a satisfaction to me to believe that, had they not been able to remain behind to make arrangements with his creditors, my father would not have left the country in the secret way he did; but the laws in those days were very severe, and had he not escaped, he might have been shut up in prison without the means being allowed him of paying his debts, while we all should have been well-nigh reduced to penury. Had such, however, been the case, I am very sure that Uncle Paul and Arthur would have done their utmost to support my mother and Marian, while I might soon have been able to obtain employment. This is a subject, however, I would rather not dwell upon. Whether my father acted wrongly or rightly, it is not for me to decide; but I hold to the opinion that a man under such circumstances should remain, and boldly face all difficulties.
We had a prosperous voyage, and my father and mother appeared to recover their spirits. Marian and I enjoyed it excessively, as it was the first time we had been on the sea. We took delight in watching the strange fish which came swimming round the ship, or which gambolled on the waves, or the birds which circled overhead; or in gazing by night at the countless stars in the clear heavens, or at the phosphorescence which at times covered the ocean, making it appear as if it had been changed into a sea of fire.
At length we sighted the northern shore of the island which for a time was to be our home. As we drew near we gazed at it with deep interest, but were sadly disappointed on seeing only a lofty ridge of barren rocks rising out of the water, and extending from east to west.
"Shure it would be a hard matter to grow sugar or coffee on that sort of ground!" exclaimed Tim, pointing towards the unattractive-looking coast.
"Stay till we pass through the 'Dragons' Mouths' and enter the Gulf of Paria," observed the captain. "You will have reason to alter your opinion then, my lad."
We stood on with a fair and fresh breeze through the "Boca Grande," one of the entrances into the gulf, when a scene more beautiful than I had ever before beheld burst on our view. On our right hand appeared the mountains of Cumana, on the mainland of South America, their summits towering to the clouds; on our left rose up the lofty precipices of Trinidad, covered to their topmost height with numerous trees, their green foliage contrasting with the intense blue of the sky. The shore, as far as the eye could reach, was fringed with mangrove-trees, their branches dipping into the sea. Astern were the four entrances to the bay, called by Columbus the 'Dragons' Mouths,' with verdant craggy isles between them; while on our larboard bow, the western shore of the island extended as far as the eye could reach, with ranges of green hills intersected by valleys with glittering streams like chains of silver running down their sides, towards the azure waters of the gulf.
We brought up in Chagaramus Bay, the then chief port of Trinidad, and the next morning we went on shore at Port Royal; for Port of Spain, the present capital, was at that time but a small fishing-village. Several other vessels having arrived about the same time, there was much bustle in the place; and although numerous monks were moving about, no questions were asked at my father as to the religion he professed. It was, as he had supposed would be the case, taken for granted that we were, like the rest of the people, Roman Catholics.
He lost no time in selecting an estate at the northern end of the island, near the foot of the mountains, well watered by several streams, which descended from the heights above. A mere nominal rent was asked, and he had the privilege of paying for it by instalments whenever he should have obtained the means of doing so. Considering this a great advantage, he had sanguine hopes of success. He at once commenced a cacao plantation, of which some already existed in the island. It is a tree somewhat resembling the English cherry-tree, and is about fifteen feet in height, flourishing best in new soil near the margin of a river. It requires, however, shelter from strong sunshine or violent winds. For this purpose "plantain" or coral-bean trees are planted between every second row; and these, quickly shooting up above the cacao-trees, afford the most luxuriant appearance to a plantation, their long bare stems being contrasted strongly with the rich green of the cacao below. Nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove plantations were also formed; indeed, the utmost pains were taken to make the ground productive.
Some progress had been made in the work before the arrival of Uncle Paul and our cousin Arthur. They had been delayed longer than we had expected, and we were for some time anxiously looking out for them. We were consequently delighted when at length they appeared. Marian threw her arms round Arthur's neck, and gave him the welcome of a sister, for she loved him dearly.
Uncle Paul complimented our father on the energy he had displayed, and expressed his wonder that so much had been done.
"My success is mainly owing to the way in which I treat those whom I employ," he answered. "The natives especially flock here in numbers, and are more ready to labour for me than for anybody else in the neighbourhood."
With the assistance of Uncle Paul and Arthur, still greater progress was made. They also established a house of business in Port Royal, of which Uncle Paul took the chief management, while Arthur and I assisted. We exported numerous articles, and among other produce we shipped a considerable quantity of timber; for magnificent trees, fit for shipbuilding and other purposes, grew in the island—the red cedar and several species of palms being especially magnificent. Altogether, our house was looked upon as the most flourishing in the island, and, as might have been expected, we somewhat excited the jealousy of several of the native merchants. Our father, however, cared nothing for this, and dared the Spaniards to do their worst.
Necessity made Uncle Paul, Arthur, and me live, during the weekdays, in the town, but we returned home every Saturday, where we received an affectionate welcome from my mother and Marian. It was, consequently, not remarked in the town that we did not attend mass; and as our house was at some distance from any church, we had a sufficient excuse for not going to one on the Sunday. We were aware, however, that the Inquisition existed in the island, though we could not ascertain who were the persons immediately connected with it. There were, we observed, in proportion to the population, a very large number of priests and friars, some of whom were constantly visiting the houses in the town and neighbourhood; but as we left our lodging at an early hour every day for the counting-house, and seldom returned till late in the evening, we had not hitherto been interfered with.
One Saturday evening we were returning homeward, when we overtook a friar ambling along on his mule. We saluted him in the customary fashion, and were passing on, when he stopped Uncle Paul by asking a question which took some time to answer. The friar then, urging on his beast, kept pace with us. Arthur and I had dropped a little behind, so that we could only partly hear what was said, but enough of the conversation reached us to let us know that the friar was talking about religious matters, and was apparently endeavouring to draw out our uncle's opinions. He was always frank and truthful, so we knew that he would find it a difficult task to parry the friar's questions.
"I feel almost certain that the friar knew we should pass this way, and came on purpose to fall in with us," observed Arthur. "I wish that Uncle Paul had galloped on without answering him. I don't like the tone of his voice, though he smiles, and speaks so softly."
"Nor do I," I replied. "I only hope that he won't come and talk with us."
"If he does, we must give him short answers, and say that the matter is too deep for us," observed Arthur. "We may perhaps puzzle him slightly, and at the worst make him suppose that we are very ill informed on religious matters; but we must be cautious what we say."
Uncle Paul had from the first been endeavouring in vain to get ahead of the friar without appearing rude, but he did not succeed till the latter had got out of him all the information he wanted. The friar then allowed his mule to drop in between us, and at once addressed Arthur in a friendly way—inquiring of him how often he had attended mass since his arrival, and who was his father confessor. Arthur replied that, as he spent every Sunday in the country, and was occupied the whole of each weekday in business, he had to confess that he had not paid due attention to such matters.
"And you," said the friar to me,—"are you equally careless?"
"I hope that I am not careless," I answered; "but we Englishmen are not brought up exactly like Spaniards, and consequently you may not understand us clearly."
"All true Catholics are the same," remarked the friar. "You may expect a visit before long from the Superior of my Order to inquire into your religious condition, which appears to me unsatisfactory. Good-day, young gentlemen; I cannot give you my blessing till I know more about you."
Bowing to the friar, who, having gained all the information he required, now reined in his mule, we rode on to rejoin Uncle Paul. Arthur laughed. "I think we have somewhat puzzled the old fellow," he observed.
"Depend upon it, though, that we shall before long receive the visit he promises from his Superior, who may manage by some means or other to find out the truth," I remarked.
Though Uncle Paul made light of the matter, too, I saw that he was not altogether comfortable about it.
As soon as we arrived, I told my father and mother and Marian, that they might be prepared.
"We must not be entrapped by him," said my father; "and I will show my zeal by offering to assist in building a chapel in the neighbourhood."
"I will not deny the truth," said my mother, with tears in her eyes.
"Nor will I," exclaimed Marian.
My father looked annoyed. "You must try then and keep out of the way of the man," he said. "I will manage him, should he come."
I afterwards had a conversation with my young sister.
"It will be cowardly and disgraceful to deny our faith," she said. "Let me entreat you, Guy, not to do so, whatever may be the consequences. Our father is still unhappily blinded by the hope of securing worldly advantages, or he would not think of acting as he proposes. He may thus secure his own safety, and perhaps, for his sake, the inquisitors may not interfere with us; but if they do, let us pray that we may be firm. It is very, very, very sad, and will break our poor mother's heart, for she already feels dreadfully the position in which we are placed. Oh, what shall we do?"
"Trust in God," said Arthur, who just then came into the room, and had overheard Marian's last remark. "My uncle is undoubtedly wrong, and had I known before we left home the state of affairs in this island, and what we were to encounter, I would have implored him not to come to Trinidad; however, as we are here, we must seek for guidance how to act should we, as I fear we shall, be questioned as to our religious belief."
We three talked the matter over, and determined, if questioned, to acknowledge ourselves Protestants, and refuse to attend the Roman Catholic Church. We felt sure that Uncle Paul would agree with us, and we proposed to get him to speak to our mother.
We were not disappointed in Uncle Paul's reply. He blamed himself greatly for having yielded to our father's persuasions, and consented to urge on our mother the duty of adhering firmly to her religious convictions.
On Monday morning, Uncle Paul, Arthur, and I set off to return to the city. On the way our uncle told us that our mother had solemnly promised him not to change her religion, and to suffer anything rather than be induced to do so. He had also spoken to our father, who seemed very anxious, but who declared that, rather than abandon his estate and the prospect of retrieving his fortunes, he would conform outwardly, if necessary, to the religion of the country; but that he would allow us, if we desired it, to quit the island.
We reached the town, and carried on business as usual, without any interference from the officials of the Inquisition.
We were about to leave our place of business on Wednesday evening, when Tim arrived with a message from my father, summoning us home on account of the dangerous illness of my mother. We immediately ordered our horses and rode off, accompanied by Don Antonio, a physician of great repute, to whom our uncle, on receiving the intelligence, forthwith sent requesting his assistance.
We found, on our arrival, that our father, unhappily, had not been alarmed without reason. Our poor mother was dangerously ill, and the physician gave us but slight hopes of her recovery. He was necessitated to return at once to the town, but he promised to be back the next day.
Our mother rallied greatly, and when Don Antonio again appeared she seemed to be much better. He, however, looked so grave, that on his following Arthur and me into the sitting-room, we expected to hear him express an unfavourable opinion of her case. But after looking about to see that none of the servants were within hearing, he closed the door, and said in a low voice:—
"It is not on account of your mother's health that I am anxious, but for your sakes, my friends. You are supposed to be rank heretics; and I have received information that unless you forthwith attend mass, go to confession, and in all respects conform to the obligations of the Catholic faith, the Inquisition intends to lay hands on you, and to punish you severely as a warning to others. Even should your father conform, he will be unable to shield you, and you will be equally liable to punishment. If you will be advised by me, unless you are prepared to adopt the religion of the country, you will, without delay, make your escape to some part of the sea-coast remote from the capital, where you may get on board a vessel bound to one of the neighbouring islands or elsewhere. You know not the fearful punishment to which you may be subjected, should you once fall into the hands of the Inquisition; and though I myself run the risk of losing my liberty, not to speak of other consequences, by thus warning you, I could not find it in my heart to leave without doing so."
We warmly thanked our kind friend for the advice he had given us, and he repeated what he had said to our father, who shortly afterwards came into the room; but at the time he made no remark, though he was evidently greatly agitated.
Scarcely had Don Antonio gone when my mother appeared to grow much worse; and Arthur, throwing himself on horseback, galloped off as hard as his horse could go to bring him back. We anxiously waited his return with the physician, for every moment my mother grew worse and worse. How thankful we were when Don Antonio arrived; but no sooner had he felt her pulse, than, calling my father out of the room, he told him that she was dying, and that he could do nothing for her. His words proved too true. As we all stood round her bed, she entreated us to adhere firmly to the faith in which we had been brought up; then, desiring us to go out of the room, she had a conversation with my father on the same subject, I suspect, for he seemed much moved when we again entered. As daylight streamed into the room, she breathed her last.
We all felt her loss greatly, and poor Marian was so overwhelmed with grief that we were in serious anxiety on her account.
In that latitude, burial rapidly follows death. It was a sore trial to us to see her carried to her grave, which had been prepared in a picturesque spot on the side of a hill not far from the house. Scarcely had the coffin been lowered into it, when two priests arrived to perform the burial-service. They appeared to be highly indignant that the funeral should have taken place without their presence, and, from expressions which they let drop, it was very evident that they looked upon us all as a family of heretics. My father tried to pacify them, however, and fancied that he had sent them away satisfied.
"Remember the warning I have given you," observed Don Antonio, as he bade us goodbye. "Do not be deceived, even should the friars who may come here appear to be on friendly terms; their object will be to betray you."
It had been arranged that Uncle Paul and Arthur should return to the town and attend to business next morning, while I was to remain with poor Marian to try and comfort her.
Some time after dark, while we were all assembled in the sitting-room, there was a knock at the door, and Arthur went out to see who had come to visit us. He quickly returned with a note for my father in his hand, which he said Don Antonio had sent by his black servant. It contained merely the words, "Follow the advice I gave. It should on no account be put off till to-morrow."
The negro having been sent back with a verbal message to the effect that the prescription should be strictly followed, my father sat down, with Uncle Paul and Arthur, to consider what was to be done.
"For myself," he said, "I have resolved to remain. I cannot throw away the advantages I have gained; and circumstances, not my fault, will compel me to conform to the religion of the country. But you and Arthur may do as you think fit; and if you resolve to make your escape from the island, I will send Guy and Marian with you—and Tim also, if he wishes to go."
Uncle Paul expressed his sorrow at having to leave our father; but as he had determined not to change his faith, he said he was ready to set off with us immediately, and to try to carry out the plan Don Antonio had proposed.
Poor Tim, when he heard of our resolution, was sorely troubled what to do.
"If you remain, you must become a Roman Catholic with me," said my father.
"Then, your honour, with all respect to you, I'll be after going wherever Master Guy and Miss Marian go; though it will be a sad day that we have to leave you."
"It must be done, however," said my father. "Now go and get the horses ready. We will have such things as may be required packed up forthwith."
We had horses enough to mount the whole party, so arrangements were speedily made; and within half an hour after we had received Don Antonio's warning we were in the saddle, and, under the guidance of natives well acquainted with the country, were making our way along a narrow path up the side of the mountains which rose between our house and the sea.
Uncle Paul and the guides went first. Marian rode next, mounted on a small pony, and attended by Arthur. I followed them; and Tim brought up the rear. Our great object was to get to the seaside, where we might remain concealed, in case the officials of the Inquisition should pursue us.
The narrow and steep path on which we were travelling wound its way up the side of the hill till the summit was reached, when we began to descend towards the sea. It was generally too rugged to allow us to move out of a walk, for our horses might have fallen and sent us down a precipice either on one side or the other; still, whenever the ground allowed it, we pushed on as fast as we could venture.
At length, after descending some distance, we found ourselves travelling along with the ocean on our left and the rugged sides of the hill rising on our right. The pathway seldom allowed two to ride abreast. Now it ran along scarcely eight or ten feet above the level of the water; now it ascended to the height of eighty or a hundred feet, with a steep precipice below us.
Daylight had just broken, when, glancing over the ocean, I caught sight of a couple of vessels, which appeared to be standing in for the coast. I could not help crying out to Uncle Paul, in case he might not have observed them. My voice, unfortunately, startled Arthur's horse, which began to sidle and prance; when what was my horror to see its hinder feet slipping over the precipice! Marian shrieked out with alarm, and I expected the next moment that Arthur would be dashed to pieces on the rocks below. Such would have been his fate, had he not sprung from his saddle just as the animal went over the precipice. In vain the creature instinctively attempted to spring up again, desperately clinging to the rock with its feet. Arthur tried to seize its bridle to help it; but in another instant we saw it fall on the rocks below with a force which must have broken every bone in its body.
So thankful did we feel that Arthur had been preserved, that we scarcely thought about the poor horse.
"Go forward! go forward!" cried out Arthur. "I'll run on by Marian's side. You must not be delayed on my account."
We accordingly pushed on, and at length came to a part of the coast where the road ceased, and it was impossible to proceed further with our horses. Our chief guide—who, knowing that we had strong reasons for wishing to escape, was anxious to assist us—advised that we should send the horses back over the mountains by a different road from that by which we had come, while we continued along the coast till we reached a place of concealment, which he said we should find some way further on; he himself proposing to accompany the horses, and to rejoin us when he had conveyed them to a place of safety, where the officials of the Inquisition were not likely to find them.
OUR JOURNEY—THE PASSAGE OF THE STREAM—OUR FLIGHT DISCOVERED—ARRIVAL AT THE RETREAT—OUR FIRST NIGHT IN THE WILDS—CAMO'S ARRIVAL—THE SPIDER-MONKEYS—A CURIOUS SCENE—THE MONKEYS CROSSING A RIVER.
We had now a toilsome journey to perform, partly along the coast and partly inland, where the rocks which jutted into the sea, were so precipitous that we were unable to climb over them. Still, though Marian was already much fatigued, we pushed forward, as it was of the greatest importance that we should reach a place of concealment before the officials of the dreaded Inquisition had discovered our flight. Even should they pursue us, and take natives with them as guides, we hoped that they might be deceived by our having sent the horses into the interior, and would follow their footsteps, supposing that we were still upon them, instead of continuing along the shore in the direction we were taking. The rocky character of the ground over which we passed after dismounting would, we believed, prevent any traces which even the keen eyes of Indians could discover, and we were careful not to break any branches or twigs as we passed along. When on the seashore, we kept either in the water or on the hard sand, which the tide, as it rose, would soon cover. But as we thus proceeded along the shore, or climbed over the rocks, where we could obtain no shelter from the sun's rays, we found the heat at times almost overpowering.
To relieve Marian, Uncle Paul and Arthur joined their hands and insisted on carrying her between them. She soon begged to be put down, however, as she saw that the task much increased their fatigue.
Having reached the north-eastern end of the island, the rocky range of mountains which extends along the northern shore terminated, and we entered a region covered with a dense and tangled forest. Uncle Paul and Tim had brought their guns and some ammunition with them, that we might kill game when the small stock of provisions we had been able to carry was exhausted. The larger portion of these provisions, with some cooking utensils, had been placed on the backs of the horses, and our native guides had promised to bring it on to us as soon as they had left the steeds in a place of safety. We were, however, likely to be somewhat badly off in the meantime; and as a considerable period might elapse before we could get on board a vessel, we should probably have to depend on our own exertions for obtaining a fresh supply. The two vessels we had seen when we were on the side of the mountain had tacked and stood away from the island, so that we had to abandon the expectation of getting on board either of them.
I could not help expressing my doubts about the fidelity of the Indians; but Uncle Paul, who knew them better than I did, was convinced that they were honest, and would follow us as soon as they had secured the horses in a place of safety.
We were now travelling southward along the coast, and at some little distance from the shore. We had the mountains rising above us on the right, while the lower ground was covered with a dense vegetation, through which it was often difficult to force our way. At length we reached a small river, the most northern of several which ran into the ocean on the eastern side of the island. Our guides had told us that we should find a secure place of concealment on the banks of another stream about a couple of miles beyond this, but without their assistance we had little hope of discovering it. However, we were unwilling to wait, and accordingly prepared to cross the river; Tim volunteering to go first, in order to ascertain the depth. We watched him anxiously. He sank deeper and deeper, till the water reached his armpits, and we began to fear that we should be unable to carry Marian over without wetting her. Still Tim went bravely on, feeling his way with a long stick which he carried, till once more he began to get higher and higher out of the water, and soon reached the opposite bank in safety. Unable, however, to divest myself of the idea that there might be sharks, or even alligators, in the river, I, imitating Tim's example, cut a long pole, which would enable me to defend my companions while they were crossing. Uncle Paul and Arthur then took up Marian and placed her on their shoulders, putting their arms round each other's necks to support her. Tim then waded back to meet them; while I went behind, beating the water furiously with my stick, so that no alligator or shark would have ventured near us. My uncle and Arthur, being both of good height, were able to keep Marian out of the water, and we happily got across without any accident. She then insisted on being put down, declaring that she was not tired, and could walk as well as any of us.
Nearly the whole day had been spent on the journey, and we were anxious to find a place where we could rest. Had it not been for the somewhat exposed position, we would gladly have stopped on the banks of the river; but Uncle Paul thought it wiser to continue on till the natives should overtake us.
Evening was approaching, and it would soon be dark, when, looking back along the forest glade through which we had come, we saw a person running towards us; we quickly made him out to be Camo, one of the native guides. He signed to us not to stop, and as he ran much faster than we could, he soon overtook us.
"Hasten on," he exclaimed; "we are not far from the place to which I wish to lead you. Already your flight has been discovered, and the alguazils are searching for us."
"If they come, I will be after giving them a taste of my shillelagh," exclaimed Tim, flourishing the thick stick he carried.
"It will be far better to hide ourselves than to oppose them," observed the guide, in his peculiar dialect, which I cannot attempt to imitate.
He went ahead, while Uncle Paul and Arthur helped on Marian between them, Tim and I bringing up the rear; Tim every now and then looking back and flourishing his stick, as if he already saw our pursuers, and was resolved to give them a warm reception. Though very tired, we made rapid progress; Camo guiding us through a part of the forest which we should have been unable to discover by ourselves.
Just as the shades of evening were stealing amid the trees, we caught sight of the glimmer of water before us, and Camo led the way up a steep ascent to the right, amid the trunks of trees, through between which often only one person could pass at a time; and we soon found ourselves in a small open space, so closely surrounded by dense underwood that it would have been impossible for anyone to discover us, unless acquainted with the spot. Above us a precipitous hill rose to a considerable height; while the branches of the trees, joining overhead, would completely shut us out from the sight of any person looking down from the hill.
"Here you will be perfectly safe, for there is no other path besides the one by which we have come," said Camo. "I will go back, however, and so arrange the branches and creepers that the sharpest eyes among our pursuers will be unable to discover that anyone has passed this way."
An opening towards the east admitted the only light which reached the spot. Through it we could see the sea, from which we were not far distant. Uncle Paul expressed himself perfectly satisfied with the place of concealment which Camo had selected, and declared that he had little fear of our being discovered.
Weary as we were, we were thankful to throw ourselves on the ground; and after we had eaten some of the provisions we had brought with us, we sought that rest we so much required. The wind being completely excluded from the place, it was almost as warm as inside a house, and we had no need of any covering. As our shoes and stockings were wet, however, we took them off and hung them up on the trees to dry, rather than sleep in them.
Uncle Paul had placed Marian by his side, and allowed his arm to serve as her pillow. Poor girl, it was only now that, all cause for exertion being for the present over, she seemed to feel her sad bereavement, and the dangerous position in which we were placed. Her grief for a time prevented her from closing her eyes; but at length, overcome by fatigue, she dropped into a peaceful sleep. I sat for some time talking to Arthur; while Tim insisted on standing sentry at the entrance of the passage till the return of Camo, who had gone to look after his companions. We had great difficulty in keeping awake, and even Tim found it a hard matter not to drop down on the ground; but a sense of duty triumphed over his natural desire for rest, and he kept pacing up and down with his stout shillelagh in his hand, ready to do battle with any foes, either human or four-footed, which might approach our retreat. We also kept the guns ready, not to defend ourselves against our pursuers, for that would have been madness, but to shoot any wild beast which might approach us.
"It's as well to be prepared," observed Arthur. "But though there are jaguars and pumas on the mainland, I am doubtful whether they exist in Trinidad."
"I have heard that most of the animals on the opposite shore of South America are to be found in this island," I answered. "Both the jaguar and puma steal silently on their prey; and if one of them were to find us out, it might pounce down into our midst before we were prepared to defend ourselves. It will not do to risk the chance of there being no such animals in the island. Should we arrive at the conclusion that there are none, I should be very sorry to find, by positive proof, that we were wrong!"
"Well, at all events, we will act on the safe side," observed Arthur. "It is wise to be prepared, even though we may find that our care has been unnecessary."
An hour or more might have passed, when we heard a rustling in the neighbouring bushes. Arthur and I started to our feet, and Tim clutched his shillelagh more firmly. We listened. The sound came from the bottom of the path leading up to our hiding-place. We waited in perfect silence, for it was too dark to observe anything; but presently our ears caught the sound of light footsteps approaching, and, much to our relief, we heard Camo's voice.
"All right!" he exclaimed. "The alguazils have turned back, afraid of trusting themselves to this part of the country in the dark. We may now all rest in quiet, for no one is likely to come near us—for some hours, at all events."
This was satisfactory, and honest Camo and his two followers assured us that they would keep the necessary watch while we rested. Scarcely had a minute elapsed after this when Arthur and I were fast asleep; and I suspect that Tim was not long in following our example.
Daylight streaming through the opening in our woody bower towards the east, aroused us from our slumbers. We were all very hungry, for we had taken but a small amount of food the previous evening; but we were afraid of lighting a fire, lest the smoke might betray us, should our enemies by any chance be in the neighbourhood. We were obliged to content ourselves, therefore, with our cold provisions, and a draught of water, which Camo brought from the neighbouring stream. Marian somewhat recovered her spirits, but we all felt very anxious about my father, and wondered how he might be treated when the inquisitors found that we had made our escape.
The district we had reached was wild in the extreme; the footsteps of civilised men appeared never to have reached it, and the natives who once had their quiet homes in this part of the country had long since been carried off to labour for the ruthless Spaniards, who had already destroyed nearly nine-tenths of the original population. Our native attendants, from the kind way in which my father had treated them, were warmly attached to us, and proportionately hated the Spaniards, and we knew that we were perfectly safe under their care.
We were afraid of moving out during the day, though Camo and the other natives made several exploring expeditions, and at length came back with the satisfactory intelligence that our pursuers were nowhere in the neighbourhood. They brought also a couple of ducks which they had killed with their arrows; and they assured us that there would be no danger in lighting a fire to cook them. We soon gathered a sufficient supply of broken branches and twigs to begin with; and while the natives were collecting more fuel from the neighbouring trees, and blowing up the fire, I sat down to pluck one of the ducks—Uncle Paul, with Arthur and Marian kneeling by his side, watching the process. We quickly had the ducks roasting on spits before the fire, supported by two forked sticks stuck in the ground. With these, when cooked, and some hot tea which was made in a tin kettle Tim had brought with him, with a small quantity of sugar which he had put up, as he said, for the young mistress—though we had no milk to drink with it—we made an excellent supper. It was a scene which to our eyes, unaccustomed to anything of the sort, was wild in the extreme; but we were destined to become acquainted with many even wilder and more romantic. That night was passed much as the preceding one had been, except that we were able to keep up a fire without the fear of betraying our retreat.
Next morning, having left Marian in her bower, with Tim, armed with one of the guns, to keep guard, I accompanied Arthur—who carried the other gun—into the woods in search of game. Uncle Paul meanwhile went down to the seashore to look out for any vessel which might be approaching the coast; intending, should she prove to be English, to make a signal, in the hope that a boat might be sent on shore to take us off. We caught sight of him in the distance during our ramble, but as we looked seaward we could make out no vessel on any part of the ocean over which our eyes ranged.
"Not much chance of getting off today," I observed.
"Nor for many days, probably," answered Arthur. "The chances are against any vessel coming near enough to this exact spot to see us; so we must make up our minds, I suspect, to remain here for some weeks, or perhaps months, to come. However, the life may not prove an unpleasant one; and, at all events, it will be far better than being shut up in the dungeons of the Inquisition."
"I should think so, indeed," I said. "And if I knew that my poor father was safe, I should not care, but rather enjoy it; and so, I am sure, would Marian."
We made our way down to the bank of the river, which appeared to be broad and deep, and thickly shaded on both sides by trees. Knowing that all the rivers in Trinidad abound with fish, we regretted that we had neither spears, nor rods and lines, with which we might: easily have caught an ample supply. Arthur, however, made good use of his gun, and soon shot a number of birds; among which were several parrots with flaming scarlet bodies, and a lovely variety of red, blue, and green on their wings. Loaded with the results of our sport, we returned to the encampment, which by this time afforded us more comfort than at first.
Uncle Paul, with the aid of the natives, had been busy at work erecting a small hut, or rather an arbour, for Marian; and they had also formed a bed-place for each of us, raised off the ground, and roofed over with palm-leaves. Uncle confessed that he could not tell when we might get off, and that it would be wise, for the sake of our health, to make ourselves as comfortable as we could. We might indeed remain where we were in safety, for if the inquisitors had given up the search for us, they had probably done so under the belief that we had already made our escape from the island.
Camo and the other natives had during the day made a wide circuit without meeting with anyone, and they were more than ever convinced that our enemies were not likely to search for us in that neighbourhood. Uncle Paul was much inclined to send back to ascertain the fate of our father; but Camo declared that the risk would be very great, as in all probability a watch would have been set on the house, and whoever went would be traced back to our hiding-place. So the idea was accordingly abandoned.
We sat round our campfire in the evening, and discussed all sorts of plans. Arthur proposed that we should move further to the south; Camo recommended that we should remain where we were. The district was thinly populated, and we might range for miles through the woods without meeting with anyone.
"But how are we to procure provisions?" asked Arthur.
"Our guns, as you have proved, will furnish us with an abundance of game," I answered. "The woods will afford us fruit, and we can do very well without bread or any luxuries. I shall always be ready to act as sportsman for the camp."
"And I should like to accompany you," said Marian. "My eyes are very sharp; and I might be able to see the birds and animals, which you could then shoot."
From the report given to us by our faithful Indians, we had no longer much fear of being discovered. We felt sure, also, that should we be seen by any of the natives, they would not betray us to the hated Spaniards. We agreed that we would go out the next morning, Arthur taking one gun and I the other, while Marian was to accompany me. Uncle Paul was too eager in watching for a vessel, willingly to leave the coast. Tim was to keep watch at the camp; and the natives were to act the part of scouts, so that we might have timely notice should the Spaniards approach the wood—in which case we were to hurry back to our place of concealment, where we had no fear of being discovered.
The night passed away much as the former ones had done. On the following morning, Arthur, Marian, and I set out after breakfast, with the expectation of amply replenishing our larder; but as our supply of ammunition was small, we determined not to fire unless we could make sure of our game. I had not gone far, when I caught sight of a large parrot with beautiful plumage. I fired, and brought it to the ground. Though badly wounded and unable to fly, it pecked fiercely at Marian when she ran forward to pick it up. However, a blow which I gave it with the butt of my fowling-piece soon brought its struggles to an end. I afterwards killed three others in the same manner.
We made our way on till we caught sight of the river below us; but, hoping to meet with more birds near it, we descended to the bank, and were making our way in silence through the thick jungle, which greatly impeded our progress, when Marian exclaimed—
"O Guy! what can that creature be, hanging to yonder bough?"
We both stopped, peering ahead, when I caught sight of the animal of which Marian spoke. It looked like an exaggerated spider, with its enormously long arms, its equally long hinder legs, and its still longer tail, by which it was swinging from a branch overhanging the river. Suddenly it threw itself round, and caught the branch by its fore paws. Just then turning its head, it caught sight of us. Probably this was the first time it had ever seen any human beings,—or, at all events, civilised people with white skins. Uttering loud shrieks, the monkey— for a monkey it was—sprang to the end of the branch, when, in its terror, it let go its hold, and plunged into the water. I should, I confess, have shot the creature; for I knew that the natives, and indeed many of the white inhabitants, of Trinidad, eat monkey flesh, though we had never had any on our table. Away the creature went, floating down the stream, and shrieking loudly for help. Its cries were answered by a number of its kind, of whom we caught sight in the branches directly above our heads. Without noticing us, they ran to the end of a long bough, which extended far over the water. Immediately one of them threw itself off, and caught with its fore paws a long sepo, or vine, which hung from the branch; another descended, hanging on with its tail twisted round the tail of the first; a third sprang nimbly down the living rope, and allowed the second to catch hold of its tail; while a fourth came down, immediately afterwards, almost as quick as lightning, the third catching hold of its tail and one of its arms, while its other arm reached down to the surface of the water, so that when its drowning companion came by it was able to grasp it and hold it tightly. The first now, with wonderful power of limb, hauled itself up, dragging the four monkeys hanging to it, till the second was able to grasp the vine. They then hauled away till the other monkeys in succession were drawn up, and the one which had been in the water was placed safely on the bough. The whole operation was carried on amid the most terrible howlings and cries, as if the creatures, all the time that they were performing this really heroic act, were suffering the greatest possible pain. The chatterings, shrieks, and cries continued after they were all seated on the bough, convincing us that the monkey which had tumbled into the water was telling its companions about the strange creatures it had seen; for they all cast eager glances around and below them, peering through the foliage, evidently endeavouring to catch a sight of us. Though I could have shot one of them, I could not bring myself to do so after seeing the way they had behaved. Presently they saw us, and one glance was sufficient; for, renewing their shrieks and cries, they sprang up the vines, like sailors swarming up ropes, and quickly disappeared amid the dense foliage. Still, we could hear them chattering away in the distance, and I have no doubt that they were communicating their ideas about us to each other, and all the monkeys they met.
Having remained perfectly silent, we presently saw a little dark head, with bright eyes, looking out at us from among the boughs; then another, and another came; and as we did not move they gained courage, and crept nearer and nearer. They looked so comical that Marian could not help bursting into a fit of laughter, in which I joined; but no sooner did the monkeys hear our voices than off they scampered to the end of a bough which stretched a considerable way across the stream. They now, almost with the rapidity of lightning, formed a chain similar to the one they had made to drag up their companion, and began swinging backwards and forwards, each time approaching nearer the opposite shore. At last the monkey at the end of the chain caught, with his outstretched arms, a bough extending from that side, and then climbed up the trunk, dragging his companions after him, till the whole hung like a festoon across the river, or rather like a rope-bridge, for a bridge it was. A whole tribe of monkeys now appeared upon the bough on our side, and began to cross by the living bridge thus formed, chattering and shrieking as they ran till they reached the opposite bank. There were old monkeys, and mother monkeys with little ones on their backs, and young monkeys of all sizes. I observed that some of the latter gave a slight pinch, as they went along, to the backs of the big fellows, who could not, of course, retaliate. Probably the rascals took this opportunity of revenging themselves for the sundry beatings they had received for their misconduct on various occasions.
When the whole tribe had passed over, with the exception of the living chain, the monkey holding on to the upper bough on our side let go, while those who had hitherto been holding on by the opposite lower branch began rapidly to scramble up the tree, so that the brave old fellow who had borne for the whole time the weight of his companions was for a minute in the water. Once safe, the whole of them scampered away amid the boughs, uttering loud shrieks, and apparently well-satisfied at having placed the river between themselves and us. We stood watching them, laughing heartily at their strange proceedings. Curiosity, however, soon again gained the victory over their fears, and they came back, peering at us amid the foliage; while we could see the young ones running up and down the vines, and playing all sorts of antics. We forgot, for the moment, our grief, and the dangerous position in which we were placed.
These monkeys are known by the name of "ateles," or "spider-monkeys;" and certainly their long thin arms and legs, and longer tails, greatly resemble the legs of spiders.
They continued to watch us, but did not recross the river, being evidently satisfied that they were safe on the further side; though, had I been anxious, I might easily have brought down one or two of them. Marian, however, charged me not to fire; indeed, it would have been almost like murder to have killed such apparently intelligent creatures.
After watching them for some time, we turned our steps towards our retreat; and as we made our way through the forest, I added several more birds to stock of provisions.
JOSE APPEARS—INTELLIGENCE OF OUR FATHER—HIS ARRIVAL—CATCHING THE MANATEE—SEARCH FOR A BOAT—JOSE'S TREACHEROUS DESIGN FRUSTRATED BY AN ANACONDA.
We had already spent a week at our retreat, and no opportunity had as yet occurred of making our escape. So far as we could tell, we might live on where we were for many months without being discovered, if we could provide ourselves with food. That, of course, was a very important point. We might kill animals enough to supply ourselves with meat; but we required flour and vegetables, and our small stock of tea and sugar was diminishing. We had also made Marian's hut tolerably comfortable, and the rest of the party were content to sleep in the open air. Thoroughly trusting our faithful Camo, we consulted him as to the possibility of obtaining fresh supplies from home, especially of such things as Marian chiefly required. He answered that he would do everything we wished, but he again warned us of the danger we might incur of being discovered.
"Oh, do not let any risk be run for me!" exclaimed Marian. "I would infinitely rather go without any luxuries, than feel that our friends had to incur any danger to obtain them. All I wish to ascertain is, how poor papa is getting on."
"We will wait, at all events," said Uncle Paul. "If we find that no vessel approaches the coast, we must try and obtain a boat from the shore. It will not be safe, however, to go off in her without an ample stock of provisions and water, as some days may pass before we succeed in getting on board a vessel to carry us to the mainland or to one of the islands."
Our chief object for the present was, therefore, according to Uncle Paul's advice, to obtain the provisions he thought necessary; while every day, as before, Camo and the other natives went out to watch for the approach of those who might be sent in search of us.
One evening one of the two men came back reporting that all was safe, but Camo had not returned. Arthur and I had gone some little distance from our retreat, with our guns, when we caught sight of a person among the trees stealing towards us. We were convinced, by the cautious way in which he approached, that it was not Camo. We accordingly concealed ourselves; for had we retreated, the stranger would probably have observed us. As he drew nearer to us, we were convinced, by the way he looked about in every direction, that he by some means or other knew we had taken refuge in the neighbourhood. When he stopped at length, a short distance off, we recognised one of my father's servants—a half-caste named Jose. He was not a man in whom we had ever placed much confidence, though he was an industrious, hardworking fellow; and we were, therefore, doubtful whether we should speak to him, or endeavour to keep concealed. Still, we were both anxious to gain tidings from home; and we thought it probable that my father had sent him with a message for us. It was evident, indeed, that he must have known whereabouts to find us, or he would not have come so directly towards our hiding-place. Arthur put his mouth to my ear, and whispered—
"It will be better to show ourselves; and we must afterwards keep a watch on the man, to prevent him from going off and giving information to our enemies."
I, of course, agreed to this proposal; so, stepping out from behind the tree where we had been hidden, we faced Jose, and asked him whether he had brought any message from my father. He seemed in no way astonished at seeing us, but replied that he was glad to find we had not left the island, as he had been sent expressly by my father to try and meet with us. He had been, he said, searching for us for some days; and at length catching sight of Camo, he knew that we were not likely to be far off. My father himself, he said, was in considerable apprehension of being denounced to the Inquisition, as he had received it warning from Doctor Antonio, and had thought it prudent in consequence to hide himself.
"Will he not join us?" asked Arthur eagerly. "He will be safer where we are than anywhere else."
"He does not know where to find you, senors; but if you will show me your place of concealment, I will try and find him, and bring him to you."
Arthur looked at me, on hearing this, with an expression that showed he doubted the truth of what Jose said. "It will be better not to show any distrust," he whispered; "at the same time, it might be hazardous to lead Jose to our retreat."
"What are we to do, then?" I asked.
"We will tell him to go and find your father, and conduct him to this spot: if he comes, we need no longer have any doubts about Jose's fidelity."
I thought Arthur's idea a good one, though we should have liked to consult Uncle Paul on the subject.
Arthur asked Jose how long it would take to bring our father to the spot where we then were. He replied, "Certainly not before noon of next day;" and we accordingly agreed to meet him at that hour.
"But will you not take me to your hiding-place?" he asked. "I am hungry and weary, and require rest and refreshment."
I was much disposed to do as the man requested, but I waited to hear what Arthur would say before replying.
"We regret that we cannot take you there at present," said Arthur; "others are concerned as well as ourselves. Do you go back and find your master, and tell him that we are well, and shall be rejoiced to see him."
Jose looked somewhat disappointed.
"Come," said Arthur, "we will accompany you a part of the way. Here are two birds which we have shot; they will help to support you and Senor Dennis till you reach this to-morrow."
Still Jose lingered, evidently wishing to learn the way to our retreat; but Arthur had a determined manner about him, and Jose was at length compelled to turn back, whereupon we accompanied him.
We walked on for about half a mile through the forest, but were unwilling to go further, for fear of losing our way. At length we bade Jose goodbye, and hurried back, occasionally looking behind us to ascertain whether he was following. It was dark by the time we reached our retreat. Camo had just before come in, and, strange to say, had not seen anything of Jose. Uncle Paul approved of what we had done, but expressed his doubts as to whether Jose was honest.
"We shall know to-morrow," he observed. "If he is accompanied by your father, all may be right; but if not, we must take care that he does not discover our retreat. Having themselves failed to find us, the officers of the Inquisition are very likely to have bribed him; and they may possibly have let your father escape their clutches, for the sake of catching us all in one net."
So impressed was Uncle Paul with this idea, that he proposed we should move further south, to some other safe place of concealment. Consulting Camo on the subject, the Indian replied that we could not hope to find a safer retreat than our present one, and suggested that he and his companions should be on the watch, some distance in advance of the spot to which we had told Jose to bring my father; promising that, should he be accompanied by strangers, they would immediately hasten to inform us, so that we might have time to escape.
I earnestly hoped that my father would come; for, though he might run the risk of sacrificing his property, that would be far better than having to act the part of a hypocrite, or being shut up in the dungeons of the Inquisition.
The night seemed very long; and I could scarcely go to sleep for thinking of what might happen on the morrow. At the hour appointed, Arthur and I went to the spot agreed on; Camo and the other natives having some time before set out to watch for Jose's approach. We waited anxiously; the hour for the meeting had arrived. At length we caught sight of two persons coming through the forest. My heart bounded with joy; my father was one of them, and Jose was his companion. Arthur and I hurried towards them, and were soon welcoming my father. He looked pale and ill, but expressed his thankfulness at having escaped; so we at once accompanied him to our retreat, followed by Jose.
He was, as might be expected, very much cast down, and anxious about the future; but Uncle Paul did his utmost to raise his spirits, bidding him trust in God, and reminding him that everything would be ordered for the best. Our plans for the future were then discussed, as our father was eager to get off as soon as possible. As we spoke in English, Jose could not understand what was said; but he observed everything that took place with a look which I did not like—indeed, neither Arthur nor I were yet satisfied that he was acting an honest part.
The means of obtaining provisions for the voyage next occupied our attention. Camo suggested that we should try and catch a cowfish, the flesh of which, when cut up into strips and dried in the sun, could be preserved for a considerable time, and would prove more serviceable than any other food we were likely to obtain. He offered at once to go down to the river and look out for one. Arthur, Tim, and I accompanied him and the two other natives. Tim had an axe, while we had our guns, and the natives had provided themselves with lances, to which long lines were attached. Camo took his post on the lower branch of a tree which projected over the water, while we stationed ourselves at some little distance, ready to render him assistance, if required; and we waited thus for some time, looking up and down the stream in the hope of seeing a cowfish come within reach of his lance.
The creature of which we were in search is amphibious, and suckles its young like the whale. It is frequently found in pairs with its young, browsing on the marine plants, and sometimes on shore in the cocoanut groves. It is properly called the "manatee," or seacow; measures fifteen feet in length, has two fin-like arms, is covered with hair, and often weighs twelve hundred pounds. I had never seen one, but Camo had described it to us as we were on our way to the river.
At length we caught sight of a dark object coming slowly up the stream; its head, as it approached, greatly resembling that of a cow, while its hairy body was raised considerably above the water. We knew from Camo's movements that he also had observed it. The question was whether or not it would pass near enough to him to allow him to strike it with his lance. As it drew nearer, we saw that it had a young one by its side. Now, greatly to our disappointment, it floated off to the opposite side of the stream, and we feared that it would be lost. It suddenly turned again, however, while its young one disappeared beneath it. For some time it remained almost stationary, then, unconscious of its danger, floated directly under where Camo stood. At that instant his long lance flew from his hand, and buried itself deep in the animal's back. The other natives, who had been watching eagerly, now sprang forward and hurled their lances, fixing them firmly, one in its neck, and another towards its tail. The creature, finding itself wounded, began to plunge violently, but made no other effort to escape. It seemed, however, as if the light lances would be unable to hold it. Arthur and I on this made our way as close to the water as we could; and when we got the creature clearly in sight, Arthur fired, and sent a bullet through its head. Its struggles instantly ceased, and without much difficulty we drew it up to the only part of the bank in the neighbourhood where we could land it. It was quite dead, but even then it required our united strength to drag it on shore. The young one followed, and tried to climb up the bank, when Tim despatched it with a blow of his axe. It seemed a cruel deed, but necessity, in such a case, has no law, and we were thankful to have obtained such an ample supply of meat.
We at once set to work to cut up the creature, under Camo's directions, and soon had loaded ourselves with as much meat as we could carry. Leaving one of the natives to guard the carcass from the birds of prey, or any animals which might come to feed on it, we hastened back to our retreat, and then returned for a further quantity. Uncle Paul was delighted at our success; and we immediately set to work to cut the meat into thin strips, which we hung up in the sun. In the evening we cooked a portion of the young manatee for supper, and we all agreed that it tasted like the most delicate pork.
We had now a supply of meat sufficient to last us for several days; and we hoped, with the aid of some cocoanuts, yams, plantains, bananas, and other fruits, to secure an ample supply of provisions for the longest voyage we were likely to take. Our hope was that we should quickly get on board a vessel. If not, Uncle Paul proposed that we should steer for Tobago, which we might expect to reach in a couple of days. Our chief difficulty was to obtain a boat; and Uncle Paul and Arthur agreed to set out to the south in search of one. Dressed in duck trousers, and with broad-brimmed hats on their heads, they would probably be taken for English sailors, and would not be interfered with. They hoped to hire a boat without difficulty; if not, they intended to run off with one, and to send back more than her value to the owner. Under the circumstances, they considered that they would be justified in so doing; though I am very sure that we must never do what is wrong for the sake of gaining an advantage of any sort.
I may be excused, however, from discussing here the morality of their intended act. The world certainly would not have blamed them; but, as I now write in my old age, I have learned that there is a rule far above the world's laws, and that says, "Do no wrong, or be guilty of any appearance of wrong, however important may seem the object to be gained." But this is a digression.
Camo and the two other natives agreed to accompany our uncle and Arthur. The latter took his gun with him, but I retained mine.
They had been gone for some hours, when Tim and I agreed to go out into the woods and kill some birds for supper, whilst our father—who had not yet recovered from the fatigue of his journey, and was, besides, sorely distressed at the thought of all his hopes being destroyed—remained in the retreat with Marian. Jose undertook to stop and prepare the meat, which was to be packed up tightly in small bundles, and covered over with leaves.
Tim and I took our way westward. I scarcely know what made us go in that direction; for before we left the camp we had intended to proceed to the river, and had said so in Jose's hearing. We had gone some distance, however, when we caught sight of a small deer known as the "mangrove stag." The creature did not perceive us, and we followed it for a considerable distance before I could get a favourable shot. At length, when we were little more than fifty yards off, I fired, and, greatly to my satisfaction, brought it to the ground. Tim having quickly despatched it, next skinned and cut it up; then loading ourselves with as much of the flesh as we could carry, we set off to return to the camp.
We had made some progress on our way home, though with our load we moved but slowly—when we caught sight of Jose in the distance, running rapidly among the trees of the forest. At the same moment an object appeared directly in front of Jose sufficient to fill us with horror. It was a huge snake. Jose apparently had not seen it; for the next instant the creature seized him, and began to wind its folds around his body. He uttered a dreadful shriek of terror, not knowing that anyone was near. Tim and I rushed forward; he with his axe in his hand, I with a stick I had picked up—for I was afraid, should I fire, of killing the man. Jose had never been a favourite with Tim; indeed, he had suspected him from the first; and the man's appearance at that spot showed pretty clearly that Tim was right in his opinion. He now, however, dashed up to the huge snake in the most gallant way, and struck it a violent blow on the tail, almost severing the end. Still the monster kept firm hold of the terrified Jose, whose fearful shrieks were each instant becoming fainter as the creature pressed his body tighter and tighter in its encircling folds.
"Do you, Master Guy, batter away at its tail, while I take its head," cried Tim; and springing towards the neck of the monster, just as it was on the point of seizing Jose's head in its mouth, he struck it a blow with his axe which well-nigh cut it through. Still it kept hold of the wretched man; till Tim repeating his blow, it rolled over to the ground with its victim, who, covered with its blood, presented a horrible spectacle as he lay gasping for breath. The blows had paralysed the serpent; and now, seizing Jose by the shoulders, we dragged him out from between its relaxed folds. We had expected to find every bone in his body broken, but, except that his breath had nearly been squeezed out of him, he did not appear to have suffered much. The anaconda, however, we saw from the movements of its body, still retained sufficient vitality to be mischievous.
"We must finish off this gentleman before we attend to Master Jose," cried Tim. "If he comes to life again, he will be after taking us all three down his ugly mouth, like so many pills, at a gulp."
"I suspect the gash you gave him must have somewhat spoiled his digestion, though, Tim," I observed.
"Arrah, then, I will be after giving him another, to make sure," exclaimed my companion, severing the snake's head at a blow. "There! now I've done for him!" he cried, triumphantly holding up its head.
We measured the anaconda, which was fully thirty feet long; and Tim having cut it open with his axe, we found the body of a young deer, and three pacas, each larger than a hare, perfectly entire, showing that the creature had only just swallowed them. Its appearance was most hideous, the creature being very broad in the middle, and tapering abruptly at both ends. It had probably come up a small stream which ran into the main river, and which passed at no great distance from the spot where it had attacked Jose.
I was not before aware that anacondas of any size were to be found in Trinidad; indeed, Camo had told us that he had never seen one, and that at all events they were very rare.
We now turned our attention to Jose, who had not yet recovered from his terror. He sat moaning on the ground, and feeling his limbs, as if still uncertain whether or not they were broken. We at length got him on his legs, and taking him to the water, washed off the serpent's blood, which abundantly besprinkled his face and shoulders.
"And now, Jose, tell me, where were you going when the serpent stopped you?" I asked, when he had recovered sufficiently to speak.
"Oh, don't ask me, Senor Guy! I will go back with you, and remain faithful to the end of my days."
I thought it best not to put further questions to the man, intending to leave it to my father to do so; but I strongly suspected that had not the anaconda put a stop to his proceedings, we should not have seen him again. Indeed, I may say that I was certain he was on his way to give information to the Inquisition of our place of concealment.
Assisting him along, we reached our sylvan home just as darkness set in. My father looked sternly at Jose, and asked where he had been going. The wretched man, falling on his knees, then acknowledged his intended treachery, and, begging my father to forgive him, said he would be faithful in future.
"I will trust you thus far," said my father: "you must never leave this retreat while we remain here."
Jose made no answer, but, sitting down on the ground, groaned as if in great pain. Indeed, the anaconda had given him a greater squeeze than we had at first supposed.
"You may depend on it, your honour, that I will keep an eye on our friend here," said Tim, glancing at Jose. "If it had not been for the big serpent, he would have been after getting those 'Inquisitive' gentlemen down upon us. I will make my shillelagh and his head wonderfully well acquainted, however, if I catch him trying to bolt again."
After this discovery of the intended treachery of our servant, we felt more anxious than ever to escape from the island; and we eagerly looked for the return of Uncle Paul and Arthur, with the boat we hoped they would find.
UNCLE PAUL'S RETURN—WE EMBARK—OVERTAKEN BY A FURIOUS GALE—OUR PROVISIONS WASHED AWAY—JOSE'S DEATH—BURIAL AT SEA—OUR SUFFERINGS—A BREEZE—A SAIL—DISAPPOINTMENT—CATCHING FISH.
Another day passed, and we became more and more anxious for the return of our uncle and cousin. Sometimes our father talked of going back and braving the worst; and sometimes he seemed eager to embark, to get clear away from the island in which his once bright hopes had been so completely destroyed. Frequently he spoke as if all happiness in life for him was over, and seemed only to wish for death as an end to his sorrows. He felt greatly the loss of our mother; and that alone would have been sufficient to cast him down. But he was also, it was evident, dissatisfied with himself. How could it be otherwise, when he reflected that he had, by his own act, brought his present misfortunes upon himself? We, however, did not and could not complain; and dear Marian did her utmost to soothe and comfort him, telling him in a quiet way to trust in God, and that all would be well.
"But I have not trusted in God; I have only trusted in myself," answered our father bitterly, "and I have, in consequence, been terribly deceived."
Though neither Marian nor I could offer sufficient consolation, we did all we could to keep him from going back, and were thus, at all events, of use.
Several times during the day I went down to the beach and looked along the shore, in the hope of seeing the boat coming; but neither did she appear, nor was any sail in sight. Tim would not leave his post, even for the sake of getting some birds for our larder, but kept guard upon Jose; who, it was evident, he thought would run off should he find an opportunity.
"If once we get on salt water, the spalpeen may go and give all the information he chooses; though it would be a pity to let him show this snug little hiding-place, in case some other honest folks might wish to take possession of it," he said to me. "I should just like to take him with us, if I wouldn't rather be without his company."
We had been for some time shut up in our retreat that night, with the entrance carefully closed. Marian had retired to her hut, and our father to one we had built for him; Jose was lying asleep, or pretending to be so; while Tim sat up with me, it being my watch,—when we heard a slight sound, as of persons approaching the spot. The fire was burning brightly, so that we could easily have been seen by those who might find their way to the entrance. My anxiety was relieved, however, by the voice of Uncle Paul; and he soon appeared, followed by Arthur and Camo.
"We have no time to lose," he said, after he had inquired if all had gone well. "We have been able to purchase a boat; and though she is not so large as I could wish, she will carry us all. We have brought her down to the mouth of the river, where she is moored in safety; also some casks of water, and all the provisions we have been able to procure. We should embark at once, so as to be away from the land before morning dawns."
Our father, who had been sleeping lightly, awoke on hearing Uncle Paul's voice, and he seemed well-satisfied with the arrangements which had been made. "I am perfectly ready to start, and shall rejoice to get away from this unhappy country," he added.
I awoke Marian, who was equally ready to start; and we at once set to work to pack up all the provisions we had collected. With these we loaded ourselves, Jose taking one of the heaviest packages.
"You will accompany us," said my father to him. "If you have the regard for me you profess, you will willingly go; and should we hear favourable accounts of the progress of events in the island, you will be able to return, should you wish it."
"It is my wish to obey you, senor," answered Jose. "Had it not been for Senor Guy and Tim, I should have been killed by that dreadful serpent; and I am thankful to them for saving my life."
"Notwithstanding all he says, I will keep an eye on him," whispered Tim to me. "If he tries to give us leg-bail, I will be after him, and show him that I have as good a pair of heels as he has."
We were quickly ready; and having extinguished the fire, to prevent the risk of it spreading to the forest, we all set out,—Camo leading the way, Arthur assisting Marion, while Tim and I brought up the rear.
"Stop a moment," said Camo, when we all got outside. "I will close the entrance, so that no strangers may find it." Putting down his load, he drew together the bushes amid which we had passed, as had been our custom from the first.
We walked in silence through the wood till we got down to the seashore, when, continuing along it for nearly a mile, we at length reached a little harbour formed by a bay at the mouth of the river. Here we found the boat, with the two natives guarding her. She appeared, indeed, very small for the long voyage we contemplated, though sufficiently large to hold all our party. Uncle Paul was the only seafaring person among us, for in his early days he had been a sailor; but my cousin and I, as well as Tim and Jose, could row, so that should the weather prove calm we might still be able to make good way.
Camo and the other two natives would willingly have accompanied us; but it not being necessary for them to leave the island, as there was but little danger of their being captured provided they kept concealed, my father and uncle had agreed that it would be better to leave them behind. They shed tears as they assisted us to load the boat and bade us farewell.
The oars were got out, and Uncle Paul gave the order to shove off; then, getting her head round, we pulled down the river. There was but little wind, and that was off the shore, so that the water at its mouth was perfectly smooth. Bending to our oars, we pulled out to sea; and as we left the shore astern, we all breathed more freely than we had done for many a day. We had, at all events, escaped from the dreaded Inquisition, and we thought, in comparison, but little of the dangers before us. Having got some distance from the shore we felt the breeze come stronger, and Uncle Paul desired us to step the mast and hoist the sail, when we glided much more rapidly through the water than we had done when rowing. The weather, too, promised to be fine, and Uncle Paul cheered us up by saying that he hoped we should fall in with a vessel during the morning; if not, he proposed steering a course for Tobago.
The boat was pretty well loaded with provisions and water, so that there was not much space for lying down. We managed, however, to fit a small cabin for Marian in the afterpart with a spare sail, into which she could retire to rest. The task of navigating the boat fell most heavily on Uncle Paul, as neither Arthur nor I were accustomed to steer, while Tim and Jose knew nothing about the matter. Uncle, therefore, did not like us to take the helm.
We glided on till the shores of the island could scarcely be perceived,—the weather having been remarkably fine ever since we had left home. Just before dawn, however, there were signs of it changing; and as the sun rose from its ocean-bed it looked like a huge globe of fire, diffusing a ruddy glow throughout the sky, and tingeing with a lurid hue the edges of the rapidly gathering clouds. The wind came in fitful gusts for some time from the westward; but soon after Uncle Paul had put the boat's head to the north, it suddenly shifted, and began to blow with considerable violence from that quarter. We had then, under his directions, to close-reef the sail; but even thus it was more than the boat could bear. In vain did we try to beat to windward.
"We shall make no way in the direction we wish to go," said Uncle Paul at length. "We must either run before it, or stand back to the coast we have left, and try to enter some river or harbour where we can find shelter till the gale has passed."
My father was very unwilling to return to the island, fearing that we should be suspected by the authorities of any place where we might land, and be delivered into the hands of the government.
We were now steering to the southward, in a direction exactly opposite to what we wished, but the sea had got up so much, and the wind blew so violently, that it was the only one in which the boat could be steered with safety. The more the sea got up, the more necessary it became to carry sail, to avoid being swamped by the heavy waves which rolled up astern.
Poor Uncle Paul had now been steering for some hours, but he could not trust the helm to anyone else. The wind continuing to increase, a stronger gust than we had before felt struck the sail. In an instant both it and the mast, which had given way, were carried overboard; and before we could secure them, they were lost. On this, Uncle Paul ordered us to get out the oars, and to pull for our lives. We did as he directed; but notwithstanding our efforts several seas which rolled up broke into the boat, carrying away all our water-casks and the larger portion of our provisions. While Arthur and Tim rowed, my father, Jose, and I, aided by Marian, set to work to bail out the boat, and it was with the greatest difficulty we could keep her clear.
Our position had now become extremely critical. Uncle Paul kept as calm as at first, directing us what to do; but I knew by the tone of his voice that he had great fears for our safety. Indeed, had the gale continued to increase, no human power could have saved us. Providentially, after the last violent blast it began to subside; but the sea was still too high to allow us to make headway against it. As soon as we had somewhat cleared the boat of water, Jose and I resumed our oars; but, notwithstanding all our efforts, the summits of the foaming waves occasionally broke aboard, and we had to recommence bailing.
We were thus employed when Uncle Paul cried out,—"Take to your oars! Pull—pull away for your lives!" We did our utmost, but the top of another heavy sea, like a mountain, which rolled up astern, broke aboard and carried away nearly the whole of our remaining stock of provisions; and had not Uncle Paul at the moment grasped hold of Marian, she also would, I believe, have been washed away. Another such sea would speedily have swamped us. We, of course, had again to bail away with all our might; but it took some time before the boat could be cleared of water. When we at length got her to rights, and looked round for our oars, we found, to our dismay, that both Jose's and mine had been carried overboard, thus leaving only two with which to pull on the boat; while we had only the small sail which had formed the covering to Marian's cabin.
The gale continued for two days longer; and it seemed surprising that my young sister, poor girl, should have survived the hardships she had to endure. One small cask, only partly full of water, remained, with two packages of dried manatee flesh, and a few oranges and other fruits,— which were, besides, fast spoiling. Uncle Paul served them out with the greatest care; giving Marian, however, a larger portion than the rest of us—though he did not tell her so, lest she should refuse to take it. Our poor father lay in the bottom of the boat, so prostrated, that had we not propped him up and fed him, he would soon have succumbed. Jose was in even a worse condition. He evidently had not recovered from the injuries he had received in the coils of the anaconda; and when I asked Uncle Paul if he thought he would recover, he shook his head.
"He will be the first among us to go," he answered in a most dispirited way. Jose was groaning, crouched down in the bows of the boat. Tim's compassionate heart was moved; he went and placed himself by his side.
"Cheer up," he said. "We may fall in with a vessel before long, when we shall have plenty of grub, and you will soon get all to rights."
"No, no!" groaned Jose; "my doom is fixed; it serves me right, for I intended to betray you for the sake of the reward I expected to receive. I am dying—I know it; but I wish that I had a priest to whom I might confess my sins, and die in peace."
"Confess them, my friend, to One who is ready to hear the sinner who comes to Him—our great High Priest in heaven," answered Tim, who, like most Irish Protestants, was well instructed in the truths of Christianity. "Depend on it, all here are ready to forgive you the harm you intended them; and if so, our loving Father in heaven is a thousandfold more willing, if you will go to Him."
Jose only groaned; I was afraid that he did not clearly understand what Tim said, so Arthur endeavoured to explain the matter.
"God allows all those who turn to Him, and place their faith in the all-perfect atonement of His blessed Son, to come boldly to the throne of grace, without the intervention of any human being," he said.
"I see! I see!" said the dying man. "What a blessed truth is that! How dreadful would otherwise be our fate out here on the ocean, without the possibility of getting a priest to whom to confess our sins."
I, of course, give a mere outline of what I heard, and cannot pretend to translate exactly what they said. Jose, however, appeared much comforted.
The wind had by this time entirely gone down, and the sea was becoming smoother and smoother. At length night came on. Jose still breathed; but he was speechless, though I think he understood what was said. Either Arthur or Tim sat by him, while Marian and I supported our father. Uncle Paul, overcome by fatigue, had gone to sleep. Just as the sun rose, Jose breathed his last. Our father, who had slept for some time, by this time appeared greatly refreshed; and after he had taken some food, a little water, and an orange, he was able to sit up, and we began to hope that he would recover. We did not tell him of Jose's death, but soon his eye fell on the bow of the boat. "God is indeed merciful, to have spared me. I might have been like that poor man," he observed.