Twice Lost, by W.H.G. Kingston.
A typical Kingston book, full of incident, and co-incidence. We particularly liked the way in which the topic of the lost boy, Harry, is introduced, and later on a boy who had been found by the natives of a Pacific island, comes into the story, being the person who found one of the ship's company who had been lost overboard in heavy weather. The latter had made his way ashore by sheer grit and determination (being a Sandwich Islander). They realise Harry is originally an English boy, and take him on board, and away from his savage masters who had been using him as a pearl-driver.
Much later on they decide to settle in Australia. Lo! and behold! the people who had settled on the next station were Harry's parents.
It is a good story, well-told, and worth listening to or reading.
TWICE LOST, BY W.H.G. KINGSTON.
LAST DAY AT HOME—JOIN THE "HEROINE" AS A MIDSHIPMAN—BOUND FOR THE PACIFIC—ORDERED TO TOUCH AT CAPE COAST CASTLE—ON THE LOOK-OUT FOR A PIRATE—CHASE HER UP A RIVER—OUR BOAT ATTACKED—DICKY POPO BRINGS US INFORMATION—FIGHT WITH THE PIRATES—A CAPTURE—A SCHOONER BLOWS UP— DELIVER UP OUR PRIZE TO THE COMMODORE—PROCEED ON OUR VOYAGE.
The last day of my home-life came to an end. Pierce and I went to our room and turned in to our beds, but not to sleep. We had still many things to say to each other, though we had probably said them over and over again before. I promised to write a journal, to show to him when I came back from my first voyage; and he agreed to keep one, from which he might make extracts when he wrote to me, so that I might know everything that took place in our family circle.
Our father, Mr Rayner, was a half-pay lieutenant; but at the end of the war, having no expectation of promotion, he had left the service and joined his elder brother, our Uncle Godfrey (after whom I was named), in a mercantile business at Bristol, near which city we lived. He knew nothing of office work, but hoped by diligence and attention to be of assistance. Our uncle, however, died before he had gained a thorough knowledge of the business; and, besides the sorrow he felt at losing one he loved, much responsibility in consequence devolved upon him. I believe that his affairs were not as prosperous as he could have desired; and he sometimes expressed his regret that he had engaged in an undertaking for which he was not fitted.
I had shown no predilection for a seat in the counting-house; and consequently, when his old shipmate Captain Bracewell, who had just been appointed to the command of the Heroine sloop-of-war, offered to take one of his sons as a midshipman, he allowed me, greatly to my delight, to enter the navy.
My sea-chest, already packed, stood at one end of the room, with my dirk and the uniform I was to put on next day lying upon it; in which, as may be supposed, I had already exhibited myself to Pierce and our sister Edith, who was younger than either of us, and naturally thought it, as she told me, very becoming; an opinion I also entertained, as did our mother, and—I flattered myself—the rest of the household.
At last Pierce's voice grew more and more inarticulate, and he dropped off to sleep. I, after some time, was following his example, when the door opened, and our mother glided into the room, afraid of awakening me. I was conscious that she was bending over me: a tear dropped on my cheek, and I felt her loving kiss on my brow. I started up and passed my arm round her neck. She perhaps thought that it was the last time I should be with her alone on earth.
"Godfrey, my dear boy," she said, "fear to offend God, and be faithful and true to him and to all men. He will ever prove your best Friend, here and throughout eternity."
"I will, mother; indeed I will," I answered, as soon as the beatings of my heart and the sobs which burst from my breast allowed me to speak.
"Hush," she said at length; "we must not awaken Pierce. And you too, Godfrey, must go to sleep, to be ready for your journey to-morrow."
She left me, but I could hear her breathing outside the door till she thought I had dropped off to sleep.
Next morning all the family were up to see me off. I won't describe the scene: my dear, sweet little sister Edith, though she looked so proud of me in my uniform, sobbed as if she would break her heart; and I found it a hard matter to restrain my feelings, till the coach came by, and, my chest being stowed away in the boot, my father and I mounted to the top. I soon recovered my spirits, when my father, entering into conversation with our fellow-passengers, led me to join in it. Most of them were seafaring men; and one of them, with naval buttons on his greatcoat, made himself known to my father as Peter Mudge, once a little midshipman with him, but now an old master's mate on his way to join the Heroine.
"You'll keep an eye on this youngster, then, for my sake, Mudge?" said my father; "though I know you would without my asking you."
"That I will, Mr Rayner," answered Mr Mudge; "I'll do all I can for him, though that may be but little."
"You've got one friend on board already, Godfrey," observed my father, "through my interest. I hope you will soon have many more by your own merits."
We reached Plymouth late in the day; and the next morning my father took me on board to introduce me to the captain and officers. Captain Bracewell received me very kindly; and when my father left—as he was soon obliged to do—to return home, Peter Mudge took charge of me, and led me down into the midshipmen's berth, where he introduced me to my new messmates. I was at home in a few minutes, and made up my mind that I should be very jolly. In this opinion I was confirmed by the assurances of another midshipman of about my own age, or rather younger, Tommy Peck by name, who had also come to sea for the first time, and who naturally became my chief chum. He was a merry fellow, delighting in fun and mischief; caring very little about the result of the latter, provided he could amuse himself for the moment; and without a particle of forethought. He was not altogether destitute of sense, but at the time I speak of he greatly required a friend like Mudge to keep him in the right way.
The sails were loosed, the men were going round the capstan to the sound of the merry fife, when a messenger from the Admiralty arrived in hot haste, directing the captain to carry out despatches to the governor of Cape Coast Castle, instead of proceeding direct to the Pacific, whither we were bound.
The wind being fair and fresh, in a few hours we were out of sight of land. For the first time in my life, as I gazed round from the deck, I saw only the circle of the horizon where sea and sky met. It produced in me a sensation of pleasure not unmixed with awe, though I confess that the feeling very soon wore off.
The next day at noon the midshipmen were ordered to bring up their quadrants; and I received my first practical lesson in navigation. I was anxious to gain a knowledge of my profession, and Peter Mudge did his best to instruct me.
Day after day we sailed on, the fair wind lasting us till we got to the latitude of the Cape de Verde Islands, and I began to fancy that the stories I had heard of gales and hurricanes were fabulous, and that we were to enjoy the same sort of weather during our cruise.
"Wait a bit, my lad, till we're rounding Cape Horn; you'll then chance to pick up a notion of what a heavy sea is like, if you don't happen to learn sooner," said Peter Mudge.
In spite of calms and light winds, however, we at length came off Cape Coast Castle; consisting of an extensive range of buildings surrounded by fortifications, appearing of snowy whiteness against the dark foliage of the wooded height in the background. The captain went on shore to deliver his despatches to the governor. We were expecting the pleasure of a run on shore, when he returned on board, and ordering the anchor to be hove up, we stood to the south-eastward under all sail.
It soon became known that the governor had received intelligence of the appearance of a large craft off the coast, supposed to be a pirate, of which he had directed the captain to go in search. A sharp look-out was accordingly kept for her during the night. She was said to be heavily armed; under Spanish colours; and that her plan of proceeding was to capture any traders she could fall in with, take possession of their cargoes, and exchange them on the coast for slaves, with which she returned to Cuba. "A profitable style of business, whatever might be said of its honesty. I only hope that we may catch her with English property on board," said Mudge; "we shall soon put a stop to her tricks."
The next evening a sail was sighted on the starboard bow, steering the same course as we were; and we immediately stood for her, hoping that she was the pirate. It was doubtful whether she had seen us; if she had, she had possibly taken us for a merchantman. Darkness was coming on, but we had got her bearings; and unless she was suspicious of us she would stand on as she was doing, and perhaps shorten sail to allow us to come up with her; if so, we had no doubt that we should take her. As it was fully believed that she would not yield without fighting, the ship was cleared for action; the crew went to their quarters, and all stood ready should we sight her, which we might do at any moment.
On glided our ship over the dark waters, her masts towering to the sky like some phantom of the night. A strange feeling came over me as I thought that in a few minutes we might be hotly engaged in firing away at the enemy, round shot and bullets flying about us.
"Sail right ahead, sir!" shouted the second lieutenant from forward. I looked out eagerly, and saw the tall masts and sails of a ship fully as large as, if not larger than, the Heroine.
"We must speak her before firing, lest we should be engaging a friend," I heard the commander observe to Mr Worthy, the first lieutenant. "If yonder craft is a pirate, she takes us for a merchant vessel, as she probably knew that no man-of-war of our size was on the station. Don't fire a shot till I give the order."
After this not a word was spoken. In perfect silence we glided onwards, rapidly approaching the dark ship, which we could now distinguish clearly, with her courses brailed up, evidently awaiting us. The captain's intention was to run up on her starboard quarter, so as to keep her between us and the land. We were almost within hail, and expected in another instant to be engaged, when down came her courses, the yards were braced sharp up, and she stood away on a bowline towards the coast. On this our helm was immediately put down, and we did the same, keeping directly after her and firing our bow-chasers. She was evidently a fast craft, for she rapidly drew ahead of us. The breeze freshened, and having all sail set, we heeled over till the lee guns dipped into the water.
"We shall be whipping the masts out of her, if we don't take care," I heard Mudge observe.
The captain seemed to think the same. "Hand royals and topgallant sails," he sang out; "be smart, my lads."
The top-men hurried aloft to obey the order, for every one knew there was no time to be lost. The masts bent like willow wands, and I expected every moment to see them go over the side. While attending to shortening sail, the eyes of the officers were withdrawn from the chase; for some of the ropes getting foul during the operation, we were obliged to luff up to clear them, thereby allowing her to get still farther ahead. Still, she could be distinguished standing to the eastward. As soon as the sails were handed we stood on again after her, staggering along under such canvas as we could carry, and every eye on board turned towards her.
"If she runs us out of sight, she'll put her helm up and stand down the coast," observed Mudge; "and it will be a hard matter to find her again."
Our chief hope was that our shot might wing her; but only one gun could be brought to bear, and with the sea there was on, though it was not very heavy, our aim was uncertain. Still, as we had got her jammed in between us and the coast, there was little chance of her ultimately escaping.
We had been running on for some time, the chase still gaining on us, and becoming dimmer and dimmer to view, when a heavy squall struck the ship, and heeled her over so much that the captain gave the order to shorten sail. It cleared off, however, before the sheets were let fly; but when we again looked ahead the chase was nowhere to be seen. We accordingly edged away to the southward, in case she should have gone off before the wind.
Not long after this the morning broke, and the wind went down. As the chase was not to be seen to the southward, the captain and Mr Worthy were still convinced that she had continued her course to the eastward, but that the thick mist hanging over the coast was hiding her from sight. We had again made all sail, and were standing on as before, when the look-out at the mast-head shouted, "Land! land!" and shortly afterwards, as the atmosphere cleared, we could see the wood-covered heights of the African coast rising above the belt of thick mist which still hung over the lower ground, and which would effectually conceal the chase should she have stood in for the shore.
"Should she be there, we shall soon sight her," observed Mudge. "I only hope that her rascally crew will have the courage to fight for their lives and liberty; though there isn't much chance of that."
The lead was kept going, of course, and showed a much greater depth of water than had been expected. On reference to the chart, the captain found that we must be approaching the mouth of a large river. The sun rising, dissipated the mist; and we had got close to the mouth of the river when the wind fell. Being thus unable to enter it, we were compelled to bring up at no great distance from the shore. From where we lay we could see but a very little way up the river, a point of land covered with trees hiding the next reach, so that the chase might be there, though invisible to us. The captain accordingly directed the first lieutenant to pull up in the gig to ascertain if she was there; intending, if so, to carry the ship into the river whenever the sea-breeze should set in. As she was a large, well-armed vessel, with a numerous crew, he was unwilling to risk the loss of his men, at the commencement of a long voyage, by attacking her with the boats.
The gig was soon hidden behind the point; when the watch below, to which I belonged, was allowed to lie down in the shade on deck—for, having been awake all night, we could scarcely keep our eyes open. I was in an instant asleep; and being roused up again after a snooze of two hours, I found that the gig had not returned. The captain was beginning to get anxious, when the look-out from the mast-head, who could see farther over the point than we could on deck, shouted, "The gig in sight, and another boat following her."
Some minutes passed, when we saw the gig chased round the point, the crew pulling with all their might; and the next instant a much larger boat hove in sight. As she did so, a man standing in the stern-sheets was seen to lift a musket and fire at the gig: at the same moment an oar dropped from the hands of one of the crew, who sank down on the thwart; the gig, however, still coming on. It was a wanton act. The large boat pulled round, and before we could have brought one of our guns to bear on her she was again hidden behind the point. The captain, on seeing the occurrence, ordered the other boats to be got ready, intending to send them up in chase of the audacious stranger, and they were in the water before the gig was alongside.
Lieutenant Worthy, on coming on deck, informed the captain that he had gone up the river for some distance without seeing the chase, when, just as he had at length caught sight of her topgallant-masts over a wooded point, a large boat had darted out from behind it; while several shots fired from the shore warned him of the danger of proceeding farther. Immediately putting the gig round, he pulled down the river, seeing that it would be madness to attempt attacking the larger boat with his small crew.
The daring way in which the large boat had attempted to capture the gig proved the character of the craft to which she belonged; as also that either her crew must consider themselves strong enough to resist a man-of-war, or possibly might suppose that we should not venture into the river.
In the meantime, the gig with the wounded man had been hoisted up. He still breathed, and was immediately carried below, and placed under the care of the surgeon; who, on examining his wound, expressed but slight hope that he would recover. On hearing this, the crew threatened the pirates with their vengeance, and were eager to go up the river and take them.
We now anxiously waited for the sea-breeze. The cable was hove short, the sails loosed; still, as we looked eastward, not a ripple disturbed the glass-like surface of the ocean.
"We've got the fellow in a trap, at all events," observed Mudge, "and fight he must, whether he likes it or not."
"I hope he will," I answered. "I should like to see a good fierce battle; and there will be little glory in taking the pirate, should she give in at once."
"You'll sing a different note when you find the shot come flying thickly about your ears, my boy," answered Mudge; "and as for the glory, there's not much to be gained by capturing a rascally pirate. For my part, I hope she'll knock under at once, and give us as little trouble as possible."
Hour after hour went by, but the breeze did not come; and I heard Lieutenant Worthy remark that it would afford time to the pirates, if they were so minded, to fortify themselves on shore, which would enable them to hold out much better against us, as we should have both the fort and the ship to contend against.
"That must not stop us," observed the captain; "we must take the ship first, and the fort afterwards."
At last a few cat's-paws were seen playing over the water. The dog-vanes blew out, and the breeze, fresh and pure from the ocean, began to blow. The anchor was quickly got up; and the ship, at first standing close-hauled to weather the point, glided on towards the main channel of the river. The bar, on which the water was unusually deep,—a few slight rollers only coming in over it,—was safely passed, when we began to stand up the stream. The shores on either hand were thickly covered with trees, forming impenetrable walls of foliage, and preventing us from seeing the country beyond, with the exception of some high hills which rose in the distance.
The wind being light, and the current running out, we made but slow progress; and before we got far up the river the wind again failed us, and we were compelled to come to an anchor. Had it not been for Mr Worthy's report, we should have supposed that the ship was not there, and should probably have stood out to sea again, in the hope of falling in with her elsewhere. As evening drew on, the hot land-breeze again blew down the river, which was here of considerable width.
"I shouldn't be surprised if the pirate were to try to give us the slip after all," observed Mudge. "We must keep a sharp look-out, so that we may stop her should she make the attempt. I only hope she will, as it will be more to our advantage to bring her to action under way, than to have to attack her at anchor, with springs on her cables, and protected by a fort which, if the fellows have any sense in their heads, they are sure to throw up."
It was still daylight, and Peter and I were walking the deck, for it was our watch; indeed, the midshipmen's berth not being the pleasantest place in the world in that climate, we were seldom in it, except at meal-times. I have not talked much about the heat, but the air, if not hotter, was more stifling in that river than we had felt it since we reached the coast. I was looking towards the nearest shore, off which we had brought up at the distance of scarcely a cable-length, when I saw a figure moving amid the trees. I pointed him out to Mudge. Presently, as he reached the bank, we saw that he was a black man, without a particle of clothing on. Putting his hand to his mouth, he hailed, and then waved vehemently, as if to attract our attention. Mudge sent me to tell Mr Worthy; who at once ordered a boat to be lowered, and directed Mudge to pull in to the shore, to ascertain what he wanted. The black, however, turning his head over his shoulder, either saw or heard the approach of some one he wished to avoid, and plunging into the river, began to swim towards the ship. Mudge and I had jumped into the boat, and as we were approaching the shore to pick up the black I saw a dark fin rise just ahead of us. I told Mudge.
"That's a brute of a shark!" he exclaimed, "and a big fellow too, and the chances are he has poor Blackie for his supper."
"Not if our voices can drive the monster away," I answered, horrified at the thought of witnessing the destruction of a fellow-creature. "Shout! shout, all hands!"
Mudge and I raised our voices, joined by the crew, who gave way with redoubled vigour. The black, who just then saw the shark coming, began to splash and kick, and to shout pretty lustily. This was not the only peril to which he was exposed, for at the same moment several persons appeared among the trees, with muskets in their hands, and began to fire at him. Happily, one of the bullets aimed at him or at us struck the savage shark, just as it was about to make a dash at him; and, either from the wound it had received, or frightened by our shouts, it suddenly turned round, with a whisk of its tail, and darted away from Blackie.
We immediately dashed on, in spite of the bullets. The black was close alongside, when I saw the monster's huge form gliding like lightning beneath the surface; his head rising just as, with a violent jerk, we drew the poor fellow into the boat. The disappointed brute made a grab at one of the oars in revenge, though he got nothing but a broken tooth for his pains.
Without stopping to ask questions, Mudge put the boat round, and pulled away for the ship, fortunately not one of us being hit, while the enemy in the bush quickly vanished. As soon as we were out of the line of fire, one of the ship's guns, loaded with grape, was let fly at the spot from which the shots had come, and greatly contributed to the rapid retreat of Blackie's pursuers, whoever they were—at all events, of those of them who escaped being hit; but whether any were so, we could not tell. As soon as the boat got alongside, the black sprang on board with considerable activity, showing that he was none the worse for his run and subsequent swim. There he stood, naked as he was born; when an old quartermaster, a wag in his way, brought him a pair of duck trousers, evidently considering that he was not fit, as he then stood, to appear on the quarter-deck of a British man-of-war. Blackie put them on with a grin, shook the water out of his woolly pate, and then, with an air of perfect self-possession, walked aft to where the commander and several of the other officers were standing.
"Me Dicky Popo, please, sar," he said, giving a haul at his hair; "me loyal British subject—once serve His Majesty—but de nigger slave-catchers find me ashore, carry me off, and sell me to still bigger rascals. Dey ship me aboard wid oder slaves; and den a bigger rascal still take de whole of us on board de Sea-Hawk dere. I seed dat somefing was wrong when dey run up de river, and den I find out dat an English ship chase dem, and come to an anchor inside de bar; den I tink if I run away and get aboard English ship, I know I safe under dat flag."
As he spoke he pointed to the ensign blowing out from the flagstaff astern. Finding that Dicky Popo, as the black called himself, understood English pretty well, the commander questioned him further, and learned many more particulars about the ship we had just chased. She was the Sea-Hawk, belonging to Havana, fully as large as the Heroine, with as numerous a crew, and carrying two more guns than we did; so that, if well fought, she would prove a formidable antagonist. She had already captured a vessel which had, Dicky Popo said, about a hundred and fifty slaves on board, and was waylaying another, when we somewhat put out her arrangements, and obliged her to run up the very river in which the schooner she had intended to capture was lying. The pirate, not telling the captain of the schooner of his intentions, had persuaded him to assist in defending his vessel in case they should be attacked. For this purpose they had both landed some of their men and guns; and he had also sent on shore the strongest among the slaves, to assist in throwing up fortifications. Dicky Popo, hearing that the corvette had entered the river, took the opportunity, while so engaged, of slipping off, in the hope of getting on board; resolved, should he regain his liberty, to give us information of the preparations made for our reception.
I liked the expression of Dick's countenance, and was certain from the first that he was an honest fellow. He had been kindly treated on board a man-of-war in which he had served—having been rescued from slavery by her; and he was truly grateful to the English, and anxious practically to show his gratitude. I do not believe the person who talks of his grateful heart, when he takes no pains to exhibit it.
The captain was in no way inclined to change his purpose on hearing of the preparations made by the slavers for their defence. "I know that I can trust to our stout fellows, who will bravely do their duty; while our rascally enemies are fighting with halters round their necks," he observed to Mr Worthy.
"No doubt about that, sir," was the answer; "and I hope that it will not take us long to capture the pirate, in spite of the battery on shore, and the assistance the slave-schooner may give her."
Soon after Dicky Popo had made his appearance on deck, night came on. Notwithstanding the preparations the pirates had been making for their defence, the commander expressed his opinion that they might try to slip by us and get out to sea during the darkness, rather than wait our attack in the river. A sharp look-out was therefore kept, the anchor was hove short, and the watch below lay down on deck, so as to be ready to make sail at a moment's notice. A boat was also sent some way ahead to row guard, and bring us early information should either of the vessels be seen coming down. We knew, of course, that the pirates were aware of our exact position, but they could not tell that a boat was also watching for them.
The greater part of the night passed by quietly. The middle watch had nearly come to an end when the boat's oars were heard, and she shortly after dashed up alongside. "The ship is coming down, and will be abreast of us in a few minutes," said the officer in command. "She was shortening sail when we caught sight of her, and she hopes to escape being seen by dropping past us under bare poles."
On hearing this, the captain gave the order to make sail; and slipping our cable with a buoy to it, so that we might easily pick it up, we stood towards the centre of the river. In another minute we caught sight of the tall masts of the pirate, gliding down with the current, not many cable-lengths off. It was impossible for her to return; and should she bring up, we might sail round her and fire at her at our leisure. On discovering us (which she must have done some time before, as we, being under sail, must have been seen before we could make her out), she had begun to set her canvas. That availed her but little, however, as we now had her within range of our guns; which, the captain giving the order, began firing away as rapidly as they could be run in and loaded. She immediately fired in return from her foremost guns, the only ones which for some minutes could be brought to bear on us, as we were, it will be understood, standing across the river directly ahead of her. Her sails being let fall, she soon got abreast of us; when we went about, and passing directly under her stern, so closely that I thought we were going to run her aboard, fired the whole of our broadside into her; we during the operation having received only two or three shots, which did no material damage. Shrieks and cries arose from her deck, proving the fearful havoc produced by our raking fire; while several halyards and braces having been shot away on board her, and only part of her canvas having been set, we again kept away, speedily got up alongside her, and poured in another well-directed broadside. She returned a feeble fire; many of her crew at the guns having been, we had thus good reason to suppose, killed or disabled by our shot. We, having all our canvas set, were running ahead of her, the captain intending to luff across her bows, and to pour in another raking fire, when we heard a voice from her forecastle shouting, in broken English, "We give in—we haul down flag—don't fire, don't fire!"
"Let go your anchor, then, and bring up, or I'll not trust you," shouted the captain.
The sound of voices in loud altercation now reached us, some apparently crying out one thing, and some another, in Spanish; while we were steering so as to keep on the weather bow of the pirate.
"Stand by,—brace up the yards," cried the captain in a loud voice, so that the Spaniards might hear him. "Do you yield, or I fire?" he shouted.
"Yes, yes," answered a voice.
Immediately the sheets were let fly, and the splash of the anchor and the sound of the cable running out reached our ears above the hubbub still going forward on deck, when the ship slowly swung round to the current. We immediately hauled our wind, and having good way, went about and shot up abreast of our opponent, whom we thus had completely in our power.
As soon as we had furled sails, two boats were lowered; Mr Worthy going in command of one, and Peter Mudge of the other, the crews being well-armed. As I was the midshipman of the lieutenant's boat, I accompanied him.
No opposition was offered, though no assistance was given, to us, as we got alongside. We quickly, however, scrambled up on deck, which, by the light of several lanterns carried by the men, presented an appearance such as I had never before pictured to myself. The first step I made, my foot slipped and I nearly fell. On the light falling on the spot, I found that I was literally standing in blood. Twenty or more human forms lay stretched out motionless, while others were gathered round the masts or leaning against the guns, endeavouring to bind up their wounds. One group stood aft in sullen silence awaiting our coming, while the remainder of the crew were collected forward. By their dress we saw that most of those aft were officers.
"Where is the captain of this ship?" asked Lieutenant Worthy.
One of them pointed to a body which lay between two of the guns, with part of the chest and one of the arms carried away.
"Poor wretch!" observed the lieutenant. "He will not then have to answer to us for his misdeeds. And are you the officer in command?"
The man to whom he spoke bowed his head, and, advancing, presented his sword.
"Take his weapon," said the lieutenant, turning to one of the men; "and disarm all the rest. I shall not receive the sword of a pirate, as if he were a naval officer."
The whole of the party were quickly disarmed, and by the lieutenant's orders our men then lashed their arms behind them. Peter Mudge with his boat's crew had, in the meantime, made their way along the slippery deck forward, when he treated the men collected there in the same fashion. Mr Worthy then hailed the corvette, and begged that the surgeons might be sent on board to attend to the wounded; and those who appeared to be officers were lowered into the boat which brought them, to be conveyed to the ship for safe keeping.
While the surgeons were hurriedly binding up the limbs of the wounded men, we were engaged in collecting the dead bodies, that they might be hove overboard. On counting them, we found that five-and-twenty had been killed outright; and one by one, after the surgeon had examined them, they were thrown into the water through the ports.
"Here's another fellow, sir, who seemed just now as dead as a door-nail; but as I was dragging him along the deck he began to sing out, and to swear by all the saints that he was alive and kicking; and, faith, that same he was, for I had a hard matter to keep hold of his legs. He's quiet enough now, though; and for the life of me I can't tell whether he was after speaking the truth or not."
This address was made by Paddy Doyle, an Irish top-man, to the surgeon who was examining the bodies before they were hove overboard. The surgeon, thus appealed to, went to the man. "He seems to be unhurt, and is still breathing," he remarked. "By his dress he appears to be an officer. Throw some water in his face; and keep a watch over him, Doyle, when he comes to, as I have no doubt that he soon will. I must look after the other wretches."
The dead having been disposed of, and the unwounded prisoners placed under a guard, the wounded were carried into the large and handsome cabin—which, however, could not afford accommodation for all of them; the rest were therefore placed, with such spare bedding as could be found, on the upper slave-deck.
By the time these arrangements were made, it was nearly daylight. A prize crew of twenty men was left on board the Sea-Hawk, with the assistant-surgeon to look after the wounded, the second lieutenant coming on board to take command of them. I was thankful to be ordered to return to the corvette, for I was heartily sick of the scene I had witnessed.
Just as I was going over the side, I heard Paddy Doyle sing out,—"Arrah! my dead man's come to life again! Bear a hand, and help me to haul him in;" and looking back, I saw that the Irishman's prisoner had jumped up, and was endeavouring to spring through a port—having watched the moment that Paddy's back was turned on him. Paddy had seized one of his legs, and was tugging away with might and main; while the Spaniard, with his other foot on the port-sill, had nearly effected his purpose, notwithstanding the Irishman's desperate efforts to prevent his escape. "Arrah! now he's done it!" exclaimed Doyle, holding up the Spaniard's shoe and a piece of his trousers which had come away in his hand.
The man, who was evidently a good swimmer, and had been trusting to this for escape, was striking out at a rapid rate for the shore.
"Give way after him!" cried Lieutenant Worthy to Mudge, who was in the boat on the opposite side to that from which the pirate had escaped.
The boat shoved off, but had to pull ahead of the ship. It was not till then that Mudge could see the swimmer, who had already made considerable progress towards the shore. I jumped into the rigging to watch him. Should he once land, and get in among the thick trees, he might effect his purpose. Possibly he expected to find friends to assist him.
He was still some way ahead of the boat, when I caught a momentary glimpse of the dark fin of a shark. It disappeared, and the next instant a piercing shriek rent the air; the pirate threw up his arms, and sank beneath the surface! Then the boat pulled round and returned to the ship.
Just as I got on board the corvette, a loud sound of tom-toms and horns was heard from the upper part of the river, and presently a fleet of large canoes appeared paddling rapidly towards us. It seemed scarcely possible that they should venture to attack an English man-of-war; and yet, from the gestures of their crews, and the way they came on, such appeared to be their intention. Possibly they had heard the firing, and, taught to believe the Sea-Hawk the most powerful ship afloat, supposed that she had gained the victory. On discovering, however, that she was anchored astern of us, they ceased paddling; then after a short interval regaining courage, they again came on, shrieking and shouting and beating their tom-toms louder than ever, to intimidate us before they attempted to board.
"Fire a shot over their heads," said the commander. "It will show the ignorant savages that we are not to be trifled with."
Scarcely had the gun been discharged, when the canoes were seen paddling away as fast as their black crews could urge them on, each endeavouring as soon as possible to get out of the range of our shot; and in a little time they had disappeared behind the point which had before concealed them from us.
We had still another task to perform—the capture or destruction of the slave-schooner of which Dicky Popo had told us. As the navigation of the river was intricate and dangerous above where we lay, the commander, unwilling to risk the safety of the ship, resolved to send up the boats, notwithstanding the assistance which the canoes might be expected to afford her. Three were accordingly sent away under the command of Mr Worthy, with whom I went; the pinnace having a six-pounder in the bows, and the others being armed with swivels. We soon came in sight of the canoes, with the schooner at anchor some distance beyond them. A shot from our six-pounder quickly sent them paddling away up the stream. Popo, who had been taken in our boat to point out where the battery had been thrown up, directly afterwards exclaimed,—"Dere!—dere it is!"
Scarcely had he spoken, when a shot came whizzing over our heads. At our lieutenant's orders, the boats' heads were immediately turned towards the battery, when, our gun being fired at it, we rapidly pulled on. We quickly reached the bank; and the lieutenant, whose example I imitated, leaped on shore, calling to the small-arm men to follow him. In a few seconds we were scrambling into the battery, the Spaniards and blacks who had just before been in it making their escape helter-skelter into the thick wood behind it. A few of the white men—who, to do them credit, were the last to run—were shot or cut down, but the greater number made their escape,—our lieutenant wisely not allowing us to follow. Five guns found in the battery were spiked, upon which we immediately re-embarked and pulled away towards the schooner.
We had not got many fathoms from the shore, however, when a thick smoke was seen issuing from her hatches, followed by flames which burst out from every part. We pulled on, in the hope of being able to extinguish them; for she appeared to be a remarkably fine vessel, and would have proved a prize worth capture. Before we got up to her, however, the lieutenant ordered the men to back their oars. And not too soon. The boats had still some way on them, when up went the masts and deck of the schooner, numerous fragments falling close around us. The flames raged furiously for a few minutes longer, after which the hull of the lightly-built vessel, shattered by the explosion, sank beneath the surface. What had become of the unfortunate slaves we could not tell; but it was to be hoped, for the sake of humanity, that all had been landed. One thing was very certain,—that we should be unable to capture any of them should we land, as they would all have been driven up into the interior. We therefore pulled back to the ship; and the breeze blowing strongly down the river, she and our prize were got under way, and we stood towards its mouth.
The water on the bar being tolerably smooth, we got out without difficulty, and shortly afterwards sighted a sail beating up towards the land. She was made out to be a frigate, and proved to be that of the commodore on the station, who had also heard of the pirate, and was come to look for her. He complimented our commander on his conduct in the affair, and, greatly to our satisfaction, relieved us of our prisoners, as also of the charge of our prize, directing us to proceed on our voyage to the westward.
Dicky Popo, who had been entered on board, remained with us, and became a great favourite both with officers and men.
It was not till long afterwards that I heard of the fate of the Sea-Hawk and the survivors of her piratical crew.
ROUNDING CAPE HORN—A GALE—PUT INTO A PORT IN PATAGONIA—VISIT A WHALER—A ROMANTIC HISTORY—THE LOST CHILD—A YOUNG LADY—A SNUG HARBOUR—CLIMB A MOUNTAIN—A NARROW ESCAPE—VALPARAISO—THE CORAL ISLAND—COMMUNICATE WITH THE NATIVES—AN ADDITION TO OUR CREW—DICKY POPO LOST OVERBOARD—THE SANDWICH ISLANDS—MY SHIPMATES—SURVEY AN ISLAND—RECOVER POPO, AND FIND A WHITE BOY—HOW POPO WAS SAVED—GAIN INFORMATION ABOUT HARRY, THE WHITE BOY.
Little did I think, scarcely six months before, when seated at a desk in my father's counting-house, that I should ever see Cape Horn; yet there it rose on our starboard beam, dark, solitary, and majestic, high above the ocean, which rolled in vast undulations at its base.
Onward we glided, with the ship's head to the westward and the wind aft, under all sail; now rising to the summit of a glass-like billow, now sinking deep down into the valley to climb up the watery steep on the opposite side. We had touched at Rio, to obtain a supply of wood and water and fresh provisions; but I need not give a description of that magnificent harbour, as nothing very particular occurred there.
"That's a fine sight!" I exclaimed, as I watched the mighty headland, which gradually faded from view over our starboard quarter.
"You'll see a good many other fine sights," observed Peter Mudge, who was somewhat matter-of-fact. "For my part, I have been glad to see the last of it each time I have come round this way, and to get safe into the Pacific; for twice I have been driven back, and have been kept knocking about among the icebergs, with the wind sharp enough to cut our noses off, for six blessed weeks or more. I only hope that is not to be our lot this time."
"I hope not," I answered. "I was expecting to be in smooth water, with a sunny sky overhead, before many days are over."
"So we may, youngster; then we'll hope for the best," said Mudge. "Still, when a fellow has met with as many ups and downs as I have, he learns not to fancy himself safe in harbour till he has got there."
This time, however, Mudge, and we his shipmates, were not doomed to disappointment, and were, ere long, floating on the waters of the Pacific. We ran to the northward with a flowing sheet, keeping much closer in with the coast than, I believe, is usual, till we reached the 46th degree of south latitude. It then fell a dead calm. We had just before caught sight of a sail away to the eastward, beyond which, some forty or fifty miles off, rose the lofty peaks of the Cordilleras, covered with eternal snows; or I should say, perhaps, the southern end of that mighty chain which rises abruptly from the Isthmus of Panama, and extends the whole length of the continent.
For the entire day we lay rolling our masts from side to side, till it almost seemed as if they would be shaken out of the ship. The commander wished to speak the stranger, on the chance of her being lately from England, and able to give us fresher intelligence than we possessed. He had ordered a boat to be got ready to be sent away, when, on looking at the barometer, he found that it was falling, while a bank of clouds was seen to be rising to the north-west.
"Hold fast with the boat," he said; "before she can return, we may have a gale down upon us."
We had not long to wait for it; and in half an hour or so we were dashing through the water under close-reefed topsails, heeling over with the wind from the north-west till the water came rushing in through the lee ports. The master, who had been on the coast before, recommended that, in order not to lose ground, we should run for the Gulf of Penas; where we could find shelter under the lee of an island, or get into one of the snug ports of the mainland. The ship's head was accordingly kept to the eastward. The sail we had seen was also standing in the same direction, probably with the same object in view. We guessed, therefore, that she was also bound to the northward, and wished to avoid being driven back. Mudge expressed his satisfaction that we had not stood away on the other tack.
"If we had, we should have run a chance of being blown back again round the Cape into the Atlantic," he observed. "Not every captain, however, would venture to stand in for the land as we are doing; we must keep our eyes open and the lead going, or we may chance to run the ship on shore. But as yonder vessel probably knows her way, we shall have her as a guide, and may hope to find shelter without difficulty."
We quickly overhauled the stranger, which proved to be a barque; and from her appearance, as we caught sight of her hull, there was no doubt that she was a South Sea whaler, and that, consequently, she was likely to be well acquainted with the coast. As we stood on, we caught sight of an extensive chain of islands, stretching out from the mainland on our larboard bow. Gradually they appeared more and more abeam, while ahead rose up several lofty and rugged peaks. The stranger still kept the lead; and following her, we at length found ourselves in an extensive bay, completely sheltered from the gale blowing without. Being now in perfectly smooth water, and the commander considering it not prudent to run farther in, we furled sails, and brought up some distance ahead of the whaler, which had just before come to an anchor.
The spot where we found ourselves was about the wildest I had ever seen: dark rocks rose out of the sea fringing the shore, and rugged mountains towered up to the sky in all directions; while not a sign of human life was visible. As we swept the coast with our glasses, we discovered, almost abreast of the ship, a deep indentation which looked like the mouth of a gulf or estuary. This we naturally felt anxious to explore, and we hoped to have leave to do so the next day.
Soon after we had furled sails, the commander directed Peter Mudge to take the jolly-boat and board the whaler, with a message to the master requesting any newspapers of a late date which he might possess. "Yes, you may go, Rayner," he said to me. "And, Mr Mudge, take him a leg of mutton my steward will put into the boat, and some oranges we brought from Rio." We had killed a sheep the previous day.
We were soon on board the whaler. The master, a middle-aged, grave-looking man, in a long-tailed coat and broad-brimmed hat, not much like a sailor in outward appearance, received us very civilly, and was grateful for the present, as his wife, he said, was in delicate health, and to her it would be especially welcome. He invited us into the cabin where she was seated. She was a nice, pleasant-looking woman, though it struck me that her countenance bore a peculiarly melancholy expression. He at once handed us a bundle of English papers, published long after we had left home, and which were very welcome.
"You'll stop and take supper with us, gentlemen. I hope," he said; "it will be on the table immediately. I don't know, however, that I can offer you better fare than you'll get on board your own ship."
Mudge assured him that he did not care about that, and was happy to accept his invitation.
While we remained in the cabin, our men were entertained by the crew.
We had just taken our seats, when the door of a side cabin opened, and a young lady stepped out, looking more like a fairy, or an angel, or some celestial being, than a mortal damsel. So I thought at the time. Mudge and I rose and bowed; she returned our salutation with a smile and a slight bend of her neck. The master did not introduce us, nor did he say anything to let us know who she was. I, of course, thought that she was the captain's daughter; but she did not address Mrs Hudson as mother, and from some remarks she made I doubted whether such was the case. She at once entered into conversation without the slightest bashfulness; and it struck me that she was exerting herself, not so much to entertain us, as to keep up Mrs Hudson's spirits.
The meal did not occupy much time, so that we had but little opportunity of talking. I thought the young lady's voice very sweet and melodious; indeed, she seemed to me the most perfect being I had ever seen. But then, it must be remembered, I was but a midshipman, and my experience was not very extensive; and the best part of a year had passed since we left England.
At last, however, Mudge, pulling out his watch, observed that it was time to be on board again; so getting up, he wished Mrs Hudson and the young lady good-bye in his hearty way, and I was compelled to follow his example. Tears came into Mrs Hudson's eyes as she took me by the hand and murmured, "May Heaven preserve you from the dangers of the sea!" The young lady smiled very sweetly, and I could not help wishing that I might have the opportunity of paying another visit to the Hopewell.
The first mate had accompanied me on deck, where I found the master talking to Mudge. I therefore went a little way along the deck to summon our boat's crew, who were with the men forward.
"Mrs Hudson appears to be very melancholy," I observed to my companion.
"She has reason to be so, poor lady," said the mate. "She has never got over the loss of her only child, in these seas, some years ago. It was a sad affair, for he was a fine brave little chap, the pet of all hands. The master's, and my boat, and the second mate's, had gone off in chase of whales, when another fish was seen spouting in an opposite direction. The third mate's boat was lowered, when the little fellow, whose mother was ill below, asked to be taken. The third mate, instead of refusing, thoughtlessly consented to let him go; and before the boatswain or any one else who had sense in his head saw what he was doing, he had carried him down into the boat; no one on deck, indeed, knew he had gone. Away pulled the boat, when the look-out at the mast-head shouted that one of our boats had struck a fish, and the boatswain accordingly made sail towards her. The whale, however, darted away, towing the boats for a league or more farther off, and we then had a hard matter to kill it. It had long been dark before we got alongside, by which time the weather had changed, and the wind was blowing very strong, while a nasty sea had got up.
"I shall never forget the state poor Mrs Hudson was in when she could not discover what had become of her child; while her husband was almost as bad. At last one of the boys, who had before been afraid to speak, acknowledged that he saw little Harry in the arms of the third mate just before the boat shoved off, but that he, being called below at that moment, could not tell what had become of the child. We at once cut adrift the fish we had secured, and made sail in the direction the boat was supposed to have gone, placing lanterns in the rigging and firing guns to show our whereabouts. The weather, however, had been growing worse and worse, and with the heavy sea there was running, the boat herself, we knew, would be in no slight peril.
"All night long we continued cruising over the ground; but not a sign of the boat could we discover. When morning came, we continued our search, with the same want of success. Towards noon the weather again moderated; but though fish were seen spouting, the master would not send the boats after them; and unwilling as we were to lose them, none of us had the heart to press him to do so.
"For the best part of a week we stood backwards and forwards in all directions looking for the boat; till at last the men began to grumble, and I felt it my duty to urge the master to carry out the object of the voyage. Almost broken-hearted, he consented to do so. Slowly his poor wife recovered; and from that day to this they have never found any trace of their lost child. Probably the third mate had got hold of a fish; and he having but little experience, his boat must have been knocked to pieces, or else dragged down by the line becoming foul before it could be cut."
"A very sad history," I remarked; "and I am not surprised at poor Mrs Hudson's melancholy. But who is the young lady?" I asked.
"That is more than I can tell you," he answered. "She came on board the evening before we sailed, but not one of us had ever heard of her till then, and neither the master nor Mrs Hudson thought fit to enlighten us on the subject; while she herself, though ready enough to talk to me at the dinner-table, seldom says anything to any of us on deck."
"How very romantic!" I could not help exclaiming, more interested than ever in the young lady.
Wishing Captain Hudson good-bye, we shoved off, and as we pulled away we saw the young lady standing on the poop watching us. I pulled off my cap, and she waved her handkerchief in return.
The account we gave of her and the master's wife excited much interest on board.
The next morning, as the gale continued, a party was made up to visit the shore. It consisted of the second lieutenant and master, Peter Mudge, Tommy Peck, and I. We pulled in for the opening we had seen, and which I found to be much farther off than I had supposed—the height of the rocks at the entrance, which rose sheer out of the water, making the land appear quite close to us. At length we entered a narrow passage with high rocks on both sides for some distance, completely bare of trees; indeed, there was not a spot in which the roots could have fixed themselves. Gradually, however, the passage opened out, and we found ourselves in a large basin, the shore of which was covered with the richest vegetation, extending far up the sides of the mountains rising around us. Dark rocks peeped out from amid the trees which grew on the mountain-sides till lost to view, while above them were seen towering peaks covered with glittering snow. The master sounded as we went in, and found the depth of water sufficient for the largest ship. Here she might remain at anchor or moored to the trees, while the fiercest gale was blowing outside, as securely as in an artificial dock.
We pulled round one side of the basin, but could find no opening by which, should we step on shore, we could make our way up the mountain. We did, indeed, land at two or three places, but it was impossible to get beyond a few yards from the water's edge. Probably, no human being had ever before set foot in that wooded region. Not even the chirp of a bird was heard, nor was any sign of life visible—silence and solitude reigned around. The whole surface of the ground was one mass of rotten timber, covered with various descriptions of moss and ferns. The trunks of trees which had fallen either from age and decay, or from being blown down by the wind, lay about in all directions; another generation having grown up to share the same fate, and to be succeeded by others still proudly rearing their heads green and flourishing.
"Come, it won't do to be balked!" exclaimed the master. "We'll make our way somehow or other through the forest;" and the boat was run with her bow against the yielding bank. "You'll follow me!" As he said this he sprang on shore, or rather on to the trunk of a tree. "All right—come along," he exclaimed; "do as I do." The next instant, however, over he went on his nose, and disappeared.
We followed, and found his legs sticking up, while his head and shoulders were three or four feet deep in damp wood and moss. We managed to haul him out, covered from head to foot with wet moss; his blue suit turned into one of green, fitted for the woodland region in which he was so anxious to roam. Undaunted, however, he made his way onwards, now climbing over a somewhat firm trunk; only, however, the next instant to sink up to his middle in the moss and decayed wood. Tommy followed, but was very nearly smothered, and not without difficulty we hauled him out; then the master, finding himself alone, came back grumbling at our cowardice, as he called it.
We now all embarked, and pulled along the shore in the hope of finding a more practicable way up the mountain. As we got to the head of the basin, we discovered a stream flowing into it; up this we pulled for some distance,—the bank on either side being covered with vegetation,— till we reached a rocky ledge on one side, over which the water had apparently at one time flowed. A low waterfall a slight distance ahead showed that further progress was impracticable. We accordingly landed on the ledge, and once more attempted to make our way up the mountain. We had much the same sort of ground to go over as that on which the master had made his first essay; but as the belt of forest which separated us from the steep side of the mountain was much narrower than in the former place, we persevered, and soon found that we were ascending.
Up and up we went, helping ourselves along by the roots and branches of the trees, the more stunted growth of which at length showed the height we had reached. We now emerged from the forest, when the ground above us appeared covered with spongy moss, the walking over which we found comparatively easy, saturated though it was with snow-water, which fell in every direction in tiny cascades over the side of the mountain. Even the grass and moss were at length left behind, and we found ourselves treading on half-melted snow, which, as we ascended, became more crisp and solid—the bright glare, as the sun fell on it, proving very trying to our eyes after the gloom of the forest. Still, on we went for some distance, the ground being almost level; then we ascended, and, passing over the ridge, descended once more into a shallow valley, on the other side of which the mountain rose at a moderate inclination, which, it appeared to us, we could mount without any impediment till we reached the summit. Thence we expected to obtain a magnificent prospect over the sea on one side, and the country towards the interior on the other.
We did get up it somehow or other, panting and exhausted, with our heads aching and our eyes dizzy, to encounter a fierce snow-storm which shut out all objects from view. To remain here longer might prove our destruction; we soon, therefore, began our descent. But the traces of our upward path were obliterated, and after descending a short distance we discovered that we had lost our way. I had gone some little distance ahead of the rest of the party, when I saw before me a gentle slope of snow, by sliding down which I fancied that I should quickly arrive at the bottom; so, calling to my companions, I began slipping gently downwards.
"It's very pleasant and easy," I shouted out—"come along;" and on I went.
I had gone some hundred yards, when, the atmosphere clearing, I saw rising before me a perpendicular cliff, which I knew was the opposite side of a deep chasm. Unless I could stop myself, I should be dashed to pieces. I thereupon dug my arms and legs into the snow; but still on I went. I now heard a shout, and looking up I saw Tommy laughing merrily as he descended, totally unaware of the fearful peril he was in. I cried out to him to stop himself if he could; but he did not understand what I said. On I went; not a tree nor a rock appeared to which I could cling. The precipice could not have been fifty yards before me, when, making another desperate effort, I got my feet through the snow and fixed against a rock in the ground. Still Tommy came on, with the rest of the party some way above him. Just as he shot by me, I seized him by the leg and brought him up. "Why did you do that?" he cried out, even then not knowing how close he was to the edge of the precipice. When he saw it, he joined his shouts with mine; and then pointing to the left, where I observed that the inclination was less steep, we directed the party towards it. Scrambling along on our knees and hands, we joined them; and now, moving with the greatest care, fearing every instant to be sent sliding down to our right, we at length reached a ledge by which we made our way into the valley.
The danger was now past, but we had to undergo immense fatigue before we got back to the boat.
We had intended calling on board the whaler, to pay another visit to Captain Hudson, but the lateness of the hour compelled our return to the ship. I was much disappointed, as I hoped to see the young lady by whose appearance I had been so much struck the previous day; but I consoled myself with the expectation of being able to go on board the next morning.
During the night, however, the gale completely ceased; and when I came on deck I saw the whaler under all sail standing out of the harbour, with the wind off the land. We followed, but did not again get near enough to communicate with her. We stood some distance off the coast, and then continued our course to the northward.
Very frequently, afterwards, did the image of that fair young girl recur to my memory, though she did not appear to have made so much impression on Peter Mudge; but he sometimes spoke of the captain's wife, and seemed to sympathise with her on the loss of her child, though it had happened so long ago.
The peaks of the Cordilleras again came in sight, at a distance of a hundred and fifty miles, long before the shore at the base of the mighty range was visible—one of them, Aconcagua, rising to an elevation of upwards of 23,000 feet above the ocean. We touched at Valparaiso; which might, we agreed, possibly be a paradise for fleas, but certainly not for human beings of good taste. The climate is fine,—of that I have no doubt,—but the surrounding country is sterile and monotonous, the vegetation just then on the hills consisting of half-withered cacti, though in the valleys and the plains to the left of the town we saw groves of fruit trees and flowering shrubs. I can best describe the place by saying that it is divided by two deep ravines into three hills, sprinkled over with whitewashed houses; the hills are called fore-top, main-top, and mizen-top.
Sailing from thence, during my watch one morning I heard a cry of "Land ahead!" I looked out, but nothing like land could I see.
"We shall get sight of it before long from the deck," observed Mudge, "if we keep our eyes open."
The ship, as she glided onward, rose and sank with the swell of the ocean; and presently, as she rose, I caught sight of what appeared to be a fleet of vessels at anchor. The next instant they had disappeared; but as she rose on the next swell I again caught sight of the seeming masts, which I gradually discovered to be tall cocoa-nut palms or pandanus trees. On approaching nearer, the whole white beach was distinctly seen; and above it a narrow belt of land of a light clay colour, surrounding a perfectly smooth lagoon of a beautiful blue tint; while against the outer belt the surf was breaking with terrific force. The highest part of the land appeared to be about ten or twelve feet above the level of the sea; and we calculated that the belt between the sea and the lagoon was about seven hundred feet wide, the soil being composed of coral debris and vegetable matter. Besides the palm-trees, there were a few shrubs not more than fourteen or fifteen feet in height. The whole island was about eight miles long, and from one and a half to two miles wide.
We sounded as we approached, but could obtain no bottom; and it was not till we got quite close that the lead gave us ninety fathoms, and farther on seventy, thus proving that the land was the top of a submerged mountain. Such, indeed, are all the islands of this group. Once upon a time in the world's history, a mountainous region existed on the spot over which we were sailing, which gradually sank till the ocean flowed over all the highest portions. The coral insects finding it a convenient situation on which to build, the temperature of the water suiting their constitution, commenced operations, and formed an encircling reef round the shore. These creatures can only live at a certain depth beneath the surface; thus, as the land continued to sink, the first builders died, while others continued to work above their habitations. Still the land sank, and the coral insects worked on, building higher and higher till the summit of the mountain was not only covered, but was many fathoms deep below the surface. This, however, did not prevent the persevering creatures from continuing their operations; till at length a time came when the subsidence of the land ceased. The breakers then washed up portions of the coral on to the summit of the reef, which by degrees crumbled away from the action of the atmosphere. Sea-birds made it their home, and deposited the seeds of various plants, while the ocean washed up other seeds still containing germinating powers. Thus vegetation commenced; and the trees and shrubs decaying, more vegetable mould was formed to support the existence of a further succession of trees and shrubs.
I give this information here, though I did not obtain it till long afterwards; indeed, I believe that no one at the time understood how the island was formed. I asked Mudge, who told me that it was placed there by Nature, as other parts of the earth had been formed, to give a pleasing variety to the face of the globe.
"It will afford us anything but a pleasing variety, if we have to sail through a sea studded with such islands as these," I could not help observing; "for if we don't keep our eyes open, we shall be running on them."
"You may well say that, my boy," he answered. "And as they extend for the best part of two thousand miles across the Pacific, we shall be lucky if our keel escapes acquaintance with some of them, should the commander take it into his head to cruise through their midst."
The ship having reached the lee side of the island, a boat was lowered, and Mudge and I accompanied the first lieutenant to try and open a communication with the inhabitants,—carrying with us some trifles, such as beads, small looking-glasses, and other trinkets, furnished us at home to barter with the natives or to use as presents in order to gain their good-will. As we pulled in, a number of them appeared on the beach armed with long spears and clubs, which they brandished with menacing attitudes, as if they would prevent us from landing. We had taken Dicky Popo with us, under the belief that, seeing a person of a darker skin than ours among us, they might be inclined to trust us; not that it was supposed he could understand their language.
As they still continued waving us off, the lieutenant held up a string of beads and some other articles. Then, not wishing to risk the safety of the boat by running her on the coral beach,—on which the surf, beating heavily, might soon have stove in her bows,—we pulled in as close as we could venture, and he threw the articles on shore. The savages eagerly picked them up; but still they did not appear satisfied as to our friendly intentions, and continued waving us off, shouting, at the same time, at the top of their voices. As they did not throw their spears, however, or make any other hostile movements, we remained at a short distance from the beach, hoping that the presents we had given them would produce a more amiable state of mind. Still, though we did all we could to win their confidence, whenever we got a little nearer they again began gesticulating, showing that they had no intention to let us land if they could help it.
Besides the men on the beach, we saw a group of people at some distance, who seemed to be watching our proceedings with great interest, and apparently holding back one of their number who was making efforts to break away from them. In colour and costume, or rather in the want of it, he differed but little from the rest; and we therefore concluded that he was insane, or that from some other cause his companions objected to his coming near us. As the commander had given orders that we should on no account force a landing, our lieutenant, believing that we should be unable to accomplish our object, put the boat round; and we were pulling off, when the man we had seen escaped from those who held him, and, dodging round the others, sprang into the water, and with rapid strokes swam off towards us, in spite of several spears hurled at him. Mr Worthy instantly pulled back to take him in.
"Glad get among you," he exclaimed, greatly to our surprise, in tolerable English, as he climbed over the side.
"Why, my friend, who are you?" asked Mr Worthy.
"I Kanaka," he answered; by which we knew that he was a Sandwich Islander.
As we returned to the ship, he explained that he had belonged to a vessel caught in a gale off the island; when, having been washed overboard from the bowsprit, and no attempt being made to pick him up, he had remained afloat all night, and succeeded the next morning, in a way that only a Sandwich Islander could have accomplished, in reaching the island. Happily the inhabitants did not see him till he had recovered his strength. He then went boldly among them; and as he was able to make himself understood, he had, by the way he addressed them, gained their confidence, though he believed that they would otherwise immediately have put him to death. His knowledge being superior to theirs, he was looked upon with much respect; and as he had already taught them many things they did not before know, the people wished to retain him among them.
"Dey stupid savages," he observed with a look of contempt; though, except that he could speak a little English, we were not inclined to consider him much raised above them in the scale of civilisation.
The lieutenant then inquired the character of the vessel from which he had been washed overboard. The Kanaka, shaking his head and throwing an expression of disgust into his countenance, answered, "No good;" and on further examining him, Mr Worthy came to the conclusion that she was either a pirate, or a craft engaged in carrying off the inhabitants to work in the mines of Peru—the rumour having reached us at Valparaiso that some vessels had been fitted out for that purpose. He had for some time been serving on board a whaler, where he had learned English; and having deserted at a port in Peru, had joined this craft in the hope of getting back to his own island, whither he had understood she was bound.
His name, he told us, was Tamaku. He and Dicky Popo soon became great friends, and both made themselves very useful on board. It was singular that they should have joined us much in the same way. Tamaku was likely to prove of service in acting as interpreter with the natives of Polynesia; for the language of the Sandwich group differs but slightly from the dialects of the other brown-skinned races inhabiting the numerous archipelagoes which dot its surface. The Sandwich Islanders can thus generally make themselves understood wherever they go.
Tamaku being a merry, obliging fellow, became a favourite with the crew, and we hoped that we should be able to retain him on board even after our visit to the Sandwich Islands, to which we were now bound.
We were glad enough to get clear of the Low Archipelago, for it is a serious matter to be caught in a gale amid its countless coral reefs, many of which are not to be seen until the ship is close upon them; and even in fine weather the greatest vigilance is required to avoid them. We had a look-out at each fore-topsail-yardarm, at the fore-topmast-head, and often at the bowsprit end, as the submerged reefs can in calm weather be distinguished only by the darker colour of the water. Even when we were clear of these, we had still to keep a look-out for other islands in our course; as well as for the craft which Tamaku had described to us, or for her consorts, which the commander was very anxious to catch.
As we were soon afterwards running on with a flowing sheet during the night, the stars being obscured by clouds, and the wind pretty strong, "Land! land on the starboard bow!" was shouted from forward. "Land ahead!" was the next startling cry. What dangerous reef might run off it was not known. "Starboard the helm!" shouted the officer of the watch; "brace the yards sharp up!"
"All hands on deck!" was the next cry; for the ship was heeling over so much to the gale that it became necessary to shorten sail without delay. As it was, the risk of carrying away the yards, if not the masts, was very great. While the hands were hauling aft the sheets, a loud clap was heard. The main-tack had given way, and the clew of the sail was flapping furiously in the wind, threatening with death all within its reach.
At the instant it gave way a sharp cry reached my ears. Immediately afterwards a voice from the poop shouted, "Man overboard!" But, alas! whoever he was, no assistance could be rendered him. Destruction awaited the ship should she not weather the land ahead. One of my messmates who was on the poop—Tommy Peck by name—acting upon the impulse of the moment, cut the lanyard of the life-buoy, which fell into the seething ocean; though he either forgot to pull that which would have ignited the port-fire, or the port-fire itself was damaged, as no light was seen as it fell into the water.
Some minutes of anxious suspense followed, during which the ship was ploughing her way through the dark seas which, rolling onward, burst into masses of foam on the rocky shore to leeward.
At length the open ocean could be seen beyond the point which gradually appeared over our starboard quarter; but the commander dared not yet keep the ship away, not knowing how far the reef extending from it might reach. In the meantime the tack had been secured, and two reefs taken in the topsail. Even as it was, however, the ship, slashing through the foaming seas, could scarcely look up to the gale, and I every moment expected to see her go right over. The water was rushing through her ports, and rose half-way up the deck to the combings of the hatchway. With infinite relief, therefore, I heard the order given to port the helm and square the yards; and once more we flew on before the wind, leaving the dark land astern. It seemed as if there had come a sudden lull, so easily did she now speed on her way over the ocean.
All were eager to know who had been lost, and the muster-roll was called. One after another the men answered to their names, till that of Dicky Popo was shouted out. No Dicky answered, and it became certain that he was the unfortunate individual lost. Tamaku expressed his grief with a loud wail. "O Popo! Popo! why you go overboard?" he cried out. "You not swim like Kanaka, or you get to shore. But now I know you at de bottom of de sea."
It was sad, indeed, to think that the poor lad had gone overboard at a moment when it was utterly impossible to render him any assistance. Under other circumstances he might easily have been saved, as the sea, though rough, was not sufficiently so to prevent a boat being lowered. Now, however, we could not go back to look for him; indeed, as Tamaku said, he must long before this have perished.
We after this sighted the Marquesas, to which the French have laid claim, though they have made no attempt to colonise these beautiful and fertile islands.
The Sandwich Islands were at length reached, and we brought up off Honolulu, in the island of Oahu. We were more struck with the beauty of the scenery than with that of the female portion of the inhabitants; but as the islands have been so often described, I will not attempt to do so; merely remarking that they are eleven in number, some of them about a hundred miles in circumference. Hawaii, formerly known as Owhyhee, is very much the largest, being eighty-eight miles in length by sixty-eight in breadth; and it contains two lofty mountains, each upwards of thirteen thousand feet in height—one called Mauna Kea, and the other Mauna Loa, which latter is for ever sending forth its volcanic fires, while it casts its vast shadow far and wide over the ocean.
After leaving Honolulu, which in those days was a very different place to what it is now, we brought up in the Bay of Kealakeakua, celebrated as the place where Captain Cook lost his life. As we entered the bay we could see in the far distance the towering dome of Mauna Loa. The whole country round bore evidence of the volcanic nature of the soil; broken cliffs rose round the bay, on the north side of which a reef of rocks offers the most convenient landing-place. It was here that Captain Cook was killed, while endeavouring to reach his boat. A few yards from the water stands a cocoa-nut tree, at the foot of which he is said to have breathed his last. The Imogene carried away the top of the tree; and her captain had a copper plate fastened on to the stem, the lower part of which has been thickly tarred to preserve it. On the plate is a cross, with an inscription—"Near this spot fell Captain James Cook, the renowned circumnavigator, who discovered these islands, A.D. 1778."
Tamaku having been allowed to remain on shore during the time we were here, came off again of his own free will, and expressed his readiness to continue on board.
We again sailed to the southward. The commander had been directed to visit the archipelagoes on the western side of the Pacific, but he wished first to make a survey of the island on which we had so nearly run during the gale on our course northward.
I have, by-the-by, said very little about my messmates, except Mr Worthy, Peter Mudge (who acted as my Mentor, as he was likewise that of all the youngsters), and my chum Tommy Peck. There was another mate, who had lately passed,—Alfred Stanford, a very gentlemanly, pleasing young man. We had, besides, a surgeon, a master's assistant, the captain's clerk and the purser's clerk, who made up the complement in our berth. My chief friend among the men was Dick Tillard, an old quartermaster, to whom I could always go to get instruction in seamanship, with the certainty that he would do his best to enlighten me. He had been at sea all his life, and had scarcely ever spent a month on shore at a time. He was a philosopher, in his way; and his philosophy was of the best, for he had implicit confidence in God's overruling providence. If anything went wrong, his invariable remark was,—"That's our fault, not His who rules above; trust him, lads, trust him, and he will make all things right at last."
I have very little to say about our second lieutenant, or the master, or surgeon, or purser,—who, as far as I knew, were respectable men, not above the average in intellect, and got on very well together in the gunroom; so that our ship might have been looked upon as a happy one, as things go, though I confess that we cannot expect to find a paradise on board a man-of-war.
I must not omit to mention our boatswain, a person of no small importance on board ship. So, at all events, thought Mr Fletcher Yallop, as he desired to be called; and if we youngsters ever wanted him to do anything for us, we always thus addressed him—though, of course, the commander and officers called him simply Mr Yallop. If the men addressed him as Mr Yallop, he invariably exclaimed,—"Mr Fletcher Yallop is my name, remember, my lad; and I'll beg you always to denominate me by my proper appellation, or a rope's end and your back will scrape acquaintance with each other."
He explained his reasons to me in confidence one day. "You see, Mr Rayner, I expect before I die to come into a fortune, when I shall be, of course, Fletcher Yallop, Esquire. I can't make the men call me so now, because I am but a simple boatswain; but I like the sound; it keeps up my spirits. When I get out of sorts, I repeat to myself: 'Fletcher Yallop, Esquire, be a man; be worthy of your future position in society when you take your place among the nobility of the land, and perhaps write M.P. after your name,'—and in an instant I am myself again, and patiently bear the rubs and frowns to which even warrant-officers are subjected. In truth, though I wish you not to repeat it, Mr Rayner, I may become a baronet; and I always look with trembling interest at the Gazette, to see if a certain person, whose heir I am, has been raised to that dignity."
I ventured to ask the boatswain on what he grounded his hopes of fortune.
"That is a secret, Mr Rayner," he replied, "which I must not divulge, even to you; but you would not doubt my word, I am sure. That must be sufficient for the present; and I must request you not to make the matter a subject of conversation among your messmates. They would not enter into my feelings as you do."
I found, however, that Mr Yallop had been equally confidential to Tommy Peck, though he had not ventured to talk of his hopes either to Mudge or Stanford. Tom and I, on comparing notes, came to the conclusion that the boatswain was under a hallucination; though, as it was a very harmless one, and afforded him intense satisfaction without in any way interfering with his duty, we agreed that it was as well to let him enjoy it. He was, indeed, a first-rate seaman and an excellent boatswain, though he handled the rope's end pretty freely when any of the ship's boys or ordinary seamen neglected their duty. He was a broadly built man, with enormous black whiskers; and no one would have supposed that he possessed a single grain of romance in his composition. He had an eagle eye, and a sun-burned, weather-beaten countenance; but I believe he had as tender a heart as any man in the ship.
Nothing of importance occurred till we sighted the island against which we had so nearly run. Standing in with the lead going, we found good anchorage in a wide bay, protected by a high point of land on one side and a reef on the other. The captain wishing to survey the island, and the weather being fine, he ordered his gig to be manned, and, much to my satisfaction, told me to be ready to accompany him. We took a supply of provisions for the day, as we did not expect to be back till late in the evening.
While the first lieutenant and master were surveying the bay in which the ship lay, and the coast in its immediate neighbourhood, we pulled round to the opposite side of the island. We had as yet seen no natives, but as cocoa-nut trees were visible on shore, we concluded that some parts of it were inhabited. The centre was of considerable height, and was evidently of volcanic origin, the highest point being apparently a volcano, though no smoke or fire was seen proceeding from it.
We had been pulling on for three or four hours, keeping at some distance from the shore, to avoid the reefs which ran off it, as the captain wished to make the whole circuit during the day, when, just as we had doubled the point, we saw right ahead, some way from the shore, a small canoe with a flag flying at her bow. The commander ordered the men to give way, fearing that the natives in the canoe, when they saw us, would attempt to escape, and he specially wished to gain information from them. (Tamaku, I should have said, formed one of the crew, having been taken to act as interpreter.) There appeared to be no one on board the canoe, which was at anchor; but as we drew nearer we saw the head of a person rise up above the gunwale, when, as it seemed, he for the first time caught sight of us. He gazed towards the gig with astonishment, though without uttering any cry of alarm.
"He has an unusually white skin for a native," observed the captain; "indeed, he must be, I am sure, a European."
The boy, for his features showed that he was very young, took something from the bottom of the canoe, as we drew near, and kneeling down in the bow in a suppliant manner, held out his hand towards us. The commander, anxious not to alarm him, ordered the gig to pull round and back in quietly astern, while, standing up, he leaned forward to examine what the boy had got in his hand. Just at that moment another head rose above the gunwale of the canoe from the outside; but that was black as jet; and what should I see but Dicky Popo's astonished countenance, his ivory teeth gleaming whitely as his mouth distended from ear to ear.
"Oh, ky! cappen—and you, Massa Rayner—where you come from?" he exclaimed, as he rested on his elbows before getting into the canoe.
So interested was the captain in the appearance of the white boy,—more even than in the number of beautiful pearls he held in his hand,—that he scarcely recognised Popo.
"Who are you, and where do you come from?" asked the commander.
The lad only shook his head, as if he did not understand his question— still keeping his hand extended, with the pearls in it.
"He no speakee English," said Popo, who had just scrambled into the canoe.
"Why, Dicky Popo," cried the commander, "you here, my boy!"
I could not resist shaking Popo by the hand, so delighted was I to see him.
"Yes, massa cappen; me no drownee," he answered.
"That's very evident," said the commander; "and I shall be glad to know how you escaped. But first I want you to set the mind of this poor lad at rest, as he seems in a great fright. Tell him we are friends, and will do him no harm, for he does not understand what I say to him."
Popo, more by signs than words, quickly succeeded in tranquillising the lad.
"Who is he?" asked the commander, "for his skin is as white as ours; and I cannot suppose that he is a native."
"He not say who he is," answered Popo; "but by-and-by perhaps talkee more."
"Well, we must wait patiently," said the commander. "Ask him if he has any objection to accompany us; and if he is ready to come we will take you and him into the gig, while we tow the canoe astern." After a few more signs and incomprehensible words had passed between Popo and the white boy, they both stepped into the gig; the latter still holding the pearls in his hand, which, as soon as he was seated, he again offered to the commander, who this time received them, and after examining them put them into his pocket. The canoe was then made fast to the gig astern, and we continued our course round the island.
The commander was engaged in noting its headlands and bays and other features, and could not give his attention to the lad; but I lost no time in trying to learn from Popo how he had escaped,—also drawing from him anything he knew about the white boy. On the first point he quickly enlightened me.
On falling overboard, he had caught sight of the life-buoy which Peck had providentially let go; and being a good swimmer, he had reached it, and climbing up, had made himself fast to it. With a feeling of dismay he saw the ship sailing on, but he did not gave way to despair, as after some time he discovered that the life-buoy was drifting towards the land. Still, he knew that, should it be driven among the breakers, he should in all probability be dashed to pieces on the rocks. However, as he told me, he hoped for the best, and clung on, finding himself getting nearer and nearer the shore.
When morning broke, he found that he was not more than a few cable-lengths from the beach. As the light increased he looked out anxiously, and, much to his satisfaction, saw that he was drifting towards a sandy bay. He cast off the lashings which had hitherto secured him, that he might swim on shore, knowing that the life-buoy would in all probability be rolled over and over.
It now advanced but little; and he was on the point of parting from it and beginning to swim, when he saw several natives come down to the beach, and among them a white lad. The former stood gazing at him, apparently indifferent to the rude breakers; the lad, however, directly afterwards began to launch a small canoe which lay on the beach, and jumping into it and actively working the paddle, made his way through the breakers towards him. Popo being quite sure that he came as a friend, left the life-buoy as soon as he drew near, and with a few strokes reached the bow of the canoe, over which he soon scrambled; when the boy at once paddled back to the beach, carrying him safely through the breakers. The savages, who were as brown as those he had before seen, gathered round him and examined his skin with much curiosity, supposing, he observed, that he had got on a black coat. They then made him and the white boy stand together, grinning at the contrast which their colours presented, and evidently satisfied that they themselves were the just medium.
Popo, who was very hungry, now made signs that he wanted something to eat. His new friend, hastening away, quickly returned from a hut at no great distance with some food, which the brown savages did not prevent his giving him. Popo soon found, however, that although his life was to be spared he was to be treated as a slave, as the white boy appeared to be.
After remaining on the beach a short time, the savages led him to their village, which consisted of a number of low huts. The women had been preparing their morning meal, after which some of the men went out to kill birds, while others occupied themselves in a taro plantation on some level ground to the rear of their village. Popo, meantime, who could scarcely keep his eyes open, was conducted by his white friend to a hut, where the latter spread a mat for him, and made signs that he might lie down. Scarcely had he done so when he fell fast asleep.
The next day, the weather being finer, many of the men went off in their canoes; Popo and the white boy being taken out in that of the chief. Popo found that they were engaged in diving for pearl-oysters. The white lad appeared to be among the best of their divers. He fearlessly plunged overboard with a net and a small axe—the net being attached to the boat by a line; and when his net was hauled up it was invariably full of oysters. The chief made signs to Popo that he must do the same. Though he was a good swimmer, he had never been accustomed to diving; but the white boy showed him how he could accomplish the feat, and after some practice he was able to go down, and succeeded almost as well as his companion.
Since he had been there, three vessels had come and purchased all the pearls which had been collected, when he and the white boy had been carried off some way from the shore, so that they might not communicate with the crews. After each visit paid by the pearl-traders, all the men in the village had become excessively tipsy; and on the first two occasions they, fearing that they might be ill-treated, had run off and hidden themselves, though they did not escape punishment. Popo had begun to learn his companion's language; which he spoke, however, in a way very different from the natives. They were thus able to communicate with each other.
Only the day before our arrival another trader had gone away, and at the present time every man in the village was drunk. As the old chief had on previous occasions beaten them, when he came to himself, for not having some pearls ready for him, they had come off in the canoe by themselves, and were engaged in fishing,—for so it may be called,—when we found them.
Such is an outline of the account Popo gave me.
All the time I was talking to Popo, the lad had his eyes fixed intently on me, as if he was endeavouring to understand what we were saying.
"And you, Popo," I asked; "are you glad to escape from the savages?"
"Yes, massa; dat I am," answered Popo.
"And do you think your companion is the same?" I added, looking towards him.
"Yes, yes," said the white boy, looking up at me.
"Why, you must be English; you have thoroughly understood what I said," I exclaimed.
"Me tink so too," observed Popo.
The commander, who had been listening to what we had been saying, now called Tamaku aft, and desired him to try if he could understand the white boy, who after he had last spoken seemed abashed, and could not be got to utter a word. Tamaku at once began to ask him questions, which he answered with apparent readiness in the same language, differing but slightly in sound.
"Can you make out how he came to be among the natives?" asked the commander, when Tamaku and the boy had ceased speaking.
"He not know much," answered the Kanaka; "long time wid dem—say dey find him in a boat at sea, and bring him here and make him slavey."
"Try and find out his name," said the commander; "whether it is Tom or Dick, or Jack or Harry."
Scarcely had he uttered the last word when the boy exclaimed, "Harry! Harry! dat my name," and seemed almost overcome by hearing it uttered.
"Well, Harry, my boy, can't you talk a little more English? Since you remember your name, tell us something about your father and mother, or any of your other friends," continued the commander.
"Father—mother," repeated the boy, with a look of pleasure, as if they were words once familiar to his tongue.
"Well done, my boy," exclaimed the commander, pleased with the result of his experiment; "you'll remember more words by-and-by, when you get on board. And we'll not yet pay your drunken friends a visit to let them wish you good-bye."
It was difficult to say whether the boy understood him; but, at all events, the commander's kind tone of voice gave him confidence, and he seemed contented and happy.
As we had only just time to get round the island, the commander did not put on shore anywhere; also, with so small a party, he thought it imprudent to go among the natives, who might prove hostile—especially if they found that he was carrying off their slaves. Popo and the white boy appeared well-pleased at this; and it was evident that the latter had no great affection for those among whom he had lived so long.
Frequently during the remainder of the day we heard the boy saying to himself, "Yes, yes—Harry—father—mother," as if pleased with the sound of those long-forgotten words. Then I was nearly certain that I heard him muttering to himself a verse of a child's hymn; but the words were indistinct.
He listened attentively to every word we said, and now and then uttered a word after us.
"I suspect that in the course of a few days he will be able to tell us more about himself than he can do now," observed the captain; "in the meantime, we must not bother him too much."
We got on board just before darkness set in. Popo was greeted warmly by the whole of the crew, who were delighted to find that he had escaped and to have him back among them again; while Harry, as the white boy was at once called, was received with much curiosity, every one being eager to know who he was and how he had fallen into the hands of the savages. As may be supposed, he had not been many minutes on board before he was rigged out in a shirt and trousers and jacket, with a handkerchief round his neck, and a broad-brimmed hat on his head. He made no objection to putting on the dress, which really became him; and Dick Tillard, who acted as his valet, observed that it was surely not the first time he had been so rigged out.