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Title: The Congo Rovers - A Story of the Slave Squadron
Author: Collingwood, Harry, 1851-1922
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Congo Rovers - A Story of the Slave Squadron" ***

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The Congo Rovers
A Story of the Slave Squadron

By Harry Collingwood
________________________________________________________________________
This book by Collingwood is a good story, but as your reviewer has said
elsewhere, told in a rather long-winded manner, and in the notably
Kingston style and format that Collingwood often adopts. Why not?
Kingston was dead before Collingwood started to write, and the style
had been proved to be what young readers of the era liked.

The format specifically is that the book starts with a young boy who is
suddenly offered a posting as a midshipman in a naval vessel about to
sail in a few days' time.  The boy accepts, and the story goes on from
there.
________________________________________________________________________
THE CONGO ROVERS
A STORY OF THE SLAVE SQUADRON

BY HARRY COLLINGWOOD

A Story of the Slave Squadron.



CHAPTER ONE.

MY FIRST APPEARANCE IN UNIFORM.

"Um!" ejaculated my father as he thoughtfully removed his double eye-
glass from his nose with one hand, and with the other passed a letter to
me across the breakfast-table--"Um! this letter will interest you, Dick.
It is from Captain Vernon."

My heart leapt with sudden excitement, and my hand trembled as I
stretched it out for the proffered epistle.  The mention of Captain
Vernon's name, together with the announcement that the subject-matter of
the letter was of interest to me, prepared me in a great measure for the
intelligence it conveyed; which was to the effect that the writer,
having been appointed to the command of the sloop-of-war _Daphne_, now
found himself in a position to fulfil a promise of some standing to his
dear and honoured friend Dr Hawkesley (my father) by receiving his son
(myself) on board the sloop, with the rating of midshipman.  The sloop,
the letter went on to say, was commissioned for service on the west
coast of Africa; and if I decided to join her no time should be lost in
procuring my outfit, as the _Daphne_ was under orders to sail on the --;
just four days from the date of the receipt of the letter.

"Well, Dick, what do you think of Captain Vernon's proposal?" inquired
my father somewhat sadly, as I concluded my perusal of the letter and
raised my eyes to his.

"Oh, father!"  I exclaimed eagerly, "I _hope_ you will consent to let me
go.  Perhaps I may never have another such an opportunity; and I am
_quite sure_ I shall never care to be anything but a sailor."

"Ah! yes--the old, old story," murmured my father, shaking his head
dubiously.  "Thousands of lads have told their fathers exactly the same
thing, and have lived to bitterly regret their choice of a profession.
Look at my life.  I have to run about in all weathers; to take my meals
when and how I can; there is not a single hour in the twenty-four that I
can call my own; it is a rare thing for me to get a night of undisturbed
rest; it is a hard, anxious, harassing life that I lead--you have often
said so yourself, and urged it as one of the reasons why you object to
follow in my footsteps.  But I tell you, Dick, that my life--ay, or the
life even of the poorest country practitioner, for that matter--is one
of ease and luxury compared with that of a sailor.  But I have said all
this to you over and over again, without convincing you; and I hardly
dare hope that I shall be more successful now; so, if you are really
quite resolved to go to sea, I will offer no further objections.  It is
true that you will be going to an unhealthy climate; but God is just as
well able to preserve you there as He is here; and then, again, you have
a strong healthy constitution, which, fortified with such preservative
medicines as I can supply, will, I hope, enable you to withstand the
malaria and to return to us in safety.  Now, what do you say--are you
still resolved to go?"

"Quite," I replied emphatically.  "Now that you have given your consent
the last obstacle is removed, and I can follow with a light heart the
bent of my own inclinations."

"Very well, then," said my father, rising from the table and pushing
back his chair.  "That question being settled, we had better call upon
Mr Shears forthwith and give the order for your uniform and outfit.
There is no time to lose; and since go you _will_, I would very much
rather you went with Vernon than with anyone else."

The above conversation took place, as already stated, in the breakfast-
room of my father's house.  My father was at that time--as he continued
to be until the day of his death--the leading physician in Portsmouth;
and his house--a substantial four-storey building--stood near the top of
the High Street.  The establishment of Mr Shears, "Army and Navy
Tailor, Clothier, and Outfitter," was situated near the bottom of the
same street.  A walk, therefore, of some ten minutes' duration took us
to our destination; and at the end of a further half-hour's anxious
consultation I had been measured for my uniform--one suit of which was
faithfully promised for the next day--had chosen my sea-chest, and had
selected a complete outfit of such clothing as was to be obtained ready-
made.  This important business concluded, my father departed upon his
daily round of visits, and I had the remainder of the day at my own
disposal.

My first act on emerging from the door of Mr Shears' establishment was
to hasten off to the dockyard at top speed to take another look at the
_Daphne_.  I had often seen the craft before; had taken an interest in
her, indeed, I may say, from the moment that her keel was laid--she was
built in Portsmouth dockyard--and had watched her progress to completion
and her recent launch with an admiration which had steadily increased
until it grew into positive _love_.  And now I was actually to have the
happiness, the _bliss_, of going to sea in her as an officer on her
first cruise.  Ecstatic thought!  I felt as though I was walking on air!

But my rapture received a pretty effectual damper when I reflected--as I
soon did--that my obstinate determination to go to sea must certainly
prove a deep disappointment, if not a source of constant and cruel
anxiety, to my father.  Dear old dad! his most cherished wish, as I knew
full well, had long been that I, his only son, might qualify myself to
take over and carry on the exceedingly snug practice he had built up,
when the pressure of increasing years should render his retirement
desirable.  But the idea was so utterly distasteful to me that I had
persistently turned a deaf ear to all his arguments, persuasions, ay,
and even his entreaties.  Unfortunately, perhaps, for the fulfilment of
his desires, I was born and brought up at Portsmouth; and all my
earliest recollections of amusement are, in some way or other, connected
with salt water.  Swimming and boating early became absolute passions
with me; I was never quite happy unless I happened to be either in or on
the water; _then_, indeed, all other pleasures were less than nothing to
me.  As a natural consequence, I soon became the intimate companion of
every boatman in the harbour; I acquired, to a considerable extent,
their tastes and prejudices, and soon mastered all the nautical lore
which it was in their power to teach me.  I could sail a boat before I
could read; and by the time that I had learned to write, was able to
hand, reef, and steer with the best of them.  My conversation--except
when it was addressed to my father--was copiously interlarded with
nautical phrases; and by the time I had attained the age of fourteen--at
which period this history begins--I was not only acquainted with the
name, place, and use of every rope and spar in a ship, but I had also an
accurate knowledge of the various rigs, and a distinct opinion as to
what constituted a good model.  The astute reader will have gathered
from this confession that I was, from my earliest childhood, left pretty
much my own master; and such was in fact the case.  My mother died in
giving birth to my only sister Eva (two years my junior); a misfortune
which, in consequence of my father's absorption in the duties of his
practice, left me entirely to the care of the servants, by whom I was
shamefully neglected.  But for this I should doubtless have been trained
to obedience and a respectful deference to my father's wishes.  The
mischief, however, was done; I had acquired a love of the sea, and my
highest ambition was to become a naval officer.  This fact my father at
length reluctantly recognised, and by persistent entreaty I finally
prevailed upon him to take the necessary steps to gratify my heart's
desire--with the result already known to the reader.

The sombre reflections induced by the thought of my father's
disappointment did not, I confess with shame, last long.  They vanished
as a morning mist is dissipated before the rising sun, when I recalled
to mind that I was not only going to sea, but that I was actually going
to sail in the _Daphne_.  This particular craft was my _beau-ideal_ of
what a ship ought to be; and in this opinion I was by no means alone--
all my cronies hailing from the Hard agreeing, without exception, that
she was far and away the handsomest and most perfect model they had ever
seen.  My admiration of her was unbounded; and on the day of her
launch--upon which occasion I cheered myself hoarse--I felt, as I saw
her gliding swiftly and gracefully down the ways, that it would be a
priceless privilege to sail in her, even in the capacity of the meanest
ship-boy.  And now I was to be a midshipman on board her!  I hurried
onward with swift and impatient steps, and soon passed through the
dockyard gates--having long ago, by dint of persistent coaxing, gained
the _entree_ to the sacred precincts--when a walk of some four or five
hundred yards further took me to the berth alongside the wharf where she
was lying.

Well as I knew every curve and line of her beautiful hull, my glances
now dwelt upon her with tenfold loving interest.  She was a ship-sloop
of 28 guns--long 18-pounders--with a flush deck fore and aft.  She was
very long in proportion to her beam; low in the water, and her lines
were as fine as it had been possible to make them.  She had a very
light, elegant-looking stern, adorned with a great deal of carved
scroll-work about the cabin windows; and her gracefully-curved cut-water
was surmounted by an exquisitely-carved full-length figure of Peneus'
lovely daughter, with both arms outstretched, as in the act of flight,
and with twigs and leaves of laurel just springing from her dainty
finger-tips.  There was a great deal of brass-work about the deck
fittings, which gleamed and flashed brilliantly in the sun; and, the
paint being new and fresh, she looked altogether superlatively neat, in
spite of the fact that the operations of rigging and of shipping stores
were both going on simultaneously.

Having satisfied for the time being my curiosity with regard to the hull
of my future home, I next cast a glance aloft at her spars.  She was
rigged only as far as her topmast-heads, her topgallant-masts being then
on deck in process of preparation for sending aloft.  When I had last
seen her she was under the masting-shears getting her lower-masts
stepped; and it then struck me that they were fitting her with rather
heavy spars.  But now, as I looked aloft, I was fairly startled at the
length and girth of her masts and yards.  To my eye--by no means an
unaccustomed one--her spars seemed taunt enough for a ship of nearly
double her size; and the rigging was heavy in the same proportion.  I
stood there on the wharf watching with the keenest interest the scene of
bustle and animation on board until the bell rang the hour of noon, and
all hands knocked off work and went to dinner; by which time the three
topgallant-masts were aloft with the rigging all ready for setting up
when the men turned-to again.  The addition of these spars to the length
of her already lofty masts gave the _Daphne_, in my opinion, more than
ever the appearance of being over-sparred; an opinion in which, as it
soon appeared, I was not alone.

Most of the men left the dockyard and went home (as I suppose) to their
dinner; but half a dozen or so of riggers, instead of following the
example of the others, routed out from some obscure spot certain small
bundles tied up in coloured handkerchiefs, and, bringing these on shore,
seated themselves upon some of the boxes and casks with which the wharf
was lumbered, and, opening the bundles, produced therefrom their
dinners, which they proceeded to discuss with quite an enviable
appetite.

For a few minutes the meal proceeded in dead silence; but presently one
of them, glancing aloft at the _Daphne's_ spars, remarked in a tone of
voice which reached me distinctly--I was standing within a few feet of
the party:

"Well, Tom, bo'; what d'ye think of the hooker _now_?"

The man addressed shook his head disapprovingly.  "The more I looks at
her the less I likes her," was his reply.

"I'm precious glad _I_ ain't goin' to sea in her," observed another.

"Same here," said the first speaker.  "Why, look at the _Siren_ over
there!  She's a 38-gun frigate, and her mainmast is only two feet longer
than the _Daphne's_--as I happen to know, for I had a hand in the
buildin' of both the spars.  The sloop's over-masted, that's what _she_
is."

I turned away and bent my steps homeward.  The short snatch of
conversation which I had just heard, confirming as it did my own
convictions, had a curiously depressing effect upon me, which was
increased when, a few minutes afterwards, I caught a glimpse of the
distant buoy which marked the position of the sunken _Royal George_.
For the moment my enthusiasm was all gone; a foreboding of disaster took
possession of me, and but for very shame I felt more than half-inclined
to tell my father I had altered my mind, and would rather not go to sea.
I had occasion afterwards to devoutly wish I had acted on this impulse.

When, however, I was awakened next morning by the sun shining
brilliantly in at my bed-room window, my apprehensions had vanished, my
enthusiasm was again at fever-heat, and I panted for the moment--not to
be very long deferred--when I should don my uniform and strut forth to
sport my glories before an admiring world.

Punctual almost to a moment--for once at least in his life--Mr Shears
sent home the uniform whilst we were sitting down to luncheon; and the
moment that I decently could I hastened away to try it on.

The breeches were certainly rather wrinkly above the knees, and the
jacket was somewhat uncomfortably tight across the chest when buttoned
over; it also pinched me a good deal under the arm-pits, whilst the
sleeves exhibited a trifle too much--some six inches or so--of my
wristbands and shirt-sleeves; and when I looked at myself in the glass I
found that there was a well-defined ridge of loose cloth running across
the back from shoulder to shoulder.  With these trifling exceptions,
however, I thought the suit fitted me fairly well, and I hastened down-
stairs to exhibit myself to my sister Eva.  To my intense surprise and
indignation she no sooner saw me than she burst into an uncontrollable
fit of laughter, and was heartless enough to declare that I looked "a
perfect fright."  Thoroughly disgusted with such unsisterly conduct I
mustered all my dignity, and without condescending to ask for an
explanation walked in contemptuous silence out of the room and the
house.

A regimental band was to play that afternoon on Southsea Common, and
thither I accordingly decided to direct my steps.  There were a good
many people about the streets, and I had not gone very far before I made
the discovery that everybody was in high good-humour about something or
other.  The people I met wore, almost without exception, genial smiling
countenances, and many a peal of hearty laughter rang out from hilarious
groups who had already passed me.  I felt anxious to know what it was
that thus set all Portsmouth laughing, and glanced round to see if I
could discover an acquaintance of whom I might inquire; but, as usual in
such cases, was unsuccessful.  When I reached the Common I found, as I
expected I should, a large and fashionably dressed crowd, with a good
sprinkling of naval and military uniforms, listening to the strains of
the band.  Here, for the first five minutes or so, I failed to notice
anything unusual in the behaviour of the people; but the humorous item
of news must have reached them almost simultaneously with my own arrival
upon the scene, for very soon I detected on the faces of those who
passed me the same amused smile which I had before encountered in the
streets.  I stood well back out of the thick of the crowd; both because
I could hear the music better, and also to afford any friend of mine who
might chance to be present an opportunity to see me in my imposing new
uniform.

It was whilst I was standing thus in the most easy and nonchalant
attitude I could assume that a horrible discovery forced itself upon me.
I happened to be regarding with a certain amount of languid interest a
couple of promenaders, consisting of a very lovely girl and a somewhat
foppish ensign, when I suddenly caught the eye of the latter fixed upon
me.  He raised his eye-glass to his eye, and, in the coolest manner in
the world, deliberately surveyed me through it, when, in an instant, a
broad smile of amusement--the smile which I by this time knew so well--
overspread his otherwise inanimate features.  I glanced hurriedly behind
me to see if I could discover the cause of his risibility, and, failing
to do so, turned round again, just in time to see him, with his eye-
glass still bearing straight in my direction, bend his head and speak a
few words to his fair companion.  Thereupon she, too, glanced in my
direction, looked steadfastly at me for a moment, and then burst into an
uncontrollable fit of laughter which she vainly strove to stifle in her
pocket-handkerchief.  For a second or two I was utterly lost in
astonishment at this unaccountable behaviour, and then all the hideous
truth thrust itself upon me.  They were laughing at _me_.  Having at
length fully realised this I turned haughtily away and at once left the
ground.

I hurried homeward in a most unenviable state of mind, with the
conviction every moment forcing itself more obtrusively upon me, that
for some inconceivable reason I was the laughing-stock of everybody I
met, when, just as I turned once more into the High Street I observed
two midshipmen approaching on my own side of the way, and some half a
dozen yards or so behind them a certain Miss Smith, a parlour boarder in
the ladies' seminary opposite my father's house--a damsel not more than
six or seven years my senior, with whom I was slightly acquainted, and
for whom I had long cherished a secret but ardent passion.

With that sensitiveness which is so promptly evoked by even the bare
suspicion of ridicule I furtively watched the two "young gentlemen" as
they approached; but they had been talking and laughing loudly when I
first caught sight of them, and although I saw that they were aware of
my presence I failed to detect the sudden change of manner which I had
dreaded to observe.  Whether they were speaking of me or not I could
not, of course, feel certain; but I rather fancied from the glances they
cast in my direction that they were.

As they drew nearer I observed that the eyes of one of them were
intently and inquiringly gazing into mine, and they continued so to do
until the pair had fairly passed me.  Being by this time in a decidedly
aggressive frame of mind I returned this pertinacious gaze with a
haughty and contemptuous stare, which, however, I must confess, did not
appear to very greatly intimidate the individual at whom it was
levelled, for, unless I was greatly mistaken, there was a twitching
about the corners of his mouth which suggested a strong, indeed an
almost uncontrollable disposition to laughter, whilst his eyes fairly
beamed with merriment.

As they passed me this individual half halted for an instant, passed on
again a step or two, and then turning abruptly to the right-about,
dashed after me and seized me by the hand, which he shook effusively,
exclaiming as he did so:

"It _is_--I'm _sure_ it is!  My _dear_ Lord Henry, how are you?  This is
indeed an unexpected pleasure!"

At this moment Miss Smith passed, giving me as she did so a little start
of recognition, followed by a bow and a beaming smile, which I returned
in my most fascinating manner.

I was once more happy.  This little incident, trifling though it was in
itself, sufficed to banish in an instant the unpleasant reflections
which a moment before had been rankling in my breast, for had not my
fair divinity seen me in the uniform of the gallant defenders of our
country?  And had she not also heard and seen me mistaken for a lord?
If this had no power to soften and subdue that proud heart and bring it
in sweet humility to my feet, then--well I should like to know what
would, that's all.

I allowed my fair enslaver to pass out of ear-shot, and then said to the
midshipman who had so unexpectedly addressed me:

"Excuse me, sir, but I think you are mistaking me for someone else."

"Oh, no, I'm not," he retorted.  "I know you well enough--though I must
say you are greatly altered for the better since I saw you last a year
ago.  You're Lord Henry de Vere Montmorenci.  Ah, you sly dog! you
thought to play a trick upon your old friend Fitz-Jones, did you?  But
what brings you down here, Montmorenci?  Have you come down to join?"

This was a most remarkable, and at the same time gratifying occurrence,
for I could not keep feeling elated at being thus mistaken for a noble,
and greeted with such enthusiasm by a most agreeable and intelligent
brother officer, and--evidently--a scion of some noble house to boot.
For a single instant an almost invincible temptation seized me to
personate the character with which I was accredited, but it was as
promptly overcome; my respect for the truth (temporarily) conquered my
vanity, and I answered:

"I assure you, my dear sir, you are mistaken.  I am _not_ Lord Henry de
Vere Montmorenci, but plain Richard Hawkesley, just nominated to the
_Daphne_."

"Well, if you persist in saying so, I suppose I must believe you,"
answered Fitz-Jones.  "But, really, the resemblance is most
extraordinary--truly remarkable indeed.  There is the same lofty
intellectual forehead, the same proud eagle-glance, the same haughty
carriage; the same--now, tell me, Tomnoddy, upon your honour as an
officer and a gentleman, did you ever in your life before see such an
extraordinary resemblance?"

"I never did; it is really most remarkable," answered the other
midshipman in a strangely quivering voice which, but for his solemn
countenance, I should have considered decidedly indicative of suppressed
laughter.

"It really is most singular, positively _marvellous_," resumed Fitz-
Jones.  Then he added hurriedly:

"By the way, do you know my friend Tomnoddy?  No!  Then allow me to
introduce him.  Lord Tomnoddy--Mr Richard Hawkesley, just nominated to
the _Daphne_.  And I suppose I ought also to introduce myself.  I am
Lord Montague Fitz-Jones.  You have, of course, heard of the Fitz-Jones
family--the Fitz-J-o-h-n-e-s's, you know?"

I certainly had not; nor had I, up to that moment, any idea that Lord
Tomnoddy was other than a mythical personage; but I did not choose to
parade my ignorance in such matters, so I replied by a polite bow.

There was silence between us for a moment; and then Fitz-Jones--or Fitz-
Johnes, rather--raised his hand to his forehead with a thoughtful air
and murmured:

"Hawkesley!  Hawkesley!  I'm _positive_ I've heard that name before.
Now, where was it?  Um--ah--eh?  Yes; I have it.  You're the handsome
heartless fellow who played such havoc with my cousin Lady Mary's
affections at the state ball last year.  Now, don't deny it; I'm
positive I'm right.  Do you know," he continued, glaring at me in a most
ferocious manner--"do you know that for the last six months I've been
looking for you in order that I might shoot you?"

Somehow I did not feel very greatly alarmed at this belligerent speech,
and vanity having by this time conquered my natural truthfulness, I
determined to sustain my unexpected reputation as a lady-killer at all
hazards.  I therefore drew myself up, and, assuming my sternest look,
replied that I should be happy to give him the desired opportunity
whenever he might choose.

Fitz-Johnes' ferocious glare continued for a moment or two; then his
brow cleared, and, extending his hand, he grasped mine, shook the member
violently, and exclaimed:

"That was spoken like a gentleman and a brave man!  Give me your hand,
Hawkesley.  I respect you, sir; I esteem you; and I forgive you all.  If
there is one thing which touches me more than another, one thing which I
_admire_ more than another, it is to see a man show a bold front in the
face of deadly peril.  Ah! _now_ I can understand Lady Mary's
infatuation.  Poor girl!  I pity her.  And I suppose that pretty girl
who passed just now is another victim to your fascinating powers.  Ah,
well! it's not to be wondered at, I'm sure.  Tomnoddy, do you remember,
by the by--?"

But Lord Tomnoddy was now standing with his back turned toward us, and
his face buried in his pocket-handkerchief.  His head was bowed, his
shoulders were heaving convulsively, and certain inarticulate sounds
which escaped him showed that he was struggling to suppress some violent
emotion.

Lord Fitz-Johnes regarded his companion fixedly for a moment, then
linked his arm in mine, drew me aside, and whispered hastily:

"Don't take any notice of him; he'll be all right again in a minute.
It's only a little revulsion of feeling which has overcome him.  He's
frightfully tender-hearted--far too much so for a sailor; he can't bear
the sight of blood; and he knew that if I called you out I should choose
him for my second; and--you twig, eh!"

I thought I did, but was not quite sure, so I bowed again, which seemed
quite as satisfactory as words to Fitz-Johnes, for he said, with his arm
still linked in mine:

"That's all right.  Now let's go and cement our friend ship over a
bottle of wine at the `Blue Posts,' what do you say?"

I intimated that the proposal was quite agreeable to me; and we
accordingly wheeled about and directed our steps to the inn in question,
which, in my time, was _the_ place of resort, _par excellence_, of all
midshipmen.

Lord Tomnoddy now removed his handkerchief from his eyes; and, sure
enough, he _had_ been weeping, for I detected him in the very act of
drying his tears.  He must have possessed a truly wonderful command over
his features, though, for I could not detect the faintest trace of that
deep feeling which had overpowered him so shortly before; on the
contrary, he laughed uproariously at a very feeble joke which I just
then ventured to let off; and thereafter, until I parted with them both
an hour later, was the merriest of the party.

We arrived in due course at the "Blue Posts," and, walking into a
private parlour, rang for the waiter.  On the appearance of that
individual, Fitz-Johnes, with a truly lordly air, ordered in three
bottles of port; sagely remarking that he made a point of never drinking
less than a bottle himself; and as his friend Hawkesley was _known_ to
have laid down the same rule, the third bottle was a necessity unless
Lord Tomnoddy was to go without.  Lord Tomnoddy faintly protested
against the ordering of so much wine; but Fitz-Johnes was firm in his
determination, insisting that he should regard it as nothing short of a
deliberate insult on Tomnoddy's part if that individual declined his
hospitality.

After a considerable delay the wine and glasses made their appearance,
the waiter setting them down, and then pausing respectfully by the
table.

"Thank you; that will do.  You need not wait," said Fitz-Johnes.

"The money, if you please, sir," explained the waiter.

"Oh, ah! yes, to be sure.  The money."  And Fitz-Johnes plunged his hand
into his breeches pocket and withdrew therefrom the sum of twopence
halfpenny, together with half a dozen buttons (assorted); a penknife
minus its blades; the bowl of a clay tobacco pipe broken short off;
three pieces of pipe-stem evidently originally belonging to the latter;
and a small ball of sewing twine.

Carefully arranging the copper coins on the edge of the table he
returned the remaining articles to their original place of deposit, and
then plunged his hand into his other pocket, from which he produced--
nothing.

"How much is it?" he inquired, glancing at the waiter.

"Fifteen shillings, if you please, sir," was the reply.

"Lend me a sovereign, there's a good fellow; I've left my purse in my
other pocket," he exclaimed to Lord Tomnoddy.

"I would with pleasure, old fellow, if I had it.  But, unfortunately, I
haven't a farthing about me."

Thereupon the waiter proceeded deliberately to gather up the glasses
again, and was about to take them and the wine away, when I interposed
with a proposal to pay.

"No," said Fitz-Johnes fiercely; "I won't hear of it; I'll perish at the
stake first.  But if you really don't mind _lending_ me a sovereign
until to-morrow--"

I said I should be most happy; and forthwith produced the coin, which
Fitz-Johnes, having received it, flung disdainfully down upon the table
with the exclamation:

"There, caitiff, is the lucre.  Now, avaunt! begone!  Thy bones are
marrowless; and you have not a particle of speculation about you."

The waiter, quite unmoved, took up the sovereign, laid down the change--
which Fitz-Johnes promptly pocketed--and retired from the room, leaving
us to discuss our wine in peace; which we did, I taking three glasses,
and my companions disposing of the remainder.

Fitz-Johnes now became very communicative on the subject of his cousin
Lady Mary; and finally the recollection came to him suddenly that she
had sent him her miniature only a day or two before.  This he proposed
to show me, in order that I might pronounce an opinion as to the
correctness of the likeness; but on instituting a search for it, he
discovered--much to my relief, I must confess--that he had left it, with
his purse, in the pocket of his other jacket.

The wine at length finished, we parted company at the door of the "Blue
Posts;" I shaping a course homeward, and my new friends heading in the
direction of the Hard, their uproarious laughter reaching my ear for
some time after they had passed out of sight.



CHAPTER TWO.

I QUIT THE PATERNAL ROOF.

On reaching home I found that my father had preceded me by a few minutes
only, and was to be found in the surgery.  Thither, accordingly, I
hastened to give him an opportunity of seeing me in my new rig.

"Good Heavens, boy!" he exclaimed when he had taken in all the details
of my appearance, "do you mean to say that you have presented yourself
in public in that extraordinary guise?"

I respectfully intimated that I had, and that, moreover, I failed to
observe anything at all extraordinary in my appearance.

"Well," observed he, bursting into a fit of hearty laughter,
notwithstanding his evident annoyance, "_you_ may not have noticed it;
but I'll warrant that everybody else has.  Why, I should not have been
surprised to hear that you had found yourself the laughing-stock of the
town.  Run away, Dick, and change your clothes at once; Shears must see
those things and endeavour to alter them somehow; you can never wear
them as they are."

I slunk away to my room in a dreadfully depressed state of mind.  Was it
possible that what my father had said was true!  A sickening suspicion
seized me that it _was_; and that I had at last found an explanation of
the universal laughter which had seemed to accompany me everywhere in my
wanderings that wretched afternoon.

I wrapped up the now hated uniform in the brown paper which had encased
it when it came from Shears; and my father and I were about to sally
forth with it upon a wrathful visit to the erring Shears, when a
breathless messenger from him arrived with another parcel, and a note of
explanation and apology, to the effect that by some unfortunate blunder
the wrong suit had been sent home, and Mr Shears would feel greatly
obliged if we would return it per bearer.

The man, upon this, was invited inside and requested to wait whilst I
tried on the rightful suit, which was found to fit excellently; and I
could not avoid laughing rather ruefully as I looked in the glass and
contrasted my then appearance with that which I remembered it to have
been in the earlier part of the day.  Later on, that same evening, my
sea-chest and the remainder of my outfit arrived; and I was ready to
join, as had been already arranged, on the following day.

The eventful morning at length arrived; and with my enthusiasm
considerably cooled by a night of sleepless excitement and the
unpleasant consciousness that I was about, in an hour or two more, to
bid a long farewell to home and all who loved me, I descended to the
breakfast-room.  My father was already there; but Eva did not come down
until the last moment; and when she made her appearance it was evident
that she had very recently been weeping.  The dear girl kissed me
silently with quivering lips, and we sat down to breakfast.  My father
made two or three efforts to start something in the shape of a
conversation, but it was no good; the dear old gentleman was himself
manifestly ill at ease; Eva could not speak a word for sobbing; and as
for me, I was as unable to utter a word as I was to swallow my food--a
great lump had gathered in my throat, which not only made it sore but
also threatened to choke me, and it was with the utmost difficulty that
I avoided bursting into a passion of tears.  None of us ate anything,
and at length the wretched apology for a meal was brought to a
conclusion, my father read a chapter from the Bible, and we knelt down
to prayers.  I will not attempt to repeat here the words of his
supplication.  Suffice it to say that they went straight to my heart and
lodged there, their remembrance encompassing me about as with a seven-
fold defence in many a future hour of trial and temptation.

On rising from his knees my father invited me to accompany him to his
consulting-room, and on arriving there he handed me a chair, seated
himself directly in front of me, and said:

"Now, my dear boy, before you leave the roof which has sheltered you
from your infancy, and go forth to literally fight your own way through
the world, there is just a word or two of caution and advice which I
wish to say.  You are about to embark in a profession of your own
deliberate choice, and whilst that profession is of so honourable a
character that all who wear its uniform are unquestioningly accepted as
gentlemen, it is also one which, from its very nature, exposes its
followers to many and great temptations.  I will not enlarge upon these;
you are now old enough to understand the nature of many of them, and
those which you may not at present know anything about will be readily
recognisable as such when they present themselves; and a few simple
rules will, I trust, enable you to overcome them.  The first rule which
I wish you to take for your guidance through life, my son, is this.
Never be ashamed to honour your Maker.  Let neither false pride, nor the
gibes of your companions, nor indeed _any_ influence whatever, constrain
you to deny Him or your dependence upon Him; never take His name in
vain, nor countenance by your continued presence any such thing in
others.  Bear in mind the fact that He who holds the ocean in the hollow
of His hand is also the Guide, the Helper, and the defender of `those
who go down into the sea in ships;' and make it an unfailing practice to
seek His help and protection every day of your life.

"Never allow yourself to contract the habit of swearing.  Many men--and,
because of their pernicious example, many boys too--habitually garnish
their conversation with oaths, profanity, and obscenity of the vilest
description.  It _may_ be--though I earnestly hope and pray it will
not--that a bad example in this respect will be set you by even your
superior officers.  If such should unhappily be the case, think of this,
our parting moments, and of my parting advice to you, and never suffer
yourself to be led away by such example.  In the first place it is
wrong--it is distinctly _sinful_ to indulge in such language; and in the
next place, to take much lower ground, it is vulgar, ungentlemanly, and
altogether in the very worst possible taste.  It is not even _manly_ to
do so, though many lads appear to think it so; there is nothing manly,
or noble, or dignified in the utterance of words which inspire in the
hearers--unless they be the lowest of the low--nothing save the most
extreme disgust.  If you are ambitious to be classed among the vilest
and most ruffianly of your species, use such language; but if your
ambition soars higher than this, avoid it as you would the pestilence.

"Be always _strictly_ truthful.  There are two principal incentives to
falsehood--vanity and fear.  Never seek self-glorification by a
falsehood.  If fame is not to be won legitimately, do without it; and
never seek to screen yourself by a falsehood--this is mean and cowardly
in the last degree.  `To err is human;' we are all liable to make
mistakes sometimes; such a person as an infallible man, woman, or child
has never yet existed, and never will exist.  Therefore, if you make a
mistake, have the courage to manfully acknowledge it and take the
consequences; I will answer for it that they will not be very dreadful.
A fault confessed is half atoned.  And, apart from the _morality_ of the
thing, let me tell you that a reputation for truthfulness is a priceless
possession to a man; it makes his services _doubly_ valuable.

"Be careful that you are always strictly honest, honourable, and upright
in your dealings with others.  Never let your reputation in this respect
be sullied by so much as a breath.  And bear this in mind, my boy, it is
not sufficient that you should _be_ all this, you must also _seem_ it,
that is to say you must keep yourself far beyond the reach of even the
barest suspicion.  Many a man who, by carelessness or inexperience, has
placed himself in a questionable position, has been obliged to pay the
penalty of his want of caution by carrying about with him, to the end of
his life, the burden of a false and undeserved suspicion.

"And now there is only one thing more I wish to caution you against, and
that is _vanity_.  It is a failing which is only too plainly perceptible
in most boys of your age, and--do not be angry, Dick, if I touch the
sore spot with a heavy hand; it is for your own good that I do it--you
have it in a very marked degree.  Like most of your compeers you think
that, having passed your fourteenth birth-day, you are now a _man_, and
in many points I notice that you have already begun to ape the ways of
men.  Don't do it, Dick.  Manhood comes not so early; and of all
disagreeable and objectionable characters, save me, I pray you, from a
boy who mistakes himself for a man.  Manhood, with its countless cares
and responsibilities, will come soon enough; whilst you are a boy _be_ a
boy; or, if you insist on being a man before your time, cultivate those
attributes which are characteristic of _true_ manhood, such as fearless
truth, scrupulous honour, dauntless courage, and so on; but _don't_, for
Heaven's sake, adopt the follies and vices of men.  As I have said,
Dick, vanity is certainly your _great_ weakness, and I want you to be
especially on your guard against it.  It will tempt you to tamper with
the truth, even if it does no worse," (I thought involuntarily of Lady
Mary and my tacit admission of the justice of Lord Fitz-Johnes'
impeachment of me with regard to her), "and it is quite possible that it
may lead you into a serious scrape.

"Now, Dick, my boy--my dear son--I have said to you all that I think,
even in the slightest degree, necessary by way of caution and advice.  I
can only affectionately entreat you to remember and ponder upon my
words, and pray God to lead you to a right understanding of them.

"And now," he added, rising from his seat, "I think it is time you were
on the move.  Go and wish Eva good-bye, and then I will drive you down
to the Hard--I see Edwards has brought round the carriage."

I hurried away to the drawing-room, where I knew I should find my
sister, and, opening the door gently, announced that I had come to say
good-bye.  The dear girl, upon hearing my voice, rose up from the sofa,
in the cushion of which she had been hiding her tear-stained face, and
came with unsteady steps toward me.  Then, as I looked into her eyes--
heavy with the mental agony from which she was suffering, and which she
bravely strove to hide for my sake--I realised, for the first time in my
life, all the horror which lurks in that dreadful word "Farewell."
Meaning originally a benediction, it has become by usage the word with
which we cut ourselves asunder from all that is nearest and dearest to
us; it is the signal for parting; the last word we address to our loved
ones; the fatal spell at which they lingeringly and unwillingly withdraw
from our clinging embrace; the utterance at which the hand-clasp of
friendship or of love is loosed, and we are torn apart never perhaps
again to meet until time shall be no more.

My poor sister!  It was pitiful to witness her intense distress.  This
was our first parting.  Never before had we been separated for more than
an hour or two at a time, and, there being only the two of us, our
mutual affection had steadily, though imperceptibly, grown and
strengthened from year to year until now, when to say "good-bye" seemed
like the rending of our heart-strings asunder.

It had to be said, however, and it _was_ said at last--God knows how,
for my recollection of our parting moments is nothing more than that of
a brief period of acute mental suffering--and then, placing my half-
swooning sister upon the couch and pressing a last lingering kiss on her
icy-cold lips, I rushed from the room and the house.

My father had already taken his seat in the carriage; my luggage was
piled up on the front seat alongside the driver, and nothing therefore
remained but for me to jump in, slam-to the door, and we were off.

It seemed equally impossible to my father and to myself to utter a
single word during that short--though, in our then condition of acute
mental tension, all too long--drive to the Hard; we sat therefore dumbly
side by side, with our hands clasped, until the carriage drew up, when I
sprang out, hastily hailed a boatman, and then at once began with
feverish haste to drag my belongings off the carriage down into the
road.  I had still to say good-bye to my father, and I felt that I
_must_ shorten the time as much as possible, that ten minutes more of
such mental torture would drive me mad.

The boatman quickly shouldered my chest, and, gathering up the remainder
of my belongings in his disengaged hand, discreetly trotted off to the
wherry, which he unmoored and drew alongside the slipway.

Then I turned to my father, and, with the obtrusive lump in my throat by
this time grown so inconveniently large that I could scarcely
articulate, held out my hand to him.

"Good-bye, father!"  I stammered out huskily.

"Good-bye, Dick, my son, my own dear boy!" he returned, not less
affected than myself.  "Good-bye!  May God bless and keep you, and in
His own good time bring you in health and safety back to us!  Amen."

A quick convulsive hand-clasp, a last hungry glance into the loving face
and the sorrow-dimmed eyes which looked so longingly down into mine, and
with a hardly-suppressed cry of anguish I tore myself away, staggered
blindly down the slipway, tumbled into the boat, and, as gruffly as I
could under the circumstances, ordered the boatman to put me on board
the _Daphne_.



CHAPTER THREE.

THE TRUTH ABOUT FITZ-JOHNES.

"Where are we going, Tom?"  I asked, as the boatman, an old chum of
mine, proceeded to step the boat's mast.  "You surely don't need the
sail for a run half-way across the harbour?"

"No," he answered; "no, I don't.  But we're bound out to Spithead.  The
_Daphne_ went out this mornin' at daylight to take in her powder, and I
'spects she's got half of it stowed away by this time.  Look out for
your head, Mr Dick, sir, we shall jibe in a minute."

I ducked my head just in time to save my glazed hat from being knocked
overboard by the jibing mainsail of the boat, and then drew out my
handkerchief and waved another farewell to my father, whose fast-
diminishing figure I could still make out standing motionless on the
shore, with his hand shading his eyes as he watched the rapidly moving
boat.  He waved back in answer, and then the intervening hull of a ship
hid him from my view, and I saw him no more for many a long day.

"Ah, it's a sorry business that, partin' with friends and kinsfolk when
you're outward-bound on a long cruise that you can't see the end of!"
commented my old friend Tom; "but keep up a good heart, Mr Dick; it'll
all be made up to yer when you comes home again by and by loaded down to
the scuppers with glory and prize-money."

I replied somewhat drearily that I supposed it would; and then Tom--
anxious in his rough kindliness of heart to dispel my depression of
spirits and prepare me to present myself among my new shipmates in a
suitably cheerful frame of mind--adroitly changed the subject and
proceeded to put me "up to a few moves," as he expressed it, likely to
prove useful to me in the new life upon which I was about to enter.

"And be sure, Mr Dick," he concluded, as we shot alongside the sloop,
"be sure you remember _always_ to touch your hat when you steps in upon
the quarter-deck of a man-o'-war, no matter whether 'tis your own ship
or a stranger."

Paying the old fellow his fare, and parting with him with a hearty shake
of the hand, I sprang up the ship's side, and--remembering Tom's parting
caution just in the nick of time--presenting myself in due form upon the
quarter-deck, where the first lieutenant had posted himself and from
which he was directing the multitudinous operations then in progress,
reported myself to that much-dreaded official as "come on board to
join."

He was a rather tall and decidedly handsome man, with a gentlemanly
bearing and a well-knit shapely-looking figure, dark hair and eyes,
thick bushy whiskers meeting under the chin, and a clear strong
melodious voice, which, without the aid of a speaking-trumpet, he made
distinctly heard from one end of the ship to the other.  As he stood
there, in an easy attitude with his hands lightly clasped behind his
back and his eye taking in, as it seemed at a glance, everything that
was going forward, he struck me as the _beau-ideal_ of a naval officer.
I took a strong liking to him on the spot, an instinctive prepossession
which was afterwards abundantly justified, for Mr Austin--that was his
name--proved to be one of the best officers it has ever been my good
fortune to serve under.

"Oh, you're come on board to join, eh?" he remarked in response to my
announcement.  "I suppose you are the young gentleman about whom Captain
Vernon was speaking to me yesterday.  What is your name?"

I told him.

"Ah!  Hawkesley! yes, that is the name.  I remember now.  Captain Vernon
told me that although you have never been to sea as yet you are not
altogether a greenhorn.  What can you do?"

"I can hand, reef, and steer, box the compass, pull an oar, or sail a
boat; and I know the name and place of every spar, sail, and rope
throughout the ship."

"Aha! say you so?  Then you will prove indeed a valuable acquisition.
What is the name of this rope?"

"The main-topgallant clewline," I answered, casting my eye aloft to note
the "lead" of the rope.

"Right!" he replied with a smile.  "And you have the true nautical
pronunciation also, I perceive.  Mr Johnson,"--to a master's mate who
happened to be passing at the moment--"this is Mr Hawkesley.  Kindly
take him under your wing and induct him into his quarters in the
midshipmen's berth, if you please.  Don't stop to stow away your things
just now, Mr Hawkesley," he continued.  "I shall have an errand for you
in a few minutes."

"Very well, sir," I replied.  And following my new acquaintance, I first
saw to the hoisting in of my traps, and then with them descended to the
place which was to be my home for so many months to come.

This was a tolerably roomy but very indifferently lighted cabin on the
lower or orlop deck, access to which was gained by the descent of a very
steep ladder.  The furniture was of the most meagre description,
consisting only of a very solid deal table, two equally solid forms or
stools, and a couple of arm-chairs, one at each end of the table, all
securely lashed down to the deck.  There was a shelf with a ledge along
its front edge, and divisions to form lockers, extending across the
after-end of the berth; and under this hung three small book-cases,
(which I was given to understand were private property) and a mirror six
inches long by four inches wide, before which the "young gentlemen"--
four in number, including myself--and the two master's mates had to
perform their toilets as best they could.  The fore and after bulkheads
of the apartment were furnished with stout hooks to which to suspend our
hammocks, which, by the by, when slung, left, I noticed, but a very
small space on either side of the table; and depending from a beam
overhead there hung a common horn lantern containing the most attenuated
candle I ever saw--a veritable "purser's dip."  This lantern, which was
suspended over the centre of the table, afforded, except at meal-times
or other special occasions, the sole illumination of the place.
Although the ship was new, and the berth had only been occupied a few
days, it was already pervaded by a very powerful odour of paint and
stale tobacco-smoke, which made me anxious to quit the place with the
least possible delay.

Merely selecting a position, therefore, for my chest, and leaving to the
wretched lad, whom adverse fortune had made the attendant of the place,
the task of lashing it down, I hastened on deck again, and presenting
myself once more before the first lieutenant, announced that I was now
ready to execute any commission with which he might be pleased to
intrust me.

"Very well," said he.  "I want you to take the gig and proceed on board
the _Saint George_ with this letter for the first lieutenant of that
ship.  Wait for an answer, and if he gives you a parcel be very careful
how you handle it, as it will contain articles of a very fragile
character which must on no account be damaged or broken."

The gig was thereupon piped away, and when she was in the water and her
crew in her I proceeded in my most stately manner down the side and
flung myself in an easily negligent attitude into the stern-sheets.

I felt at that moment exceedingly well satisfied with myself.  I had
joined the ship but a bare half-hour before; yet here I was, singled out
from the rest of the midshipmen as the fittest person to be intrusted
with an evidently important mission.  I forgot not only my father's
caution against vanity but also my sorrow at parting with him; my _amour
propre_ rose triumphant above every other feeling; the disagreeable lump
in my throat subsided, and with an unconscious, but no doubt very
ludicrous, assumption of condescending authority, I gave the order to--

"Shove off, and get the muslin upon her, and see that you crack on,
coxswain, for I am in a hurry."

"Ay, ay, sir," returned that functionary in a very respectful tone of
voice.  "Step the mast, for'ard there, you sea-dogs, `and get the muslin
on her.'"

With a broad grin, whether at the verbatim repetition of my order, or in
consequence of some pantomimic gesture on the part of the coxswain, who
was behind me--I had a sudden painful suspicion that it might possibly
be _both_--the men sprang to obey the order; and in another instant the
mast was stepped, the halliard and tack hooked on, the sheet led aft,
and the sail was all ready for hoisting.

"What d'ye say, Tom; shall us take down a reef!" asked one of the men.

"Reef?  No, certingly not.  Didn't you hear the gentleman say as how we
was to `crack on' because he's in a hurry?  Give her whole canvas,"
replied the coxswain.

With a shivering flutter and a sudden violent jerk the sail was run up;
and, careening gunwale-to, away dashed the lively boat toward the
harbour.

It was blowing fresh and squally from the eastward, and for the first
mile of our course there was a nasty choppy sea for a boat.  The men
flung their oil-skins over their shoulders, and ranging themselves along
the weather side of the boat, seated themselves on the bottom-boards,
and away we went, jerk-jerking through it, the sea hissing and foaming
past us to leeward, and the spray flying in a continuous heavy shower in
over the weather-bow and right aft, drenching me through and through in
less than five minutes.

"I'm afeard you're gettin' rayther wet, sir," remarked the coxswain
feelingly when I had just about arrived at a condition of complete
saturation; "perhaps you'd better have my oil-skin, sir."

"No, thanks," I replied, "I am very comfortable as I am."

This was, to put it mildly, a perversion of the truth.  I was _not_ very
comfortable; I was wet to the skin, and my bran-new uniform, upon which
I so greatly prided myself, was just about ruined.  But it was then too
late for the oil-skin to be of the slightest benefit to me; and,
moreover, I did not choose that those men should think I cared for so
trifling a matter as a wetting.

But a certain scarcely-perceptible ironical inflection in the coxswain's
voice, when he so kindly offered me the use of his jumper, suggested the
suspicion that perhaps he was quietly amusing himself and his shipmates
at my expense, and that the drenching I had received was due more to his
management of the boat than anything else, so I set myself quietly to
watch.

I soon saw that my suspicion was well-founded.  The rascal, instead of
easing the boat and meeting the heavier seas as he ought to have done,
was sailing the craft at top speed right through them, varying the
performance occasionally by keeping the boat broad away when a squall
struck her, causing her to careen until her gunwale went under, and as a
natural consequence shipping a great deal of water.

At length he rather overdid it, a squall striking the boat so heavily
that before he could luff and shake the wind out of the sail she had
filled to the thwarts.  I thought for a moment that we were over, and so
did the crew of the boat, who jumped to their feet in consternation.
Being an excellent swimmer myself, however, I managed to perfectly
retain my _sang-froid_, whilst I also recognised in the mishap an
opportunity to take the coxswain down a peg or two.

Lifting my legs, therefore, coolly up on the side seat out of reach of
the water, I said:

"How long have you been a sailor, coxswain?"

"Nigh on to seven year, sir.  Now then, lads, dowse the sail smartly and
get to work with the bucket."

"Seven years, have you?"  I returned placidly.  "Then you _ought_ to
know how to sail a boat by this time.  I have never yet been to sea; but
I should be ashamed to make such a mess of it as this."

To this my friend in the rear vouchsafed not a word in reply, but from
that moment I noticed a difference in the behaviour of the men all
round.  They found they had not got quite the greenhorn to deal with
that they had first imagined.

When at last the boat was freed of the water and sail once more made
upon her, I remarked to the coxswain:

"Now, Tom--if that is your name--you have amused yourself and your
shipmates at my expense--to your heart's content, I hope--you have
played off your little practical joke upon me, and I bear no malice.
But--let there be no more of it--do you understand?"

"Ay ay, sir; I underconstumbles," was the reply; "and I'm right sorry
now as I did it, sir, and I axes your parding, sir; that I do.  Dash my
buttons, though, but you're a rare plucky young gentleman, you are, sir,
though I says it to your face.  And I hopes, sir, as how you won't bear
no malice again' me for just tryin' a bit to see what sort o' stuff you
was made of, as it were?"

I eased the poor fellow's mind upon this point, and soon afterwards we
arrived alongside the _Saint George_.

I found the first lieutenant, and duly handed over my despatch, which he
read with a curious twitching about the corners of the mouth.

Having mastered the contents, he retired below, asking me to wait a
minute or two.

At that moment my attention was attracted to a midshipman in the main
rigging, who, with exaggerated deliberation, was making his unwilling
way aloft to the mast-head as it turned out.  A certain familiar
something about the young gentleman caused me to look up at him more
attentively; and I then at once recognised my recent acquaintance, Lord
Fitz-Johnes.  At the same moment the second lieutenant, who was eyeing
his lordship somewhat wrathfully, hailed him with:

"Now then, Mr Tomkins, are you going to be all day on your journey?
Quicken your movements, sir, or I will send a boatswain's mate after you
with a rope's-end to freshen your way.  Do you hear, sir?"

"Ay ay, sir," responded the _ci-devant_ Lord Fitz-Johnes--now plain Mr
Tomkins--in a squeaky treble, as he made a feeble momentary show of
alacrity.  Just then I caught his eye, and, taking off my hat, made him
an ironical bow of recognition, to which he responded by pressing his
body against the rigging--pausing in his upward journey to give due
effect to the ceremony--spreading his legs as widely apart as possible,
and extending both hands toward me, the fingers outspread, the thumb of
the right hand pressing gently against the point of his nose, and the
thumb of the left interlinked with the right-hand little finger.  This
salute was made still more impressive by a lengthened slow and solemn
twiddling of the fingers, which was only brought to an end by the second
lieutenant hailing:

"Mr Tomkins, you will oblige me by prolonging your stay at the mast-
head until the end of the afternoon watch, if you please."

As the answering "Ay ay, sir," came sadly down from aloft, I felt a
touch on my arm, and, turning round, found my second acquaintance, Lord
Tomnoddy, by my side.  As I looked at him I felt strongly inclined to
ask him whether _he_ also had changed his name since our last meeting.

"Oh, look here, Hawksbill," he commenced, "I'm glad you've come on
board; I wanted to see you in order that I might repay you the sovereign
you lent us the other day.  Here it is,"--selecting the coin from a
handful which he pulled out of his breeches pocket and thrusting it into
my hand--"and I am very much obliged to you for the loan.  I _really_
hadn't a farthing in my pocket at the time, or I wouldn't have allowed
Tomkins to borrow it from you--and it was awfully stupid of me to let
you go away without saying where I could send it to you."

"Pray do not say anything further about it, Mr --, Mr --."

"I am Lord Southdown, at your service--_not_ Lord Tomnoddy, as my
whimsical friend Tomkins dubbed me the other day.  It is perfectly
true," he added somewhat haughtily, and then with a smile resumed: "but
I suppose I must not take offence at your look of incredulity, seeing
that I was a consenting party to that awful piece of deception which
Tomkins played off upon you.  Ha, ha, ha! excuse me, but I really wish
you could have seen yourself when that mischievous friend of mine
accused you of--of--what was it?  Oh, yes, of playing fast and loose
with the affections of the fictitious Lady Sara, or whatever the fellow
called her.  And then again, when he remarked upon your extraordinary
resemblance to Lord--Somebody--another fictitious friend of his, and
directed attention to your `lofty intellectual forehead, your proud
eagle-glance, your--' oh, dear! it was _too_ much."

And off went his lordship into another paroxysm of laughter, which sent
the tears coursing down his cheeks and caused me to flush most painfully
with mortification.

"Upon my word, Hawksbill--" he commenced.

"My name is Hawkesley, my lord, at your service," I interrupted,
somewhat angrily I am afraid.

"I beg your pardon, Mr Hawkesley; the mistake was a perfectly genuine
and unintentional one, I assure you.  I was going to apologise--as I
_do_, most heartily, for laughing at you in this very impertinent
fashion.  But, my dear fellow, let me advise you as a friend to overcome
your very conspicuous vanity.  I am, perhaps, taking a most
unwarrantable liberty in presuming to offer you advice on so delicate a
subject, or, indeed, in alluding to it at all; but, to tell you the
truth, I have taken rather a liking for you in spite of--ah--ahem--that
is--I mean that you struck me as being a first-rate fellow
notwithstanding the little failing at which I have hinted.  You are
quite good enough every way to pass muster without the necessity for any
attempt to clothe yourself with fictitious attributes of any kind.  Of
course, in the ordinary run of events you will soon be laughed out of
your weakness--there is no place equal to a man-of-war for the speedy
cure of that sort of thing--but the process is often a very painful one
to the patient--I have passed through it myself, so I can speak from
experience--so _very_ painful was it to me that, even at the risk of
being considered impertinent, I have ventured to give you a friendly
caution, in the hope that your good sense will enable you to profit by
it, and so save you many a bitter mortification.  Now I _hope_ I have
not offended you?"

"By no means, my lord," I replied, grasping his proffered hand.  "On the
contrary, I am very sincerely obliged to you--"

At this moment the first lieutenant of the _Saint George_ reappeared on
deck, and coming up to me with Mr Austin's letter open in his hand,
said:

"My friend Mr Austin writes me that you are quite out of eggs on board
the _Daphne_, and asks me to lend him a couple of dozen."  (Here was
another take-down for me; the important despatch with which I--_out of
all the midshipmen on board_--had been intrusted was simply a request
for the loan of two dozen eggs!) "He sends to me for them instead of
procuring them from the shore, because he is afraid you may lose some of
your boat's crew."  (Evidently Mr Austin had not the high opinion of me
that I fondly imagined he had.) "I am sorry to say I cannot oblige Mr
Austin; but I think we can overcome the difficulty if you do not mind
being delayed a quarter of an hour or so.  I have a packet which I wish
to send ashore, and if you will give Lord Southdown here--who seems to
be a friend of yours--a passage to the Hard and off again, he will look
after your boat's crew for you whilst you purchase your eggs."

I of course acquiesced in this proposal; whereupon Lord Southdown was
sent into the captain's cabin for the packet in question; and on his
reappearance a few minutes later we jumped into the boat and went ashore
together, his lordship regaling me on the way with sundry entertaining
anecdotes whereof his humorous friend Tomkins was the hero.

We managed to execute our respective errands without losing any of the
boat's crew; and duly putting Lord Southdown on board the _Saint George_
again, I returned triumphantly to the _Daphne_ with my consignment of
eggs and handed them over intact to Mr Austin.  After which I dived
below, just in time to partake of the first dinner provided for me at
the expense of His Most Gracious Majesty George IV.

For the remainder of that day and during the whole of the next, until
nearly ten o'clock at night, we were up to our eyes in the business of
completing stores, etcetera, and, generally, in getting the ship ready
for sea; and at daybreak on the second morning after I had joined, the
fore-topsail was loosed, blue peter run up to the fore royal-mast head,
the boats hoisted in and stowed, and the messenger passed, after which
all hands went to breakfast.  At nine o'clock the captain's gig was sent
on shore, and at 11 a.m. the skipper came off; his boat was hoisted up
to the davits, the canvas loosed, the anchor tripped, and away we went
down the Solent and out past the Needles, with a slashing breeze at
east-south-east and every stitch of canvas set, from the topgallant
studding-sails downwards.



CHAPTER FOUR.

A BOAT-EXCURSION INTO THE CONGO.

Our skipper's instructions were to the effect that he was, in the first
instance, to report himself to the governor of Sierra Leone; and it was
to that port, therefore, that we now made the best of our way.

The breeze with which we started carried us handsomely down channel and
half-way across the Bay of Biscay, and the ship proving to be a regular
flyer, everybody, from the skipper downwards, was in the very best of
spirits.  Then came a change, the wind backing out from south-west with
squally weather which placed us at once upon a taut bowline; and
simultaneously with this change of weather a most disagreeable discovery
was made, namely, that the _Daphne_ was an exceedingly crank ship.

However, we accomplished the passage in a little over three weeks; and
after remaining at Sierra Leone for a few hours only, proceeded for the
mouth of the Congo, off which we expected to fall in with the _Fawn_,
which ship we had been sent out to relieve.  Proceeding under easy
canvas, in the hope of picking up a prize by the way--in which hope, so
however, we were disappointed--we reached our destination in twenty-
three days from Sierra Leone; sighting the _Fawn_ at daybreak and
closing with her an hour afterwards.  Her skipper came on board the
_Daphne_ and remained to breakfast with Captain Vernon, whom--our
skipper being a total stranger to the coast--he posted up pretty
thoroughly in the current news, as well as such of the "dodges" of the
slavers as he had happened to have picked up.  He said that at the
moment there were no ships in the river, but that intelligence--whether
trustworthy or no, however, he could not state--had reached him of the
daily-expected arrival of three ships from Cuba.  He also confirmed a
very extraordinary story which had been told our skipper by the governor
of Sierra Leone, to the effect that large cargoes of slaves, known to
have been collected on shore up the river, awaiting the arrival of the
slavers, had from time to time disappeared in a most mysterious manner,
at times when, as far as could be ascertained, no craft but men-o'-war
were anywhere near the neighbourhood.  At noon the _Fawn_ filled away
and bore up for Jamaica--whither she was to proceed preparatory to
returning home to be paid off--her crew manning the rigging and giving
us a parting cheer as she did so; and two hours later her royals dipped
below the horizon, and we were left alone in our glory.

On parting from the _Fawn_ we filled away again upon the starboard tack,
the wind being off the shore, and at noon brought the ship to an anchor
in nine fathoms of water off Padron Point (the projecting headland on
the southern side of the river's mouth) at a distance of two miles only
from the shore.  The order was then given for the men to go to dinner as
soon as that meal could be got ready; it being understood that,
notwithstanding the _Fawn's_ assurance as to there being no ships in the
river, our skipper intended to satisfy himself of that fact by actual
examination.  Moreover, the deserted state of the river afforded us an
excellent opportunity for making an unmolested exploration of it--making
its acquaintance, so to speak, in order that at any future time, if
occasion should arise, we might be able to make a dash into it without
feeling that we were doing so absolutely blindfold.

At 1:30 p.m. the gig was piped away; Mr Austin being in charge, with me
for an _aide_, all hands being fully armed.

The wind had by this time died away to a dead calm; the sun was blazing
down upon us as if determined to roast us as we sat; and we had a long
pull before us, for although the ship lay only two miles from the shore,
we had to round a low spit, called, as Mr Austin informed me, Shark
Point, six miles away, in a north-easterly direction, before we could be
said to be fairly in the river.

For this point, then, away we stretched, the perspiration streaming from
the men at every pore.  Fortunately the tide had begun to make before we
started, and it was therefore in our favour.  We had a sounding-line
with us, which we used at frequent intervals; and by its aid we
ascertained that at a distance of one mile from the shore the shallowest
water between the ship and Shark Point was about three and a half
fathoms at low water.  This was at a spot distant some three and a half
miles from the point.  Half a mile further on we suddenly deepened our
water to forty-five fathoms; and at a distance of only a quarter of a
mile from the point as we rounded it, the lead gave us fifteen fathoms,
shortly afterwards shoaling to six fathoms, which depth was steadily
maintained for a distance of eight miles up the river, the extent of our
exploration on this occasion.  On our return journey we kept a little
further off the shore, and found a corresponding increase in the depth
of water; a result which fully satisfied us that we need have no
hesitation about taking the _Daphne_ inside should it at any time seem
desirable so to do.

Immediately abreast of Shark Point is an extensive creek named Banana
Creek; and hereabouts the river is fully six miles wide.  On making out
the mouth of this creek it was our first intention to have explored it;
but on rounding the point and fairly entering the river, we made out so
many snug, likely-looking openings on the southern side that we
determined to confine our attention to that side first.

In the first place, immediately on rounding Shark Point we discovered a
bay at the back of it, roughly triangular in shape, about four miles
broad across the base, and perhaps three miles deep from base to apex.
At the further end of the base of this triangular bay we descried the
mouth of the creek; and at the apex or bottom of the bay, another.  The
latter of these we examined first, making the discovery that the mouth
or opening gave access to _three_ creeks instead of one; they were all,
however, too shallow to admit anything drawing over ten feet, even at
high-water; and the land adjoining was also so low and the bush so
stunted--consisting almost exclusively of mangroves--that only a partial
concealment could have been effected unless a ship's upper spars were
struck for the occasion.  A low-rigged vessel, such as a felucca, would
indeed find complete shelter in either of the two westernmost creeks--
the easternmost had only three feet of water in it when we visited it;
but the shores on either side consisted only of a brownish-grey fetid
mud, of a consistency little thicker than pea-soup; and the facilities
for embarking slaves were so utterly wanting that we felt sure we need
not trouble ourselves at any future time about either of these creeks.

The other creek, that which I have described as situated at the further
end of the base of the triangle forming the bay, was undoubtedly more
promising; though, like the others, it could only receive craft of small
tonnage, having a little bar of its own across its mouth, on which at
half-tide, which was about the time of our visit, there was only seven
feet of water.  Its banks, however, were tolerably firm and solid; the
jungle was thicker and higher; though little more than a cable's length
wide at its mouth, it was nearly a mile in width a little further in;
and branching off from it, right and left, there were three or four
other snug-looking little creeks, wherein a ship of light draught might
lie as comfortably as if in dry-dock, and wherein, by simply sending
down topgallant-masts, she would be perfectly concealed.  Mr Austin
would greatly have liked to land here and explore the bush a bit on each
side of the creek; but our mission just then was to make a rough survey
of the river rather than of its banks, so we reluctantly made our way
back once more to the broad rolling river.

A pull of a couple of miles close along the shore brought us to the
entrance of another creek, which for a length of two miles averaged
quite half a mile wide, when it took a sharp bend to the right, or in a
southerly direction, and at the same time narrowed down to less than a
quarter of a mile in width.  For the first two miles we had plenty of
water, that is to say, there was never less than five fathoms under our
keel; but with the narrowing of the creek it shoaled rapidly, so that by
the time we had gone another mile we found ourselves in a stream about a
hundred yards wide and only six feet deep.  The mangrove-swamp, however,
had ceased; and the grassy banks, shelving gently down to the water on
each side, ended in a narrow strip of reddish sandy beach.  The bush
here was very dense and the vegetation extremely varied, whilst the
foliage seemed to embrace literally all the colours of the rainbow.
Greens of course predominated, but they were of every conceivable shade,
from the pale delicate tint of the young budding leaf to an olive which
was almost black.  Then there was the ruddy bronze of leaves which
appeared just ready to fall; and thickly interspersed among the greens
were large bushes with long lance-shaped leaves of a beautifully
delicate ashen-grey tint; others glowed in a rich mass of flaming
scarlet; whilst others again had a leaf thickly covered with short white
sheeny satin-like fur--I cannot otherwise describe it--which gleamed and
flashed in the sun-rays as though the leaves were of polished silver.
Some of the trees were thickly covered with blossoms exquisite both in
form and colour; while as to the passion-plant and other flowering
creepers, they were here, there, and everywhere in such countless
varieties as would have sent a botanist into the seventh heaven of
delight.

That this vast extent of jungle was not tenantless we had frequent
assurance in the sudden sharp cracking of twigs and branches, as well as
other more distant and more mysterious sounds; an occasional glimpse of
a monkey was caught high aloft in the gently swaying branches of some
forest giant; and birds of gorgeous plumage but more or less discordant
cries constantly flitted from bough to bough, or swept in rapid flight
across the stream.

We were so enchanted with the beauty of this secluded creek that though
the time was flitting rapidly away Mr Austin could not resist the
temptation to push a little further on, notwithstanding the fact that we
had already penetrated higher than a ship, even of small tonnage, could
possibly reach; and the men, nothing loath, accordingly paddled gently
ahead for another mile.  At this point we discovered that the tide was
met and stopped by a stream of thick muddy fresh water; the creek or
river, whichever you choose to call it, had narrowed in until it was
only about a hundred feet across; and the water had shoaled to four
feet.  The trees in many places grew right down to the water's edge; the
roots of some, indeed, were actually covered, and here and there the
more lofty ones, leaning over the stream on either side, mingled their
foliage overhead and formed a leafy arch, completely excluding the sun's
rays and throwing that part of the river which they overarched into a
deep green twilight shadow to which the eye had to become accustomed
before it was possible to see anything.  A hundred yards ahead of us
there was a long continuous _tunnel_ formed in this way; and, on
entering it, the men with one accord rested on their oars and allowed
the boat to glide onward by her own momentum, whilst they looked around
them, lost in wonder and admiration.

As we shot into this watery lane, and the roll of the oars in the
rowlocks ceased, the silence became profound, almost oppressively so,
marked and emphasised as it was by the lap and gurgle of the water
against the boat's planking.  Not a bird was here to be seen; not even
an insect--except the mosquitoes, by the by, which soon began to swarm
round us in numbers amply sufficient to atone for the absence of all
other life.  But the picture presented to our view by the long avenue of
variegated foliage, looped and festooned in every direction with flowery
creepers loaded with blooms of the most gorgeous hues; and the deep
green--almost black--shadows, contrasted here and there with long arrowy
shafts of greenish light glancing down through invisible openings in the
leafy arch above, and lighting up into prominence some feathery spray or
drooping flowery wreath, was enchantingly beautiful.

We were all sitting motionless and silent, wrapped in admiration of the
enchanting scene, all the more enchanting, perhaps, to us from its
striking contrast to the long monotony of sea and sky only upon which
our eyes had so lately rested, when a slight, sharp, crackling sound--
proceeding from apparently but a short distance off in the bush on our
port bow--arrested our attention.  The boat had by this time lost her
way, and the men, abruptly roused from their trance of wondering
admiration, were about once more to dip their oars in the water when Mr
Austin's uplifted hand arrested them.

The sounds continued at intervals; and presently, without so much as the
rustling of a bough to prepare us for the apparition, a magnificent
antelope emerged from the bush about fifty yards away, and stepped
daintily down into the water.  His quick eye detected in an instant the
unwonted presence of our boat and ourselves, and instead of bowing his
head at once to drink, as had evidently been his first intention, he
stood motionless as a statue, gazing wonderingly at us.  He was a superb
creature, standing as high at the shoulders as a cow, with a smooth,
glossy hide of a very light chocolate colour--except along the belly and
on the inner side of the thighs, where the hair was milk-white--and
long, sharp, gracefully curving horns.  We were so close to him that we
could even distinguish the greenish lambent gleam of his eyes.

Mr Austin very cautiously reached out his hand for a musket which lay
on the thwart beside him, and had almost grasped it, when--in the
millionth part of a second, as it seemed to me, so rapid was it--there
was a flashing swirl of water directly in front of the deer, and before
the startled creature had time to make so much as a single movement to
save itself, an immense alligator had seized it by a foreleg and was
tug-tugging at it in an endeavour to drag it into deep water.  The deer,
however, though taken by surprise and at a disadvantage, was evidently
determined not to yield without a struggle, and, lowering his head, he
made lunge after lunge at his antagonist with the long, sharply-pointed
horns which had so excited my admiration, holding bravely back with his
three disengaged legs the while.

"Give way, men," shouted Mr Austin in a voice which made the leafy
archway ring again.  "Steer straight for the crocodile, Tom; plump the
boat right on him; and, bow-oar, lay in and stand by to prod the fellow
with your boat-hook.  Drive it into him under the arm-pit if you can;
that, I believe, is his most vulnerable part."

Animated by the first lieutenant's evident excitement, the men dashed
their oars into the water, and, with a tug which made the stout ash
staves buckle like fishing-rods, sent the boat forward with a rush.

The alligator--or crocodile, whichever he happened to be--was, however,
in the meantime, getting the best of the struggle, dragging the antelope
steadily ahead into deeper water every instant, in spite of the
beautiful creature's desperate resistance.  We were only a few seconds
in reaching the scene of the conflict, yet during that brief period the
buck had been dragged forward until the water was up to his belly.

"Hold water! back hard of all!" cried Mr Austin, standing up in the
stern-sheets, musket in hand, as we ranged up alongside the frantic
deer.  "Now give it him with your boat-hook; drive it well home into
him.  That's your sort, Ben; another like that, and he _must_ let go.
Well struck! now another--"

Bang!

The crocodile had suddenly released his hold upon the antelope; and the
creature no sooner felt itself free than it wheeled round, and, on three
legs--the fourth was broken above the knee-joint, or probably _bitten_
in two--made a gallant dash for the shore.  But our first lieutenant was
quite prepared for such a movement, had anticipated it, in fact, and the
buck had barely emerged from the water when he was cleverly dropped by a
bullet from Mr Austin's musket.  The boat was thereupon promptly
beached, the buck's throat cut, and the carcass stowed away in the
stern-sheets, which it pretty completely filled.  We were just about to
shove off again when the first lieutenant caught sight of a banana-tree,
with the fruit just in right condition for cutting; so we added to our
spoils three huge bunches of bananas, each as much as a man could
conveniently carry.

The deepening shadows now warned us that the sun was sinking low; so we
shoved off and made the best of our way back to the river.  When we
reached it we found that there was a small drain of the flood-tide still
making, and, the land-breeze not yet having sprung up, Mr Austin
determined to push yet a little higher up the river.  The boat's head
was accordingly pointed to the eastward, and, four miles further on, we
hit upon another opening, into which we at once made our way.

We had no sooner entered this creek, however, than we found that, like
the first we had visited, it forked into two, one branch of which
trended to the south-west and the other in a south-easterly direction.
We chose the latter, and soon found ourselves pulling along a channel
very similar to the last one we had explored, except that, in the
present instance, the first of a chain of hills, stretching away to the
eastward, lay at no great distance ahead of us.  A pull of a couple of
miles brought us to a bend in the stream; and in a few minutes
afterwards we found ourselves sweeping along close to the base of the
hills, in a channel about a quarter of a mile wide and with from three
to four and a half fathoms of water under us.  Twenty minutes later the
channel again divided, one branch continuing on in an easterly
direction, whilst the other--which varied from a half to three-quarters
of a mile in width--branched off abruptly to the northward and westward.
Mr Austin chose this channel, suspecting that it would lead into the
river again, a suspicion which another quarter of an hour proved
correct.

The sun was by this time within half an hour of setting, and Shark
Point--or rather the tops of the mangroves growing upon it--lay
stretched along the horizon a good eleven miles off, so it was high time
to see about returning.  But the tide had by this time turned and was
running out pretty strongly in mid-channel; the land-breeze also had
sprung up, and, though where we were, close inshore, we did not feel
very much of it, was swaying the tops of the more lofty trees in a way
which I am sure must have gladdened the hearts of the boat's crew; so
the oars were laid in, the mast stepped, and the lug hoisted, and in
another ten minutes we were bowling down stream--what with the current
and the breeze, both of which we got in their full strength as soon as
we had hauled a little further out from the bank--at the rate of a good
honest ten knots per hour.

The sun went down in a bewildering blaze of purple and crimson and gold
when we were within five miles of Shark Point; and, ten minutes
afterwards, night--the glorious night of the tropics--was upon us in all
its loveliness.  The heavens were destitute of cloud--save a low bank
down on the western horizon--and the soft velvety blue-black of the sky
was literally powdered with countless millions of glittering gems.  I do
not remember that I ever before or since saw so many of the smaller
stars; and as for the larger stars and the planets, they shone down upon
us with an effulgence which caused them to be reflected in long
shimmering lines of golden light upon the turbid water.

Presently the boat's lug-sail, which spread above and before us like a
great blot of ghostly grey against the starlit sky, began perceptibly to
pale and brighten until it stood out clear and distinct, bathed in
richest primrose light, with the shadow of the mast drawn across it in
ebony-black.  Striking the top of the sail first, the light swept
gradually down; and in less than a minute the whole of the boat, with
the crew and ourselves, were completely bathed in it.  I looked behind
me to ascertain the cause of this sudden glorification, and, behold!
there was the moon sweeping magnificently into view above the distant
tree-tops, her full orb magnified to three or four times its usual
dimensions and painted a glorious ruddy orange by the haze which began
to rise from the bosom of the river.  Under the magic effect of the
moonlight the noble river, with its background of trees and bush rising
dim and ghostly above the wreathing mist and its swift-flowing waters
shimmering in the golden radiance, presented a picture the dream-like
beauty of which words are wholly inadequate to describe.  But I am
willing to confess that my admiration lost a great deal of its ardour
when Mr Austin informed me that the mist which imparted so subtle a
charm to the scene was but the forerunner of the deadly miasmatic fog
which makes the Congo so fatal a river to Europeans; and I was by no
means sorry when we found ourselves, three-quarters of an hour later,
once more in safety alongside the _Daphne_, having succeeded in making
good our escape before the pestilential fog overtook us.  Our prizes,
the buck and the bananas, were cordially welcomed on board the old
barkie; the bananas being carefully suspended from the spanker-boom to
ripen at their leisure, whilst the buck was handed over to the butcher
to be operated upon forthwith, so far at least as the flaying was
concerned; and on the morrow all hands, fore and aft, enjoyed the
unwonted luxury of venison for dinner.

Mr Austin having duly reported to Captain Vernon that the river was
just then free of shipping, we hove up the anchor that same evening, at
the end of the second dog-watch, and stood off from the land all night
under easy canvas.



CHAPTER FIVE.

THE "VESTALE."

About three bells in the forenoon watch next morning the look-out aloft
reported a sail on the larboard bow; and, on being questioned in the
usual manner, he shouted down to us the further information that the
stranger was a brig working in for the land on the starboard tack under
topgallant-sails, and that she had all the look of a man-o'-war.

By six bells we had closed each other within a mile; and a few minutes
afterwards the stranger crossed our bows, and, laying her main topsail
to the mast, lowered a boat.  Perceiving that her captain wanted to
speak us, we of course at once hauled our wind and, backing our main
topsail, hove-to about a couple of cables' lengths to windward of the
brig.  She was as beautiful a craft as a seaman's eye had ever rested
on: long and low upon the water, with a superbly-modelled hull,
enormously lofty masts with a saucy rake aft to them, and very taunt
heavy yards.  She mounted seven guns of a side, apparently of the same
description and weight as our own--long 18-pounders, and there was what
looked suspiciously like a long 32-pounder on her forecastle.  She was
flying French colours, but she certainly looked at least as much like an
English as she did like a French ship.

The boat dashed alongside us in true man-o'-war style; our side was duly
manned, and presently there entered through the gangway a man dressed in
the uniform of a lieutenant in the French navy.  He was of medium height
and rather square built; his skin was tanned to a deep mahogany colour;
his hair and bushy beard were jet black, as also were his piercing,
restless eyes; and though rather a handsome man, his features wore a
fierce and repellent expression, which, however, passed away as soon as
he began to speak.

"Bon jour, m'sieu," he began, raising his uniform cap and bowing to Mr
Austin, who met him at the gangway.  "What chip dis is, eh?"

"This, sir, is His Britannic Majesty's sloop _Daphne_.  What brig is
that?"

"That, sair, is the Franch brigue of war _Vestale_; and I am Jules Le
Breton, her first leeftant, at your serveece.  Are you le capitaine of
this vaisseau?"

"No, sir; I am the first lieutenant, and my name is Austin," with a bow.
"Captain Vernon is in his cabin.  Do you wish to see him?"

At that moment the skipper made his appearance from below, and stepping
forward, the French lieutenant was presented to him with all due
formality by Mr Austin.

It being my watch on deck I was promenading fore and aft just to leeward
of the group, and consequently overheard pretty nearly everything that
passed.  The _Vestale_, it appeared from Monsieur Le Breton's statement,
had just returned to the coast from a fruitless chase half across the
Atlantic after a large barque which had managed to slip out of the Congo
and dodge past them some three weeks previously, and she was now about
to look in there once more in the hope of meeting with better fortune.
And, judging from the course we were steering that we had just left the
river, Monsieur Le Breton had, "by order of Capitane Dubosc, ventured
upon the liberte" of boarding us in order to ascertain the latest news.

The skipper of course mentioned our exploring expedition of the previous
day, assured him of the total absence of all ships from the river, and
finally invited him into the cabin to take wine with him.

They were below fully half an hour, and when they returned to the deck
the Frenchman was chattering away in very broken English in the most
lively manner, and gesticulating with his hands and shoulders as only a
Frenchman can.  But notwithstanding the animation with which he was
conversing, I could not help noticing that his eyes were all over the
ship, not in an abstracted fashion, but evidently with the object of
thoroughly "taking stock" of us.  It struck me, too, that his English
was too broken to be quite genuine--or rather, to be strictly correct,
that it was not always broken to the same extent.  For instance, he once
or twice used the word "the," uttering it as plainly as I could; and at
other times I noticed that he called it "ze" or "dee."  And I detected
him ringing the changes in like manner on several other words.  From
which I inferred that he was not altogether as fair and above-board with
us as he wished us to believe.  I felt half disposed to seize an early
opportunity to mention the matter to Mr Austin; but then, on the other
hand, I reflected that Monsieur Le Breton could hardly have any possible
reason for attempting to deceive us in any way, and so for the moment
the matter passed out of my mind.

At length our visitor bowed himself down over the side, throwing one
last lingering look round our decks as he did so, and in another five
minutes was once more on board his own ship, which, hoisting up her
boat, filled her main topsail, and, with a dip of her ensign by way of
"good-bye," resumed her course.

"Thank Heaven I've got rid of the fellow at last!" exclaimed Captain
Vernon with a laugh, when the brig was once more fairly under weigh.
"He has pumped me dry; such an inquisitive individual I think I never in
my life encountered before.  But I fancy I have succeeded in persuading
him that he will do no good by hanging about the coast hereabouts.  We
want no Frenchmen to help us with our work; and I gave him so very
discouraging an account of the state of things here, that I expect they
will take a trip northward after looking into the river."

We continued running off the land for the remainder of that day, the
whole of the following night, and up to noon next day, with a breeze
which sent us along, under topsails only, at a rate of about six knots
an hour.  On the following day, at six bells in the forenoon watch (11
a.m.), the look-out aloft reported a something which he took to be
floating wreckage, about three points on the port bow; and Mr Smellie,
our second lieutenant, at once went aloft to the foretopmast crosstrees
to have a look at it through his telescope.  A single glance sufficed to
acquaint him with the fact that the object, which was about six miles
distant, was a raft with people upon it, who were making such signals as
it was in their power to make with the object of attracting our
attention.  Upon the receipt of this news on deck Captain Vernon at once
ordered the ship's course to be altered to the direction of the raft, a
gun being fired and the ensign run up to the gaff-end at the same time.

It was a trifle past noon when the _Daphne_ rounded-to about a hundred
yards to windward of the raft, and sent away a boat to pick up those
upon it.  It was a wretched make-shift structure, composed of a spar or
two, some half-burned hen-coops, and a few pieces of charred bulwark-
planking; and was so small that there was scarcely room on it for the
fourteen persons it sustained.  It was a most fortunate circumstance for
them that the weather happened to be fine at the time; for had there
been any great amount of sea running, the crazy concern could not have
been kept together for half an hour.  We concluded from the appearance
of the affair that the castaways had been burned out of their ship; and
so they had, but not in the manner we supposed.  As we closed with the
raft it was seen that several sharks were cruising longingly round and
round it, and occasionally charging at it, evidently in the hope of
being able to drag off some of its occupants.  So pertinacious were
these ravenous fish that the boat's crew had to fairly fight their way
through them, and even to beat them off with the oars and stretchers
when they had got alongside.  However, the poor wretches were rescued
without accident; and in a quarter of an hour from the time of
despatching the boat she was once more swinging at the davits, with the
rescued men, most of whom were suffering more or less severely from
burns, safely below in charge of the doctor and his assistant.  Later
on, when their injuries had been attended to and the cravings of their
hunger and thirst satisfied--they had neither eaten nor drunk during the
previous forty-two hours--Captain Vernon sent for the skipper of the
rescued crew, to learn from him an account of the mishap.

His story, as related to me by him during the second dog-watch, was to
the following effect:--

"My name is Richards, and my ship, which hailed from Liverpool, was
called the _Juliet_.  She was a barque of three hundred and fifty tons
register, oak built and copper fastened throughout, and was only five
years old.

"Fifty-four days ago to-day we cleared from Liverpool for Saint Paul de
Loando with a cargo of Manchester and Birmingham goods, sailing the same
day with the afternoon tide.

"All went well with us until the day before last, when, just before
eight bells in the afternoon watch, one of the hands, who had gone aloft
to stow the main-topgallant-sail, reported a sail dead to leeward of us
under a heavy press of canvas.  I have been to Saint Paul twice before,
and know pretty well the character of this coast; moreover, on my first
trip I was boarded and plundered by a rascally Spaniard; so I thought I
would just step up aloft and take a look at the stranger through my
glass at once.  Well, sir, I did so, and the conclusion I came to was,
that though it was blowing very fresh I would give the ship every stitch
of canvas I could show to it.  The strange sail was a brig of about
three hundred tons or thereabouts, with very taunt spars, a tremendous
spread of canvas, and her hull painted dead black down to the copper,
which had been scoured until it fairly shone again.  I didn't at all
like the appearance of my newly-discovered neighbour; the craft had a
wicked look about her from her truck down, and the press of sail she was
carrying seemed to bode me no good.  So, as the _Juliet_ happened to be
a pretty smart vessel under her canvas, and in splendid sailing trim, I
thought I would do what I could to keep the stranger at arms'-length,
and when the watch was called, a few minutes afterwards, I got the
topgallant-sails, royals, flying jib, main-topgallant, royal, and mizen-
topmast-staysails all on the old barkie again, and we began to smoke
through it, I can tell you.  That done, I set the stranger by compass,
and for the first hour or so I thought we were holding our own; but by
sunset I could see--a great deal too plainly for my own comfort--that
the brig was both weathering and fore-reaching upon us.  Still she was a
long way off, and had the night been dark I should have tried to dodge
the fellow; but that unfortunately was no use; the sun was no sooner set
than the moon rose, and of course he could see us even more plainly than
we could see him.  At seven o'clock he tacked, and then I felt pretty
sure he meant mischief; and when, at a little before eight bells, he
tacked again, this time directly in our wake, I had no further doubt
about it.  At this time he was about eight miles astern of us, and at
midnight he ranged up on our weather quarter, slapped his broadside of
seven 18-pound shot right into us without a word of warning, and ordered
us to at once heave-to.  My owners had unfortunately sent me to sea with
only half a dozen muskets on board, and not an ounce of powder or shot;
so what could I do?  Nothing, of course, but heave-to as I was bid; and
we accordingly backed the main topsail without a moment's delay.  The
brig then did the same, and lowered a boat, which five minutes later
dashed alongside us and threw in upon our decks a crew of seventeen as
bloodthirsty-looking ruffians as one need ever wish to see.  We were,
all hands fore and aft, at once bound neck and heels and huddled
together aft on the monkey-poop, with two of the pirates mounting guard
over us, and then the rest of the gang coolly set to work and ransacked
the ship.  The fellow in command of the party--a man about five feet six
inches in height, square built, with deeply bronzed features and black
hair and beard--made it his first business to hunt for the manifest; and
having ascertained from it that we had amongst the cargo several bolts
of canvas, a large quantity of new rope, four cases of watches and
jewellery, and a dozen cases of beads, he first ordered me, in broken
English, to inform him where these articles were stowed, and then had
the hatches stripped off and the cargo roused on deck until he could get
at them.  When the beads, rope, canvas, and other matters that he took a
fancy to, amounting to six boat loads, had been transferred to the brig,
he informed me that I must point out to him the spot where I had
concealed the money which he knew to be on board.  Now it so happened
that I had _no_ money on board; my owners are dreadfully suspicious
people, and will not intrust _anybody_ with a shilling more than they
can help--and many a good fifty-pound note has missed its way into their
pockets through their over-cautiousness; but that's neither here nor
there.  Well, I told the fellow we had no money on board, whereupon he
whipped out his watch and told me out loud, so that all hands could
hear, that he would give us five minutes in which to make up our minds
whether we would hand over the cash or not; and if we decided _not_ to
do so he would at the end of that time set fire to the ship and leave us
all to burn in her.  And that's just exactly what he did."

"He actually set fire to the ship!" said I.  "But of course he cast you
all adrift first, and gave you at least a _chance_ to save your lives?"

"I'll tell you what he did, sir," replied the merchant-skipper.  "When
the five minutes had expired he called for a lantern, and, when he had
got it, went round and examined each man's lashings with his own eyes
and hands, so as to make sure that we were all secure to his
satisfaction.  Then he ordered half-a-dozen bales of cotton goods to be
cut open and strewed about the cabin; poured oil, turpentine, and tar
over them; did the same down in the forecastle; and then capsized a cask
of tar and a can of turpentine over the most inflammable goods he could
put his hand upon down in the main hatchway; had the bottoms of all the
boats knocked out; took away all the oars; and then set fire to the ship
forward, aft, and in midships; after which he wished us all a warm
journey into the next world, and went deliberately down the side into
his boat.  The brig stood by us until we were fairly in flames fore and
aft, and then filled away on the starboard tack under all the canvas she
could show to it, leaving us there to perish miserably."

"And how did you manage to effect your escape after all?"  I inquired.

"Well, sir," the skipper replied, "the ship--as you may imagine, with a
cargo such as we had on board--burned like a torch.  In less than five
minutes after the pirates had shoved off from our side the flames were
darting up through companion, hatchway, and fore-scuttle, and in a
quarter of an hour she was all ablaze.  Luckily for us, the ship, left
to herself, had paid off before the wind, and the flames were therefore
blown for'ard; but the deck upon which we were lying soon became so hot
as to be quite unbearable; we were literally beginning to roast alive,
and were in momentary expectation that the deck would fall in and drop
us helplessly into the raging furnace below.  At last, driven to
desperation by the torture of mind and body from which I was suffering,
I managed to roll over on my other side; and there, within an inch of my
mouth, was a man's hands, lashed, like my own, firmly behind his back,
and his ankles drawn close up to them.  The idea seized me to try and
_gnaw_ through his lashings and so free him, when of course he would
soon be able to cast us adrift in return.  I shouted to him what I
intended to do, and then set to work with my teeth upon his bonds,
gnawing away for dear life.  When my teeth first came into contact with
the firm hard rope I thought I should never be able to do it--at least
not in time to save us--but a man never knows what he can do until he
tries in earnest, as I did then; and I actually succeeded, and in a few
minutes too, in eating my way through one turn of the lashings.  The man
then strained and tugged until he managed to free himself, after which
it was the work of a few minutes only to liberate the rest of us.  We
then hastily collected together such materials as we could first lay our
hands on, and with them constructed the raft off which you took us.  It
was a terribly crazy affair, but we had no time to make a better one.
And of course, as the ship was by that time a mass of fire fore and aft,
it was impossible for us to secure an atom of provisions of any kind, or
a single drop of water."

"What a story of fiendish cruelty!"  I ejaculated when Richards had
finished his story.  "By the by," I suddenly added, moved by an impulse
which I could neither analyse nor account for, "of what nationality was
the leader of the pirates?  Do you think he was a _Frenchman_?"

"Yes, sir, I believe he _was_, although he addressed his men in
Spanish," answered Richards in some surprise.  "Why do you ask, sir?
Have you ever fallen in with such a man as I have described him to be?"

"Well, ye--that is, not to my knowledge," I replied hesitatingly.  The
fact is that Richards' description of the pirate leader had somehow
brought vividly before my minds' eye the personality of Monsieur Le
Breton, the first lieutenant of the French gun-brig _Vestale_; and it
was this which doubtless prompted me to put the absurd question to my
companion as to the nationality of the man who had so inhumanly treated
him.  Not, it must be understood, that I seriously for a single instant
associated Monsieur Le Breton or the _Vestale_ with the diabolical act
of piracy to the account of which I had just listened.  We had at that
time no very great love of or respect for the French, it is true; but
even the most bigoted of Englishmen would, I think, have hesitated to
hint at the possibility of a French man-of-war being the perpetrator of
such a deed.

The mere idea, the bare suggestion of such a suspicion, was so absurd
that I laughed at myself for my folly in allowing it to obtrude itself,
even in the most intangible form, for a single moment on my mind.  And
yet, such is the perversity of the human intellect, I could not, in
spite of myself, quite get rid of the extravagant idea that Monsieur Le
Breton was in some inexplicable way cognisant of the outrage; nor could
I forbear sketching, for Richards' benefit, as accurate a word-portrait
as I could of the French lieutenant; and--I suppose on account of that
same perversity--I felt no surprise whatever when he assured me that I
had faithfully described to him the arch-pirate who had left him and his
crew to perish in the flames.  Indeed, in my then contradictory state of
mind I should have been disappointed had he said otherwise.  The man's
conduct--his stealthy but searching scrutiny of the ship; his endeavour,
as I regarded it, to mislead us with his broken English; and his
excessive curiosity, as hinted at by Captain Vernon, had struck me as
peculiar, to say the least of it, on the occasion of his visit to the
_Daphne_.  I had suspected _then_ that he was not altogether and exactly
what he pretended to be; and _now_ Richards' identification of him from
my description seemed to confirm, in a great measure, my instinctive
suspicions, unreasonable, extravagant, and absurd as I admitted them to
be.  My first impulse--and it was a very strong one--was to take Mr
Austin into my confidence, to unfold to him my suspicions and the
circumstances which had given rise to them, frankly admitting at the
same time their apparent enormity, and then to put the question to him
whether, in his opinion, there was the slightest possibility of those
suspicions being well-founded.

So strongly, so unaccountably was I urged to do this, that I had
actually set out to find the first lieutenant when reflection and common
sense came to my aid and asked me what was this thing that I was about
to do.  The answer to this question was, that with the self-sufficiency
and stupendous conceit which my father had especially cautioned me to
guard against, I was arrogating to myself the possession of superhuman
sagacity, and (upon the flimsy foundation of a wild and extravagant
fancy, backed by a mere chance resemblance, which after all might prove
to be no resemblance at all if Richards could once be confronted with
Monsieur Le Breton) was about to insinuate a charge of the most
atrocious character against an officer holding a responsible and
honourable position--a man who doubtless was the soul of honour and
rectitude.  A moment's reflection sufficed to convince me of the utter
impossibility of the same man being in command of a pirate-brig one day
and an officer of a French man-o'-war the next.  I might just as
reasonably have suspected the _Vestale_ herself of piracy; and _that_, I
well knew, would be carrying my suspicions to the uttermost extremity of
idiotic absurdity.  I had, in short--so I finally decided--discovered a
mare's nest, and upon the strength of it had been upon the very verge of
proclaiming myself a hopeless idiot and making myself the perpetual
laughing-stock of the whole ship.  I congratulated myself most heartily
upon having paused in time, and resolved very determinedly that I would
not further dwell upon the subject, or allow myself to be again lured
into entertaining such superlatively ridiculous notions.

Yet only four days later I was harassed by a temporary recurrence of all
my suspicions; and it was with the utmost difficulty that I combated
them.  I succeeded, it is true, in so far maintaining my self-control as
to keep a silent tongue; but they continued persistently to haunt me
until--but steady!  Whither away, Dick, my lad?  You are out of your
course altogether and luffing into the wind's eye, instead of working
steadily to windward, tack and tack, and taking the incidents of your
story as you come to them.

The incident which revived my very singular suspicions was as follows:--

Upon learning the full details of Richards' story, Captain Vernon had
come to the conclusion that the brig which destroyed the _Juliet_ was a
vessel devoted to the combined pursuits of piracy and slave-trading;
that she was, in all probability, one of the three vessels reported by
the _Fawn_ as daily-expected to arrive on the coast from Cuba; and that
it was more than likely her destination was the Congo.  He therefore
determined to make the best of his way back to that river, in the
sanguine hope of effecting her capture; after which he intended to run
down to Saint Paul de Loando to land the crew of the _Juliet_, Richards
having expressed a desire to be taken there if possible.

It was on the fourth day after we had picked up the _Juliet's_ crew, and
we were working our way back toward the mouth of the Congo, making short
tacks across the track of vessels running the notorious Middle Passage,
when the look-out aloft reported a sail about three points on the
weather-bow, running down toward us under a perfect cloud of canvas.  It
was at once conjectured that this might be Richards' late free-and-easy
acquaintance outward-bound with a cargo of slaves on board; and the
_Daphne_ was accordingly kept away a couple of points to intercept him,
the hands being ordered to hold themselves in readiness to jump aloft
and make sail on the instant that the stranger gave the slightest sign
of an intention to avoid us.  At the same time Mr Armitage, our third
lieutenant, proceeded aloft to the main topmast crosstrees with his
telescope to maintain a vigilant watch upon the motions of the
approaching vessel.

All hands were of course in an instant on the _qui vive_, the momentary
expectation being that the stranger would shorten sail, haul upon a
wind, and endeavour to evade us.  But minute after minute passed without
the slightest indication of any such intention, and very shortly his
royals rose into view above the horizon from the deck; then followed his
topgallant-sails, then his topsails, his courses next, and finally the
hull of the ship appeared upon the horizon, with studding-sails alow and
aloft on both sides, running down dead before the wind, and evidently
going through the water at a tremendous pace.

Every available telescope in the ship was now brought to bear upon the
craft, and presently her fore-royal and fore-topgallant-sail were
observed to collapse, the yards slid down the mast, and the sails were
clewed up, but not furled.  The next instant the French tricolour
fluttered out from her fore-royal-mast-head, the only position from
whence it could be made visible to us; and simultaneously with its
appearance the conviction came to us all that in the approaching vessel
we were about to recognise our recent acquaintance the _Vestale_.  Our
ensign, which was already bent on to the peak-halyards, was promptly run
up in response, whereupon the French ensign disappeared, to be instantly
replaced by a string of signals.  Our signal-book was at once produced,
our answering pennant run half-mast up, and we then began to read off
the following signal:

"Have you sighted?--"

Our pennant was then mast-headed to show that we understood; the flags
disappeared on board the Frenchman, and another batch was run up, which,
being interpreted, meant:

"Brig--"

This also was acknowledged, and the signalling was continued until the
whole message was completed, thus:

"Same tonnage as--"

"Ourselves--"

"Hull--"

"Painted--"

"All black--"

"Steering west-north-west?"

The final string of flags then disappeared, and the _Vestale's_
answering pennant directly afterwards showed just above her topgallant
yard, indicating that she had completed her signal and awaited our
reply.

The entire signal then, freely interpreted, ran thus:

"Have you sighted a brig of the same tonnage (or size) as ourselves,
with hull painted all black, steering a west-north-west course?"

We answered "No;" and, in our turn, inquired whether the _Vestale_ had
seen or heard of such a craft.

The French gun-brig was by this time crossing our bows, distant about
half a mile; her reply was accordingly made from her gaff-end, the fore-
topgallant-sail and royal being at the same time sheeted-home and mast-
headed.

It was to the following effect:

"Yes.  Brig in question sailed from Congo yesterday, six hours before
our arrival, with three hundred slaves on board."

By the time that this message had been communicated--by the slow and
tedious process then in vogue--the two vessels were too far apart to
render any further conversation possible, and in little more than an
hour after the final hauling-down of the last signal the _Vestale's_
main-royal sank beneath the verge of the western horizon, and we were
once more alone.



CHAPTER SIX.

IN THE CONGO ONCE MORE.

I have not yet, however, stated what it was in connection with our
encounter with the _Vestale_ which served to fan my fantastic suspicions
into flame anew, and, I may add too at the same time, mould them into a
more definite shape than they had ever before taken.

It was Richards' peculiar conduct and remarks.  He had manifested quite
an extraordinary amount of interest in our _rencontre_ with the
_Vestale_ from the moment of her being first reported from the mast-
head, evidently sharing the hope and belief, which we all at first
entertained, that the strange sail would turn out to be the brig which
had served him so scurvy a trick a few days before.

It was easy to understand the excitement he exhibited so long as this
remained a matter of conjecture, but when the conjecture proved to be
unfounded I fully expected his excitement, if not his interest, would
wane.  It did not, however.  He borrowed my telescope as soon as the
brig became fully visible from the deck, and, placing himself at an open
port, kept the tube of the instrument levelled at her until her topsails
disappeared below the horizon again.  I remained close beside him during
the whole time, and his excitement and perplexity were so palpable that
I could not refrain from questioning him as to the cause.

"I'll tell you, Mr Hawkesley," he replied.  "You see that craft there?
Well, I could almost stake my soul that she and the pirate-brig were
built on the same stocks.  The two craft are the same size to a ton,
I'll swear that; and they are the same model and the same rig to a
nicety.  It's true I was only able to closely inspect the other craft at
night-time, but it was by brilliant moonlight, and I was able to note
every detail of her build, rig, and equipment almost as plainly as I now
can that of the brig before us; and the two are sister-ships.  They
carry the same number of guns--ay, even to the long-gun I see there on
the French brig's forecastle.  The masts in both ships have the same
rake, the yards the same spread, and the running-gear is rove and led in
exactly the same manner.  The only difference I can distinguish between
the two ships is that yonder brig has a broad white ribbon round her,
and a small figure-head painted white, whilst the pirate-craft was
painted black down to her copper, and she carried a large black figure-
head representing a negress with a gaudy scarf wrapped about her waist."

"Um!"  I remarked.  "Lend me the glass a moment, will you?  Thanks!"

The _Vestale_ was, at the moment, just about to cross our fore-foot, and
was therefore about as near to us as she would be at all I focused the
telescope--a fine powerful instrument--upon her, and could clearly see
the weather-stains and the yellowish-red marks of rust in the wake of
her chain-plates upon the broad white ribbon which stretched along her
side.  Evidently that band of white paint had been exposed to sun and
storm for many a long day.  Then I had a look at her figure-head.  It
was a half-length model of a female figure, beautifully carved, less
than life-size, with one arm drooping gracefully downwards, and the
other--the right--outstretched, with a gilded lamp in the right hand.
That, too, was weather-stained, and the gilding tarnished by long
exposure.  Those pertinacious, half-formed suspicions, which Richards'
words had stirred into new life were refuted; and yet, as I have said, I
could _not_ shake them off, try as I would, and argue with myself as I
would, that they were utterly ridiculous and unreasonable.

"Look here, Mr Richards," said I; "if you really _are_ as positive upon
this matter as you say, I wish you would speak to Captain Vernon about
it; it might--and no doubt _would_--help us very materially in effecting
the capture of the pirate-brig.  We have seen the _Vestale_ twice, and
have had so good an opportunity to note her peculiarities of structure
and equipment that we shall now know her again as far off as we can see
her.  If, therefore, we should ever happen to fall in with a brig the
exact counterpart of the _Vestale_ in all respects, except as to the
matters of her figure-head and the painting of her hull, I should think
we may take it for granted that that brig will undoubtedly be the pirate
which destroyed the _Juliet_.  And you may depend upon it, my good sir,
that it is that identical craft that the _Vestale_ is now seeking."

"Ye-es, very likely--quite possible," he replied hesitatingly, and
evidently still labouring under the feeling of perplexity I had noticed.
Then, straightening himself up and passing his hand across his
forehead, as though to clear away the mental cobwebs there, he added:
"I'll go and speak to Captain Vernon about it at once."

And away he accordingly walked to carry out his resolve.

We stood on as we were going until eight bells in the afternoon watch
that day, when the ship was hove round on the larboard tack and a course
shaped for Saint Paul de Loando, our skipper having come to the
conclusion that the brig referred to in the _Vestale's_ signal was
undoubtedly the craft which we had been on our way back to the Congo to
look for, and that as, according to the gun-brig's statement, she was no
longer there, we were now free to proceed direct to Saint Paul to land
the burnt-out crew as soon as possible.

We entered the bay--upon the shore of which the town is built--about 10
a.m. on the second day after our last meeting with the _Vestale_, and,
anchoring in ten fathoms, lowered a boat, in which Mr Richards and his
crew were landed, Captain Vernon going on shore with them.  The skipper
remained on shore until 4 p.m., and when he came off it was easy to see
that he was deeply preoccupied.  The boat was at once hoisted in, the
messenger passed, the anchor hove up, and away we went again, crowding
sail for the Congo.  As soon as the ship was clear of the Loando reef
and fairly at sea once more, Captain Vernon summoned the first and
second lieutenants to his cabin, where the three remained closeted with
him for some time, indeed the two officers dined with him; but, whatever
the matter might be, neither Mr Austin nor Mr Smellie let fall a word
as to its nature, though it was evident from their manner that it was
deemed of considerable import.

When I turned in that night I felt very greatly dissatisfied with
myself.  Those outrageous suspicions, upon which I have dwelt so much in
the last few pages, seemed to be gathering new strength every day in
spite of my utmost endeavours to dissipate them, and that, too, without
the occurrence of anything fresh to confirm them.  I accordingly took
myself severely to task; subjected myself to a rigid self-examination,
looking the matter square in the face; and the conclusions to which I
came were--first, that I had allowed myself to be deluded into the
belief that the _Vestale_ herself was the craft which had committed the
act of piracy of which poor Richards and his crew were the victims; and
second, that I had been an unmitigated idiot for suffering myself to be
so deluded.  On going thoroughly over the whole question I was forced to
admit to myself that there was not a particle of evidence incriminating
the French gun-brig save what I had manufactured out of my own too vivid
imagination; and I clearly foresaw that unless I could get rid of, or,
at all events, conquer, this hallucination, I should be doing or saying
something which would get me into a serious scrape.  And, having at last
thus settled the question--as I thought--to my own satisfaction, I
rolled over in my hammock and went to sleep.

The breeze held fresh during the whole of that night; and the _Daphne_
made such good progress that by eight o'clock on the following morning
we found ourselves once more abreast of Padron Point at the entrance to
the Congo.  Sail was now shortened; the ship hove-to, and the men sent
to their breakfasts; the officers also being requested to get theirs at
the same time.

At 8:30 the hands were turned up, the main topsail filled, and, under
topsails, jib, and spanker, and with a leadsman in the fore-chains on
each side, the sloop proceeded boldly to enter the river, under the
pilotage of the master, who stationed himself for the purpose on the
fore-topsail yard.  This was a most unusual, almost an un-heard-of,
proceeding at that time, the river never having been, up to that period,
properly surveyed; so we came to the conclusion that there was something
to the fore a trifle out of the common; a conclusion which was very
fully verified a little later on.

It was just low water as we came abreast of Shark Point--which we passed
at a distance of about a mile--but we found plenty of water everywhere;
and, stretching across the river's mouth, the _Daphne_ finally entered
Banana Creek, and anchored in six fathoms close to a smart-looking
little barque of unquestionable American nationality.  The sails were
furled, the yards squared, ropes coiled down, and decks cleared up; and
then the first cutter was piped away, Mr Smellie at the same time
receiving a summons to the skipper's cabin.

The conference between the captain and the second lieutenant was but a
short one; and when the latter again appeared on deck he beckoned me to
him and instructed me to don my dirk, as I was to accompany him on a
visit to the barque.  Just as we were about to go down over the side
Captain Vernon appeared on deck, and, addressing the second "luff,"
said.

"Whatever you do, Mr Smellie, keep my caution in mind, and do not
provoke the man.  Remember, that if he _is_ an American--of which I have
very little doubt--we cannot touch him, even if he has his hold full of
slaves; so be as civil to him as you can, please; and get all the
information you can out of him."

"Ay, ay, sir; I'll do my best to stroke his fur the right way, never
fear," answered Smellie laughingly; and away we went.

A couple of minutes later we shot alongside the barque; and Smellie and
I clambered up her side-ladder to the deck, where we were received by a
lanky cadaverous-looking individual arrayed in a by no means spotless
suit of white nankin topped by a very dilapidated broad-brimmed Panama
straw-hat.

"Mornin', gentlemen," observed this individual, in response to our
salutation; "powerful hot; ain't it?"

"Very," returned Smellie in his most amicable manner, "but"--pointing to
the awning spread fore and aft, "I see you know how to make yourselves
comfortable.  Your ship, I observe, is called the _Pensacola_ of New
Orleans.  I have come on board to go through the formality of looking at
your papers.  You have no objection, I presume?"

"Nary objection, stranger.  Look at 'em and welcome," was the reply.  "I
guess I'll have to trouble you to come below, though."

With this he led the way down the companion-ladder, and we followed;
eventually bringing-up on the comfortably-cushioned lockers of a fine
spacious airy cabin very nicely fitted up.

Seating himself opposite us, the skipper struck a hand-bell which stood
on the cabin table; in response to which summons a black steward, clad,
like his master, in dingy white, made his appearance from the
neighbouring pantry.  Our host thereupon formed his right hand into the
shape of a cup and raised it to his mouth, at the same time exhibiting
three fingers of his left hand; and the steward, nodding and grinning
his comprehension of the mute order, withdrew, to reappear next moment
with a case-bottle of rum, three glasses, and a water-monkey, or porous
earthen jar, full of what proved, on our pouring it out, to be a very
doubtful-looking liquid.

"Help yourselves, gentlemen," said our host, pushing the rum-bottle and
water-monkey towards us.  "I ain't got no wine aboard to offer you, but
the liquor is real old Jamaica, and the water is genuine Mississippi;
they make a first-grade mixture.  But perhaps you prefer to take your
liquor `straight;' I always do."

And he forthwith practically illustrated the process of taking liquor
"straight" by half-filling his tumbler with neat rum, which he swallowed
at a single gulp.  He then rose and retired to his state-room in search
of his papers; leaving us to sip our five-water grog meanwhile.

The papers were produced, examined, and found to be perfectly correct;
after which Smellie set himself to the task of "pumping" our new
acquaintance; without much result, though we certainly managed to obtain
one bit of valuable information from him.

"Whether there's slavers or no in this rivulet, I'll just leave you to
find out, stranger," he remarked, in answer to a question of Smellie's;
"I'm here about my own business, and you're here about yourn; you can't
interfere with me; and I won't interfere with you.  But I don't mind
tellin' you that if you'd been here five days ago you'd have had a
chance of nabbin' the _Black Venus_, the smartest slaver, I guess,
that's ever visited this section of our sublunary sphere."

"Indeed!" exclaimed Smellie eagerly.  "What sort of a craft is she?
What is she like?"

"She is a brig,"--I pricked up my ears at this, and so, too, I could
see, did Smellie--"of about three hundred tons register; long, and low
in the water; mounts fourteen guns, seven of a side, and a long 32-
pounder on her forecastle.  Has very tall sticks, with a rake aft; and a
tremendous spread of `caliker.'  And she's the fastest craft in all
creation.  _Your_ ship looks as if she could travel; but I 'low she
ain't a carcumstance to the _Black Venus_."

"How is she painted?" asked Smellie.  "Is she all black, or does she
sometimes sport a white riband?"

"Aha!" thought I; "that looks as though my suspicions are at last shared
by somebody else.  Richards' communication to the skipper has surely
borne fruit."

"Wall," replied the Yankee with a knowing twinkle in his eye, "_when she
sailed from here_ she was black right down to her copper.  But that
ain't much to go by; I guess her skipper knows a trick or two."

"You think, then, he might alter her appearance as soon as he got
outside?" insinuated Smellie.

"He might--and he mightn't," was the cautious reply.

"Um!" observed Smellie.  Then, as if inspired with a sudden suspicion,
he asked:

"Have you seen any men-o'-war in here lately?"

I could see by the knowing look in our Yankee friend's eyes that he read
poor Smellie like a book.

"Wall," he replied.  "Come to speak of it, there _was_ a brig in here a
few days ago that looked like a man-o'-war.  She were flyin' French
colours--when she flew any at all--and called herself the _Vestale_."

"Ah!" ejaculated Smellie.  "Did any of her people board you?"

"You bet!" was the somewhat ambiguous answer.  Not that the reply was at
all ambiguous in itself; it was the peculiar emphasis with which the
words were spoken, and the peculiar expression of the man's countenance
as he uttered them, which constituted the ambiguity; the _words_ simply
implied that the _Pensacola_ had been boarded; the _look_ spoke volumes,
but the volumes were written in an unknown tongue, so far as we at least
were concerned.

"What is the _Vestale_ like?" was Smellie's next question.

"Just as like the _Black Venus_ as two peas in a pod," was the reply,
given with evident quiet amusement.

"And how was _she_ painted?" persisted Smellie.  "Ah, there now,
stranger, you've puzzled me!" was the unexpected answer.

"Why?  Did you not say you saw her?" queried Smellie sharply.

"No, I guess not; I didn't say anything of the sort.  I was ashore when
her people boarded me.  It was my mate that told me about it."

"Your mate?  Can we see him?" exclaimed Smellie eagerly.

"Yes, I reckon," was the reply.  "He's ashore now; but you've only to
pull about five miles up the creek, and I calculate you'll find him
somewheres."

"Thanks!" answered Smellie.  "I'm afraid we can't spare the time for
that.  Can you tell me which of the two brigs--the _Vestale_ or the
_Black Venus_--sailed first from the river?"

"Wall, stranger, I'd like to help you all I could, I really would; but,"
with his hand wandering thoughtfully over his forehead, "I really
_can't_ for the life of me remember just now which of 'em it was."

The fellow was lying; I could see it, and so could Smellie; but we could
not, of course, tell him so; and we accordingly thanked him for his
information and rose to go, with an uncomfortable feeling that we had
received certain information, part of which was probably true whilst
part was undoubtedly false, and that we were wholly without the means of
distinguishing the one from the other.

We returned to the _Daphne_ with our information, such as it was; and
Smellie at once made his report to the skipper.  A consultation followed
in which the first lieutenant took part, and at the end of half an hour
the three officers reappeared on deck, and the captain's gig was piped
away.

Being suspicious, as I have already remarked, that something unusual was
brewing, I remained on deck during the progress of this conference, so
as to be at hand in the event of my services being required; and the
_Pensacola_ happening to be the most prominent object in the landscape,
she naturally came in for a large share of my attention during the
progress of the discussion above referred to.  She was flying no colours
when we anchored in such close proximity to her, a circumstance which I
attributed to the fact that she was, to all appearance, the only vessel
in the river, and I was, therefore, not much surprised when, a short
time after our visit to her, I observed her skipper go aft and run up
the American ensign to his gaff-end.  But I _was_ a little surprised
when he followed this up by hoisting a small red swallow-tailed flag to
his main-royal-mast-head.  I asked myself what could be the meaning of
this move on his part, and it did not take me very long to arrive at the
conclusion that it was undoubtedly meant as a signal of some sort to
somebody or other.  He was scarcely likely to do such a thing for the
gratification of a mere whim.  And if it was a signal, what did it
mean's and to whom was it made?  There was of course the possibility
that it was a prearranged signal to his absent mate; but, taken in
conjunction with the fact that it was exhibited almost immediately after
our visit to his ship, coupled with the other fact of his obvious
attempt to keep us in the dark with respect to certain matters, I was
greatly disposed to regard it rather as a warning signal to a vessel or
vessels concealed in one or other of the numerous creeks which we knew
to exist in our immediate vicinity.  Accordingly, on the reappearance of
the second lieutenant on deck, I stepped up to him and directed his
attention to the suspicious-looking red flag, and mentioned my surmises
as to its meaning.

"Thank you, Mr Hawkesley," said he.  "I have no doubt it _is_ a signal
of some kind; but what it means we have no possible method of
ascertaining, and, moreover, it suits our purpose just now to take no
notice of it.  By the way, are you anything of a shot?"

"Pretty fair," I replied.  "I can generally bring down a bird upon the
wing if it is not a very long shot."

"Then put your pistols in your belt, provide yourself with a fowling-
piece (I will lend you one), and be in readiness to go with us in the
gig.  We are bound upon a sporting expedition."

I needed no second invitation, but hurried away at once to make the
necessary preparations; albeit there was a something in Mr Smellie's
manner which led me to think that sport was perhaps after all a mere
pretext, and that the actual object of our cruise was something much
more serious.

A few minutes sufficed to complete my preparations, and when I again
stepped on deck, gun in hand, Captain Vernon and Mr Smellie were
standing near the gangway rather ostentatiously engaged--in full view of
the American skipper--in examining their gun-locks, snapping off caps,
and so on; whilst the steward was in the act of passing down over the
side--with strict injunctions to those in the boat to be careful in the
handling of it--a capacious basket of provisions with a snow-white cloth
protruding out over its sides.  The precious basket being at length
safely deposited in the gig's stern-sheets, I followed it down the side;
the second lieutenant came next, and the skipper bringing up the rear,
we hoisted our lug-sail, the sea-breeze blowing strongly up the river,
and shoved off; our motions being intently scrutinised by the Yankee
skipper as long as we could make him out.

We had scarcely gone a quarter of a mile before a noble crane came
sailing across our course with his head tucked in between his shoulders,
his long stilt-like legs projecting astern of him, and his slowly-
flapping wings almost touching the water at every stroke.

"There's a chance for you, Hawkesley," exclaimed our genial second luff;
"let drive at him.  All is fish that comes to our net so long as we are
within range of the Yankee's telescope; fire at everything you see."

I raised my gun, pulled the trigger, and down dropped the crane into the
water with a broken wing.

"Very neatly done," exclaimed the skipper approvingly.  "Pick up the
bird, Thomson,"--to the coxswain.

The unfortunate bird was duly picked up and hauled into the boat, though
not without inflicting a rather severe wound with its long sharp beak on
the hand of the man who grasped it; and we continued our course.

On reaching the mouth of the creek we hauled sharp round the projecting
point, and shaped a course up and across toward the opposite side of the
stream, steering for a low densely-wooded spit which jutted out into the
river some eight miles distant.  The tide, which was rising, was in our
favour, and in an hour from the time of emerging from the creek into the
main stream we had reached our destination; the boat shot into a water-
way about a cable's length in width, the sail was lowered, the mast
unstepped, and the men, taking to their oars, proceeded to paddle the
boat gently up the creek.

We proceeded up this creek a distance of about two miles, when, coming
suddenly upon a small branch, or tributary, well suited as a place of
concealment for the boat, she was headed into it, and--after proceeding
along the narrow canal for a distance of perhaps one hundred yards--
hauled alongside the bank and secured.



CHAPTER SEVEN.

MR. SMELLIE MAKES A LITTLE SURVEY.

Giving the gig's crew strict injunctions not to leave their boat for a
moment upon any consideration, but to hold themselves in readiness to
shove off on the instant of our rejoining them--should a precipitate
retreat prove necessary--Captain Vernon and Mr Smellie stepped ashore
with a request that I would accompany them.

The channel or canal in which the gig was now lying was about fifty feet
wide, with a depth of water of about eight feet at the point to which we
had reached.  Its banks were composed of soft black foetid mud in a
semi-liquid state, _so_ that in order to land it was necessary for us to
make our way as best we could for a distance of some two hundred feet
over the roots of the mangrove trees which thickly bordered the stream,
before we were enabled to place our feet on solid ground.

Beyond the belt of mangroves the soil was densely covered with that
heterogeneous jumble of parasitic creepers of all descriptions spoken of
in Africa by the generic denomination of "bush," thickly interspersed
with trees, many of which were of large size.  Path there was none, not
even the faintest traces of a footprint in the dry sandy soil to show
that humanity had ever passed over the ground before us.  It may be that
ours _were_ the first human footsteps which had ever pressed the soil in
that particular spot; at all events it looked very much like it, and we
had not travelled one hundred feet before we became fully impressed with
the necessity for carefully marking our route if we had the slightest
desire to find our way back again.  This task was intrusted to me, and I
accomplished it by cutting a twig half through, and then bending it
downwards until a long light strip of the inner wood was exposed.  This
I did at distances of about a yard apart all along our route, whilst the
skipper and Smellie went ahead and forced a passage for the party
through the thick undergrowth.

The general direction of our route was about south-south-west, as nearly
as the skipper could hit it off with the aid of a pocket-compass, and it
took us more than two hours to accomplish a journey of as many miles
through the thick tangled undergrowth.  This brought us out close to the
water's edge again, and we saw before us a canal about a cable's length
across, which the skipper said he was certain was a continuation of the
one we had entered in the gig.  About a mile distant, on the opposite
side of the canal, could be seen the tops of the hills which we had
noticed on the occasion of our first exploration of the river.

Here, as at the point of our landing, the banks of the canal consisted
of black slimy foetid mud, out of which grew a belt of mangroves, their
curious twisted roots straggling in a thick complicated mass of net-work
over the slime beneath.

The sun was shining brilliantly down through the richly variegated
foliage on the opposite bank of the stream, and lighting up the surface
of the thick turbid water as it rolled sluggishly past; but where we
stood--just on the inner edge of the mangrove-swamp--everything was
enshrouded in a sombre green twilight, and an absolute silence prevailed
all round us, which was positively oppressive in its intensity.

Breathless, perspiring, and exhausted with our unwonted exertions, we
flung ourselves upon the ground for a moment's rest, during which the
skipper and Smellie sought solace and refreshment in a cigar.  As for
me, not having at that time contracted the habit of smoking, I was
contented to sit still and gaze with admiring eyes upon the weird beauty
of my surroundings.

For perhaps a quarter of an hour my companions gave themselves up to the
silent enjoyment of their cigars, but at the end of that time the
skipper, turning to Smellie, said:

"I think this must be the creek to which we have been directed; but
there are so many of these inlets, creeks, and canals on this side of
the river--and on the other side also for that matter--that one cannot
be at all certain about it.  I would have explored the place thoroughly
in the gig, and so have saved the labour of all this scrambling through
the bush, but for the fact that if we are right, and any slave-craft
happen to be lurking here--as our Yankee friend's suspicious conduct
leads me to believe may be the case--there would be a great risk of our
stumbling upon them unawares, and so giving them the alarm.  And even if
we escaped that mischance I have no doubt but that they keep sentinels
posted here and there on the look-out, and we could hardly hope that the
boat would escape being sighted by one or other of them.  If there _are_
any craft hereabout, we may rest assured that they are fully aware of
the presence of the _Daphne_ in the river; but I am in hopes that our
_ruse_ of openly starting as upon a sporting expedition has thrown dust
in their eyes for once, and that we may be able to steal near enough to
get a sight of them without exciting their suspicions."

"It would be worth all our trouble if we _amid_ do so," responded
Smellie.  "But I don't half like this blind groping about in the bush;
to say nothing of the tremendously hard work which it involves there is
a very good chance, it seems to me, of our losing ourselves when we
attempt to make our way back.  And then, again, we are quite uncertain
how much further we may have to go in order to complete our search
satisfactorily.  Do you not think it would be a good plan for one of us
to shin up a tree and take a look round before we go any further?  There
are some fine tall trees here close at hand, from the higher branches of
which one ought to be able to get a pretty extensive view."

"A very capital idea!" assented the skipper.  "We will act upon it at
once.  There, now," pointing to a perfect forest giant only a few yards
distant, "is a tree admirably suited to our purpose.  Come, Mr
Hawkesley, you are the youngest, and ought therefore to be the most
active of the trio; give us a specimen of your tree-climbing powers.
Just shin up aloft as high as you can go, take a good look round, and
let us know if you can see anything worth looking at."

"Ay ay, sir," I responded; "but--" with a somewhat blank look at the
tall, straight, smooth stem to which he pointed, "where are the
ratlines?"

"Ratlines, you impudent young monkey!" responded the skipper with a
laugh; "why, an active young fellow like you ought to make nothing of
going up a spar like that."

But when we reached the tree it became evident that the task of climbing
it was not likely to prove so easy as the skipper had imagined; for the
bole was fully fifteen feet in circumference, with not a branch or
protuberance of any description for the first sixty feet.

The second lieutenant, however, was equal to the occasion, and soon
showed me how the thing might be done.  Whipping out his knife, he
quickly cut a long length of "monkey-rope" or creeper, and twisting the
tough pliant stem into a grummet round the trunk of the tree, he bade me
pass the bight over my shoulders, and then showed me how, with its aid,
I might work myself gradually upward.

Accordingly, acting under his directions I placed myself within the
bight, and tucking it well up under my arm-pits, slid the grummet up the
trunk as high as it would go.  Then bearing back upon it, so that it
supported my whole weight, I worked my body upwards by pressing against
the tree-trunk with my knees.  By this means I rose about two feet from
the ground.  Then pressing against the tree firmly with my feet I gave
the grummet a quick jerk upward and again worked myself up the trunk
with my knees as before.  In this way I got along very well, and after
an awkward slip or two, in which my knees suffered somewhat and my
breeches still more, soon acquired the knack of the thing, and speedily
reached the lowermost branch, after which the rest of my ascent was of
course easy.

On reaching the topmost branches I found that the tree I had climbed was
indeed, as the skipper had aptly described it, a forest giant; it was by
far the most lofty tree in the neighbourhood, and from my commanding
position I had a fine uninterrupted prospect of many miles extent all
round me, except to the southward, where the chain of hills before-
mentioned shut in the view.

Away to the northward and eastward, in which direction I happened to be
facing when I at length paused to look around me, I could catch glimpses
of the river, over and between the intervening tree-tops, for a distance
of quite twenty miles, and from what I saw I came to the conclusion that
in that direction the river must widen out considerably and be thickly
studded with islands, among which I thought it probable might be found
many a snug lurking-place for slave-craft.  On the extreme verge of the
horizon I also distinctly made out a small group of hills, which I
conjectured to be situate on the northern or right bank of the river.
From these hills all the way round northerly, to about north-north-west,
the country was flat and pretty well covered with bush; although at a
distance of from two to four miles inland I could detect here and there
large open patches of grass-land.  Bearing about north-north-west from
my point of observation was another chain of hills which stretched along
the sea-coast outside the river's mouth, and extended beyond the
horizon.  To the left of them again, or about north-west from me, lay
Banana Creek, its entrance about eleven miles distant, and over the
intervening tree-tops on Boolambemba Island I could, so clear was the
atmosphere just then, distinctly make out the royal-mast-heads of the
_Daphne_ and the American barque; I could even occasionally detect the
gleam of the sloop's pennant as it waved idly in the sluggish breeze.
Still further to the left there lay the river's mouth, with the ripple
which marked the junction between the fresh and the salt water clearly
visible.  Next came Shark Point, with the open sea stretching mile after
mile away beyond it, until its gleaming surface became lost in the ruddy
afternoon haze, and on the inner side of the point I could trace,
without much difficulty, the course of the various creeks which we had
explored in the boat on the occasion of our first visit.  Looking below
me, I allowed my eye to travel along the course of the stream or canal
which flowed past almost under my feet, and following it along I saw
that it forked at a point about three miles to the westward, and turned
suddenly northward at a point about three miles further on, the branch
and the stream itself eventually joining the river, and forming with it
two islands of about five and three miles in length respectively, the
larger of the two being that which we had so laboriously crossed that
same afternoon.

The view which lay spread out below and around me was beautiful as a
dream; it would have formed a fascinating study for a painter; but
whatever art-instincts may have been awakened within me upon my first
glance round were quickly put to flight by a scene which presented
itself at a point only some three miles away.  At that distance the
channel or stream below me forked, as I have already said, and at the
point of divergence of the two branches the water way broadened out
until it became quite a mile wide, forming as snug a little harbour as
one need wish to see.  And in this harbour, perfectly concealed from all
prying eyes which might happen to pass up or down the river, lay a brig,
a brigantine, and a schooner, three as rakish-looking craft as could
well be met with.  Their appearance alone was almost sufficient to
condemn them; but a huge barracoon standing in a cleared space close at
hand, and a crowd of blacks huddled together on the adjacent bank,
apparently in course of shipment on board one or other of the craft in
sight, put their character quite beyond question.

A hail from below reminded me that there were others who would feel an
interest in my discovery.

"Well, Mr Hawkesley, is there anything in sight, from your perch aloft
there, worth looking at?" came floating up to me in the skipper's voice.

"Yes, sir, indeed there is.  There are three craft in the creek away
yonder, in the very act of shipping negroes at this moment," I replied.

"The deuce there are!" ejaculated the skipper.  "Which do you think will
be the easier plan of the two: to climb the tree, or to make our way
through the bush to the spot?"

"You will find it much easier to climb the tree, I think, sir.  You can
be alongside me in five minutes, whilst it will take us nearly two
hours, I should say, to make our way to them through the bush," I
replied.

"Very well; hold on where you are then.  We will tackle the tree,"
returned the skipper.

And, looking down, I saw him and the second lieutenant forthwith whip
out their knives and begin hacking away at a creeper, wherewith to make
grummets to assist them in their attempt at tree-climbing.

In a few minutes the twain were alongside me, and--in happy
forgetfulness of the ruin wrought upon their unmentionables in the
process of "shinning" aloft--eagerly noting through their telescopes the
operations in progress on board the slavers.

"They seem very busy there," observed the skipper with his eye still
peering through the tube of his telescope.  "You may depend on it, Mr
Smellie, the rascals have got wind of our presence in the river, and
intend trying to slip out past us to-night as soon as the fog settles
down.  I'll be bound they know every inch of the river, and could find
their way out blindfold?"

"No doubt of it, sir," answered the second luff.  "But it is not high-
water until two o'clock to-morrow morning, so that I suspect they will
not endeavour to make a move until about an hour after midnight.  That
will enable them to go out on the top of the flood, and with a strong
land-breeze in their favour."

"So much the better," returned Captain Vernon, with sparkling eyes.
"But we will take care to have the boats in the creek in good time.  You
never know where to have these fellows; they are as cunning as foxes.
Please note their position as accurately as you can, Mr Smellie, for I
intend you to lead the attack to-night."

"Thank you, sir," answered Smellie delightedly; and planting himself
comfortably astride a branch, he drew out a pencil and paper and
proceeded to make a very careful sketch-chart of the river-mouth, Banana
Creek, and the creek in which the slavers were lying; noting the
bearings carefully with the aid of a pocket-compass.

"There, sir," said he, when he had finished, showing the sketch to the
skipper; "that will enable me to find them, I think, let the night be as
dark or as thick as it may.  How do you think it looks for accuracy?"

"Capital!" answered Captain Vernon approvingly; "you really have a
splendid eye for proportion and distance, Mr Smellie.  That little
chart might almost have been drawn to scale, so correct does it look.
How in the world do you manage it?"

"It is all custom," was the reply.  "I make it an invariable rule to
devote time and care enough to such sketches as this to ensure their
being as nearly accurate as possible.  I have devised a few rules upon
which I always work; and the result is generally a very near
approximation to absolute accuracy.  But the sun is getting low; had we
not better be moving, sir?"

"By all means, if you are sure you have all the information you need,"
was the reply.  "I would not miss my way in that confounded jungle to-
night for anything.  It would completely upset all our arrangements."

"To say nothing of the possibility of our affording a meal to some of
the hungry carnivora which probably lurk in the depths of the said
jungle," thought I.  But I held my peace, and dutifully assisted my
superior officers to effect their descent.

It was decidedly easier to go up than to go down; but we accomplished
our descent without accident, and after a long and wearisome tramp back
through the bush found ourselves once more on board the gig just as the
last rays of the sun were gilding the tree-tops.  The tide had now
turned, and was therefore again in our favour; and in an hour from the
time of our emerging upon the main stream we reached the sloop, just as
the first faint mist-wreaths began to gather upon the bosom of the
river.

I was exceedingly anxious to be allowed to take part in the forthcoming
expedition and had been eagerly watching, all the way across the river,
for an opportunity to ask the necessary permission; but Captain Vernon
had been so earnestly engaged in discussing with Smellie the details and
arrangements for the projected attack that I had been unable to do so.
On reaching the ship, however, the opportunity came.  As we went up over
the side the skipper turned and said:

"By the way, Mr Smellie, I hope you--and you also, Mr Hawkesley--will
give me the pleasure of your company to dinner this evening?"

Smellie duly bowed his acceptance of the invitation and I was about to
follow suit when an idea struck me and I said:

"I shall be most happy, sir, if my acceptance of your kind invitation
will not interfere with my taking part in to-night's boat expedition.  I
have been watching for an opportunity to ask your permission, and I hope
you will not refuse me."

"Oh! that's it, is it?" laughed the skipper.  "I thought you seemed
confoundedly fidgety in the boat.  Well--I scarcely know what to say
about it; it will be anything but child's play, I can assure you.
Still, you are tall and strong, and--there, I suppose I must say `yes.'
And now run away and shift your damaged rigging as quickly as possible;
dinner will be on the table in ten minutes."

I murmured my thanks and forthwith dived below to bend a fresh pair of
pantaloons, those I had on being in so dilapidated a condition--what
with the tree-climbing and our battle with the thorns and briars of the
bush--as to be in fact scarcely decent.

The conversation at the dinner-table that night was of a very animated
character, but as it referred entirely to the projected attack upon the
slavers I will not inflict any portion of it upon the reader.  Mr
Austin, the first lieutenant, was at first very much disappointed when
he found he was not to lead the boat expedition; but he brightened up a
bit when the skipper pointed out to him that in all probability the
slavers would slip their cables and endeavour to make their escape from
the river on finding themselves attacked by the boats; in which case the
cream of the fun would fall to the share of those left on board the
sloop.

Mr Smellie--who was at all times an abstemious man--contented himself
with a couple of glasses of wine after dinner, and, the moment that the
conversation took a general turn, rose from the table, excusing himself
upon the plea that he had several matters to attend to in connection
with the expedition.  As he rose he caught my eye and beckoned me to
follow him, which I did after duly making my bow to the company.

When we reached the deck the fog was so thick that it was as much as we
could do to see the length of the ship.

"Just as I expected," remarked my companion.  "How are we to find the
creek in such weather as this, Mr Hawkesley?"

"I am sure I don't know, sir," I replied, looking round me in
bewilderment.  "I suppose the expedition will have to be postponed until
it clears a bit."

"Not if I can prevent it," said he with energy.  "Although," he added, a
little doubtfully, "it certainly _is very_ thick, and with the slightest
deviation from our course we should be irretrievably lost.  Whereaway do
you suppose the creek to be?"

"Oh, somewhere in that direction!" said I, pointing over the starboard
quarter.

"You are wrong," remarked my companion, looking into the binnacle.  "The
tide is slackening, whilst the land-breeze is freshening; so that the
ship has swung with her head to the eastward, and the direction in which
you pointed leads straight out to sea.  Now, if you want to learn a good
useful lesson--one which may prove of the utmost value to you in after-
life--come below with me to the master, and between us we will show you
how to find that creek in the fog."

"Thank you," said I, "I shall be very glad to learn.  Why, you do not
even know its compass-bearing."

"No," said Smellie, "but we will soon find it out."  With that we
descended to the master's cabin, where we found the owner in his shirt-
sleeves and with a pipe in his mouth, poring over a chart of the coast
on which was shown the mouth of the river only, its inland course being
shown by two dotted lines, indicating that the portion thus marked had
never been properly surveyed.  He was busily engaged as we entered
laying down in pencil upon this chart certain corrections and remarks
with reference to the ebb and flow of the tidal current.

"Good evening, gentlemen!" said he as we entered.  "Well, Mr Smellie,
so you are going to lead the attack upon the slavers to-night, I hear."

"Yes," said Smellie, unconsciously straightening himself up, "yes, if
this fog does not baffle us.  And in order that it may not, I have come
to invoke your assistance, Mr Mildmay."

"All right, sir!" said old Mildmay.  "I expected you; I was waiting for
you, sir."

"That's all right," said the second lieutenant.  "Now, Mildmay," bending
over the chart, "whereabouts is the _Daphne_?"

"_There_ she is," replied the master, placing the point of his pencil
carefully down on the chart and twisting it round so as to produce a
black mark.

"Very good," assented Smellie.  "Now, look here, Mr Hawkesley, this is
where your lesson begins."  And he produced the sketch-chart he had made
that afternoon and spread it out on the table.

"You will see from this sketch," he proceeded, "that the _Daphne_ bore
exactly north-north-west from the tree in which we were perched when I
made it.  Which is equivalent to saying that the tree bears south-south-
east from the _Daphne_; is it not?"

I assented.

"Very well, then," continued Smellie.  "Be so good, Mr Mildmay, as to
draw a line south-south-east from that pencil-mark which represents the
_Daphne_ on your chart."

The master took his parallel ruler and did so.

"So far, so good," resumed the second lieutenant.  "Now my sketch shows
that the outer extremity of Shark Point bore from the tree north-west ¼
west.  In other words, the tree bears from Shark Point south-east ¼
east.  Lay off that bearing, Mildmay, if you please."

"Very good," he continued, when this second line had been drawn.  "Now
it is evident that the point where these two lines intersect must be the
position of the tree.  But, as a check upon these two bearings I took a
third to that sharp projecting point at the mouth of Banana Creek,"
indicating with the pencil on the chart the point in question.  "That
point bears north-west by north; consequently the tree bears from it
south-east by south.  Mark that off also, Mildmay, if you please."

The master did so, and the three lines were found to intersect each
other at exactly the same point.  "Capital!" exclaimed Smellie, in high
good-humour.  "That satisfactorily establishes the exact position of the
tree.  Now for the next step.  The slave fleet bears north-west ¼ west
from the tree; and the western entrance to the creek (that by which we
shall advance to the attack to-night) bears exactly north-west from the
same point.  Let us lay down these two bearings on the chart--thus.  Now
it is evident that the slave fleet and the entrance to the creek are
situate _somewhere or other_ on these two lines; the question
is--_where_?  I will show you how I ascertained those two very important
bits of information if you will step to my cabin and bring me the
telescope which you will find hanging against the bulkhead."

Intensely interested in this valuable practical lesson in surveying I
hurried away to do his bidding, and speedily returned with the glass, a
small but very powerful instrument, which I had often greatly admired.

Taking the telescope from my hand he drew it open and directed my
attention to a long series of neat little numbered lines scratched on
the polished brass tube.

"You see these scratches?" he said.  "Very well; now I will explain to
you what they are.  When I was a midshipman it was my good fortune to be
engaged for a time on certain surveying work, during which I acquired a
tolerably clear insight of the science.  And after the work was over and
done with, it occurred to me that my knowledge might be of the greatest
use in cases similar to the present.  Now I may tell you, by way of
explanation, that surveying consists, broadly, in the measurement of
angles and lines.  The angles are, as you have already seen, very easily
taken by means of a pocket-compass; but the measurement of the lines
bothered me very considerably for a long time.  Of course you can
measure a line with perfect accuracy by means of a surveyor's chain, but
I wanted something which, if not quite so accurate as that, would be
sufficiently correct, while not occupying more than a few seconds in the
operation of measurement.  So I set to work and trained myself to judge
distances by the eye alone; and by constant diligent practice I acquired
quite a surprising amount of proficiency.  And let me say here, I would
very strongly recommend you and every young officer to practise the same
thing; you will be surprised when you discover in how many unexpected
ways it will be found useful.  Well, I managed to do a great deal of
serviceable work even in this rough-and-ready way; but after a time I
grew dissatisfied with it--I wanted some means of measuring which should
be just as rapid but a great deal more accurate.  I thought the matter
over for a long time, and at last hit upon the idea of turning the
telescope to account.  The way I did it was this.  You have, of course,
found that if you look through your telescope at an object, say, half a
mile away, and then direct the instrument to another object, say, four
miles off, you have to alter the focus of the glass before you can see
the second object distinctly.  It was this peculiarity which I pressed
into my service as a means of measuring distances.  My first step was to
secure a small, handy, but first-rate telescope--the best I could
procure for money; and, provided with this, I commenced operations by
looking through it at objects, the exact distances of which from me I
knew.  I focused the glass upon them carefully, and then made a little
scratch on the tube showing how far it had been necessary to draw it out
in order to see the object distinctly; and then I marked the scratch
with the distance of the object.  You see," pointing to the tube, "I
have a regular scale of distances here, from one hundred yards up to ten
miles; and these scratches, let me tell you, represent the expenditure
of a vast amount of time and labour.  But they are worth it all.  For
instance, I want to ascertain the distance of an object.  I direct the
telescope toward it, focus the instrument carefully, and find that I can
see it most clearly when the tube is drawn out to, say, this distance,"
suiting the action to the word.  "I then look at the scale scratched on
the tube, and find that it reads six thousand one hundred feet--which is
a few feet over one nautical mile.  And thus I measure all my distances,
and am so enabled to make a really satisfactory little survey in a few
minutes as in the case of this afternoon.  You must not suppose,
however, that I am able to measure in this way with absolute accuracy; I
am not; but I manage to get a very near approximation to it, near enough
for such purposes as the present.  Thus, within the distance of a
quarter of a mile I have found that I can always measure within two feet
of the actual distance; beyond that and up to half a mile I can measure
within four feet of the actual distance; and so on up to ten miles,
which distance I can measure to within four hundred feet.

"And now to return to the business in hand.  My telescope informed me
that the slave fleet was anchored at a distance of eighteen thousand
three hundred feet (or a shade over three nautical miles) from the tree,
and that the western entrance to the creek is twenty-eight thousand nine
hundred feet (or about four and three-quarter nautical miles) from the
same spot.  We have now only to mark off these two distances on the two
compass-bearings which we last laid down on the chart: thus,"--measuring
and marking off the distances as he spoke--"and here we have the
position of the slavers and of the entrance to the creek; and by a
moment's use of Mildmay's parallel ruler--thus--we get the compass-
bearing of the entrance from the _Daphne_.  There it is--south-east by
east; and now we measure the distance from one to the other, and find it
to be--eight miles, as nearly as it is possible to measure it.  Thus,
you see, my rough-and ready survey of this afternoon affords us the
means of ascertaining our course and distance from the _Daphne_ to a
point for which we should otherwise have been obliged to search, and
which we could not possibly have hoped to find in the impenetrable fog
which now overspreads the river."

"Thank you, Mr Smellie," said I, highly delighted with the lesson I had
received; "if it will not be troubling you too much I think I must ask
you to give me a lesson or two in surveying when you can spare the
time."

"I shall be very pleased," was the reply.  "Never hesitate to come to me
for any information or instruction which you think I may be able to
afford you.  I shall always be happy to help you on in your studies to
the utmost extent of my ability.  But we have not quite finished yet,
and it is now, Mildmay, that I think _you_ may perhaps be able to help
us.  You see we shall have to pull--or sail, as the case may
be--_across_ the current, and it will therefore be necessary to make
some allowance for its set.  Now do you happen to know anything about
the speed of the current in the river?"

"Not half so much as I should like," replied the master; "but a hint
which the skipper dropped this morning caused me to take the dinghy and
go away out in mid-stream _to spend the day in fishing_--ha--ha--ha!
The Yankee had his glass turned full upon me, off and on, the whole
morning--so I'm told--and if so I daresay he saw that I had some fairly
good sport.  But I wasn't so busy with my hooks and lines but that I
found time to ascertain that the ebb-stream runs at a rate of about four
knots at half-tide; and just abreast of us it flows to seaward at the
rate of about one knot at half-flood; the salt water flowing _into_ the
river along the bottom, and the fresh water continuing to flow
_outwards_ on the surface.  Now, at what time do you propose to start?"

"About half-past nine to-night," answered Smellie.

Old Mildmay referred to a book by his side, and then said:

"Ah, then you will have about two hours' ebb to contend with--the last
two hours of the ebb-tide.  Now let me see,"--and he produced a sheet of
paper on which were some calculations, evidently the result of his
observations whilst "Sshing."  He ran over these carefully, and then
said:

"How long do you expect it will take you to cross?"

"Two hours, if we have to pull across--as I expect we shall," answered
the second lieutenant.

"Two hours!" mused the master.  "Two hours!  Then you'll have to make
allowance, sir, for an average set to seaward of two miles an hour all
the way across, or four miles in all."

"Very well," said Smellie.  "Then to counteract that we must shape our
course for a point four miles _above_ that which marks the entrance to
the creek--must we not, Mr Hawkesley?"

"Certainly," I said; "that is quite clear."

"Then be so good as to lay that course down on the chart."

I measured off a distance of four miles with the dividers, and marked it
off _above_ the mouth of the creek; then applied the parallel ruler and
found the course.

"It is exactly south-east," said I; "and it will take us close past the
southern extremity of this small island."

"That is quite right," remarked Smellie, who had been watching me; "and
if we happen to sight the land in passing that point it will be an
assurance that, so far, we have been steering our proper course.  But--
bless me,"--looking at his watch--"it is a quarter after nine.  I had no
idea it was so late.  Run away, Mr Hawkesley, and make your
preparations.  Put on your worst suit of clothes, and throw your pea-
jacket into the boat.  You may be glad to have it when we get into the
thick of that damp fog.  Bring your pistols, but not your dirk; a ship's
cutlass, with which the armourer will supply you, will be much more
serviceable for the work we have in hand to-night."

I hastened away, and reached the deck again just in time to see the men
going down the side into the boats after undergoing inspection.



CHAPTER EIGHT.

WE ATTACK THE SLAVERS.

The attacking flotilla was composed of the launch, under Mr Smellie,
with me for an _aide_; the first cutter, in charge of Mr Armitage, the
third lieutenant; and the second cutter, in charge of Mr Williams, the
master's mate; the force consisting of forty seamen and four officers--
quite strong enough, in Captain Vernon's opinion, to give a satisfactory
account of the three slavers, which, it was arranged, we were to attack
simultaneously, one boat to each vessel.

The last parting instructions having been given to Smellie by the
skipper, and rounded off with a hearty hand-shake and an earnest
exclamation of "I wish you success;" with a still more hearty hand-shake
and a "Good-bye, Harold, old boy; good luck attend you!" from Mr
Austin, the second lieutenant motioned me into the launch; followed me
closely down; the word to shove off was given, and away we went
punctually at half-past nine to the minute.

The fog was still as thick as ever; so thick, indeed, that it was as
much as we could do to see one end of the boat from the other; and,
notwithstanding the care with which, as I had had an opportunity of
seeing, the second lieutenant had worked out all his calculations, I own
that it seemed to me quite hopeless to expect that we should find the
place of which we were in search.  Nevertheless, we pushed out boldly
into the opaque darkness, and the boats' heads were at once laid in the
required direction, each coxswain steering by compass, the lighted
binnacle containing which had been previously masked with the utmost
care.  Our object being to take the slavers by surprise the oars were of
course muffled, and the strictest silence enjoined.  Thus there was
neither light nor sound to betray our whereabouts, and we slid over the
placid surface of the river almost as noiselessly as so many mist-
wreaths.

In so dense a fog it was necessary to adopt unusual precautions in order
to prevent the boats from parting company.  We therefore proceeded in
single file, the launch leading, with the first cutter attached by her
painter, the second cutter, in her turn, attached by her painter to the
first cutter, bringing up the rear.  The cutters were ordered to
regulate their speed so that the connecting rope between each and the
boat ahead should be just slack enough to dip into the water and no
more, thus insuring that each boat's crew should do its own fair share
of work at the oars.

Once fairly away from the ship's side we were immediately swallowed up
by the impenetrable mist; and for a considerable time the flotilla
glided gently along, without a sight or sound to tell us whether we were
going right or wrong; without the utterance of a word on board either of
the boats; and with only the slight muffled sound of the oars in the
rowlocks and the gurgle of the water along the boats' sides to tell that
we were moving at all.  The silence would have been oppressive but for
the slight murmuring swirl and ripple of the great river and the
chirping of the countless millions of insects which swarmed in the bush
on both banks of the stream.  The latter sent forth so remarkable a
volume of sound that when first told it was created by insects alone I
found my credulity taxed to its utmost limit; and it was not until I was
solemnly assured by Mr Austin that such was the case that I quite
believed it.  It was not unlike the "whirr" of machinery, save that it
rose and fell in distinct cadences, and occasionally--as if by
preconcerted arrangement on the part of every individual insect in the
district--stopped altogether for a few moments.  Then, indeed, the
silence became weird, oppressive, uncanny; making one involuntarily
shuffle nearer to one's neighbour and glance half-fearfully over one's
shoulder.  Then, after a slight interval, a faint, far-off signal
_chirp! chirp_! would be heard, and in an instant the whole insect-world
would burst into full chorus once more, and the air would fairly vibrate
with sound.  But the night had other voices than this.  Mingled with the
_chirr_ of the insects there would occasionally float off to us the
snarling roar of some forest savage, the barking call of the deer, the
yelping of a jackal, the blood-curdling cry of a hyena, the grunt of a
hippopotamus, the weird cry of some night-bird; and--nearer at hand,
sometimes apparently within a yard or so of the boats--sundry mysterious
puffings and blowings, and sudden faint splashings of the water, which
latter made me for one, and probably many of the others who heard them,
feel particularly uncomfortable, especially if they happened to occur in
one of the brief intervals of silence on shore.  Once, in particular,
during one of those silent intervals, my hair fairly bristled as the
boat was suddenly but silently brought up all standing by coming into
violent collision with some object which broke water directly under our
bows; the shock being instantly followed by a long moaning sigh and a
tremendous swirl of the water as the creature--whatever it was--sank
again beneath the surface of the river.

The men in the launch were, like myself, considerably startled at the
circumstance, and one of them--an Irishman--exclaimed, in the first
paroxysm of his dismay:

"Howly ropeyarns! what was that?  Is it shipwrecked, stranded, and cast
away we are on the back of a say-crocodile?  Thin, Misther Crocodile,
let me tell yez at wanst that I'm not good to ate; I'm so sthrongly
flavoured wid the tibaccy that I'd be shure to disagray wid yez."

This absurd exclamation appealed so forcibly to the men's sense of the
ridiculous that it had the instant effect of steadying their nerves and
raising a hearty laugh, which, however, was as instantly checked by
Smellie, who, though he could not restrain a smile, exclaimed sharply:

"Silence, fore and aft!  How dare you cry out in that ridiculous
fashion, Flanaghan?  I have a good mind to report you, sir, as soon as
we return to the ship."

"_Who shall say how many of us will live to return_?"

"Merciful God! who spoke?" hoarsely cried the second lieutenant.  And
well he might.  The words were uttered in a sound scarcely above a
whisper, in so low a tone, indeed, that but for Smellie's startled
ejaculation I should almost have been inclined to accept them as
prompted by my own excited imagination; yet I saw in an instant that
every man in the boat had heard them and was as much startled as myself.
Who had uttered them, indeed?  Every man's look, as his horrified
glance sought his neighbour's face, asked the same question.  Nobody
seemed to have recognised or to be able to identify the voice; and the
strangest thing about it was that it did not appear to have been spoken
in the boat at all, but from a point close at hand.

The men had, with one accord, laid upon their oars in the first shock of
this new surprise, and before they had recovered themselves the first
cutter had ranged up alongside.

"Did anyone speak on board you, Armitage?" asked Smellie.

"No, certainly not," was the reply.

"Did you hear anyone speak on board the second cutter then?" followed.

"No; I heard nothing.  Why?"

"No matter," muttered the second lieutenant.  Then, in a low but
somewhat louder tone:

"Give way, launches; someone has been trying to play a trick upon us."

The men resumed their work at the oars; but an occasional scarcely heard
whisper reaching my ears and suggesting rather than conveying such
fragmentary sentences as "Some of us doomed"--"Lose the number of our
mess," etcetera, etcetera, showed that a very unfortunate impression had
been made by the strange incident.

As we proceeded the second lieutenant began to consult his watch, and at
last, turning to me as he slipped it back into his fob, he whispered:

"A quarter after tea.  We ought now to be close to Boolambemba Point,
but the fog keeps so dense that I am afraid there is no chance of our
sighting it."

The insect chorus had been silent for an unusually long time when he
spoke; but as the words left Smellie's lips the sounds burst out once
more, this time in startling proximity to our larboard hand.

"By George! there it is, though, sure enough," continued Smellie.  "By
the sharpness of the sound we must be close aboard of the point.  How is
her head, coxswain?"

Before the man could reply there came in a low murmur from the men
pulling the port oars:

"We're stirring up the mud here, sir, on the port hand."

And at the same moment, looking up, we became aware that the darkness
was deeper--more intense and opaque, as it were, on our port hand than
anywhere else.

"All right!" answered Smellie; "that is the point, sure enough, and very
prettily we have hit it off.  If we can only make as good a shot at the
mouth of the creek I shall be more than satisfied.  How have you been
steering, coxswain?"

"South-east, sir, as straight as ever I could keep her."

"That's all right.  South-east is your course all the way across.  Now
we are beginning to draw off from the point and out into mid-stream, and
there must be no more talking upon any pretence whatever.  The noise of
the insects will tell us when we are drawing in with the other bank.  On
a night like this one has to be guided in a great measure by sound, and
even the chirp of the grasshoppers may be made useful, Mr Hawkesley."

I murmured a whispered assent as in duty bound, and then all hands
relapsed into silence once more.

The men worked steadily away at the oars, not exerting themselves to any
great extent, but keeping the boat moving at the rate of about four
knots per hour.  According to our time-reckoning, and the fact that the
volume of sound proceeding from the southern bank of the river had
overpowered that from the northern bank, we had accomplished rather more
than the half of our passage across the stream, when, happening to raise
my head upon emerging from a brown study into which I had fallen, I
thought I caught a momentary glimpse of some object looming through the
fog broad on our port beam.  I looked more earnestly still, and
presently felt convinced that there _was_ something there.

Laying my hand on the second lieutenant's arm to call his attention, I
whispered:

"Can you see anything out there, sir, abreast of us on our port hand?"

Smellie looked eagerly in the indicated direction for some moments, and
then turning to the coxswain, whispered:

"Starboard--hard!"

The boat's helm was put over, her bows swept round; and then I was
certain _that we were being watched_, for as the launch swerved out of
her course the object became suddenly more distinct, only to vanish
completely into the fog next moment, however, its course being as
suddenly and promptly altered as our own, thus proving that there were
other eyes at least as sharp as ours.  But that single momentary glance
had been sufficient to show me that the object was a native canoe
containing three persons.

The second lieutenant was seriously disconcerted at this discovery, and
was evidently in great doubt as to whether it would be more prudent to
push on or to turn back.  If the occupants of the canoe happened to be
associated with the slavers, and had been sent out as scouts in
anticipation of an attack from us, then there could be little doubt that
it would be wiser to turn back, since a light craft like a canoe could
easily reach the creek far enough ahead of us to give the alarm, in
which case we should find a warm reception prepared for us; and in so
dense a fog all the advantage would be on the side of those manning the
slave fleet.

On the other hand, the _rencontre_ might possibly have been purely
accidental, and its occupants supremely indifferent to the movements of
ourselves and the slavers alike, in which case it would be not only
mortifying in the extreme but possibly fatal to Smellie's prospects in
the service if he allowed himself to be frightened out of the advantage
of so excellent an opportunity for effecting a surprise.

It was a most embarrassing problem with which he thus suddenly found
himself brought face to face; but with a brave man the question could
not long remain an open one; a few seconds sufficed him to determine on
proceeding and taking our chance.

The sounds from the shore now rapidly increased in intensity, and by and
by we suddenly found that they proceeded from both sides of the boats.
Smellie drew out his watch and consulted it by the light of the boat's
binnacle.

"Twenty minutes to twelve! and we are now entering the creek," he
whispered to me.

The slavers, we knew, were anchored about two miles up the creek, and
the conviction suddenly smote me that in another half-hour I should in
all probability be engaged in a fierce and deadly struggle.  Somehow up
to that moment I had only regarded the attack as a remote possibility--a
something which _might_ but was not very likely to happen.  I suppose I
had unconsciously been entertaining a doubt as to the possibility of our
finding the creek.  Yet, there we were in it, and nothing could now
avert a combat, and more or less bloodshed.  Nothing, that is, except
the exceedingly unlikely circumstance of our finding the birds flown.

Did I wish this?  Was I _afraid_?

Honestly, I am unable to say whether I was or not; but I am inclined to
acquit myself of the charge of cowardice.  My sensations were peculiar
and rather unpleasant, I freely admit; but looking back upon them now in
the light of long years of experience, I am disposed to attribute them
entirely to nervous excitement.  Hitherto my nostrils had never sniffed
the odour of powder burned in anger; I was about to undergo a perfectly
new experience; I was about to engage with my fellow-men in mortal
combat; to come face to face with and within arm's-length of those who,
if the opportunity occurred, would take my life deliberately and without
a moment's hesitation.  In a short half-hour I might be dying--or
_dead_.  As this disagreeable and inopportune reflection flashed through
my mind my heart throbbed violently, the blood rushed to my head, and my
breathing became so laboured that I felt as though I was stifling.
These disagreeable--indeed I might more truthfully call them _painful_--
sensations lasted in their intensity perhaps as long as five minutes,
after which they rapidly subsided, to be succeeded by a feverish longing
and impatience for the moment of action.  My excitement ceased; my
breathing again became regular; but the period of suspense--that period
which only a few minutes before had seemed so short--now felt as though
it were lengthening out to a veritable eternity.  I wanted to begin at
once, to know the worst, and to get it over.

I had not much longer to wait.  We had advanced about a mile up the
creek when a deep hoarse voice was heard shouting something from the
shore.

"Oars!" exclaimed Smellie; and the men ceased pulling.  "What was it the
fellow said?" continued the second lieutenant, turning to me.

"Haven't the slightest idea, but it sounded like Spanish," I replied.

The hail was repeated, but we could make nothing of it.  Mr Armitage,
however, who boasted a slight knowledge of Spanish, informed us--the
first cutter having by this time drifted up abreast of us--that it was a
caution to us to return at once or take the consequences.

"Oh! that's it, is it?" remarked Smellie.  "Well, it seems that we are
discovered, so any further attempt at a surprise is useless.  Cast the
boats adrift from each other, and we will make a dash for it.  Our best
chance now is to board and carry the three craft simultaneously with a
rush--if we can.  Give way, lads!"

The boats' painters were cast off; the crews with a ringing cheer
plunged their oars simultaneously into the water, and away we went at
racing speed through the dense fog along the channel.

We had scarcely pulled half a dozen strokes when the report of a musket
rang out from the bank on our starboard hand; and at the same instant a
line of tiny sparks of fire appeared on either hand through the thick
haze, rapidly increasing in size and luminosity until they stood
revealed as huge fires of dry brushwood.  They were twelve in number,
six on either bank of the channel, and were spaced about three hundred
yards apart.  So large were they that they rendered the fog quite
luminous; and it seemed pretty evident that they had been built and
lighted for the express purpose of illuminating the channel and
revealing our exact whereabouts.  I was congratulating myself upon the
circumstance that the dense fog would to a considerable extent defeat
their purpose, when, in an instant, as though we had passed out through
a solid wall, we emerged from the fog, and there lay the three slave-
craft before us, moored with springs on their cables, boarding-nettings
triced up, and guns run out, evidently quite ready to receive us.

The three craft were moored athwart the channel in a slightly curved
line, with their bows pointing to the eastward, the brig being ahead,
the schooner next, and the brigantine the sternmost of the line.  Thus
moored, their broadsides commanded the whole channel in the direction of
our advance, and could, if required, be concentrated upon any one point
in it.

"Hurrah!" shouted Smellie, rising to his feet and drawing his sword;
"hurrah, lads, there is our game!  Give way and go at them.  I'll take
the brig, Armitage; you tackle the brigantine, and leave Williams to
deal with the schooner.  Now bend your backs, launches; there is a glass
of grog all round waiting for you if we are alongside first."

"Hurroo! pull, bhoys, and let's shecure that grog annyhow," exclaimed
the irrepressible Flanaghan; and with another cheer and a hearty laugh
the men stretched themselves out and plied the stout ashen oars until
the water fairly buzzed again under the launch's bows, and it almost
seemed as though they would lift her bodily out of the water.

As for Armitage and Williams, they were evidently quite determined not
to be beaten in the race if they could help it.  Both were on their
feet, their drawn swords in their right hands, pistols in their left,
and their bodies bobbing energetically forward, in approved racing
fashion, at every stroke of the oars; whilst the voice of first one and
then the other could be heard encouraging their respective crews with
such exclamations as:

"Pull now! pull _hard!  There_ she lifts!  _Now_ she travels!  There we
draw ahead.  _Well_ pulled; again so," and so on, she men all the while
straining at the oars with a zeal and energy which left in the wake of
each boat a long line of swirling, foamy whirlpools.

We were within about eighty yards of the slavers--the launch leading by
a good half length--when a voice on board the brig uttered some word of
command, and that same instant--_crash_! came a broadside at us, fired
simultaneously from the three ships.  The guns were well-aimed, the shot
flying close over and all round us, tearing and thrashing up the placid
surface of the water about the boats, and sprinkling us to such an
extent that, for the moment, we seemed to be passing through a heavy
shower; yet, strange to say, no damage was done.

Before the guns could be again loaded we were alongside, and then
ensued--so far at least as the launch was concerned--a few minutes of
such desperate hand-to-hand fighting as I have never since witnessed.
We dashed alongside the brig in the wake of her larboard main rigging,
and as the boat's side touched that of the slaver every man dropped his
oar, seized his cutlass, and sprang for the main channels.  Here,
however, we were received so warmly that it was found utterly impossible
to make good our footing, the men springing up only to fall back again
into the boat wounded with pike-thrust, pistol-bullet, or cutlass-gash.
Smellie and I happened to make a dash for the same spot, but being the
lighter of the two I was jostled aside by him and narrowly avoided
tumbling overboard.  He succeeded in gaining a temporary footing on the
chain-plate, and was evidently about to scramble thence upon the sheer-
pole, when I saw a pike thrust out at him from over the topgallant
bulwarks.  The point struck him in the right shoulder, passing
completely through it; the thrust upset his balance, and down he came by
the run into the boat.  Our lads meanwhile were cutting and hacking most
desperately at the boarding netting, endeavouring to make a passage-way
through it, but unfortunately they had emptied their pistols in the
first rush, and, unable to reach their enemies through the netting, were
completely at their mercy.  In less than three minutes all hands were
back in the boat, every one of us more or less hurt, and no nearer to
getting on board than we had been before the beginning of the attack.

The cutters had evidently fared no better, for they were already hauling
off, discomfited; seeing which, Smellie, who seemed scarcely conscious
of his wound, reluctantly gave the order for us to follow their example,
which we promptly did.  Poor Smellie!  I pitied him, for I could see he
was deeply mortified at our defeat.  The three boats converged toward
each other as they hauled off, and as soon as we were within speaking
distance of them the second lieutenant inquired of Armitage and Williams
whether they had suffered much.

"We have one man killed, and I think none of us have escaped quite scot-
free," was Armitage's reply; whilst Williams reported that two of his
men were seriously hurt and seven others slightly wounded.

"Well," said Smellie, "it is evident that we can do nothing with them
unless we change our tactics.  We will, therefore, all three of us
attack the schooner, the two cutters boarding her, one on each bow,
whilst we in the launch will make a feint of attacking the brigantine,
passing her, however, at the last moment, and boarding the schooner aft.
Now--away we go!"

The boats upon this were quickly swept round, and off we dashed toward
our respective points of attack.  We were still fully a hundred yards
distant when another broadside was poured into us, this time with very
destructive effect so far as the launch was concerned.  We were struck
by no less than five nine-pound shot, two of which played havoc with our
oars on the starboard side, a third tore out about twelve feet of
planking and gunwale on the same side, and the remaining two struck the
boat's stem close together, completely demolishing the bows and, worst
of all, killing three men.

The launch was now a wreck and sinking.  Smellie, therefore, conceiving
it to be our best chance under the circumstances, gave orders to steer
straight for the schooner's main-chains.  We succeeded in reaching our
quarry before the boat sank, and that was all, the launch capsizing
alongside as we sprang from her gunwale to that of the schooner.  Very
fortunately for us, the two cutters had arrived nearly a minute before
us, and when we boarded the entire crew of the schooner was on her
forecastle fully occupied in the endeavour to repel their attack.
Taking advantage of this we quietly but rapidly slipped in on deck
through her open ports aft, and then made a furious charge forward,
attacking the Spaniards in their rear.  Our presence on board seemed to
take them considerably by surprise.  They wavered and hesitated, but,
incited by a burly ruffian who forced his way through the crowd, rallied
once more and attacked us hotly.  This was exactly what we wanted.  Our
fellows, by Smellie's order, contented themselves with acting for the
time being strictly on the defensive, giving way gradually before the
impetuous attack of the Spaniards, and drawing them by degrees away from
the forecastle.  A diversion was thus effected in favour of the cutters'
crews, of which they were not slow to avail themselves; and in less than
five minutes after the attack of the launch's crew our entire party had
gained a footing upon the schooner's deck.  Even then the Spanish crew
continued to fight desperately, inflicting several very severe wounds
upon our lads, until at last, thoroughly roused by such obstinacy, the
blue-jackets made such a determined charge that they cleared the decks
by actually and literally driving their opponents overboard.  Not that
this entailed much loss upon the Spaniards, however; for they all, or
very nearly all, swam either to the brig or the brigantine, where they
were promptly hauled on board.

On our side Smellie lost not a moment in availing himself to the fullest
extent of our partial victory.  He ordered the cutters to be dropped
under the schooner's stern, and whilst this was being done the springs
were veered away and hauled upon until the schooner was brought
broadside-on to her former consorts, now her antagonists.  This done our
lads went to the guns, double-shotted them, and succeeded in delivering
an awfully destructive raking broadside fore and aft along the decks of
both the brig and the brigantine.  The frightful outcries and the
confusion which ensued on board these craft assured us that our fire had
wrought a tremendous amount of execution among the men crowding their
decks; but they were too wise to give us an opportunity to repeat the
dose.  Their springs were promptly manned, and by the time that the
schooner's batteries were again loaded our antagonists had brought their
broadsides to bear upon us.

Once more was our double-shotted broadside hurled upon the foe, and
then, before our lads had time to run-in their guns, we received the
combined fire of the brig and the brigantine in return.  Through the
sharp ringing explosion of our antagonists' nine-pounders we distinctly
heard the crashing of the shot through the schooner's timbers, and
then--O God!  I shall never forget it--the piercing shrieks and groans
of mortal agony which uprose beneath our feet!  Not a man of us upon the
schooner's decks was injured by that terrible double broadside; for the
Spaniards, resolved to sink the craft, had depressed the muzzles of
their guns and sent their shot through the schooner's sides just above
the water-line on the one side and out through her bottom on the other,
regardless of the fact that _the vessel's hold was packed full of
slaves_.  The slaughter which resulted among these unhappy creatures,
thus closely huddled together, I must leave to the reader's
imagination--it was simply indescribable.

For a moment all hands of us on board the schooner were struck dumb and
motionless with horror at this act of cowardice and wanton barbarity;
then, with a yell of righteous fury our lads turned again to their guns,
which thenceforward were loaded and fired independently, and as rapidly
as possible.  The slavers on their part were not behindhand in alacrity,
and presently we received another broadside from the brig, closely
followed by one from the brigantine, the guns being in both cases aimed
as before, with similar murderous results, and with a repetition of
those heart-rending shrieks of agony and despair.

"My God!  I can't bear this!"  I heard Smellie exclaim, as the dying
shrieks of the negroes below again pealed out upon the startled air.
"Mr Williams, take half a dozen men below and free those unhappy
blacks.  I don't know whether I am acting prudently or not, but I cannot
leave them chained helplessly down there to be cut to pieces by the shot
of those Spanish fiends.  Let them come on deck and take their chance
with us.  Some of them at least may possibly effect their escape, either
in the schooner's boats or by swimming to the shore."

Williams lost no time in setting about his perilous work of mercy; and a
few minutes after his disappearance down the main hatchway the unhappy
slaves began to make their appearance on deck, where they first stared
in terrified wonder about them, and then crouched down helplessly on the
deck wherever they might happen to find themselves.

In the meantime the cannonade was kept briskly up on both sides, and
presently the Spaniards began to pepper us with musketry in addition.
The bullets, fired at short range, flew thickly about us; and the
casualties quickly increased, several of the unfortunate blacks falling
victims to the first discharge.  Seeing this, Smellie ordered the
schooner's boats, three in number, to be lowered and the slaves passed
into them.  This was done, our lads leaving the guns for a few minutes
for the purpose; but--will it be credited?  The Spaniards no sooner
became aware of our purpose than they directed their fire upon the boats
and their hapless occupants; so that we were compelled to quickly drag
the unhappy blacks back on board the schooner again, to save them from
being ruthlessly slaughtered.  The worst of it was, that though Williams
had succeeded in freeing many of them from the heavy chains with which
they were secured together in the schooner's hold, most of them still
wore heavy fetters on their ankles.  These we now proceeded to knock off
as fast as we could, afterwards pitching the poor wretches overboard--
with scant ceremony, I fear--to take their chances of being able to
reach the shore.  And during all this the Spaniards never ceased firing
upon us for an instant; so there we were in the midst of a perfect
hailstorm of round-shot and bullets; the air about us thick and
suffocating with the smoke from the guns, our only light the quick
intermittent flashes of the cannon and musketry; the whole atmosphere
vibrating with the roar and rattle of the fusillade, the shouts of the
combatants, and the shrieks of the wounded and dying; struggling with
the unhappy negroes who, driven almost frantic with the unwonted sights
and sounds around them, seemed quite unable to comprehend our
intentions, and resisted to the utmost our well-meant endeavours to pass
them over the ship's side into the water.

In the midst of all this tumult and confusion we were suddenly
confronted by an additional horror--Williams, badly wounded in the head
by a splinter, staggering on deck, closely followed by his men, with the
news that the schooner was rapidly sinking, and that it was impossible
to free any more of the blacks.

I glanced down the hatchway.  Merciful Heaven! shall I ever forget the
sight which met my eyes in that brief glimpse!  The intelligence was
only too literally true.  By the dim light of a horn lantern which
Williams had suspended from the beams I could see the black water
welling and bubbling rapidly up from the shot-holes below, and the
wretched negroes, still chained below, surrounded by the mangled corpses
of their companions and already immersed to their chins, with their
heads thrown as far back as possible so as to keep their mouths and
nostrils free until the last possible moment, their faces contorted and
their eyes protruding from their sockets with mortal fear.

One of the unhappy creatures was a woman--a mother.  Actuated by that
loving and devoted instinct which constrains all animals to seek the
safety of their helpless offspring before their own, she had raised her
infant in her arms as high as possible above the surface of the bubbling
water, and had fixed her dying gaze yearningly upon the little
creature's face with an expression of despairing love which it was truly
pitiful to see.  I could not bear it.  The mother was lost--chained as
she was to the submerged deck, nothing could then save her--but the
child might still be preserved.  I sprang down the hatchway and,
splashing through the rapidly-rising water, seized the child, and, as
gently as possible, tried to disengage it from the mother's grasp.  The
woman turned her eyes upon me, looked steadfastly at me for a moment as
though she would read my very soul, and then--possibly because she saw
the flood of compassion which was welling up from my heart into my
eyes--pressed her child's lips once rapidly and convulsively to her own
already submerged mouth, loosed her grasp upon its body, and with a wild
shriek of bitter anguish and despair threw herself backwards beneath the
flood.

My heart was bursting with grief and indignation--grief for the
miserable dying wretches around me, and indignation at our utter
inability to prevent such wholesale human suffering.  But there was no
time to lose; the schooner was already settling down beneath our feet,
and I saw that it would very soon be "Every man for himself and God for
us all;" so I passed my charge on deck and quickly followed it myself.

I was just in time to see Smellie spinning the schooner's wheel hard
over to port and lashing it there.  Divining in an instant that he hoped
by this manoeuvre to sheer the schooner alongside the brig, I seized the
child I had brought up from below, dropped it into one of our own boats
astern, and then stood by to make a spring for the brig with the rest of
our party.  Half a minute more and the sides of the two ships touched.

"Now, lads, follow me!  Spring for your lives--the schooner is sinking!"
I heard Smellie shout; and away we went--Armitage leading one party
forward, and Smellie showing the way to the rest of them aft.  And, even
as we made our spring, the schooner heeled over and sank alongside.

We were met, as before, by so stubborn a resistance that I believe every
one of us received some fresh hurt more or less serious before we
actually reached the deck of the brig; but our lads were by this time
fully aroused--neither boarding-nettings nor anything else could any
longer restrain them; and in a few seconds, though more than one poor
fellow fell back dead, we were in possession of the brig, the crew, in
obedience to an order from their captain, suddenly flinging down their
weapons and tumbling headlong into their boats, which for some reason--a
reason we were soon to learn--they had lowered into the water.

To our surprise our antagonists, instead of taking refuge on board the
brigantine, as we fully expected they would, took to their oars and
pulled in frantic haste up the creek.  In the dense darkness which now
ensued consequent upon the cessation of firing it was impossible to send
a shot after them with any chance of success; and so they were allowed
to go free.

The hot pungent fumes which arose through the grating of the brig's main
hatchway very convincingly testified to the presence of slaves on board
that craft also; and, warned by his recent experience on board the
schooner, Smellie resolved to warp the brig in alongside the bank and
land the unfortunate creatures before resuming hostilities.  A gang of
men was accordingly sent forward to clear away the necessary warps and
so on; and I was directed to go with a boat's crew into one of the
cutters to run the ends of the warps on shore.

The boats, it will be remembered, had been passed astern of the
schooner, and there they still remained uninjured, that craft having
settled down in water so shallow that her deck was only submerged to a
depth of about eighteen inches.  In order to reach either of the boats,
however, it was necessary to pass along the deck of the sunken craft;
and I was just climbing down the brig's side to do so--the men having
preceded me--when the bulwarks to which I was clinging suddenly burst
outward, the brig's hull was rent open by a tremendous explosion, and,
enveloped for an instant in a sheet of blinding flame, I felt myself
whirled upwards and outwards for a considerable distance, to fall
finally, stunned, scorched, and half-blinded, into the agitated waters
of the creek.  Moved more by instinct than anything else I at once
struck out mechanically for the shore.  It was at no great distance from
me, and I had almost reached it when some object--probably a piece of
falling wreckage from the dismembered brig--struck me a violent blow on
the back of the head, and I knew no more.



CHAPTER NINE.

DOOMED TO THE TORTURE.

Consciousness at length began, slowly and with seeming reluctance, to
return to me; and so exceedingly disagreeable was the process, that if I
could have had my own way just then, I think I should have preferred to
die.  My first sensation was that of excessive stiffness in every part
of my body, with distracting headache.  Then, as my nerves more fully
recovered their functions, ensued a burning fever which scorched my body
and sent the blood rushing through my throbbing veins like a torrent of
molten metal.  And finally, as I made an unsuccessful effort to move, I
became aware, first of all by sundry sharp smarting sensations, that I
had been wounded in three or four places; and secondly, by a feeling of
severe compression about the wrists and ankles, that I was bound--a
prisoner!

With complete restoration to consciousness my sufferings rapidly grew
more acute; and at length, with a groan of exquisite agony, I opened my
eyes and looked about me.

"Where was I?"

Somewhere on shore, evidently.

Overhead was the deep brilliantly blue sky, with the sun, almost in the
zenith, darting his burning beams directly down upon my uncovered head
and my upturned face.  Turning my head aside to escape the dazzling
brightness which smote upon my aching eyeballs with a sensation of
positive torture, I discovered that I was lying in about the centre of
an extensive forest clearing of nearly circular shape and about five
hundred yards in diameter, hemmed in on all sides by a dense growth of
jungle and forest trees, and carpeted thickly with short verdant grass.

Near me lay the apparently inanimate body of poor Mr Smellie, bound
hand and foot, like myself; and dotted about here and there on the
grass, mostly in a sitting posture and also bound, were some fifteen or
twenty negroes, who, from their wretched plight, I conjectured to be
survivors from the sunken slave schooner.  Turning my head in the
opposite direction I discovered at a few yards distance a party of
negroes, some fifty in number, much finer-looking and more athletic men
than those in bonds round about me, who, from the weapons they bore, I
at once concluded to be our captors.  This surmise was soon afterwards
proved to be correct; for, upon the completion of the meal which they
were busily discussing when I first made them out, they approached us,
and with sufficiently significant gestures gave us to understand that we
must rise and march.

The captive blacks rose to their feet stolidly and without any apparent
difficulty; but so far as I was concerned this was an impossibility, my
feet as well as my hands being secured.  One great hulking black fellow,
noticing that neither Smellie nor I showed any signs of obedience,
deliberately proceeded to prod us here and there with the point of his
spear.  Upon Smellie these delicate attentions produced no effect
whatever, he evidently being either dead or insensible; but they aroused
in me a very lively feeling of indignation, under the influence of which
I launched such a vigorous kick at the unreasonable darky's shins as
made him howl with pain and sent him hopping out of range in double-
quick time--a proceeding which raised a hearty laugh at his expense
among his companions.  A moment later, however, he returned, his eyes
sparkling with rage, and would have transfixed me with the light javelin
he carried had not another of the party interfered.  By the order of
this last individual Smellie and I were presently raised from the
ground, and each borne by two men, were carried off in the rear of the
column of captive blacks, our captors taking up such positions along the
line on either side as effectually precluded all possibility of escape.

Passing across the open space, we presently plunged into the jungle,
traversing a bush-path just wide enough to allow of two men walking
abreast.  I had not much opportunity, however, for noting any of the
incidents of our journey, for, owing to the clumsy way in which I was
being carried, my wounds burst open afresh, and I soon fainted from loss
of blood.

When next I recovered consciousness I found that we were afloat, no
doubt on the river, though I had no means of ascertaining this for
certain, as I was lying in the bottom of the canoe, and could see
nothing but blue sky beyond either of the gunwales.  Smellie was lying
beside me, and, to my great joy, I found that he was not only alive but
a great deal better than I could have thought possible after witnessing
his former desperate condition.  Of course we at once exchanged
congratulations each at the other's escape; and then began to compare
notes.  My companion in misfortune had, it seemed, just started to go
forward when the explosion occurred on board the brig; the shock had
rendered him unconscious; and when he recovered he found himself on
board the canoe with me beside him.  Poor fellow! he was in a sad
plight.  He was severely wounded in no less than four different parts of
his body; his face and hands were badly scorched; his clothing--about
which he was always very particular--hung upon him in tatters; and
lastly, he was greatly distressed in mind at the disastrous failure of
the expedition, at the fearfully heavy casualties which we knew had
befallen the attacking party, and at the extreme probability that those
casualties had been very largely increased by the blowing up of the
brig.  I said what I could to comfort him, but, alas! that was not much;
and it was a relief to us both to change the subject, even though we
naturally turned at once to the discussion of our own problematical
future.

The craft in which we found ourselves was a war-canoe, about sixty feet
long and five feet beam, manned by about forty of our captors, who sat
two abreast close to the gunwales, paddling vigorously; the negro
prisoners, as well as ourselves, being stowed along the middle of the
canoe, fore and aft.  A fresh fair breeze was blowing, and full
advantage was being taken of this circumstance, a huge mat sail being
hoisted on the craft which must inevitably have capsized her had it
happened to jibe.  From the sharp rushing sound of the water along the
sides and bottom of the canoe, and the swift strokes of the paddles, I
judged that we must be travelling through the water at a rapid rate, a
conjecture the truth of which was afterwards very disagreeably verified.
We sped on thus until sunset, when the sail was suddenly lowered and
with loud shouts, which were re-echoed from the shore, the canoe's
course was altered, the craft grounding a few minutes afterwards on a
beach where all hands of us landed.

Smellie and I were by this time quite able to walk, but before we could
set foot to the ground a couple of stalwart blacks were told off to each
of us, and we were carried along as before.  On this occasion, however,
our journey was but a short one, not more, perhaps, than five or six
hundred yards altogether.  Arrived, apparently, at our destination, we
were set down, and immediately bound with _llianos_ or monkey-rope to
the bole of a huge tree.  Looking about us, we discovered that we were
in a native village of considerable size, built in a semicircular shape,
having in its centre a structure of considerable architectural
pretensions in a barbaric sort of way, which structure we conjectured--
from the presence of a hideous idol in front of it--must be a sort of
temple.  Looking about us still further, we noticed that the remainder
of the prisoners were being bound to trees like ourselves.  There was a
peculiarity about the disposition of the prisoners which I certainly did
not like; there might be no motive for it, but it struck me that our
being ranged in a semicircle in front of this idol had a rather sinister
appearance.

Having secured the prisoners to their satisfaction, our captors left us;
and we were speedily surrounded by a curious crowd consisting chiefly of
women and children, who came and stared persistently with open-mouthed
curiosity at the captives, and especially at Smellie and myself, greatly
attracted by the apparently novel sight of our white skins.  The old
women were, for the most part, hideously ugly, wrinkled, and bent, their
grizzled wool plastered with grease and dirt, and their bodies
positively _encrusted_ with filth.  The young women, on the other hand--
those, that is to say, whose ages seemed to range between thirteen and
sixteen or seventeen--were by no means destitute of personal
attractions, which--to do them justice--they exhibited with the most
boundless liberality.  They were all possessed of plump well-made
figures; their limbs were, in many cases, very finely moulded; they had
an upright graceful carriage; the expression of their features was
amiable and gentle; and, notwithstanding their rather prominent lips, a
few of them were actually pretty.

One of these damsels, a perfect little sable Hebe, seemed to be greatly
attracted by us, walking round and round the tree to which we were
secured--first at a respectful distance, and then nearer and nearer.
Finally, after studying our countenances intently for nearly a minute,
she boldly approached and laid her finger upon my cheek, apparently to
ascertain whether or no it was genuine flesh and blood.  Satisfied that
it was so, she backed off to take another look at us, and I thought an
expression of pity overspread her face.  Finally she addressed us.  We
were, of course, quite unable to understand the words she uttered, but
her actions, graceful as they were, were significant enough; she was
evidently asking whether we were hungry or thirsty.  To this inquiry
Smellie nodded a prompt affirmative, which I backed up with the single
word "_Rather_," uttered so expressively that I am certain she quite
understood me.  At all events, she tripped lightly away, returning in a
few minutes with a small finely-woven basket containing about two quarts
of fresh palm-juice, which she presented first to Smellie's lips, and
then to mine.  Need I say that, between us, we emptied it?  Our hostess
laughed gaily as she glanced at the empty basket, evidently pleased at
the success of her attempt to converse with us; and then, with a
reassuring word or two, she tripped away again.  Only to return,
however, about a quarter of an hour later, with the same basket, filled
this time with a kind of porridge, which, though not particularly tasty,
was acceptable enough after our long fast.  This, our fair, or rather
our _dark_ friend administered to us alternately by means of a flat
wooden spatula.  This feeding process had not passed, it need hardly be
said, unobserved; and by the time that our meal was concluded quite a
large audience of women had gathered round to witness the performance.
The animated jabber and hearty ringing laughter of several of the
younger women and the somewhat abashed yet pleased expression of our own
particular friend seemed to indicate that _badinage_ was not altogether
unknown, even in this obscure African village.  But everything of that
kind was brought abruptly to an end by a loud discordant blowing of
horns and the hollow _tub, tub, tub_ of a number of rude drums; at which
sounds the crowd around us broke up at once and retired, our little Hebe
casting back at us more than one glance strongly indicative, as it
seemed to me, of compassion.

A fire had been kindled in front of the idol, or _fetish_, during the
feeding process above referred to, and now that the curious crowd of
women and girls who then surrounded us had retired we were able to see a
little more of what was going on.  The horn-blowing and drum-beating
emanated from a group of entirely naked savages who were marching in a
kind of procession round the idol.  This ceremony lasted about ten
minutes, when another negro made his appearance upon the scene, emerging
from the temple, if such it actually was, bearing in his hands a queer-
looking construction, the nature of which I was at first unable to
distinguish.  After marching solemnly round the idol three times this
individual seated himself tailor-fashion before it, laid the instrument
on his knees, and began to hammer upon it with a couple of sticks;
whereupon we became aware that he was playing upon a rude imitation of a
child's harmonicon, the keys of which appeared to be constructed of hard
wood, out of which he managed to beat a very fair specimen of barbaric
music.  This music seemed to be the overture to some impending
entertainment; for upon the sound of the first notes the inhabitants
began to pour out of their huts and to gather in a promiscuous crowd
round the giant tree-stump upon which the hideous fetish was mounted.
When the gathering was apparently complete the music ceased, the
drumming and horn-blowing burst out afresh, and the crowd immediately
divided into two sections, the smaller, and I presume the more select
division squatting on the ground in a semicircle in front of the image,
whilst the remainder of the inhabitants ranged themselves into two
quadrants about thirty feet apart, one on each side and in front of
their deity.  Through this open space between the two quadrants it
appeared probable that we should obtain a very good, if rather distant
view of the ceremonies which were evidently about to take place.

The audience having arranged themselves in position, the horn-blowing
ceased, and the musicians stepped inside the inner circle and seated
themselves to the right and left of the fetish.  A pause of perhaps a
couple of minutes ensued, and then horns, drums, and harmonicon suddenly
burst out with a loud confused fantasia, each man apparently doing his
utmost to drown the noise of the others.  Louder and louder blared the
horns; the drummers pounded upon their long narrow drums until it seemed
as though at every stroke the drum-heads must inevitably be beaten in;
whilst the harmonicon-man hammered away at his instrument with a vigour
and rapidity which must have been truly gratifying to his friends.

In the midst of this wild hullabaloo a blood-curdling yell rang out upon
the still night air, and from the open door of the temple or fetish-
house there bounded into the inner circle a most extraordinary figure,
clad from head to heel in monkey skins, his head adorned with a coronet
of beads and feathers, a bead necklace round his neck, a living snake
encircling his waist as a girdle, and bearing in his hand a red and
black wand about four feet long.

Upon the appearance of this individual the uproar suddenly ceased, then
the _maestro_ who presided at the harmonicon struck up a low
accompaniment, and the last comer burst into a subdued monotonous chant,
pointing and gesticulating from time to time with his wand.

I watched the proceedings with a great deal of interest, and was
beginning to wonder what would happen next, when Smellie turned to me
and quietly asked:

"Mr Hawkesley, do you ever say your prayers?"

"Sir?"  I ejaculated in unutterable surprise at so impertinent a
question, as it seemed to me.

"I asked whether you ever said your prayers: I ought to have said,
rather, do you ever pray?  There is often a very great difference
between the two acts," he returned quietly.

"Well--ah--yes--that is--certainly, sir, I do," stammered I.

"Then," said Smellie, "let me recommend you to pray _now_--to pray with
all the earnestness and sincerity of which you are capable.  Make your
peace with God, if you have not already done so, whilst you have the
opportunity, for, unless I am very greatly mistaken, _it is our doom to
die to-night_."

I was so shocked, so completely knocked off my balance, by this
unlooked-for communication, that, for the moment I lost all power of
speech, my tongue clave to the roof of my mouth, and I could only stare
at my fellow-prisoner in horrified incredulity.

"My poor boy," he said compassionately, "I am afraid I have spoken to
you too abruptly.  I ought to have prepared you gradually for so
momentous a piece of intelligence, to have _broken_ the news to you.
But, there, what matters?  You are a plucky lad, Hawkesley--your conduct
last night abundantly proved that--and I am sure that, if the occasion
should come, you will stand up and face death in the presence of these
savages as an Englishman should; I am not afraid of that.  But, my dear
boy, are you prepared to die?  Are you in a fit state to meet your God?
You are very young, quite a lad in fact, and a _good_ lad too; you
cannot yet have erred very grievously.  Thoughtless, careless,
indifferent you may have been, but your conscience can hardly charge you
with any _very_ serious offence, I should think; and you may therefore
well hope for pardon and mercy.  Seek both at once, my dear boy."

"But--Mr Smellie--I--I don't understand; _you_ don't appear to be
afraid or--or disturbed at--the near prospect of death."

"No," he replied, raising his eyes heavenward for a moment; "no, thank
God, I am _not_ afraid.  My mother--" his lips quivered, his voice
faltered and almost broke for an instant, and by the red glare of the
fire I saw the tears well up into his eyes as he spoke that revered
name.  But he steadied himself again directly, and went on--"my dear
mother taught me to be ready for death at any moment; taught me so
lovingly and so thoroughly that I can regard with perfect calmness to-
night, as I have a score of times before, the approach of the Last
Enemy.  But let us not waste the precious moments in conversation.  Time
soon will be for us no more; and--ah! see, there comes the vile high-
priest of a loathsome idolatry to claim his first victim.  Should you by
any chance escape the coming horrors of this night, Hawkesley, and live
to reach England once more, seek out my mother--Austin will instruct you
as to where she may be found--and tell her that her son died as she
would wish him to die, a sincere Christian.  I am to be the first victim
it would appear.  Farewell, my dear boy!  God bless you, and grant us a
happy meeting at His right hand on the last Great Day!"

I strove in vain to reply to his solemnly affectionate farewell.  I
wanted to let him know how inexpressibly precious to me were the few
words of exhortation and encouragement he had spoken; to say were it
only a single word to cheer his last moments with the assurance that he
had not spoken in vain; but my emotion was too great.  I felt that in
the effort to speak I should inevitably burst into tears, and so,
perhaps, unman him, and disgrace him and myself in the eyes of these
inhuman savages.  So, perforce, I held my peace, and watched with a
wildly-beating heart to see how a brave man should die.

In the meantime the fetish-man had concluded his chant, and, in the
midst of a breathless silence on the part of his audience, stood looking
intently round the circle at the group of prisoners secured to the
trees.  He glanced keenly at each of us in turn, and at length pointed
his wand straight at Smellie.  It was this action which caused the
second lieutenant to announce to me his belief that it was he who was to
be the first victim of the impending sacrificial ceremony.  Keeping his
wand pointed directly at my companion, the uncouth figure slowly and
with a quite undescribable undulatory dancing motion, advanced toward
our tree, the crowd hastily making way for him, and four members of the
inner circle rising to their feet and following him at a touch from his
finger.

Overcoming by a strong effort the horrible fascination which this
loathsome wretch exercised over me, I turned to look at my companion.

He seemed to be utterly unconscious of his surroundings.  His eyes were
raised to heaven, his lips moved from time to time, and it was manifest
that he was holding the most solemn and momentous communion which it is
possible for man to hold even with his Maker.  Pale, haggard, and worn
with mental and physical suffering, his crisp brown curly hair stiff and
matted with blood, his face streaked with ensanguined stains, and his
scorched clothing hanging about him in blood-stained rags, I
nevertheless thought it would be difficult to picture a more perfect
embodiment of a good, noble, and brave man.

Slowly and sinuously, like a serpent stealing upon his prey, the fetish-
man or witch-doctor advanced until he stood within a yard of his
intended victim, with the fatal wand still pointing straight at
Smellie's breast.  He stood thus for a full minute or more, seemingly
striving to wring from the bound and helpless prisoner some sign of
panic or at least of discomposure.  In vain.  His last most solemn act
of duty done, Smellie at length turned his eyes upon those of his enemy,
regarding him with a gaze so calmly steadfast, so palpably devoid of
fear, that the savage, mortified at his utter failure, suddenly, with an
exclamation unmistakably indicative of rage and chagrin, dropped the
point of his wand, to raise it again instantly and direct it toward my
breast.

But the cool intrepidity which I had just witnessed was contagious; in
my sublime admiration of it my soul soared far above and beyond the
reach of so debasing a feeling as fear, and in my turn I met the cruel
sinister gaze of the crafty savage with one as calm as Smellie's own.

For perhaps a full minute--it may have been more, it may have been less;
it is difficult to estimate the lapse of time under such trying
circumstances--the fetish-man did his best to disconcert me; then,
baffled once more, with a furious and threatening gesture he passed on
to the next prisoner.

"We are reprieved for the time being," said Smellie, as the
gesticulating witch-doctor and his myrmidons passed on, "but only to
become the victims of a more refined and protracted torture at last.
Having failed to exhibit any signs of fear in the first instance we are
spared to witness the cumulative sufferings of those who are to precede
us, in order that by the sight of their exquisite torments our courage
may be quelled by the anticipation of our own.  I imagine, from what I
have read of the customs of this people, that we are about to witness
and become participants in a ceremony undertaken to avert or remove some
great calamity--a ceremony involving the sacrifice of many victims, each
of whom is put to death with more refined barbarity than that dealt out
to the victim preceding him.  Ah! see there--a worthy victim has at last
been found with which to begin the sacrifice."

I looked in the direction his eyes indicated, and, sure enough, the
light but fatal stroke with the wand was just in the act of being struck
upon the naked breast of one of the negro prisoners.  As the blow fell a
loud shriek of despair rang out from the lips of the wretched man; the
fetish-man's four assistants sprang upon their prey, his bonds were cut,
and in another moment he was dragged, struggling desperately and
shrieking with mortal fear, into the inner circle and up to the broad
tree-stump which supported the fetish or idol.

In the meantime the fire had been bountifully replenished with wood and
now blazed up fiercely.  By its ruddy light I saw the fetish-man retire
to the interior of the temple or fetish-house, to appear immediately
afterwards with a rude stone hammer in one hand and what looked like
four or five large spike-nails in the other.  He stood for a moment
gloating over the agonised countenance of his victim, and then nodded
his head.  At the signal his four assistants seized their prisoner, and,
despite his terrible struggles, rapidly placed him, head downwards, with
his back against the tree-stump, and his limbs extended as far as they
would go round it, when the fetish-man proceeded with cruel deliberation
to secure him in position by _nailing him there_, the spikes taken from
the fetish-house being used for the purpose.

The horns, drums, and harmonicon now broke forth afresh into a hideous
clamour, which, however, was powerless to drown the dismal shrieks of
the victim; and the fetish-man, arming himself with a large broad-bladed
and most murderous-looking knife, began to dance slowly, with most
extraordinary contortions of visage and body, round the idol.  Gradually
his gyrations grew more rapid, his gestures more extravagant; the knife
was flourished in the air in an increasingly threatening manner, and at
length, as the weird dancer whirled rapidly round the tree-stump, the
weapon was at each revolution plunged ruthlessly into the writhing body
of the hapless victim, the utmost care being taken, I noticed, to avoid
any vital part.  Finally, when the dancer had apparently danced himself
into a frenzy--when his gyrations had become so rapid that it almost
made me giddy to look at him, and when his contortions of body grew so
extravagant that it was difficult to say whether he was dancing on his
head or on his heels--there flashed a sudden lightning-like gleam of the
knife, and the head of the miserable victim fell to the ground, to be
snatched up instantly and, with still twitching features, nailed between
the feet of the body.

A loud murmur of applause from the spectators greeted this effort of the
fetish-man, in the midst of which he retired for a few minutes to the
interior of the fetish-house, probably to recruit his somewhat exhausted
energies.



CHAPTER TEN.

A FIENDISH CEREMONIAL.

"Now," said Smellie as he turned once more to me, "we shall probably be
again threatened on the reappearance of that bloodthirsty villain.  But
whatever you do, Hawkesley, maintain a bold front; let him see no sign
or trace whatever of weakness or discomposure in you.  The fellow's
thirst for blood is by this time fully aroused, and every succeeding
victim will be subjected to greater refinements of torture; all that
diabolical scoundrel's fiendish ingenuity will now be exercised to
devise for his victims increasingly atrocious and protracted agonies.
There is one, and only one hope for us, which is that by a persistent
refusal to be terrorised by him, and a judiciously scornful demeanour,
we may at last exasperate him out of his self-control, and thus provoke
him into inflicting upon us the _coup-de-grace_ at once and without any
of the preliminary torments.  Here he comes again.  Now, for your own
sake, dear lad, remember and act upon my advice."

The first act of the wretch was to despatch his four assistants into the
forest, whence they returned in a short time with three long slender
poles and a considerable quantity of creeper or monkey-rope.  With
these, under the fetish-man's superintendence, a very tolerable set of
light shears was speedily constructed, which, when finished, was erected
immediately over the fire--now an immense mass of glowing smokeless
cinders--in front of the idol.  The entire arrangement was so
unmistakably suggestive that I could not restrain a violent shudder as
it occurred to me that it might possibly be my fate to be subjected to
the fiery torment.

All being ready, a dead silence once more fell upon the assembly, and
the chief actor in the inhuman ceremonial once more looked keenly around
him for a victim.

As in the first instance, so now again was the wand pointed at Smellie's
breast, and once more the cruel crafty bearer of it advanced on tip-toe
with a stealthy cat-like tread toward us.  He approached thus until he
had reached to within about ten feet of the tree, when he once more
paused in front of us, gesticulating with the wand and making as though
about to strike with it the light blow which seemed to be the stroke of
doom, keenly watching all the while for some sign of trepidation on the
part of his victim.  Then, whilst the wretch was in the very midst of
his fantastic genuflexions before us, Smellie turned to me with a smile
and observed:

"Just picture to yourself, Hawkesley, the way in which that fellow would
be made to jump if Tom Collins, the boatswain's mate, could only
approach him from behind now, and freshen his way with just one touch of
his `cat.'"

There was perhaps not much in it; but the picture thus suggested to my
abnormally excited imagination seemed so supremely ridiculous that I
incontinently burst into a violent and uncontrollable fit of hysterical
laughter (the precise effect which I afterwards ascertained Smellie was
anxious to produce); so highly exasperating the fetish-man that, with
eyes fairly sparkling with rage, he advanced and struck me a violent
blow on the mouth with his filthy hand, passing on immediately
afterwards to seek elsewhere for a victim.

He had not far to seek; the miserable wretch next me on my left was so
paralysed with fear that he was deemed a fit and proper person to become
the next sacrifice, and almost unresistingly--until resistance was all
too late--he was dragged forward into the inner circle, thrown flat upon
his stomach, and his hands and feet bound securely together behind him.
Then, indeed, he seemed suddenly to awake to a sense of his horrid fate;
and his superhuman struggles for freedom and his ear-splitting yells
were simply dreadful beyond all description to see and hear.  The
fetish-man and his assistants, confident of the reliable character of
their work, stood back and looked on quietly at the miserable wretch's
unavailing struggles; they seemed to be regarded as quite a part of the
entertainment, and the unhappy creature was allowed to continue them
unmolested until they ceased from exhaustion.  Then, when he lay quite
still, panting and breathless, with his eyes starting from their sockets
and the perspiration streaming from every pore, the fetish-man
approached him and deftly bending on to his fettered limbs an end of
stout monkey-rope, he was dragged along the ground into the fire, and
thence triced in an instant up to the shears, whence he hung suspended
at the height of about a foot immediately over the glowing embers.

The miserable sufferer bore the torment as long as he could, and I shall
never forget the awful sight his distorted features presented as,
drawing back his head as far as he could from the fierce heat, he glared
round the circle seeking perchance for a hand merciful enough to put him
out of his misery--but after the first minute of suffering his stoicism
abandoned him, and he writhed so violently that the fetish-man and his
assistants had to steady the shears in order to prevent them from
capsizing altogether.  And with every writhe of the victim the slender
poles bent and gave, letting the miserable sufferer sink down some three
or four inches nearer the fire.  The superhuman struggles, the frightful
contortions and writhings of the man, his ear-splitting yells, the
horrible smell of roasting flesh--oh, God! it was awful beyond all
attempt at description.  I pray that I may never look upon such a
ghastly sight again.

The fiendish exhibition had probably reached its most appalling phase,
and I was wondering, shudderingly, what form of torture could possibly
exceed it in cruelty, when there was a sudden slight movement of my
bonds; they slackened and fell away from the tree-trunk against which I
leaned, and _I was free_.  Not a moment was allowed me in which to get
over the first shock of my bewilderment; a soft plump hand grasped mine
and gently drew me round behind the tree, so rapidly that I had only
time to note the fact that apparently every eye in the assembly was
fixed upon the writhing figure suspended over the fire--and before I had
fairly realised what was happening I found myself a dozen yards away
from my starting-point, gliding rapidly and noiselessly through the deep
shadows cast by the tree-trunks, towards the outer darkness which
prevailed beyond the range of the fire-light; with our little black Hebe
friend of a few hours before dragging me along on one side of her and
Smellie on the other.

Five minutes later we had left the village so far behind us that the
barbarous sounds of horn and drum, mingled with the yells of anguish
from the tortured victim, momentarily becoming more and more softened by
our increasing distance, were the sole evidences that remained to us of
its existence, and we found ourselves hurrying along through the rank
grass, threading the mazes of the park-like clumps of lofty timber, and
forcing a passage through the thickly clustering festoons of parasitic
orchids, under the subdued light of the mellow stars alone.

With almost breathless rapidity our tender-hearted little deliverer
hurried us forward, frequently exclaiming in low urgent accents, "Zola-
ku! zola-ku," so expressively uttered that we had no difficulty in
interpreting the words to mean that there was the most extreme necessity
for rapid movement on our part.  We accordingly hastened our steps to
the utmost limit of our capacity, and in about ten minutes from the
moment of our liberation emerged upon a long narrow strip of sandy
beach, with the noble river sweeping grandly to seaward before us.  Here
our guide paused for a moment, apparently pondering as to what it would
next be best to do.  Glancing down the river I saw indistinctly, at
about two hundred yards distance, some shapeless objects which I took to
be canoes drawn up on the beach, and pointing to them I exclaimed to
Smellie:

"Are not those canoes?  If they are, what is to prevent our seizing one
and making our way down the river without further ado?"

Our little Hebe glanced in the direction I had indicated, and seemed
quite to understand the nature of my suggestion, for she shook her head
violently and exclaimed rapidly in accents of very decided dissent, "Ve!
_Ve_!!  Ve!!!" pointing at the same time to Smellie's and my own
untended wounds.

At that moment a loud confused shouting arose in the distant village,
strongly suggestive of the discovery of our flight.  The sounds
apparently helped our guide to a decision as to her next step, for,
seizing our hands afresh, she led us straight into the river until the
water was up to our knees, and then turned sharply to the right or up
stream.  Pressing forward rapidly, our way freshened very decidedly by
unmistakable shouts of pursuit emanating from the neighbourhood of the
village, we reached, after about a quarter of an hour of arduous toil, a
small creek some forty yards wide.  Pausing here for a moment, our guide
made with her hands and arms the motion of swimming, pointed across the
creek, touched Smellie on the breast with the query "Yenu?" and then
rapidly repeated the same process with me.  We took this to mean an
inquiry as to our ability to swim the creek, and both replied "Yes" with
affirmative nods.  Whereupon our guide, raising her finger to express
the necessity for extreme caution, and uttering a warning "Ngandu" as
she next pointed to the waters of the creek, waded gently and without
raising a ripple into the deep water, Smellie and I following, and with
a few quiet strokes we happily reached the other side in safety, to
plunge forthwith into the friendly shadows of the forest.  Had we known
then--what we learned afterwards--that the word "Ngandu" is Congoese for
"crocodile," and that it was uttered as an intimation to us that the
river and its creeks literally swarm with these reptiles, it is possible
that our swim, short though it was, would not have been undertaken with
quite so much composure.

Once fairly in the forest, it became so dark that it was quite
impossible for us to see whither we were going, but our guide seemed to
be well acquainted with the route, which, from the comparatively few
obstacles met with, seemed to be a tolerably well-beaten path, so we
crowded sail and pressed along with tolerable rapidity behind the
slender black and almost indistinguishable figure of our leader.  The
pursuit, too, was hotly maintained, as we could tell by the occasional
shouts and the sudden _swishings_ of branches at no great distance from
us in the bush; but at length, after a most wearisome and painful tramp
of fully nine miles, we got fairly out of reach of all these sounds, and
finally, at a sign from our deliverer, flung ourselves down in the midst
of a thick growth of ferns at the foot of a giant tree, and, despite the
increasing anguish of our wounds, soon went to sleep.

We awoke at daybreak, to find ourselves alone: our guide of the previous
night had vanished.  We were greatly disconcerted at this, for we felt
that we should like to have done something--though we scarcely knew
what--to mark our appreciation of her extremely important services of
the preceding night.  Besides, somehow, we had both taken the notion
into our heads that in liberating us, she had committed an unpardonable
sin against her former friends, and that when she crossed the creek and
plunged into the forest with us she was virtually cutting herself adrift
from her own people and casting in her lot with us.  In which case, if
we should succeed in making good our escape and finding our way back to
the ship, we had little doubt about our ability to make such
arrangements on her behalf as should cause her to rejoice for the
remainder of her life at having befriended us.  However, it seemed as
though, having conducted us to a place of temporary safety, she had
returned to the village, doubtless hoping to escape all suspicion of
having had a hand in our liberation.

It was a glorious morning.  The sun was darting his early beams through
the richly variegated foliage, and touching here and there with gold the
giant trunks and limbs of the forest trees.  The earth around us was
thickly carpeted with long grass interspersed with dense fern-brakes,
and here and there a magnificent clump of aloes, their long waxy leaves
and delicate white blossoms standing out in strong relief against the
blaze of intense scarlet or the rich vivid green of a neighbouring bush.
The early morning air was cool, pure, and refreshing as it gently
fanned our fevered temples and wafted to us a thousand delicate
perfumes.  The birds, glancing like living gems between the clumps of
foliage, were saluting each other blithely as they set out upon their
diurnal quest for food.  The bees were already busy among the gorgeous
flowers; butterflies--more lovely even than the delicate blossoms above
which they poised themselves--flitted merrily about from bough to bough;
all nature, in fact, was rejoicing at the advent of a new day.  And ill,
suffering though we were, we could not but in some measure take part in
the general joy, as with hearts overflowing with gratitude we remembered
that we had escaped the horrors of the previous night.

A glance or two about us and we scrambled to our feet, intent, in the
first instance, upon an immediate search for water.  We had just settled
the question as to which direction seemed most promising for the
commencement of our quest when a clear musical call floated toward us,
and looking in the direction from whence it came, we beheld our black
Hebe approaching us, dragging a small dead antelope by the heels after
her.  So she had not abandoned us after all; on the contrary, she had
probably spent a good part of the night arranging for the capture of the
creature which was to furnish us with a breakfast.

On joining us she held up her prize for our inspection, and then, with a
joyous laugh at our approving remarks--at the meaning of which she
could, of course, only make the roughest of guesses--she set to work
deftly to clear away and lay bare a space upon which to start a fire, in
which task, as soon as we saw what she wanted, we assisted her to the
best of our poor ability.  This done, she went groping about beneath the
trees apparently in search of something; soon returning with two pieces
of dry stick, one of which, I noticed, had a hole in it.  A quantity of
dry leaves and sticks was next collected, having arranged which to her
satisfaction, she knelt down, and inserting the pointed end of one stick
in the hole of the other, twirled it rapidly between the palms of her
hands, producing by the friction thus set up, first a slight wreath of
smoke, and ultimately a tiny flame, which was carefully communicated to
the dry leaves, and then gently fanned by her breath into a blaze.  And
in this way a capital fire for cooking purposes was speedily obtained.

In the meantime Smellie and I had produced our knives and had undertaken
to skin and cut up the animal, some juicy steaks from which were soon
spluttering on pointed sticks before the fire.  The cooking operations
being thus put in satisfactory progress, our little black friend
borrowed my knife and plunged once more into the forest depths, to
return again shortly afterwards with a huge gourd full of deliciously
clear cool water.

The antelope steaks were by this time ready, and we all sat down to
breakfast together.  For my own part, I must say I thoroughly enjoyed
the meal; but I was sorry to observe that Smellie ate with but little
appetite, drinking large quantities of water, however.  The poor fellow
made no complaint, but I could tell by his haggard look, his flushed
cheeks, and his glittering eyes that it was quite time his wounds were
attended to, or we should be having him down with fever in the bush, and
then Heaven alone could tell when we should--if ever--be able to rejoin
the _Daphne_.

But we were not to be allowed to sink tamely into a state of despondency
or apprehension; our sable lady friend proved to be, like the rest of
her sex, a great talker, and she seized the opportunity afforded by the
discussion of breakfast to plunge into an animated conversation.  She
began by introducing herself, which she managed in quite an original
fashion.  Pausing for a moment, with a piece of steak poised daintily on
a large thorn, she pointed to herself and remarked "Mono;" then touched
Smellie and me lightly on the breast and added "Ingeya;" "Ingeya."  We
nodded gravely to signify that we understood, or thought we did; upon
which she pointed to herself once more and observed, "Mono
Lubembabemba."

"Which, being interpreted, means, as I take it, that her ladyship's name
is Lubem by--something.  Your most obedient servant, Miss Lubin by--"

She laughed a very pretty musical little laugh at Smellie's elaborate
assumption of mock gallantry and his bungling efforts to pronounce the
name.

"Lubem-ba-bemba," she corrected him; and this time the gallant second
lieutenant managed to stumble through it correctly, at which there was
more laughter and rejoicing on the lady's part.  Then I was called upon
to repeat the name, which, having paid the most praiseworthy attention
whilst Smellie was receiving his lesson, I managed to do very fairly.

Then, flushed with her success, Miss Lubembabemba made a further attempt
at conversation.  Pointing to herself and repeating her name, she next
pointed to Smellie and asked:

"Ingeya?"

Her meaning was so evident that Smellie answered at once, with another
elaborate bow:

"Harold Smellie; at your service."

"Halold-smellie-at-o-serveece!" she repeated with wide-opened eyes of
wonder at what she doubtless thought a very extraordinary name.

We both burst involuntarily into a laugh at this really clever first
attempt to reproduce the second lieutenant's polite speech; at which she
first looked decidedly disconcerted, but immediately afterwards joined
heartily in the laugh against herself.

"No, no, no," said Smellie, "that won't do; you haven't got it quite
right _Harold_; Harold."

"Halold?" she repeated.  And after two or three attempts to put her
right--attempts which failed from her evident inability to pronounce the
"r"--Smellie was obliged to rest content with being henceforward called
"Halold."

Then, of course, she turned to me with the same inquiry:

"Ingeya!"

"Dick," said I.

This time she caught the name accurately, and then, to show that she
clearly understood the whole proceeding, pointed to Smellie, to me, and
to herself in rotation, pronouncing our respective names.

"Yes," commented Smellie approvingly, "you have learned your lesson very
well indeed, my dear; but we shall never be able to remember that
extraordinary name of yours--Lubemba--what is it--you know; besides, it
will take us a dog-watch to pronounce it in full; so I propose that we
change it and re-christen you after the ship, eh?  Call you `Daphne,'
you know.  How would you like that?  You--Daphne; I--Halold, since you
_will_ have it so; and this strapping young gentleman, Dick.  Would that
suit you?  Daphne--Halold--Dick;" pointing to each of us in turn.

Her ladyship seemed to take the proposal as a tremendous compliment, for
her face lighted up with pleasure, and she kept on pointing round the
circle and repeating "Halold--Dick--Daphne" until breakfast was
concluded.  And thenceforward she refused to answer to any other name
than Daphne, assuming an air of the most complete unconsciousness when
either of us presumed to address her as "Lubembabemba" (the butterfly).

Breakfast over, I thought it was high time to attend to our wounds.  The
first requirement was water--plenty of it, and this want I managed with
some little difficulty to explain to Miss Daphne.  Comprehending my
meaning at last she intimated that a stream was to be found at no great
distance; and we at once set off in search of it, our little black
friend carrying along with her a live ember from the fire, which, by
waving it occasionally in the air, she managed to keep glowing.

We had not very far to go--most fortunately, for I saw that Smellie's
wounds were momentarily giving him increased uneasiness and pain.  A
walk of about a quarter of an hour took us to a sequestered and most
delightful spot, where we were not only perfectly concealed from chance
wanderers, but where we also found a small rocky basin full of
deliciously cool and pure water, which flowed into it from a tiny stream
meandering down the steep hill-side.  In this basin we laved our hurts
until they were thoroughly cleansed from the dry hard coagulated blood,
and then we set about the task of bandaging them up.  Daphne, who, by
the way, seemed to have little or no idea of surgery, made herself of
great use to us in the bathing process, when once she understood what
was required; but when it came to bandaging she found herself unable to
help us further, and sorrowfully confessed herself beaten.  We were
compelled to convert our shirts, the only linen in our possession, into
bandages; and poor Daphne, to her evident extreme sorrow, had no linen
to sacrifice to our necessities, or indeed any clothing at all to speak
of.  The costume of a Congoese belle, according to her rendering of it,
was a petticoat of parti-coloured bead fringe about twelve inches deep,
depending loosely from the hips; the rest of her clothing consisting
entirely--as Mike Flanaghan would have said--of jewellery, of which she
wore a considerable quantity.  I may as well here enumerate her
ornaments, for the information and benefit of those who have never
enjoyed the acquaintance of an African beauty.  In the first place she
wore a circular band of metal, about two inches wide, round her head and
across her forehead.  This band, or coronet, had a plain border of about
half an inch wide, and inside this border, for about an inch in width
throughout its length, the metal was cut away in very fine lines,
forming an intricate and really elegant lace-like pattern.  Then she
wore also a very large pair of circular ear-rings, similarly ornamented,
these ornaments being so large and heavy that they had actually
stretched the lobes, and so spoiled the shape of what would otherwise
have been a very pretty pair of ears.  Upon each of her plump, finely-
shaped arms, between the shoulder and the elbow, she wore four or five
massive armlets of peculiar but by no means unskilled workmanship; and
lastly, round each ankle she wore a single anklet of similar
workmanship.  On the previous night, when this rather lavish display of
jewellery had first attracted my casual notice, I had imagined it to be
brass; but now, seeing it again in the full light of day, I discovered
it to be _gold_, almost or quite pure, as I judged from its softness.

To return to our subject Daphne's first task on our arrival at the pool
had been to kindle another fire; and, after helping us as far as she
could to doctor our wounds, she next undertook an exploration of the
forest in our immediate neighbourhood, returning in about an hour's time
with three long, thin, straight shafts of a kind of bamboo, and three
small uprooted saplings.  These articles she forthwith plunged into the
fire, and after an hour's diligent work manipulated the bamboos into
three very effective lances or javelins, and the saplings into three
truly formidable clubs, the knotted roots being charred and trimmed
until they formed rounded heads as large as one's two fists put
together.  One of each of these weapons she presented both to Smellie
and to me, retaining one of each for herself; and thus armed, we were
ready to set out once more upon our travels.  But it was high time that
our wanderings should be conducted with something like method.  Our
object was, of course, to rejoin the ship with the least possible delay;
and before making a fresh start Smellie thought it would be just as well
to acquaint our companion with this our desire.  He accordingly
undertook to do so, and a very amusing scene resulted; but he succeeded
at last in making his wish clearly understood, and this achieved we once
more resumed our march.



CHAPTER ELEVEN.

FAITHFUL UNTO DEATH.

By the time that we were finally ready to start it was about noon, and
the heat had become intensely oppressive.  The refreshing zephyrs of the
morning had died completely away, and the motionless atmosphere,
rarefied by the burning rays of the sun, was all a-quiver.  Not a beast,
bird, or insect was stirring throughout the whole length and breadth of
the far-stretching forest aisles.  The grass, the flowers, the leaves of
the trees, the graceful festoons of parasitic creepers, were all as
still as though cut out of iron.  The stagnant air was saturated to
oppressiveness with a thousand mingled perfumes; and not a sound of any
kind broke in upon the death-like stillness of the scene.  It was
Nature's silent hour, the hour of intensest heat; that short interval
about noon when all living things appear to retire into the most
sheltered nooks--the darkest, coolest shadows; the one hour out of the
twenty-four when absolute, unbroken silence reigns throughout the
African forest.

Under Daphne's leadership we struck off on a westerly course through the
green shadows of the forest, and toiled laboriously forward until the
dusky twilight warned us of the necessity for seeking a resting-place
wherein to pass the coming night.  This was found at length in the
centre of a wide clearing or break in the forest; and Smellie and I, at
Daphne's expressively--conveyed pantomimic suggestion, forthwith set
about gathering the wherewithal to build a fire, whilst the damsel
herself undertook the task of providing a supper for the party.  Our
task was barely completed when her dusky ladyship returned with three
grey parrots and a pair of green pigeons, as well as a large gourd of
water, from which we eventually managed to make a very satisfying
supper.  A circle of fires was then built about our camping-place, and
we flung ourselves down in the long grass to sleep, two at least of the
party being, as I can vouch, thoroughly done up.

We managed to get perhaps a couple of hours of sleep, and then our rest
was completely destroyed for the remainder of the night by a well-
sustained attack on the part of countless ticks, ants, and other
inquisitive insects, which persisted in perambulating our bodies and
busily taking sample bites out of our skins in an evident effort to
ascertain the locality of the tenderest portions of our anatomy.

Next morning I discovered with the greatest concern that Smellie was
downright ill, so much so that it soon became evident it would be quite
impossible for us to prosecute our journey, for that day at least.
Daphne's distress at this unfortunate state of affairs was very keen,
but she was a pre-eminently sensible little body, seeing almost at a
glance what was wanted; and promptly diverting her sympathies into a
practical channel, she at once set off in search of a more suitable
abiding place than the one we had occupied through the night.  This she
at length found in an open glade at no great distance; and thither we
promptly removed our patient, the rapidly-increasing seriousness of his
symptoms admonishing us that there was little room for delay.

Our new camping-place was a lovely spot, being an open amphitheatre of
about ten acres in extent surrounded on all sides by the forest, and
having a tiny rivulet of pure sparkling fresh water flowing through it.
Daphne of course at once took the lead in the arrangements necessary for
what threatened to be a somewhat protracted sojourn; and by her
directions (it was singular how rapidly we were learning to make
ourselves mutually understood) I proceeded in the first instance to
clear away the grass, as far as possible, from a circular space some
fifteen feet in diameter, within a few yards of the bank of the stream.
Daphne, meanwhile, having borrowed Smellie's knife, went off into the
forest, from which she soon afterwards returned with a heavy load of
long tough pliant wands.  Flinging these upon the ground, she next
busied herself in lighting a fire on the partially cleared space,
employing me to procure for her the necessary materials; and when a
large enough bonfire had been constructed, and the embers were all red-
hot, she spread them carefully over the whole of the space upon which I
had been working, and thus effectually destroyed what grass I had been
unable to remove.  This done our next task was to cut all the wands or
wattles to a uniform length of about twenty-seven feet and point them at
both ends; after which, by driving the ends into the soil on opposite
sides of our cleared circle of ground, we soon had complete the
framework of a hemi-spherical bee-hive-like structure.  A second load of
wattles was, however, necessary to strengthen this framework to Daphne's
liking, and leaving poor Smellie for the nonce to take care of himself,
the pair of us set out to procure them.  Daphne led me to a dense brake
wherein immense numbers of these wattles were to be found, and leaving
me to cut as many as I could carry, proceeded further afield in quest of
building material of another sort I had completed my task and was back
in camp preparing my load for use when Daphne returned; and this time
she came staggering in under a tremendous load of palm-leaves, which I
rightly guessed were to be used for thatch.  So we toiled on during the
whole of that day, which, like the preceding, was intensely hot, and by
dusk our hut was so far complete as to be capable of affording us a
shelter during the succeeding night.  By mid-day of the following day it
was quite finished; and an efficient shelter having thus been provided
for Smellie from the scorching rays of the sun, we were then in a
position to give him our undivided attention, of which he by that time
stood in most urgent need.

The ensuing fortnight was one of ceaseless anxiety to Daphne and myself,
poor Smellie being prostrate with raging fever and utterly helpless
during the whole of that time.  Fugitives as we were, and in a savage
country, it was quite out of our power to procure assistance, medical or
otherwise.  We were thrown completely upon our own resources, and we had
nothing whatever to guide us in our inexperience.  Daphne, to my
surprise, appeared to possess no knowledge whatever of the healing art;
and thus the treatment of our patient devolved solely upon me.  And what
could I do?

I had no drugs; and had I had access to the best appointed apothecary's
shop I should still have lacked the knowledge requisite for a right use
of its contents.  So we were obliged, no doubt fortunately for the
patient, to allow Nature to take her course, merely adopting such simple
precautionary measures as would suggest themselves to anyone possessed
of average common sense.  We provided for our patient a comfortable,
fragrant, springy bed of a species of heather; cleansed and dressed his
wounds as often as seemed necessary; kept him as cool as possible, and
fed him entirely upon fruits of a mild and agreeable acid flavour.
During that fortnight Smellie was undoubtedly hovering on the borderland
between life and death, and but for the tireless and tender solicitude
of Daphne I am convinced he would have passed across the dividing line
and entered the land of shadows.  I soon saw that this poor ignorant
black girl, this unsophisticated savage, had, all unknowingly to
Smellie, yielded up her simple untutored heart a willing captive to the
charm of his genial manner and gallant bearing; and as the crisis
approached which was to decide the question of life or death with him,
the unhappy girl established herself beside him and seemed to enter upon
a blind, dogged, obstinate struggle with the Grim Destroyer, with the
life of the unconscious patient as the stake.

As for me, I was wretched, miserable beyond all power of description.
Knowing but little of Smellie, save as my superior officer, until the
terrible night when we found ourselves fellow-captives doomed to a cruel
death together, I had since then seen so much that was noble and good in
him that I had speedily learned to _love_ him with all my heart, ay,
with the same love which David bore to Jonathan.  And there he lay, sick
unto death, and I was powerless to help him.

At length, leaving him one day under Daphne's care, I sallied forth to
seek a fresh supply of fruit for him, and, wandering farther than usual
afield in my misery and abstraction, I discovered a fruit-bearing tree
quite new to me.  The fruit--a kind of nut somewhat similar to a
walnut--had a very strong, but by no means unpleasant, bitter taste, and
it suddenly occurred to me that possibly this fruit might prove to be a
not altogether ineffective substitute for quinine.  At all events, I was
resolved to try it, on myself first, if necessary, and I gathered as
many of the nuts as I could conveniently carry.

On my arrival at the hut I showed them to Daphne, and tried to find out
whether she knew anything about them; but for once we failed to
comprehend each other, and I was obliged to carry out my original
intention of experimenting upon myself.  With this object I opened the
nuts and set the kernels to steep in water in a gourd basin (upon
setting up housekeeping we soon accumulated quite a number of gourd
utensils).  I observed with satisfaction that the water soon began to
acquire a brown colour; and after my decoction had stood for about three
hours I found that its flavour had become quite as strong as was
desirable.  Fearing to take much at the outset, lest I should
unwittingly be swallowing poison, I drank about a quarter of a pint, and
then, with some anxiety, awaited the result.  It was about noon when I
swallowed the potion, and two hours afterwards I was more hungry than I
remembered to have ever been before.  So far, good; I determined to wait
until night, and then, if no worse result than hunger revealed itself,
try the effect of my new medicine upon Smellie.  By sunset I had come to
the conclusion, that whatever else my decoction might be, it was not a
poison, and with, I must confess, a certain amount of fear and
trepidation, I at last prevailed upon myself to administer the draught,
sitting down forthwith to watch and await the result.  By midnight the
most that could be said of our patient was that he was no worse; and,
encouraged on the whole by this negative result, I then administered a
second and larger dose.  Next morning I thought I detected signs of
improvement, and by sundown the improvement was no longer doubtful; the
dry, scorching feeling of the skin had given place to a cool healthy
moisture; the pulse was slower; the fevered and excited brain at length
found rest, and the patient at last even pleaded guilty to a feeling of
hunger.

Jubilation now reigned supreme in our palm-leaf hut; the fatted calf (in
the shape of a parrot of gorgeous plumage) was killed--and devoured by
the patient with something approaching to relish--and my reputation as a
great medicine-man was thenceforth fully established.

From this time Smellie began to slowly mend, thanks as much, probably,
to Daphne's tireless nursing and assiduous care as to the relentless
perseverance with which I administered my new medicine; and in little
more than a week he was able, with assistance, to totter into the open
air and sit for half an hour or so under the shadow of a rough awning of
thatch which Daphne and I had with some difficulty contrived to rig up
for him.

Our little black friend still continued to devote herself wholly to
Smellie, waiting upon him hand and foot, watching beside him night and
day, fanning him with a palm-leaf, or feeding him on delicious fruit
whilst he lay awake under his rude shelter drawing in fresh life and
renewed health at every inspiration of the delicious, perfume-laden air,
and snatching brief intervals of rest only whilst he slept.  In
consequence of this arrangement the furnishing of the larder devolved
wholly upon me, and I soon acquired a considerable amount of skill in
bringing down my game, principally birds, either by a dexterous cast of
my club, or by means of a long reed tube, like an exaggerated pea-
shooter, from which I puffed little reed darts to a great distance with
considerable force.

About a fortnight after Smellie had exhibited the first symptoms of
improvement I went out foraging as usual, and, having secured the
necessary supplies, was within a quarter of a mile of our hut, on my
return journey, when I suddenly discovered a negro stealing cautiously
along from tree to tree before me.  His actions were so suspicious that
my curiosity was aroused, and, placing myself in ambush behind the
nearest tree, I resolved to watch him.  He was making straight for our
hut, dodging from tree to tree, and lurking behind each until he had
apparently satisfied himself that the coast ahead was perfectly clear.
Such excessive caution on the stranger's part, coupled with the fact
that he carried four broad-pointed spears, seemed to me to indicate a
purpose the direct reverse of friendly, and I came to the conclusion
that it would be well to shorten the distance between him and myself a
trifle, if possible.  This, however, was not by any means easy to do
until the skulking savage had arrived within sight of the hut, when he
paused long enough to allow of my creeping up to within a dozen yards of
him, when the reason for his hesitation became apparent.  Smellie and
Daphne were under the awning outside the hut, and my mysterious friend
could advance no further without passing into the open clearing, and so
revealing himself.

We remained thus for fully half an hour, the savage so intently watching
the couple under the awning that he had not the remotest suspicion of
being himself watched.  At the end of that time, the sun having set
meanwhile, Smellie staggered to his feet, and, leaning on Daphne's
shoulder, passed into the hut.

My mysterious neighbour maintained his position for some five minutes
longer, and then, springing from his hiding-place, made a dash for the
hut at full speed, I following.  When I emerged from the forest into the
open amphitheatre in the centre of which stood our hut, the savage was
some fifty yards ahead of me, running like a hunted deer.  I began to
fear that he was bent on mischief of some kind, and--now that it was too
late--keenly regretted the indecision which had allowed him to remain so
long unchallenged.  In my anxiety to check his speed I raised a shout.
At the sound he glanced over his shoulder, saw me in hot pursuit, and
paused for an instant, dashing forward the next moment, however, more
rapidly than ever.

My shout was evidently heard by the occupants of the hut, for Daphne
immediately afterwards appeared at the entrance.  At the sight of the
figure bounding toward her she uttered a little cry and put out her
hands protestingly, calling out to him at the same time.  I could not
catch the words she uttered, and if I could have done so it is very
improbable that I should have understood them, but it struck me that
they conveyed either a warning or an appeal.  Whatever they were, he
paid no attention to them, but still rushed forward, brandishing a spear
threateningly.  In another second or two he reached the hut and
endeavoured to force an entrance.  To this, however, Daphne offered the
most energetic opposition, obstinately maintaining her position in the
doorway.  The savage then strove to _force_ his way in, but Daphne still
persisting in her opposition he drew back a pace, and, raising his arm
with a savage cry, drove the broad-bladed javelin with all his brutal
strength down into her bare bosom.  The poor girl staggered under the
force of the blow, and with a stifled shriek and an appealing cry to
"Halold," reeled backward, and fell to the ground inside the hut.
Meanwhile, the savage, leaving the javelin quivering in the body of his
victim, turned to meet me, snatching another javelin with his right hand
from his left at the same instant; and as he did so I recognised our
former enemy, the fetish-man or witch-doctor of Daphne's village.  I was
by this time within arm's-length of him, and, quick as light, he made a
lunge at me.  By a happy chance I succeeded in parrying the stroke with
the blow-pipe which I held in my left hand, and then, springing in upon
him, I dealt him so tremendous a blow with my heavy, knotted, hard-wood
club that his skull crashed under it like an egg-shell, and he fell a
brainless corpse at my feet.

Entering the hut I found Smellie on his knees beside the lifeless body
of Daphne.

"Too late, Hawkesley! you were just too late to save this poor devoted
girl," he murmured.  "Only a few seconds earlier, and you would have
been in time to arrest the murderous blow.  She is quite dead; indeed
her death must have been instantaneous.  See, the blade of the javelin
is quite a foot long, and it was completely buried in her body; it must
have passed clean through her heart.  Poor girl! she was indeed faithful
unto death, for it was my life that yonder murderous wretch thirsted
for.  You doubtless recognised him--the fetish-man who strove so hard to
terrify us on the night of the sacrifice in the village!  I am convinced
that, in his anger and chagrin at our escape, he has patiently hunted us
down, determined to make us feel his vengeance in one way if he failed
in the other.  Poor Daphne clearly read his intention, I am sure; and it
was her resistance, her defence of poor helpless me, that brought this
cruel death upon her.  Well, God's will be done!  The poor girl was only
an ignorant savage, and it is hardly possible that she can ever have
heard His holy name mentioned; but for all that she had pity upon the
stranger and him who had no helper, and I cannot but believe that she
will therefore receive her full reward.  It only remains now to so
dispose of her body that it shall be secure from violation by the birds
of the air and the beasts of the field.  But how is that to be done?"

He might well ask.  We had neither shovel nor any other appliance
wherewith to dig a grave, and it was obviously impossible to do so with
our bare hands alone.  We at length decided to burn both the bodies, and
I forthwith set about the construction of a funeral pyre.  Fortunately,
we had the forest close at hand; the ground beneath the trees was
abundantly strewn with dry leaves, twigs, and branches, and thus I had
not far to go for fuel.  By the time that darkness closed in I had
accumulated a goodly pile close to the edge of the open amphitheatre,
and thither I at length conveyed both the bodies, laid them on the top
of the pyre, and finally ignited the heap of dried leaves which I had
arranged in the centre.

This done, Smellie came out of the hut, and we stood side by side
mournfully watching the crematory process.  Naturally, we were very
keenly distressed at the untimely and tragic fate which had overtaken
our staunch little friend Daphne.  She had been so cheerful, so helpful,
and--particularly during Smellie's illness--so tender, so gentle, so
sympathetic, and so tireless in her ministrations, that, unconsciously
to ourselves, we had acquired for her quite a fraternal affection.  As I
stood there watching the fierce, bright flames which were steadily
reducing her body to ashes, and recalled to mind the countless services
she had rendered us during the short period of our mutual wanderings,
and, above all, the fervent compassion which had moved her to a
voluntary and permanent abandonment of home and friends for the sake of
two helpless strangers of a race entirely alien to her own, my heart
felt as though it would burst with sorrow at her cruel fate.  As for
Smellie, trembling with weakness and depressed in spirits as he was
after his recent sharp attack of fever, he completely broke down, and,
laying his head upon my shoulder, sobbed like a child.  Poor Daphne! it
seemed hard that she should thus, in the first bright flush and glory of
her maidenhood, be struck down, and the light of her life extinguished
by the ruthless hand of a murderer; and yet, perhaps, after all, it was
better so, better that she should enjoy the bliss of laying down her
life for the sake of the man she loved, rather than that, living on, she
should see the day when all the vague, indefinite hopes and aspirations
of her innocent, unsophisticated heart would crumble into ashes in a
moment, and the man who, all unknowingly, had become the autocrat of her
fate and the recipient of her blind, passionate, unreasoning love should
lightly and smilingly bid her an eternal farewell.

At length the fire died down: the crematory process was completed;
nothing remained of the pyre and its burden but a smouldering heap of
grey, flaky ashes; and we returned sorrowfully to our hut, there to
forget in sleep, if we could, the grievous loss we had sustained.

The painful incident of Daphne's death produced so distressing an effect
upon Smellie in his feeble condition that another week passed away
before he was sufficiently recovered to admit of our resuming our
journey.  By the end of that time, however, his strength had in some
measure returned, and a feverish anxiety to get away from the scene of
the tragedy having taken possession of him, we made what few
preparations we had it in our power to make and got under weigh directly
after breakfast on one of the most delightful mornings it has ever been
my good fortune to witness.

Our progress was, of course, painfully slow; but by this time speed was
a matter of merely secondary importance, since we knew that we must long
since have been given up by our shipmates as dead; and that the _Daphne_
was, in all probability, hundreds of miles away in an unknown direction.
It was quite possible that on reaching the river's mouth we might have
to wait weeks, or even months, before she would again make her
appearance and give us an opportunity to rejoin.

Day after day we plodded on through the glorious forest, following no
pathway, but shaping a course as directly west as circumstances would
permit, meeting with no incidents worthy of mention, picking up a
sufficient subsistence without much trouble, our way beguiled by
glorious prospects of wood and river, and our curiosity fed by the
countless strange glimpses into the secrets of nature afforded us as we
wended our way through that lonely wilderness.  We slept well at night
in spite of the babel of sounds which rose and fell around us; awoke in
the morning refreshed and hungry; and so entered upon another day.  The
life was by no means one of hardship; and what was most important of
all, Smellie was slowly but steadily regaining strength and progressing
toward recovery.

At length, late in the afternoon of the fifth day from that which had
witnessed the resumption of our journey, our wanderings came
unexpectedly to an end, for a time at least, by our stumbling, in the
most unexpected manner in the world, upon a human habitation.  And the
strangest as well as the most fortunate part of it was that the
habitation in question was the abode of _civilised_ humanity.  We had
been travelling, almost uninterruptedly, along the ridge of a range of
hills, and on the afternoon in question had reached a spot where the
range took an abrupt turn to the southward, curving round in a sort of
arm which encircled a basin or valley of perhaps half a mile in width,
open to the river on the north side.  The hill-side sloped gently down
to the valley bottom on the eastern, southern, and western sides, and
was much more thickly wooded than the country through which we had
hitherto been passing.  In the very thickest part of the wood, however,
and about half-way down the slope, was a clearing of some ten acres in
extent, and in the centre of the clearing a very neat and pretty-looking
house, with a verandah running all round it, and a thatched roof.  The
clearing itself appeared to be in a high state of cultivation, a flower-
garden of about an acre in extent lying immediately in front of the
house, whilst the remainder of the ground was thickly planted with
coffee, peach, banana, orange, and various other fruit-trees.

We lost no time in making our way to this very desirable haven, and had
scarcely passed through the gate in the fence which surrounded the
clearing when we were fortunate enough to encounter the proprietor
himself.  He was a very fine handsome specimen of a man, with snow-white
hair and moustache, both closely cropped, and an otherwise clean-shaven
face, which, with his neck and hands, were deeply bronzed by exposure to
the vertical rays of the sun.  He was clad in white flannel, his head
being protected by a light and very finely-woven grass hat with an
enormous brim, whilst his feet were encased in a pair of slippers of
soft untanned leather.  He was busily engaged among his coffee-trees
when he first caught sight of us; and his start of surprise at our
extraordinary appearance was closely followed up by a profound bow as he
at once came forward and courteously addressed us in Spanish.  Unhappily
neither Smellie nor I understood a word of the language, so the second
lieutenant answered the hail in French.  The old gentleman shook his
head and, I thought, looked rather annoyed, whereupon Smellie tried him
in English, to which, very much to my surprise, I must confess, he
responded with scarcely a trace of accent.

"Welcome, gentlemen, welcome!" he exclaimed, with outstretched hand.
"So you are English?  Well, after all, I might have guessed it.  I am
glad you are not French--_very_ glad.  Do me the honour to consider my
house and everything it contains as your own.  You have met with some
serious misfortune, I grieve to see; but if you will allow him, Manuel
Carnero will do his best to repair it.  You have evidently suffered
much, and appear to be in as urgent need of medical attendance as you
are of clothing.  Fortunately, I can supply you with both, and shall be
only too happy to do so; I have a very great regard for the English.
Come, gentlemen, allow me to conduct you to the house."

So saying, he escorted us up the pathway until the house was reached,
when, stepping quickly before us, he passed through the open doorway,
and then, turning round, once more bade us welcome to his roof.



CHAPTER TWELVE.

DONA ANTONIA.

The ceremony of bidding us formal welcome having been duly performed to
Don Manuel's satisfaction, he turned once more and called in stentorian
tones for some invisible individual named Pedro, who, quickly making his
appearance in the shape of a grave decorous-looking elderly man-servant,
received certain instructions in Spanish; after which our host, turning
to us, informed us that his valet would have the honour of showing us to
our rooms.  Thereupon the sedate and respectful Pedro, who was far too
well-trained a servant to betray the slightest symptom of surprise at
our exceedingly disreputable appearance, led the way to two small but
pleasantly situated rooms adjoining each other, and, bowing profoundly
to each of us as we passed into our respective apartments, closed the
doors and withdrew.

The rooms in question were furnished with bed, washstand, dressing-
table, etcetera, precisely in the English fashion, but the floors,
instead of being covered with carpets, were bare, save for a large and
handsome grass mat which occupied the centre of the room.  I flung
myself into a chair and was gazing complacently about me, congratulating
myself upon the good fortune which had guided our wandering feet to such
exceedingly comfortable quarters, when I heard Smellie's door open, and
the next moment caught the tones of Don Manuel's voice.  Directly
afterwards a knock came to my own door, and upon my shouting "Come in,"
Pedro reappeared bearing upon his arm what proved to be a complete rig-
out from stem to stern, including even a hat and a pair of shoes.  These
he spread out upon the bed, and then once more withdrew.

I took the garments up and looked at them.  They were just about my
size, a trifle large, perhaps, but nothing worth speaking about; they
had evidently been worn before, but were in excellent condition,
beautifully clean, and altogether so inviting that I lost no time in
exchanging them for my rags.  This exchange, in addition to a pretty
thorough ablution, made quite a new man of me; I felt actually
comfortable once more, for the first time since leaving the _Daphne_ on
the occasion of that unfortunate night attack.

Smellie was still in his room, for I could hear him moving about, so I
went in, curious to know whether he had fared equally well with myself.
I found him struggling, with Pedro's assistance, slowly and rather
painfully into a somewhat similar suit to that which I had donned; but
the poor fellow, though still very thin and haggard, looked brighter,
better, and altogether more comfortable than I had seen him for a long
time, our new friend Don Manuel having personally dressed his wounds for
him before turning him over to the hands of Pedro.

The second lieutenant looked at me in astonishment.  "Why, Hawkesley, is
that you?" he exclaimed.  "Upon my word, young gentleman, you look
vastly comfortable and vastly well, too, in your borrowed plumes.  Why,
you are worth a dozen dead men yet."

"I think I may say the same of you, my dear sir," I replied.  "I am
heartily glad to see so great a change in your appearance."

"Thank you very much," he returned.  "Yes, I feel actually comfortable
once more.  Don Manuel has dressed and bound up my wounds, applying
soothing salves to them, and altogether tinkering me up until I am
pretty nearly as good as new.  But, Hawkesley, my dear boy, are we in
our sober senses, or is this only a delightful dream?  I can scarcely
realise that I am awake; that we are actually among our fellow-men once
more; and that I am surrounded by the walls and sheltered by the roof of
a material house, in which, as it seems to me, we are likely to enjoy a
good many of the comforts of civilisation.  But come," as he settled
himself into a loose white flannel jacket, "let us join our host, who, I
have reason to believe, is awaiting our presence at his dinner-table.
Heave ahead, Pedro, my lad; we're quite ready to weigh."

Pedro might have understood Smellie's every word, so promptly did he
fling open the door and bow us to follow him.  Leading us along a cool
and rather dark corridor, he conducted us to the front part of the
house, and throwing open the door of a large and very handsomely
furnished apartment, loudly announced us in Spanish as what I took to be
"the English hidalgos."

Don Manuel was awaiting us in this room, and on our entrance rose to
greet us with that lofty yet graceful courtesy which seems peculiar to
the Spaniard.  Then, turning slightly, he said:

"Allow me, gentlemen, to present to you my daughter Antonia, the only
member of my family remaining to me.  Antonia, these are two English
gentlemen who, I trust, will honour us so far as to remain our guests
for some time to come."

We duly bowed in response to her graceful curtsey, and her few words of
welcome, spoken in the most piquant and charming of broken English, and
then, I believe, went in to dinner.  I say, I _believe_ we went in to
dinner on that eventful evening, because I know it was intended that we
should; but I have no recollection whatever of having partaken of the
meal.  For the rest of that evening I was conscious of but one thing--
the presence of Antonia Carnero.

How shall I describe her?

She was of medium height, with a superbly moulded figure, neither too
stout nor too slim; a small well-poised head crowned with an immense
quantity of very dark wavy chestnut hair having a golden gleam where the
light fell upon it but black as night in its shadows; dark finely-arched
eyebrows surmounting a pair of perfectly glorious brilliant dark-brown
eyes, now sparkling with merriment and anon melting with deepest
tenderness; very long thick dark eyelashes; a nose the merest trifle
_retrousse_; a daintily-shaped mouth with full ripe ruddy lips; and a
prettily rounded chin with a well-developed dimple in its centre.  Her
voice was musical as that of a bird; her complexion was a clear pale
olive; her movements were as graceful and unrestrained as those of a
gazelle; and she was only eighteen years of age, though she looked more
like two-and-twenty.

We were a very pleasant party at dinner that evening.  Don Manuel was
simply perfect as a host, courteously and watchfully attentive to our
slightest wants, and frankness itself in his voluntary explanation of
the why and the wherefore of his establishment of himself in such an
out-of-the-way place.  Antonia, whilst not taking any very prominent
part in the conversation, struck in now and then with a suggestive,
explanatory, or playful remark, showing that she was was both attentive
to and interested in the conversation.  Smellie, more easy and
comfortable, both in mind and body, than he had been for many a day,
abandoned himself to the pleasant influences of his surroundings and
bore his part like the cultured English gentleman he was; his deep rich
melodious voice, easy graceful bearing, commanding figure, and handsome
face, still pale and wan from his recent sufferings, evidently proving
immensely attractive to Dona Antonia, much to my secret disgust.  As for
me, I am afraid I did little more than sit a silent worshipper at the
shrine of this sylvan beauty upon whom we had so unexpectedly stumbled.

Don Manuel informed us that, though a Spaniard by birth, he had spent so
many years in England that all his tastes and sympathies had become
thoroughly Anglicised; that his second wife, Dona Antonia's mother, had
been an Englishwoman; that he was an enthusiastic naturalist; and that
he had chosen the banks of the Congo for his home principally in order
that he might be able to study fully and at his leisure the fauna and
flora of that little-known region; adding parenthetically that he had
found the step not only a thoroughly agreeable but also a fairly
profitable one, by doing a little occasional business with the whites
who frequented the river on the one hand and with the natives on the
other.  I thought he looked a trifle discomposed when Smellie informed
him that we were English naval officers, and I am quite sure he did when
he was further informed that we had been in the hands of the natives.  A
very perceptible shade of anxiety clouded his features when Smellie
recounted our adventures from the moment of our leaving the _Daphne_;
and once or twice he shook his head in a manner which seemed to suggest
the idea that he thought we might perhaps prove to be rather dangerous
guests, under all the circumstances.  If, however, any such idea really
entered his mind he was careful to restrain all expression of it, and at
the end of Smellie's narrative he uttered just the few courteous phrases
of polite concern which seemed appropriate to the occasion and then
allowed the subject to drop.  Dona Antonia, on the contrary, evinced a
most lively interest in the story, her face lighting up and her eyes
flashing as she asked question after question, and her parted lips
quivering with excitement and sympathetic apprehension as Smellie
lightly touched upon the critical situations in which we had once or
twice found ourselves.  To my great surprise, and, I may add,
disappointment, however, she did not exhibit very much sympathy in poor
Daphne's tragic fate; on the contrary, she appeared to me to listen with
a feeling closely akin to impatience to all that part of the story with
which the negro girl was connected; and Smellie's frequent mention of
the poor unfortunate creature actually elicited once or twice a slight
but quite unmistakable shrug of the lovely shoulders and a decidedly
contemptuous flash from the glorious eyes of his fair auditor.

I may as well at once confess frankly that, with the usual
susceptibility of callow youth, I promptly became captivated by the
charms of our lovely hostess; and I may as well complete my confession
by stating that, with the equally usual overweening conceit of callow
youth, I quite expected to find my clumsy and ill-timed efforts to
render myself agreeable to my charmer speedily successful.  In this
expectation, however, I was doomed to be grievously disappointed; for I
soon discovered that, whilst Dona Antonia was good-natured enough to
receive my awkward attentions with unvarying patience and politeness, it
was _Smellie's_ footstep and the sound of _his_ voice which caused her
eyes to sparkle, her cheek to flush, and her bosom to heave
tumultuously.  So, in extreme disgust at the lady's deplorable lack of
taste and discernment, I was fain to abandon my efforts to fascinate
her, attaching myself to her father instead and accompanying him, gun in
hand, on his frequent rambles through the forest in search of
"specimens."

Returning to the house one evening rather late, we found a stranger
awaiting Don Manuel's arrival.  That is to say, he was a stranger to
Smellie and myself, but he was evidently a tolerably intimate
acquaintance of our host and hostess.  He was a tall, dark, handsome,
well-built man, evidently a Spaniard, with black restless gleaming eyes,
a well-knit figure, and a manner so very free-and-easy as to be almost
offensive.  His attire consisted of a loose jacket of fine blue cloth
garnished with gold buttons, a fine linen shirt of snowy whiteness,
loose white nankeen trousers confined at the waist by a crimson silk
sash, and a pair of canvas slippers on his otherwise naked feet.  He
wore a pair of gold rings in his small well-shaped ears, and the gold-
mounted horn handle of what was doubtless a stiletto peeped
unobtrusively from among the folds of his sash.  A crimson cap of
knitted silk with a tassel of the same depending from its pointed crown
lay on a chair near him, and completed a costume which, whilst it
undoubtedly set off his very fine figure to advantage, struck me as
being of a somewhat theatrical character.  Don Manuel greeted him in
Spanish with effusion, and yet with--I thought;--a faint suspicion of
uneasiness, on our entrance, and then introduced him to Smellie and me
in English, as Senor Garcia Madera.  He bowed stiffly in acknowledgment,
murmured something to the effect that he "no speak Inglese," and then
rather rudely turned his back upon us, and addressing Dona Antonia in
Spanish, evidently laid himself out to play the agreeable to her.

I think we all--except Senor Madera,--felt slightly uncomfortable at
dinner and for the remainder of that evening.  Don Manuel indeed strove
with all his might to promote and encourage general conversation, but
his behaviour lacked that graceful ease which usually characterised it,
his manner was constrained; he was obviously making an effort to
dissipate the slight suggestion of discord which obstinately asserted
itself in the social atmosphere, and I could see that he was a little
ruffled at finding his efforts unsuccessful.  As for Antonia, it was
easy to see that the new guest was to her an unwelcome one, and his
persevering attentions distasteful to her; yet, either because he _was_
a guest or for some other cogent reason, she evidently did her best to
be agreeable and conciliatory to the man, casting, however, slight
furtive deprecatory glances in Smellie's direction, from time to time,
as she did so.

Senor Madera--who was evidently a seaman and not improbably the master
of a slaver--remained the guest of Don Manuel for the night, sleeping
under his roof, and taking his departure very early next morning, before
either Smellie or I had turned out, in fact.  On our making our
appearance Don Manuel referred to his late visitor, explaining that he
commanded a ship which traded regularly to the river, and was one of the
few individuals through whom he maintained communication with his native
country.  He apologised very gracefully for his acquaintance's brusque
behaviour of the night before, which, whilst deprecating, he explained
by attributing it to a feeling of jealousy, Madera having, it would
appear, exhibited a decided disposition to pay serious attention to Dona
Antonia during his last two or three visits.  And--Don Manuel
suggested--being like the rest of his countrymen, of an exceedingly
jealous disposition, it was possible that he would feel somewhat annoyed
at finding two gentlemen domiciled beneath the same roof as his
_inamorata_.  At this Smellie drew himself up rather haughtily, and was
beginning to express his profound regret that our presence in the house
should prove the means of introducing a discordant element into an
affair of so delicate a nature, when Don Manuel interrupted him by
assuring us both that he regarded the circumstance as rather fortunate
than otherwise, since, however much he might esteem Senor Madera as an
acquaintance and a man of business, he was by no means the class of
person to whom he would be disposed to confide the happiness of his
daughter.

This little apology and explanation having been made, the party
separated, Smellie retiring to the verandah with a book to study
Spanish, while Don Manuel and I trudged off with our guns and butterfly-
nets as usual.

On our return we found that Madera had again put in an appearance, and
another evening of constraint and irritation was the result.  This
occurred also on the third evening, after which for a short time Senor
Madera, apparently conscious of the fact that his company was not
altogether desirable, relieved us of his presence.

Just at this time it happened unfortunately--or fortunately rather, as
the event proved--that Don Manuel was confined to the house, his hand
having been badly stung by some poisonous insect, and I availed myself
of the opportunity to make an exploration of the neighbourhood.  We had
of course taken an early opportunity to acquaint Don Manuel with our
expectation that the _Daphne_ would again visit the river at no very
distant period, and that whenever such an event occurred we should make
a very strenuous effort to rejoin her; and he had promised to use every
means that lay in his power to procure for us timely notice of her
arrival, pointing out at the same time the paucity of his sources of
information, and suggesting that whilst it would afford him unmingled
pleasure to retain us as his guests for an indefinite period it would be
well for us when we were quite tired of our sojourn ashore to ourselves
keep a look-out for the appearance of the ship.  So on the occasion of
Don Manuel's accident, finding Smellie unwilling--as indeed he was still
unable--to take a long walk, I determined, as I have already said, to
make a thorough exploration of the neighbourhood, and at the same time
endeavour to ascertain whether the _Daphne_ was once more in the river.

Madera's appearance at Don Manuel's house, coupled with the evident fact
that he was a seaman, had at once suggested to me the strong probability
that there must be a navigable creek at no very great distance; and I
thought it might be useful to ascertain whether such actually was or was
not the case, and--in the event of this question being decided in the
affirmative--also to ascertain the precise locality of the said creek.
Of course it would have been a very simple matter to put the question
directly to Don Manuel; but he had evinced such very palpable
embarrassment and reticence whenever Madera's name had been mentioned
that I thought it would be better to rely, in the first instance at all
events, upon my own personal investigations.  So when I left the house
that morning it was with the determination to settle this question
before turning my attention to anything else.

At a distance of about half a mile from the house the level ridge of the
chain of hills was interrupted by a lofty hummock rising some two
hundred feet higher than the hills themselves, affording a capital look-
out; and to this spot I first of all directed my steps.  On arriving at
the place, however, I found the growth of timber to be so thick as to
completely exclude the prospect; and the only means whereby I could take
advantage of my superior elevation, therefore, was to climb a tree.  I
accordingly looked about me, and at last picked out an immense fellow
whose towering height seemed to promise me an uninterrupted view; and,
aided by the tough rope-like creepers which depended from its branches,
I soon reached its top.  From this commanding position I obtained, as I
had expected, an unbroken view of the country all round me for a
distance of at least thirty miles.  The river was naturally a prominent
object in the landscape, and, exactly opposite me, was about three miles
in width, though, in consequence of the numerous islands which crowded
its channel, the water-way was scarcely anywhere more than half a mile
in width.  These islands ceased about four miles lower down the river,
leaving the channel perfectly clear; but they extended up the river in
an unbroken chain to the very limits of my horizon.  But what gratified
me most was the discovery that in clear weather, such as happened to
prevail just then, I could see right down to the mouth of the river,
Shark Point being just discernible on the western horizon.  Boolambemba
Point was clearly defined; and I felt convinced that, on a fine day and
with a good telescope, I should be able to see and even to identify the
_Daphne_, should she happen to be at anchor in Banana Creek at the time.

This important point settled, I turned my attention to matters nearer at
hand, and began to look about me for the creek, the existence of which I
so strongly suspected.  For a few minutes I was unable to locate it; but
suddenly my eye, wandering over the vast sea of vegetation which lay
spread out beneath me, became arrested by the appearance of a slender
straight object projecting a few feet above the tree-tops.  A careful
scrutiny of this object satisfied me that it must be the mast-head of a
ship; and where the ship was, there, too, would be the creek.  Doubtless
the craft lying there so snug, and in so suspiciously secret a harbour,
was the one to which our rather insolent acquaintance Madera belonged;
and curiosity strongly prompted me to have a look at her.  Accordingly,
taking her bearings by the position of the sun, I descended the tree and
set out upon my quest I estimated that she was distant from my view-
point about two miles, and about one mile from Don Manuel's house.  A
walk of perhaps three-quarters of an hour conducted me to the edge of a
mangrove-swamp; and I knew then that the creek must be at no great
distance.  Plunging boldly into the swamp, I made my way as best I could
over the tangled roots in what I deemed the proper direction, and after
a toilsome scramble of another quarter of an hour found myself at the
water's edge.

The creek was precisely similar in character to all the others with
which I had previously made acquaintance; but so narrow and shallow at
the point where I had hit it off that I saw at once, to my vexation,
that I must have a further scramble among the mangrove-roots, exposed
all the while to the attacks of countless hosts of bloodthirsty
mosquitoes, if I would gratify my desire to see Senor Madera's vessel.
And, having gone so far, I determined not to turn back until I had
satisfied my curiosity; so on I went.  My pace over such broken ground
was naturally not very brisk, so that it was fully an hour later before
I found myself standing--well concealed behind an intervening tree-
trunk--opposite a small but beautifully-modelled schooner, moored head
and stern close alongside the opposite bank.  She was a craft of about
one hundred and twenty tons register, painted grey, with very lofty
spars, topsail-rigged forward, very little standing rigging, and a most
wicked look all over.

When I put in my unobtrusive appearance the crew were busy with a couple
of long untrimmed pine spars, the ends of which they were getting
ashore.  A few minutes' observation sufficed to satisfy me that they
were rigging a gangway; and, settling myself comfortably in a position
where my presence could not be detected, I determined to see the matter
out.  I looked carefully for Senor Madera on board, but was unable to
detect his presence; I therefore concluded that, unlikely as such a
supposition seemed, he had left the ship to make an early call upon Don
Manuel.

The gangway was soon rigged, and after testing it by passing along it
three or four times one of the schooner's crew disappeared in the bush.
A quarter of an hour later he returned, closely followed by a number of
armed natives in charge of a gang of slaves, who--poor wretches--were
secured together in pairs by means of heavy logs of wood lashed to their
necks.  These slaves were mostly men; but there were a few young women
with them, two or three of whom carried quite young babies lashed on
their backs.  And every slave, not excepting the women with children,
was loaded with one large or two small tusks of ivory.  These
unfortunates were driven straight on board the schooner, the ivory was
taken from them as they reached the deck, and they were then driven
below; the _clink, clink_ of hammers which immediately afterwards
proceeded from the schooner's hold bearing witness to the business-like
promptitude with which the unhappy creatures were being secured.  I
counted them as they passed in over the gangway; they numbered sixty-
three; and, judging from the schooner's size, I calculated that she had
accommodation for about one hundred and fifty; her cargo being therefore
incomplete, I feared we should be called upon to endure Senor Madera's
presence for at least another day or two.  The wretches who constituted
the schooner's crew were a very noisy set, laughing, chattering, and
shouting at the top of their voices, and altogether exhibiting by their
utter carelessness a perfect consciousness of the fact that there were
no men-o'-war just then anywhere near the river.  How heartily I wished
there had been a pennant of some sort at hand; I felt that I would not
have cared what might be its nationality, I would have found means to
board the craft, conveying the news of that wretched slaver's
whereabouts, and afterwards assisting, if possible, in her capture.

I remained snugly ensconced in my hiding-place until the clearing up and
washing down of the decks informed me that work was over on board the
schooner for that day, and then set out cautiously to return to the
house.  I managed to effect a retreat into the cover of the bush without
betraying myself; and then, moved by a quite uncontrollable impulse,
bent my steps once more in the direction of the hill-top, from which I
had that morning effected my reconnaissance--though it took me
considerably out of my way--determined to have just one more look round
before settling myself for the evening.

It was about four o'clock p.m. by the position of the sun when I once
more stood beneath the overshadowing foliage of the tree which I had
used as an observatory; and ten minutes later I found myself among its
topmost branches.  The atmosphere was luckily still quite clear, a fresh
breeze from the eastward having prevailed during the whole of that day;
but a purplish haze was gathering on the western horizon, and my heart
leapt into my mouth--to make use of a well-worn figure of speech--when,
standing out in clear relief against this soft purple-grey background, I
saw, far away in the south-western board, the gleaming white sails of a
ship stretching in toward the land _under easy canvas_.

It was this latter fact, of the ship being under easy canvas, which so
greatly gratified me.  A slaver or an ordinary trader would have been
pressing in under every stitch that would draw--as indeed would a man-
o'-war if she were upon some definite errand--but _only_ a man-o'-war
would approach the land in that leisurely manner with evening close at
hand.  The stranger was a long distance off--perhaps as much as twenty
miles--and it was, of course, impossible to see more than that she _was_
a ship of some sort; but I had by that time acquired experience enough
to know, from the tiny white speck which gleamed up against the haze,
that she was coming in under topsails only.  What would I not have given
just then to have held my trusty telescope in my hand once more just for
an hour or _so_!

Suddenly I remembered having one day seen a very fine instrument
belonging to Don Manuel in his own especial den.  It was really an
astronomical telescope; but, like many similar instruments, it was also
provided with a terrestrial eye-piece, for I had looked through it
across the river, and had marvelled at its far-reaching power.  It was
fitted to a tripod stand, but could be disconnected at will; and the
bold idea presented itself to me of borrowing this instrument for a
short time in order to ascertain, if possible, the nationality of the
stranger.  It was of course just possible that she might be English, in
which event it would manifestly be Smellie's and my own duty to attempt
to join her.

Full of this idea I descended hastily to the ground and made my way with
all speed in the direction of Don Manuel's house.  The telescope was
fortunately in the place where I expected to find it; and, disconnecting
it from the stand and tucking it into its leather case, I set out again
for the look-out tree.  Arrived there, I slung the instrument over my
shoulder by means of the stout leather strap attached to the case, and
at once ascended to the topmost branches of the tree, where, selecting a
good substantial limb for a seat, with another conveniently situated to
serve as a rest for the telescope, I comfortably settled myself in
position, determined to ascertain definitely, if possible, before
sunset, what the intentions of the strange sail might be.

I lost no time in extricating the instrument from its case and bringing
it to bear upon the white speck, which, even during the short period of
my absence, had perceptibly changed its position, thus proving the craft
to be a smart vessel under her canvas.  I soon had her focused, but
found to my intense disappointment that, owing to her great distance and
the rarefied condition of the atmosphere due to the intense heat of the
day, I was unable to make out very much more in the shape of detail than
was possible with the naked eye; the craft, as seen through the
telescope, appearing to be merely a wavering blot of creamy white, with
another wavering blot of dark colour, representing the hull, below it; a
dark line with a spiral motion to it, which made it look like a
corkscrew, representing above the sails the bare topgallant and royal-
masts.  This was vexatious, but the sun was still fully an hour high.
By the time that he would reach the horizon the craft would probably be
some seven or eight miles nearer; the atmosphere was cooling and
becoming less rarefied every minute, and I was sanguine that before
darkness set in I should succeed in getting such a view of the stranger
as would enable me to form a tolerably accurate opinion as to her
nationality and intentions.

Of course I kept my eye glued almost uninterruptedly to the eye-piece of
the instrument, merely withdrawing it for a minute or so occasionally to
give the visual organ a rest.  And gradually, as I watched, the wavering
motion of the white and dark blots decreased, they grew less blot-like
and more defined in their outlines, and finally I succeeded in detecting
the fact that the craft sported a broad white ribbon along her sides.
Then I made out that she carried a white figure-head under the heel of
her bowsprit; next, that her boats were painted black to their water-
lines and white below, and so one detail after another emerged into
clear definition until the entire craft stood distinctly revealed in the
field of the instrument.  By this time I was all a-quiver with
excitement, for as the approaching ship showed with ever-increasing
distinctness, a growing conviction forced itself upon me that many of
her details were familiar to me.  Finally, just as the sun was hovering
for a moment like a great ball of fire upon the extreme verge of the
purple horizon, the stranger tacked.  The smartness with which she was
manoeuvred was alone almost sufficient to proclaim her as English, but
the point was definitely settled by my catching a momentary glimpse of
Saint George's ensign fluttering at her peak as it gleamed in the last
rays of the setting sun.  In another moment she glided gracefully across
the golden track of the sinking luminary, her every spar and rope
clearly defined and black as ebony, her sharply outlined sails a deep
rich purple against the gold, and the broad white ribbon round her
shapely hull just distinguishable.  The sun vanished, and though the
western horizon immediately in his wake was all aglow with gold and
crimson, the light at once began to fade rapidly away.  I looked again
at the ship: she was already a mass of pearly grey, with a row of little
dark grey dots along her side, indicating the position of her ports.  I
took advantage of the last gleam of twilight to count these dots twice
over.  There were fourteen of them along her starboard broadside,
indicating that she was a 28-gun ship; she was ship-rigged, and this, in
conjunction with several little peculiarities which I had recognised
connected with her spars and rigging, convinced me that she was actually
none other than the _Daphne_.  Another look--I could just distinguish
her against the soft velvety blue-black background of the darkening sea,
but I saw enough to satisfy me of the correctness of my surmise, and
saw, too, that--happy chance--she was clewing up her courses as though
about to lay-to or anchor off the mouth of the river for the night.
Then, as she faded more and more and finally vanished from the field of
the telescope, I closed the instrument and proceeded to carefully
replace it in its case.  By the time that I had done this the glow of
the western horizon had faded into sober grey, the sky overhead had
deepened into a magnificent sapphire blue and was already becoming
thickly studded with stars, the forest around and below me had merged
into a great shapeless mass of olive-black foliage, out of the depths of
which arose the deafening _whir_ of countless millions of insects; and
the conclusion forced itself upon me that it was high time I should see
about effecting a descent from my lofty perch if I wished to do so in
safety.  I had no sooner scrambled down into the body of the tree than I
found myself in complete darkness, and it was with the utmost difficulty
and no little danger that I accomplished the remainder of the descent.
However, I managed at last to reach the ground without mishap, and,
taking up my gun--which I had placed against the trunk of the tree, and
without which, acting upon Don Manuel's advice, I never ventured into
the forest--I turned my face homeward, anxious to find Smellie and
acquaint him with the state of affairs without a moment's unnecessary
delay.

In due time I reached the gate in the palisading which surrounded Don
Manuel's garden and passed through.  In the brilliant star-light the
sandy path which led up to the house was distinctly visible between the
rows of coffee and other trees, and so also were two figures, a short
distance ahead of me, sauntering along it toward the house, with their
backs turned to me.  They were evidently male and female, and were
walking very closely together, so much so indeed that I felt almost
certain that the arm of the taller of the two figures must be encircling
the waist of the other, and from the height of the one and the white
gleaming garments of the other I at once came to the conclusion that
they were Smellie and Dona Antonia.  My footsteps were of course quite
inaudible on the light sandy soil, and the couple in front of me were
consequently in a state of blissful ignorance as to my presence.  Had
they been aware of it I am little doubtful now as to whether it would
have very greatly disturbed their equanimity.  Be that as it may, I felt
a certain amount of delicacy about advancing, and so showing them that I
had been an involuntary witness of their philandering, so I softly
stepped aside off the pathway and ensconsed myself behind a coffee-bush,
thinking that perhaps they would go on and enter the house, in which
case I could follow them in at a respectful distance.  If, on the other
hand, they did not enter, they would at all events be at such a distance
from me when they turned that I might safely show myself without much
fear of disconcerting either of them.  So thinking, I continued to watch
their receding figures, intending to step back into the pathway as soon
as they were at a sufficient distance from me.

But before they had traversed half the distance between the gate and the
house I was startled at seeing a group of figures suddenly and
noiselessly emerge upon the pathway close behind them.



CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

AN EVENTFUL NIGHT.

What did it mean?  Who were they, and what could they possibly want?  I
could see them clearly enough to distinguish that they wore the garments
of civilisation; but they did not belong to the house: Don Manuel had
only two men in his service; whereas, so far as I could distinguish in
the uncertain light, there were five men in the group before me.  Then,
too, their actions were suspicious, their movements were stealthy, and
it looked very much as though they were dogging the footsteps of the
couple ahead of them for no good purpose.  I did not at all like the
aspect of affairs, so quietly disencumbering myself of the telescope,
which I deposited on the ground, I grasped my gun, and, stepping into
the pathway, shouted warningly to the second lieutenant:

"Look out, Mr Smellie, you are being followed!"  Immediately there was
a shout, in Spanish, of "Come on, men, give it him!" and the group made
a dash at Smellie and his companion.  Then followed an exclamation of
surprise and anger in Smellie's well-known voice, a single stifled
scream from Dona Antonia, and a most unmistakable affray.  With a shout
I dashed up the path, and in another minute or less plunged into the
thick of the melee.  Smellie was beset by three of the ruffians, who
were slashing viciously at him with long ugly-looking knives, and he was
maintaining a gallant defence with the aid of a stout stick, the
assistance of which he had not up to then been wholly able to discard in
walking.  I saw that if he was to be saved from a serious, perhaps even
a fatal, stab, prompt action was necessary, so without waiting for
further developments I cocked my gun, and, making a lunge with it at the
man who seemed to be Smellie's most formidable antagonist, pulled the
trigger just as the muzzle struck his side, and poured the contents of
the barrel into his body.  At such very close quarters the charge of
shot took effect like a bullet, and the fellow staggered backwards and
fell to the ground with an oath and an agonised exclamation in Spanish
of:

"Help, my men, help; I am shot!"

The remaining two who had been attacking Smellie turned at this to
assist their wounded companion; and the second lieutenant and I
thereupon dashed down the path after the other two, who were hurrying
off the scene with all speed, carrying Dona Antonia bodily away with
them.  A dozen bounds or so and we were up with them.  With an
inarticulate cry of rage Smellie sprang upon the man nearest him and
brought his stick down upon the fellow's head with such tremendous force
that the stout cudgel shivered to pieces in his hand, whilst the
recipient of the blow dropped prone without a groan or cry of any kind
upon the pathway.  The other meanwhile had dropped his share of their
joint burden and seemed inclined to resume hostilities, but a well-aimed
sweep of the butt-end of my gun took all the fight out of him, and he
beat a hasty retreat, leaving his companion to our tender mercies.
Smellie, however, had something else to think about, for there, upon the
pathway, her white dress already stained with the blood of the prostrate
ruffian beside her, lay the senseless body of Dona Antonia.  Raising her
in his arms my companion at once made for the house, despatching Pedro,
who had just put in an alarmed appearance, in advance to summon the
assistance of Old Madre Dolores, Antonia's special attendant.

I convoyed the pair as far as the door, and then retraced my steps down
the pathway, intent on recovering the telescope, and also to reconnoitre
the scene of action and ascertain whether or no the enemy had beaten a
final retreat.  The ground proved to be clear; so I presume that the
fellow whose head Smellie had broken was not after all quite so
seriously injured as he at first appeared to be.

On my return to the house I found the whole place in confusion, as might
naturally be expected, and Don Manuel, with his damaged hand in a sling,
anxiously inquiring of Smellie whether he had any idea as to the
identity of the perpetrators of the outrage.

"I certainly _have_ an idea who was the leader," answered Smellie; "but
I scarcely like to give utterance to my suspicions.  Here comes
Hawkesley; let us see whether his opinion upon the matter coincides with
mine.  Hawkesley, do you think you ever met either of those men before?"

"Yes," I replied unhesitatingly; "unless I am greatly mistaken, the man
who was so pertinacious in his attack upon you, and whom I shot, was
Senor Madera."

"Exactly so," coincided Smellie.  "I recognised him directly; but it was
so very dark down there among the trees that I scarcely cared to say as
much without first having my conviction verified.  I very much fear, Don
Manuel, you have been grossly deceived by that fellow; if I am not
greatly mistaken he is a thorough rascal.  I do not say this because of
his cowardly attack upon me--that I can quite account for after your
explanation of a night or two ago; but his daring outrage upon your
daughter is quite another matter."

"Yes, yes," exclaimed Don Manuel excitedly; "the fellow is a villain,
there is no doubt about that.  I have never entertained a very high
opinion of him, it is true; but I must admit that I was quite unprepared
for any such high-handed behaviour as that of to-night."

"Well," said Smellie cheerfully, "I think Hawkesley has given his ardour
a cooling for some time to come, at all events; and for the rest, you
will have to be very carefully on your guard for the future, my dear
sir.  I do not think he will venture a second attempt so long as we
remain under your roof, but after we are gone--"

"Which I hope will not be for some time to come," hospitably interrupted
Don Manuel.  "But have no fear for us, my dear Don Harold; `forewarned
is forearmed,' as you say in your England, and I shall take care to
render any further attack upon my daughter's liberty impossible.  But
come, dinner awaits us, and we can further discuss the matter, if need
be, over the--what is that you call it?--ah, yes, `the social board!'"

Thereupon we filed into the dining-room, and took our places at the
table.  And there, before the conversation had an opportunity to drift
back into its former channel, I detailed my day's doings, and apprised
Smellie of the important fact that the _Daphne_ was in the offing.

"This is momentous news, indeed," remarked Smellie when I had finished.
"We must leave you to-night, I fear, Don Manuel, reluctant as we both
must be to cut short so very agreeable an acquaintance.  But I trust we
shall have many opportunities of visiting you again, and so keeping
alive the friendship established between us; and as to Senor Madera--if
Hawkesley is only correct in his conjectures as to the schooner he saw--
why, I trust we may be able to effectually and permanently relieve you
of his disagreeable attentions before twenty-four hours have passed over
our heads."

Don Manuel bowed.  "If Senor Madera is indeed the captain of a slave-
ship, as I have sometimes felt inclined to believe he is," said he, "I
beg that you will not permit the accident of having encountered him
under my roof to influence you in any way in his favour.  As I have
already said, he is only an acquaintance--not a friend of mine--and if
he is a transgressor against the laws relating to the slave-trade, make
him suffer for it, if you can lay hands upon him.  With regard to your
proposed attempt to rejoin your ship to-night, I very much regret that I
am only able to offer you the most meagre assistance; such as it is,
however, you are heartily welcome to it.  I have a canoe down in the
creek yonder, and you are very welcome to take her; but she is only a
small affair, and as I presume you are not very much accustomed to the
handling of canoes, you will have to be exceedingly careful or you may
meet with an upset.  And that, let me tell you, may possibly prove a
very serious affair, since the creek, ay, and the river itself, swarms
with crocodiles."

Smellie duly expressed his thankful acceptance of Don Manuel's kind
offer, and the conversation then became general.  At the conclusion of
the meal Smellie requested the favour of a few minutes' private
conversation with Don Manuel; and that gentleman, with a somewhat
questioning and surprised look, bowed an affirmative and at once led the
way to his own especial sanctum.

I never actually heard what was the nature of the momentous
communication which the gallant second lieutenant wished so suddenly to
make to his host; but from the length of time that they remained
closeted together, and the remark of Don Manuel when they at length
reappeared--"Very well, my dear sir, then that is settled; upon the
conditions I have named you can have her,"--I made a pretty shrewd guess
at it.

In the meantime Dona Antonia had reappeared, very little the worse for
her adventure; she was very pale, it is true, and she became perceptibly
paler when, with that want of tact which is one of my most marked
characteristics, I abruptly told her that we were on the point of
leaving her to rejoin our ship.  But she amply redeemed this want of
colour by the deep rosy flush with which she greeted Smellie's approach
and the low whispered request in response to which she placed her hand
on his arm and retired with him to the verandah.

It was about 9:30 p.m. when they reappeared, Smellie looking very grave,
but at the same time rather exultant, and poor Antonia in tears, which
she made no attempt whatever to conceal.  I was, of course, all ready to
start at a moment's notice.  We had no preparations to make, in fact,
and we at once proceeded to the disagreeable task of saying farewell to
our kind and generous host.  It was a painful business; for though we
had not known Don Manuel and his daughter very long, we had still known
them quite long enough to have acquired for them both a very large
measure of esteem and regard--in Smellie's case there could no longer be
the least doubt that his feelings toward his hostess were even warmer
than this--so we hurried over the leave-taking with all speed, and then
set off down the pathway, under Pedro's guidance, on our road to the
creek.

It was by this time pitch dark.  The stars had all disappeared; the sky
had become obscured by a heavy pall of thunder-cloud; and away to the
eastward the lightning was already beginning to flash and the thunder to
growl ominously.  Before we reached the gate in the palisading Pedro had
volunteered the prognostication of a stormy night, utterly unfit for
such an expedition as that upon which we were bound, and had strongly
urged us more than once to follow his counsel and postpone the attempt.
But to this proposition we could not, of course, listen for a moment.
If we missed the present opportunity to rejoin the _Daphne_ it was
impossible to conjecture when another might offer; and pleasant though
our sojourn under Don Manuel's hospitable roof had undoubtedly been, it
was not _business_; every day so spent was a day distinctly lost in the
pursuit of our professional interests.  So we plodded steadily on, and
in about half an hour's time reached the head of the creek, where,
carefully housed under a low thatch covering, we found the canoe.

She was, indeed, a frail craft in which to undertake such a journey as
ours, being only some two feet six inches beam, by about sixteen inches
deep, and twenty feet long; hollowed out of a single log.  She had no
thwarts, and the paddlers were therefore compelled to squat tailor-
fashion in the bottom of her, looking forward.  This was, so far,
fortunate; since she was so frightfully crank that, with such
unaccustomed canoeists as ourselves, it was only by keeping our centres
of gravity low down that we prevented her capsizing the moment we
stepped into her.  Pedro, worthy soul, detained us about twenty minutes
whilst he explained the peculiarities of the craft and the proper mode
of handling the paddles; and then, with Smellie aft and me forward, we
bade the old fellow good-bye and boldly shoved off down the creek.

The channel here being narrow, and overarched to a great extent with
trees, the darkness was quite as intense as it had been on our journey
from the house through the wood and down to the creek; so dark was it,
indeed, that but for the lightning which now flashed around us with
rapidly-increasing frequency, it would have been quite impossible for us
to see where we were going.  This stygian darkness, whilst it proved an
obstacle to our rapid progress, promised to afford us, by way of
compensation, most valuable assistance in another way, since we hoped to
slip past the schooner undetected in the impenetrable obscurity; our
desire just then being to avoid anything like a renewal of our
acquaintance with Senor Madera so soon after our very recent little
misunderstanding.  Unfortunately there were two or three phenomena which
combined to render this feat a matter of difficulty.  The first was the
vivid lightning which, at increasingly brief intervals, lit up the
channel with noontide distinctness.  The next was the failure of the
wind; a stark breathless calm having fallen upon the face of nature like
a pall, in the which not so much as a single leaf stirred; and the whole
insect-world, contrary to its usual custom, awaiting in hushed
expectancy the outburst of the coming storm, a great and death-like
silence prevailed, through which the slightest sound which we might
accidentally make would have been heard for a long distance.  And
another, and perhaps the worst of all, was the highly phosphorescent
state of the water.  This was so excessive that the slightest ripple
under the bows of the canoe, along her sides, and for some distance in
her wake, together with the faint swirls created by our paddles,
produced long trailing lines and eddies of vivid silvery light which
could scarcely fail to attract the attention of a vigilant look-out and
so betray our whereabouts.  We were thus compelled to observe the utmost
circumspection in our advance, which was made, as far as was
practicable, through the deepest shadows of the overhanging foliage.

We were creeping slowly down the channel in this cautious fashion when a
slight and almost imperceptible splash from the opposite bank attracted
my attention.  Glancing across in that direction I noticed a slowly
spreading circle of luminous ripples, and beneath them a curious patch
of pale phosphorescent light rapidly advancing toward us.  In a few
seconds it was almost directly underneath the canoe and keeping pace
with her.  To my consternation I then saw that it was a crocodile about
the same length, "over all," as the canoe, the phosphorescence of the
water causing his scaly carcass to gleam like a watery moon and
distinctly revealing his every movement.  We could even see his upturned
eyes maintaining a vigilant watch upon us.

"Do you see that, sir?"  I whispered.

"I do, indeed," murmured Smellie; "and I only hope the brute is
completely ignorant of his ability to capsize us with a single whisk of
his tail, if he should choose to do so.  Phew! what a flash!"

What a flash, indeed!  It seemed as though the entire vault of heaven
had exploded into living flame; the whole atmosphere was for a moment
irradiated; our surroundings leapt out of the darkness and stood for a
single instant vividly revealed; and there, too, away ahead of us, at a
distance of perhaps half a mile, appeared the schooner, her hull, spars,
and rigging showing black as ebony against the brilliantly--illuminated
background of foliage and cloud.  Simultaneously with the lightning-
flash there came a terrific peal of thunder, which crackled and crashed
and roared and rumbled about us with such an awful percussion of sound
that I was absolutely deafened for a minute or two.  When I recovered my
hearing the wild creatures of the forest were still giving vent to their
terror in a chorus of roars and howls and screams of dismay.  The
crocodile, evidently not caring to be out in such weather, had happily
vanished.  We had scarcely gathered our wits once more about us when the
flood-gates of heaven were opened and down came the rain.  I had heard a
great deal, at one time and another, about the violence of tropical
rainstorms, but this exceeded far beyond all bounds the utmost that I
had thereby been led to anticipate.  It came, not in drops or sheets, or
even the metaphorical "buckets-full," but in an absolute _deluge_ of
such volume that not only were we drenched to the skin in a single
instant, but almost before I was aware of it the water had risen in the
bottom of the canoe to a depth of at least four inches.  I was actually
compelled to lean forward in a stooping posture to catch my breath.

For fully five minutes this overwhelming deluge continued to descend
upon us, and then it relaxed somewhat and settled down into a steady
downpour.

"Was that object which we caught sight of some distance ahead, just now,
the schooner?" asked Smellie as soon as the rushing sound of the rain
had so far abated as to permit of our hearing each other's voices.

"It was, sir," I replied.

"Then now is the time for us to make a dash past her; they will scarcely
be keeping a very bright look-out in such rain as this," he remarked.

We accordingly hauled out into the centre of the stream and plied our
paddles as rapidly as possible.  We had been working hard for perhaps
five minutes when Smellie said in a low cautious tone of voice:

"Hawkesley!"

"Sir?"

"Do you know, the fancy has seized upon me to have a look in on the deck
of that schooner.  If we are duly cautious I really believe it might be
managed without very much risk.  Somehow I do not think they will be
keeping a particularly bright look-out on board her just now.  The look-
out may even be stowed away comfortably in the galley out of the rain.
Have you nerve enough for the adventure?"

"Certainly I have, sir," I replied, a bold idea flashing at that instant
through my brain.

"Then keep a sharp look-out for her, and, when you see her, work your
paddle so as to drop the canoe alongside under her main-chains, and
stand by to catch a turn with your painter."

"Ay, ay, sir," I replied; and we once more relapsed into silence and
renewed paddling.

Five minutes later a shapeless object loomed up close aboard of us on
our port bow, and, sheering the canoe sharply to larboard, we dropped
her handsomely and without a sound alongside the schooner just in the
wake of her main-chains.  I rapidly took a turn with the painter round
the foremost channel-iron, and in another moment stood alongside my
superior officer in the schooner's main-chains.

Placing our heads close to the dead-eyes of the rigging, so as to expose
ourselves as little as possible, we waited patiently for another flash
of lightning--Smellie looking aft and I looking forward, by hastily-
whispered agreement.  Presently the flash came.

"Did you catch sight of the look-out?" whispered Smellie to me.

"No, sir," I whispered back; "did you?"

"No; but I noticed that the skylight and companion are both closed and
the slide drawn over--probably to exclude the rain.  I fancy most of the
people must have turned in."

"Very probably," I acquiesced; "there is not much to tempt them to
remain out of their bunks on such a night as this."

"True," remarked Smellie, still in the most cautious of whispers.  "I
feel more than half-inclined to climb inboard and make a tour of the
decks."

"All right, sir!"  I agreed.  "Let us slip off our shoes and get on
board at once.  You take the starboard side of the deck; I'll take the
port side.  We can meet again on the forecastle."

"Agreed," was the reply; and slipping off our shoes forthwith we waited
for another flash of lightning, and then, in the succeeding darkness,
scrambled noiselessly in on deck and proceeded on our tour of
investigation.

On reaching the schooner's deck we separated, and I made it my first
business to carefully examine the skylight and companion.  In the
profound darkness it was quite impossible to _see_ anything; but by
careful manipulation I soon ascertained that the former was shut down,
and that the doors of the latter were closed and the slide drawn over
within about six inches, as Smellie had said.  It must have been
frightfully hot down in the cabin, but the officers apparently preferred
that to having a deluge of rain beating down below.  The cabin was dimly
lighted by a swinging lamp turned down very low; but I could see no one,
nor was there any sound of movement down there--at which I was
considerably surprised, because if the schooner really belonged to Senor
Madera, as I had supposed, one would have expected to find one or two
persons at least on the alert in attendance upon the wounded man.

Having learned all that it was possible to learn in this quarter, I next
proceeded aft as far as the taffrail, where I found the deck encumbered
on both sides by two big coils of mooring hawser, the other ends of
which were secured, as I had noticed earlier in the day, to a couple of
tree-trunks on shore.

I next proceeded leisurely forward, noting on my way the fact that the
schooner mounted a battery of four brass nine-pounders on her starboard
side--and of course her port battery would be the same.  The main
hatchway was securely covered in with a grating, up through which arose
the unmistakable odour which betrays the presence of slaves in a ship's
hold.  All was quiet, however, below--the poor wretches down there
having probably obtained in sleep a temporary forgetfulness of their
miserable condition.  On reaching the galley I found that the door on
the port side was closed; but on applying my ear to the chink I fancied
I could detect, through the steady _swish_ of the rain, the sounds of
regular breathing, as of a slumbering man.  Forward of the galley was
the foremast, and on clearing this a faint gleam of light indicated the
position of the fore-scuttle; and whilst I was still glancing round in
an endeavour to discover the presence of a possible anchor-watch the
light was suddenly obscured by the interposition of the second
lieutenant's body, as he cautiously peered down into the forecastle.  I
advanced to his side and laid my hand upon his arm, at the same time
mentioning his name to apprise him of my presence.

"Well," he whispered, first drawing me away from the open scuttle, "what
have you discovered?"

I told him, adding that I thought the anchor-watch must have taken
refuge in the galley from the rain, and there have fallen asleep.

"Yes," whispered Smellie; "he is safe enough there, and sound asleep,
for I accidentally touched him without disturbing his slumber."

I thought the time had now arrived for the propounding of my brilliant
idea.

"What is to prevent our _seizing the schooner_, sir?"  I asked.

"Nothing whatever," was the reply.  "I have been thinking of such a
thing myself.  She is already virtually in our possession, and a very
little labour and patience would make her actually so.  I think we are
men enough to get her under canvas and to handle her afterwards, for she
is only a very small craft.  The great--and indeed only--danger
connected with the affair consists in the possibility of their firing a
pistol into the powder-magazine when they discover that they are
prisoners, and so sending the ship and all hands sky-high together."

"They _might_ possibly do such a thing," I assented; "but I am willing
to take the risk, sir, if you are."

"Well done, Hawkesley! you are made of the right stuff for a sailor,"
was Smellie's encouraging remark.  "Then we'll do it," he continued.
"The first thing is to close and fasten the fore-scuttle, which, I have
already ascertained, is secured with a hasp and staple.  A belaying-pin
will secure it effectually; so that is the first thing we need."

A loose belaying-pin was soon found; and, provided with this, we then
returned to the fore-scuttle, noiselessly placed the cover in position,
and thrust the pin through the staple thus effectually imprisoning the
crew.

"Now another belaying-pin and a rope's-end--a fathom or so off the end
of the topgallant halliards will do--to secure this vigilant look-out in
the galley."

Armed with the necessary gear we next crept toward the galley.  The
question was, how to secure the man effectually in the intense darkness
and confined space, and at the same time prevent his raising an alarm.
The only thing was to lure him out on deck; and accordingly, whilst
Smellie awaited him at the door, I went in, and grasping him by the
shoulder shook him roughly, retiring again promptly as soon as I found
that I had aroused him.  The fellow rose to his feet hurriedly,
evidently under the impression that one of the officers had caught him
napping, and, scarcely half-awake, stumbled out on deck muttering in
Spanish a few incoherent words which he no doubt intended for an
explanation of his presence in the galley.  As he emerged from the door
I promptly--and I fear rather roughly--forced the belaying-pin between
his teeth and secured it there with the aid of my pocket handkerchief,
Smellie at the same moment pinioning him from the other side so
effectually that he was rendered quite incapable of resistance.  A very
short time sufficed us to secure him beyond the possibility of escape;
and then the next thing demanding our attention was the skylight and
companion.  I had already thought of a means by which these might be
made perfectly secure, and I now offered the idea to Smellie for
whatever it might be worth.  My suggestion met with his most unqualified
approval, and we forthwith set about carrying it out.  There was an
abundance of firewood in the galley; and, selecting suitable pieces, we
lost no time in hacking out half-a-dozen wedges.  Armed with these we
went aft, and noiselessly closing the companion slide to its full extent
firmly wedged it there.  A short piece of planking wedged tightly in
between the binnacle and the companion doors made the latter perfectly
secure; and when we had further heaped upon the skylight lid as many
heavy articles as we could find about the decks and conveniently handle
between us, the crew were effectually imprisoned below, fore and aft,
and the work of seizing the schooner was complete.

We were not a moment too soon.  The thunderstorm had all this while been
raging with little if any diminution of fury, the rain continuing to
pour down upon us in a steady torrent.  But hitherto there had been no
wind.  We had barely completed our task of making matters secure fore
and aft, however, when the lightning and rain ceased all in an instant.

"Now look out for the wind, sir," said I to Smellie.

"When the rain comes _before_ the wind.  Stand by and well your topsails
mind."

"Let the breeze come as soon as it likes," was the cheerful reply; "we
shall want a breeze to help us out of the creek presently.  But we may
as well get the canvas on her whilst the calm lasts, if possible; so run
your knife along the lashing of that mainsail, whilst I overhaul the
sheet and cast adrift the halliards."

So said, so done, and in another minute the sail was loose.  We then
tailed on to the halliards, and after a long and weary drag managed to
get the sail set after a fashion.  But we had hardly begun this task
before the squall burst upon us, and well was it for us then that the
schooner happened to be moored in so completely sheltered a position.
The wind careered, roaring and howling past us overhead, swaying and
bending the stoutest forest giants as though they were pliant reeds; but
down in the narrow channel, under the lee of the trees, we felt no more
than a mere _scuffle_, which, however, was sufficient to make the
mainsail flap heavily, and this effectually roused all hands below.

The first intimation we received of this state of things was a loud
battering against the inside of the companion doors, accompanied by
muffled ejaculations of anger.  To this, however, we paid not the
slightest heed; we knew that our prisoners were safe for a time at
least, so as soon as we had set the mainsail to our satisfaction I
skimmed out on the jib-boom and cast loose the jib, then slipped inboard
again and helped Smellie to hoist it.  This done, by Smellie's order I
went aft to the wheel, whilst he, armed with the cook's axe, cut the
hawsers fore and aft by which the schooner was secured to the bank.

The wind was very baffling just where we were; moreover we happened,
unfortunately, to be on the lee side of the canal, and for a couple of
minutes after cutting adrift we were in imminent danger of taking the
ground after all our trouble.  Between us, however, we succeeded in so
far flattening in the main-sheet as to cant her bows to windward, and
though the schooner's keel actually stirred up the mud for a distance of
quite fifty yards, we at last had the gratification of seeing her draw
off the bank.  The moment that she was fairly under weigh I drew
Smellie's attention to the violent pounding at the companion doors, and
suggested as a precautionary measure that we should run one of the guns
up against the doors in case of any attempt to batter them down, which
we accordingly did; the wheel being lashed for the short period
necessary to enable us to accomplish this task.

Very fortunately for us the wind had by this time broken up the dense
black canopy of cloud overhead, permitting a star or two to peep through
the rents here and there; the moon, too, just past her second quarter,
had risen, so that we now had a fair amount of light to aid us.  The
navigation of the narrow creek was, however, so difficult that a look-
out was absolutely necessary, and Smellie accordingly went forward and
stationed himself on the stem-head to con the ship.



CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

WE REJOIN THE "DAPHNE."

The people in the cabin, finding that no good result followed their
violent pounding upon the inside of the companion doors, soon abandoned
so unprofitable an amusement, and I was just beginning to hope that they
had philosophically made up their minds to submit with a good grace to
the inevitable, when _crash_ came a bullet through the teak doors and
past my head in most uncomfortable proximity to my starboard ear.

Smellie looked round at the sound.

"Any damage done, Hawkesley?" he hailed.

"None so far, I thank you," replied I; and as I spoke there was another
report, and another bullet went whizzing past, well to port this time
for a change.  A minute or two passed, and then came a regular fusillade
from quite half a dozen pistols discharged simultaneously I should say,
one of the bullets knocking off the worsted cap I wore and grazing the
skin of my right temple sufficiently to send a thin stream of blood
trickling down into the corner of my right eye.

"You seem to be in a warm corner there," hailed Smellie; "but if you can
hold on until we round this point I'll come and relieve you."

"No, thanks, I would very much rather you would continue to con the
ship," I replied.

A minute or two later we rounded the point referred to, and, the creek
widening out considerably, we began to feel the true breeze, when the
schooner, even under the short and ill-set canvas we had been able to
give her, at once increased her speed to about six knots.  At the same
time, however, she began to "gripe" most villainously, and with the helm
hard a-weather it was as much as I could possibly do to keep her from
running ashore among the bushes on our starboard hand.  The people in
the cabin were still pertinaciously blazing away through the companion
doors at me, and doing some remarkably good shooting, too, taking into
consideration the fact that they could only guess at my whereabouts; but
I was just then far too busy to pay much attention to them.  At length,
fearing that, when we got a little lower down and felt the full strength
of the breeze, the schooner would, in spite of all my efforts, fairly
run away with me, I hailed Smellie, and, briefly explaining the
situation to him, asked him to either give her the fore staysail or else
come aft and trice up the tack of the mainsail.  He chose the latter
alternative, as leaving the craft under canvas easily manageable by one
hand, and came aft to effect the alteration, hurriedly explaining that
he would relieve me as soon as possible; but that there was still some
difficult navigation ahead which he wanted to see the schooner safely
through.

He triced the tack of the sail close up to the throat of the gaff, and
was about to hurry forward again, when the schooner sheering round a
bend into a new reach, my attention was suddenly attracted by something
ahead and on our lee bow at a distance of perhaps half a mile.

"What is that away there on our lee bow, sir?"  I exclaimed; "is it not
a craft of some sort?"

Smellie jumped up on the rail to get a better view, and at the same
moment a pistol shot rang out from the skylight, the bullet evidently
flying close past him.  He took not the slightest notice of the shot,
but stood there on the rail with his hand shading his eyes, intently
examining the object we were rapidly nearing.

"It is a brig," said he, "and unless I am very greatly mistaken--but no,
it can't be--and yet it _must_ be too--it surely _is_ the _Vestale_."

"It looks remarkably like her; but I can't make out--confound those
fellows!  I wish they would stop firing.--I can't make out the white
ribbon round her sides," said I.

"No, nor can I.  And yet it is scarcely possible we can be mistaken.
Luff you may--a little--do not shave her _too_ close.  She has no
pennant flying, by the way, whoever she may be.  Ah! the rascals have
pinked me after all," as a rattling volley was discharged at him through
the glazed top of the skylight, and I saw him clap his hand to his side.

We were by this time close to the strange brig, on board which lights
were burning in the cabin, whilst several persons were visible on deck.
As we swept down toward her, hugging her pretty closely, a man sprang
into the main rigging and hailed in Spanish:

"_Josefa_ ahoy!  What's the matter on board?  Why are you going to sea
without a full cargo?  Have matters gone wrong at the head of the
creek?"

"No, no," replied Smellie in the same language, which by the way he had
been diligently studying with Antonia's assistance during our sojourn
under Don Manuel's roof--"no, everything is all right; our cargo--"

Unfortunately he was here interrupted by another volley from the cabin,
and at the same time a voice yelled from the schooner's stern windows:

"We are captured; a prize to the accursed Ingleses."

The words were hardly out of the speaker's mouth when three or four
muskets were popped at us from the brig, fortunately without effect.  We
were, however, by that time past her, and her crew, who seemed
thoroughly mystified at the whole affair, made no further effort to
molest us.  Of one thing, however, we were amply assured, she was not
the _Vestale_.  The craft we had just passed--whilst the _double_ of the
French gun-brig in every other respect--was painted black down to her
copper, and she carried under the heel of her bowsprit a life-size
figure of a negress with a scarf striped in various colours round her
waist.  _A negress_?  Ah! there could not be a doubt of it.  "Mr
Smellie," said I, "do you know that craft?"

"N-n-no, I can't say I do, Hawkesley, under her present disguise."

"Disguise, my dear sir; she is not disguised at all.  That is the
pirate-brig which destroyed poor Richards' vessel--the _Juliet_.  And--
yes--there can scarcely be a doubt about it--she must be the notorious
_Black Venus_ of which the Yankee skipper told us."

Smellie looked at me in great surprise and perplexity for a moment.

"Upon my word, Hawkesley, I verily believe you are right!" he exclaimed
at last.  "The _Black Venus_--a negress for a figure-head--ha! are you
hurt?"

"Not much, I think," stammered I, as I braced myself resolutely against
the wheel, determined that I would _not_ give in.  The fact was, that
whilst we were talking another shot had been fired through the companion
doors, and had struck me fairly in the right shoulder, inflicting such
severe pain that for the moment I felt quite incapable of using my right
arm.  Fortunately the schooner now steered pretty easily, and I could
manage the wheel with one hand.

"We must stop this somehow," said Smellie, again jumping on the rail and
taking a long look ahead.

"Do you see that very tall tree shooting up above the rest, almost
directly ahead?" he continued, pointing out the object as he turned to
me.

I replied that I did.

"Well, steer straight for it then, and I will fetch aft some hatch-
covers--there are several forward--and place them against the doors; I
think I can perhaps contrive to rig up a bullet-proof screen for you."

"But you are hurt yourself, sir," I protested.

"A mere graze after all, I believe," he replied lightly, and forthwith
set about the work of dragging aft the hatch-covers, six of which he
soon piled in front of the companion.

"There," he said, as he placed the last one in position, "I think you
are reasonably safe now; it was a pity we did not think of that before.
Shall I bind up your shoulder for you?  You are bleeding, I see."

"No, thank you," I replied; "it is only a trifling scratch, I think, not
worth troubling about now.  I would much rather you would go forward and
look out; it would never do to plump the schooner ashore now that we
have come so far.  Besides, there are the men down forward; they ought
to be watched, or perhaps they may succeed in breaking out after all."

Smellie looked at me rather doubtfully for almost a full minute.  "I
believe you are suffering a great deal of pain, Hawkesley," he said;
"but you are a thoroughly plucky fellow; and if you can only keep up
until we get clear of this confounded creek I will then relieve you.
And I will take care, too, to let Captain Vernon know how admirably you
have conducted yourself, not only to-night, but from the moment that we
left the _Daphne_ together.  Now I am going forward to see that all is
right there.  If you want help give me a timely hail."

And he turned and walked forward.

The navigation of the creek still continued to be exceedingly intricate
and difficult; the creek itself being winding, and the deep-water
channel very much more winding still, running now on one side of the
creek, now on the other, besides being studded here and there with
shoals, sand-banks, and tiny islets.  This, whilst it made the
navigation very difficult for strangers, added greatly to the value of
the creek as a safe and snug resort for slavers; the multitudinous
twists in the channel serving to mask it most artfully, and giving it an
appearance of terminating at a point beyond which in reality a long
stretch of deep water extended.

At length we luffed sharply round a low sandy spit thickly covered with
mangroves, kept broad away again directly afterwards, and abruptly found
ourselves in the main stream of the Congo.  Here the true channel was
easily discernible by the long regular run of the sea which had been
lashed up by the gale; and I had therefore nothing to do but keep the
schooner where the sea ran most regularly, and I should be certain to be
right.  Smellie now gave a little much-needed attention to the party in
the forecastle, who had latterly been very noisy and clamourous in their
demonstrations of disapproval.  Luckily they did not appear to possess
any fire-arms: the only fear from them, therefore, was that they would
find means to break out; and this the second lieutenant provided against
pretty effectually by placing a large wash-deck tub on the cover and
coiling down therein the end of one of the mooring hawsers which stood
on the deck near the windlass.

Having done this, he came aft to relieve me at the wheel, a relief for
which I was by no means sorry.

The party in the cabin had, shortly before this, given up their
amusement of popping at me through the closed doors of the companion,
having doubtless heard Smellie dragging along the hatch-covers and
placing them in position, and having also formed a very shrewd guess
that further mischief on their part was thus effectually frustrated.
Unfortunately, however, they had made the discovery that my head could
be seen over the companion from the fore end of the skylight, and they
had thereupon begun to pop at me from this new position.  They had
grazed me twice when Smellie came aft, and he had scarcely opened his
lips to speak to me when another shot came whizzing past us close enough
to him to prove that the fellows still had it in their power to undo all
our work by a single lucky hit.

"Why, Hawkesley," he exclaimed, "this will never do; we _must_ put a
stop to this somehow.  We cannot afford to be hard hit, either of us,
for another hour and a half at least.  What is to be done?  How does
your shoulder feel?  Can you use your right arm?"

"I am afraid I cannot," I replied; "my shoulder is dreadfully painful,
and my arm seems to have no strength in it.  But I can steer easily with
one hand now?"

"How many people do you think there are in the cabin?" was Smellie's
next question.

"I can scarcely say," I replied; "but I have only been able to
distinguish _three_ voices so far."

"Three, eh?  The skipper and two mates, I suppose."  He ruminated a
little, stepped forward, and presently returned with a rather
formidable-looking iron bar he had evidently noticed some time before;
and coolly remarked as he began to drag away the hatch-covers from
before the companion:

"I am going down below to give those fellows their _quietus_.  If I do
not, there is no knowing what mischief they may yet perpetrate before we
get the--what was it those fellows called her?--ah! the _Josefa_--before
we get the _Josefa_ under the _Daphne's_ guns.  Now, choose a star to
steer by before I remove any more of this lumber, and then sit down on
deck as much on one side as you can get; I shall try to draw their fire
and then rush down upon them."

With that he removed his jacket and threw it loosely over the iron bar,
which he laid aside for the moment whilst he cleared away the
obstructions from before the doors.  Then, taking up the coat and
holding it well in front of the opening so as to produce in the
uncertain light the appearance of a figure standing there, he suddenly
flung back the slide and threw open the doors.

The immediate results were a couple of pistol shots and a rush up the
companion-ladder, the latter of which Smellie promptly stopped by
swinging his somewhat bulky carcass into the opening and letting himself
drop plump down upon the individuals who were making it.  There was a
scuffle at the bottom of the ladder, another pistol shot, two or three
dull crushing blows, another brief scuffle, and then Smellie reappeared,
with blood flowing freely from his left arm, and a truculent-looking
Spaniard in tow.  This fellow he dragged on deck, and unceremoniously
kicking his feet from under him, lashed him securely with the end of the
topgallant brace.  This done, he once more dived below, and in due time
two more Spaniards, senseless and bleeding, were brought up out of the
cabin and secured.

"There," he said, wiping the perspiration from his forehead, "I think we
shall now manage to make the rest of our trip unmolested, and without
having constantly before our eyes the fear of being blown clear across
the Congo.  Let me take the wheel; I am sure you must be sadly in need
of a spell.  But before you do anything else I will get you to clap a
bandage of some sort round my arm here; I am bleeding so profusely that
I think the bullet must have severed an artery.  Here is my
handkerchief, clap it round the arm and haul it as taut as you can; the
great thing just now is to stop the bleeding; Doctor Burnett will do all
that is necessary for us when we reach the sloop."

I bound up his arm after a fashion, making a good enough job of it to
stop the bleeding, and then went forward to keep a look-out.  We were
foaming down the river at a tremendous pace, the gale being almost dead
fair for us, and having the additional impetus of a red-hot tide under
foot we swept down past the land as though we had been a steamer.  Sooth
to say, however, I scarcely felt in cue just then either to admire the
_Josefa's_ paces or to take much note of the wonderful picture presented
by the river, with its brown mud-tinted waters lashed into fury by the
breath of the tropical tempest and chequered here and there with the
shadows of the scurrying clouds, or lighted up by the phosphorescence
which tipped each wave with a crest of scintillating silvery stars.  The
wound in my shoulder was every moment becoming more excruciatingly
painful and more exacting in its demands upon my attention; my interest
seemed to centre itself upon the _Daphne_ and her surgeon; and it was
with a feeling of ineffable relief that, on jibing round Shark Point,
about an hour and a half after clearing the creek, I saw at a distance
of about seven miles away an indistinct object off Padron Point which I
knew must be the _Daphne_ at anchor.

"Do you see the sloop, sir?"  I hailed.

"No," returned Smellie from his post at the wheel, stooping and peering
straight into the darkness.  "I cannot make her out from here.  Do you
see her?"

"Yes, sir," I replied joyously; "there she is, broad on our port bow.
Luff, sir, you may."

"Luff," I heard Smellie return; and the schooner's bows swept round
until they pointed fair for the distant object.  "Steady, sir!"

"Steady it is," replied Smellie, his voice sounding weird and mournful
above the roar of the wind and the wash of the sea.  I managed to trim
over the jib-sheet without assistance, and then leaned over the bulwarks
watching the gradual way in which the small dark blot on the horizon
swelled and developed into a stately ship with lofty masts, long yards,
and a delicate maze of rigging all as neat and trig as though she had
but just emerged from the dockyard.

The sea being quite smooth after we had once rounded Shark Point, we
made the run down to the sloop in about an hour, passing to windward of
her, and then jibing over and rounding-to on her lee quarter, with our
jib-sheet to windward.

As we approached the sloop I noticed that lights were still burning in
the skipper's cabin, and I thought I could detect a human face or two
peering curiously out at us from the ports.  The dear old hooker was of
course riding head to wind, and as we swept down across her bows within
easy hailing distance a figure suddenly appeared standing on the knight-
heads, and Armitage's voice rang out across the water with the hail of:

"Schooner ahoy!"

"Hillo!" responded Smellie.

A slight and barely perceptible pause; and then--

"What schooner is that?"

"The _Josefa_, slave schooner.  Is that Mr Armitage?"

"Ay, ay, it is.  Who may you be, pray?"

I had by this time gone aft and was standing by Smellie's side.  The
schooner was just jibing over and darting along on the _Daphne's_
starboard side.

"Armitage evidently has not recognised my voice as yet," remarked
Smellie, "or else," he added, "they have given us up on board as dead,
and he is unable so suddenly to realise the fact of our being still
alive."

Then, as we finally rounded-to under the _Daphne's_ quarter, Armitage
reappeared aft, and the confab was renewed, Smellie this time taking the
lead.

"_Daphne_ ahoy!" he hailed, "has Captain Vernon yet retired for the
night?"

"I think not," was the reply.  "What do you want?"

"Kindly pass the word to him that Mr Smellie and Mr Hawkesley are
alongside in a captured slaver: and say we shall feel greatly obliged if
he will send a prize crew on board us to take possession."

"Ay, ay!  I will."

Armitage thereupon disappeared, and, we being at the time to leeward of
the sloop, a slight but distinct commotion became perceptible on board
her.  Presently a figure appeared in the fore-rigging, and a deep,
gruff, hoarse voice hailed:

"Schooner ahoy!  Did you say as Mr Smellie and Mr Hawkesley was on
board you?"

"Yes I did.  Do you not recognise my voice, Collins?"

"Ay, ay, sir! in course I does _now_," was the boatswain's hearty
response.  Then there followed, in lower tones, certain remarks of which
we could only catch such fragments as:

"--lieutenant hisself, by--reefer, too;--man--rigging, you sea-dogs--
give--sailors' welcome."

Then in an instant the lower rigging became black with the figures of
the men, and, with Collins as fugleman, they greeted our unexpected
return with three as hearty cheers as ever pealed from the throats of
British seamen.

For the life of me I could not just then have spoken a word had it been
ever so necessary.  That hearty ringing British cheer gave me the first
convincing assurance that I was once more _safe_ and among friends, and,
at the same time, enabled me to _fully_ realise, as I never had before,
the extreme peril to which I had been exposed since I last saw the craft
that lay there rolling gracefully upon the ground-swell, within a
biscuit toss of us.

The men were just clearing the rigging when a small slight figure
appeared on the sloop's quarter, and Captain Vernon's voice hailed us
through the speaking-trumpet:

"Schooner ahoy!  How many hands shall I send you?"

"A dozen men will be sufficient, sir," replied Smellie.  "And I shall
feel obliged if you will send with them the necessary officers to
relieve us.  We are both hurt, and in need of the doctor's services."

"You shall have the men at once," was the reply.  "Shall I send Burnett
to you, or can you come on board the sloop?"

"We will rejoin the sloop, sir, thank you.  Our injuries are not very
serious," replied Smellie.

"Very well, be it so," returned the skipper; and there the conversation
ended.

The next moment the clear _tee-tee-tweetle-tweetle-weetle-wee-e-e_ of
the boatswain's whistle came floating down to us, followed by his gruff
"Cutters away!" and presently we saw the boat glide down the ship's
side, and, after a very brief delay, shove off and come sweeping down
toward us.

Five minutes later the prize crew, under Williams, the master's mate,
with young Peters, a fellow mid of mine, as his second in command, stood
upon the schooner's deck, and Mr Austin, who had accompanied them, was
wringing our hands as though he would wring them off.

Smellie saw the exquisite agony which our warm-hearted "first luff" was
unconsciously inflicting upon _me_ by his effusive greeting, and
thoughtfully interposed with a--

"Gently, Edgar, old fellow.  I am afraid you are handling poor Hawkesley
a little roughly.  He has received rather a bad hurt in the right
shoulder to-night in our fight with the schooner's people."

"Fight!--schooner's people!  I beg your pardon, Hawkesley; I hope I
haven't hurt you.  Why, you never mean to say you have had to _fight_
for the schooner?"  Austin interrupted, aghast.  "Well, we _took_ her by
surprise; but her people proved very troublesome, and very pertinacious
in their efforts to get her back again," Smellie replied.  "But, come,
let us get on board the old _Daphne_ once more.  I long to set foot on
her planks again; and, like Hawkesley here, I shall not be sorry to
renew my acquaintance with Burnett."

So said, so done.  We made our way into the boat, leaving the prize crew
to secure the prisoners, and a few minutes later stood once more safe,
if not altogether sound, on the deck of the dear old _Daphne_.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

A STERN CHASE--AND A FRUITLESS ONE.

"Welcome back to the _Daphne_, gentlemen!" exclaimed Captain Vernon as
he met us at the gangway and extended his hand, first to Smellie and
then to me.  "This is indeed a pleasant surprise--for all hands, I will
venture to say, though Armitage loses his step, at least _pro tem_., in
consequence of your reappearance, Mr Smellie.  But he is a good-hearted
fellow, and when he entered my cabin to report you alongside, though he
seemed a trifle incredulous as to your personality, he was as delighted
as a schoolboy at the prospect of a holiday."

Smellie took the skipper's extended hand, and after replying suitably to
his greeting, said:

"I must beg you will excuse Hawkesley, sir, if he gives you his left
instead of his right hand.  His starboard shoulder has been disabled to-
night by a pistol-bullet whilst supporting me most intrepidly in the
task of bringing out the schooner."

The skipper seized my left hand with his right, and pressing it
earnestly yet gently, said:

"I am proud and pleased to hear so gratifying an account of you,
Hawkesley.  Mr Armitage has already borne witness to your gallantry
during the night attack upon the slavers; and it was with deep and
sincere sorrow that I received the news of your being, with Mr Smellie,
missing.  I fear, gentlemen, your friends at home will suffer a great
deal of, happily unnecessary, sorrow at the news which I felt it my duty
to send home; but that can all be repaired by your personally
despatching to them the agreeable intelligence of your both being still
in the land of the living.  But what of your hurts?  Are they too
serious to be attended to in my cabin?  They are not?  I am glad to hear
that.  Then follow me, both of you, please; for I long to hear where you
have been, what doing all this time, and how you happened to turn up so
opportunely here to-night I will send for Burnett to bring his tools
into my cabin; and you can satisfy my curiosity whilst he is doing the
needful for you.  Will you join us, Austin?  I'll be bound your ears are
tingling to hear what has befallen these wandering knights."

Thereupon we filed down below in the skipper's wake--I for one being
most heartily thankful to find myself where I could once more sit down
and rest my aching limbs.  The skipper's steward brought out some wine
and glasses, and then at Burnett's request--that individual having
promptly turned up--went away to get ready some warm water.

"I think," said our genial medico, turning to me, "_you_ look in most
urgent need of my services, so I will begin with you, young gentleman,
if you please.  Now whereabouts are your hurts?"

I told him, and he straightway began to cut away the sleeve of my coat
and shirt, preparatory to more serious operations; whilst Smellie,
drawing his chair up to the table, helped himself to a glass of wine,
and then said:

"Before I begin my story, sir, will you permit me to ask what was the
ultimate result of that most disastrous expedition against the slavers?
I am naturally anxious to know, of course, seeing that upon my shoulders
rests the odium of our failure."

Captain Vernon stared hard at the second lieutenant for a minute, and
then said:

"My dear Smellie, what in the world are you talking about?  Disaster!
Odium!  Why, man, the expedition was a _success_, not a failure.  I
admit that there was, most unfortunately, a very serious loss of life
among the unhappy slaves; but we took the brigantine and afterwards
raised the schooner, with a loss to ourselves of only four killed--now
that you two have turned up.  It was a most dashing affair, and
admirably conducted, when we take into consideration the elaborate
preparations which had been evidently made for your reception; and the
_ultimate result_ about which you inquire so anxiously will, I hope, be
a nice little bit of prize-money to all hands, and richly deserved
promotion to yourself, Armitage, and young Williams."

It was now Smellie's turn to look surprised.

"You astonish me, sir," he said.  "The last I remember of the affair is
that, after a most stubborn and protracted fight, in which the schooner
was sunk, we succeeded in gaining possession of the brig, only to be
blown out of her a few minutes later, however; and my own impression--
and Hawkesley's too, for that matter, as I afterwards discovered on
comparing notes with him--was that our losses must have amounted to at
least half of the men composing the expedition."

"Well," said Captain Vernon, "I am happy to tell you that you were
mistaken.  Our total loss over that affair amounts to four men killed;
but the severity of the fight is amply testified to by the fact that not
one man out of the whole number escaped without a wound of some kind,
more or less serious.  They have all recovered, however, I am happy to
say, and we have not at present a sick man in the ship.  There can be no
doubt that the slavers somehow received timely notice of our presence in
the river, through the instrumentality of your fair-speaking friend, the
skipper of the _Pensacola_, I strongly suspect, and that they made the
best possible use of the time at their disposal.  Had I been as wise
then as I am now my arrangements would have been very different.
However, it is easy to be wise after the event; and I am thankful that
matters turned out so well.  And now, I think we are fairly entitled to
hear your story."

Thereupon Smellie launched out into a detailed recital of all that had
befallen us from the moment of the explosion on board the brig up to our
unexpected arrival that same night alongside the _Daphne_.  He was
interrupted by countless exclamations of astonishment and sympathy; and
when he had finished there seemed to be no end to the questions which
one and another was anxious to put to him.  In the midst of it all,
however, Burnett broke in with the announcement that, having finished
with me, he was ready to attend to the second lieutenant.

The worthy medico's attentions to me had been, as may be gathered from
the fact that they outlasted Smellie's story, of somewhat protracted
duration, and that they were of an exceedingly painful character I can
abundantly testify, the ball having broken my shoulder-blade and then
buried itself among the muscles of the shoulder, whence Burnett insisted
on extracting it, in spite of my protestations that I was quite willing
to postpone that operation to a more convenient season.  After much
groping and probing about, however, utterly regardless of the
excruciating agony he thus inflicted upon me, the conscientious Burnett
had at last succeeded in extracting the ball, which he kindly presented
to me as a memento, and then the rest of the work was, comparatively
speaking, plain sailing.  My wound was washed, dressed, and made
comfortable; and I was dismissed with a strict injunction to turn-in at
once.

To this the skipper moved, as an amendment, that I be permitted to drink
a single glass of wine before retiring; and whilst I was sipping this
they turned upon me with their questions, with the result that I soon
forgot all about my hammock.  At length Captain Vernon said:

"By-the-by, Hawkesley, what sort of a young lady is this Dona Antonia
whom Mr Smellie has mentioned once or twice?"

"She is simply the most lovely creature I have ever seen, sir," I
replied enthusiastically.

"--And my promised wife," jerked in Smellie, in a tone which warned all
hands that there must be no jocularity in connection with the mention of
the dona's name.

"Ho, ho!" ejaculated the skipper with a whistle of surprise.  "That is
how the wind blows, is it?  Upon my word, Smellie, I heartily
congratulate you upon your conquest.  Quite a romantic affair, really.
And pray, Mr Hawkesley, what success have _you_ met with in Cupid's
warfare?"

"None whatever, sir," I replied with a laugh.  "The only other lady in
Don Manuel's household was old Dolores, Dona Antonia's attendant, and I
was positively afraid to try the effect of my fascinations upon her."

"Lest you should prove only _too_ successful," laughed the skipper.  "By
the way, Smellie, do you think this Don Manuel was quite plain and
above-board with you?  I suppose _he_ does nothing in the slave-trading
business, eh?"

"I think not, sir; though he undoubtedly possesses the acquaintance of a
certain Senor Madera, a most suspicious-looking character, whose name I
have already mentioned to you--by the way, Hawkesley, you were evidently
mistaken as to the _Josefa_ belonging to Madera; he was nowhere to be
found on board her."

"What is it, Mr Armitage?" said the skipper just then, as the third
lieutenant made his appearance at the door.

"A vessel, apparently a brig, sir, has just come into view under the
northern shore, evidently having just left the river.  She is hugging
the land very closely, keeping well under its shadow, in fact, and has
all the appearance of being anxious to avoid attracting our attention."

The skipper glanced interrogatively at Smellie, who at once responded to
the look by saying:

"The _Black Venus_, without doubt.  I expect that our running away with
the _Josefa_ has given them the alarm, and they have determined to slip
out whilst the option remains to them, and take their chance of being
able to give us the slip."

"They shall not do that if I can help it," remarked the skipper
energetically; and, rising to his feet, he gave orders for all hands to
be called forthwith.  This broke up the party in the cabin, much to the
gratification of Burnett, who now insisted that both Smellie and I
should retire to our hammocks forthwith, and on no account presume to
leave them again until we had his permission.

I was not very long in undressing, having secured the services of a
marine to assist me in the operation; but before I had gained my hammock
I was rejoined by Keene, a brother mid, whose watch it was below, and
who brought me down the news that the sloop was under weigh and fairly
after the stranger, who, as soon as our canvas dropped from the yards,
had squared away on a westerly course with the wind on her quarter and a
whole cloud of studding-sails set to windward.

What with the excitement of finding myself once more among so many
friends and the pain of my wound it was some time before I succeeded in
getting to sleep that night; and before I did so the _Daphne_ was
rolling like an empty hogshead, showing how rapidly she had run off the
land and into the sea knocked up by the gale.

When I awoke next morning the wind had dropped to a considerable extent,
the sea had gone down, and the ship was a great deal steadier under her
canvas.  I was most anxious to leave my hammock and go on deck, but this
Burnett would not for a moment consent to; my wound was very much
inflamed and exceedingly painful, the result, doubtless, of the probing
for the bullet on the night before; and instead of being allowed to turn
out I was removed in my hammock, just as I was, to the sick bay.  I was
ordered to keep very quiet, but I managed to learn, nevertheless, that
the chase was still in sight directly ahead, about nine miles distant,
and that, though she certainly was not running away from us, there
seemed to be little hope of our overtaking her for some time to come.

Matters remained in this unsatisfactory state for the next five days,
the _Daphne_ keeping the chase in sight during the whole of that time,
but failing to come up with her.  The distance between the two vessels
varied according to the weather, the chase appearing to have the best of
it in a strong breeze, whilst the _Daphne_ was slightly the faster of
the two in light airs.  Unfortunately for us, the wind continued very
nearly dead fair, or about three points on our starboard quarter,
whereas the sloop seemed to do best with the wind abeam.  We would not
have objected even to a moderate breeze dead in our teeth, our craft
being remarkably fast on a taut bowline; and as day after day went by
without any apparent prospect of an end of the chase the barometer was
anxiously watched, in the hope that before long we should be favoured
with a change of weather.

On the morning of the fifth day I was so much better that, acceding to
my urgent request, Burnett consented, with many doubtful shakes of the
head, to my leaving my hammock and taking the air on deck for an hour or
two.  I accordingly dressed as rapidly as possible, and got on deck just
in time to catch sight of the chase, about six miles distant, before a
sea mist settled down on the scene, which soon effectually concealed her
from our view.  This was particularly exasperating, since, the wind
having dropped to about a five-knot breeze, we had been slowly but
perceptibly gaining on her for the last three or four hours; and now,
when at length there appeared a prospect of overtaking her, a chance to
elude us in the fog had presented itself.  Of course it was utterly
impossible to guess what ruse so wary a foe would resort to, but that he
would have recourse to one of some kind was a moral certainty.  Captain
Vernon at once took counsel with his first and second lieutenants as to
what course it would be most advisable to adopt under the circumstances,
and it was at last decided to put the ship upon a wind, and make short
tacks to the eastward until the fog should clear, it being thought
highly probable that the chase would likewise double back upon her
former course in the hope of our running past her in the fog.

The studding-sails were accordingly taken in, and the ship brought to
the wind on the starboard tack.  We made short reaches, tacking every
hour, and had gone about for the third time when, just as the men were
coiling up the ropes fore and aft, the look-out reported:

"Sail, ho! straight ahead.  Hard up, sir, or you will be into her."

Mr Austin, who had charge of the deck, sprang upon a gun, and peered
out eagerly ahead.

"Hard over, my man, _hard_ over!" he exclaimed excitedly; then
continued, after a moment of breathless suspense:

"All clear, all clear! we have _just_ missed her, and that is all.  By
Jove, Hawkesley, that was a narrow squeak, eh?  Why, it is surely the
_Vestale_!  _Vestale_ ahoy!"

"Hillo!" was the response from the other craft, indubitably the brig
which we had fallen in with shortly after our first look into the Congo,
and which we had been given to understand was the _Vestale_, French gun-
brig.

"Have you sighted a sail of any kind to-day?" hailed Austin.

"Non, mon Dieu!  We have not nevaire seen a sail until now since we
leave Sierra Leone four weeks ago."

This ended the communication between the two ships, the _Vestale_--or
whatever she was--disappearing again into the fog before the last words
of the reply to our question had been uttered.

"Well," said Mr Austin, as he jumped down off the gun, "I am
disappointed.  When I first caught sight of that craft close under our
bows I thought for a moment that we had made a clever guess; that the
chase had doubled on her track, and that, by a lucky accident, we had
stumbled fairly upon her in the fog.  But as soon as I caught sight of
the white figure-head and the streak round her sides I saw that I was
mistaken.  Well, we _may_ drop upon the fellow yet.  I would give a ten-
pound note this instant if the fog would only lift."

"I cannot understand it for the life of me," I replied in a dazed sort
of way, as I stepped gingerly down off the gun upon which I, like the
first lieutenant, had jumped in the first of the excitement.

Mr Austin looked at me questioningly.

"What is it that you cannot understand, Hawkesley?" he asked.

"That brig--the _Vestale_, as she calls herself--and all connected with
her," I answered.

"Why, what _is_ there to understand about her?  Or rather, what is there
that is incomprehensible about her?" he asked sharply.

"_Everything_," I replied eagerly.  "In the first place, we have only
the statement of one man--and he a member of her own crew--that she
actually _is_ the veritable _Vestale_, French gun-brig, which we know to
be cruising in these waters.  Secondly, her very extraordinary
resemblance to the _Black Venus_, which, as you are aware, I have seen,
absolutely _compels_ me, against my better judgment, to the belief that
the two brigs are, in some mysterious way, intimately associated
together, if, indeed, they are not absolutely _one and the same vessel_.
And thirdly, my suspicion that the latter is the case receives strong
confirmation from the fact that on _both_ occasions when we have been
after the one--the _Black Venus_--we have encountered the other--the
_Vestale_."

Mr Austin stared at me in a very peculiar way for a few minutes, and
then said:

"Well, Hawkesley, your last assertion is undoubtedly true; but what does
it prove?  It can be nothing more than a curious coincidence."

"So I have assured myself over and over again, when my suspicions were
strengthened by the first occurrence of the coincidence; and so I shall
doubtless assure myself over and over again during the next few days," I
replied.  "But if a coincidence only it is certainly curious that it
should have occurred on two occasions."

"I am not quite prepared to admit that," said the first lieutenant.
"And, then, as to the remarkable resemblance between the two vessels, do
you not think, now, honestly, Hawkesley, that your very extraordinary
suspicions may have magnified that resemblance?"

"No," said I; "I do not.  I only wish Mr Smellie had been on deck just
now to have caught a glimpse of that inexplicable brig; he would have
borne convincing testimony to the marvellous likeness between them.
Why, sir, but for the white ribbon round the one, and the difference in
the figure-heads, the two craft would be positively indistinguishable;
so completely so, indeed, that poor Richards was actually unable to
believe the evidence of his own senses, and, I firmly believe, was
convinced of the identity of the two vessels."

"Indeed!" said Mr Austin in a tone of great surprise.  "That is news to
me.  So Richards shared your suspicions, did he?"

"He did, indeed, sir," I replied.  "It was, in fact, his extraordinary
demeanour on the occasion of our second encounter with the _Vestale_--
you will remember the circumstance, sir?--which confirmed my suspicions;
suspicions which, up to then, I had attributed solely to some aberration
of fancy on my part.  Then, again, when we questioned the skipper of the
_Pensacola_ relative to the _Black Venus_ and the _Vestale_, how evasive
were his replies!"

"Look here, Hawkesley; you have interested me in spite of myself," said
Mr Austin.  "If you are not too tired I should like you to tell me the
whole history of these singular suspicions of yours from the very moment
of their birth."

"I will, sir, with pleasure.  They arose with Monsieur Le Breton's visit
to us on the occasion of our first falling in with the _Vestale_," I
replied.  And then having at last finally broached the subject which had
been for so long a secret source of mental disquiet to me, I fully
detailed to the first luff all those suspicious circumstances--trifling
in themselves but important when regarded collectively--which I have
already confided to the reader.  When I had finished he remained silent
for a long time, nearly a quarter of an hour I should think, with his
hands clasped behind his back and his eyes bent on the deck, evidently
cogitating deeply.  Finally he emerged from his abstraction with a
start, cast an eye aloft at the sails, and then turning to me said:

"You have given me something to think about now with a vengeance,
Hawkesley.  If indeed your suspicions as to the honesty of the _Vestale_
should prove well-founded, your mention of them and the acute perception
which caused you in the first instance to entertain them will constitute
a very valuable service--for which I will take care that you get full
credit--and may very possibly lead to the final detection and
suppression of a series of hitherto utterly unaccountable transactions
of a most nefarious character.  At all events we can do no harm by
keeping a wary eye upon this alleged _Vestale_ for the future, and I
will make it my business to invent some plausible pretext for boarding
her on the first opportunity which presents itself.  And now I think you
have been on deck quite as long as is good for you, so away you go below
again and get back to your hammock.  Such a wound as yours is not to be
trifled with in this abominable climate; and you know,"--with a smile
half good-humoured and half satirical--"we must take every possible care
of a young gentleman who seems destined to teach us, from the captain
downwards, our business.  There, now, don't look hurt, my lad; you did
quite right in speaking to me, and I am very much obliged to you for so
doing; I only regret that you did not earlier make me your confidant.
Now away you go below at once."

I of course did dutifully as I was bidden, and, truth to tell, was by no
means sorry to regain my hammock, having soon found that my strength was
by no means as great as I had expected.  That same night I suffered from
a considerable accession of fever, and in fine was confined to my
hammock for rather more than three weeks from that date, at the end of
which I became once more convalescent, and--this time observing proper
precautions and a strict adherence to the doctor's orders--finally
managed to get myself reported as once more fit for duty six weeks from
the day on which Smellie and I rejoined the _Daphne_.  I may as well
here mention that the fog which so inopportunely enveloped us on the day
of my conversation with Mr Austin did not clear away until just before
sunset; and when it did the horizon was clear all round us, no trace of
a sail being visible in any direction from our main-royal yard.



CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

A VERY MYSTERIOUS OCCURRENCE.

In extreme disgust at the loss of the notorious _Black Venus_ Captain
Vernon reluctantly gave orders for the resumption of the cruise, and the
_Daphne_ was once more headed in for the land, it being the skipper's
intention to give a look in at all the likely places along the coast as
far north as the Bight of Benin.

This was terribly tedious and particularly trying to the men, it being
all boat work.  The exploration of the Fernan Vas river occupied thirty
hours, whilst in the case of the Ogowe river the boats were away from
the ship for four days and three nights; the result being that when at
last we went into Sierra Leone we had ten men down with fever, and had
lost four more from the same cause.  The worst of it all was that our
labour had been wholly in vain, not a single prize being taken nor a
suspicious craft fallen in with.  Here we found Williams and the prize
crew of the _Josefa_ awaiting us according to instructions; so shipping
them and landing the sick men Captain Vernon lost no time in putting to
sea once more.

On leaving Sierra Leone a course was shaped for the Congo, and after a
long and very tedious passage, during the whole of which we had to
contend against light head-winds, we found ourselves once more within
sight of the river at daybreak.

It was stark calm, with a cloudless sky, and a long lazy swell came
creeping in from the southward and eastward causing the sloop to roll
most uncomfortably.  We were about twelve miles off the land; and at
about half-way between us and it, becalmed like ourselves, there lay a
brig, which our telescopes informed us was the _Vestale_.  On this fact
being decisively ascertained Mr Austin came up to me and said:

"There is your _bete noire_, the _Vestale_, once more, you see,
Hawkesley.  I have been thinking a great deal about what you said to me
some time ago respecting her, and I have come to the conclusion that it
is quite worth our while to look into the matter, at least so far as
will enable us to judge whether your suspicions are wholly groundless or
not.  If they are--if, in fact, the craft proves to be what she
professes herself--well and good; we can dismiss the affair finally and
for ever from our minds and give our undivided attention to other
matters.  But I confess you have to a certain extent imbued me with your
own doubts as to the strict integrity of yonder brig; there are one or
two little matters you mentioned which escaped my notice end which
certainly have rather a suspicious appearance.  I therefore intend--if
the craft is bound into the river like ourselves--to make an early
opportunity to pay her a visit on some pretext or other."

"Have you mentioned the matter to Captain Vernon yet, sir?"  I inquired.

"No, not yet," was the reply.  "I must have something a little more
definite to say before I broach the matter to him.  But here comes the
breeze at last, a _sea_ breeze, too, thank Heaven!  Man the braces fore
and aft; square away the yards and brail in the mizen.  Hard up with
your helm, my man, and keep her dead away for the mouth of the river."

The faint blue line along the western horizon came creeping gradually
down toward us, and presently a catspaw or two ruffled the glassy
surface of the water for a moment and disappeared.  Then a deliciously
cool and refreshing draught of air fanned our faces and swelled out the
light upper canvas for an instant, died away, came again a trifle
stronger and lasted for perhaps half a minute, then with a flap the
canvas collapsed, filled again, the sloop gathered way and paid off with
her head to the eastward; a bubble or two floated past her sides, a
faint ripple arose under her bows, grew larger, became audible, the
glassy surface of the water grew gently ruffled and assumed an exquisite
cerulean tint, the wheel began to press against the helmsman's hand, and
away we went straight for the mouth of the river--and the brig.

The breeze, gentle though it was, reached our neighbour long before we
did, and as soon as she felt it she too bore up, squared her yards, and
headed direct for Boolambemba Point.  She was about three miles ahead of
us when the breeze reached her, and I felt very curious to see where she
would finally come to an anchor.  The only _safe_ anchorage is in Banana
Creek, and though slavers constantly resort to the numerous other creeks
and inlets higher up the river no captain of a man-of-war would think
for a moment of risking his ship in any of them unless the emergency
happened to be very pressing, nor even then unless his vessel happened
to be of exceedingly light draught.  If therefore the brig anchored in
Banana Creek I should accept it as a point in favour of her honesty; if
not, my suspicions would be stronger than ever.

It so happened that she _did_ anchor in Banana Creek, but fully a
quarter of a mile higher up it than old Mildmay the master thought it
prudent for us to venture, though in obedience to a hint from Mr Austin
he took us much further in than where we had anchored on our previous
visit.  The brig got in fully half an hour before us, her canvas was
consequently stowed, her yards squared, ropes hauled taut and coiled
down, and her boats in the water when our anchor at length plunged into
the muddy opaque-looking water of the creek.

We were barely brought up--and indeed the hands were still aloft stowing
the canvas--when a gig shoved off from the brig and pulled down the
creek.  A few minutes later she dashed alongside and Monsieur Le Breton
once more presented himself upon our quarter-deck, cap in had, bowing,
smiling, and grimacing as only a Frenchman can.  His visit, though such
a singularly precipitate one, was, it soon turned out, merely a visit of
ceremony, which he prolonged to such an extent that Captain Vernon was
perforce obliged to invite him down below to breakfast, Mr Austin and I
being also the skipper's guests on that particular morning.  In the
course of the meal he made several very complimentary remarks as to the
appearance of the _Daphne_, and finally--when I suppose he saw that he
had thus completely won poor Austin's heart--he very politely expressed
his extreme desire to take a look through the ship, a desire which the
first luff with equal politeness assured him it would give him great
pleasure to gratify.

The fellow certainly had a wonderfully plausible and winning way with
him, there was no denying that, and I saw that under its influence the
slight suspicions which I had imparted to poor honest-hearted,
straightforward Mr Austin were melting like snowflakes under a summer
sun.  Still, under all the plausibility, the delicate flattery, and the
elaborate politeness of the man, there was a vague indefinable
_something_ to which I found it quite impossible to reconcile myself;
and I watched him as a cat does a mouse, anxious to note whatever
suspicious circumstances might transpire, in order that I might be fully
prepared for the talk with the first luff which I felt certain would
closely follow upon our visitor's departure.  To my chagrin, however, I
was on this occasion wholly unable to detect anything whatever out of
the common, and Monsieur Le Breton's broken English, upon which I had
laid such stress in my former conversation with Mr Austin, was now
quite consistent and irreproachable.  He was taken through the ship and
shown every nook and corner in her, and finally, about noon, took his
leave.  Just before going down over the side he apologised for the non-
appearance of "Captain Dubosc" upon the plea that that gentleman was
confined to his hammock with a severe attack of dysentery; but if the
officers of the _Daphne_ would honour the _estate's_ ward-room with
their presence at dinner that evening Monsieur Le Breton and his brother
officers would be "enchanted."  And, apparently as an after-thought,
when his foot was on the top step of the gangway ladder, this very
agreeable gentleman urgently requested the pleasure of Mr Austin's
company on a sporting expedition which he and one or two more were about
to undertake that afternoon.  This latter invitation was declined upon
the plea of stress of work; but the invitation to dinner was accepted
conditionally upon the work being in a sufficiently forward state to
allow of the officers leaving the ship.

We were indeed exceedingly busy that day, Mr Austin having determined
to take advantage of the opportunity which our being at anchor afforded
him to lift the rigging off the mastheads and give it and them a
thorough overhaul.

As for me, I was engaged during the whole of the day in charge of a
boat's crew filling up our water casks and tanks and foraging in the
adjacent forest for a supply of fruit, not a single native canoe having
approached us during the entire day.  It was, consequently, not until
late in the afternoon, when the neck of the day's work was broken, that
I had an opportunity of exchanging a word or two with the first
lieutenant on the subject of our neighbour, the brig, and then it was
only a word or two.  Mr Austin opened the conversation with:

"Well, Hawkesley, what do you think of our friend Monsieur Le Breton,
now that you have had an opportunity of bettering your acquaintance with
him?"

"Well, sir," I replied; "on the whole I am inclined to think that there
is just a bare possibility of my having been mistaken in my estimate of
him and of the character of the brig.  Still--"

"Still your mind is not yet quite easy," Mr Austin laughingly
interrupted me.  "Now, what could you possibly have noticed of a
suspicious character in the poor fellow's conduct this morning?"

"Nothing," I was obliged to acknowledge.  "I am quite prepared to admit,
sir, a total absence of those peculiarities of manner which _I am
certain_ existed during his first visit to the ship.  But did you not
think it strange that he should be in such a tremendous hurry to come on
board us this morning?  At first I was inclined to think his object
might be to prevent a visit from some of us to the brig; but that
supposition is met, to some extent, by his invitation to us for this
evening.  The delay may, of course, have afforded them an opportunity to
make arrangements for our reception by putting out of sight any--"

"Any tell-tale evidences of their dishonesty," laughed the first luff.
"Really, Hawkesley, I must say I think you are deceiving yourself and
worrying yourself unnecessarily.  Of course I can quite understand how,
having harboured those extraordinary suspicions of yours for so great a
length of time, you now find it difficult to dismiss them all in a
moment; but have patience for a few hours more; an excellent opportunity
is now offered us for satisfying ourselves as to the brig's _bona
fides_, and you may rest assured that I shall make the very best use of
it.  I find I shall be the only guest of the Frenchmen to-night--the
rest of the officers are far too busy to leave the ship, and indeed _I_
can hardly be spared, and would not go but for the fact that it would
look uncivil if we in a body declined their invitation; but I will see
that to-morrow you have an opportunity of going on board and
investigating for yourself.  And now I must be off to make myself
presentable, or I shall be keeping my hosts waiting, and perhaps spoil
their dinner."

With that he dived below; and I turned away to attend to some little
matter connected with the progress of the work.  A quarter of an hour
later he reappeared on deck, clean-shaven, and looking very handsome and
seamanlike in his best suit of uniform; and, the gig being piped away,
he went down over the side, giving me a parting nod as he did so.  I
watched the boat dash up alongside the brig; noted that the side was
manned in due form, that our worthy "first" was received by a group of
officers on the quarter-deck, conspicuous among whom I could make out
with the aid of my glass Monsieur Le Breton, evidently performing the
ceremony of introduction; and then the work being finished, ropes coiled
down, and everything once more restored to its proper place, the hands
were piped to tea, and I descended to the midshipmen's den, thoroughly
tired out with my unwonted exertion.

When I again went on deck, about an hour later, the stars were shining
brilliantly; the moon, about three days old, was gleaming with a soft
subdued radiance through the topmost branches of the trees on the
adjacent shore; and the night-mist was already gathering so thickly on
the bosom of the river that the brig loomed through it vague, shadowy,
and indistinct as a phantom craft.  The tide was ebbing, and her stern
was turned toward us, but no lights appeared gleaming through her cabin
windows, which struck me as being a little strange until I remembered
that Monsieur Le Breton had spoken of her captain being ill.  A few of
our lads were amusing themselves on the forecastle, dancing to the
enlivening strains of the cook's fiddle, or singing songs; and an
occasional round of applause or an answering song came floating down
upon the gentle night-breeze from the brig; but as the fog grew thicker
these sounds gradually ceased, we lost sight of her altogether, and so
far as sound or sight was concerned we might have been the only craft in
the entire river.  Our own lads also quieted down; and finally the only
sounds which broke the solemn stillness of the night were the sighing of
the breeze, the gentle rustle of the foliage, and the loud sonorous
_chirr, chirr, chirr_ of the insects.

It was about half-past nine o'clock, and I was just thinking of going
below to turn-in when I became conscious of the sounds of a commotion of
some sort; a muffled cry, which seemed to me like a call for "help;" a
dull thud, as of a falling body, and _a splash_!  The sounds certainly
proceeded from the direction of the brig; and I thought that they must
have emanated from a spot at about her distance from the _Daphne_.  The
slight feeling of drowsiness which had possessed me took flight at once;
all my senses became instantly upon the alert; and I awaited in keen
expectancy to hear if anything further followed.  In vain; the minutes
sped past, and neither sight nor sound occurred to elucidate the
mystery.  I began to feel anxious and alarmed; my old suspicions rose up
again like a strong man aroused from sleep; and I walked aft to Mr
Armitage, who was leaning against a gun with his arms folded, and his
chin sunk upon his breast evidently in deep meditation.  He started up
as he heard my footstep approaching; and on my asking if he had heard
anything peculiar ahead of us, somewhat shortly acknowledged that he had
not.  I thereupon told him what I had heard; but he evidently attached
no importance to my statement, suggesting that _if anything_ it was
doubtless some of the Frenchmen amusing themselves.  I was by no means
satisfied with this, and, my uneasiness increasing every moment, I went
forward to ascertain whether any of the hands on the forecastle had
heard the mysterious sounds.  I found them all listening open-mouthed to
some weird and marvellous yarn which one of the topmen was spinning for
their edification; and from them also I failed to elicit anything
satisfactory.  Finally, it suddenly occurred to me that, in my
wanderings ashore, I had often noticed how low the night-mists lay upon
the surface of the river; and it now struck me that by going aloft I
might get sight of something which would tend to explain the disquieting
occurrence.  To act upon the idea was the work of a moment; I sprang
into the main rigging and made my way aloft as rapidly as if my life
depended upon it, utterly heedless of the fact that the rigging had been
freshly tarred down that day; and in less than a minute had reached the
maintopmast crosstrees.  As I had anticipated I was here almost clear of
the mist; and I eagerly looked ahead to see if all was right in that
quarter.  The first objects which caught my eye were the mastheads of
the brig, broad on our starboard bow instead of directly ahead, as I had
expected to find them.  This of itself struck me as being somewhat
strange; but, what was stranger still, _they seemed to be unaccountably
near to us_.  I rubbed my eyes and looked at them again.  They were just
in a line with the tops of a clump of trees which rose like islands out
of the silvery mist, and as I looked I saw that the spars were moving,
gliding slowly and almost imperceptibly past the trees toward the river.
_The brig was adrift_.  I listened intently for quite five minutes
without hearing the faintest sound from the craft, and during that time
she had neared us almost a cable's length.  In another minute or two she
would be abreast of and within a couple of ships' lengths of us.  What
could it mean?  She could not by any possibility have struck adrift
accidentally.  And if her berth was being intentionally shifted for any
reason, why was the operation carried out under cover of the fog and in
such profound silence?  There had been no sound of lifting the anchor;
nor could I hear anything to indicate that they were running out warps;
it looked very much as though they had slipped their cable, and were
allowing the tide to carry them silently out to sea.  And where was Mr
Austin during this stealthy movement?  Was he aware of it?  Why, if my
suspicions were correct, had they invited the officers of the _Daphne_
on board to dinner?  Was it merely a blind, a temporary resort to the
usual courtesies adopted for the purpose of giving colour to their
assumed character of a French man-o'-war, or was it a diabolical scheme
to get us all into their power and so deprive a formidable antagonist of
its head, so to speak, and thus cripple it?

All these surmises and many others equally wild flashed through my
bewildered brain as I stood there on the crosstrees watching the
stealthy phantom-like movement of the brig's upper spars; and the
conclusion to which I finally came was that Captain Vernon ought to be
informed forthwith of what was going on.  I accordingly descended to the
deck and once more sought out the third lieutenant.

"Mr Armitage," said I, in a low cautious tone of voice, "the brig is
adrift, and driving down past us with the tide in the direction of the
river."

"The brig adrift!" he repeated incredulously.  "Nonsense, Mr Hawkesley,
you must be dreaming!"

"Indeed I am not, sir, I assure you," I replied earnestly.  "I have this
moment come from aloft, and I saw her topgallant-masts most distinctly
over the top of the mist.  She is away over in that direction, and
scarcely a cable's length distant from us."

"Are you _quite sure_?" he asked, aroused at last by my earnest manner
to something like interest.  "I can hear no sound of her."

"No, sir," I replied; "and that, in conjunction with the sounds which I
undoubtedly heard just now makes me think that something must be wrong
on board her.  Do you not think the matter ought to be reported to
Captain Vernon?"

"Most certainly it ought," he agreed.  "Is it possible that the crew
have taken the ship from their officers, think you?"

"I scarcely know _what_ to think," I replied.  "Let us speak to the
captain at once, and hear what he has to say about it."

Thereupon the third lieutenant directed Keene, one of the midshipmen, to
take temporary charge of the deck; and we at once dived below.

"Well, Mr Armitage, what is it?" asked Captain Vernon, as we presented
ourselves in the cabin and discovered him and Mr Smellie chatting
together over their wine and cigars.

"I must apologise for intruding upon you, sir," said Armitage; "but
Hawkesley here has come to me with a very extraordinary story which I
think you had better hear from his own lips."

"Oh!  Well, what is it, Mr --.  Why, Hawkesley, where in the world have
you been, and what doing, man?  You are positively smothered in tar."

"Yes, sir," I replied, glancing at myself and discovering for the first
time by the brilliant light of the cabin lamp the woeful ruin wrought
upon my uniform.  "I really beg your pardon, sir, for presenting myself
in this plight, but the urgent nature of my business must be my excuse."
And I forthwith plunged _in medias res_ and told what I had heard and
seen.

"The noise of a scuffle and the brig adrift!" exclaimed the skipper.
"The crew surely cannot have risen upon their officers and taken the
ship!" the same idea promptly presenting itself to him as had occurred
to the third lieutenant.

"No, sir," said I.  "I do not believe that is it at all; the commotion
was not great enough or prolonged enough for that; _all_ the officers
would not be likely to be taken by surprise, but _one man might be_."

"One man!  What do you mean?  I don't understand you," rapped out the
skipper.

"Well, then, sir, to speak the whole of my mind plainly, I am greatly
afraid that Mr Austin has met with foul play on board that brig, and
that she is not a French man-o'-war at all, as she professes to be," I
exclaimed.

I saw Smellie start; and he was about to speak when:

"Mr Austin!  Foul play!  Not a French man-o'-war!!" gasped the skipper.
"Why, Good Heavens! the boy is _mad_!"

"If I am, sir, I can only say that I have been so for the last four
months," I retorted.  "For it is fully as long as that, or longer, that
I have had my suspicions about that brig and her crew."

"What!" exclaimed Smellie.  "Have _you_, too, suspected the brig?"

"I have, indeed, sir," I replied.

"Take a chair, Hawkesley," interrupted the skipper; "pour yourself out a
glass of wine, and let us have your story in the fewest possible words.
Mr Armitage, do me the favour to ascertain the brig's present
whereabouts and let me know.  Now, Hawkesley, we are ready to listen to
you."

As the skipper ceased, Armitage bowed and withdrew, whilst I very
hastily sketched the rise and progress of my suspicions, from Monsieur
Le Breton's first visit up to that present moment.

Before I had proceeded very far, however, Armitage returned with the
intelligence that the brig was undoubtedly adrift and already some
distance astern of us, and that the topman, who had been aloft to
inspect, had reported that he thought he could detect men on her yards.

"Turn up the hands at once then, sir, if you please, and see everything
ready for slipping our cable and making sail at a moment's notice.  But
let everything be done in absolute silence; and keep a hand aloft to
watch the brig and report anything further he may notice on board her;
it really looks as though we were on the brink of some important
discovery.  Now go ahead with your story, Hawkesley," said the skipper.

I proceeded as rapidly as possible, merely stating what suspicious
circumstances had come under my own notice, and leaving Captain Vernon
to draw his own deductions.  When I had finished, the skipper turned to
Smellie and said:

"Am I to understand, from your remark made a short time ago, that you,
too, have suspected this mysterious brig, Mr Smellie?"

"Yes," answered Smellie, "I certainly had a vague feeling that there was
something queer about her; but my suspicions were not nearly so clear
and strong as Hawkesley's, and subsequent events quite drove the matter
out of my mind."

"Um!" remarked the skipper meditatively; "it is strange, _very_ strange.
_I_ never noticed anything peculiar about the craft."

"The brig is now about half a mile distant, sir, and is making sail,"
reported Armitage at that moment, presenting himself again at the cabin
door.

"Then wait until the hands are out of his rigging; then slip, and we
will be after him.  I intend to see to the bottom of this," returned the
skipper sharply.  "There is undoubtedly something wrong or poor Austin
would have turned up on board before matters had reached this stage.
But, mind, let the work be carried on without an unnecessary sound of
any kind."

As Armitage again withdrew and Smellie rose to his feet, Captain Vernon
turned to me and said:

"I am very greatly obliged to you for the zeal and discretion you have
manifested in this most delicate matter, Hawkesley; whatever comes of it
I shall remember that you have acted throughout to the very best of your
ability, not coming to me precipitately with a vague unconnected story,
but waiting patiently until you had accumulated a sufficiency of
convincing evidence for us to act upon; though, even now we must be very
cautious as to what we do.  And let me also add that Mr Smellie has
spoken to me in the highest terms of your conduct throughout that trying
time when you and he were ashore together; indeed he assures me that to
you, under God, he is indebted for the actual preservation of his life.
I have watched you carefully from the moment of your first coming on
board, and I have been highly gratified with your conduct throughout.
Go on as you have begun, young sir, and you will prove an ornament to
the service.  And now, gentlemen, to business."



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

POOR AUSTIN'S FATE.

I hurried on deck, highly gratified at the very handsome compliment paid
me by the skipper, and found that the hands were aloft, casting loose
the canvas.  Presently, without a word having been spoken above a
whisper, or a shout uttered, they came down again; the topsail halliards
were manned, the yards mast-headed, the jib run up, the cable slipped,
and we were under weigh; the fog all the time being as thick as a hedge,
so thick indeed that it was impossible to see the jib-boom end from the
quarter-deck.  Old Mildmay, the master, was conning the ship; but of
course in such a fog it was all guess-work, and the old fellow was
terribly nervous and anxious, as indeed was also Captain Vernon.  It
struck me that the ship might be better conned from aloft, and I stepped
up to the skipper and with due modesty mentioned my idea.

"A very happy thought," exclaimed the master, who happened to overhear
me.  "I'll just step up as far as the crosstrees myself."

"Very good, Mr Mildmay; do so by all means," said Captain Vernon.  "But
the wind is light, and what little of it there is will carry the sound
of your voice down to the brig if you hail the deck, and so apprise them
of our approach.  We must avoid that if possible; I want to get
alongside the craft and take her by surprise, and we may have some
trouble in accomplishing that if they suspect that we are after them.
The _Daphne_ is a fast ship, but so also is the brig, and I am by no
means certain that she has not the heels of us.  We must devise a little
code of signals from you to the deck, so as to obviate any necessity for
hailing.  Can anyone suggest anything?"

A very simple plan had occurred to me whilst the skipper was speaking,
and as no one else seemed to have a suggestion to make, I offered mine.

"If the pennant halliards were cast adrift down here on deck, sir, and
held by one of us," I said, "Mr Mildmay could get hold of them aloft,
and one tug upon them might mean `port,' two tugs `starboard,' and three
`steady.'"

"Excellent!" exclaimed the skipper, "and perfectly simple; we will adopt
it forthwith, and you shall attend to the deck-end of the halliards, Mr
Hawkesley, with Mr Keene and Mr Peters to pass the word from you along
the deck to the helmsman.  Place us in a good weatherly position, Mr
Mildmay, if you please, so that when we run clear of the fog the brig
may have no chance to dodge us."

"Ay ay, sir, never fear for me," answered Old Mildmay as he swung nimbly
into the main rigging, and in a few seconds his body disappeared in the
mist.

The old fellow soon put us in the right course, and away we went,
crowding sail after the invisible brig.  An anxious half-hour followed,
and then we ran out of the fog and found ourselves creeping along
parallel with the land to the northward of the river-mouth, with the
brig about half a mile ahead of us under every stitch of canvas she
could show to the freshening land-breeze.  We had gained on her
considerably, the master having kept a keen eye upon her gleaming upper
canvas whilst piloting us out of the river and steering in such a
direction as to very nearly cut her off altogether.  He of course came
down on deck as soon as we had cleared the fog, and Captain Vernon at
once ordered the crew to quarters.

The men were not long in getting to their stations, and when all was
ready a gun was fired after the flying brig, as a polite request for her
to heave-to, and the ensign hoisted to the peak.  I was naturally very
anxious to see what notice would be taken of this, since the somewhat
high-handed course we were taking with the craft had been adopted
entirely upon the strength of my representations; and if the brig
should, after all, turn out to be the _Vestale_ French gun-brig as she
had pretended to be, our skipper might perhaps involve himself in a
considerable amount of trouble.  It was therefore with a sigh of real
and genuine relief that I heard a shot come whistling close past us from
the brig in reply to our own.

Captain Vernon, too, was evidently much relieved, for he ejaculated in
tones of great satisfaction:

"Good! she has fired a shotted gun at us and refuses to show her
colours.  _Now_ my course is perfectly clear.  Try the effect of another
gun on her, Mr Armitage, and aim at her spars; she is skimming along
there like a witch, and if we are not careful will give us the slip
yet."

Armitage, who was in charge of the battery forward, upon this began
peppering away at her in earnest; but though the shot made daylight
through her canvas every time, no damage was done either to her spars or
rigging, and it began to be only too evident that she was gradually
creeping away from us.  To make matters worse, too, her crew were just
as smart with their guns as we were with ours, in fact a trifle more so,
for before a quarter of an hour had passed several of our ropes,
fortunately unimportant ones, had been cut; and at length a thud and a
crack aloft turned all eyes in that direction, to see the fore royal-
mast topple over to leeward.

Captain Vernon stamped upon the deck in the height of his vexation.

"Away aloft, there, and clear the wreck," he exclaimed, "and, for
Heaven's sake, Mr Armitage, see if you cannot cripple the fellow.  Ten
minutes more and he will be out of range; then `good-bye' to him.  I
wish to goodness our people at home would condescend to take a lesson in
shipbuilding from the men who turn out these slavers; we should then
have a chance of making a capture occasionally."

Whilst the skipper had been thus giving vent to his rapidly-increasing
chagrin, Smellie had walked forward; and presently I caught sight of him
stooping down and squinting along the sights of the gun which had just
been re-loaded and run out.  A few seconds of anxious suspense followed,
and then came a flash and a sharp report, followed the next moment by a
ringing cheer from the men on the forecastle.  The brig's fore-yard had
been shot away in the slings.

The craft at once shot up into the wind and lay apparently at our mercy.

"Ram us alongside him, Mildmay," exclaimed the skipper in an ecstasy of
delight.  "Stand by with the grappling-irons fore and aft.  Mr Smellie,
stand by to lead a party on board him forward; I will attend to matters
aft here."

It really looked for a moment as though we actually had the brig; but a
chill of disappointment thrilled through me when I saw how splendidly
she was handled.  The man who commanded her was evidently equal to any
emergency, for no sooner did the craft begin to luff into the wind than
he let fly his after braces, shivered his main topsail, and hauled his
head sheets over to windward, and--after a pause which must have sent
the hearts of all on board into their mouths--the brig began to pay off
again, until, by a deft and dainty manipulation of her canvas, she was
actually got dead before the wind, when the main yard was squared and
away she went once more but little the worse for her serious mishap.

If her skipper, however, was a thorough seaman, so too was old Mildmay.
That experienced veteran soon saw how matters were tending, and though
he was unable to "ram" us alongside in accordance with Captain Vernon's
energetically expressed desire, he placed the _Daphne_ square in the
wake and to windward of the brig, and within half a cable's length of
her, thus, to some extent, taking the wind out of her sails, the effect
of which was that we immediately began to gain upon her.

The crew of the brig now worked at their stern-chasers with redoubled
energy, and our running-gear soon began to suffer.  But though we might
to some extent have avoided this by sheering away on to one or other of
the brig's quarters, the position we then held was so commanding that
the skipper resolved to maintain it.  "We must grin and bear it," said
he, "it will not be for long; another five minutes will place us
alongside.  Edge down a trifle toward his port quarter, Mildmay, as
though we intended to board him on that side, then, at the last moment,
sheer sharply across his stern and range up on his starboard side, it
_may_ possibly save us a broadside as we board.  Mr Smellie, kindly
load both batteries with round and grape, if you please; we will deliver
our broadside and board in the smoke."

Within the specified five minutes we ranged up alongside the brig,
delivered our broadside, receiving hers in return, her hands proving too
smart to let us escape that; our grappling-irons were securely hooked
into her rigging, and away we went on board her fore and aft, being
perhaps a second ahead of the brig's crew, who actually had the
hardihood to attempt to board _us_.  We were stoutly met by as motley,
and, at the same time, as ruffianly a set of men as it has ever been my
lot to encounter; and a most desperate struggle forthwith ensued.
Captain Vernon of course took care to be first on board; but I stuck
close to his coat-tails, and almost the first individual we encountered
was no less a personage than our old acquaintance Monsieur Le Breton
himself.  He pressed fiercely forward and at once crossed swords with
the skipper, who exchanged two or three passes with him; but the two
were soon separated by the surging crowd of combatants, and then I found
myself face to face with him.  I was by no means a skilled swordsman,
and to tell the truth felt somewhat nervous for a moment as his blade
jarred and rasped upon mine.  By great good fortune, however, I
succeeded in parrying his first thrust, and the next instant--how it
happened I could not possibly say--he reeled backwards with my sword-
blade right through his body.  Leaving him dying, as I thought, on deck,
I immediately pressed forward after the skipper, and for a few minutes
was kept pretty busy, first with one antagonist and then another.
Finally, after a fiercely maintained struggle of some twelve minutes or
so, the brig's crew began to give way before our own lads, until,
finding themselves hemmed in on all sides, they flung down their arms
and begged for quarter, which was of course given them.  Upon this,
seeing that the skipper and Smellie were both safe, I turned to go
below, thinking that I should perhaps discover poor Austin in durance
vile in one of the state-rooms.  I descended the cabin staircase, and
was about to pass into the saloon when I happened to catch sight, out of
the corner of my eye, of some dark object moving in an obscure corner
under the staircase.  Turning to take a more direct look at it I to my
great surprise discovered it to be Monsieur Le Breton, who, instead of
being dead as I had quite imagined he must be, was alive, and,
seemingly, not very much the worse for his wound.  He carried a pistol
in his hand, and was in the very act of lowering himself down through a
trap in the flooring when I grasped him by the collar and invited him to
explain his intentions.  He quietly allowed me to drag him out of the
opening, rose to his feet, and then suddenly closed with me, aiming
fierce blows at my uncovered head--I had lost my hat somehow in the
struggle on deck--with the heavy brass-mounted butt of his pistol.  In
such an encounter as this I did not feel very much afraid of him, being
tall for my age, and having developed a fair share of muscular strength
since leaving England; but it was as much as I could do to hold him and
at the same time prevent his inflicting some serious injury upon me.
His wound, however, told upon him at last, and I eventually succeeded in
dragging him back to the deck, though not until after he had
ineffectually emptied his pistol at me.

On regaining the deck I found our lads busy securing the prisoners, and
Monsieur Le Breton was soon made as safe as the rest of them.

He was loudly protesting against the indignity of being bound, when
Captain Vernon approached.

"Oh! here you are, Hawkesley!" he exclaimed.  "I was looking for you,
and began to fear that you had met with a mishap.  Do me the favour to
step below and see if you can discover anything of Mr Austin."

"I have already once been below with that object, sir," I replied; "but,
discovering this man--Le Breton as he calls himself--acting in a very
suspicious manner, I deemed it my duty to see him safe on deck before
proceeding further in my quest."

"What was he doing?" asked the skipper sharply.

"I vill tell you, sare, vat I was doing," interrupted Le Breton
recklessly.  "I vas on my vay to ze _soute aux poudres_ to blow you and
all ze people to ze devil to keep company wiz your inqueezatif first
leftenant.  And I would have done eet, too, but for zat pestilent
midshipman, who have ze gripe of ze devil himself.  _Peste_! you
Eengleesh, you are like ze bouledogue, ven you take hold you not nevare
let go again."

"There, Hawkesley, what do you think of that for a compliment?" laughed
the skipper.  "So, monsieur," he resumed, "you were about to blow us up,
eh?  Very kind of you, I'm sure.  Perhaps you will increase our
obligation to you by informing me what you have done with Mr Austin?"

"Done wiz him!" reiterated Le Breton with a diabolical sneer.  "Why, I
have sent him to ze bottom of ze creek, where I would have sent you all
if you had not been too cautious to accept my polite invitation."

"Do I understand you to mean that you have _murdered_ him?" thundered
the skipper.

"Yes," was the reckless answer; "drowned him or murdered him, call it
what you will."

"You treacherous scoundrel!" ejaculated the skipper hoarsely; "you shall
be made to bitterly account for this unprovoked outrage; clap him in
irons," turning to the master-at-arms, who happened to be close at hand.
"Poor Austin!" he continued.  "Your suspicions, Hawkesley, have proved
only too correct; the craft is, unquestionably, a slaver--or worse.  We
must have her thoroughly overhauled; possibly some documents of great
value to us may be found stowed away somewhere or other.  I'll see to it
at once."  And he forthwith dived below.

The prisoners having been secured, the dead and wounded were next
attended to, the former being lashed up in their hammocks ready for
burial, whilst the latter were carefully conveyed below to receive such
attention as the surgeon and his assistant could bestow.  The brig's
loss was very severe, sixteen of her men having been killed and twenty-
two wounded--principally by our final broadside--out of a total of sixty
hands.  Our own loss was light, considering the determination with which
the enemy had fought, amounting to only eleven wounded.  As soon as a
sufficiency of hands could be spared for the purpose, the brig's square
canvas was furled, a prize crew was told off to take charge of her, and
the two craft then made sail in company--the brig under her fore-and-aft
canvas only--for the anchorage under Padron Point, where we brought up
about a couple of hours later.  Captain Vernon then returned to the
_Daphne_ in the brig's gig, bringing with him a bundle of papers, and
leaving Smellie in charge of the prize; an anchor-watch was set, and all
hands then turned in, pretty well tired but highly elated at the result
of our evening's work.

At daybreak next morning both vessels weighed and returned to their
former berths in Banana Creek, the _Daphne_ picking up the cable which
she had slipped on the previous night.  The dead were then buried on the
little island which lies on the east side of the creek; after which the
carpenter and boatswain with their mates were set to work upon the
necessary repairs to the brig.  This craft now proved to be English
built, having been turned out of a Shoreham shipyard, and originally
registered under the name of the _Virginia_; but how she had come to get
into the hands of the individuals from whom we took her there was
nothing to show.  She was completely fitted for carrying on the business
of a slaver; but from the nature of the goods discovered in her after
hold--which was quite separate from her main hold--there could be no
doubt that she had also done a little piracy whenever a convenient
opportunity had presented itself.

I was sent away directly after breakfast that morning in charge of a
couple of boats with orders to drag the creek for poor Mr Austin's
body, and in little more than an hour we fortunately found it quite
uninjured.  The poor fellow had evidently been taken completely by
surprise, a gag being in his mouth, and his hands manacled behind him,
with a stout canvas bag containing two 18-pound shot lashed to his feet.
We took the body on board the _Daphne_, and it was at once conveyed
below to his own cabin, pending the construction of a coffin, the ensign
being at the same time hoisted half up to the peak.

This melancholy duty performed I was again sent away to drag for the
anchor and cable slipped by the _Virginia_ on the previous evening, and
these also I found, weighed, and conveyed on board the prize, where,
under Smellie's able supervision, the work of repairing and refitting
was going on apace.

About noon that same day a strange brig entered the river with the
French flag flying at her peak, and brought up in the creek about a
cable's length astern of us.  We were at once struck with the marked
resemblance which the stranger bore to the _Virginia_--though it was by
no means so striking as the similarity between our prize and the _Black
Venus_--and we forthwith came to the conclusion that we now at last
beheld the veritable _Vestale_--the real Simon Pure--before us.  And so,
upon Armitage boarding her, she proved to be; her captain, upon hearing
of the extraordinary personation of his craft so successfully played off
upon us by the _Virginia_, actually producing his commission to prove
his _bona fides_.  During the course of this somewhat eventful day,
also, one of our lads learned from one of the prisoners that on the
occasion of our second encounter with the _Virginia_--when she so
cleverly pretended to be in pursuit of the _Black Venus_--she was
actually making the best of her way to Havana with the three hundred
slaves on board which she had accused her sister-ship of carrying off,
and that her elaborate signalling on that occasion was merely resorted
to for the purpose of hoodwinking us.

At four o'clock that afternoon, Mr Austin's body having been deposited
in the coffin which had been prepared for it, the hands were mustered on
deck in their clean clothes, the boats were hoisted out, and the body
was deposited in the launch, with the union-jack spread over the coffin
as a pall, and the ensign hoisted half-mast high on the staff in the
boat's stern.  Just as the procession was on the point of shoving off
from the ship's side, the officers of the _Vestale_, who had
incidentally learned the particulars of Austin's murder, approached in
their two gigs, with the French flag floating at half-mast from the
ensign-staves in the sterns of their boats, and took up a position in
the rear.  We then shoved off; the first and second cutters taking the
launch in tow, and proceeding up the creek in charge of old Mildmay, the
master, the captain and officers following in the two gigs.  As soon as
we were clear of the ship's side the _Daphne_ began firing minute-guns,
to which the _Vestale_, hoisting her ensign half up to the peak,
replied; and so we moved slowly up the creek, the minute-guns continuing
as long as the boats remained within sight of the ship.  We proceeded
for a distance of about two miles, which brought us to a lovely spot
selected by the skipper, who had himself sought it out during the
morning, and there we landed.  The body was then passed out of the
launch and shouldered by six petty officers; Smellie and I supporting
the pall on one side, whilst Armitage and old Mildmay performed a like
duty on the other; the skipper leading the way to the grave and reading
the burial service as he went, whilst the remaining officers and men,
followed by the contingent from the _Vestale_, formed in the rear of the
coffin.  Arrived at the grave, the coffin was placed on the ground, the
ropes for lowering it to the bottom were adjusted, and finally it was
gently and reverently deposited in its last resting-place, the skipper
meanwhile reading impressively those solemn sentences beginning with
"Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live," etcetera.
A slight pause was made at the conclusion of these passages, and
Smellie, deeply affected, stepped forward and threw the first earth upon
the body of his dear friend and brother officer, after which the service
again proceeded and soon came to an end.  The firing party of marines
next formed on each side of the grave and rendered the last honours to
the dead; the grave was filled in, a wooden cross being temporarily
planted at its head, and we turned sorrowfully away, entered the boats,
and with the ensigns now hoisted to the staff-heads, returned to the
ship realising _fully_, perhaps for the first time, the fact that we had
lost for ever a genial, brave, devoted, and sympathetic friend.  "In the
midst of life we are in death."  Never did I so thoroughly realise the
absolute literal truth of this as whilst sitting in the gig, silently
struggling with my feelings, on our return from poor Austin's funeral.
We had just laid him in his lonely grave on a foreign shore, far away
from all that he held dearest and best on earth, in a spot consecrated
only by the solemn service which had just been performed over it, a spot
which could never be watered by a mother's or a sister's tears, where
his last resting-place would be at the mercy of the stranger and the
savage, and where in the course of a very few years it would only too
probably be obliterated beyond all possibility of recognition.  Yet
twenty-four short hours ago he was alive and well, rejoicing in the
strength of his lusty manhood, and with, apparently, the promise of many
years of life before him, never suspecting, as he went down over the
ship's side, with a cheery smile and a reassuring nod to me, that he was
going thus gaily to meet treachery and death.  Poor Austin!  I struggled
successfully with my feelings whilst the eyes of others were upon me,
but I am not ashamed to admit that I wept long and bitterly that night
when I reflected in privacy upon his untimely and cruel fate.  Nor am I
ashamed to acknowledge that I then also prayed, more earnestly perhaps
than I had ever prayed before, that I might be taught so to number my
days that I might incline mine heart unto that truest of all wisdom, the
wisdom which teaches us how to live in such a way that death may never
find us unprepared.

On passing the _Virginia_ it was seen that her new fore-yard was slung
and rigged, the sail bent, and the other repairs completed, so that she
was once more ready for sea.  Smellie shortly afterwards shifted his
traps over into her, returning to the _Daphne_ to dine with Captain
Vernon and to receive his final instructions.

These given, Mr Armitage and I were summoned to the cabin; and upon our
arrival there, the skipper, after speaking regretfully upon the loss
which the ship and all hands, himself especially, as he said, had
sustained through the first lieutenant's death, informed us that Mr
Smellie having received charge of the prize to deliver over to the
admiral of the station with an earnest recommendation that she should be
turned over to the navy and given to Smellie with the rank of commander,
it now became necessary to appoint an acting first lieutenant to the
_Daphne_.  A few words of commendation to Armitage then followed, and he
was presented with an acting order.

The skipper then turned to me.

"It next becomes necessary to appoint an acting second lieutenant," said
he, "and after giving the subject my most serious attention, I have
determined, Hawkesley, to appoint _you_.  Nay, no thanks, young
gentleman; you will discover before many hours have passed over your
head that you have very little to be thankful for.  You will exchange
your present easy and irresponsible position for one of very grave and
unceasing responsibility; the safety of the ship and of all hands will
daily, during your watch, be confided to your care, and many other
onerous duties will devolve upon you, every one of which will demand
your most unceasing attention and your utmost skill in their proper
discharge.  Henceforward you will have time to think of nothing but
_duty_, duty must wholly engage your thoughts by day, ay, and your very
dreams by night; it is no post of mere empty honour which I am about to
confer upon you.  But, as I once before remarked to you, I have had my
eye upon you ever since you came on board the ship, and, young as you
are, and short as has been your term of probation, I have sufficient
confidence in you to believe that you will do credit to my judgment.  I
presume, of course, that it is unnecessary to point out to you that this
appointment can be only _temporary_; the _Virginia_ will doubtless bring
back with her from Sierra Leone officers of the admiral's appointment to
fill the posts of second and third lieutenant; but if, as I have no
doubt, you discharge your temporary duties with anything like the
ability I anticipate, your promotion, upon the completion of your time,
will be sure and rapid."

So saying, the skipper extended his hand to me and gave mine a hearty
shake, Smellie and Armitage following his example and offering me their
congratulations.

It being, by this time, rather late, Smellie shortly afterwards rose,
and bidding adieu at the gangway to his old shipmates, repaired on board
his new command, which was under orders to sail next morning at
daybreak.

As for me, I went off to the midshipmen's berth, which, through Keene,
Woods, and Williams, the master's mate, being drafted on board the
_Virginia_, was now almost empty, and shifted my few traps forthwith
into the cabin recently vacated by Smellie, scarcely knowing meanwhile
whether I was standing upon my head or my heels.



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

THE CUTTERS BESET.

On the following morning Captain Dubosc and Lieutenant Le Breton (we now
discovered that the _Virginia's_ people had assumed the names of the
officers of the _Vestale_ in addition to appropriating the name of the
ship) came on board the _Daphne_ to breakfast; Armitage and old Mildmay
being invited to meet them.

The meal appeared to be a protracted one, for it was served punctually
at eight o'clock and the participants did not appear on deck until half-
past ten.  The secret, however, soon came out, for when they did at
length put in an appearance it became perfectly evident, from sundry
disjointed remarks which passed between them, that something of
importance was on the _tapis_.  The Frenchmen's gig was awaiting them,
and they soon passed down over the side, Captain Dubosc's last words
being:

"Well, then, _mon ami_, it is all settled, and our contingent shall be
ready for a start punctually at two o'clock _Au revoir_."

I was not left long in ignorance of the precise nature of the
arrangement which had just been concluded, for as soon as the French gig
was fairly away from our vessel's side, Captain Vernon beckoned me to
him and said:

"Just step down below with me, Hawkesley; I want to have a talk with
you."

I followed him down into his cabin, whereupon he directed me to be
seated, drew a chair up to the table for himself, and laying his hand
upon a bundle of papers, said:

"These are some of the papers which I discovered the night before last
on board the _Virginia_; and as I anticipated would be the case, they
contain several items of exceedingly important information.  One of
these items has reference to the existence, on an island some forty
miles up the river, of an immense slave depot, as also of a slave hulk,
in both of which, if the information here given happens to be reliable,
a large number of slaves are at this moment awaiting embarkation.  The
papers seem also to imply that there is a very snug anchorage close to
this island, with a navigable channel leading right up to it.

"Now I am exceedingly anxious, for many reasons, to test the truth of
this information, and I have therefore arranged with Captain Dubosc to
send a joint expedition up the river to survey the alleged channel, to
destroy the depot and the hulk, if such are found to exist, and to free
any slaves which may happen to be therein.

"From certain remarks to be found here and there in these documents, I
infer that the depot and hulk are in charge of white men, but it is,
unfortunately, nowhere stated how many these white men number.  They
cannot, however, muster very strongly there; they probably do not number
above a dozen altogether; the expedition, therefore, will only be a
small one, consisting only of our own cutter and that of the _Vestale_.
I have determined to give the command of our people to Mr Mildmay, he
being the most experienced officer at surveying now remaining to us,
with you to lend a hand.  The French boat will be under the command of
Monsieur Saint Croix, the second lieutenant of the _Vestale_; and both
boats, though of course under independent commands, will act in concert.
This paper," placing one before me, "is, as you will perceive, a
sketch-chart of the river, and the two crosses in red ink indicate the
positions of the depot and the hulk.  It differs somewhat, you will
notice, from the admiralty chart," to which he pointed as he spoke, "and
it will really be a great point to ascertain which, if either, of the
two is correct.  To an individual unacquainted with the river, the
channel there on the larboard hand going up would naturally suggest
itself as the preferable one, being so much wider than the other, but
the soundings marked on this sketch go to show that the water is much
deeper in the _south_ channel.  This is one of the points I want cleared
up.  And another is the bearings and compass courses along the deepest
water in each reach of the channel.  I have already explained all this
to Mildmay of course; but I thought I would also explain it to you,
because, knowing exactly what I want, you will be able to render more
intelligent assistance than would be possible were you working in the
dark.  There is only one thing more.  You are a tolerably good hand with
your pencil, I know; do you think you could make an exact copy of this
sketch-chart to take with you, so as to leave the original behind with
me?"

I assured the skipper that I both could and would, whereupon he
furnished me with the necessary materials and left me in solitude to
perform my task, going on deck himself to superintend the preparations
for our trip.

The sketch-chart found among the papers on board the _Virginia_ was only
a small affair, drawn upon a sheet of foolscap paper; but it was so
carefully executed that I felt sure it must be the work of an
experienced hand, and consequently, in all probability, perfectly
accurate.  My copy, therefore, to be of any value at all, would have to
be, not a free-hand happy-go-lucky sketch, but an absolute _facsimile_.
There was a great deal of work in it, and not much time wherein to do
it; so, after a little thought, I hit upon the plan of fastening the
outspread original with wafers to the glass of one of the stern windows,
and watering a thin sheet of paper over it.  The strong daylight
reflected up from the surface of the water through the glass rendered
the two sheets of paper sufficiently transparent to enable me to see
every line and mark of the original with tolerable clearness through the
sheet upon which I proposed to make my copy; and with the aid of a fine-
pointed pencil I soon had it complete, going over it afterwards with pen
and ink to make it indelible.

Mildmay and I lunched with the skipper that day, and during the course
of the meal we received our final instructions, which were, however,
little more than a recapitulation of those given me in the morning.

The meal over, the cutter's crew were paraded, fully armed, in the waist
of the ship; their ammunition was served out to them, and they were
ordered down into the boat, which lay alongside with a 12-pounder
carronade in her bows, together with the necessary powder and shot for
the same, spare ammunition for the men's muskets, four days' provisions
and water, and, in fact, every necessary for the successful carrying out
of the undertaking upon which we were bound.  The skipper then shook
hands with Mildmay and me, wishing us prosperity and success; we went
down over the side into the boat, and the little expedition started.
Three minutes later we were joined by Monsieur Saint Croix in the
_Vestale's_ cutter, when the canvas was set in both boats, the wind,
though dead in our teeth for the passage up the river, being free enough
to carry us as far as Boolambemba Point.

For the remainder of that day and up to about 4 p.m. on the day
following, the expedition progressed without incident of any kind worth
mentioning.  Our progress was steady but slow, Mildmay's whole energies
being devoted to the making of a thoroughly satisfactory and trustworthy
survey of the river channel up which we were passing; and in the
accomplishment of this duty I was pleased to find that the studies I had
been diligently pursuing under Mr Smellie's auspices enabled me to
render him substantial assistance.  Saint Croix, who kept about a
quarter of a mile in our wake, was making a perfectly independent
survey, which he compared with ours at the conclusion of each day's
work.  The first incident of note, though we attached no importance
whatever to it at the moment, occurred about four o'clock in the
afternoon on the day following our departure from Banana Creek, and it
consisted merely in the fact that a large native canoe passed us upward
bound, without its occupants bestowing upon us any notice whatever.  We
had previously encountered several canoes--small craft carrying from two
to half-a-dozen natives--and the occupants of these, who seemed to be
engaged for the most part in fishing, had invariably greeted us with
vociferous ejaculations, which, from the hearty laughter immediately
following them, were doubtless choice examples of Congoese wit.  But the
particular canoe now in question swept past us without a sound.  She was
a large, well-shaped craft, propelled by twenty-four paddles, and she
dashed ahead of us as if we had been at anchor, her occupants--and
especially four individuals who sat in the stern-sheets, or at all
events where the stern-sheets ought to be, and who, from their display
of feathers, bead necklaces, and leopard-skin robes, must have been very
bigwigs indeed--looking straight ahead of them and vouchsafing not the
faintest indication that they were conscious of our presence.  This
absurd assumption of dignity greatly tickled us at the moment, we
attributing it entirely to the existence in the native mind of a
profound conviction of their own immeasurable superiority; but
subsequent events tended to give another and a more sinister aspect to
the incident.  We pressed diligently on with our work until six o'clock,
at which time we found ourselves abreast a small native village.  Here
Mildmay proposed to effect a landing, both for the purpose of procuring
some fruit and also to satisfy his very natural curiosity to see what a
native village was like.  But on pulling in toward the bank the natives
assembled, making such unmistakable warlike demonstrations that we
deemed it advisable to abandon our purpose.  We could, of course, have
easily dispersed the hostile blacks had we been so disposed; and Saint
Croix, who was a particularly high-spirited, fiery-tempered young
fellow, strongly advocated our doing so.  But Captain Vernon's orders to
us to avoid all collision with the natives had been most stringent, and
old Mildmay was far too experienced and seasoned a hand to engage in an
affray for the mere "fun" of the thing.  He therefore sturdily refused
to aid or abet Saint Croix in any such unrighteous undertaking; and we
passed the night instead upon a small islet whereon there was nothing
more formidable than a few water-fowl and a flock of green parrots to
dispute our landing.

We had not been at work above an hour or so on the following morning
before we had reason to suspect that some at least of the unusual number
of canoes around us were suspiciously watching our movements, if not
actually following us up the river.  This, however, for the time being
caused us little or no uneasiness, as we felt assured that, should their
attentions become inconveniently obtrusive, a bullet or two, or failing
that, a round-shot from our carronade, fired over their heads, would
promptly send them to the right-about.  Later on in the day, however, I
must confess that I for one began to experience a slight qualm of
anxiety as I noticed the steadily increasing number of canoes, _some_ of
them carrying as many as ten or a dozen men, in our vicinity.  They were
all ostensibly engaged in fishing, it is true; but that this was only a
pretence, or that they were meeting with unusually bad luck, was evident
from the small number of fish captured.  Still, up to noon, though the
behaviour of the natives had been steadily growing more suspicious and
unsatisfactory, no actual hostile demonstration had been made; and we
landed upon a small bare, sandy islet to cook and despatch our dinner.

During all this time we had, of course, been carefully checking the
chart of the river copied by me from the one found on board the
_Virginia_, and comparing it with our own survey; the general result
being to prove that it was very fairly accurate, quite sufficiently so
at least to serve as a safe guide to any vessel of light draught, say up
to ten feet or so, making for the island on which was the alleged slave
depot.  This chart told us that we had now arrived within a distance of
some six miles of the island in question, a statement verified to some
extent by the fact that on an island situate at about that distance from
us we could make out, with the aid of our glasses, an object which might
very well pass for a large building of some kind.  The river channel
between us and this island was entirely free of visible obstructions,
and we therefore hoped that, by a little extra exertion, we might
succeed in completing our survey right up to the island, and gaining
possession of it and the hulk--thus achieving the full object of the
expedition--before nightfall.

By the time that we were ready to make a start once more, however, the
canoes had mustered in such numbers that even old Mildmay, who had
hitherto poo-poohed my suggestions as to the possibility of a
contemplated attack, began to look serious, and at last actually went
the length of acknowledging that perhaps there might be mischief brewing
after all.  Saint Croix, however, treated the matter lightly, roundly
asserting that the extraordinary gathering was due to nothing more
serious than the native curiosity to behold the unwonted sight of a
white man, and to watch our mysterious operations.  There was
undoubtedly a certain degree of probability about this suggestion, and
most unfortunately we gave to it a larger share of credence than the
event justified, shoving off from our sand-bank and resuming our
surveying operations without first adopting those precautionary measures
which prudence obviously dictated.

At two o'clock p.m., by which time we had passed over about three of the
six miles which lay between the sand-bank and our supposed goal, the
French boat being at the time about half a mile astern of us, a loud
shouting arose from one of the largest canoes in the flotilla, her
paddles were suddenly elevated in the air, and the whole fleet with one
accord rapidly closed in between us and the Frenchmen, completely
cutting us off the one from the other.

"Hillo!" exclaimed Mildmay, "what's the meaning of this?  Just clap a
round-shot into the carronade there, you Tom, and pitch it well over the
heads of those black rascals.  Pull port, back starboard, and slue the
boat round with her nose toward them.  That's your sort!  Now, Tom, are
you ready there, for'ard?  Then well elevate the muzzle and stand by to
fire when I give the word.  Hold water, starboard oars, and port oars
pull a stroke; we're pointing straight for the Frenchmen just now.  Well
of all; now we're clear, and no chance of hitting our friends.  Fire!"

The carronade rang out its report from the bows of the boat, and the
shot went screaming away far over the heads of those in the canoes, the
Frenchmen firing in like manner at almost the same moment.  A yell of
dismay immediately arose from the canoes, and half a dozen of those
nearest us dashed their paddles into the water and began paddling
precipitately away.  Their panic, however, was only momentary; they
appeared to have seen and heard artillery before, and as soon as they
saw that no damage had been done they arrested their flight, and a
contingent of canoes, numbering quite a hundred, began cautiously to
advance toward us, spreading out on our right and left in a manner which
showed that they meditated an attempt to surround us.

"Give 'em another pill, Tom, and slap it right into the thick of 'em
this time; we mustn't let 'em surround us at no price," exclaimed old
Mildmay.  "Turn round on your thwarts, lads, and pull the boat gently up
stream, starn first, so's to keep our bull-dog forward there facing 'em.
Now, as soon as you're ready there with the gun let 'em have it."  Once
again the carronade spoke out, and this time its voice conveyed a death-
message to some of the belligerent blacks, the shot striking one of the
canoes fair in the stem, knocking her into match-wood, and killing or
maiming several of her occupants.  We naturally expected that this
severe lesson would have the effect of sending our troublesome
neighbours to the right-about _en masse_, but to our surprise and
discomfiture this was by no means the case; on the contrary, it appeared
to have thoroughly aroused their most savage instincts, and with a loud
shout they dashed their paddles into the water and advanced menacingly
toward us.

"Load your muskets, lads!" exclaimed Mildmay, as, with eyes gleaming and
nostrils dilated, the old war-horse snuffed the approaching battle;
"load your muskets, and then take to your oars again and back her
steadily up stream.  Sharp's the word and quick's the action; if those
rascals `outflank' us--as the sodgers call it--we may say `good-bye' to
old England.  Mr Hawkesley, d'ye think you can pitch a bullet into that
long chap that's creeping up there on our larboard beam?  I'm about to
try my hand and see if I can't stop the gallop of this fellow who's in
such a tremendous hurry away here to the nor'ard of us.  Take good aim,
now; we haven't a single bullet that we can afford to throw away.  Ah!
that's _well_ done," as I bowled over the individual who was handling
the steering paddle in the canoe indicated to me.  "Now let's see what
an old man can do."  He raised his piece to his shoulder, took a long
steady aim, and fired.  A white spot instantly appeared on the side of
the canoe; and one of its occupants sprang convulsively to his feet and
fell headlong into the river, nearly capsizing the frail craft as he did
so.

This certainly checked the impetuosity of the two particular canoes, the
occupants of which had suffered from our fire; but the others only
pressed forward with increased eagerness.

"Hang it!" exclaimed the master pettishly, "I don't _want_ to do it, but
I shall have to give 'em a dose of grape yet.  Why won't the stupid
donkeys take a hint?  And why, in the name of fortune, should they want
to interfere with us at all?  Try 'em with grape this time, Tom; let's
see what they think of `the fruit of the vine.'"

Meanwhile the French boat had also become actively engaged, the report
of her carronade ringing out much more frequently than our own, whilst
rattling volleys of musketry breezed up from her at brief intervals; but
from the steadily decreasing sharpness of the reports it soon became
evident, somewhat, I must confess, to our dismay, that she was
_retiring_.  It might, of course, be merely a strategic movement on
Saint Croix's part; but if, on the other hand, he happened to be
situated like ourselves, with all his work cut out to defend himself,
and a way open to him _down_ stream only, as we had a clear road before
us _up_ stream only, then indeed matters were beginning to look
extremely serious for us.  So far as he was concerned, if he could only
avoid being surrounded he was comparatively safe; the way would be open
for his retreat, and a fine breeze happening to be blowing down the
river, he could, with the aid of his sails easily outpace the canoes.
But with us the matter was very different; our retreat was cut off, and
unless we could beat off the canoes the only course open to us seemed to
be that of taking to dry land, intrenching ourselves as best we might,
and patiently waiting until assistance should arrive.  Meanwhile, in
accordance with Mildmay's instructions, our carronade had been loaded
with grape, and Tom, taking steady aim, applied the match to his piece.
A flash, a roar, a volume of smoke, and away went the grape lashing up
the surface of the water fair in line with a thick cluster of canoes,
through which the iron shower next moment tore with disastrous effect.
One canoe was literally rent to pieces, every one of its occupants, so
far as we could see, being killed; two other canoes, one on each side of
the first, were so seriously damaged that they immediately swamped,
leaving their occupants squattering in the water like so many lame
ducks; and three or four others were hit, with serious casualties to
their crews.  This effectually checked the advance of the blacks for a
few minutes, during which we made good use of our oars in urging the
boat, still stern foremost, in the direction of the island to which we
were bound, and upon which we were now able to distinctly make out the
shape of a huge wooden barrack-like structure.

As we pressed on toward the island we became cognisant of the fact that
its occupants were in a great state of confusion, and a few minutes
later we saw a long procession of blacks, who, from their constrained
movements, were apparently manacled, emerge from the barrack and move
off toward the opposite side of the island.  We were enabled, with the
aid of our glasses, to detect on the island the presence of some ten or
a dozen white men, and these individuals, carrying each a musket in one
hand and a whip in the other, seemed to be very freely using the latter
to expedite the movements of the unhappy blacks.

We were, however, allowed but scanty time in which to take note of these
matters, for the native canoes soon began to press forward upon us once
more, evidently with the fixed determination to surround us if possible,
and thus prevent our approach to the island.  We knew that if this
object were once accomplished our doom was certain, for in such a case,
fight as desperately as we might, we must soon be overpowered by sheer
force of numbers, and it consequently soon became, so far as we were
concerned, an absolute race for life.

On swept the boat, our men pulling her through the water, though still
stern foremost, at a pace such as she had rarely travelled before, and
on crowded the canoes after us, spread out athwart the stream in the
form of a crescent.  Luckily for us, the channel at this point was not
very wide, and by keeping in the middle of it we were able to throw a
musket-shot clear across to either side, otherwise we should soon have
found ourselves in a parlous case.  The greater number of the canoes
obstinately maintained a position in mid-stream ahead of us, thus
presenting an insuperable barrier to our retreat down stream, whilst
those on the outer wings to port and starboard of us hugged the bank of
the stream, two or three of the larger craft making a big spurt ahead of
the others now and then in an endeavour to outflank us, which endeavour,
however, a well-directed volley of musketry always sufficed to check for
the time being.

At length we reached a point where the stream widened out considerably,
enabling the canoes on each side to spread out sufficiently far to be
beyond musket-shot, and we saw that upon the question whether we or the
canoes passed this point first, hinged our fate.  The natives, though
evidently entertaining a wholesome dread of our carronade, were by no
means so dismayed by the execution it wrought among them as we had hoped
they would be, and indeed exhibited a decidedly growing disposition to
close upon us in spite of our fire; in fact, our position was at every
moment growing more critical.

Very fortunately for us we happened to have a few rounds of canister in
the boat, and Mildmay now resolved to try the effect of these upon the
pertinacious natives.  A charge of grape with one of canister on the top
of it, was accordingly rammed home and sent flying into the thickest of
the crowd of canoes immediately ahead of us, immediately succeeded by a
like dose to the right and left wings of the flotilla.  The canoes were
just at about the right distance to give these murderous discharges
their utmost possible effect, and the carnage among the thickly-crowded
craft was simply indescribable.  The effect was not only to check their
advance effectually, but to actually put them to flight, and whilst a
similar charge was again rammed home by those in charge of the gun the
rest of the men slewed the boat round on her centre, and with a loud
cheer gave way at top speed for the island.

We were within a hundred yards of the low shingly beach when, to our
astonishment, the roar of artillery from the island greeted our ears,
and at the same instant half a dozen round-shot came flying about our
ears.  Fortunately no damage was done beyond the smashing of a couple of
oars and the incontinent precipitation backwards into the bottom of the
boat of the pullers thereof, amidst the uproarious laughter of all
hands, and before these unfortunates had fairly picked themselves up,
the cutter was sent surging half her length high and dry up on the
beach, the carronade belched forth its contents, and out we jumped,
master and man, and charged up to the sod battery which had fired upon
us.  We were greeted with a volley of musketry, which, however, never
stopped us in our rush a single instant, and as we clambered in at one
side we had the satisfaction of seeing the rascally Spaniards go flying
out at the other, whence they made short miles of it to a boat which lay
awaiting them on the beach at the opposite side of the island, some two
or three hundred yards away.  We sent a few ineffectual flying shots
after them, but attempted no pursuit, as we now found ourselves to some
extent masters of the situation; in so far, that is to say, that we
found the battery admirably adapted as a place wherein to make a stand
until such time as we could see our way clear to once more take
offensive measures.  As for the Spaniards, they made good their retreat
to a large hulk which lay securely moored at a distance of some twenty
yards from the steeply sloping eastern shore of the island, and which--
floating high out of the water as she did, with channel-plates removed
and no gear whatever about her sides to aid us in boarding should we
make the attempt--would, I foresaw, prove rather a hard nut for us to
crack.  Our footing thus made good upon the island and in the battery,
we had a moment or two in which to look about us, and the first
discovery made was that poor old Mildmay, the master, had been wounded,
and was lying helpless, face downwards on the sward outside the battery.
The next was, that the natives had recovered from their panic and were
actually once more advancing against us, spreading out on all sides so
as to completely encircle the island.

The first object demanding our attention was, of course, the master.
Directing the man Tom, our chief artilleryman, to look into the state of
the guns belonging to the battery, and to load them afresh, I called a
couple of men and took them with me to bring in the master.  The poor
old fellow was lying upon the grass face downwards, and when we gently
raised him it became apparent that he had been bleeding rather profusely
at the mouth.  He was senseless and ghastly pale, and for the moment I
feared he was dead.  A low moan, however, as the men began to move with
him, gave us the assurance that life was not quite extinct, and as
gently as we could we lifted him over the low earth parapet, and laid
him down under its shelter in comparative safety.

The command of the party now devolved upon me, and a very serious
responsibility under the circumstances I found it.  Here we were cooped
up in a small sod battery, wholly ineffectual to resist a determined
assault; with a perfect cloud of hostile natives hovering about us
apparently determined to be satisfied with nothing short of our absolute
extermination; with a dozen vindictive Spaniards on board the hulk close
at hand, doubtless as anxious as the natives to sweep us from the face
of the earth; the French boat having vanished from the scene; and--
though there was drinkable water in abundance in the river so long as we
might be able to get at it--_with only one day's provisions left_.



CHAPTER NINETEEN.

THE SITUATION BECOMES DESPERATE.

"Well, Tom," said I, "what about the guns?--are they loaded?"

"Yes, sir, they is," answered Tom; "and a most fort'nate circumstance it
were that you ordered them guns to be loaded when you did, otherwise we
should have been sent sky-high by this time."

"Ah, indeed! how is that?"

"Why, you see, sir, when I was ordered to load the guns I nat'rally
looks round for the ammunition for to do it with; and though this is the
first time as I've ever found myself aboard a reg'lar genewine land-
battery, it didn't take me long for to make up my mind that if there was
any ammunition anywheres aboard the thing, it must be in one of them
there corner lockers.  So I goes away and tries to open the door, which
in course I finds locked.  It didn't take Ned and me mor'n a jiffy,
hows'ever, to prise off the lock; and when I looked in, there sure
enough was the powder--a goodish quantity--all made up into cartridges,
and there, too, I sees the black stump of a fuze with a red spark on the
end fizzing and smoking away--a good un.  I knowed what that meant in a
second, Mr Hawkesley; so I whips out my knife, sings out to Ned to
prise open the other two doors, and cuts off the live end of the fuze at
once, and just in time.  There warn't more nor an inch of it left.  And
when we got the other two doors open it were just the same, sir--half a
minute more 'd ha' done for the lot of us, sir."

"But you have taken care to see that the magazines are now all right?--
that there are no more live fuzes in them?"  I exclaimed in considerable
alarm.

"Ay, ay, sir; never fear for me," answered Tom with a quiet grin.  "They
are safe enough now, sir; we gave 'em a good overhaul before doing
anything else, sir."

"Thank you, Tom," I replied; "you have rendered a most important
service, which, if I live to get out of this scrape, I will not fail to
report to Captain Vernon.  But I should like to take a squint into these
magazines myself."

"Certingly, sir, by all means," returned Tom; and leading the way to the
magazines he pointed out the manner in which the fuzes had been placed,
and graphically redescribed the manner in which a terrible catastrophe
had been averted.

We had, indeed, had a frightfully narrow escape from destruction; for
the magazines, of which there were three, one in each angle of the
triangular-shaped battery, contained about one hundred cartridges each--
quite sufficient to have completely destroyed the battery and all in it.

Having satisfied myself that all was safe here, I at once turned my
attention to the next most pressing business of the moment, which was to
secure the muskets, ammunition, provisions, and water in the cutter, and
to make the craft herself as safe as possible.  This was likely to prove
a somewhat hazardous task, as the canoes were now close to the beach and
pressing rapidly in on all sides.  I felt greatly averse to further
slaughter; but in this case I scarcely saw how it was to be averted, the
natives being so pertinacious in their attacks.  It was quite evident
that we must either kill or be killed.  I therefore most reluctantly
gave the order for the discharge of the six nine-pounders which the
battery mounted right into the thickest of the crowd--the men to
immediately afterwards rush for the boat, secure their muskets and
ammunition, and at once return to the battery.  This was done; and
without pausing an instant to note the effect away we all went down to
the boat, seized as much as we could conveniently carry, and immediately
scampered back again.  The whole operation did not occupy more than a
couple of minutes; and I had the satisfaction of seeing all hands
scramble back into the battery before the natives had recovered from the
check of our last discharge.

So far so good; but a great many things still remained in the boat,
especially the provisions and water, which it was absolutely necessary
that we should secure; so I called for volunteers to accompany me on a
second trip to the cutter.  All hands proving equally willing to go, I
picked half-a-dozen, leaving the remainder in the battery to cover us
with their muskets.

Leaping the low sod parapet of the battery we once more made a dash for
the boat; and the natives, catching sight of us, instantly raised a
terrific yell and came paddling toward us at top speed.

"Out with your cutlasses, men!"  I exclaimed; "we shall have to fight
our way back this time, I believe.  Now each man seize as much as he can
carry in one hand, and keep close together.  Now are you all ready?
Then march.  Ah! capital!" as the lads in the battery bowled over three
or four blacks who had landed and were rushing down upon us.  "Now _run
for it_!"

Away we went, helter-skelter, and once more got safely within the
compass of our sheltering walls, though not until I--who, of course, had
to be last in seeking cover--had been overtaken and surrounded by some
half-a-dozen furious blacks, two of whom I succeeded in disabling with
my sword, whilst the remaining four were promptly placed _hors-de-
combat_ by the muskets of those who were covering our retreat.

Taking fresh courage, perhaps, at our limited number, and possibly also
feeling more at home in a fight on dry land than when in their canoes,
the natives now closed in upon us on all sides, effecting a landing on
the island and pressing forward, with loud cries and much brandishing of
spears, to attack the battery.  This battery, it may be well to explain,
was a small equilateral triangular affair built of sods, and measuring
about thirty-five feet on each of its sides.  It mounted six nine-
pounder brass guns, two to each side; and its walls rose to a height of
about seven feet above the ground outside, a ledge about three feet wide
on the inside being raised some three feet all round the interior of the
walls, thus enabling those on the inside to fire over the low parapet.
The guns were mounted on ordinary ship carriages and were unprovided
with tackles, being placed upon wooden platforms slightly sloping
forward, so that when loaded they could be easily run out by hand, the
recoil of the discharge sending them back up the slight slope into
loading position.  The three angles of the battery were, as has already
been intimated, occupied by the magazines.

The natives advanced boldly to the attack, and for the moment I must
confess that I felt almost dismayed as I looked around me and got a
clear idea of their overwhelming numbers.  However, there was no
escape--we were completely hemmed in on every side; and if we were to
die I thought we might as well die fighting; so, waiting until they were
within a few yards only of the walls, I gave the order to fire, and the
report of the six nine-pounders rang sharply out upon the evening air.
Each man then seized his loaded musket, saw that his naked cutlass was
ready to his hand, and waited breathlessly for the inevitable rush.

The round-shot ploughed six well-defined lanes through the approaching
phalanx; but our persevering foes had apparently become accustomed to
the effects of artillery fire by this time, seeming to regard it as a
disagreeable concomitant to the struggle which _must_ be faced, but
which, after all, was not so very formidable.  They had already acquired
the knowledge that the guns, once fired, were perfectly harmless until
they could be re-loaded, and that the operation of reloading required a
certain amount of time.  The moment, therefore, that they received our
fire they charged down upon the battery, evidently feeling that the
worst was over and that it now amounted to no more than an ordinary
hand-to-hand fight.  "Here they come, lads, with a vengeance!"  I
exclaimed.  "Take your muskets and _aim low_--make every bullet do
double or treble duty if you can.  Keep cool, and be careful not to
throw a single shot away."

This was excellent advice to give, especially as the giver thereof
needed it perhaps more than any of those around him; but it was spoken
with a calm and steady voice, and the lads responded to it with a hearty
and inspiring cheer.  They levelled their muskets carefully and steadily
over the top of the sod parapet, selecting a particular mark and firing
only when they felt sure of their aim, though at the moment a perfect
cloud of spears came flying into the battery.  The next instant our foes
were upon us, and then commenced a furious, breathless, desperate hand-
to-hand fight which lasted fully ten minutes--the blacks leaping upward
or assisting each other in their efforts to surmount the parapet, and we
cutting and slashing right and left without a moment's breathing-space
in an equally determined effort to keep them out.

During the very thick of the fight light thin jets of smoke were seen to
issue from the joints and crevices in the wooden walls of the huge
barrack-like structure to windward of us, the jets rapidly growing in
numbers and volume and being speedily succeeded by thin arrowy tongues
of flame which shot into view for a moment, disappeared, and then
appeared again, darting along the surface of the wood and uniting with
others, until the entire building became completely enveloped in the
flames, which no doubt the Spaniards had kindled on their retreat, in
order to make assurance doubly sure, as it were, and in the event of
their little scheme for the destruction of the battery miscarrying, to
deprive us of what would have afforded us an excellent retreat in which
to have withstood a siege.

The smoke, thick, pungent, and suffocating, from the tar and pitch with
which the roof and sides of the building had been from time to time
liberally coated, drifted down directly upon us in such dense volumes
that it was difficult to see an arm's-length ahead, making the act of
breathing next to an impossibility, and causing our eyes to stream with
water, whilst the heat soon became almost insupportable.  Our enemies,
however, did not seem to be in the slightest degree incommoded either by
the heat or the smoke, but, perceiving how greatly it embarrassed us,
pressed forward more eagerly than ever to the attack.  We, however, were
fighting for our lives, and it is astonishing how much men can do under
such circumstances.  We actually succeeded in keeping the foe outside
our three walls, and finally, after a prolonged effort which inspired us
with a most profound sense of their individual intrepidity, they
retired, carrying off their dead and wounded with them.  They made a
most daring attempt to carry off the cutter also with them in their
retreat, but fortunately she was secured by a chain attached to the
anchor, the latter being firmly embedded in the soil among the long
grass; and the idea of pulling it up not seeming to present itself to
any of them, they were compelled to abandon the attempt, owing to the
galling musketry fire which we maintained upon them.

Exhausted, breathless, with our lips black with powder from the bitten
ends of the cartridges, our skins begrimed with smoke, and with the
perspiration streaming down our bodies, we now had a moment's breathing-
space to look about us.  The ground inside the battery literally
_bristled_ with the spears which had been launched at us, but,
marvellous to relate, only three of our number had been hurt in the
recent scuffle, and that but very slightly.  The injuries, such as they
were, were promptly attended to, I at the same time doing what I could
for poor old Mildmay; the guns and muskets were re-loaded, and then,
placing a look-out at each angle of the battery, we sank down upon the
ground and snatched such a hasty meal as was possible under the
circumstances.

I embraced the opportunity afforded by this interval of tranquillity to
point out to my small command the necessity for placing them upon a
short allowance of food.  I reminded them that, at the conclusion of the
meal which we were then discussing, only one clear day's rations would
remain to us, and that, though the French boat had doubtless made good
her escape down the river--and, in that case, would probably reach the
creek early enough that same evening to make Captain Vernon acquainted
with our critical situation--we could scarcely reckon upon the
appearance of a relief expedition under twenty-four hours from the time
of speaking.  I added that, further, it would be only wise to allow
another twenty-four hours for possible unforeseen delays, rendering it
not improbable that we should have to pass forty-eight hours in our
present position, and that I had therefore decided, for these prudential
reasons, that it would be necessary to place the party for that period
on half rations.  The men accepted this decision of mine with the utmost
readiness, and, in fact, seemed agreeably surprised to find that I
considered it likely we should be rescued in so short a time.

By the time that we had concluded our hasty meal the barrack--which
after all, and notwithstanding its size, was a mere wooden shell of a
place--had become a shapeless heap of smouldering ruins, and we were
consequently to a great extent relieved of the annoyance from the heat
and smoke.  Now that the place was actually destroyed I was glad rather
than otherwise, for standing as it did so close to the battery, it
would, had it remained in existence, have afforded splendid "cover" for
the enemy, behind which they would have been enabled to steal close up
to us unobserved, necessitating a most unremitting watch, in spite of
which a sudden unexpected rush might have put them in possession of the
battery.  Now, however, nothing in the nature of a surprise could well
occur, for by the destruction of the barrack we were enabled to obtain
an uninterrupted view from the battery all over the diminutive islet
upon which it stood.

Half an hour after the conclusion of our meal the wind dropped away to a
flat calm, the sun went down behind the low range of hills which
stretched away to the westward of us, the landscape assumed a tint of
rapidly deepening, all-pervading grey, the mist-wreaths rose from the
bosom of the whirling river and stealthily gathered about the island
like a beleaguering army of phantoms, and the solemn hush of night was
broken only by the loud _chirr_ of the insects and the lapping ripple of
the rushing stream.

Thicker and thicker gathered the mist about us until at last it became
impossible to see across from one side of the battery to the other, and
then ensued an anxious time indeed for all of us, and especially so for
me, upon whom rested the responsibility of directing what steps should
be taken for the safety and preservation of the little force under me.
Would the natives attempt another attack that night under cover of the
fog?  I thought it highly probable that they would, seeing how important
an advantage it would be to them to have the power of arranging their
forces and creeping up to the very walls of the battery undetected.  The
idea indeed occurred to me, that under cover of that same fog it might
be possible for us to take once more to the cutter, and, letting her
drift with the current, in that way slip unobserved away down the river.
But a very few minutes' consideration of that scheme sufficed to
convince me of its impracticability.  I felt convinced that our enemies
were quite shrewd enough to anticipate and make due provision for any
such attempt on our part.  I felt certain, indeed, that would the fog
but lift for a moment, of which, however, there was not the most remote
probability, we should find ourselves completely hemmed in by a cordon
of canoes lying silently and patiently in waiting for the undertaking of
some such attempt on our part.  And, doubtless, all their arrangements
were so framed that, in the event of our making any such attempt, a
simple signal would announce our whereabouts and enable the entire
flotilla to close in at once upon us; in which case our fate must be
certain and speedy.  No, I decided, the risk was altogether too great
and the prospects of success too infinitesimal to justify any such
attempt.

Then as to the expected attack.  They would probably wait an hour or
two, in the hope of tempting us to venture afloat; then, failing that,
they would cautiously close in upon the island, land, steal up as close
as possible to the battery, and then endeavour to overpower us with a
sudden rush.

Fortunately it was not absolutely dark, notwithstanding the fog, there
being a moon in her first quarter, which, though invisible, imparted a
certain luminous quality to the haze; and two or three stars of the
first magnitude were faintly visible in the zenith, so that if any
fighting had to be done we should at least have light enough to
distinguish between friend and foe.

This anticipation of an attempted surprise of course necessitated the
maintenance of a keen and incessant look-out I accordingly posted half
my small command round the walls, with instructions to fire
unhesitatingly at any moving object which might come within their range
of vision.  But I did not expect an _immediate_ attack; indeed, the more
I weighed the chances of such a thing the less did they appear to be,
and in the meantime we were in urgent need of water, our stock being
almost exhausted.  Hitherto we had refrained from drinking the river
water, it having a peculiar sweetish taste which scarcely suited our
palates, but very soon it would be "river water or nothing," and I
thought that probably this pause of expectation, as it were, would
afford us as good an opportunity as we were likely to have for refilling
our breakers.

I therefore directed the party who were not engaged upon sentry duty to
make ready for a trip to the river with two of the empty breakers.  But
before engaging so large a portion of my little force in an expedition
which, though of the briefest, might expose them to great, because
unexpected, dangers, I resolved to reconnoitre the ground in person, and
with this object in view slipped noiselessly over the parapet to the
ground outside, and throwing myself at full length upon the grass,
already wet with the heavy dew, commenced a slow and disagreeable
journey to the water side.  I intended at first to take a look at the
cutter _en passant_, but a moment's thought decided me against this
course, it being just possible that I might find a few savages either
already established in possession or keeping a stealthy watch upon the
boat in readiness to pounce upon any incautious white man who might
venture to approach her.  I accordingly set out in a direction about at
right angles to that which would have led me down to the boat, and
though this entailed a considerably longer journey I regarded it as also
a very much safer one.

After a somewhat long and tedious journey--long, that is to say, in
point of time, though the distance traversed was very short--I reached
the water's edge without adventure, and without having seen the
slightest sign indicating the presence of savages upon the island.  I
therefore hastened back to the battery--narrowly escaping being shot by
one of our people, who, in his excessive alertness, fired upon me
without first giving the challenge--and hastily gathering together the
watering-party led them to the brink of the river and succeeded in
securing a couple of breakers of water, which I considered would be
sufficient to last us for the next twenty-four hours.

Then ensued a long period of tense, incessant, and painful watching for
the enemy, who, I anticipated, might make their appearance at any
moment.  But hour after hour dragged laggingly away, the whole force
kept incessantly on the _qui vive_ to guard against the expected attempt
at surprise, the men, wearied out by their excessive exertions of the
previous day, needing a continuous, uninterrupted round of visits from
me to prevent their falling asleep upon their arms.

And thus the long night at length wore itself away; a faint glimmer of
dawn appeared in the eastern sky, rapidly brightening, the fog assumed a
rosy flush, and presently up rose the glorious sun, gleaming like a
white-hot ball through the haze, a faint breeze from the westward sprang
up, the mist rolled away like a curtain, and there lay the noble river
around us, sparkling like a sheet of molten silver under the morning
sunbeams.  And there, too, lay the flotilla of canoes, completely
hemming us in on every side, thus fully justifying the caution which had
prevented my attempting to effect an escape down the river during the
preceding night.

It was exasperating now to the last degree to know that our night's rest
had been thrown away for nothing, and that, for all the benefit our
vigilance had been to us, all hands might just as well have lain down
and gone to sleep all night; but repining was of no use; we had
naturally expected an attack and had held ourselves in readiness to meet
it, and the only thing that remained was to snatch what rest we could
during the day.  It was a great advantage to be able to once more _see_
our enemies; and as there seemed to be no immediate disposition on their
part to make a move, I gave orders for breakfast to be got under weigh
as speedily as possible, stationing a look-out at each angle of the
battery during the discussion of the meal.  We had scarcely settled
ourselves when the alarm was given that the canoes were advancing, and,
leaping to our feet, we found that such was indeed the case, the whole
fleet having tripped their anchors and begun paddling in toward the
island.

We at once opened fire upon them from the nine-pounders as a matter of
course, but the rascals had not only learned wisdom but had also
evidently very sharp eyes, for at the moment when the match was about to
be applied to the guns the canoes immediately in the line of fire
smartly swerved from their course and the shot went hissing harmlessly
past, missing their mark by the merest hair's-breadth.

Before we had time to load again the savages had effected a landing upon
the beach, and then ensued a repetition of the previous day's fighting,
excepting that our antagonists fought with their energies renewed by a
quiet night's rest and more obstinately than ever, whilst we were weary
and fagged by our long and fruitless watch.  During the desperate
struggle which consumed the next quarter of an hour half a dozen natives
managed at different times to actually force their way into the battery,
but luckily for us they got in only one at a time and they were promptly
despatched.

At last they were beaten off and compelled to retire to their canoes as
before, carrying away with them their killed and wounded--of whom I
counted no less than thirty being borne away by their comrades--our lads
"freshening their way" for them with a hot musketry fire so long as they
remained within range.

Then followed another brief interval during which we finished our scanty
breakfast, after which, having seen the guns and muskets loaded afresh,
I undertook to maintain a look-out, and ordered the men to lie down and
snatch such rest as they could get.

But our foes, wily as savages always are, had evidently in their recent
hand-to-hand struggle with us detected the evidences of our extreme
fatigue, and were by no means disposed to allow us much time or
opportunity to recuperate our exhausted energies, for the men had
scarcely flung themselves upon the ground, where sleep instantly seized
upon them, when the canoes were once more put in motion and again the
unhappy blue-jackets were called upon to resist an attack.  I now began
to feel a strong suspicion that the enemy had quite counted upon our
being kept upon the alert during the whole of the previous night, the
perfect silence which they had maintained being, as they very probably
surmised, rather a harassing than a reassuring circumstance to us, and
that they fully intended to take the fullest possible advantage of this
during the ensuing day.  But their heavy losses in killed and wounded
had at the same time made them increasingly wary, and for the next hour
or two they contented themselves with a continuous series of
demonstrations which drew our fire and kept us incessantly on the alert,
without actually renewing their attack.

At length the wind dropped away to a flat calm and the rays of the
unclouded sun beat remorselessly down upon us with a fierce intensity
which in our exhausted condition was positive agony.  A burning
unquenchable thirst took possession of us, and the men resorted to the
water-kegs so incessantly that the water diminished with startling
rapidity, and foreseeing the possible difficulty of obtaining a further
supply I was at last reluctantly compelled to put them upon an
allowance, so that very speedily we had thirst added to our other
miseries.  And during all this time our aching eyes were every moment
directed down the river in the hope, which grew less and less as the day
wore on, of detecting the approach of the boats which we felt certain
were on their way to effect our rescue.



CHAPTER TWENTY.

RESCUED.

Finally the long, harassing, anxious day drew to a close, the sun set,
the night-mists gathered once more about us, and the hoped-for rescue
had not appeared.

We were by this time completely worn out, and I foresaw that unless the
men could obtain a little rest our pertinacious enemies must inevitably
prove victorious.

Of course in this matter of rest everything depended upon the behaviour
of the foe.  If from principle or superstition, or for any other reason,
it was their invariable habit to abstain from fighting at night all
might yet be well with us, for though our stock of provisions and water
was getting low, and the ammunition for our muskets was getting short, I
felt convinced that, could our lads but secure three or tour hours of
unbroken rest, they were quite equal to holding the battery for another
twenty-four hours at least.  Unfortunately I knew nothing whatever about
the fighting customs of the natives, and was consequently quite without
a guide of any kind beyond my own reason.  I felt convinced that the
blacks had fully realised the advantage to them of our fagged condition
during the past day, and had little doubt but that they were acute
enough to trace it to its correct source; the question then was, would
they allow us to pass an undisturbed night and thus sacrifice an
important advantage?  I greatly doubted it.  But they might allow a few
hours' cessation of hostilities in the hope of lulling us into a feeling
of false security, and thus making us the victims of an easy, yet well-
executed surprise.  The more I thought about the matter the more
probable did this course of action appear; and at last I resolved to put
it to the test by dividing the men into watches and allowing them an
hour's sleep at a time.

But before doing this I thought I would repeat my experiment of the
previous night and endeavour to secure a little more water, and this I
did with such signal success that we actually refilled all our breakers,
besides giving every man an opportunity to completely slake his thirst.

It was just eight o'clock p.m. by the time that we had completed our
preparations, and I then made half the men lie down, which they did,
falling instantly asleep.  This of course necessitated increased
vigilance on the part of the watchers, each of whom had to guard a
double length of parapet; but the first hour passed peacefully away, and
the sleepers were awakened in order that we might have our turn.  It was
really amusing, notwithstanding the gravity of our situation, to hear
each man protest as he sat up and rubbed his eyes that we had not
treated them fairly, and that they had only that moment fallen asleep.
But when assured to the contrary they roused up at once, and I was
greatly gratified to see that, short as had been their period of rest,
it had undoubtedly done them a world of good.  The "watch on deck" was
placed under the command of the man Tom who had done such good service
with the carronade on board the cutter, he being, in my opinion, the
most trustworthy man in the party; and giving him the most stringent
orders to keep a bright look-out, to fire at once and unhesitatingly on
any moving object which might make its appearance, and to call me in the
event of anything taking place out of the common, I flung myself upon
the ground with my back to the sod parapet, and in the act of folding my
arms across my chest fell asleep.

To be cruelly awakened the next instant, almost before I had had time to
fully realise the blessedness of the gift of sleep.

"Well, Tom, what is it?  Has the enemy hove in sight!"  I exclaimed
pettishly, rubbing away at my eyes to force them open.

"No, sir; everything's still quiet, thank God."

"Then what did you wake me for, in Heaven's name!"

"Four bells, sir; our turn for a spell of sleep again, sir," was the
exasperating reply.

"Four bells!  Nonsense!"

I could not believe it.  As in the case of the others it really seemed
as though I had not actually had time to get to sleep at all, yet I had
slept soundly for an hour, and on staggering to my feet, though the
abrupt awakening had inflicted upon me positive suffering, I found when
fairly awake, that I was very distinctly the better for my short nap,
which seemed to have made up, at least partially, in soundness what it
lacked in duration.

Another hour passed peacefully--and this time not quite so laggingly--
away; our turn again arrived for a rest; and once more did we enjoy for
a brief space the bliss of perfect oblivion.  At midnight we were called
again, Tom reporting that neither sight nor sound had occurred during
his watch to disturb him.  We now began to feel really refreshed, and
during the next hour some of the men in my watch actually found
superfluous energy enough to hum under their breath a snatch or two of a
forecastle song as they paced vigilantly to and fro over the short
stretch of ground which constituted their "beat."

As the silent hour flitted away without disquieting sight or sound of
any kind I began to feel sanguine that we were going to be blessed with
uninterrupted peace for the remainder of the night, and inwardly
resolved that if matters still continued satisfactory after my watch had
had its next hour's sleep I would extend the period of sleep to two
hours for the next watch, which, with what they had already had, ought
to put them in excellent trim for the fatigues of the succeeding day,
whatever they might be.  And with this resolve still uppermost in my
mind I laid down and once more dropped to sleep when my turn came at one
o'clock a.m.

Two o'clock arrived, our watch was called, and still there had been no
sign of the enemy.  I thought we might now safely reckon upon being
allowed to pass the remainder of the night undisturbed; I accordingly
informed the retiring watch that unless we happened to be attacked in
the interim they would now be allowed to sleep for a spell of two hours
instead of one, and they forthwith composed themselves for a good long
nap.

But it was not to be.  An hour later one of the men startled us all into
instant wakefulness by sharply giving the challenge, which was instantly
repeated all round the battery, and peering anxiously into the fog I
detected the indistinct presence of several shapeless objects lying
prone upon the ground where I knew that nothing of the kind ought to be.
These objects were quite motionless; but the man who had first given
the challenge assured me that his attention had first been attracted to
them by a stealthy movement.  Ordering the man to at once rouse the
sleepers, cautioning them individually to take up their proper stations
an noiselessly behind the parapet, I waited until every man had gained
his post, and then taking a steady aim at one of the objects I
discharged my musket.  With a shriek of pain the object at which I had
fired half raised itself to an erect position and then fell heavily
forward.  At the same moment a loud blood-curdling yell resounded upon
the heavy night air, and the foggy background instantly became alive
with the forms of the savages who sprang to their feet and came bounding
toward the battery, hurling their spears as they came.

"Take steady aim, my men; select your mark, and each bring down your man
if possible; keep cool now.  Ah!  I am hit!"  I exclaimed, as a spear
came whizzing in over the parapet, passing clean through the fleshy part
of my right thigh.  In the excitement of the moment it did not take me a
second to relieve myself of my unpleasant encumbrance by drawing the
spear shaft right through the wound; and the next moment I found myself
engaged with the rest in resisting the hottest and most determined
assault to which we had hitherto been subjected.  Luckily for us the
battery was only a small affair, and our party was therefore large
enough to take pretty good care of it, otherwise that night attack would
have ended the business.  But our men had now had the benefit and
refreshment of three hours' sound sleep, and they fought with such
renewed energy, such dogged determination, that the assault again
failed, and the savages were once more driven off.  That satisfied them
for the time being.  They had deferred their attack until the early
hours of the morning, doubtless hoping to find us worn out with
ceaseless watching, and perchance at length overcome with sleep; and
instead of that we had been found more alert than ever; in their anxiety
to take us unawares they had rather overdone it, in fact, and the result
was that they left us undisturbed for the short remainder of the night.

There was, however, no more rest for us; after this well-planned attempt
at a surprise I dare not allow any of my small party to again go off
duty, and sunrise found us still anxiously watching for another attack.
When the mist at length cleared away we discovered the hostile canoes
still closely hemming us in; but they now seemed to have tired of their
fruitless efforts to take the battery by assault, and had apparently
made up their minds to try the effect of a regular siege.  This was bad
enough; for our provisions, though husbanded with the utmost care, were
only sufficient to allow us a mere mouthful each for two meals during
that day; but to be spared the fatigue of constantly fighting was
something to be grateful for; and I felt certain that the relief
expedition _must_ appear before the lapse of many hours longer.  We
consequently sat down to our scanty morning meal not only with excellent
appetites but also in very fair spirits, considering what we had lately
been called upon to endure; and, the meal over, I next devoted my
attention to the wounded, of whom there were by this time several, and
did what I could to make them and myself as comfortable as possible.

About an hour after sunrise a little air from the eastward sprang up,
and by nine a.m. it was blowing quite a free breeze, which, though it
certainly refreshed us greatly, and was in pleasing contrast to the
suffocating heat of the day before, I was rather sorry to see; for I
knew that, combined with the current, it would seriously retard the
advance of our friends up the river.  To tell the truth, I was getting
to be a trifle anxious about this matter; I could not at all understand
why it was that we had been left to take care of ourselves so long.  If
the French boat had reached the creek in safety she would doubtless
arrive about ten or eleven p.m., or a few hours only after our
establishment of ourselves upon the island.  Forty hours or thereabouts
had elapsed since then, yet there was no sign of help.  Could it be
possible that the Frenchmen had _not_ escaped after all?  In that case
we might have to wait another day, or even a couple of days; for I
thought it scarcely probable that Captain Vernon would take alarm on the
instant of our becoming overdue.  I was anxiously weighing all these
surmises in my mind, and endeavouring to arrive at a fair and reasonable
estimate of the longest possible time we might still be expected to hold
out, when the look-out men raised a simultaneous cheer, followed by a
joyous shout of--

"The boats!  The boats!  Here they come.  _Hurrah_!"  With one bound I
reached the parapet; and, sure enough, at a distance of only three-
quarters of a mile away, and just sweeping fairly into view from behind
the next island below us, the launch, pinnace, and second cutter of the
_Daphne_ appeared, with their ensigns streaming in the breeze and the
quick-flashing oar-blades and the bayonets of the "jollies" gleaming
brightly in the sun.

"Up, lads! and give them a cheer, just to let them know where we are," I
exclaimed exultantly; and at the word up scrambled the whole of our
little party except poor old Mildmay, who was too seriously hurt to move
without assistance--and from the top of the parapet we sent echoing down
to them upon the wings of the breeze three such ringing cheers as must
have assured them of the sincerity of our delight at their appearance.
As the sound reached the boats I saw the officers rise in the stern-
sheets and wave their caps to us in response; the oar-blades flashed
quicker in the sun; the foam gathered in increasing volume under the
bows of the boats as their crews put on an extra spurt; and presently a
flash and a puff of fleecy smoke started out simultaneously from each
boat, and the _boom_ of the three reports came dull and heavy to us
against the opposing breeze.

Of course we fully expected that the mere appearance of the boats would
suffice to put our sable enemies to flight, but nothing of the kind
happened; on the contrary, the canoes resolutely faced the new-comers,
and evinced a very decided disposition to dispute their passage up the
river.

We should beat them to a certainty; no one in their sober senses could
for a moment doubt that; but in the meantime, if it actually came to a
hand-to-hand tussle between whites and blacks we in the battery, who had
already had so many opportunities of observing their perfect
fearlessness, knew very well that the latter could make matters
decidedly difficult and unpleasant for our friends.

But it was no time just then for cogitation, the moment for decisive
action had arrived, and I forthwith took the necessary steps to enable
our party to do their share of the work in hand.

"That will do, lads," I exclaimed, as the men on the parapet paused to
recover the breath they had expended in their vociferous greeting to the
boats.  "Jump down and man the guns.  Load and double shot them; and
you, Tom, place the remainder of those fuzes in the magazine in such a
way that they will do their work effectually when required.  We will
give the canoes another broadside, just to `freshen their way' and show
them that we are in earnest; and then I shall abandon and blow up the
battery previous to shoving off to join our lads yonder."

The men turned to with a will; the guns were loaded; and I then went
with Tom to personally inspect the arrangement of the fuzes.

When all was ready I gave the word to fire; the six guns belched forth
their contents simultaneously; and without waiting to see what damage
had been done, the men seized their muskets, the water-kegs, and our few
other belongings; and with two hands specially detailed to convey the
master carefully down to the boat, all hands, excepting Tom and myself,
left the battery and made the best of their way down to the cutter,
which, after depositing poor old Mildmay as comfortably as possible in
the stern-sheets, they got afloat.

"Step your mast," I shouted, "and see all ready for hoisting the sail."

We waited patiently until we saw that everything was ready on board the
cutter; and then Tom and I ignited the fuzes in the three magazines.  It
was awfully risky work, as the fuzes were fearfully short; but it had to
be done, and it was done coolly and smartly, after which we bounded over
the low parapet and ran for our lives down to the boat.  "Shove off and
give way for your lives, men," I panted, as we tumbled in over the
gunwale with a considerable loss of shin-leather; and in another instant
we were surging away from the island as fast as the oars and sail would
drive us.  The men were just belaying the halliards of the lug
when--_boom_--a dull heavy report came from the battery; a great black
cloud of smoke and dust, liberally intermixed with clods and stones and
masses of earth, shot up into the air; and when it cleared away _the
battery was gone_.

"Now, Tom, jump forward, my man, and get that carronade loaded with
grape or canister or langridge, _anything_ you happen to have handy, and
be smart about it, my fine fellow," I exclaimed, as I saw a group of
canoes separate themselves from the rest and form in line across our
course, evidently for the purpose of opposing our passage and preventing
our effecting a junction with our friends.  "Load your muskets, men, and
draw your cutlasses; we must get through that line of canoes somehow,
and I mean to do it."

The men obeyed without a word; their blood was by this time thoroughly
aroused; they were all a-quiver with eager excitement; and as I looked
at them sitting there upon the thwarts, facing forward, with their naked
cutlasses beside them and their loaded muskets firmly grasped in their
hands, their fingers just feeling the triggers, their teeth clenched,
and their eyes flashing, I felt that nothing short of a frigate with her
crew at quarters would stop them.

The rescuing party was by this time smartly engaged with the main body
of the canoes, and by their tardy progress I knew that they already had
their hands fully occupied.  The detachment which had assumed the
responsibility of intercepting us had separated itself some distance
from the main body, and was now formed in a double line right across our
course, altering its position from time to time in such a manner as to
keep always square ahead of us.  I saw that it would be useless to
attempt to dodge them; we had not time for that; so I directed the
coxswain to steer straight for the broadside of the midship canoe, the
craft, that is to say, which occupied the centre of the opposing line.
She was a biggish craft for a canoe, being somewhere about fifty feet
long, and manned by forty negroes; the canoe which lay on her starboard
side, or beyond her, being about the same size.  There were sixteen more
canoes in the line; and altogether they presented the appearance of a
very formidable barrier.  But I had had an opportunity of learning
pretty well what they were when Smellie and I, bound hand and foot, took
our memorable cruise up the river in one of them, and I knew that they
were, after all, but very crank, flimsy, fragile affairs, not to be
compared for a moment in strength with the stout boat which carried us
at such a gallant pace over the swirling river.  So I determined to give
our foolhardy opponents the stem, trusting to the weight and momentum of
the boat to enable us to break through the line.

On rushed the cutter, the breeze roaring merrily over her, and the broad
lag-sail dragging at her like a team of cart-horses; whilst Tom crouched
in the bows, squinting along the sights of his piece, and holding
himself in readiness to fire at the instant that he should get the
order.  We were within a hundred feet of the line of canoes when the
crew of the big craft began to see danger; they had hoped, by their
persistent demonstration of barring our path, to intimidate us, but, now
that it was too late, they saw that they had failed, that we meant
mischief; and, setting up a loud yell of consternation, they plied their
paddles desperately in an effort to avoid the impending collision.  It
was unavailing; the canoes ahead and astern of them, confused like
themselves, and only imperfectly comprehending what their comrade would
be at, closed in upon instead of separating from them; and immediate
dire confusion was the result.  When within twenty yards of them Tom
delivered the contents of his carronade; and an immediate outburst of
groans, yells, and shrieks bore testimony to the accuracy of his aim.
Before the smoke had fairly cleared away the cutter was upon them.  The
big canoe nearest us had been torn nearly in halves by the discharge of
the carronade, and we swept over her almost without feeling it.  The
other big fellow was, however, afloat and apparently uninjured.  Another
yell of terror went up from her occupants as our sail overshadowed them;
there was a violent shock as our strong iron-bound stem crashed down
upon their gunwale; the canoe heeled over; and the cutter leaped upward
as she crushed her way through and over this second adversary.

For a few seconds we were involved in a confused medley of canoes and
wreckage, of drowning savages wildly clutching at the gunwales of the
boat in an ineffectual effort to save themselves; there was a rattling
volley of musketry, a flash or two of cutlass blades, and then away sped
the cutter once more.  _We were through_.

Our carronade was quickly loaded again, but happily further destruction
of human life was unnecessary.  The savages, who seemed to have depended
implicitly upon the power of their detached squadron to stop us, became
demoralised when they saw the cutter dash irresistibly through the
opposing line, and receiving at the same time very severe treatment at
the hands of the rescuing party, they broke up suddenly and beat a
precipitate retreat, each canoe seemingly striving to outdo the rest in
the speed of its flight.  And thus ended victoriously for us the fight
which we had been for over forty hours maintaining against such
apparently overwhelming odds.

We soon found ourselves alongside the launch; and hearty were the
congratulations and eager the questions which were showered upon us by
her crew, quickly repeated by those of the other two boats, which joined
in almost immediately afterwards.

"You seem to have been in rather a bad fix," exclaimed Armitage, who was
in command of the boats, as he shook me heartily by the hand.  "Tell us
all about it."

I detailed as succinctly as possible all that had transpired since our
departure from the ship, and wound up by a suggestion that if they had
any spare rations they would be most acceptable.

"Rations!" exclaimed Armitage; "to be sure we have, my boy; but let us
adjourn to this island of yours, where we can get them properly cooked.
I feel curious to see the spot which you held so pluckily for so long a
time.  But, by the by, where is the French boat all this time?"

"The French boat?  Has she not turned up at the creek?"  I exclaimed in
surprise.  "We felt certain of her escape, and indeed depended upon the
information she would convey of our predicament for the despatch of
assistance."

"She had not put in an appearance up to the time of our starting at noon
yesterday, nor have we seen any sign of her during our passage up the
stream," was the reply.  "You were due to return, you know, the evening
before last, and when yesterday morning came, without your appearance,
Captain Vernon became uneasy.  He allowed you until noon, however; but
when noon passed, leaving you still _non est_, he came to the conclusion
that something was amiss, and despatched us in quest of you at once.  So
this is the scene of the struggle, eh?" as the boats grounded on the
beach of the island.  "A pretty scene of ruin it is."

And so it was.  The battery had been completely obliterated by the
explosion, nothing remaining to mark its site but the scattered
fragments of the sod walls and the dismounted guns; the charred remains
of the barrack, a short distance away, aiding to complete the picture of
destruction.  An immense number of native spears were lying scattered
about all over the ground, and these were promptly collected by the
seamen as souvenirs of the struggle.



CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.

AN AWFUL CATASTROPHE.

Meanwhile the Spaniards were still lying _perdu_ on board the hulk as
they had remained from the moment of our driving them out the battery.
During the discussion of our much-needed meal the question of what steps
we should take with regard to them had been canvassed; and, our
appetites at length satisfied, Armitage and I walked across the island
to make a closer inspection of the position of the craft.

I had wondered greatly, at odd times during our protracted struggle with
the savages, how the Spaniards had managed to transfer so rapidly from
the barrack to the hulk the large number of slaves which the former must
have contained, and now the riddle was solved.  On arriving abreast of
the hulk we found that a small timber jetty had been constructed from
the shore to a point within fifty yards of the hulk, and we could see in
a moment that by easing off the moorings of the hulk, the current would
carry her fairly alongside this jetty, where, without doubt, she must
have been lying when we first hove in sight.  The slaves had evidently
been marched straight on board her over the jetty, and her bow and stern
moorings then hove in until she had been hauled far enough away from the
jetty to render her capture by its means impossible.

After a little further conversation with Armitage it was agreed that the
Spaniards should be hailed and ordered to surrender, and this was
accordingly done.  We had no very great hope of success, as we felt sure
the Spaniards must be fully aware of the difficulty we should experience
in capturing the hulk.  As before stated, she towered so high out of the
water and her sides were so bare that the Spaniards, small as was their
number, could effectually resist all our efforts to capture her by
boarding; to fire into and sink her would only result in the destruction
of all the slaves on board her; and as she was moored with heavy chains,
instead of hemp hawsers, to cut her adrift and let her ground upon the
island was quite as impracticable as would have been any attempt to
board her.

We were therefore very agreeably surprised when the Spaniards, in
response to our hail, at once consented to abandon the hulk, provided we
would allow them to depart unmolested in their boat.  This arrangement
suited us very well, we being just then anything but anxious to hamper
ourselves with prisoners, and the required promise was unhesitatingly
made.  The Spaniards thereupon provisioned their boat, lowered her into
the water, and half an hour later disappeared round a bend of the river
on their way down stream.  Taking immediate possession of the hulk, we
dropped her in alongside the jetty once more, and landed the slaves upon
the island.  They were all, for a wonder, in fairly good condition,
having evidently been well taken care of, with the view of fitting them
as thoroughly as possible to withstand the terrible hardships of the
notorious Middle Passage.

Having at length cleared the hulk we next transferred the slaves in
batches to the boats, by which they were conveyed across the stream to
the mainland, where they were freed and left to shift for themselves,
the provisions found on board the hulk being distributed as evenly as
possible among them.  Landed thus in a possibly hostile country--for
they were evidently a different race of people from those with whom we
had recently had so desperate a struggle--unarmed, and with only a small
supply of provisions, their situation was perhaps not very much better
than it had been when they lay prisoners on board the hulk, but it was
all we had it in our power to do for them under the circumstances, and
we could only hope that their wit would prove equal to the task of
steering them clear of the many dangers to which they were exposed, and
conducting them safely back to their own country.  There were rather
more than eight hundred of them altogether, counting in the
piccaninnies, and the transfer of them to the mainland fully occupied us
until within half an hour of sunset.  As we were by that time pretty
well fagged out, and as it was manifestly too late to make any progress
worth speaking of on our way back to the creek that night, we resolved
to remain until daylight upon the island, which we did without receiving
molestation or annoyance of any kind from anybody.

At eight o'clock on the following morning, having previously
breakfasted, we started down the river, keeping a bright look-out for
the French boat all the way down, and exploring all the most likely
creeks and indentations on the south bank of the river, without
discovering any trace of her.  This protracted search so seriously
delayed our progress that we were two whole days making the passage back
to the creek, and on our arrival there we discovered that three
survivors of the French party had turned up on board the _Vestale_ the
previous day, reporting the capture of the boat by the natives, and the
massacre of all hands except the three who had managed somehow to slip
their bonds and make good their escape in a canoe.  They had reported
that their capture was due to our _abandonment_ of them, it appeared,
and the insinuation, which Captain Vernon had indignantly repudiated,
had occasioned a very serious outbreak of ill-feeling between the two
ships, so much so indeed that the commander of the _Vestale_ had left
the river in high dudgeon on the morning of the day of our arrival,
refusing absolutely to co-operate with us any further.  I was, of
course, subjected to a very severe cross-examination by Captain Vernon
on the subject; but my detailed narrative of the affair, which was
confirmed in every particular by poor old Mildmay, soon satisfied him
that the fault, if fault there was, rested not with us; and both Mildmay
and myself were fully exonerated from all blame.  Nay more--the master
generously represented my defence of the battery in such a light that I
received the skipper's highest commendations and renewed promises of
support and assistance in my career.

At sunrise next morning we weighed and stood out to sea, bound on a
cruise to the westward.

The next two months passed away in the most drearily uneventful manner,
the ship being at sea the whole time.  At the end of that period, being
in latitude 4 degrees south and longitude 5 degrees east on our way back
to the Congo, the ship standing to the northward and eastward at the
time, under all plain sail, with light baffling south-easterly airs, the
look-out aloft, just before being relieved at noon, reported two sail,
close together, hove-to broad on our lee bow.  The usual form of
questions being duly put by Armitage, who happened to be the officer of
the watch, the further information was elicited that one of them was a
brig and the other a full-rigged ship, but of what nationality they were
it was difficult to say, nothing but the heads of their topgallant-sails
being visible above the horizon from our fore-topmast crosstrees.  The
matter being reported to Captain Vernon, orders were given for our
course to be so altered as to allow of our edging down upon the
strangers; the fact of their being hove-to so close together having a
somewhat suspicious appearance.

By three o'clock p.m. we had neared the two vessels sufficiently to
bring their hulls into view from the main-royal-yard; they were then
lying broadside-on to us with their heads to the eastward, the ship
being between us and the brig; but by the aid of our glasses we were
able to make out that they had apparently dropped alongside each other,
and the skipper gave it as his decided opinion that foul play was going
on on the part of one or the other of the two craft.  This opinion was
shortly afterwards confirmed by the appearance of thick clouds of black
smoke arising from the ship; the brig hauling off and standing to the
westward under every stitch of canvas she could spread.

"Undoubtedly a most daring act of piracy, committed under our _very_
noses, too," commented the skipper to me as the smoke rose up into the
clear atmosphere and hung like a great pall immediately over the doomed
ship.  We were walking together fore and aft upon the quarter-deck at
the time, whistling most earnestly and devoutly for a wind, as indeed
were all hands fore and aft.  Suddenly Captain Vernon paused, and,
wetting the back of his hand, held it up to the air.

"The wind is failing us," he remarked, and abruptly dived below to his
cabin.

At the same moment I noticed that the corvette was heading three or four
points to the eastward of her course.

"Hard up with your helm, man," I exclaimed impatiently to the man at the
wheel.  "Where are you taking the ship?"

"The wheel _is_ hard over, sir," explained the poor fellow with patient
deference; "but she's lost steerage-way."

Just then the skipper returned to the deck.

"Pipe away the first and second cutters, Mr Hawkesley," he exclaimed
sharply.  "Take charge of them yourself with one of the midshipmen to
help you, and pull down to the burning ship.  As likely as not you will
find that a similar trick has been played there to the one by which that
unfortunate man Richards and his crew so nearly lost their lives.  Let
the crews of the boats take their cutlasses and pistols with them, so as
to be prepared in the event of interference from the brig's crew, and
make all the haste you can.  Your first duty is to save the crew; your
next to save the ship if possible.  The glass is rising, so there will
be no wind; but I shall do what I can to shorten the distance between us
and the brig yonder.  When you have done all that is possible on board
the ship, make a dash for the brig, unless you see the recall signal
flying."

Three minutes later the two cutters were darting swiftly away over the
long glassy undulations of the ground-swell toward the great cloud of
smoke on the horizon which served as a beacon for us; the men pulling a
long steady stroke, which, whilst it sent the boats through the water at
a very fair pace, could be maintained for three or four hours at least.

We were scarcely a mile away from the _Daphne_ when she had the rest of
her boats in the water and ahead of her towing, whilst, dangling from
the yard-arms aloft, could be seen hammocks and bags of shot suspended
there to assist--by the swinging motion imparted to them by the rise and
fall of the vessel over the swell--the ship's progress through the
water.  The brig was hull-down to us; but from the steadiness with which
her head was kept pointing to the westward I conjectured that she was
either sweeping or being towed by her boats.

The sun set in a perfectly clear and cloudless sky, just as we had
brought the ship hull-up; but by that time she was a mass of flame fore
and aft, and I began to fear that we should be too late to save her crew
or to do any good whatever on board her.  We kept steadily on, however,
and reached her half an hour later.

The three masts went over the side when we were within a cable's length
of the burning ship, and on arriving within fifty feet of her we found
it impossible to approach any nearer, owing to the intense heat.  It was
manifestly impossible that any living thing could be in the midst of
that fiercely flaming furnace, so we were compelled to content ourselves
with merely ascertaining the name of the unfortunate craft, which with
considerable difficulty we at length made out to be the _Highland
Chieftain_ of Glasgow--after which we left her.

On pulling out clear of the smoke and glare of the flames once more we
found ourselves to be about six miles distant from the brig, a distance
of about eleven miles intervening between us and the _Daphne_.  Night
had by this time closed completely down upon us; the deep clear violet
sky above us was thickly powdered with stars, which were waveringly
reflected in the deep indigo of the water beneath, and away to the
eastward the broad disc of the full moon was just rising clear of the
horizon and casting a long rippling wake of golden light from the
ocean's rim clear down to us.

Our first glance was of course in the direction of the _Daphne_.  Her
towering spread of canvas alternately appeared and vanished as the
enormous idly flapping sails caught and lost again, with the heave of
the vessel, the glint of the golden moon-beams; but, save this, all was
dark and still on board her; no lanterns flashed in her rigging as a
recall signal, so I exultingly gave the order for the boats to be headed
straight for the brig, determined to win her if dash and courage could
do it.

"Pull steadily, lads," I cautioned, as the two crews bent their backs,
and with a ringing cheer started the boats in racing style; "no racing
now, we cannot afford the strength for it, all you have will be wanted
when we get alongside the chase; she is doubtless well manned with a
determined crew who will not give in without a tough struggle, so
husband your strength as much as possible.  Mr Peters," to the
midshipman in charge of the second cutter, "drop in my wake, sir, if you
please, and see that your men do not overtask themselves."

The men obediently eased down at once, and we jogged steadily along at a
pace of about four knots an hour; but their eagerness soon got the
better of them, the pace gradually increased, and I had to constantly
check them, or we should soon have been tearing away as fiercely as
ever.

This state of things lasted for about half an hour, and then the gleam
of lanterns suddenly appeared in the _Daphne's_ rigging.  It was the
recall signal, and the men gave audible vent to their feeling of
disappointment in an involuntary groan.

"Never mind, men," I said; "I have no doubt Captain Vernon has some good
reason for it.  Answer the signal, coxswain.  Ah!  I told you so; the
sloop has a little breeze, and here it comes creeping up astern of us.
Step the mast, take the covers off the sails, and get the canvas on the
boats.  Do you see that bright red star close to the horizon, coxswain?
Starboard a bit.  So, steady, now you have it fair over the boat's stem.
Steer for it, and we shall just drop alongside the loop nicely, without
troubling her to wait for us."

The breeze soon reached us, toying coyly with the boat's canvas at
first, but gradually bellying out the sails until at last they "went to
sleep."  The breeze was, after all, merely the gentlest of zephyrs, only
just sufficient to give a ship steerage-way; but, very fortunately for
us, the boats were provided, by a whim of poor Austin's, with a suit
each of enormous lateen sails made of light duck, with yards of such a
length that they had to be jointed in the middle to enable them to be
stowed in the boats; they were just the thing for light airs, and under
their persuasive influence we were soon gliding smoothly through the
scarcely ruffled water quite as fast as the men could have propelled us
with the oars.  An hour later we slid handsomely up alongside the sloop,
which by this time was slipping along at the rate of about five knots
under studding-sails and everything else that would hold a breath of
wind, and the boats were hoisted in without any interruption to the
ship's progress.

"Well, Mr Hawkesley, what news from the burning ship?" exclaimed the
skipper as I stepped up to him to make my report.

I explained to him the state in which we had found the vessel when we
reached her, and gave him her name.

"Ah!" he remarked.  "Well, it is a bad job, a very bad business
altogether.  I can only hope we may find the crew uninjured on board the
brig when we catch her; but I think it is rather doubtful.  Now run away
down into my cabin and tell Baines to give you some dinner.  I expect
everything will be cleared away in the ward-room by this."

On descending to the cabin I found that the skipper had been considerate
enough to give orders that a nice little dinner should be ready for me
on my return, and those orders having been carried out to the letter I
was enabled to sit down in peace and enjoy the meal for which the long
pull in the boats had given me a most voracious appetite.  The meal
over, it being then my watch below, I turned in.

On relieving Mr Armitage at midnight I found that the weather was still
fine, the wind the merest shade fresher than it had been when I left the
deck, and the chase directly ahead, about twelve miles distant, her
upper canvas showing distinctly in the brilliant rays of the moon.  We
had gained upon her about a couple of miles during the four hours I had
been below, and Captain Vernon--who had been on deck during the whole of
the previous watch, and was just about to retire for the night--was in
high spirits, and confident in his belief that, if all went well, we
should make the capture before sunset on the following day.  The best
helmsman in my watch was ordered to the wheel.  I made a regular tour of
the decks, taking an extra pull at a halliard here, easing off an inch
or so of this brace or that sheet, and, in short, doing everything
possible to increase the speed of the ship, and so my watch passed away;
the _Daphne_ having crept another couple of miles nearer to the chase
during the interval.

Thus matters went on until noon of the following day, when the wind once
more showed symptoms of failing, whilst the sky became overcast,
threatening a change of weather.  We had by this time shortened the
distance between ourselves and the chase until a space of only some
seven miles or so separated us, and everybody on board, fore and aft,
was in a fever of impatience to get alongside the brig, which our
glasses had already assured us was none other than the notorious _Black
Venus_.  She had already proved herself so slippery a customer that an
almost superstitious feeling had sprung up in our breasts with regard to
her; we felt that however closely we might succeed in approaching her,
however helplessly she might seem to be in our power, there could be no
dependence whatever upon appearances, and that until we had absolutely
succeeded in placing a prize crew upon her decks, and her own crew in
irons, we could not feel by any means certain that she was ours.  Hence
the extraordinary feeling of excitement and impatience which prevailed
on board the _Daphne_ on that memorable afternoon.

About two o'clock the wind changed, and we were obliged to take in the
studding-sail on the port side and get a pull upon the port braces.
Meanwhile a heavy bank of clouds had gathered in the south-western
quarter, and was gradually working up against the wind, until by three
o'clock p.m. the sun was obscured and the entire heavens blotted out by
the huge murky mass of seething vapour.  It was my watch below, but,
like everybody else, I was much too excited to remain anywhere but on
deck, and, to confess the truth, I did not half like the appearance of
things in general.  According to my notions we were about to experience
one of those sudden and violent atmospheric changes which are so
frequently met with in the tropics; yet there was the ship with a whole
cloud of studding-sails set on the starboard side, as well as every
other rag of canvas that could be coaxed to do an ounce of work.  "If,"
thought I, "my knowledge of weather is worth anything, all hands of us
will be pretty busy before long, and we shall be lucky indeed if we do
not lose some of our spars, as well as an acre or two of those flying-
kites up aloft there."  I even forgot myself so far as to gently
insinuate such a possibility to Mr Armitage, but I was so sharply
snubbed for my pains that I determined to interfere no further whilst
off duty, but to keep my eyes open and be ready to lend a hand whenever
and wherever required.

Captain Vernon was of course on deck, and from the anxious way in which
he from time to time glanced, first at the portentous sky overhead, next
at the chase, and finally at our immense spread of canvas, I felt sure
that he, to some extent, shared my apprehensions.

At length, after a more than usually anxious glance round, he went to
the skylight and took a peep apparently at the barometer.  I was
watching him, and I saw him start and take another keen look at it.
Then he suddenly dived down the companion-way into the cabin to make a
closer inspection of it, as I conjectured.  My curiosity was aroused,
and I was walking aft to take a look at the instrument through the
skylight on my own account, when the canvas suddenly flapped, and the
next second, without further warning of any description, a perfect
tornado burst upon us.

The ship was taken flat aback, and over she went, bowing helplessly
before the irresistible strength of the hurricane.  I thought I heard
Armitage's voice shouting an order of some kind, but if such was the
case it was impossible to distinguish the words through the deafening
rush of the wind, which completely swallowed up all other sounds.  As I
felt the deck rapidly heeling under my feet I made a desperate
scrambling spring for the nearest port on the weather side; for I
somehow seemed to realise instinctively that the _Daphne's_ brief career
was ended--that she would never again recover herself, but would "turn
the turtle" altogether.  The ominous words of the riggers on that day
when, in the first flush of my new-born dignity, I went down to inspect
the craft which was to be my future home, recurred to my mind as vividly
as though they had that moment been spoken, and I felt that the prophecy
lurking behind them was then in the very act of fulfilment.  I was
fortunate enough to reach and grasp one of the gun-tackles, and drawing
myself up to windward by its aid, I passed out through the open port on
to the upturned weather side of the ship, where I paused for a moment to
glance behind, or rather beneath me.  I shall never forget the sight
which then met my gaze.  The ship was lying over on her beam-ends with
her lower yard-arms deeply buried in the sea.  The whole of the lee side
of the deck was submerged; the water was pouring in tons down the open
hatchways, the lee coamings of which were already under water, and the
watch below could be seen ineffectually endeavouring to make their way
up on deck through these openings, the rush of water down which
irresistibly drove them back again at each attempt.  As for the watch on
deck they were already either swimming about in the sea to leeward or
clinging convulsively to the rigging, whither a few had instinctively
betaken themselves when the ship first went over.  But I had time only
for a momentary glance; the sloop had hung stationary in this position
for just the barest perceptible space of time; then with a sudden jar
she began to settle once more, and I had time only to scramble
breathlessly along her wet and slippery sides and on to her bilge when
she rolled fairly over and floated keel upwards.  And as she did so, a
hideous shriek rang out from her interior and became audible even above
the awful rush of the gale.



CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.

AN ABDUCTION AND AN IMPORTANT CAPTURE.

For a few moments I felt bewildered--stunned--by the awful suddenness of
this frightful catastrophe; the piercing shrieks of despair, too, which
continued to issue from the interior of the vessel, unmanned me, and I
crouched there upon the upturned bottom of the fabric like one in a
dream.  I felt that it _was_ a dream; the disaster was too complete and
too unexpected to be real, and I waited there, frozen with horror,
anxiously looking for the moment when I should awake and be released
from the dreadful nightmare.

But the sight of some half-a-dozen men battling for their lives in the
water to leeward of the hull, and vainly struggling to reach the main-
topgallant-mast--which had gone at the first stroke of the hurricane,
and having somehow broken adrift from the topmast-head, now lay
floating, with all attached, a few yards away--brought my senses back to
me, and abandoning my precarious refuge I sprang into the sea and
assisted the men, one after the other, to reach the floating spars.  As
I looked round me, in the vain hope of discovering further survivors, a
few more spars floated up to the surface--a spare topmast, a studding-
sail boom or two, the fore-topgallant-mast, with royal-mast, yards, and
sails attached; and finally a hen-coop with seven or eight drowned fowls
in it.  All these I at once took measures to secure, knowing that our
only hope of ultimate escape--and a very frail and slender hope it then
appeared--rested upon the possibility of our being able to construct a
raft with them.  In this attempt we were fortunately successful, and
sunset found us established on a small but fairly substantial and well-
constructed raft.  We mustered seven hands all told, six seamen and
myself--_seven only out of our entire crew_!  And so far we were safe.
But as I looked, first at the frail structure which supported us, and
then at the boundless waste of angry sea by which we were environed, and
upon which we were helplessly tossed to and fro, I thought in my haste
that it would have been better after all if we had shared the fate of
our comrades, now at rest in their ocean grave and beyond the reach of
those sufferings which seemed only too surely to await us.  Then better
thoughts came to me.  I reflected that whilst there was life there was
hope, and that the Hand which had been outstretched to preserve us
whilst others had been allowed to perish, was also able to save us to
the uttermost, if such should be the Divine Will.  And was it not our
duty to submit to that Will, to endure patiently whatever might be in
store for us?  Assuredly it was; and I humbly bowed my head in silent
thanksgiving and prayer--thanksgiving for my preservation so far, and
prayer that I might be given strength and patience to endure whatever
privation or sufferings might come to me in the future.

Whilst constructing the raft we had been too busy to note more than the
bare fact that we were being gradually but perceptibly swept away from
the capsized hull of the unfortunate _Daphne_; but when our work was at
length completed and we had a moment to look around us, our first
glances were directed to windward in search of the wreck She was nowhere
to be seen, and we had no doubt that, whilst we had been so busily
employed, the wreck had gradually settled deeper and deeper into the
water until she had gone down altogether.

Most fortunately--or most providentially I ought rather to say--for us,
the tornado had been as brief in its duration as it had been disastrous
in its effects, otherwise we could never have hoped to survive.  In
little more than ten minutes from the capsizing of the sloop the
strength of the hurricane was spent, and the wind dropped to a fresh
working breeze.  Of this circumstance the _Black Venus_ promptly availed
herself--her crew having undoubtedly observed the disaster--by bearing
up and standing to the eastward under every inch of canvas she could
spread.  Our first impression on witnessing this manoeuvre was that,
animated by some lingering spark of humanity in their breasts, her
people were returning in quest of possible survivors; but this hope was
speedily extinguished by the sight of the brig sweeping to leeward and
passing us at a distance of about half a mile, with her crew busily
engaged in the operation of crowding sail upon their vessel.  We stood
up and waved to her as she passed, and I have no doubt whatever that we
_were_ seen; but no notice was taken of us, and she soon swept out of
sight to leeward.  I hardly expected any other result, and was
consequently by no means discouraged at this fresh instance of
inhumanity; indeed, had they taken it into their heads to rescue us, it
is probable that our lot among them would have been little if any better
than it was out there on the open ocean, drifting about upon our tiny
raft.

When night fell we had had sufficient time to fully realise the peril
and hopelessness of our position; and I think most of us fully made up
our minds that we were destined to a lingering death from starvation,
unless, indeed, the end should happen to be precipitated by the
springing up of another gale or some equally fell disaster.

But our gloomy anticipations were destined to be speedily and pleasantly
dissipated, for at dawn on the following morning we were agreeably
surprised by the sight of a sail in the northern quarter--the craft
evidently heading directly for us.  The wind was blowing from the
westward at the time, a five-knot breeze; the weather was clear and the
sea had gone down, leaving nothing but the swell from the blow of the
preceding day.  We accordingly set to work and unhesitatingly cut adrift
one of the smaller spars of which our raft was constructed, and, hastily
securing the crazy fabric afresh, reared the spar on end, with my
shirt--the only white one among us--lashed to its upper extremity as a
signal.

The hour which followed was one of most agonising suspense.  Would she
or would she not alter her course before observing our signal?  The
helmsman was not steering quite as steadily as he might have done, and
our hearts went into our mouths and a cry of anguish involuntarily
escaped our lips every time the stranger showed a tendency to luff to
windward or fall off to leeward of her course.  At length, however, our
apprehensions were set at rest; for just as her hull was rising above
our limited horizon we saw a sudden flash from her side, followed by a
puff of white smoke, and a few seconds later the sharp ringing report of
a gun came wafted down to us.  Then her topgallant-sails and royals
fluttered a moment in the cool morning breeze as they were rapidly
sheeted-home and mast-headed; and half an hour later the _Virginia_--
yes, there could be no doubt about it, it was our latest prize; and
there, abaft the main rigging, stood the well-known figure of Smellie
himself--the _Virginia_ hove-to close to windward of us, a boat was
lowered, and we soon found ourselves standing safe and sound on the
brig's deck, the cynosure of all eyes and the somewhat bewildered
recipients of our former comrades' eager questions.

As for Smellie, with the considerate kindness which was always one of
his most prominent characteristics, he first gave orders that the half-
a-dozen hands rescued with me should receive every attention, and then
carried me off to his own cabin and rigged me in a jury suit of his own
clothes--which, by the way, were several sizes too big for me--whilst my
own togs were drying; and then, giving orders for breakfast to be served
in the cabin at the earliest possible moment, he sat down and listened
to my story.

His distress at the loss of so many friends was keen and sincere, but it
did not for a moment obscure his sound common sense.  A few minutes
sufficed me to give him a hasty outline of the disaster and to make him
acquainted with the direction of our drift during the night; the which
he had no sooner ascertained than he altered the brig's course as much
as was necessary to take her over the scene of the catastrophe, at the
same time sending three hands aloft to keep a sharp look-out for
wreckage or any other indications that we were nearing the spot, and
especially for possible survivors.

Half an hour later we passed a grating, then a spare studding-sail boom,
then a couple of hen-coops close together; after which fragments of
wreckage became increasingly frequent until we reached a spot where one
of the _Daphne's_ boats was found floating with her stern torn out of
her; several hatch-covers, the mizen topgallant-mast and sail, three
dead sheep, a wash-deck tub, and other relics being in company; after
which the wreckage suddenly ceased.  We had evidently passed over the
spot where the _Daphne_ had gone down.  And the brig was immediately
hove-to and all the boats despatched upon a search expedition--unhappily
a vain one, for not a sign of another survivor could be found, nor even
a dead body to which we could give decent and Christian burial.

This melancholy fact at length indubitably established, Smellie gave the
order to make sail, shaping a course for the Congo, whither we felt sure
the _Black Venus_ had made the best of her way.

Crowding sail upon the _Virginia_ we made the passage to the river's
mouth in a trifle over five days, during the last three of which the
wind was light and variable with us, anchoring in Banana Creek at two
p.m. on the fifth day from that on which we had been picked up.  The
_Virginia_ having succeeded in completing her complement of officers and
men at Sierra Leone, the half-dozen picked up with me had been acting as
supernumeraries on board, whilst I had simply been Smellie's guest.  I
was very much gratified, therefore, when he invited me to go with him in
the boat on a search expedition to ascertain, if possible, the
whereabouts of the redoubtable _Black Venus_.

We started in the gig that same afternoon as soon as the ship was
moored, Smellie being of opinion that we should find the object of our
quest snugly moored within the creek below Don Manuel's house, where we
had seen her on the eventful evening when we captured the _Josefa_; and
this creek being situate at some distance up the river, it was necessary
that we should make an early start in order to be back on board before
the rising of the evening mists.

We reached the creek in due course without adventure, and began
cautiously to ascend it.  Mile after mile we made our way, landing at
the extremity of every reach and carefully reconnoitring the succeeding
one before entering it with the boat; but our search was in vain--we
arrived at the head of the creek without finding a single trace of the
brig, or indeed of any other vessel.

Being there, it was only natural that Smellie and I should feel a strong
desire to see once more the kind host and gentle hostess who had so
generously nursed and entertained us in the time of our sore need.
Leaving the boat at the head of the creek, therefore, in charge of the
coxswain, with instructions to the latter to fire a couple of muskets in
rapid succession should our presence be required, or, in the event of
that being inadvisable, to make the best of his way along the footpath
and up to the house, we set out--the bright flush on Smellie's bronzed
cheek, the joyous sparkle in his eyes, and the eager spring in his
elastic footstep betraying plainly enough the pleasurable anticipations
which occupied his mind.

Traversing the path with rapid footsteps we soon reached the palisading
which inclosed the garden, passed through the gate, and found ourselves
in sight of the house.  There it stood just as we had last seen it, door
and windows wide open, the muslin curtains at the windows waving idly in
the fitful breeze, and the bamboo lounging-chairs--one of them
overturned--under the verandah.

We stepped briskly out, warm work though we had found it breasting the
hill, and passed up the main avenue leading to the front door--Smellie
keeping his eyes intently fixed upon the said front door, doubtless in
the hope of seeing Dona Antonia emerge, and of enjoying her first glance
of surprise and delight.  I of course had no such inducement to look
straight ahead, and my glances therefore wandered carelessly here and
there to the right and left, noting the exquisite shapes and colours of
the flowers and fruit and the luxuriant foliage and delightful shade of
the trees.

Whilst thus engaged my wandering thoughts were suddenly arrested by the
appearance of several large and heavy footprints in the sandy soil of
the footpath; and whilst I was still idly wondering what visitors Don
Manuel could have so recently had and from whence they could possibly
have come, my eye lighted upon a single drop of blood; then another,
then quite a little line of blood-drops.  They were, however, only such
as would result from a trifling cut or scratch; so I said nothing about
it.  A little further on, up the pathway, a tall thorny shrub thrust its
branches somewhat obtrusively over the border of the path; and one of
the twigs--a good stout one--was broken and hung to its parent branch by
a scrap of bark only.  Curiosity prompted me to pause for a moment to
examine the twig; and I then saw that one of the thorns was similarly
broken, its point being stained with blood still scarcely dry.  This
solved the riddle.  Someone passing hastily had evidently been caught by
the thorn and rather severely scratched.  A few paces further on a shred
of white muslin hung from another bush; and I began to fear that Dona
Antonia had been the sufferer.

Beaching the house we walked unceremoniously in, delighted at the idea
of the surprise we should give our friends.  Proceeding to the parlour,
or usual sitting-room, we found it empty, with, to our great surprise,
the table and one or two chairs capsized, a torn scarf lying on the
floor, and other evidences of a struggle of some sort.  The sight
brought us abruptly to a stand-still on the threshold--Smellie and I
looking at each other inquiringly, as though each would ask the other
what could be the meaning of it all.  Then with a quick stride my
companion passed in before me, glanced round the room, and uttered a low
exclamation of horror.  I at once followed, glanced in the direction
indicated by Smellie's outstretched finger, and there, behind the door,
lay the body of poor Pedro, face downwards on the floor, a little pool
of coagulating blood being just visible on the matting beneath his
forehead.

Quickly stooping we turned him over on his back.  He was quite dead,
though not yet cold, the cause of death being clearly indicated by a
small bullet-wound fair in the centre of his forehead.

My thoughts flew back in an instant to the night on which we last stood
under that same roof, to the attempted abduction of Dona Antonia; and
the conviction at once seized upon me that we were now looking upon
another piece of Senor Madera's work.

The same thought evidently struck Smellie, for he turned to me and
exclaimed breathlessly:

"Dona Antonia!--where can she be?"

And without waiting for an answer he dashed into the passage and began
calling loudly:

"Antonia!  Antonia mia! where are you, darling!  It is I--Harold."

Then, receiving no answer, he shouted alternately for Don Manuel and old
Madre Dolores.

This time he was more successful, for as he paused for breath we heard a
voice far down the garden-path replying in Spanish, "Hola!  Hola!  Who
calls for me so loudly?"

And looking in that direction we saw Don Manuel sauntering up the path
with his gun thrown carelessly over his shoulder and a well-filled bag
of "specimens" by his side.

We hastened out to meet him, and received a right joyous and hearty
greeting, to which we hastily responded; and then poor Smellie in his
anxiety blurted out:

"And where is Dona Antonia?"

"Is she not in the house?" asked Don Manuel.

"I cannot find her anywhere," replied Smellie, "and I greatly fear--"
then his natural caution returned to him and he checked himself.  "By
the way," he continued, "have you seen anything of your friend Senor
Madera lately."

"No," answered Don Manuel, "he has never had the assurance to appear
here since the night on which he made his audacious attempt to abduct my
daughter; but I noticed just now that his ship is in the creek below
there, so I hastened home, deeming it only prudent to be on the spot
whilst he favours us with his unwelcome proximity."

"His ship in the creek!" exclaimed Smellie incredulously.  "Then she
must have arrived within the last half-hour, for it is barely that since
we passed from the mouth to the head of the creek, and no ship was in it
then."

A little cross-questioning, however, elicited the fact that there were
_two_ creeks near Don Manuel's house; we had explored the western creek,
and it was the other which at that moment sheltered Senor Madera's ship.

Smellie then, with infinite tact and patience, gradually broke to the
poor old gentleman the news of the tragedy which had been enacted in the
house during its owner's brief absence, together with our fears as to
the fate which had befallen Dona Antonia.

The poor old fellow was at first most frightfully agitated, as of course
might reasonably have been expected; indeed in the first paroxysm of his
grief and rage I almost feared he would lose his senses altogether.  But
Smellie's gentle firmness and sound reasoning soon brought him to a
calmer frame of mind, and then we instituted a thorough but fruitless
search of the house.

I then thought it time to mention the various little signs I had
observed on the garden-path; and we forthwith directed our steps to the
several spots, carefully examining the ground foot by foot, with the
result that we were soon enabled to arrive at something like a definite
conclusion.  Our examination showed that at least half a dozen men had
visited the house probably not more than half an hour before our
arrival; that there had been a struggle, in which the unfortunate Pedro
had lost his life; and that Dona Antonia, and also in all probability
poor old Madre Dolores, who could nowhere be found, had been forcibly
carried off.  Having come to this conclusion, we next patiently tracked
the footprints, which led us through the wood down to the head of the
creek referred to by Don Manuel, on the muddy banks of which we
distinctly traced not only the heavy footprints of the abductors, but
also the lighter ones of, presumably, Dona Antonia and her nurse, as
well as the mark of the boat's keel where she had been grounded.  This
much determined, Don Manuel next led us to a spot from which he assured
us that Senor Madera's vessel could be seen; and there, sure enough, we
saw our old foe the _Black Venus_ snugly moored in the creek.

A council of war was at once held as to what should be our next
proceeding.  It was manifestly impossible to attack the brig there and
then; our little force was wholly inadequate to the capture of the
vessel, and any attempt to do so would only have resulted in putting her
crew upon their guard.  Don Manuel informed us that, from his knowledge
of the creek, he was certain there would not be a sufficient depth of
water over the sand-bar at its mouth to allow of the brig sailing before
high-water, which would be at about half-past six o'clock that evening;
but we were unanimously of opinion that, having secured his prey, Senor
Madera _would_ sail then.  As to what might happen in the interim, it
would not bear thinking of, and we could only hope and pray for the
best.  Having by this time obtained all the light which it was possible
to gain on the matter, we prepared to return to the _Virginia_, Don
Manuel eagerly accepting Smellie's invitation to accompany us.  But
before doing this, there lay before us the melancholy task of burying
poor Pedro's body, and with the aid of half a dozen men from the gig
this was accomplished as speedily as possible, after which the house was
shut up, and we hastened down to the boat and made the best of our way
back to our ship.

Poor Smellie behaved most admirably under the very trying circumstances.
That he was fearfully agitated and anxious, I, who knew him so well,
could easily see; but with a determination and firmness of will which I
heartily envied he resolutely put aside all other considerations and
devoted all his energies to the solution of the problem of what it would
be best to do.  We were a silent and thoughtful party as we wended our
way back to the ship; but once there, the skipper promptly led the way
to his cabin and informed Don Manuel and me that he had decided upon a
plan of action.

It was exceedingly simple.  He was, he said, more firmly convinced than
ever that the _Black Venus_ would sail that night.  The weather was
clear and fine, the barometer high; and we might therefore reckon with
certainty upon the springing up of the land-breeze shortly after sunset.
This breeze would be a fair wind _out_ of the river; but so long as it
lasted no ship could re-enter against it and the strong current.
Smellie's plan, therefore, was simply to go outside as soon as the
evening mists gathered sufficiently to conceal our movements, and there
await the _Black Venus_, trusting to the speed of the _Virginia_ and our
own manoeuvring to enable us to get promptly alongside her.

The plan looked very promising, and it was adopted.  The messenger was
at once passed, and the ship hove short; after which we awaited with
such patience as we could muster for the gathering of the mist.  At
length, about seven p.m., the anchor was tripped, and the _Virginia_
glided gracefully out of the creek to seaward, under topsails, jib, and
boom mainsail.  We knew almost to a hair's-breadth the course which the
_Black Venus_ must steer for the first seven or eight miles after
clearing Shark Point, and Smellie placed us right across this track,
jamming the vessel close upon a wind and wearing short round every
twenty minutes; by which plan we were never more than ten minutes sail
from the line over which we expected the enemy to pass.

A careful calculation, based upon our knowledge of the _Black Venus's_
extraordinary sailing powers, showed that we might look for her about
half-past nine o'clock; and half an hour previous to that we began to
make our preparations for according to her a suitable reception.  The
decks were cleared for action, the magazine was opened, arms and
ammunition were served out to the crew, who were then sent to quarters;
the guns were loaded each with a round-shot and a charge of grape on the
top of it, and all the canvas was loosed and made ready for setting at a
moment's notice.  Then all the sharpest eyes available in the ship were
set upon the watch for our slippery foe, and we were ready.

The night-mists to which frequent reference has been made are, it ought
to be explained, confined to the river itself; and though on such
occasions as that of which we are now treating they are carried out to
seaward by the land-breeze a few miles beyond the river's mouth, they
soon get dissipated; so that whilst in the river itself the fog may be
so thick as to render it impossible to see further than half the ship's
length ahead, it will be perfectly clear at a distance of seven or eight
miles outside.  It was just upon the outer or seaward skirts of the fog-
bank that we had taken up our station and were hovering to and fro.

The _Virginia_ had just gone round, and was stretching to the southward
upon the port tack, when, from my station on the heel of the bowsprit, I
thought I detected a sudden thickening of the haze at a spot about three
points on the weather-bow.  Straining my eyes to their utmost I gazed
intently into the darkness; the appearance became more pronounced, more
defined every second, and as I watched it assumed the form of an
irregularly-shaped truncated pyramid.

"Sail ho! broad on the weather-bow!"  I exclaimed joyously; and in a
moment half a dozen voices exultingly reiterated the cry of "Sail ho!"

Yes, there could be no mistake about it; for whilst the words were still
upon our lips the apparition grew more substantial, assumed the misty
outline of a ship in full sail, and finally shot out from among the fog-
wreaths clear and well-defined--a brig running before the wind under
studding-sails.

I hastened aft to where Smellie stood grasping the maintopmast backstay,
and was greeted by him with the characteristic remark of:

"What a fellow he must be, and what nerve he must have!  Fancy a man
running out of that river and through the fog under studding-sails."
Then, turning to the helmsman, he said:

"_Now_ we have him fairly, I think.  Up with your helm, my man, and
steer for his jib-boom end.  Mr Costigan,"--to the first
lieutenant--"make sail, if you please."

"Oi, oi, sorr," answered that worthy in a rich Hibernian brogue.  "Let
go and overhaul the fore and main clewgarnets; board the fore and main
tacks and aft wid the sheets.  Fore and main topmast-staysail and jib
halliards, hoist away.  Sheet home and set the fore and main-topgallant-
sails, and be smart about it.  Aisy now, there, wid that main tack;
don't ye see, you spalpeens, that the ship is bearin' up.  Man the
braces, fore and aft; ease up to leeward and round in to windward as the
ship pays off.  Well of all, belay, and coil up.  Misther Hawkesley, am
I to have the pleasure of showin' ye the way on board the hooker
yonder?"

"Thanks, no, I think not, Costigan," I answered with a laugh.  "I
propose to lend my valuable aid to the alter division of the boarders;
you are a host in yourself, you know, and can manage very well without
me.  But I shall keep a look-out for you in the waist of the brig."

"Very well, it's there I'll mate ye, young gintleman, or my name's not
Denis Costigan."

And away hurried the impetuous Irishman to place himself at the head of
the forward division of boarders.

The brig had sighted us almost as quickly as we had her, and she made
one or two attempts to dodge us.  But it was of no use, she had run into
our arms, as it were; we were much too close together when the vessels
became visible to each other to render anything like dodging at all
possible; moreover Smellie, standing there on the breach of one of the
guns, watched the chase with so unwavering an eye and met any deviation
on her part so promptly with a corresponding swerve on the part of the
_Virginia_, that Senor Madera soon scornfully gave up the attempt, and
held steadily forward upon his course.

The sister brigs, for such they eventually proved to be, now running on
almost parallel courses, soon narrowed the space between them to a bare
hundred feet, the _Virginia_, however, having been so carefully steered
as to give her a slight lead.  This seemed to be the moment for which
Senor Madera had waited, for he now suddenly threw open his ports, and
without attempting the mockery of hoisting an ensign of any kind, poured
into us the whole contents of his double-shotted starboard broadside,
aiming high, however, with the evident hope of knocking away some of our
more important spars.  Our lower canvas was immediately riddled and a
few unimportant ropes were cut; but beyond this we fortunately sustained
no damage.

By way of reply to this, Smellie, without removing his eyes from the
chase, waved his hand gently to the helmsman; the wheel was put a half a
dozen spokes or so over to port, and the _Virginia_ slewed slightly more
toward her antagonist.

"Now, steady men," cautioned the skipper.  "Do not fire until I give the
word, then pour your broadside in upon her decks--not a shot below the
sheer-strake for your lives."  I well knew of whom he was thinking when
he said this; Antonia was doubtless in the cabin, and it was her safety
for which he was thus careful.  "And as soon as you have fired your
broadside," he continued, "draw your cutlasses and stand by to board.
Are the grappling-irons all ready?"

"All ready, sir," came the reply from the tars who were standing by to
throw them, and then there ensued a few breathless moments of intense
silence.

Gradually the two brigs neared each other, until the lap and swirl of
the water along our antagonists' sides could be distinctly heard.  At
that moment a rattling volley of small-arms was discharged from the
_Black Venus_, and I saw Smellie start and reel on his elevated perch.
The next instant, however, he had recovered himself, and once more
waving to the helmsman, he gave the word:

"_Fire_!"

Prompt at the command, our broadside rattled out, and amid the crashing
of timber and the shrieks of the wounded I felt the jar of collision
between the two vessels.

"Heave!" shouted Smellie.  "Boarders away!"  And with a simultaneous
spring fore and aft, away we went over the bulwarks and down on to the
crowded decks of the _Black Venus_.

The fight was short but stubborn.  Our antagonists fought with the
desperate bravery of men who already felt the halters settling round
their necks; but whoever heard of British tars yielding an enemy's deck
when once their feet were firmly planted upon it?  Besides, almost every
individual man among us felt that we had a long score of disappointments
and floutings to wipe out, and steadily but irresistibly we drove the
pirates into the waist of their ship, where, huddled closely together,
it was impossible for them to use their arms effectively.  Finally,
Smellie and Madera, after several unsuccessful efforts to get at each
other, managed to cross swords, and after a few rapid passes the latter
fell, run through the body by the skipper.  In the very act of falling,
however, he whipped a pistol from his belt and aiming point blank at the
skipper, fired, the ball passing through Smellie's lungs.  The poor
fellow turned blindly, and with the blood spurting from his mouth reeled
into my arms.

I knew very little of the fight after this, for summoning a couple of
men I at once proceeded to remove the skipper on board his own vessel;
but before we had got him fairly down on deck a cheer from our lads told
us that victory had once more declared herself on our side, and that the
redoubtable _Black Venus_ was ours.

Getting Smellie below and into his cot with all speed, I waited until
the arrival of the surgeon upon the scene, when, handing the patient
over to his tender mercies, I hastened back on board the prize, and went
straight below into her cabin.  It was a magnificently furnished
apartment, and fitted with every luxury, even to a guitar.  But it was
empty.  Could it be possible that we had been deceived, after all, as to
the circumstances of Dona Antonia's abduction?  Perhaps she was
concealed somewhere.  I shouted:

"Dona Antonia!  Dona Antonia! are you here?  Fear not; it is I--Dick
Hawkesley.  We have captured this vessel; Madera is wounded, if not
slain outright; your father is at hand, and you are free."

"Who calls?"  I heard a voice--Madre Dolores'--exclaim from an adjacent
berth, the door of which was closed.  "Who calls?"

"I--Dick Hawkesley," I replied.  "Don't you recognise my voice, Madre?"

"Ay, to be sure I do--_rum_" was the reply.  A sound of the withdrawal
of bolts followed; the door cautiously opened, and the Madre, with her
eyes gleaming and a cocked pistol pointed straight in my direction,
protruded her head through the opening.  One look was sufficient.  With
a wild cry of delight she dashed the pistol to the floor, exploding it
in the act, and sending the ball within a hair's-breadth of my starboard
ankle, and rushing forward flung her arms convulsively about my neck,
pouring out a torrent of Spanish endearments between the kisses which
the poor old soul liberally bestowed upon me.  I submitted with a good
grace for a moment, and then gently but firmly withdrew myself from her
embraces, to meet the glance of Dona Antonia, who stood in the doorway
of the state-room, looking on with a curiously mingled expression of
fear, doubt, and amusement.

A few words sufficed to fully explain to her the state of affairs, and
then hastily enveloping her and old Dolores in the first wraps that came
to hand, I conveyed them with all speed on board the _Virginia_ and
presented them to Don Manuel.

My story is now ended, or nearly so; my adventures on the Congo and the
west coast terminating with the capture of the _Black Venus_; a few
additional words, therefore, will suffice to fittingly dismiss the
principal personages who have figured in this history, and to bring the
history itself to a symmetrical conclusion.

We returned with our prize to Banana Creek, on the morning following the
action, and there remained for a couple of days to bury the dead, and to
refit.  Don Manuel embraced this opportunity to make a flying visit to
his house, from which he returned after an absence of a few hours only,
bringing with him a small but solidly constructed and extremely heavy
oak chest, which he explained to me in confidence contained his
daughter's dowry, and which eventually proved to be the receptacle of a
goodly store of Spanish dollars.

From Banana Creek the two brigs proceeded in company to Sierra Leone,
where the _Black Venus_ was soon afterwards adjudicated upon and
condemned as a pirate, my evidence and that of the other six survivors
from the _Daphne_ being accepted as conclusive of the fact that she had
been guilty of at least _one_ act of piracy; namely, in the case of the
_Highland Chieftain_.  Her crew were committed to prison upon heavy
sentences, meted out in proportion to the comparative guilt of the
parties; but additional evidence shortly afterwards cropping up--that of
poor Richards of the _Juliet_ amongst it--additional charges were
preferred against them; and Madera, who proved to be the half-brother of
the fictitious Monsieur Le Breton, late of the _Virginia_, with his
officers and several of his men, suffered the penalty of death by
hanging.

Smellie's wound proving unexpectedly troublesome, he was ordered home
that he might have the benefit of a more temperate climate to assist his
recovery, and he accordingly took passage for London in a tidy little
barque, the _Lilian_, Don Manuel and his daughter, with old Dolores, all
of whom had gone on to Sierra Leone with us, also engaging berths in the
same vessel.  The survivors from the _Daphne_ being also ordered home to
stand their trial for the loss of that vessel, I thought I could not do
better than secure one of the remaining berths in the _Lilian's_ cabin--
the men being accommodated in the steerage.  Thus we had the mutual
pleasure of each other's society all the way home.

The passage was a long but uneventful one, and by the time that we
arrived in the Chops of the Channel Smellie's wound had taken so
favourable a turn that he was almost as well as ever, save and except
for a little lingering weakness and shakiness in his lower spars, which,
somehow, obstinately continued to need the assistance and support of
Dona Antonia's fair arm whenever the two promenaded the deck together.
My gallant superior was extremely anxious to be married immediately on
the ship's arrival, and after the usual protestations and pleadings for
delay with which engaged maidens delight to torment their lovers, Dona
Antonia so far yielded as to consent to the wedding taking place on the
earliest possible day after my trial, so that I might be present at the
ceremony.

And this arrangement was duly carried out; the trial by court-martial
being, of course, a mere form, from which I and my fellow-survivors
emerged with a full acquittal, accompanied, in my case, by a few very
gracious and complimentary remarks from the president on the manner in
which I had conducted myself during my short period of service.

As for Smellie, he found himself fully confirmed in his rank of
commander, with the gracious intimation that, in appreciation of his
valued services, an appointment would be at his disposal whenever he
felt himself sufficiently recovered to ask for it, which he did after a
six months' sojourn at home with his young wife.  I sailed with him in
the capacity of midshipman, and in the West Indies and elsewhere we
passed through several stirring adventures together, the record of which
may possibly be given in the future.

THE END.





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