Billeder på siden

"If I had but that creater in Boston Bay," said the cockswain, "it would prove the making of me; but such is my luck forever! Pull up, at any rate, and let me get my harpoon and line—the English shall never get them while old Tom Coffin can blow."



[From "The Cruise of the Midge,” BY MICHAEL SCOTT]



E stood in, and as we approached I went aloft on the little stump of a mast to look about

The leaden-coloured sea generally becomes several shades lighter in tropical countries as you approach the shore, unless the latter be regularly up and down, and deep close to. In the present instance, however, although it gradually shoaled, the blue water, instead of growing lighter and greener, and brightening in its approach to the land, became gradually of a chocolate colour, as the turbid flow of the river feathered out like a fan all round the mouth of it. But as the tide made, the colour changed, by the turgid stream being forced back again, and before it was high water the bar was indicated by a semicircle of whitish light green, where the long swell of the sea gradually shortened, until it ended in small tumbling waves that poppled about and frothed as if the ebullitions had been hove up and set in motion by some subterraneous fire. But, as yet, the water did not break on any part of the crescent-shaped ledge of sand.

In the very middle of the channel there were three narrow streaks of blue water. We chose the centre one; and while the frigate hove-to in the offing, dashed over with a fine breeze, that, from the eddy round the point to windward, was nearly a fair wind up the river. For a minute I thought we were in some peril when


passing the boiling water on the bar; but presently we were gliding along the smooth surface of the noble river.

On rounding the first point, right in the middle of the stream lay our friend of the preceding night, moored stem and stern, with boarding-nettings up and Spanish colours flying at the mizen-peak; but we could see no one on board. Sprawl therefore called a halt, and made the men lie on their oars, as some savage pranks had lately been played by slavers in these rivers, such as laying trains to their magazines when they found capture inevitable, and various other pleasant little surprises, one of which generally served a man for a lifetime. So being desirous of avoiding all chance of a hoist of this kind, we dropped anchor in the felucca and got the boats alongside, all to the cutter, which was sent to pull round the polacre and reconnoitre. On the officer returning, he said he had seen nothing. We therefore determined to remain quiet for some time longer, to give any trick of the nature glanced at time to develop itself. We lay for two hours under the most intense heat I ever remember; the sun was absolutely broiling us alive, for there was not the least breath of air, and the surface of the sluggish river was one polished sheet of silver—the low swampy banks being covered with mangrove bushes and dwarf-palms, preventing any breeze there might be from finding its way to us.

“Now," said Lieutenant Sprawl, “this is really very unentertaining. I say, Benjie, my dear, I think I had better pull under the stern of the polacre to reconnoitre a bit. I will take care that I do not go too near.”

I see no objections to it,” said I, “none in the world; but mind your hand, my hearty–don't go too far, as they are slippery chaps, these same slaving gentry, that I can

tell you.

The boat shoved off-we were eating our hasty dinner on deck at the moment—and proceeded without let or hindrance until she arrived within pistol-shot of the polacre, when lol from amongst the green bushes on the river bank, about musket-shot from them, a burst of white smoke flew up, and several round shot hopped along the calm surface, stirring up the water with whizzing splashes. The next moment the shrieks of the cutter's crew gave notice that they had told in a fearful manner. We looked out ahead. The wreck of the boat, with eight of her crew, including the lieutenant, holding on by it, came floating down to us; she had been knocked to pieces by the fire of the masked battery that had so unexpectedly opened, but the poor devils were promptly picked up; all to one unfortunate fellow who had been killed and now floated past us on his back, with his chest up and his head down. Old Davie Doublepipe scrambled on board, in nowise greatly put out by his rough reception.

"Why now,” said he, "a surprise of this kind is extremely inconvenient."

“But where the deuce came the shot from?” said I.

“The devil only knows," quoth he; "everything seemed as quiet as could be, when all at once-crash! the shot took us right amidships, and the next moment we were all foundering in the water, like so many pigs overboard."

"Well, well, lucky it is no worse," rejoined honest Dick Lanyard; "but I say, Master Marline,” to the senior midshipmate of the frigate, who commanded one of the other boats, "we can't lie here to be murdered, so strike out for the polacre, keeping t'other side of the river and her hull between you and the skulkers; then pull straight for her, but haul off if you see anyone on board; and if any annoyance is offered from the shore this time, I will weigh and give our concealed friends a dose of grape."

The boat shoved off, and pulled towards the enemy in the manner directed. All was quiet until she reached within ten yards of her, when a blaze of six pieces of cannon at the fewest once more took place, and eddies of smoke again gushed from the bushes. The boat instantly took the hint, put about, and returned to us. Her stern had been nearly knocked to pieces, and she was leaking so much that, by the time she was alongside, she was full of water, and the men had only time to get out when she sank to the gunwale.

"By the powers !" said Lanyard, driven off his balance, cool as he was, “but there is mighty little fun in all this. What see you, my man?” to one of the people who had scrambled up the long yard to reconnoitre from whence the shots had proceeded; but he could give no information. The smoke rolled away down the dull river in white wreaths, growing more and more gauze-like and transparent, as they passed us, and all was quiet, and green, and noiseless on the bank as before; while the sun continued to shine down on us with the same sickening intensity, heating the thick unwholesome air, until it was almost unfit for breathing.

"Something must be done,” said I; "we must dislodge these fellows or be off, that is clear.' "Do

you think,” said Lanyard, addressing himself to the discomfited first lieutenant, who was shaking his

« ForrigeFortsæt »