The White Squall, by John Conroy Hutcheson ___________ Tom is a thirteen year-old whose father is a Naval Officer on the half-pay list. This dates the events, for Tom has read two of Captain Marryatt's books, which were published in the 1830s, while his father would have been recalled to duty in time for the Crimean War, so we'll put the date down as the 1840s.
The action starts in the West Indies, where Tom's father has bought a property. Tom has an accident on his way to meet his father on the way from a short visit to another island. Tom is to be sent to an English school, and on his recovery he is taken down to the harbour, and put in charge of a ship's Captain.
The journey back to England has every misadventure that can be thought of, including a White Squall, which we would probably today call a Line Squall. The vessel is capsized. How do they recover it?
Eventually they arrive in England. And that is the end of the story, which really is an introduction to ships for young persons of about thirteen years of age.
It isn't too long, and you'll enjoy it. ___________
THE WHITE SQUALL, BY JOHN CONROY HUTCHESON
"Dat me, Mass' Tom."
"Have you heard the gun fire yet?"
"Golly, no, Mass' Tom."
"Then you must go up the hill at once and see whether the mail steamer has been signalled or not. She ought to have been in sight by now; for, she's been expected since early this morning, and we're all anxious about the news from England."
"All right, Mass' Tom, me go for see, suah."
"Look alive then, Jake, and lose no more time in starting. Let me just see how quickly you can get up to the Battery and back again; and mind, Jake, if the packet should be in, you can saddle my pony when you return for me to ride into town."
"Berry well, Mass' Tom. I'se spec, railly for true, um go dere in brace of shakes, an' back 'gain hyar 'fore dat lazy ole niggah Pomp fetch him cutlash out o' stable an' go in bush to cut him guinea-grass for de hosses. Golly, dat so, Mass' Tom—see if um don't for suah, yah, yah!"
Jake broke off into a huge guffaw, as he shouted out these hurried words in high glee, laughing with all that hearty abandon which was such a strong characteristic of his genuine African nature. Such was the intensity of his merriment, indeed, that he opened his wide red-lipped mouth almost from ear to ear, disclosing a brilliant set of shining teeth, whose ivory whiteness contrasted conspicuously with the jetty blackness of his sable skin. The willing fellow then went off on his mission at a slinging jog-trot, evidently determined to make his promise good of outstripping his more lethargic rival Pompey, whom he was absurdly jealous of and ever eager to surpass in every way he could.
I watched him on his onward way from the raised terrace, laid out as an ornamental garden, in front of our square, one-storied, shingle-roofed, verandah-encircled West Indian home—which lay nestled in a gorgeous wealth of tropical foliage and was perched half-way up the side of a mountain peak that protected it from hurricane blasts in the rear; and, I could see Jake spinning rapidly along the winding carriage drive, bordered with cocoa-nut trees and grou-grou palms in lieu of the oaks and elms of old England. In another second, ere the sound of his merry chuckle had ceased to re-echo in the distance, he had passed through the swing-gate that gave admittance to the grounds.
The lawn sloped downwards from the house, following the curve of the hill, and was studded with orange-trees, whose golden fruit peeped through their shining green leaves, shaddocks, and mangosteen, with many a stately palmiste rearing its tall feathery head above the others; while, in addition, the wild locust, or iron-wood tree, the mammee apple, the pomme-rose and the guava bush flourished between huge blocks of stone, with flat table surfaces and of probable volcanic origin, that seemed to have been thrown at random upon the surface of the grassy expanse, where they now rested, monoliths of the past.
As the gate swung back upon its hinges with a clang, Jake's woolly head, surmounted by the veriest wisp of a ragged red handkerchief, disappeared behind the thick and impenetrable hedge of thorny cactus and spike- guarded prickly-pear that inclosed the plantation, separating it from the main-road forming its boundary and leading, some four miles or so beyond, over mountain and gully to Saint George's, the capital town of Grenada, the most southern of the group of the Windward Islands—a spot where the earlier days of my rather adventurous life were passed and which is endeared to me by all the vivid associations of youth, the fond recollections of memory.
Our place was aptly named "Mount Pleasant," and well do I remember every salient feature of it—the forest of lofty silk-cotton trees, bordered on the left by a row of the curious bois immortel, with its blood-red branches that had blossomed into flowers; the mountain slope covered with green waving guinea-grass at the back; and in front the park-like lawn already described. To the right was a long range of negro huts and stabling; and, beyond these again the kitchen-garden or "provision ground," prolific of sweet-potatoes, yams, and tanias, with plantain and banana trees laden with pendent bunches of their sausage-shaped fruit and hedged round with pine-apples. Stretching away still further in the distance was the cocoa plantation, a sea of verdure, interspersed with the darker green foliage of the nutmeg and wax-like clove-tree. Here reigned in all its majesty the bread-fruit tree, with broad serrated leaves, like a gigantic horse-chestnut, sheltering the more fragile trees that grow only beneath its shadow, and acting as the "mother of the cocoa"—el madre del cacao—as the Spaniards call it.
But, I wish to go back now to the memorable day when Jake set off so briskly on his errand to see if the English mail steamer had arrived, leaving me on the terrace in front of our house wondering, as he speeded on his way, whether the packet was in sight; and, if she had been signalled, trying to surmise what news she would bring.
I was really very anxious about the matter, and I will tell you the reason why.
My father was an officer of the royal navy, who found it a hard thing, with an increasing family, to make both ends meet in the mother country on his half-pay. At last, sick of waiting for active employment afloat during the long stagnation in the service occasioned by the interregnum of peace that lasted almost from Waterloo up to the time of the Crimean war, he determined, like Cincinnatus, to "beat his sword into a ploughshare." In other words, he abandoned the fickle element on which he had passed the early days of his manhood and emigrated to the West Indies, to see whether he might not improve his fortunes by investing what little capital he had in a coffee and cocoa plantation in the island where my scene opens. A couple of months or so before, he had taken a trip across the Atlantic to arrange some money matters with his London agent, and we were now expecting his return by every mail. Beyond this, my father had more than half-hinted that, as soon as he got back to Grenada, he would send me over to England in my turn to go to school, when, most likely, I would have to bid adieu to my West Indian home for good and all; for, my fervent desire was to follow in dad's footsteps and enter the navy as soon as I was able to pass the admiralty examination—a desire to which dad, in spite of the scurvy way in which he had been treated by an ungrateful country, did not say nay, his ambition being that I should succeed where he failed if possible, for he was a true sailor and hankered after the sea yet.
It was not surprising, therefore, that I was so eager to learn whether the packet had come in, albeit her arrival would naturally bring to an end the little brief authority which I had been so proud to assume during dad's absence as the protector of my mother and sisters, besides being regarded by all the negro hands as "um lilly massa of um plantashun." Really, I esteemed myself at that period to be a most important and highly dignified person, being only a boy of thirteen years old then, and small-grown for my age at that!
Jake had scarcely been out of sight five minutes when I began to look out for his return. My impatience, indeed, quite got the better of my reason, for I ought to have known well enough, if I had only considered, that he could not have yet half accomplished the journey to the signal station on Richmond Hill, much less thought even of coming back, the willing darkey being as unable as anyone else to annihilate distance or space!
It was a terribly hot day, being close on to the noontide hour, the thermometer under the shade of the verandah where I stood marking over a hundred degrees; while, goodness only knew what it was out in the open, where the sun's blistering rays produced such intense heat that the paintwork of the green jalousie shutters outside the windows of the house fairly frizzled up in liquid blotches!
The air, too, was oppressively close and warm, just as when the door of an oven is opened in one's face, not a breath of wind stirring to agitate the still atmosphere; but, neither did this fact, nor did the blazing power of the glowing orb of day, which looked like a globe of fire in the centre of the heavens, affect the wild luxuriance of nature at Mount Pleasant.
As I gazed around, everything appeared to be invigorated instead of prostrated by the high temperature.
This seems to be the natural order of things in the tropics, that is, in respect of everything and everyone accustomed to broiling weather, like hot-house flowers and coloured gentry of the kidney of Jake and his sable brethren, whose ancestors, having been born under the sweltering equator, handed down to their descendants constitutions of such a nature that they seem fairly to revel in the heat, and appear to be all the healthier and happier the hotter it is!
Ruby-throated humming-birds, with breasts of burnished gold, fluttered about the garden on the terrace in front of me in dainty flight, or else poised themselves in mid-air opposite the sweet-smelling blossoms of the frangipanni, their little wings moving so rapidly as to make them appear without motion; broad-backed butterflies, with black stripes across their yellow uniforms, floated lazily about, purposelessly, doing nothing, as if they could not make up their minds to anything; and the scent of heliotropes and of big cabbage roses, that blossomed in profusion on trees larger than shrubs, almost intoxicated the senses. The eye, too, was charmed at the same time by the pinky prodigality of the "Queen of Flowers," and the purple profusion of the convolvulus, their colours contrasting with the soft green foliage of the bay-tree; while great masses of scarlet geranium, and myriad hues of different varieties of the balsam and Bird of Paradise plant were harmonised by the snowy chastity of the Cape jessamine and a hundred other sorts of lilies, of almost every tint, which encircled a warm-toned hibiscus, that seemed to lord it over them, the king of the floral world.
I was watching a little procession of "umbrella ants," as they are called, that were promenading across the marble flooring of the verandah, each of the tiny insects carrying above its head a tinier piece of the green leaf of some plant, apparently for the purpose of shielding itself from the sun, for they held up their shades just in the same way as a lady carries her parasol; when, all at once, I heard a heavy step outside, advancing along the terrace from the direction of the stables.
Without turning my head, or consulting watch or clock—or, even without looking up at the scorching sun overhead, had my eyes been sufficiently glare-proof to have stood the ordeal—I knew who the intruder was, and could have also told you that it was exactly mid-day.
Why?—you may ask perhaps.
You will learn in a moment.
The heavy footstep came a pace nearer, and then paused; when, looking round, I beheld an old negro, with a withered monkey-like face, clad in the ordinary conventional costume of an African labourer in the West Indies. His dress consisted of a loose pair of trousers and shirt of blue cotton check; and, on the top of his white woolly head was fixed on in some mysterious fashion a battered fragment of a straw hat, just of the sort that would be used by an English farmer as a scarecrow to frighten off the birds from his fields.
This was Pompey, Jake's rival; and, as he politely doffed his ragged head-gear with one hand, in deference to my dignity as "the young massa," he held out to me with his other paw a wine-glass whose foot, if ever it had one, had been broken-off at some remote period of time.
I knew what Pompey wanted as well as he did himself, but for my own amusement, and in order to hear him make his usual stereotyped announcement, I asked him a leading question.
"Well, what is it?" I said.
"U'm come, rum!" was his laconic rejoinder—nothing more, but the sentence was sufficiently expressive.
Every day of the week, with the exception of Sundays, it had been always Pompey's privilege to have a quartern of rum served out to him, as if he were on board ship, at twelve o'clock, the ordinary grog-time; and, punctually at that hour every day, in the wet season or dry, he never failed to come up to the house for his allowance, bringing with him the footless wine-glass to receive the grateful liquor. His appearance, consequently, was an unfailing token that the sun had crossed the zenith and that it was time to "make it eight bells."
Unlike the majority of his dark-complexioned brethren, who are generally loquacious in the extreme, Pompey was singularly reticent of speech, never varying this parrot-like formula of his when coming at twelve o'clock for his daily stimulant, without which he would never set about his afternoon work.
"U'm come, rum!" was all he would say ever since he had been taken over by my father with the other belongings of the plantation; and, as he was an old "hand," the former proprietor related, and had always been similarly indulged with a quartern of rum at mid-day as far back as he could recollect, old Pompey—and precious old he must have been by this reckoning—had evidently grown into the habit, so that it was part of himself.
Entering the house through one of the low window-less windows which opened out on to the verandah, like the ports in the side of a ship— ventilation being everything in the tropics and closed doors and shut-up rooms unheard of, as everybody was free to walk in and out of the different apartments just as they pleased—I soon brought out a case- bottle from the sideboard where it stood handy for the purpose. Then, filling the old darkey's footless wine-glass, which he held with a remarkably steady hand considering his age, he tossed off the contents without drawing breath, the fiery liquor disappearing down his throat with a sort of gurgling "gluck, gluck," as if it had been decanted into the capacious orifice, Pompey not even winking once during the operation.
"Tank you, Mass' Tom," said he, when he had sucked in the last drop; when, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he stalked off across the terrace again towards the stable to fetch his cutlass to cut the guinea-grass for the horses, according to his usual habit at this time of day. This Jake well knew, by the bye, when he said he thought he would be able to return from his mission before the old fellow should have started, Pompey being as regular as clockwork in his movements, carrying out his daily routine most systematically.
I did not expect to see him again until later on in the afternoon on his return from the mountain at the back of the house, laden with a bale of provender for the stable, which he had charge of; but, what was my surprise a few minutes afterwards, to see him hurrying up again to the house, without his customary companion the cutlass and in a state of great excitement most unaccountable in one generally so phlegmatic.
"Hullo, Pompey! what's the matter now?" I called out as he began to ascend the steps leading up to the terrace, his boots coming down with a heavy stamp on the marble surface. He was a most peculiar old fellow; for, unlike again most of the negroes, who only wear any foot covering on Sundays, when they torture themselves horribly by squeezing their spreading toes into patent leather pumps if they can get them by hook or by crook, the old darkey invariably stalked about in a tall pair of Wellington boots that made him walk as gingerly as a cat with its paws in walnut shells.
"Hey, Mass' Tom, look smart," he sang out in response. "Um big 'guana down by de stable; come quick an' bring 'tick an' we kill him togedder!"
An iguana? This was something to make one excited; for, harmless though the reptile is, one does not come across one everyday. Besides, it is capital eating, tasting just like a chicken, and that of the tenderest: you could not tell the difference between the two when well cooked.
Catching up a thick stick, I was after Pompey in a minute, forgetting alike the heat of the sun's rays in the open—although but a short period before I had been forced to retreat under the shade of the verandah—and my anxious watch for Jake with news of the mail steamer, about whose delay I had been so impatient.
I soon overtook the darkey, who never could make much headway in his boots. They were so big for him that I believe his feet used to have a quiet walk inside them on their own account!
"Where's the 'guana?" I said.
"Just dere, Mass' Tom," he replied, pointing with one of his lean, bony, mottled fingers, the black colour of which seemed to have been worked off them by years of rough usage.
"Where?" I repeated, for I could not see the animal as yet anywhere.
"Dere, on manure heap—see?"
"Yes, I see now," I replied, as, getting nearer to the stables, I noticed something on the top of a mound of straw rubbish. It was a creature like a gigantic lizard, some five or six feet long and as broad about the head as a decent-sized pig.
"Yah, yah, dere he is, dere he is!" shouted out Pompey. "Golly, Mass' Tom, he am big 'guana, too! Give me de 'tick, and dis niggah will soon 'top um runnin' 'way."
The green-looking creature had been basking in the sun, enjoying itself all the more, probably, from the warmth of the manure heap on which it lay; but now, on our nearer approach, it raised its serpent-like head and, puffing out its creamy throat, grew in an instant to double its former size, while the beautiful iridescent colouring of its skin became more conspicuous.
Pompey raised the stick I had handed to him, and the iguana, as if likewise springing to arms to resist attack, elevated a sort of spiny fringe, resembling a mane, that reached from the crest of its head to the shoulders. At the same time, it slung round its tail, in crocodile fashion, as if to give a blow with it to its assailant.
The old darkey, however, was not frightened at the motion. Stepping up to the animal's side, he gave it one smart stroke on the nose, whereupon the iguana was incontinently settled, turning over on its back a second afterwards. The brightness at once faded from its green and gold skin, while the rich cream-coloured throat changed to a dirty-white in the hues of death, in the same way that a dolphin alters its colour when taken from its native element.
"Guess um well kill' now, nohow," said Pompey grimly, taking up the animal by the tail; but it was such a big one that he couldn't lift it, so he had to drag it along the ground towards the quarters of himself and the other negroes. Here it would, I knew, ere long be skinned and dressed in a very savoury way, known only to African cooks, when a portion of the banquet would be sent in anon to "the big house," for the kindly acceptance of the white folks there—my mother, and sisters, and myself—elegantly dished up in plantain leaves with red peppers for dressing.
While I stood for a second watching old Pompey making off with his prey in high good-humour, looking in the distance, as he climbed the slope of the hill up to the huts, uncommonly like a lean monkey dragging away a centipede, the intense glare of the tropical noontide, of which I was for the moment oblivious, changed in an instant to a deep gloom resembling the blackness of night. It seemed as if some interposing body had suddenly been placed between the sun and the earth.
Then came a tremendous crash of thunder, like the sound of heaven's dome breaking in, it was so fearfully loud and awesome; and the reverberating roar was accompanied by a vivid flash of forked lightning, whose zigzag stream struck a tall tamarind-tree standing in front of me, splintering the trunk from top to bottom with a scrunching noise like that made in rending timber!
I turned and ran back to the house for shelter as fast as I could, anticipating what was coming, such storms being of frequent occurrence in the tropics after exceptional heat and when there is no wind to agitate the pent-up air; but, ere I could ascend the half dozen steps leading up to the terrace, the rain-cloud overhead burst and a sheet of water came down as if poured over the side of some giant reservoir in the sky, wetting me to the skin by the time I had gained the shelter of the verandah.
My mother was just coming out of the drawing-room to see where I was, when Jake came up racing behind me, shouting out at the pitch of his voice, above the sound of the sluicing rain, "De packet am in, Mass' Tom! De packet am in!"
"MORE HASTE, WORSE SPEED."
"Hurrah!" I shouted out.
I was so overjoyed at hearing Jake's announcement that the long-expected mail steamer had at last arrived that I was utterly oblivious of my soaking condition, although I had been so completely drenched in the brief space of time that had elapsed before I could get under shelter from the shower, that the water was now trickling down my dripping garments and running out of my boots. "Look alive, old fellow," I added to the willing darkey, who was in an equally moist state, his black skin glistening as if it had received a fresh coating of Japan varnish. "Saddle my pony at once, for I must go into town, as I told you!"
"But, Tom," interposed my mother at this juncture, "you cannot start in all this rain. See how wet you are already, dear, and it is still pouring down, worse than ever!"
"Oh, never mind that, mother, it will stop soon," I rejoined hastily, mortally afraid of her putting an embargo on my contemplated expedition to Saint George's. "I will go in and change my things, and long before I'm ready it'll be fine again, you'll see! Besides, you know, dad may have come by the steamer, and he'll be expecting me to meet him and want Dandy to ride home on. Jake can take him down along with me, so as to be on the safe side, eh?"
"Well, well, my dear, I suppose you must have your way," said my mother, whom this last argument of mine, in respect of my father's possible arrival, seemed to convince against her will, for she made no further demur to my setting out, in spite of the weather.
This very material point being satisfactorily arranged in my favour, as Jake could see with half an eye, he having waited to learn whether my orders were to be carried out or not, the darkey now hurried off to the stables to execute them with a cheerful grin on his ebony face, fearing the rain as little as he did the burning rays of the mid-day sun; while I scurried off to my room upstairs to shift my wringing clothes and put on another suit of white flannel, which is the ordinary wear of all sensible people in tropical countries—just as it is becoming the fashion over here in summer, especially for fellows who go in for cricket and other athletic games provocative of perspiration.
I had judged well of the climate and been a true weather prophet; for, albeit I was pretty sharp in dressing, long ere I could get below again the rain suddenly ceased falling, and, in another moment or so, the sun was shining down as potently as it had done before the thunder-storm, from an absolutely cloudless sky, whose burnished blue arc was only suggestive of heat and glare as usual.
When I stood under the verandah once more, awaiting Jake with the horses, I noticed that the marble pavement of the terrace in front had dried up already, while the earth of the flower-beds scarcely looked damp. As previously, lots of humming-birds, displaying their rainbow plumage to the best advantage, were flitting here and there between the shrubs, in pursuit of the myriads of flies and other insects that had come out for an airing after the shower, some of the tiny feathered mites poising themselves before some opening bud or blossom, or else peering into its interior, with their little wings moving at the rate of ten thousand bird-power per minute and creating a little halo of variegated light around them.
The industrious ants, too, had reformed their parasol procession, which the temporary deluge had seriously disorganised; and, but that several solemn-looking blackbirds, of a larger species than the yellow-billed variety familiar to us in England, were now hopping about on the lawn under the orange-trees, digging up worms, and that a stray drop or two of crystal glittered on the petals of the roses like diamonds, or reflected the sunshine from the trumpet bells of the lilies, while there was a greener tint on the vegetation around, one could hardly have imagined that it had rained at all!
Still, there was a perceptible coolness in the air now noticeable that was most refreshing after the suffocating heat, which I had found so oppressive an hour agone; and, this tempered tone of the atmosphere brought out more vividly the fragrant scent of the frangipanni and languid perfume of the jessamine, the whole atmosphere without being redolent of their mingled odours, harmoniously blended together in sweet unison, like a regular pot-pourri!
The showery avalanche, besides cooling and sweetening the air with the balmy breath of the flowers which its influence extracted, left also other evidence of its effect behind. This was especially apparent in the swelling torrent of muddy water, drained from the slopes of the mountain-side above the house and now impetuously rushing down an impromptu gully which the flood had scooped out for itself across the grounds, following the course of the carriage drive almost up to the entrance-gate, where the suddenly-created cataract, diverging into a hollow to the left, made another exit for itself through the cactus hedge into the cocoa plantation beyond.
Jake was much longer in getting the horses saddled than I had expected; and I had to shout out for him more than once before he came up to the steps of the terrace with the especial animals he had charge of—"Prince," my pony, a skittish little bay from the Spanish main; and "Dandy," a sturdy dapple-grey Canadian roadster, that in appearance was quite the reverse of what his name would imply. The old horse, however, was as sound and steady as a veteran drum-major and thoroughly reliable; and my father prized him highly, always riding him from choice and not minding any chaff about his charger's looks.
On advancing to mount Prince, our darkey groom seemed put out about something, I noticed; but, before I could put any question to him or ask the reason of his being so tardy in bringing out the horses, he burst out full of his grievance.
"I tole um so, Mass' Tom, tole um so!" he exclaimed.
"Why, what is the matter?" I inquired, rather surprised.
"Golly, matter 'nuff for dis chile," grumbled Jake.
"You savvy I tell you, Mass' Tom, I'se come back from de hill 'fore Pomp get him cutlash to cut um guinea-grass, hey?"
"Yes, so you did, Jake," I said sympathisingly, remembering his boast when setting out.
"I'se right den, massa!"
"Indeed?" I responded.
"Iss, Mass' Tom. Belieb me, dat lazy ole niggah not cut guinea-grass, not do nuffin'!" said Jake indignantly, thinking and hoping that Pompey would receive a rating.
"Oh, he caught a 'guana before the rain came on, and that prevented him from going to cut the grass," I explained.
Jake looked astounded.
"Hey, Pomp catch him 'guana?" he asked.
"Yes," said I. "He killed it in the stable-yard, and has gone to cook it."
This immediately fired Jake's jealousy. It was, to him, just like adding insult to injury on his rival's park. It seemed like poaching on his special domain.
"What, Mass' Tom, he catchee 'guana, for suah?"
"Yes, in the corner there," I answered, pointing out the exact place with the twisted rattan, or "supple Jack," which I used for a riding- whip and held loosely in my hand.
"Dat for true, right on de mush heap dar?" repeated Jake, apparently unable to realise the fact of the other's success in the chase.
"He did," I said briefly; and then, wishing to end the colloquy, I jumped on Prince's back, whereupon my skittish pony, as I had trained him to do on my once mounting, immediately started off at a brisk canter down the carriage drive. So Jake had perforce to bestride Dandy and follow after me, without having the pleasure of calling Pompey to account for his misdeeds before we started—as he evidently expected and most decidedly wished to have done I've no doubt.
Jake was very angry.
This was not so much because the other darkey had omitted cutting the guinea-grass, which, of course, the horses would not now require until we returned from town, as from the circumstance of Pompey having had the chance of exhibiting his prowess in respect of the iguana. Jake was evidently much dissatisfied with the whole proceeding; and I could hear him muttering anathemas against his rival as he trotted behind me through the grounds, and out at the entrance-gate into the main-road beyond.
"Golly, dat most mystiferous, nohow!" I heard him ejaculate after a bit as he got nearer up to me. "I'se spec dat 'guana one big fool let Pomp grab him. Nebber mine! Me catchee big manacou byme-bye; an' dat heap betterer dan nasty fat-face 'guana. Say, Mass' Tom, um like manacou?"
"I can't tell you, Jake," I replied. "I have never yet tasted one."
"Den you jest wait an' see. Dey is splendiferous, Mass' Tom, an' beat cock-fightin'. Golly, I get you one, two, tree, five manacou to-morrer, dat ebber so nicer dan dat poor trash ob 'guana dat hangman tief Pomp catchee, you jest wait an' see!"
"All right, Jake," I said kindly, to appease his jealous feelings; for, he was very fond of me and thought that his rival had eclipsed him in my estimation. "I will come with you to-morrow, if my father doesn't want me, and then we'll hunt for manacous up the mountain."
This promise delighted him, and very soon Jake regained his customary good-humour, satisfied with having prospectively outshone Pompey; for, he presently broke out with one of his happy African laughs, which told me as plainly as words the little unpleasantness of the past was now dismissed from his thoughts.
As we rode on, at first downwards and then up a steep hillside again, the path winding by the edge of a precipice most of the way, we came across further traces of the force of the recent storm. Large trees were at one place stretched across the road, their massive trunks having been rended by the lightning; while the sudden deluge of rain had channelled little streams through the red clay. These coursed along like so many independent rivulets, right under our horses' hoofs, rippling onward light-heartedly, until they came to one of the many broad ditches or gullies, that intersected our track at intervals, the contents of which they swelled to such an extent that we frequently had great difficulty in fording them, the water reaching quite up to Prince's girths, and the current being so strong as to almost sweep him off his legs.
The scenery on either hand was grand.
On the right, plantations of cocoa and nutmeg trees stretched up the slopes of hills, which all converged towards a central mountain peak that overtopped all the rest by many hundred feet. This was crowned by the extinct crater of a volcano, now filled with water and known as Le Grand Etang. On the left, were valleys and gorges of the richest green, with here and there a tall silk-cotton tree or graceful palm elevating itself above the other wood-nymphs, the smoke of charcoal burners dotting the landscape from amid the thickest part of the forest growth of green with curling wreaths of grey.
We soon reached a wide plateau just above Government House, where the best view in the whole island was to be obtained, above which towered the old battery on Richmond Hill, armed with obsolete and worm-eaten thirty-two pounders, once deemed sufficient protection for the Carenage or harbour below, which it commanded. Fort George, another fortification equally powerless nowadays either for attack or defence, lay on the right; and looking beyond, over a series of terraces of villas and gardens, and negro provision grounds, the open sea could be seen stretching away to the Boccas of the Gulf of Paria and the Serpent Passage which divides the island of Trinidad from the main coast of British Guiana.
I could see, on arriving at this point, the English mail steamer coaling at the jetty below, with gangs of negroes and negresses busily engaged going to and fro along the wharf, carrying baskets of fuel on their heads; so, setting spurs to Master Prince, I made him race down the road as if a drove of wild bulls were after him, heedless of every obstacle in my path and only intent on reaching the quay.
"Top, Mass' Tom, 'top!" shouted out Jake behind me, putting Dandy into a heavy trot. "De road am berry slippy, an' you go one big fall soon!"
But, Jake's caution was all in vain, for the steamer was there, and the passengers had probably already landed with my father amongst them, so there was every reason for my hastening on quickly.
I did not waste time, I can assure you!
Cantering past groups of coloured people of every hue, from the palest copper tint up to the jettiest black, all returning to their huts in the hills after disposing of their market produce for the day and each giving me the customary patois greeting, "Bon j'u', massa, ken nou'?" as I raced by them; past cottage doors and overseers' houses I went on at full speed, until I came to a long street that sloped down with a gradient like that of one of those sharp-pointed, heavy-gabled roofs of Queen Anne's time.
Even this, however, did not arrest my headlong course.
I was much too anxious to get below to the harbour side before the coaling of the steamer should be completed and the vessel start off again on her intercolonial trip amongst the islands to deliver her mails from Europe; and so, deaf to all my darkey attendant's prayers and expostulations, I hit poor Prince over the head with my supple jack and galloped as if a drove of wild bulls was after me down the dangerous incline, which was paved with smooth slippery fixed boulders to make it all the more treacherous to a horse's hoofs unless rough-shod.
"Golly, Mass' Tom, you break um neck for suah," I heard the terrified Jake call out far away in my rear; but I could not have stopped then even had I wished, Prince having too much "way" on him.
"Come on!" I cried. "Come on!"
These were the last words I remember uttering, for at that moment, the pony, with me clinging to his back with might and main, was tearing down the slope at a terrific pace; and then, just as we were passing the school-house at the corner of the market-place, some boys who were outside suddenly set up a loud yell at something or other.
This frightened Prince so that he shied.
The pony bounded up in the air first like a goat, lifting all his legs from the ground at once in true buck-jumper fashion, after which he came to a dead halt as if he had been shot; and then, placing his fore-feet straight out before him he sent me flying over his head right through the window of a little shop opposite with such force that I was picked up insensible.
The first face I saw when I came to myself was that of my father. He was bending over me and looking very anxious. I think he had been crying.
"Better, Tom?" he said softly, as if afraid of making a noise and frightening me back into unconsciousness—everything seeming to be strangely still around me!
"Oh, I'm all right," I answered joyfully, much pleased at seeing him. "Why, how did you come here?" and I tried to get up from the sofa on which I discovered that I Was lying. But it was only an attempt, for I fell back again in a heap, feeling pain all over me. It seemed just as if I had been broken into little pieces and somebody was now separating the bits!
"Bress de Lor', him 'peak again!" I heard Jake ejaculate, and then I noticed his black face behind dad's, while there was another gentleman there too. The latter now took hold of my hand and felt my pulse, I suppose, although he didn't ask me to put out my tongue, as he generally did when he came up to Mount Pleasant specially to prescribe for me!
"Hallo, Doctor Martin!" I exclaimed, recognising him. "What's the matter with me? I can't rise, or move my legs, or do anything."
"You confounded young rascal!" he rejoined in his hearty voice, "a nice mess you have got yourself into, alarming us all in this way. What do you mean by galloping down Constitution Hill as if you were after a pack of foxhounds? It's a mercy you haven't broken every bone in your body."
"Poor Prince isn't hurt, is he?" I asked abruptly, without answering him directly.
"No, Mass' Tom," eagerly cried out Jake, glad of saying something to me in order to show his sympathy; "he berry well, no scrape um knees or nuffin', he—"
"There, that will do," said Doctor Martin, interrupting the flow of the good-natured darkey's eloquence, "you mustn't agitate Master Tom now; he's in a very critical state, and any excitement is bad for him. You'd better go and see after the horses."
"Me no want agg-agg-tate um, Mass' Doctor," pitifully expostulated Jake, almost blubbering at the accusation of his possibly wanting to do me harm, "I'se only glad to hear him 'peak again, dat all;" and he went out of the room quite crest-fallen.
"Oh, doctor!" I cried, but then, all at once, a sort of sick sensation came over me. Dad and Doctor Martin seemed to be waltzing round me, with the furniture and everything else following suit, and I fainted away again, I fancy; although I could hear their whispering voices, as of people who were far away in the distance. Then, there was a blank.
When I next opened my eyes, strange to say, I was in my own little bed at home, with my mother sitting by my side.
I felt very weak, and one of my arms was tied up in bandages, while my other limbs didn't seem to belong to me; but, at first, I had no recollection of what had happened.
I could not imagine what was the reason for my being laid up like that; and, seeing my mother there, I fancied for the moment that I had overslept myself, as was frequently the case, and that she had come to call me for breakfast.
"Why, mother," I said, "I'm sorry I'm so late."
"You've been ill, Tom," she replied soothingly, without referring to my laziness as I expected; "I'm glad, though, you're recovering at last."
"Hi!" I exclaimed, much astonished.
"Yes, my dear, very ill," she repeated.
"Dear me! and for how long?" I asked, in wonder still.
"Well, it is more than three weeks since you were brought here, dear; but take this now, Tom," she added, before telling me anything further, putting her arm round me and lifting me up in a sitting position, so as to be better able to swallow something in a wine-glass which she held to my lips.
"Medicine, eh?" I said, making a wry face.
"Yes, dear, but it doesn't taste badly," she whispered coaxingly. "Besides, Tom, if you won't take it the doctor says you are not to be allowed to speak, and of course I shall not be able to answer your questions."
This settled the point; so I at once tossed off the draught she handed me, which, although slightly bitter, was not nearly as nasty as I thought it would have been, having a wholesome horror of doctor's mixtures. The draught, at all events, put fresh vigour into me. It certainly gave me strength to speak again as soon as I had gulped it down, for I was fidgeting to know what had occurred.
"Now, mother," I said, "tell me all about it. I can't be quiet till you do. Have I had the fever again, or what?"
I may mention in explanation of this question of mine that, the year before, I had been confined to bed with a sharp attack of a sort of tertian ague, which is the scourge of most tropical countries. This was the only illness I had ever suffered from in my young life; so, I thought now that my old enemy had paid me another visit.
"No, dear, you have not had the fever," she answered. "Do you forget all about going to town to meet your father, and how your pony threw you over his head at the foot of Constitution Hill?"
Thereupon the whole thing flashed back upon my mind in an instant.
"But how did I get here?" I inquired, puzzled at this part of the affair. "I remember now about my tumble, and seeing dad and Doctor Martin at some place in Saint George's, with old Jake crying behind them, but I don't recollect anything else."
"My boy," said my mother seriously, her lips trembling as she spoke, "you've had a very narrow escape from an awful death! Do you know that had you fallen on your head in the street when Prince pitched you over, nothing could have saved your life? As it was, you got your left arm broken and face cut, besides which you have been suffering from a slight concussion of the brain, Doctor Martin says. It is the latter which has made you insensible for so long a time. At one time, indeed, we all despaired of you!"
"Really!" I exclaimed, drawing a long breath of dismay at this catalogue of my injuries.
"Yes, really, Tom," said she; "it is a wonder to me that you are now lying here in your right senses again."
"But how did I get home, mother?" I asked, pressing my inquiries so as to learn every incident of the accident.
"Well, dear, being unconscious, and as moving you could not affect your head much, Doctor Martin thought you would recover sooner if removed to the fresh country air of Mount Pleasant than if you were allowed to remain in the stifling atmosphere of the town. So you were brought up here, borne on the very sofa on which you were placed when they picked you up after your fall, four negroes acting as your palanquin bearers."
"Jake was one, I bet!" I here put in, interrupting her. "I am sure he wouldn't have let anyone else carry me if he could help it."
"Oh, yes, Jake assisted," she said; "and I gave him a fine scolding, too, afterwards, for allowing you to ride down that hill at such a pace. It was a mercy you were not killed outright!"
"It wasn't his fault, mother," I interposed at this point. Really, I was not going to let poor Jake be blamed for my obstinacy! "I made Prince gallop into the town as hard as I could, in spite of all he could say, for I was anxious to get down to the wharf before the passengers had landed from the steamer. I wished to be the first to meet dad."
"And you've found out now, Tom, the truth of the old proverb, 'more haste, worse speed,' eh, my dear?"
"Yes, mother," I said with a laugh, "I never got there at all. But, dad came all right, for I saw him, you know. Where is he?"
"He'll be here presently," she replied; "he has been very anxious about you, and has sat up every night with you."
"I'm very sorry," I said; but then, feeling about my face and head with the solitary hand I was now only able to move, I noticed something strange. "Why, hullo, mother!" I cried out, "what is the matter with the top of my head—where is my hair gone? All seems so smooth!"
She couldn't help laughing—I suppose it was at my comical look of mingled astonishment and perplexity.
"It had to be shaved off when you were delirious, Tom," she said with a smile; "you feel funny without it, no doubt, but it will soon grow again, my boy."
"Oh dear, oh dear!" I exclaimed lugubriously; "I suppose I will be bald and have to wear a wig, like old Mr Bunting! My arm, too, mother, hurts awfully! and I can't move it at all."
"Never mind, Tom, it might have been worse, you know," she said in her quiet soothing way. "You ought to thank God for sparing your life, instead of grumbling at what your own recklessness has produced. However, my dear boy, you'll soon pull round and be yourself again if you will only keep quiet and obey all the doctor's directions."
"But, mother, it's a terrible task for me to keep quiet," I cried in such a serious manner that I made her laugh again.
"No doubt it is," she said, "but you must learn to do it if you wish to get well again; and, Tom, I can't help reminding you that your being laid up now has greatly interfered with our plans. Your father wished to have sold the estate, and for us all to go home to England. Indeed, but for your accident we would have gone by the last packet."
This was news with a vengeance! It almost made me jump out of bed, crippled as I was, and my mother had to put her hand on my shoulder to restrain me.
"What! sell Mount Pleasant?" I ejaculated.
"Yes," she replied.
"And all of us go home together, instead of my being sent to England alone to school?" I continued.
"That was what your father thought of," said my mother in answer to this question of mine; "but your illness has made him alter his mind somewhat, as you will learn when you are able to get up and move about. You must now, dear, remain quiet, and not excite yourself; otherwise, your recovery will be retarded and that will worry your father more."
"All right, mother, I promise to be good," I said resolutely, nestling down amongst the pillows which had been comfortably fixed around me, and trying to be as still as a mouse. "I will do all that you and the doctor tells me, if you'll only make me well again."
"That's my brave boy," she murmured softly, smoothing my poor hairless head with her gentle hand in such a caressing way that it made me feel drowsy, and in another minute I had dropped off into a sound sleep. I did not wake again until some hours afterwards, when I was so refreshed and hungry that I was able to demolish a large basin of jelly-like chicken broth with some thin toast, which did me much good.
From that time I gradually got better; but my recovery was very slow, on account of the thorough shaking I had received from my fall, and it was quite another fortnight before I was able to be moved downstairs and allowed to sit in the verandah, where the fresh breezes from the sea and the scent of the flowers on the terrace completed my cure.
For some days even after this, however, I had to keep perfectly quiet, in accordance with the orders of Doctor Martin, who feared that I had sustained some injury to my spine in addition to my other contusions. This suspicion of his turned out, fortunately for me, to be groundless; but the rest he enjoined was very much out of keeping with my buoyant and excitable nature, which was fidgety in the extreme.
Still, this period of convalescence was by no means irksome to me on the whole, for I had plenty wherewith to occupy my attention and my sisters for companions, little Totty, the youngest, never being so happy as when with me.
In order the better to amuse me, and make me remain in a recumbent position, dad rigged up an Indian grass hammock for me beneath the shade of one of the large silk-cotton trees by the side of the house; and here I used to swing at my ease for hour after hour, looking at the bright- coloured humming-birds flitting about and watching the busy "Jack- Spaniards," as the wild bees or hornets of the tropics are locally styled, building their clay nests under the eaves of the verandah, just in the same way as the sand-martens make their habitations at home.
I also read a great deal, for a kind neighbour luckily lent me at this time a couple of odd volumes of Captain Marryat's works, so that I had now the pleasure of gloating over the wonderful history of Mr Midshipman Easy, besides enjoying the strange episodes of Peter Simple's eventful career. Both of these books were previously unknown to my boyish ken, and I need hardly say how entrancing I found them. Even now, after the lapse of so many years, I cannot hear the titles of either mentioned, without my memory taking me back in a moment to the garden of my old island home in the West Indies—the very perfume of the frangipanni and jessamine being almost perceptible to my vivid imagination, while my fancy pictures the scene around, and my listening ear catches the faint rustle of the wind through the tops of the cabbage palms!
Once, I recollect, when lazily rocking to and fro in my hammock, I saw a large armadillo crawl out from amidst the brushwood under the trees, he having probably come down from his cave somewhere up in the mountains for change of air. This animal is something like a tortoise, only ever so much bigger; and as the negroes esteem them very good eating, saying they are better than turtle, I at once gave Jake a hail to let him know of the arrival of the strange visitor, when my darkey hastened speedily to the spot, securing the armadillo without much difficulty. Jake was all the more delighted with his prize from the fact that my accident had prevented me from going manacou hunting with him as I had promised. He argued that the armadillo would serve as a set-off to Pompey's iguana, which had been constantly "thrown in his teeth," as it were, ever since his rival had killed it in my presence, the one capture neutralising the other.
It may be wondered that I introduce all these little details of my illness and subsequent recovery, but, "there's a reason in everything, even in the roasting of eggs," says the proverb; and, when it is considered that, had it not been for my accident, dad and mother with my sisters and myself would all have gone to England in the mail steamer together, instead of my essaying the voyage alone in a sailing ship, these incidents are naturally relevant, quite apart from the strong impression they made upon me at the time, as but for what occurred I should have nothing of any importance to tell with reference to my subsequent adventures when alone on the Atlantic.
However, to make a long story short, I may briefly state that, after a pretty long interval of lying still, Doctor Martin said one day that I might get up and move about; when the change from inaction to action had such an improving effect on me that, within a very short space, I was myself again—although, perhaps, a much paler and thinner sort of Tom Eastman than "the young rascal," as the doctor persisted in naming me, "who tried to break his neck by galloping down Constitution Hill, but couldn't because it was so tough!"
All this while, dad had said nothing to me either about selling the estate or of my going home to school; but one morning when I was able again to mount on the back of poor Prince, who had grown quite fat during his long stay in the stable, he told me that I might accompany him, if I liked, to Grenville Bay, on the other side of the island. Dad said that there was a large merchant vessel lying off there, loading sugar from one of the plantations, and he wished to consult the captain about sending home some bags of cocoa in her. He added, that we would probably have to go off to her in a boat.
This was about a week after the doctor had released me from my hammock- prison; so, as I had not as yet had a canter on Prince since my unlucky escapade, it may be imagined with what delight I prepared for the excursion, as, independently of the pleasure of a long country ride with dad, who was one of the jolliest companions anybody could be out with, I had never been on board a real ship before. I had frequently observed vessels at a distance from the shore, when anchored in the Carenage, as the harbour of Saint George is called, or else sailing round the coast inwards or outwards bound, but had never inspected one closely.
"Golly, Mass' Tom, dis sight am good for sore eyes!" cried Jake, laughing from ear to ear with joy at seeing me well again. "Me nebber fought you ebber lift leg ober Prince again!"
"Oh, I'm all right," I said gleefully, jumping into the saddle in my old style, the pony going off instanter at a canter in his customary way.
"Take care, Tom, take care!" cried my mother after me anxiously; so, to ease her alarm at my venturing too much for one who had so recently been an invalid, I reined in Prince, and as soon as dad had mounted Dandy, we started away at a steady jog-trot, Jake following up close behind the heels of the horses, with which he could at any time keep pace when put to it, even when we went at a gallop.
Dear me! I shall never forget that ride.
Part of our way was past a wide stretching extent of primeval forest that clothed the mountain-side with green. Here were wonderful specimens of trees, some of which would rival the oaks of England—aye, even those in Windsor great park! There was the sandbox, whose seeds are contained in an oval pod about the size of a penny roll; which when dry bursts like a shell, scattering its missiles about in every direction; the iron-wood tree, which turns the edge of any axe, and can only be brought low by fire; the caoutchouc-tree with its broad leaves and milk-white sap, the original source from which all our waterproof garments are made. Besides these were a host of others, such as the avocado pear, soursop, sapodilla, and sapota, all of which, in addition to their size and grand appearance, bear excellent fruit. But it would have puzzled anyone to explore this almost impenetrable forest growth without the aid of a cutlass to clear the path; for, tall vines, like ship's cordage, hung from the limbs of the trees and knitted their branches together in the most inextricable fashion, the lianas rooting themselves down into the earth and then springing up again for fresh entanglements, in the same way as the banyan-tree of India spreads itself.
This was the outlook from one side only of our route. On the other were to be seen patches of sugar-cane, planted with almost mathematical regularity and looking like so many fields of some gigantic species of wheat; green plantations of cocoa, with their ripe yellow fruit showing out between the leaves, similar to that of ours at Mount Pleasant; and several detached gardens, where the negro squatters were cultivating their yams and tanias, or else preparing their farina for cassava from the root of the manioc plant. The process consisted in first squeezing out, by means of an old sack and a heavy stone for a press, the viscid juice, which is a strong poison—the same, indeed, with which the Caribs used to tip their arrows in the old days of the aborigines—and then baking the flour on a griddle over a charcoal fire.
Passing through this varied scenery on either hand, our road led presently downwards through a series of valleys, clothed with vegetation and smiling in flowers. We crossed now and again some little stream rippling along over its pebbly bed, wherein were crawfish and tiny things like whitebait playing amongst the water-cresses that grew over the banks; until, at last, we reached a wide horse-shoe bay facing the wide blue sea, that stretched out to the distant horizon, laving its silver sand with happy little waves that seemed to chuckle with a murmur of pleasure as they washed the shore in rhythmical cadence.
There was but a single vessel here, and she was riding at anchor out in the offing some two miles from land, looking quite lonesome by herself in the distance.
She was a barque of some four or five hundred tons, with a broad, bluff- bowed hull that rose well out of the water on account of her not having completed loading her cargo. There was a long row of white ports along her side; and, as she rolled with the motion of the ground-swell, now setting inshore with the wind, she showed her bright copper sheathing almost to her keel.
"Is that the ship, dad?" I asked my father, gazing at her with longing eyes and wondering how we were to reach her.
"Yes, Tom, that's the vessel I told you of, and we must now see about getting aboard if we can," said he, preparing to dismount from his horse, whose bridle Jake had already taken hold of.
"And what's her name, dad?" I then inquired, jumping down from Prince's back as I spoke and giving the reins also in charge of our darkey groom.
"The Josephine of London," he replied in regular ship-shape fashion; "Captain Miles, master and part owner."
"What!" I exclaimed joyfully; "Captain Miles! That jolly old fellow who came out to Mount Pleasant last year and showed me how to make a kite?"
"The same," replied dad. "But remember, Tom, he's not much over my age; and I do not by any means call myself an old man yet! Besides, he and I are friends of long standing, and you should not speak of him so disrespectfully."
"Oh, dad, I didn't mean that, and I beg his pardon, I'm sure," I interposed hastily at this. "What I wished to express was, that I thought him so nice and pleasant, that I was very glad to have the chance of seeing him again!"
"My dear boy, I know what you meant," said dad kindly, with his usual bright smile, the sight of which eased my mind in a minute. "However, Tom," he added quizzingly, "we must now see about getting out to the old fellow."
But this was sooner said than done.
There was the ship, it was true, and there were we on the shore looking at her; but, there between us stretched an expanse of nearly two miles of blue water, which we certainly could not cross by swimming, although dad was a pretty good hand at that, and had made me, too, a fair adept in the art for my years.
How to reach the vessel, therefore, was the question.
Dad tried waving his handkerchief to attract the attention of those on board; but the crew of the Josephine appeared to be all asleep, for nobody took any notice of the signal. Foiled in this hope, dad turned round to me again with a puzzled expression on his face, as if wondering what he should do next, though of course I could not suggest anything.
Just then Jake, who had been looking at my father very attentively all this while, as if "taking stock" of his movements, so to speak, suddenly burst into one of his huge guffaws.
"Yah, yah, massa, golly you no see for suah!" he cried out in an ecstasy of enjoyment at what he considered a rare joke. "You am look de wrong way. Look dere, look dere!"
"Look where?" asked dad, not quite making out what particular direction Jake especially wished to draw his attention to, for the darkey was whirling one of his arms round him like a windmill to each point of the compass in turn; and, but that he had the bridles of the horses slung over his other arm, he would probably have gesticulated as frantically also with that.
"Dere, dere—t'oder way, massa," repeated Jake, nodding his woolly head as he laughed and showed his teeth, this time indicating the extreme left of the bay, to which our backs had been turned; but where, on our now looking, we noticed a little jetty running out into the sea, with a boat putting off from it towards the ship.
"Oh!" ejaculated dad; "what a stupid I am, to be sure!"
Dad's exclamation made Jake break out afresh into a loud cachinnation.
"Golly, dis chile can't 'tand dat," he shouted. "Massa um 'tupid, massa um 'tupid, yah, yah!" and he almost doubled himself in two with merriment, his hearty laughter being so contagious that both dad and I could not help joining in. So there were we all chuckling away at a fine rate at the idea of our not noticing either the jetty or the boat before. We had been so blindly anxious to reach the Josephine that we had looked in every direction but the right one for the means of getting on board her!
After a bit, dad was the first to recover his composure.
"Well, Tom," said he, "the best thing we can do now will be to ride round the bay to the point where that boat has started out from. I think I can see another craft of some sort lying alongside the jetty; and, I daresay, we'll be able to get out to the vessel if we go there."
As he spoke he mounted Dandy again, while I jumped up nimbly on Prince's back; and, in another moment we were cantering along the sandy beach towards the point in question, with Jake running behind holding on to Dandy's tail, and still laughing to himself in high glee.
On approaching the jetty, it looked much bigger than it had appeared to be in the distance. It was a long wooden pier, indeed, that projected some hundred yards or so into the sea, and it had a crane at the end for hoisting and lowering the heavy hogs-heads of sugar. Dozens of these were ranged along its length awaiting shipment, and a gang of negroes were busily engaged under a white overseer in stowing some of them into the launch of the Josephine, which was moored right under the crane. The name of the vessel was painted in white letters on the stern of the boat, which was turned towards us as we rode up so that we could easily see it.
On dad's telling the overseer what he wanted, we learnt that Captain Miles was on board his vessel, and that the launch would be going out to her as soon as she was loaded; so we had nothing to do now but to wait until she had taken in as many casks of sugar as she could carry.
To me, this delay was not very tedious; for, as the overseer made the negroes "hurry up" with their task, I was much amused with the brisk way in which they trundled the huge hogs-heads along, running them up to the pier-head, slinging them to the chains of the crane, and then lowering them down into the launch. There was much creaking of cog-wheels and cheerful, "Yo-heave-hoing!" from the men in the boat below, as they stowed them away in the bottom of the craft as easily as if they were only so many tiny little kegs, the darkeys joining in the sailors' chorus with much good-humour.
Bye and bye the job was finished, when, room having been reserved for dad and myself in the stern-sheets, the seaman in charge of the boat told us to jump in.
Then, some of the negro gang coming on board also to help man the long oars, which, like sweeps, were ranged double-banked along the sides of the launch, she was pulled away slowly from the jetty out towards the Josephine in the offing, Jake, who had been left ashore to mind the horses, casting longing looks of regret after us. He, too, would have dearly liked to have gone off to the ship.
It was heavy work, even with the aid of the sweeps, rowing such a distance under the broiling mid-day sun, for there was no breeze to aid the boat's progress through the water, and the heavy ground-swell that was rolling in to the land of course greatly retarded the rowers. Every moment the launch plunged almost bows under into the hollow of the sea, then rising again suddenly as the waves passed under her keel, her stern sinking down level with the surface at the same time and her prow being high in the air. I thought it somewhat dangerous at first, but dad and the other men took it so coolly that I was soon reassured and quite enjoyed the motion.
It seemed ever so much nicer than swinging to me; for the up and down movement was as regular as clockwork, in rhythmical harmony with the undulations of the unbroken billows that swept in, one after another, in measured succession from seaward—pursuing their onward course until they broke on the curving shore of the bay, inside of us, with a dull low roar, like that of some caged wild animal kept under restraint and unable to exert its full strength.
After an hour's hard pulling, the boat got alongside the ship at last, but the vessel floated so high out of the water that I could not help wondering how we should ever be able to climb on board; for the square portholes, which were the only openings in her massive wall-like sides that I could see, were far above the level of the launch, even when the swelling surge lifted us up every now and then on the top of a heaving roller.
Dad, however, quickly solved the difficulty. At once catching hold of a couple of side lines which hung down from above, he swung himself dexterously on to a projecting piece of wood, like the bottom rung of a ladder, fixed to the hull of the vessel, and stepping from this to another cleat above he went up the side as easily as if he were ascending an ordinary staircase, soon gaining the deck overhead and disappearing from my view.
"My eye!" ejaculated the sailor beside me in the boat, surprised at dad's familiarity with such a nautical procedure. "I am blessed if that there gentleman ain't an old hand at it."
"You're right, my man," said I proudly, "my father was an officer in the navy once."
"Guessed so," replied the sailor laconically. "I've been an old man-o'- war's man myself and thought I knew the cut of his jib!"
I could not imitate dad's example, though, for all that; so, they had to hoist me in like a cask of sugar, as I was not able to get up the side. I confess I was mightily pleased to find myself landed, presently, safe and sound on the poop of the Josephine by the side of dad and Captain Miles, both of whom seemed much amused at my rather ignominious entry on board the vessel. Really, I must have looked very funny with my legs dangling in the air when run up at the end of the derrick!
"Well, youngster, how did you like being strung up at the yard-arm?" said Captain Miles, who had still a broad grin on his face. "Not many fellows have been bowsed up in that fashion and cut down so speedily!"
"No," observed dad. "I'm glad, though, that mode of execution to which you refer is now altogether abolished in the service; but I'm afraid, captain, Tom does not understand your allusion."
"Oh, yes, I do, dad," said I, fresh from the pages of Mr Midshipman Easy, and knowing all about the summary system of punishment in vogue in the old days on board ship. "Captain Miles meant hanging."
"So I did, youngster," replied that worthy cheerily; "but you seem none the worse for your experience of the operation."
"I didn't like it, however, captain," said I, a little bit put on my dignity by being laughed at. "The next time I come on board I intend to mount up the side-ladder the same as dad did."
"That's right, my lad, so you shall," rejoined the jolly old fellow. "But, come below now both of you and have some luncheon. It has gone eight bells, and as I feel a trifle peckish, I daresay you're pretty much the same."
While saying this Captain Miles descended the poop-ladder, and, beckoning dad and I to follow him, ushered us into the cabin below, where we found a very appetising meal laid out. It seemed just as if we had been expected and that preparations had been made for our entertainment.
Dad passed a remark about this, but the captain laughed it off.
"Oh, it's nothing," he said. "Harry, my steward, thought he would make a spread, I suppose, because I told him I felt hungry just now. It is only our ordinary fare, though; for, when we're in harbour like this now and have the chance of getting fresh grub, we always keep a good table. At sea, after a spell, we've got to rough it on salt junk frequently."
"Not like what we poor fellows had to put up with in the service," observed dad, shrugging his shoulders with a grimace.
"Ah, we in the mercantile marine know how to enjoy ourselves," said Captain Miles with a satisfactory chuckle. "You naval chaps are something like what the niggers say of white folks that have come down in the world out here, and try to keep up appearances without means. You have 'poor greatness, with dry rations,' hey?"
"That's true enough," replied dad; and then we all set to work with our knives and forks, demolishing, in less than no time, a grilled fowl and some delicious fried flying-fish, with the accompaniment of roast buttered yams and fresh plantains.
I don't know when I ever had such a jolly tuck out. The long ride after my forced quietness at home, and the sea air, combined with my novel surroundings—I was so overjoyed at being on board a ship, and having a meal in a real cabin, the very height of my ambition and what I had often longed for—gave me a tremendous appetite. It was the first really hearty meal I had eaten since my illness.
"Well, Eastman," said Captain Miles presently to dad, "I suppose you've come about the youngster. Do you want me to take him home with me this voyage, eh?"
Of course I pricked up my ears on hearing this question; but dad did not satisfy my curiosity, although he noticed that I almost jumped up in my seat and was all attention.
"No," replied he, evading the subject, "I wanted to see you about shipping some cocoa. I've got a good lot ready, and you may as well take it as anybody else."
"Oh, I see," rejoined the captain, winking in a confidential way at dad, as if they had some secret between them. "We can talk over the bills of lading and so on, while the youngster has a run round to see what a ship is like, eh?"
"Yes," said dad; and turning to me he added, "You would like to go over the Josephine, would you not, Tom, now you are on board her?"
"Rather!" I replied, delighted at the idea, but still wondering what the captain had meant about "taking me home."
There was evidently something on the tapis.
"All right, my hearty, so you shall," said Captain Miles. "The boatswain will take you round and show you the ropes, while your father and I have a chat about business matters."
He then called Harry the steward, and directed him to give me in charge of Moggridge the boatswain, with instructions to show me everything that was to be seen alow and aloft in the vessel; whereupon the two of us went out of the cabin together, leaving the captain and dad to have an uninterrupted chat over their cigars.
Moggridge turned out to be the very sailor who had been in charge of the launch which had brought us off to the ship; so, from the fact of his knowing that dad had formerly been in the navy, and that I wished to enter the same glorious service, we were soon on the most confidential terms, the good-natured fellow going out of his way to make me thoroughly acquainted with all the details of the Josephine. He first took me down to the hold, where I saw the hogs-heads of sugar being stowed, the casks being packed as tightly as sardines in a tin box. We then went through the ship fore and aft between the decks, from the forecastle to the steward's pantry. After this the boatswain completed his tour of instruction by showing me how to climb the rigging into the main-top, telling me the names and uses of all the ropes and spars; so that, by the time he had ended, my head was in a state of bewildered confusion, with shrouds and sheets, halliards and stays, stun'-sail yards and cat-heads, bowsprits, and spanker booms, all so mixed up together that it would have puzzled me to discriminate between any of them and say off-hand which was which!
However, the boatswain and I parted very good friends when he took me back to the cabin on the termination of our inspection of the ship—he promising to teach me how to make a reef-knot and a running-bowline the next time I came on board, and I shaking hands with him as a right good fellow whom I would only be too glad to meet again under any circumstances.
Dad and I stopped with Captain Miles until late in the afternoon; when, the glare of the sun having gone off, we were rowed ashore in the captain's gig. My friend Moggridge took charge of us, and a crew of hardy sailors made the boat spin ashore at a very different rate of speed to that which the heavy old launch displayed on our trip out to the vessel with the sugar hogs-heads.
Jake met us at the jetty with the horses, which he had put up in the stables of the adjoining plantation during our absence; and as we rode along the shore of the bay homeward, the sun was just setting, while a nice cool wind came down from the mountains, making it much nicer than it had been in the earlier part of the day. Skirting the bay, we could see the Josephine in the distance gradually being shut in by a halo of haze, a thick mist generally rising up from the sea at nightfall in the tropics through the evaporation of the water or the difference of temperature between it and the atmospheric air.
If our ride out to Grenville Bay had been jolly in the morning, our journey back was simply splendid.
Almost as soon as the solar orb sank down below the horizon, which it did just before we turned away from the shore, the masts and spars of the Josephine, and each rope of her rigging, were all lit up by the sinking rays of light, their last despairing flash before their extinguishment in the ocean. At the same time, the hull of the vessel and every projecting point in the coast-line of the bay stood out in relief against the bright emerald-green tint of the sea. A moment afterwards, the darkness of night descended suddenly upon us like a vast curtain let down from heaven.
But it was not dark long.
As we passed our way up the climbing mountain path that led back to Mount Pleasant, our road—bordered on the one side by the dense vegetation of the forest, which seemed as black as ink now, and hedged in on the other by a precipice—was made clear by the light of the stars. These absolutely came out en masse almost as we looked upwards at them. I noticed, too, that the sky seemed to be of some gauzy transparent material like ethereal azure, and did not exhibit that solid appearance it has in England of a ceiling with gold nails stuck in it here and there at random; for, the "lesser orbs of night" in the tropics look as if they were floating in a sea of vapour. They appear a regular galaxy of beauty and splendour, and so many glorious evidences of the great Creator's handiwork.
Every now and then, also, the air around us was illuminated with sparks of green-coloured flame, while the woods seemed on fire from a thousand little jets that burst out every second from some new direction, lighting up the sombre gloom beneath the shade of the forest trees.
One could almost imagine that there was a crowd of fairies going before us, each carrying a torch which he waved about, now above his head, and then around lower down, finally dashing it to the ground with those of his comrades, as is the custom at the torchlight processions of the students in Germany on some festal night. As dad and I trotted along towards home, the sparks of flame appeared now rising, now falling, vanishing here, reappearing there, finally converging into a globe, or "set piece," as at a pyrotechnic display, and then dispersing in spangles of coruscation like a fizzed-out firework.
This beautiful effect, one of the wonders of a night in the West Indies, was caused by the fireflies. Of these insects there are two distinct species, one really a small fly which seems to be perpetually on the wing, flitting in and out in the air always, and never at rest; while the other is a species of beetle that is only seen in woody regions, where it takes up a more stationary position, like the glowworm over here. This latter has two large eyes at the back of its head, instead of in front in their more natural place; and these eyes, when the insect is touched, shoot forth two strong streams of greenish light, something like that produced by an electric dynamo, while, at the same time, the entire body of the "firefly," or beetle, becomes as incandescent as a live coal.
The light which even one of these little creatures will give out is so great that I have often seen dad, just for the sake of the experiment, read a bit out of a newspaper on a dark evening with a firefly stuck in a wine-glass for a candle!
For some time we jogged along silently; but just when we were nearing Mount Pleasant I could not help asking dad what Captain Miles had meant by that question he had asked him about taking me for a voyage.
I had been dying to know what the remark referred to ever since I had overheard it, but waited, thinking that dad would tell me of his own accord; so now, as he didn't speak, I had to brave the ordeal of the inquiry.
"He wanted to take you home to England to school, Tom," replied dad briefly in an absent sort of way, as if his thoughts were amongst the fireflies.
"Really?" said I hesitatingly—"and—"
"And, I have not quite made up my mind in the matter yet, Tom. Besides which, there's your mother to be consulted," interposed dad, answering my second question before I could put it.
"And if mother does not mind, you will let me go, then, in the Josephine with Captain Miles, eh, dad?" I asked anxiously.
"I didn't say so, did I?" said dad quizzingly.
"But you meant it, dad, you meant it, I know," cried I exultantly. "Hurrah, I am so glad! I am so glad!"
GOOD-BYE TO GRENADA!
"Are you really so glad to leave us all?" said dad somewhat reproachfully, as I could judge from his tone of voice; for, although the stars and fireflies illumined the landscape sufficiently for us to see our way, the light was too dim for me to observe the expression of his face.
"Oh no, dad, not that," I cried out almost with a sob at such an insinuation. "You know, you said I was to go to England this year to school; and, if I must, why I would rather sail in Captain Miles' vessel than any other."
"All right, Tom, I did not think you quite so heartless as your exclamation implied," replied dad, still speaking in a sad tone; "but it's only the way of the world, my boy. Young birds are always anxious to leave the parent nest, and you are no exception, I suppose, to the rule."
I did not make any answer to this. I could not speak, for my heart was too full.
Presently we arrived at the entrance to Mount Pleasant, when Jake rushed forward and opened the gate leading into the grounds, and we proceeded up the carriage drive towards the house in silence, the moon, which was just rising over the tops of the mountains beyond, lighting up the garden on the terrace in front and making it look like a dream of fairyland. The flowers and foliage shone out in relief as if tipped with silver against the dark background of the house; while the cool evening breeze was scented with the fragrance of the frangipanni and jessamine, now smelling more strongly than in the daytime, in addition to which I could distinguish the lusciously sweet perfume of the night- blooming cereus, a plant that only unfolds its luscious petals after sunset.
The whole scene lives in my memory now!
"Say, Mass' Tom," whispered Jake to me as he took hold of Prince's bridle on my dismounting to lead him away to the stables along with Dandy. "I'se heard what you 'peak jus' now to Mass' Eastman. Um railly goin' leabe de plantashun for true, hey?"
"Yes," said I. "I am to go to England in the Josephine, that big ship we saw to-day, if my mother consents."
"Den, I go too!" replied Jake impressively.
"Nonsense!" cried I, laughing at this determination of his. "Captain Miles won't take you."
"Won't him, dough—me 'peak to him byme-by, an' you see den!"
"You can speak if you like," I replied in an off-hand way as he went away with the horses; while I ascended the terrace steps and proceeded into the house to hear what mother had to say on the subject of my going away.
I found, however, when I got in, that dad had already told the news; and it came out presently that the matter had really all been arranged beforehand.
My father, I heard now, had received an offer to sell his plantation, as my mother told me, but my illness had prevented him from closing with it; and so the opportunity had slipped. Consequently, as he would still have to remain at Mount Pleasant for possibly an indefinite time, he had made up his mind to adhere to his original plan and send me home to school without further delay. He and my mother had settled to arrange a passage for me with their old friend Captain Miles even before we started on our ride to Grenville Bay, dad and the captain having seen each other in the town and spoken about the matter previously, fixing the very day of our visit, as the substantial luncheon we had on board showed.
Now, therefore, that my inclinations chimed in with dad's views and arrangements, the thing was finally settled; and it may be imagined what a state of mind my mother and sisters were in about my going. They hugged and kissed me as if I were going to start that very minute!
Dad said that the Josephine would complete loading her cargo at Grenville Bay in about a week or ten days. She would then call round at Saint George's for orders, and I should have to go on board at a moment's notice, as she might sail almost immediately.
The next few days were all hurry and bustle, everybody being busy in preparing my traps—my mother and sisters seeing to my outfit, and the negro servants, with all of whom I was a great favourite, contributing all sorts of little presents, some of the most unwieldy and useless character, which they thought would either add to my comfort during the voyage or were absolutely necessary for "de young massa agwine to England!"
But, at last, all my belongings, useful and useless alike, were packed up; and one fine morning in August—I remember well, it was the day after my birthday—a regular procession set out from Mount Pleasant, consisting of my mother and dad and my sisters, not omitting myself, the hero of the occasion.
We were all mounted on horseback; for no wheeled vehicle could overcome the engineering difficulties of the mountain road, rugged as it was and intersected by wild gullies and little brawling streamlets at intervals, the latter sometimes only bridged by a narrow plank, as I have mentioned before.
To a stranger, our cavalcade would have presented quite an imposing appearance, as behind the mounted portion of the procession came a string of negroes, headed by old Pompey, carrying the three large trunks and odd boxes containing my paraphernalia, those whose services were not absolutely required to carry anything volunteering to go with the rest in order to see me off.
I had been so excited all along with the idea of going to school, which I was looking forward to as something awfully jolly from the description I had read about other boys' doings in books—for I was utterly ignorant of what English life really was—that up to now I had scarcely given a thought to anything else, never realising the terrible severance of all the dear home ties which my departure would bring about.
But, when I mounted Prince for the last time, as I suddenly recollected all at once, and gazed round at my old home, which I was probably about to bid good-bye to for ever, my feelings overcame me. At that moment I would gladly have stopped behind, sacrificing even the pleasure I anticipated from my voyage in the Josephine, and all that the future might have in store for me, rather than desert so summarily the scenes of my childhood and all the loved members of the home circle.
Dad noticed my emotion and he recalled me to myself.
"Come on, Tom," he said kindly but firmly, "you must be a man now, my boy! Be brave; for if your poor mother sees you crying she will break down utterly, and I'm sure you would not like that."
This speech of his made me stifle my sobs; and, although I couldn't get out any words to answer him, I swallowed something hard that was sticking in my throat. Then, putting Prince in a canter, I rode up to the side of my mother, who was in front with Baby Tot.
By that time I had regained my composure and was able to talk and make fun with my little sister, who, not knowing, of course, the purport of our expedition, thought it was a party of pleasure got up especially for her gratification. She was in a state of supreme delight, crowing and chuckling away in the greatest possible glee, every now and then putting up her little rosebud of a mouth to be kissed by mother and me.
Jake, I observed, looked very serious as he ran along by the side of Prince, resting one of his hands on my pony's flanks, as was his habit when he accompanied me out riding. The other negroes, who were carrying my luggage down to town on their heads, in their customary fashion of bearing all burdens whether light or heavy, were laughing and jabbering together like a parcel of black crows; but he never spoke a word either to his dark-complexioned brethren or to me, exhibiting such a striking contrast to his ordinary demeanour that even dad noticed it and asked him the reason, wondering what was the matter with him.
"Me not berry well, massa," however, was all the answer he could get out of Jake; but the faithful fellow looked at me so wistfully whenever I caught his eye that I recalled what he had said about wishing to go in the ship with me, on the night when we returned from Grenville Bay.
He had not alluded to the subject since, though, so I really thought he had forgotten it; and now, as he did not appear inclined to talk, I believed it best to let him alone, not wishing to hurt his feelings by dwelling on the impossible.
I could see that he was much put out about something; so I came to the conclusion that his change of manner, so unlike his usual light-hearted merry self, was due to his grief at parting with me, he having been my constant companion ever since I had been able to toddle about, when my father first settled down on the plantation, at which time I was only a little five-year-old boy and he a darkey stripling.
There was no racing down the road now at breakneck speed, like that time when in my hurry to meet dad I had come to grief some two months previously. Our cavalcade went on at a sober respectable pace, reaching the town in about an hour and a half from our start.
As we were passing by the bend in the road, opposite Government House, whence there was such a good view of the harbour below, Jake spoke to me for the first time during the journey.
"Dar am de ship, Mass' Tom!" he said, pointing out the Josephine lying out in the anchorage under Fort Saint George.
She was looking much smarter and trimmer, I thought, than when I had first cast eyes on her in Grenville Bay; for her sails were partly loosed, making her have the appearance of an ocean bird ready to be on the wing. I noticed, too, that she floated lower in the water, having evidently taken in a lot more cargo since I had been on board.
When we reached the lower part of the town by the harbour side, after descending the perilously steep Constitution Hill, dad escorted us all to a famed establishment close by, known as "Jenny Gussett's Hotel," and kept by a gigantic coloured woman nearly seven feet high, where all the passengers by the mail steamers who had no friends in the island, used invariably to put up. Here, after ordering an early dinner, dad took me out with him to call on a shipping agent at whose place of business he had agreed to meet Captain Miles, leaving my mother and sisters with their crowd of darky attendants at the hotel until we should come back.
The captain was punctual to his appointment like most sailors.
"Ha, Eastman," he said when dad and I entered the agent's store, "you're just in the nick of time. I was only speaking of you a minute ago to our friend here. Got the youngster I see."
"Yes, here he is," replied dad.
"That's all right then," said Captain Miles. "How are you, Master Tom— glad to go to sea, eh?"
"Well—" I stammered hesitatingly, not liking to tell an untruth.
"Oh, I know," said he interrupting me. "Sorry to leave mother and the girls, I suppose? Never mind, my boy, these partings must come some time or other, and the sooner they are over the better. I shall start, Eastman," he added, turning to dad, "late in the afternoon, as soon as the wind sets off the land; so, you'd better send the boy aboard when the sun begins to sink. My boat is now waiting at the end of the wharf to take his traps."
"Thanks, Miles," replied my father; "but, won't you come round with us to Jenny Gussett's Hotel and have some lunch? My wife will be glad to see you."
"Oh, has she come in to town to see the youngster off?" asked the captain.
"Yes, we all rode in," answered dad. "The whole kit of us are here."
"All right; I'll come then, as soon as I've finished arranging matters and signing bills of lading with my agent here," said Captain Miles cordially, adding, with one of his knowing winks to dad, "I've no doubt your missis wants to give me all sorts of directions about young Master Hopeful, eh?"
"You might be further out in your guess," rejoined dad with a laugh; and presently the three of us went back to the hotel together, it being near the hour at which dad had ordered our early dinner, or luncheon, to be got ready.
The time soon slipped by at our meal, which none of us seemed to enjoy very much save the captain, who, of course, was not affected by any sad thoughts of parting, the same as dad and mother and I and my sisters were—that is excepting Baby Tot, for she looked still upon the whole thing as a joke and continued in the best of spirits.
When we rose from table, mother got hold of Captain Miles and began whispering earnestly to him, something about me, I was certain; so, in order not to overhear their conversation, I went towards the open door leading into a wide passage-way that terminated in the usual verandah common to all West Indian houses. The hotel, however, did not command such a pretty prospect as ours at Mount Pleasant, for it looked on to the street, which could be gained by descending a short flight of steps at the end of the alcove.