The Young Llanero, A Story of War and Wild Life in Venezuela, by W.H.G. Kingston.
Kingston seems to be quite good at writing about South America. One wonders why he is so anti-Spanish, but as he was brought up living in Portugal this may have something to do with the matter.
We are taken on a tour round Venezuela (that's the country on the north of South America, that has lots of oil, and whose main waterway is the Orinoco).
So there is a change of location from New Granada and Peru, but we have the same problems with Indians, Spanish troops, boa constrictors, and other flora and fauna. There are also the usual friendly priest and ditto doctor.
There were 44 engravings in the book, most of which are very nice indeed, and their quality can be seen in the pdf we have produced for the book. We try to produce a pdf for every book we scan, as a first task, even before we start to OCR the text. It's a pity that because of the size of these pdfs we can't easily make them available on the website.
We hope you will enjoy the book as much as I have enjoyed making it for you.
THE YOUNG LLANERO, A STORY OF WAR AND WILD LIFE IN VENEZUELA, BY W.H.G. KINGSTON.
THE HOME OF MY CHILDHOOD IN SOUTH AMERICA—MY FATHER'S HISTORY—SENT TO SCHOOL IN ENGLAND—LIFE AT SCHOOL—SUMMONED BACK TO AMERICA—VOYAGE WITH MY UNCLE TO JAMAICA—SAIL FOR VENEZUELA—CHASED BY A SPANISH MAN-OF-WAR—CROSS THE BAR OF THE MAGDALENA RIVER—DRIVEN ON SHORE BY A STORM—BOAT NEARLY WRECKED—OUR NIGHT ENCAMPMENT—REPAIR BOAT—A DEER SHOT—DISTURBED BY GOAHIRA INDIANS—FLIGHT—PURSUED—REACH THE PORT OF CERVANOS—MEET TIM MOLLOY—HIS DELIGHT AT SEEING US—HOSPITABLY RECEIVED BY THE COMMANDANT, BUT VERY INHOSPITABLY BY THE MOSQUITOES.
I should like to draw a picture, though I may succeed but imperfectly, of the grand scenery amid which I passed my childhood's days.
Far in the west rose upwards in the intense blue sky the snow-capped peaks of the Cordilleras, or Andes, of South America, with range beyond range of lofty mountains intervening, the more distant rugged and barren, the nearer clothed to their summits with trees, glittering cascades leaping down their side? from rock to rock; while here and there could be seen the openings of deep glens, at the bottom of which copious streams came rushing forth, forming the headwaters of the mighty Orinoco. Palms and other tropical trees surrounded our house, which stood on a slightly elevated plateau, below which appeared a shining lake of considerable dimensions fed by the mountain-streams, its waters finding an outlet at one end, and from whence they flowed in a more gentle current towards the western branch of the great river. Far to the east and north extended a vast plain, in some parts covered with dense forests, in others presenting an arid desert; while beyond were to be found the wide-stretching llanos of Venezuela, bordered on the south by the Orinoco.
The region I have described will be seen marked on the map, in the more northern part of the South American continent. It is, indeed, a grand country, abounding in valuable trees of various descriptions, and wild animals and game of all sorts—jaguars, pumas, tapirs, and peccaries; reptiles innumerable—alligators, anacondas, rattlesnakes; and birds of various species, from the majestic condor and towering eagle down to the diminutive humming-bird. But as I shall have to describe all sorts of curious adventures, in which they and other animals played conspicuous parts, I will not further particularise them at present.
As I was born in the country, it may be concluded that my father and mother resided there. To my father, Barry Desmond, might have been applied those touching lines of the poet Campbell:—
"There came to the beach a poor exile of Erin, The dew on his thin robe was heavy and chill; For his country he sighed, when at twilight repairing To wander alone by the wind-beaten hill. But the day-star attracted his eyes' sad devotion, For it rose o'er his own native isle of the ocean, Where once, in the fire of his youthful emotion, He sang the bold anthem of Erin-go-bragh."
When a very young man,—scarcely eighteen years of age,—being a friend of Thomas Addis Emmett and Lord Edward Fitzgerald (though his family were firm Protestants), and carried away by mistaken patriotism, he had been induced to take a part in the lamentable Irish rebellion of 1798, which stained their beloved country with blood, and left her in a far more deplorable condition than she had previously been. Young as he was, my father had been actively engaged in the various skirmishes and battles which occurred between the insurgent forces and the royal troops. He was present at Arklow, Ross, and Vinegar-hill, where he was wounded; and had it not been for the resolute courage of a devoted follower, Tim Molloy, he would have fallen into the hands of the victors. Carried off the field of battle, he was concealed for many weeks in a mud hut by the faithful Tim; who, when a price was set on his head, went forth nightly to obtain provisions, and finally assisted him to reach the coast. He there, accompanied by Tim, embarked on board a vessel bound for the West Indies; but unable to remain with safety in any of the English islands, after long wanderings they landed on the shores of Venezuela, then belonging to the Spaniards. Tim, fearing that should his beloved master remain at any of their ports the Spanish authorities might deliver him up to the English Government, urged him to push farther inland. At length they reached the region I have described, where their wanderings were over; for my father here found a fellow-exile, Mr Denis Concannan, who had some years before arrived in the country and married the daughter of a Spanish hidalgo of considerable wealth. He was cordially received by Mr Concannan and his wife, who had several sons and daughters,—one of whom, in the course of time, became my father's wife and my mother.
His friends at home, to whom he at length divulged the place of his retreat, might probably have obtained a pardon for him on the plea of his youth, but, though still entertaining a warm affection for his native land, he had become much attached to the country of his adoption, which my mother also was unwilling to leave. My uncles, moreover, had been sent to England for their education, where one of them continued to reside; and my family thus kept up communication with the old country.
When I was old enough to go to school, my father determined to send me also to the care of my Uncle Denis. As we had always spoken English in our family, I did not feel myself completely a stranger in a strange land; and brought up among English boys, I imbibed their ideas and assumed their manners, and was, indeed, more of an Englishman than an Irishman, and certainly more of either than of a Spaniard.
I need not mention any of the incidents of my school-life. They were much like those other boys meet with,—nothing extraordinary. I made a good many friends, and fought two or three battles. One was on the occasion of Tom Rudge, a big fellow, calling me an Irish rebel, and saying that my father had been hanged. I gave him the lie direct, and replied that if he had been shot he would have died the death of a gentleman, which was more than Rudge himself was; but that he had neither been shot nor hanged, for he was alive and well, and that I hoped to see him again before many years were over. I thereon planted my fist between Rudge's eyes, which drew fire from them, and left them both swollen and blackened. We then set to, and I was getting the best of it, driving my antagonist backwards, when one of the ushers appeared, and seizing hold of me carried me up to the doctor. I pleaded that I had been grossly insulted. He replied that it was my duty to forgive insult, and asked what Tom Rudge had said to me. I told him.
"I thought that you were an orphan," he observed, "the son of Mr Concannan's sister, and that your father was dead."
"Mr Concannan is my uncle, sir," I replied; "but my father is alive and well, I hope, in South America."
The expression of surprise which passed over the master's countenance made me fear that I had said something imprudent.
"If your father were dead, that would only have aggravated Rudge's fault," he said. "I do not excuse him; I will see what he has to say for himself."
Rudge was sent for, and appeared with his two black eyes. The doctor looked at him sternly, and reprimanded him for the language he had made use of. "He has been punished, I see," he observed, "and I will therefore remit the flogging he deserves, and which you, Master Desmond, are liable to for fighting. Now, shake hands, and remember that the next time you take to your fists I shall be compelled to punish you both."
We shook hands as directed, and were sent back to the playground; and neither did Rudge nor any one else again make any reflection on my family. How he had found out that my father had been engaged in the Irish rebellion I could not discover. He after this, for some time, fought very shy of me, though from that day forth he gave up bullying, and we became very good friends. Indeed, by the wise management of the head-master, our school was really a very happy one, though fights occasionally took place in spite of the punishment which we knew would be inflicted were we discovered infringing its laws.
I had been there rather more than four years, and was now nearly sixteen years of age, when one day the doctor sent for me.
"I am sorry that I am going to lose you, Desmond," he said. "I have just received a letter from your uncle, desiring me to send you up to town immediately, as he wishes you to accompany him to South America, for which country he purposes forthwith setting out. I feel it my duty to advise you as to your future conduct. The native inhabitants have, I understand, for some years been engaged in a fearful struggle with the Spaniards to become independent of the mother-country; and by the last advices I see that it still continues. You may very probably be tempted to take part with the insurgents; but I would urge you to remain neutral. I do not enter into the point as to whether people have a right to fight for their independence—and from what I know of the Spaniards I fear their rule of their American provinces has been a most tyrannical and unjust one; but I do know that those who draw the sword are liable to perish by the sword, and I should be very sorry to hear that such has been your fate."
"I am much obliged to you, sir, for your kind wishes," I answered, and I felt the blood mantling my brow as I spoke; "but I cannot promise to sit at home among the women and children when those I love are hazarding their lives on the field of battle. I have heard enough of the way the Spaniards have treated the inhabitants of Venezuela and New Granada to make my heart burn with indignation and a desire to emancipate the country my father has adopted from the cruel yoke pressing on it; and if I am called on to fight in the cause, I cannot refuse through fear of risking my life."
The doctor smiled, looking on me still as a boy.
"I suspect, Desmond, that the reason you have been sent for is, that you may assist in protecting your mother and sisters should the older members of your family be engaged elsewhere. Such I gather from the tenor of your uncle's letter. However, remember what I have said, I beg of you; and may a blessing accompany you wherever you go, as assuredly my prayers will follow you."
I heartily thanked the kind doctor; and that very day—having said good-bye to my school-fellows, including Rudge, who all heartily expressed their hopes that I should not get shot, or be swallowed by an anaconda, or eaten by a jaguar, and who regarded me with some little jealousy on hearing that I was going to a country where I should meet with all sorts of adventures—I set off for London.
My uncle, I found, had already engaged a passage on board a vessel bound for Jamaica, whence he intended proceeding to the coast of Venezuela. I had but little time to get an outfit, for two days afterwards we were dropping down the Thames on board the good ship Betsy, bound out to Kingston in Jamaica, to bring back a cargo of sugar. Next morning, when I awoke, I could scarcely believe my senses. It seemed but an hour since I had been at school, and I at first expected to hear the morning-bell ring to call the boys up.
I quickly dressed and went on deck, when I found that we were already at sea, and under all sail doubling the North Foreland. But I remembered enough of my former voyage to be perfectly at home; and I felt as happy as a bird let out of a cage, as it spreads its wings and soars into the free air.
I told Uncle Denis what the doctor had said. He looked rather grave. "I must leave you to be guided by your father," he said at length. "Perhaps by the time we reach home the Spaniards may have been driven out of the country, and the blessings of peace secured. We shall know more about the matter when we get there." And he dropped the subject.
On the voyage, however, when it was calm, Uncle Denis gave me instruction in the use of firearms. We aimed at bottles thrown overboard as marks, and sometimes had a target rigged out at the end of a studdingsail-boom; so I soon became a good shot, both with rifle and pistol.
"Now, Barry," said my uncle, "let us try what we can do with the sword." And producing some sword-sticks, he made me take one. Somewhat to my surprise I found that he was an expert swordsman. He quickly initiated me into the mysteries of attack and defence, which gave us plenty of occupation, as it was seldom so rough that we could not practise with our weapons; and many of the other passengers followed our example. I did not, however, altogether forget my books, and employed myself in studying Spanish grammatically. Altogether, we had a pleasant voyage, and arrived safely at Port Royal.
Leaving the ship, we took up our abode at Kingston, which I thought a remarkably hot and unpleasant place.
My uncle laughed at my complaints of the heat. "You'll find your native land much hotter, my boy," he observed. "You've been so long getting cooled down in England that you forget what heat is."
I suppose that I had done so; though my father's house being on elevated ground, the atmosphere round it was much cooler than in the low plains.
We had to wait for some time till my uncle could secure a passage on board a schooner, the Flying Fish, Captain Longswill, bound for the coast of Venezuela. She was a fast, rakish craft, carrying four long guns, and a parti-coloured crew of determined-looking fellows. Soon after we got on board, she made sail out of the harbour and stood away for her destination.
"You should know how to load and work a gun," said my Uncle Denis to me, after we had got clear of the land; "you may some day have to use one in earnest."
I, of course, was perfectly ready to be instructed; and the captain directing three of the crew to assist us, we cast the gun loose, loaded it, and fired it off. This we did several times, Uncle Denis desiring me to watch carefully how each movement was made. I worked away with him till my arms and back ached. By that time I began to feel myself an accomplished gunner. We then ran in the gun and secured it.
We performed the same operation the next day, the whole crew being also exercised at the guns. We then took a turn at rifle-shooting and sword-exercise.
The Flying Fish had a full and valuable cargo of merchandise which was worth protecting; and as pirates at that time swarmed in those seas, it was important to be able to beat them off, though few would have dared to attack so stout a vessel as our schooner.
We were frequently becalmed, but in about a week we sighted the lofty summits of the eastern range of the mighty Cordilleras, which sweeps round along the northern coast of that portion of South America. As we drew nearer, the view was indeed grand and sublime, some of the mountains being of so great a height as to be at all times covered with snow; while their bases, adorned with the finest trees and shrubs, are clothed with perpetual verdure. We were expecting to get in close enough the next day to land part of our cargo, when a perfect calm came on, and the sun went down in a blaze of glory, shedding a golden hue over the sky, reflected in the glass-like ocean.
The next morning, as I was about to turn out, I heard several persons come into the cabin, and found that they were taking down the arms arranged against the after bulkhead. My uncle was placing a brace of pistols in his belt and girding on a sword.
On my asking what was the matter. "You'll know presently," he answered. "Arm yourself as I have done;" and he hurried from the cabin.
I quickly dressed, and doing as he directed me, followed him on deck. I there found the guns cast loose, and the crew at their quarters; and on looking out astern I saw a large vessel, a man-of-war corvette, under all sail, standing towards us. The wind was scarcely strong enough to blow out her canvas, while we were still becalmed, but she was apparently bringing up the breeze with her; while between us and her were two large boats full of men, approaching evidently with the intention of boarding us. The headmost fired a shot at the schooner—to try the range, I suppose—but it fell short.
"What can that vessel want with us?" I asked of my uncle. "We are not now at war with any country, and she looks too large a ship to be a pirate."
"She is a Spanish man-of-war," he answered. "She takes us to belong to the Republicans, and, though we have shown English colours, wishes to overhaul us."
"But if the Spaniards were to come on board, what harm could they do us?" I asked.
"They might find articles they would object to among the cargo; and the captain has no wish to have the vessel searched," he answered.
Uncle Denis was perfectly composed, and seemed to take the matter as nothing unusual. I felt as I had never felt before, for I fully expected before many minutes were over to be engaged in a desperate fight.
The schooner had all her sails set, though at present they were useless; but on looking over the side I observed cat's-paws playing on the surface of the ocean. Now they appeared, now they vanished, but as yet we had not felt the slightest breath of wind. Presently, however, I saw the dog-vane rise and flutter slightly; again it drooped.
The corvette meantime was stealing up, and the boats were getting nearer and nearer. A shot from the headmost one could now have reached us, but she appeared to be waiting for the other to get up with her. Captain Longswill every now and then took a glance astern to watch them. Suddenly, in a cheery voice, he ordered the crew to trim sails, and our canvas bulging out slightly, the schooner began to glide slowly through the water. Just then I saw a puff of smoke issue from one of the boats, and a shot came ricochetting over the water, passing close to our quarter. The captain laughed. "You're a little too late, my boys," he observed; "you should have pulled harder than you did if you wished to get up with us."
The shot now came flying towards us as fast as the Spaniards could load their guns, but they all either dropped into the water astern or went whizzing by on either side. Though a gun had been slewed round and pointed through one of the after-ports, we had not fired a shot. "We might probably knock the boat to pieces, but there is no object in so doing if we can escape them with our heels," observed Uncle Denis. "You see, Barry, we are peaceably disposed, though we don't wish to be interfered with."
I now suspected, what I afterwards found to be the case, that the Flying Fish had arms and stores on board for the insurgents, which she was to land at any port in their possession, or else at a part of the coast where some of their troops could collect to receive them. The difficulty was to ascertain the places in the hands of the republicans, for they might have possession of a town one day, and it might be taken from them the next.
I was perfectly ready to fight, but I had no special wish to do so if it could be avoided; and I was therefore glad to see our sails fill out with the steady breeze, and to find that we were dropping the boats astern. The corvette was still coming on, but she no longer gained on us; and the wind still further increasing, we found that the Flying Fish was much the faster craft. We were compelled, however, to haul our wind and stand off the coast; and soon after noon had run the corvette out of sight.
This adventure delayed us. After standing off for some days, we hove to, keeping a sharp look-out. The next morning, having a good breeze, we again stood in towards the coast. No sail like the corvette appearing, we stood on till we reached the mouth of the magnificent river Magdalena, inferior only in size to the Orinoco and Amazon on that part of the continent. After forming numerous lakes, it empties itself, by three mouths, into the Caribbean Sea. Off one of these mouths we brought up, my uncle proposing to land with our property, and ascertain the places held by the Republicans at which the Flying Fish could safely discharge her cargo. We were afterwards to ascend the stream as far as it was navigable, a voyage which would occupy us some weeks. The spot where we were to leave the river was about three days' journey by land from Santa Fe de Bogota, the capital of the province of New Granada. After the boat had put us on shore, she was to return to the schooner with the information we could obtain.
Wishing good-bye to our friends, who gave us three cheers, we shoved off; the captain crying out, "Be smart, my lads, and be back as soon as possible; I don't quite like the look of the weather."
"Ay, ay, sir!" was the answer; and we pulled away towards the passage, which led into one of the large lakes through which the river Magdalena passes.
There was some sea on the bar, but not sufficient to make us hesitate to attempt it. On we pulled, the water foaming and leaping up. As we approached the more dangerous part, I saw my uncle looking astern at a large roller roaring up after us. "Pull for your lives, my lads!" he shouted. The men gave way, and though the water rushed over the quarter and half-filled the boat, the stern lifted, and shooting forward, in another minute we were on the calm surface of the lake.
We pulled up, keeping towards its western shore. It was fringed with a broad belt of mangrove-trees standing on numberless branching roots which extended far into the water. So dense and tall were these trees that the view beyond them was completely shut out, while not a spot of dry ground appeared which would have afforded us a landing-place had we wished to get on shore. The scenery, indeed, was altogether unattractive and gloomy,—very different from that which I had expected to see.
We had not gone far when the weather, as the captain had predicted, suddenly changed. Dark clouds chased each other at a rapid rate across the hitherto blue sky; the wind came in fitful gusts, increasing every instant; and the water, before so calm, rose in foaming waves with extraordinary suddenness,—the cause of which, my uncle observed, was the shallowness of the lake. Still we continued our course, hoping to get to the village of Cervanos, where we could procure a bongo, or native canoe, in which we could perform our voyage of eight hundred miles up the Magdalena; and where also, should it, as we hoped, be in the hands of the Republicans, we might obtain the information we required to send back to the schooner. The fury of the wind, which, now shifting, blew partly across and partly down the lake, made it impossible for us to proceed in the direction we desired; and an opening among the mangrove-trees, which my uncle hoped might prove the mouth of a stream, appearing, he steered towards it.
Scarcely had we got the boat's head round when the gale came down upon us with redoubled fury, and sent her flying along with only two oars out at a furious speed. A small palm-branch which, floating by, my uncle picked up, was almost blown out of his hands as he held it in the air. We were fortunately right in conjecturing that we were entering the mouth of a stream; so we went on some distance with unabated speed, when a crash was heard, and the water came rushing into the boat. We had run against a sunken log or projecting root. Still we ran on, while the man in the bows attempted to stop the leak with his jacket and the boat's sail, and my uncle and I bailed as fast we could with our hats. Every moment we expected the boat to fill; but presently we saw a narrow opening, through which we rushed, with only space sufficient for the oars on each side to avoid the roots of the mangrove-trees, while the dense foliage formed a wall of verdure high above our heads.
We had no provisions with us, and we could not tell whether the region into which we were penetrating was inhabited by hostile Indians or wild beasts and venomous serpents. After going some way, however, the stream widened, and at the same time became shallower; and the mangrove-trees ceasing, we found ourselves in the midst of a dense forest. Looking out anxiously on both sides, we observed a bank which would afford us a small space on which to land; so pulling up to it, we hurriedly sprang on shore. In spite of all our efforts, the boat was nearly half-full of water.
Our first care was to land our baggage, and especially to keep our guns and ammunition dry. We then, having piled our property together, by our united efforts hauled up the boat, and the extent of the damage she had received was soon discovered. A hole had been made through a plank, a portion of which had also been ripped off. It was a wonder the boat had not filled and gone down. We had no tools—not even a marling-spike to serve as a hammer—with which to repair her. The crew took the matter very coolly, only observing that they wished they had some grog and grub.
"I will try what I can do for you in the way of getting provisions," said my uncle, "and I hope to be able to shoot some birds, or an animal of some sort; but in the meantime we must endeavour to repair the boat. We can draw some nails from the seats, where they are of less consequence; and we must cut some canvas out of the sail, if we can find no plank to fasten over the hole."
Encouraged by my uncle, the men set to work to draw some nails out of the stern-sheets with their knives; and we then managed to turn the boat over. The canvas alone, it was evident, would not keep the water out of the boat, even though backed by a piece of one of the bottom boards which was broken off. My uncle, however, after examining the trees in the neighbourhood, found a large one with a smooth bark; in this he made a hole with one of the men's knives, and immediately a thick white liquid issued from it. Sending for the piece of canvas, he allowed the liquid to flow over it till it had formed a thick, hard cake.
"Now, my lads," he said, "stick that plaster over the hole, and nail the board tightly over it. I will answer for it that no water gets through, whatever it may do round the edges."
The plan succeeded; but still, only the most foolhardy would have attempted to recross the bar in so unseaworthy a boat; indeed, with our baggage on board, it was very doubtful whether we could accomplish the rest of our voyage in her.
We had been so busily engaged in endeavouring to repair our boat, that night came suddenly down on us before we were aware of its approach, and we had no time to make preparations for encamping. Fortunately, however, we had a tinder-box and matches; but it was difficult to collect fuel in the dark, and we were afraid, when groping about, that we might put our hands on a venomous snake, as we knew that such creatures usually abound in the forests on level ground near the water. I could not help recollecting the tales I had heard in my childhood from my good nurse Josefa; and I thought it more than probable that a jaguar or puma might attack us while asleep, or an alligator come out of the stream and make his supper off one of us, or that an anaconda might come crawling by and swallow the whole party at a gulp. Still, it was important that we should have a fire; and my uncle suggested that we should kindle a small one, the light from which would enable us to obtain fuel with greater ease. We followed his advice, and in a short time had collected dried branches sufficient, as we hoped, to keep the fire burning during the night.
The men then began to cry out for something to eat, when Uncle Denis remembered that he had a tin of biscuits and a case of wine, which he had brought for emergencies. We had a tin cup and a small breaker; but the men, supposing that they would not be long absent from the schooner, had neglected to fill it with water, while that in the stream, as the tide was then rising, was brackish. They continued grumbling for some time, till Uncle Denis produced the biscuits and a bottle of wine, which he divided among them and ourselves. Our scanty supper being finished, the men threw themselves down by the side of the fire, hoping that the smoke would keep off the mosquitoes, which swarmed round us in myriads.
"Hallo, my lads!" observed Uncle Denis; "you take things too easily. We must set a watch, or our fire will go out, and by the morning some one among us may have lost the number of his mess."
This hint aroused them, and they agreed that we should each keep watch for two hours at a time, and draw lots who should keep the first watch. The lot fell upon me. So, while the rest of the party lay down, I stuck a brace of pistols in my belt, took a fowling-piece in my hand, and prepared to do the duty of a sentry.
The scene to me was strange and novel. The dark forest towering above our heads, the flickering flames casting an uncertain light on the giant trunks, and the tracery of sepos or twisting vines, which interlaced the branches and hung down in festoons and ropelike lines to the ground, along which they ran, often assuming the appearance of huge serpents; indeed, more than once, as I paced up and down, I could not help fancying that an anaconda, or boa-constrictor, or rattlesnake was creeping towards us. In the centre of the small open space was the fire, with my companions sleeping round it; near them the pile of baggage and the overturned boat; while the dark stream flowed by with a murmuring sound. Beyond, though we were sheltered from the wind, I could see the lofty summits of the trees waving in the gale, which howled amid their branches, making them rattle and creak; while from the depths of the forest came strange unearthly cries. At first they seemed almost supernatural, and a feeling of awe, somewhat allied to alarm, crept over me; till I recollected that they were probably produced by howling monkeys and other wild animals.
I kept, as may be supposed, a very sharp look-out, with my eyes constantly turned to one side or the other, generally towards the forest. Every now and then I threw a few sticks on the fire, to keep up a bright blaze, so that I might not be caught unawares. Still, every moment I half expected to see a jaguar or serpent, or perhaps a band of wild Indians, creeping amid the trees towards us. All the time the detestable mosquitoes were buzzing about my head, effectually preventing me from going to sleep; and I wondered how my companions could contrive to do so.
At length, at the end of two hours, my uncle awoke, and told me to lie down. He was to take the next watch. I wrapped my face in a handkerchief, and in spite of my apprehensions was soon fast asleep.
When morning broke, the gale was still blowing as hard as ever, as we saw by the way the tree-tops moved. We were unable, therefore, to continue our voyage. We could not help also feeling some anxiety about the fate of the schooner; till the men observed that, as the wind was off the shore, she would probably have run out to sea, or might have remained safely at anchor.
Matters were now growing unpleasant, if not serious. My uncle told me that he was more apprehensive of an attack from Indians than from wild beasts, as a large and savage tribe—the Goahiras—inhabited the whole region bordering the coast; and should any wandering party discover us, and suppose that we were Republicans, they would certainly attack us and put us to death, as they had been induced to side with the Spaniards. We accordingly launched our boat, but found the water leak in so rapidly that it was evident it would not do to put the baggage on board till the last moment. As we had no more nails, we could not expect effectually to stop the leak.
We had now exhausted all the biscuits, and were again very hungry. Uncle Denis and I accordingly took our fowling-pieces and endeavoured to make our way through the forest, in the hope of shooting some birds or monkeys—indeed, any creature with flesh on its bones would have been welcome. It was only with the greatest difficulty that we could advance even a few steps, in consequence of the numberless creepers. Now and then we caught a glimpse of gay-plumaged birds amid the few openings between the branches; but to shoot them was impossible, and we heard the monkeys chattering, and nuts and broken twigs came rattling down on our heads as the nimble creatures leaped from tree to tree.
We dared not venture far into the forest, for fear of losing our way; besides which, it was necessary to proceed very cautiously, lest we should be surprised by a jaguar or tread on any venomous serpent. We neither of us at that time, it must be remembered, had any experience of tropical forests, or we might have been more successful.
At length we were making our way back to the river, when just as we got in sight of it we heard a rustling among the foliage. My uncle signed to me to stop, and I fully expected to see a jaguar springing towards us. He advanced cautiously a few paces; then stopped a moment, and fired. At the same instant I saw a good-sized deer, which had been going towards the water to drink. The animal made one spring, and then fell over dead. With an exulting shout of satisfaction my uncle dashed forward, and I followed him; while the men, hearing our voices, came running up, and quickly bore the deer to our camp.
While Uncle Denis and I relighted our fire, which had gone out, the men skinned and cut up the animal, and we soon had some slices roasting on forked sticks.
"If we had had some nails, this deer-skin would have assisted famously to patch up our boat," observed one of the men.
"Though we have no nails, we may secure it under her bottom with ropes, and perhaps it will answer as well," said my uncle.
His suggestion was acted on; and again hauling up the boat, we covered the hairy side of the skin thickly with mud, and then lashed it to the bows, bringing one end up above water. On once more launching the boat, we found that the plan succeeded beyond our expectations, but little water leaking in.
Our patience was still to be tried: as yet the gale gave no signs of abating. As we had a good supply of food, we had no cause to complain, except on account of the delay. No one expected us at Cervanos, and the captain of the schooner knew well that his boat could not cross the bar. Our principal cause of anxiety was, that the Goahira Indians might discover us, and perhaps commence an attack before we had time to let them know that we were English. Uncle Denis thought it prudent, therefore, to reload the boat, that we might be ready to shove off at a moment's notice. We accordingly prepared everything for a start; but as the wind was still violent, there was but little chance of our getting away that evening. We therefore, before dark, collected a good supply of fuel, so that we had enough to maintain a blazing fire during the hours of darkness.
As on the previous night, we kept vigilant watch. The earlier watches were kept by the men, and my uncle and I agreed to take those of the morning. I was to succeed him. When he called me, I got up and examined the priming of my pistols, and, taking my gun in my hand, began to pace up and down. My uncle, instead of lying down, joined me.
"I will keep you company, Barry," he said; "though the bright fire we have had may have scared away the jaguars, it may have attracted the notice of the Indians, and perhaps at daylight they may be coming this way to ascertain its cause. The wind appears to have gone down considerably, and we shall be wiser to shove off as soon as we have light to see our way, without waiting for breakfast. I will put some steaks to roast and we can eat them in the boat."
I replied that I thought his suggestion a good one; and while he was occupied as he proposed, I kept marching up and down. Some time had passed, when I fancied that I heard a rustling noise among some thick bushes near me. I cocked my gun, ready to fire, and pointed it in the direction from whence the sound I had heard proceeded. Uncle Denis, seeing this, came forward, and we stood for some time watching the spot; but as nothing appeared, we thought that we must be mistaken. Still, at every turn I took an inquisitive look in that direction; and before long I again heard the sound. I stepped back and told my uncle.
"If a jaguar or puma were there, the creature would come forward. I suspect that some Indians are watching us; and if so, depend on it they will have sent to collect their companions to attack us," answered my uncle. "I will rouse up the men, and the sooner we get on board the better."
He on this shook each seaman, and in a low voice told them to collect the few things remaining on shore, and creep quietly down to the boat; directing me to retire in the same direction. The men obeyed him, and I followed, glancing round every now and then at the suspected point. They had got out the oars, and I was in the act of stepping on board, when a fearful yell rent the air. At the same moment a number of half-naked savages, armed with bows and spears, tall feathers ornamenting their heads, and the skins of wild beasts floating from their shoulders, dashed out of the forest. My uncle took the helm, and the seamen gave way with might and main. The current was strong, and the savages had some distance to traverse before they could reach the margin of the stream. As they saw us escaping, they let fly a shower of arrows; but from the uncertain light—for the dawn was only just breaking—their aim was, fortunately, bad; and by the time they reached the edge of the water we had got some way down the stream. We did not relax our exertions, for they might possibly follow us along the banks, and, as the river took two or three turns, cut us off at some narrow part. Their arrows, my uncle afterwards told me, he believed were poisoned. The Indians shot another flight, several of which dropped unpleasantly close astern of us; but they now saw that we were beyond their reach, though their fierce shouts and cries still followed us.
The wind had by this time completely fallen. We made rapid way down the stream, happily escaping any sunken logs, and once more saw the broad surface of the lake extended before us. Still, there was no time to be lost, as the Indians might possibly have canoes concealed along the banks, and might follow us; though, unless they had the agility of monkeys, there was little probability of their making their way among the mangrove-trees.
"If they do come, we must try and keep them at bay," observed my uncle. "None of them appear to have firearms, and our guns will tell upon them before they can get us within reach of their arrows."
The men, having no wish to fight where nothing was to be gained, pulled away as fast as they could lay their backs to the oars; and we soon shot through the narrow opening, and rounding the extreme point of the bay into which the stream emptied itself, we steered for the village for which we were bound. We had a long pull before us; but fortunately the deer-skin kept the water out very well, and we had only occasionally to bail to keep her clear. I could not refrain from giving a glance astern every now and then, to ascertain if the Indians were coming; but we saw nothing more of them.
We had brought away a supply of the cooked venison, and after rowing some distance the oars were laid in, and we turned to to breakfast. My uncle served out a cup of wine to each of the men; it was the only liquid we had, as the water of the lake was salt. We would gladly have exchanged the wine for a cup of tea or even fresh water, as the rays of the sun, striking down from a cloudless sky, made us suffer greatly from thirst; the men, especially, who had to row, felt the want of water.
We at length, some time past noon, came in sight of the village, which stood close to the edge of the lake. Part of it consisted of Indian huts, scattered about without much order. At the further end, on slightly elevated ground, was a sort of fortification, surrounded by a mud wall, with loopholes for musketry, high palisades, and a chevaux-de-frise; while above it floated the Republican flag. We saw sentries posted at each angle, who were evidently keeping a sharp look-out.
We steered for a landing-place under the fort. Just before we reached it, a large native boat, which had apparently come down the stream, had arrived, and the passengers were landing from her. Among them was a middle-aged man; from his complexion, even when I saw him at a distance, I guessed that he was a European. He stopped when he saw our boat touch the shore, and came slowly forward, eyeing us narrowly. The peculiarity of his features and costume, and the thick stick he carried in his hand, showed unmistakably that he was an Irishman. He now stopped, and looked first at my uncle and then at me; then, giving a flourish of his shillelagh and two or three wild leaps, he shouted, "Erin-go-bragh!— shure it's the young masther and Misther Denis themselves, and no other," and came bounding towards us.
I at once recognised my father's faithful follower, Tim Molloy; who, in spite of his age, had lost none of his youthful spirits or activity.
"Shure, it's wonderful, isn't it, Misther Denis, that I should fall in with you the very moment I had come, expecting to have to wait many a month, maybe, before my old eyes would be gladdened with the sight of you," he exclaimed, after we had got on shore. "And as the look of the place isn't altogether over-pleasant, shure you'll be willing to start away again up the river, without spending any time down here?"
Uncle Denis said he should be ready to commence our voyage the following day but one, as he hoped by that time to have got through some business he had to transact at Cervanos; on hearing which Tim expressed his satisfaction.
We immediately, as may be supposed, made inquiries about all at home.
"As to health, the masther, and misthress, and the childher, are all mighty well," replied Tim; "and Misthress Nora is as bright and blooming as a May morning in the 'old country,' and as tall almost as you, Masther Barry—not a young lady in the land to equal her. And Masther Gerald is as fine a boy as you can set eyes on for his age in any part of the country: he can handle a rifle or paddle a canoe as well as any Indian. And the rest, who were mere babies when you went away, are now grown into fine, hearty childher. But, to tell you the truth, I would rather see the masther wear a more cheerful countenance than he does. He's throubled about the times, which are unquiet enough, it must be owned; though we have never yet had a visit from the Spanish troops, it's more than we can say when they may be upon us."
Tim gave us much more information about the state of affairs at home than I need here repeat, and answered numerous questions which Uncle Denis put to him, after we had reached our quarters. We found about a hundred and fifty soldiers garrisoning the fort, the commandant of which received us very civilly, and offered us a room in the house he inhabited; while Tim took charge of our baggage, and saw it safely stowed away. Uncle Denis wished to have the boat properly repaired before she returned, although the crew declared that she was quite fit to make the passage back to the schooner.
As soon as my uncle had gained the information he required, and had written his despatches to the captain, they put off, with such provisions as we were able to obtain for them,—having also filled their breaker with water. Whether they got back we could not ascertain; but I know that the schooner landed her cargo, which was much wanted by the patriots. It was not till long after this that I again heard of Captain Longswill, when he rendered me an essential service, as I shall narrate in due course.
Tim lost no time in seeking a boat and crew, and making other preparations for our long river-voyage.
We spent the evening with the commandant, who gave us many interesting accounts of the war which had long been raging in the country. On the whole, the patriots had been successful, though the forces of the King of Spain were better drilled, and were well supplied with arms and ammunition. The Spaniards had also made an alliance with numerous Indian tribes; and by spreading among them false reports regarding the objects of the patriots, the Goahira Indians, whose territory was at no great distance from Cervanos, had been induced to side with the Royalists. Several severe encounters had already taken place between them and the patriots, and it was expected that they would before long attack the fort itself. Our friend the commandant described them as a peculiarly savage and warlike race, possessing more than the usual intelligence of the native tribes, and able to bring several thousand men into the field.
"I hope that they may not be induced to attack Cervanos," observed my uncle; "though I doubt not that your soldiers would fight bravely, it is but a small place to resist so powerful a force."
"We shall give a good account of them if they venture to come," answered the commandant gaily; "we fear neither them nor any troops the Spaniards can bring against us. We have scouts out in all directions to give due notice of their approach, and are not likely to be taken by surprise. Some of the scouts are Indians, others Sambos or whites; but we depend most on the Indians, who know the habits of their people, and are likely to bring us the most correct intelligence of their movements."
After further conversation we retired to our room—I cannot say to our couches; for, with the utmost wish to be hospitable, the commandant could supply us with neither bedsteads nor bedding. Our saddles, which were to be used in our overland journey, served us for pillows; and some horse-cloths and cloaks answered the purpose of mattresses and coverlets. Notwithstanding this, we should have slept soundly enough had it not been for the mosquitoes, which hummed round our ears all night, darting down and running their trunks into every spot they could find exposed. It was a severe lesson, and reminded us that we must obtain mosquito-curtains to surround out beds at night, or we should be eaten up before we had performed half our voyage.
ALLIGATOR OR SHARK—A SHOOTING EXPEDITION—WE WITNESS THE DEATH OF A SCOUT—MAKE OUR ESCAPE—PREPARATIONS FOR OUR VOYAGE UP THE RIVER— NIGHT—AROUSED BY AN ATTACK ON THE FORT—INDIANS ENTER IT—ESCAPE TO THE BOAT—FOLLOWED BY THE DOCTOR—VOYAGE ACROSS THE LAKES—CAMP ON THE SHORE OF THE LAKE—THE DOCTOR SHOOTS AN ALLIGATOR—PURSUED BY INDIANS—ENTER THE MAGDALENA—BEAUTIFUL SCENERY—MAGNIFICENT TREES—GAY FLOWERS— GORGEOUS PLUMAGE OF BIRDS—THE DOCTOR CATCHES AN ALLIGATOR—VOYAGE CONTINUED—MOUNTAINS IN SIGHT—A TEMPEST AT NIGHT—END OF VOYAGE—WE PART WITH THE DOCTOR.
As soon as morning came I got up and sauntered out into the fort. The sentries were at their posts, but no one else was astir. Both within and without the fort a perfect silence reigned, broken only now and then by the cries of water-fowl as they rose from the bank, or the screaming of parrots as they flew out of the neighbouring forest, from whence also proceeded the suppressed chattering of a tribe of monkeys.
I was on my way to the gate, intending to go to the landing-place and take a bath, when a stranger approached me. He wore a large broad-brimmed straw hat with a Republican cockade, a short tunic of blue and white striped cotton, light blue trousers, jack-boots with immense spurs; a long French dragoon sword with brass basket-hilt fastened to his waist-belt was dangling at his side, while a powder-horn was slung over his shoulders, and he carried in his hand an enormous old French silver-mounted gun. His hair was light, and so would have been his complexion, had it not been burned red by exposure to the hot sun of the tropics. His beard was carefully trimmed to a point. I may further say that he had prominent black eyes, an aquiline nose of considerable dimensions, a mouth not very small, a long face with a sharp chin; while I judged by his features that he was German. Such, I found, was the case, when he addressed me, and introduced himself as Dr Rudolph Stutterheim.
After wishing me good-morning, he inquired where I was going. I told him.
"Then you will be gobbled up by either one alligator or one shark," he replied; "for though the water is brackish, the alligators come down here to pick up any morsels they can find, and the sharks come for the same purpose."
I thanked him for his warning, but still felt rather doubtful if he was right. To convince me, he procured two pieces of offal, which he carried at the end of his stick, and accompanied me down to the landing-place, a rough stone pier which projected into the lake. Taking a piece, he jerked it some distance into the water, when in an instant a huge pair of jaws with rows of sharp teeth rose above the surface and snapped it up. He then took the other piece and threw it in an opposite direction, when just as it reached the water another pair of jaws, the lower part of silvery-whiteness, rose above the water, and the meat was gone.
"You see, my young friend, you can have your choice," he said; "but I don't think you will wish just now to bathe in this place."
I assured him I did not; and he having lighted a big meerschaum pipe which he drew from his pocket, we returned to the fort. I inquired whether he was the surgeon of the forces stationed there.
"Such an occupation would not suit my fancy," he answered, shrugging his shoulders; "though, while I am here, I willingly cooper up those who require my services. I am a traveller and naturalist, desirous of seeing the country and the strange creatures it contains, and in search of adventures, which I may perhaps some day narrate for the enlightenment of the world."
I, of course, replied that I hoped he would do so, as I should like to read the work of one who had rendered me so essential a service; and I added that I felt deeply grateful to him, as he had certainly saved my life by preventing me from venturing into the water.
"It was at no great cost to myself," he answered; "but I should have grieved to see one so young swallowed by a saurian, and who is, at all events, capable of becoming food for powder, if for nothing else—eh? What do you say, my young friend?"
Somewhat uncertain whether or not the doctor was quizzing me, I replied that I hoped I might some day become fit for a better fate than he suggested.
"Yet such has been the lot of many a fine man with a head on his shoulders, who has run it into a quarrel not his own," he observed. "I know what war is—a horrible, detestable affair at the best. Take my advice: Have nothing to do with it. Both parties now striving for the mastery are savages. You will find that out before long—though do not tell the commandant what I say, or he may chance to order me out to be shot, as a traitor to the cause of liberty. Bah!—there is only liberty where good laws exist, which all obey! Here, the only laws obeyed are those administered at the point of the bayonet. But don't repeat this," he added, putting his finger to his lips and turning away.
After parting from the doctor, I returned to the house of the commandant, whom, with my uncle, I found at breakfast. I at once made inquiries about my friend of the morning.
"He is a wonderful man—a genius, a philosopher, a professor of astrology, a magician," answered the commandant, shrugging his shoulders. "More I cannot say; he is a wonder—a mystery; but he understands the art of brewing punch to perfection, and that is something in his favour."
I had not long taken my seat when Dr Stutterheim appeared at the door.
"What! still at breakfast, gentlemen!" he exclaimed, with a look of surprise.
"You must have been up early, to have had the advantage of us," observed the commandant.
"Except in the matter of obtaining an appetite, I cannot acknowledge that such is the case," said the doctor, advancing farther into the room towards a vacant chair.
"Sit down, then," said the commandant, "and satisfy your hunger, my friend."
"Ten thousand thanks," answered the doctor, gliding into the chair. "As in duty bound, I willingly obey your orders;" and he forthwith began shovelling scraped salt beef, fried eggs, and plantains, of which our breakfast was composed, at a rapid rate into his capacious mouth, adding half a basketful of tropical fruits, and washing the whole down with a bowl of thick chocolate. "I follow the advice of a great philosopher, who insists that no men can be considered wise who fail when they have an opportunity early in the day to lay in a store of provision, lest they should be unable to secure a further supply," he observed.
Turning to my uncle, he inquired whether he purposed remaining any length of time at Cervanos; and on hearing that he did not intend to start till the following morning, invited me to accompany him on a shooting excursion along the shores of the lake.
"I go for two reasons," he said: "to increase my knowledge of the natural history of the country, and likewise to fill my pot. Senor commandante, I shall have the honour of presenting you with the result of our sport."
I was naturally eager to accept the invitation of my new friend, and my uncle making no objections, I agreed to accompany him.
After smoking his meerschaum for the best part of an hour, he declared himself ready to start. When I went to get my gun, Tim said that he would go too—not that he distrusted the doctor, but that, as I was unaccustomed to sporting in that region, he might assist me. I might by chance be pounced upon by a jaguar, or, should I venture into the water in search of wild-fowl, be carried off by an alligator.
We at once set out with our guns and game-bags, accompanied by the doctor's dog, Jumbo, who was almost as curious-looking as was his master—a perfect nondescript; but the doctor boasted that he had not his equal, was afraid of neither quadruped nor biped, and would face a jaguar, a bear, or a tamanoir (the large ant-eater), while he would stand to his point till he died of starvation, provided the bird chose to stay and be pointed at. We were now to try his powers.
We had intended to go along the bank of the lake, for the sake of more easily finding our way back; but the ground was so marshy that we were compelled to strike inland.
We were tolerably successful, having before long killed seven large birds of the plover species, two ground doves of a beautiful plumage, three parrots, and a monkey, which the doctor said he preferred to any members of the feathered tribe.
We were making our way through the forest, when between the trunks of the tall trees I saw Tim, who was some distance ahead, turn round and make a sign to us. It seemed to me that he intended to signify that we should go back; but instead of doing so, the doctor advanced, treading very cautiously, and making Jumbo follow at his heels. Tim put his finger to his lips to indicate that we must keep silence, while he pointed ahead. In front of us was a thick, low mass of wood, over a portion of which we could look, our heads being concealed by the branches above it; and we soon saw what had caused his anxiety.
At some distance, in an open spot of uneven ground, with their backs turned towards us, were a party of Indians armed with bows and arrows; while farther on, at a distance of thirty yards or so, was a single Indian bound by his arms to the trunk of a tree, and in front of him several Indian squaws, their eyes intently fixed on his countenance. I felt my blood freeze in my veins as I observed what was about to take place; for of their intentions there could be no doubt,—they were on the point of putting to death the unfortunate man bound to the tree. To interfere would have been madness; it was a question, indeed, whether we could retreat without being discovered. Still, we stood, rivetted to the spot. Tim made signs that he knew the man, and whispered in my ear that he was one of the Indian spies who had been sent out from the fort to gain intelligence, and had now fallen into the hands of the Goahiras.
Not a sound did he utter, but with Indian stoicism prepared to meet his fate. All hope of escape must have deserted him. The Indians stood watching him to see if he would show any sign of fear, while the squaws advanced closer and closer, shrieking, and jeering, and making hideous faces, to induce him to speak. At length three of the Indians stepped before the rest; and in an instant one shot his arrow, which went quivering into the breast of the victim. Still the man did not utter a cry. After waiting a minute, another shot an arrow, which also pierced the body of the unhappy wretch. After a third shot, I saw that he was still alive. The first Indians now retired to the main body, when I heard a groan escape from the scout's tortured frame, on which the squaws set up a loud jeering laugh.
The doctor, who had with difficulty been able to keep back Jumbo, now began carefully to retreat, beckoning to Tim and me to do likewise. It was the best opportunity, while the savages were engaged in their butchery. Still, I much regretted that we had not boldly rushed forward and endeavoured to save the man's life. We might, by surprising the Indians, have succeeded, as they would probably have fancied that we were followed by a larger party, and have taken to flight.
We continued our course without speaking, carefully endeavouring to make no noise, and as rapidly and cautiously as possible. The doctor led the way, taking huge strides over the ground; I followed, and Tim brought up the rear. Not for an instant did he stop to say a word, even after we had got to a considerable distance, and our voices could not possibly have been heard by the foe. I had great difficulty in keeping up with him at the rate he went; but not till we got within sight of the fort did he slacken his pace and allow me to come up with him.
I then told him that I wished we had tried to save the scout.
"We should probably have had our scalps hanging at the end of their spears long ere this, had we made the attempt," he answered; "you've run a narrow chance a second time this day of losing your life, young gentleman, and you should be thankful. It is as well, however, that we caught sight of the Indians; depend on it, they are in force at no great distance, and we may expect an attack from them before many days are over—perhaps before many hours are past—and we must lose no time in warning the commandant."
On entering the fort, the commandant, who happened to be near the gate, and saw our game-bags full, greeted us warmly, and invited the doctor to dinner.
"Very happy to do myself that honour," he answered. "And perhaps, senor commandante, you will allow me to present you with these birds, some of which it may be as well to cook forthwith; and in the meantime I will relate to you our adventures, and you can form your own conclusion."
The doctor then described our having seen the scout shot by the Indians, and expressed his belief that the place would be attacked ere long. The commandant took the information very coolly. He prided himself, I observed, on his dignified behaviour on all occasions; for though he had joined the Republicans, he could still boast that the bluest of blue blood of the ancient hidalgoes of Castille flowed in his veins.
"Care shall be taken that the sentries keep their eyes open," he replied; "and we will be prepared for the savages."
The news we brought very soon spread through the fort, and I observed that the sentries were doubled; but otherwise the people occupied themselves as before, in smoking, gambling, and cock-fighting, which seemed especially to interest all classes. My uncle listened attentively to the account I gave him.
"Possibly the enemy may not approach the fort for several days, and we shall lose the opportunity of assisting to defend it, for I cannot possibly delay beyond to-morrow," he remarked. "I hope, however, that our friends will be successful."
My uncle had made arrangements, I found, for starting at daybreak the next morning, and Tim was busily employed in getting the bongo—the boat we had engaged—ready for the voyage, and having our luggage conveyed on board. Finding that we were really about to start, the doctor asked leave to accompany us a part of the distance, observing that he liked good society, and that he hoped by his agreeable conversation to repay us for our kindness.
Tim had procured some mosquito-curtains, which we were to take with us on our voyage, when we should require them even more than at Cervanos. We accordingly lay down within them at an early hour. It was pleasant to hear our abominable tormentors of the previous night humming about outside, and trying in vain to get at us; but we had to be very quick in closing the opening, or a host would otherwise have made their way in, in spite of us.
Having wished my uncle good-night, and ascertained that not a living mosquito was inside the curtain, I closed my eyes, and was in another instant asleep. Tim was to call us half-an-hour before daybreak, that we might take some chocolate before starting.
I had been asleep for some time, when I was awakened by the report of a musket, rapidly followed by several others; and the next instant the air was rent by the most terrific shrieks and yells, which seemed to come from all directions round the fort, while the voices of the officers shouting out their orders, and the tramp of the soldiers, were heard as they rushed to the ramparts.
"What can be the matter?" I exclaimed, as I crept from under my mosquito-curtain.
"The fort has been attacked, and I much fear that the sentries have been surprised," answered my uncle, who had at the same instant jumped up, and was hurriedly putting on his clothes. I followed his example; and we were thus engaged when Tim burst into the room.
"Quick, quick, Masther Concannan!—quick, Masther Barry, dear! and just come along with me," he exclaimed. "There's not a moment to be lost; the Indians are getting the best of it, and climbing over the walls in thousands, like so many imps, and the soldiers, do all they can, can't stop them."
"We must go and assist our friends," cried my uncle, buckling on his sword and seizing his rifle.
"Oh, Masther Denis, now don't," exclaimed Tim; "you'll be kilt entirely if you do that same. Come with me now; it's all up with the garrison, but we may have still time to get on board the boat and shove off into the lake. It's wiser to live and fight another day than get knocked on the head by an Indian tomahawk; and that's sure to be the lot of one and all of us if we stop."
Tim wrung his hands and leaped about in his agitation while speaking; and then, apparently doubting whether his arguments would prevail with my uncle, he seized my arm with one hand, while he picked up my gun and various other articles with the other, and dragged me along, determined at all events to try and save my life, though he might not induce my uncle to make his escape.
The din had by this time greatly increased; the roar of the heavy guns, the rattle of musketry, and the clashing of steel, were heard amid the shrieks and shouts of the combatants. At first the reports of firearms gave me hope that the garrison were driving back their assailants; but suddenly the sound of the musketry ceased. Looking back, I was thankful to see my uncle following, carrying his portmanteau on his shoulder and my carpet-bag in his hand.
Tim took the way to the part of the fortifications nearest the landing-place. We quickly scrambled over the intrenchments, and my uncle, throwing his burdens to us, speedily followed. It was the only spot not assailed by the Indians; for what reason I could not tell, as they might have got in with little more difficulty than we had found in getting out. The triumphant yells of the Indians and the shrieks of the hapless garrison sounding in our ears, showed us too plainly what would have been the consequence of delay. We rushed down to the landing-place, and reached it just at the moment when the terrified crew of the bongo were shoving off, intending to leave us to our fate. Tim, springing forward, seized the gunwale of the boat and hauled her back, tumbling me in with an energy which almost sent me over on the other side.
"Jump in, Masther Denis, jump in; here come a whole host of Indians," he exclaimed, "and they'll be after scalping every mother's son of us if we stop a moment longer."
My uncle sprang into the boat, and Tim, following, was giving her a shove off, when, as I gazed through the darkness, I saw a number of figures brandishing their tomahawks, and rushing towards us. In front of them came a person evidently flying for his life.
"Stop, my friends, stop," he cried out, "or the fellows at my heels will have me scalped!"
I recognised the voice of Dr Stutterheim. He sprang after us; but his foot failing to reach the boat, heavily laden as he was with his gun and various articles, he fell into the water. Tim, however, leant over the bows and caught his hand before he sank: and my uncle and I assisting, we hauled him with all his traps on board, while the crew were paddling with might and main to escape from his pursuers, who in another minute would have been up with us. The doctor was too much exhausted to speak, and threw himself down in the bottom of the boat.
Before the Indians had time to stop and draw their bows, we were some distance from the shore; but that another minute's delay would have been fatal, was proved by the flight of arrows which followed us. Our black, brown, and swarthy rowers, however, did not cease their exertions till we had got far enough off to be invisible from the shore.
My uncle now gave the crew orders to cease paddling, that he might judge from the sounds what was taking place in the fort. Musketry shots were still heard, and the roar from several heavy guns proved that the garrison were still holding out in some part of the fort—the war-whoops of the Indians, which continually rent the air, giving us hopes that though fighting desperately they had not succeeded in mastering the place. My uncle expressed his regret that he had come away so suddenly, and feared that he should be accused of cowardice in not having afforded more assistance to his friends.
"Set your mind at rest on that score," observed the doctor; "had you remained, you would now have been numbered with the dead. Depend on it, the garrison have retreated to the citadel, and are there holding out; but as no reinforcements are likely to appear, they must ultimately yield and be cut to pieces—which is sure to be their fate, as no one in this war thinks of asking or giving quarter. We may, then, congratulate ourselves on our escape.
"This is the third time, young gentleman, in as many days, that you have run the risk of losing your life," he observed, turning to me.
I acknowledged that he was right, and felt that I ought to return thanks to Heaven for my having been so mercifully preserved.
Still, my uncle wished to go back, but the crew positively refused to obey him—Tim and the doctor siding with them.
"Let us be wise, Mr Concannan," observed the latter; "it is useless running our noses into danger when it can be avoided. And even if we were to go back, we could not save the lives of the commandant and the garrison. Let us console ourselves with the reflection that, should they be killed, they have died doing their duty."
At length my uncle yielded to the doctor's advice, and directed the crew to paddle on towards the upper part of the lake. As there were several narrow passages to be passed, leading from one lake into another, it was important that we should get through them before the Indians could reach the shore, whence they could pick us off with their arrows. It was satisfactory to know that they had no canoes in which to follow us, else our chances of escape would have been small indeed.
It was still dark when we reached the first passage. Not a word was spoken, and we hoped, even if our enemies were on the shore, that we should get through without being perceived. Still, I could not help keeping an anxious watch on the banks, expecting every instant to see a party of Indians start out from behind the trees and send a flight of arrows after us.
I breathed more freely when, emerging from the channel, we were once more making our way across a broad expanse. Here daylight burst on us. There would probably be less risk in passing the next channel, as the Indians would not have had time to get so far from Cervanos; but it was possible that a party might have been despatched, before the attack was made, to prevent any boats going up or down. Still, as our four guns would hold in check a strong party armed only with bows and arrows, we had not much cause to fear.
The crew laid in their paddles to breakfast, that they might paddle with greater vigour through the channel; and we at the same time took our morning meal, washing it down with some water from the lake, which was here perfectly fresh. While I was dipping my cup in the water, a long dark snout darted towards it; and I had barely time to withdraw my hand, letting the cup slip, when a pair of hideous jaws closed on it. They were those of a monstrous alligator. A blow from a paddle and the shouts of the men made the brute disappear; but I took good care not again to put my hand overboard while the boat was motionless. Several others rose a few feet from us, though none came so near the boat as the first had done; and as soon as the men began to move their paddles, the monsters, who are arrant cowards, kept their distance.
A short time after this we entered the channel leading to a yet more southern lake. We eagerly peered among the trees on both sides, but no Indians could be seen, so we had reason to hope that we had completely distanced them. Among the numberless shrubs which adorned the shores were wild plantains and fig-trees, decked with flowers of brilliant and beautiful colours, which grew on the creepers, festooning the boughs, and often hanging down in long lines into the water. Birds of all sorts, and of magnificent plumage, flew amid the branches, or stood on the fallen trunks floating near the margin—beautiful milk-white herons, scarlet spoonbills, flamingoes, and various other water-fowl.
We were paddling on, when I caught sight of several figures moving among the trees. "Are those Indians?" I exclaimed, getting my gun ready to fire should they prove to be enemies.
"Save your powdher, Masther Barry," answered Tim; "shure they're only monkeys. We shall hear them howling loud enough at night-time; you might then fancy that they were a whole troop of Indians coming down to scalp us."
The animals at which we were looking were of considerable size, with a reddish tinge on their rough hair. The Spaniards called them "monas coloradas;" but they are generally known as howling monkeys. We saw many more among the trees as we paddled forward.
Having performed a long distance before night approached, it was considered that we might with safety land and sleep on shore, our bongo affording us no room to stretch our legs. We accordingly landed at the end of a canal through which we had been passing; and a space was quickly cleared for an encampment. Having the channel on one side and the lake on the other, we had only two sides to guard. A fire was soon lighted, and Tim set to work to cook our supper; while we put up our mosquito-curtains, and collected some dry leaves to form our couches.
The mosquito-curtains, I should say, were supported on four short poles stuck in the ground, on which rested four others, so that the whole arrangement looked like a long narrow box covered with fine muslin. Without these contrivances it is utterly impossible to sleep with any degree of comfort on the banks of the Magdalena, or indeed of most of the rivers in that part of the country. There is only one opening, through which the person must creep, and then close it tightly on the inside.
To prevent surprise, we agreed to keep a vigilant watch. The first turn fell to me. I wondered that anybody could go to sleep with the terrific noises which came out of the forest. The howling monkeys were the most vociferous—now uttering loud groans, now yells of laughter and other strange sounds, truly making night hideous. Nearer at hand I could hear the alligators snapping their jaws as they caught some unfortunate fish or wild-fowl; while their snorts, as they chased each other, came from all sides. I kept my eye on the bank, for I had heard that the savage creatures often climb out of the water, and carry away the first person they can find. The doctor's dog seemed to be well aware of this; for he crouched down close to the fire, with one of his eyes always open, either at the water, or towards the forest, from whence a jaguar might spring and carry him off.
I soon got accustomed to the sounds of the howling monkeys, the cries of the night-birds, and any other noises which came out of the forest; but I never could feel comfortable while I heard that horrible snapping and crunching made by the alligators. While on the watch, there was no chance of becoming drowsy, for the mosquitoes all the time made the most determined assaults on my face, and I had to keep my handkerchief constantly on the move to prevent them from settling. Fortunately, they cannot bite till then; but when once they have settled, it is better to allow them to suck their fill, for otherwise the inflammation is far worse.
The doctor was to follow me; so, after two hours, I called him, and remarked on the number of alligators I had heard near us.
"To-morrow morning we will put a stop to the snapping of some of them," he answered. "I shall awake before dawn, as I always do, and will call you, if you wish to exercise your skill on some of them."
I begged that he would do so; and having placed my gun safely under the curtains, I crept in and closed them. Two or three mosquitoes had managed to follow me; but the light from the fire streaming through enabled me to catch them and kill them, and in a few moments I was fast asleep.
I felt unwilling to get up when I heard the doctor's voice, till I remembered that we were to make war on the alligators. The feeling of utter detestation with which those creatures are regarded is not surprising, when it is recollected what a scourge they are to the people inhabiting the banks of the rivers and lakes of that part of the country. I was soon on foot; and having loaded my gun with ball, I accompanied the doctor to a little creek which ran at no great distance from the camp. Jumbo went with us. He knew exactly what to do. First he went to the shore of the lake and barked several times; then ran along, barking occasionally, till he reached the entrance of the creek, along the bank of which he ran. Soon after he barked several long snouts appeared above the surface; but Jumbo was wide-awake, never for a moment withdrawing his eyes from the water, so that should an alligator make a dash at him he might bound off out of harm's way.
After some time we saw a huge monster appear, who quickly put the other alligators to flight, and then came swimming up the creek towards Jumbo. The dog barked, and then bounded off close to where the doctor and I lay hid. Once more Jumbo showed his nose among the weeds; when the alligator, opening his immense jaws, made a dash at him. At the same moment the doctor, starting up, fired down the creature's throat, and stopped him in mid career. His head and shoulders rose above the surface, and then he rolled over dead. I shouted with satisfaction, and Jumbo barked his approval.
"We have not yet finished our sport," said the doctor; "we must kill half-a-dozen before breakfast. Go, good Jumbo, and entice a few more up here."
Jumbo understood his master, and was proceeding to execute his orders, when we heard my uncle's voice shouting to us to return, in tones which showed that he had good reason for doing so. Making our way through the tangled forest, we soon reached the camp, where we found every one astir, our mosquito-curtains and sleeping-rugs packed up, and the men busy loading the boat.
"Jump on board, and I'll tell you all about it afterwards," said my uncle.
We obeyed him, Jumbo leaping in after us; when the men, shoving the boat off with their poles, began to paddle rapidly across the lake.
"I will now tell you the reason why I was in a hurry to be off," said my uncle. "One of our crew, Choco, a quick-witted fellow, going to the further end of yonder point, observed a canoe with several Indians in her coming along the canal. As soon as they saw him, they paddled back at a rapid rate; but he was convinced that the canoe was one of several in pursuit of us, and that the Indians have gone back to summon their companions, believing that they will find us sitting at breakfast. He may have been mistaken; but discretion is the better part of valour, and though we might beat them off, it would be unwise to run the risk of a fight when it can be avoided."
"You are a wise man, Mr Concannan," observed the doctor. "Why should people spend their lives in fighting, when they would be so much happier living at peace with each other? It appears to me that the world is full of great fools, and that they are its rulers."
"I hope you don't include us in the category?" said my uncle. "If one set of people will attack another, what are the peaceably disposed to do?"
"They must fight to defend themselves, I own," answered the doctor; "and that proves to me that the fools rule the world, for they compel the wise, who must of necessity love peace, to go to war. The world will never be at rest till not only the great majority, but the whole have become wise; and as I never expect to see that, I believe it will continue to the end the same troublous, unhappy world it is."
The doctor, I thought, took matters very coolly.
I very frequently looked out astern, expecting to see a fleet of canoes full of Indian warriors emerging from the canal; but as none appeared, I began to suppose that Senor Choco had made a mistake.
We had still another narrow passage or canal to pass through before we could enter the main branch of the river; and the doctor urged the men to make good speed across the lake, as he was excessively hungry, and wanted his breakfast. He amused us in the meantime by recounting some of his adventures with alligators. He had the most unbounded antipathy towards the monsters; which arose, he said, from once seeing a poor girl, who was stooping down to fill her pitcher with water at a river's brink, seized by one of them. The horrible saurian, darting out of the water and grasping her arm, dragged her off before he could go to her rescue. He fired, but his bullet glanced off the scaly head of the creature, which in an instant carried the unfortunate female, who was shrieking loudly, under the surface. "There lay her pitcher on the river's brink," said the doctor; "but she whom I had just before seen full of health and strength, and singing gleefully, was nowhere visible. I thereupon vowed vengeance against the whole race, and have never lost an opportunity of slaughtering them."
The alligators and jaguars, the doctor told us, are mortal enemies. The latter wages perpetual war against the former. Whenever a jaguar can find an alligator asleep on a hot sand-bank, it attacks the saurian under the tail, which, being soft and fat, is the most vulnerable part; and such is the alligator's alarm, that it will scarcely move or make the slightest resistance. If, however, it gets its enemy into the water, its more peculiar element, then the tables are turned, and the jaguar is in most instances drowned and devoured. The jaguar being well aware of its inferiority to the saurian in the proper element of the latter, when it has to cross a river it sets up a tremendous howl on the bank previous to entering the water, in the hope of scaring the alligator to a distance.
The native villages on the banks of a river in which alligators abound are guarded by strong palisades, to prevent the monsters from creeping on shore; which they will frequently do when pressed by hunger, and will carry off any persons or animals they may encounter. An alligator has been known to dash into the midst of a crowd collected on the shore and carry off a strong man, in spite of every effort made to rescue the poor fellow. Scarcely a year passes in the neighbourhood of places frequented by them without two or three women being thus destroyed. The doctor mentioned a remarkable instance of intrepidity and presence of mind exhibited by a young girl, who, on going to the margin of the river to fetch water, felt one of her hands suddenly seized in the jaws of a huge alligator. Knowing that death must be her inevitable fate should she not find means to rescue herself, she plunged her fingers into the eyes of the animal with such violence that the pain compelled it to let her go; though not, however, till it had bitten off the lower part of her arm. Notwithstanding the enormous quantity of blood which flowed from the fearful wound, the girl struck out, swimming with the hand that still remained to her, and happily reached the shore, where her friends received her; and her wound being bound up and the flow of blood stopped, she ultimately recovered.
Alligators swim rapidly against the strongest current; and when they reach the shore they dart forward with the quickness of an arrow towards the object at which they aim, when excited either by rage or hunger. Under ordinary circumstances the creature moves with the slowness of a salamander; but it frequently runs,—when it makes a rustling noise, which proceeds from the rubbing of the scales of its skin one against another. In this movement it bends its back and appears higher on its legs than when at rest. Though it generally moves in a straight line, it can change its direction, both in the water and on shore.
"Jumbo, there, hates alligators as much as I do," continued the doctor. "He was once very nearly caught by one; but he knows the ways of the hateful creatures. I was crossing a river in a canoe, when he unwisely took to the water. I had reached the shore, when I saw a huge alligator swimming towards him. Jumbo saw it too, and made way down the stream, the alligator following and rapidly gaining on him. In an instant I thought my poor dog would be in the creature's jaws, when Jumbo suddenly turned and made way up the stream. It took the alligator a considerable time to come about, and before it was able to dart forward towards its expected prey Jumbo had safely reached the shore."
The doctor declared that the female alligator, at the period of hatching her eggs, devours all her young ones which do not run into the river; the immediate use of their legs being the only means of saving their lives.
"I cannot fancy such monsters having any maternal affection," I exclaimed.
These and similar anecdotes occupied the time we took in crossing the lake. We now entered the last channel, which was to conduct us into the Magdalena. Lofty trees grew on both sides of the channel, among which we saw numerous large green parrots and several kinds of monkeys, the howling species being the most numerous. There were also some large birds which stood looking at us, and which the doctor called "vultures of the lake." They had long, red, and very strong legs, with their backs and breasts black and grey, and curved spurs, sharp at the point, and about an inch in length, on the first joint of each wing.
As we had seen nothing of our supposed enemies, the Indians, the crew declared that they were too hungry to proceed farther without breakfasting; and a tolerably open space between the trees affording us room to light a fire, we landed, and having cleared the ground, soon had our pots boiling. Our crew put all their food, consisting of rice, plantain, and salt beef, into one large pot, and boiled them together. The mess was then emptied out into wooden basins, from which they fed themselves with their fingers, long cakes of sugar serving as dessert.
By the doctor's advice, we imitated their example in one respect,—by boiling fowls, ham, vegetables, and flour together, which, when well seasoned, made an excellent dish; only, we made use of spoons and knives and forks to eat it.
After the meal was finished the men lay on the ground to rest, while the doctor produced his huge meerschaum and commenced smoking, surrounding his visage with such dense clouds that not a mosquito ventured to approach him, while my uncle and I had to keep our handkerchiefs moving rapidly to drive off the detestable little insects. We were thus enjoying ourselves, if enjoyment it could be called, when, looking along the channel in the direction we had come, I caught sight of the bow of a canoe just rounding a point.
"On board, on board!" shouted the padrone, or captain; and the men, jumping up, tumbled the cooking things, pots and pans, into the boat— Tim following with our breakfast set, which he had just before packed up.
On our taking our seats, the crew shoved off and began to paddle at a rapid rate up the stream. The canoe we had seen had now come full into view, and at first appeared to be gaining on us. This made our padrone excite his men to fresh exertions. Should our pursuer be an enemy, and overtake us, they would as certainly be put to death as we should, supposing that we were unable effectually to defend ourselves. We got our firearms ready, however, having no intention of yielding as long as we were able to resist; and the doctor, having put fresh powder into the pan of his rifle, now knelt down in the stern of the boat, prepared to take good aim should our pursuers exhibit any hostile intentions.
"Why, doctor, I thought you said just now that only fools were eager to fight," I could not help observing.
"And you are right, young gentleman," he answered. "I am only preparing to defend myself; and I hope that the people in yonder canoe will have the wisdom not to attack us. Still, in case they should do so, we should lack wisdom if we were not prepared for their reception."
While the doctor was speaking I was watching the canoe, which was now joined by several others; but for some reason or other the fastest remained for the slower ones, and thus we managed to keep well ahead. The water hissed and bubbled under the bows as our boat clove her way through it. My uncle sat as calm as usual, and had I judged by his countenance I should not have supposed that we were in the slightest danger. The captain and crew, however, showed by their eagerness that they were very unwilling to be overtaken; while the doctor, in spite of his professed pacific feelings, was full of fight, and prepared for the worst. Such good use did the crew make of their paddles, however, that on seeing that we were distancing them our pursuers began to shout and shriek—from disappointment, as we supposed. But their cries only made our men redouble their efforts, and utter every now and then a derisive shout in return. It was echoed by the chattering of the monkeys and the loud squalls of the parrots from the neighbouring woods, Jumbo occasionally adding to the chorus by barking furiously.