Imagens das páginas
[ocr errors]

course without my leave-when you know very well that we shall hardly be in time for the market, use what expedition we may?" The young man was confused by this unexpected challenge, and stammered out something about Gemmel having persuaded him. "It was me, Sir! respectfully interfered the old sailor, wishing to avert the storm from the mate; "I thought you wouldn't have the heart to leave the wreck and these people to perish, without lending a hand to save them! We should be neither Christians nor true seamen to desert her, and "Damn you and the wreck, you old canting rascal! do you pretend to stand there and preach to me?" thundered the Captain, his fury breaking out, "I'll teach you to disobey my orders! I'll give you something to think of!" and seizing a capstan-bar which lay near him, he hurled it at the steersman with all his might. The blow was effectual-one end of it struck him across the head with such force as to sweep him in an instant from his station at the wheel, and to dash him with violence against the lee-bulwarks, where he lay bleeding, and motionless. "Take that, and be damned!" exclaimed the wretch, as he took the helm, and sang out to the men," Stand by sheets, and braces hard a-lee-let go!" In a twinkling the yards were braced round, and the Dart, laid within six points of the wind, was flying through


the water.

Meanwhile Gemmel was lying without any one daring to assist him; for the crew were so confounded that they seemed quite undetermined how to act. I stepped to him, therefore, and the mate following my example, we lifted him up. As there was no appearance of respiration, I placed my hand on his heart-but pulsation had entirely ceased-the old man was dead. The bar had struck him directly on the temporal bone, and had completely fractured that part of his scull.

"He is a murdered man, Captain Mahone!" said I, laying down the body, "murdered without cause or provocation."-"None of your remarks, Sir!" he retorted; "what the devil have you to do with it? Do you mean to stir up my men to mutiny? Or do you call disobeying

my orders no provocation? I'll answer it to those who have a right to ask; but till then, let me see the man who dare open his mouth to me in this ship." "I promise you," returned I," that though you rule and tyrannise here at present, your power shall have a termination, and you shall be called to account for your conduct in this day's work-rest assured that this blood shall be required at your hands, though you have hitherto escaped punishment for what has stained them already." This allusion to the murder of little Bill Burnet seemed to stagger him considerably-he stopped short before me, and, while his face grew black with suppressed wrath and fury, whispered, "I warn you again, young man! to busy yourself with your own matters-meddle not with what does not concern you; and belay your slack jaw, or, by ! Rink Mahone will find a way to make it fast for you!" He then turned round, and walked forward to the forecastle.

During this affray no attention had been paid to the wreck, though the crew had set up a yell of despair on seeing us leave them. Signals and shouts were still repeated, and a voice, louder in agony than the rest, implored our help for the love of the blessed Virgin; and offered riches and absolution to the whole ship's company if they would but come back. The Captain was pacing fore and aft without appearing to mind them, when, as if struck with some sudden thought, he lifted his glass to his eye-seemed to hesitate-walked on-and then, all at once changing his mind, he ordered the vessel again before the wind.

On speaking the wreck, she proved to be a Spanish felucca from the island of Cuba, bound for Curaçoa, on the coast of the Caraccas. As they had lost their boats in the storm, and could not leave their vessel, our Captain lowered and manned our jollyboat, and went off to them.

After an absence of some hours he returned with the passengers, consisting of an elderly person in the garb of a catholic priest, a sick gentleman, a young lady, apparently daughter of the latter, and a female black slave. With the utmost difficulty, and writhing under some excruciating pain, the invalid was got on board,

and caried down to the cabin, where he was laid on a bed on the floor. To the tender of my professional services the invalid returned his thanks, and would have declined them, expressing his conviction of being past human aid, but the young lady, eagerly catching at even a remote hope of success, implored him with tears to accept my offer. On examination I found his fears were but too well grounded. In his endeavours to assist the crew during the gale he had been standing near the mast, part of which, or the rigging, having fallen on him, had dislocated several of his ribs, and injured his spine beyond remedy. All that could now be done was to afford a little temporary relief from pain, which I did; and, leaving him to the care of the young lady and the priest, I left the cabin.

Ŏn deck I found all bustle and confusion. The ship was still lyingto, and the boats employed in bring ing the goods out of the felucca, both of which were the property of the wounded gentleman. The body of the old man, Gemmel, had been removed somewhere out of sight; no trace of blood was visible, and Captain Mahone seemed desirous to banish all recollections both of our quarrel and its origin.

As the invalid was lying in the cabin, and my state-room occupied by the lady and her female attendant, I got a temporary birth in the steerage made up for myself for the night. I had not long thrown myself down on my cot, which was only divided from the main-cabin by a bulk-head, when I was awakened by the deep groans of the Spaniard. The violence of his pain had again returned, and between the spasms I heard the weeping and gentle voice of the lady soothing his agony, and trying to impart hopes, prospects to him, which her own hysterical sobs told plainly she did not herself feel. The priest also frequently joined, and urged him to confess. To this advice he remained silent for awhile; but at length he addressed the lady" The Padre says true, Isabella! Time wears apace, and I feel that I shall soon be beyond its limits, and above its concerns! But ere I go, I would say that which it would impart peace to my mind to disclose -I would seek to leave you at least

one human being to befriend and protect you in your utter helplessness. Alas! that Diego di Montaldo's daughter should ever be thus destitute! Go, my love! I would be alone a little while with the father." An agony of tears and sobs was the only return made by the poor girl, while the priest with gentle violence led her into the state


"Now," continued the dying man, "listen to me while I have strength. You have only known me as a merchant in Cuba; but such I have not been always. Mine is an ancient and noble family in Catalonia; though I unhappily disgraced it, and have been estranged from it long. I had the misfortune to have weak and indulgent parents, who idolized me as the heir of their house, and did not possess resolution enough to thwart me in any of my wishes or desires, however unreasonable. My boyhood being thus spoiled, it is no matter of wonder that my youth should have proved wild and dissolute. My companions were as dissipated as myself, and much of our time was spent in gambling and other extravagances. One evening at play I quarreled with a young nobleman of high rank and influence; we were both of us hot and passionate, so we drew on the spot and fought, and I had the misfortune to run him through the heart and leave him dead. Not daring to remain longer at home, I fled in disguise to Barcelona, where I procured a passage in a vessel for the Spanish Main. On our voyage we were taken by buccaneers; and, the roving and venturous mode of life of these bold and daring men suiting both my inclinations and finances, I agreed to make one of their number. For many months we were successful in our enterprises: we ranged the whole of these seas, and made a number of prizes, some of which were rich ships of our own colonies. In course of time we amassed such a quantity of specie as to make us unwilling to venture it in one bottom; so we agreed to hide it ashore, and divide it on our return from our next expedition. But our good fortune forsook us this time. During a calm the boats of the Guarda-costa came on us, overpowered the ship, and made all the

crew, except myself and two others, prisoners. We escaped with our boat, and succeeded in gaining the island of Cuba, where both of my comrades died of their wounds. Subsequent events induced me to settle at St. Juan de Buenavista, where I married, and as a merchant prospered and became a rich man. But my happiness lasted not! My wife caught the yellow fever and died, leaving me only this one child. I now loathed the scene of my departed happiness, and felt all the longings of an exile to revisit my native country. For this purpose I converted all my effects into money; and am thus far on my way to the hidden treasure, with which I intended to return to Spain. But the green hills of Catalonia will never more gladden mine eyes! My hopes and wishes were only for my poor girl. Holy father! you know not a parent's feel ings-its anxieties and its fears! The thoughts of leaving my child to the mercy of strangers; or, it may be, to their barbarities, in this law less country, is far more dreadful than the anguish of my personal sufferings. With you rests my only hope. Promise me your protection towards her, and the half of all my wealth is yours."

"Earthly treasures," replied the priest, "avail not with one whose desires are fixed beyond the little handful of dust which perisheth-my life is devoted to the service of my Creator; and the conversion of ignorant men, men who have never heard of his salvation. On an errand of mercy came I to this land; and if the heathen receive it, how much more a daughter of our most holy church? I, therefore, in behalf of our community, accept of your offer, and swear on this blessed emblem to fulfil all your wishes to the best of my poor abilities."

"Enough, enough!" said Montaldo, "I am satisfied! Among that archipelago of desert islands, known by the name of the Roccas, situated on the coast of the province of Venezuela, in New Granada, there is one called the Wolf-rock : it is the longest and most northern of the group, and lies the most to seaward. At the eastern point, which runs a little way into the sea, there stands an old vanilla, blasted and withered, and re

taining but a single solitary_branch. On the eve of the festival of St. Jago the moon will be at her full in the west. At twenty minutes past midnight she will attain to her highest altitude in the heavens, and then the shadow of the tree will be thrown due east. Watch till the branch and stem unite and form only one line of shade-mark its extremity-for there, ten feet below the surface, the cask containing the gold is buried. That gold, father, was sinfully got; but fasts and penances have been done, masses without number have been said, and I trust that the blessed Virgin has interceded for the forgiveness of that great wickedness! I have now confessed all, and confide in your promise; and as you perform your oath, so will the blessing or curse of a dying man abide with you, I feel faint, dying.-Oh! let me clasp my child once more to my heart before I

Here the rest of the sentence became indistinct from the death-rattle in his throat. I leaped off my cot, and sprang up the hatchway, and had my foot on the top of the companionladder, when a piercing shriek from below making me quicken my steps, I missed my hold, and fell on some person stationed on the outside of the cabin door. The person, without uttering a single word, rose and ascended the steps; but as he emerged into the faint light which still lingered in the horizon, I fancied that I could distinguish him to be the Captain. On my entering, I found the Spaniard dead, and his daughter lying in a state of insensibility by his side; while the female slave was howling and tearing her hair like one in a phrenzy. The priest was entirely absorbed in his devotions; so, without disturbing him, I lifted the lady and bore her into the stateroom. The greater part of the night was passed in trying to restore her to sensation. Fit after fit followed each other in such quick succession that I began to apprehend the result; but at length the hysterical paroxism subsided, and tears coming to her relief, she became somewhat composed, when I left her in charge of her attendant.

The next day was spent in taking out the remainder of the felucca's cargo. There seemed now no anxie

ty on the Captain's part to proceed on his voyage he appeared to have forgot the necessity, expressed on a former occasion, of being in port within a limited time. He was often in a state of inebriety; for the wine and spirits of the Spaniards were lavishly served out to the whole ship's company, with whom he also mixed more; and banished that haughtiness of bearing which had marked his conduct hitherto.

In the evening the body of Don Diego was brought upon deck, where his crew, under the superintendence of the priest, prepared it for its commitment to the deep. The corpse was, as is usual in such cases, wrapped up in the blankets and sheets in which it had lain, and a white napkin was tied over the face and head. In its right hand, which was crossed over the breast, was placed a gold doubloon. Its left held a small bag containing a book, a hammer, and a candle, while on the bosom was laid the little crucifix worn by the deceased. It was next enveloped in a hammock, with a couple of eightpound shots, and a bag of ballast at the feet to sink it-the hammock was then carefully and closely sewed up, and the whole operation finished by leaving the sail-needle thrust transversely through the nose. At midnight the vessel was hove-to, and all the ship's company assembled at the lee-gangway. The Spaniards and negroes bore each a burning torch in his hand; the blaze of which, as they held them elevated above their heads, cast a strange and fearful light through the deep darkness, and illumined the ocean far and wide with a supernatural refulgency. When all was ready, the priest, accompanied by Isabella, came up from the cabin, and the Spaniards lifting up the body, carried it forward to the waist, where one of the ship's gratings had been put projecting over the side, and on this the corpse was laid, with its feet to the water. Around this the torch-bearers formed a circle, and the priest, standing at the head, began the funeral service for the dead at sea. The wind had now subsided into a gentle breeze; and nothing disturbed the profound silence of the crew during mass, save the slight splashing of the waves against the windward side of the ship, and the

deep-drawn, convulsive sobs of the young lady as she stood, enveloped in her mantillo, in the obscurity of the main-rigging. Mass being concluded, the priest solemnly chaunted the funeral anthem:-" May the angels conduct thee into Paradise ; may the martyrs receive thee at thy coming; and mayest thou have eternal rest with Lazarus, who was formerly poor!" He then sprinkled the body with holy water, and continued:-"As it hath pleased God to take the soul of our dear brother here departed unto himself, we, therefore, commit his body to the deep, in the sure and certain hope of a joyful resurrection on that day when the sea shall give up its dead. Let him rest in peace!" The Spaniards responded "Amen!" and the priest repeating, "May his soul, and the soul of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace-Amen!" made the sign of the cross; and the bow-chaser, which had been loaded and made ready for the occasion, firing, the end of the grating was gently elevated, and the corpse heavily plunged into the water. The waves parted, heaving and foaming round the body as it disappeared, when to our horror and astonishment we beheld it, the next minute, slowly return to the surface, deprived of the canvass covering in which it had been sewed. The dead man came up as he had gone down, in an upright position, and floated a little time with his back to the vessel; but the motion of the water turned him round by degrees till we distinctly saw his face. The head was thrown back, and the eyes wide open; and under the strong stream of light poured on them from the torches, they seemed to glare ghastly and fearfully upwards. His gray hairs, long and dishevelled, floated about his face, at times partially obscuring it; and one arm, stretched forth, and agitated by the action of the waves, appeared as if in the act of threatening

[blocks in formation]

out having apparently recognized him; but when the name struck his ear, he shrunk back and involuntarily exclaimed, "It's a lie-it's an infamous lie! Who dares to say he was murdered? He went overboard two days ago? But don't let him on board: for God's sake keep him down, or he'll take us all with him to the bottom. Will nobody keep him down? Will nobody shove him off? Helm a-lee!" he bawled out, waving to the steersman; but the man had deserted his post, eager to see what was going on; he, therefore, ran to the wheel himself, and again issued his commands, "Let go the main topsail weather-braces, and bring round the yard! Let them go, I say!" His orders were speedily executed. The vessel gathered way, and we quickly shot past the body of the old man.

For several days after this, we pursued our course with a favourable wind, which drove us swiftly forward on our voyage. The Captain now kept himself constantly intoxicated, seldom made his appearance in the cabin, but left us altogether to the care of the steward. All subordination was now at an end-his whole time was spent among the seamen, with whom he mixed familiarly, and was addressed by them without the slightest portion of that respect or deference commonly paid to the Captain of the vessel. The appear ance of the men, also, was much altered. From the careless mirth and gaiety, and the characteristic goodhumour of sailors, there was now a sullenness and gloom only visible. A constant whispering-a constant caballing was going on a perpetual discussion, as if some design of moment was in agitation, or some step of deep importance was about to be taken. All sociality and confidence towards each other were banished. In place of conversing together in a body, as formerly, they now walked about in detached parties, and among them the boatswain and carpenter seemed to take an active lead. Yet, in the midst of all this disorder, a few of our own crew kept themselves separate, taking no share in the general consultation; but from the anxiety expressed in their countenances, as well as in that of the mate, I foresaw some storm was brooding, and about to burst on our heads.

Since Montaldo's death, Isabella had been in the habit of leaving her cabin after sun-set, to enjoy the coolness of the evening-breeze; and in this she was sometimes joined by the priest, but more frequently was only attended by her slave. One evening she came up as usual, and after walking back and forward on deck till the dews began to fall, she turned to go below: but just as we approached the companion-way, one of the negroes, who now, in the absence of all discipline, lounged about the quarter-deck without rebuke, shut down the head, and throwing himself on it, declared that none should make him rise without the reward of a kiss. This piece of insolence was received with an encouraging laugh by his fellows, and several slang expressions of wit were uttered, which were loudly applauded by those around. Without a word of remonstrance, Isabella timidly stooped, and would have attempted getting down the ladder without disturbing the slave; when, burning with indignation, I seized the rascal by the collar, and pitched him head foremost along the deck. In an instant he got on his legs, and pulling a long claspknife out of his pocket, with a loud imprecation he made towards me. All the other negroes likewise made a motion to assist him, and I expected to be assailed on all hands, when the mate interfered, and laying hold of the marlin-spike, which I had caught up to defend myself, pushed me back, as he whispered, "Are you mad, that you interfere? For heaven's sake, keep quiet, for I have no authority over the crew now!" And he spoke the truth; for the negro, brandishing his knife, and supported by his comrades, was again advancing, when the hoarse voice of the boatswain, as he ran to the scene of action, arrested his progress.

I re

"Hallo! you there, what's the squall for? Avast, avast, Mingo! off hands is fair play-ship that blade of yours, or I'll send my fist through your ribs, and make day-light shine through them in a minute." lated the behaviour of the negro, and was requesting him to order the slaves forward, when I was cut short with-" There are no slaves here young man! we are all alike free in a British ship. But damn his eyes

« AnteriorContinuar »