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feathers, and drying himself as well as he could, “that there is water for us to sheer alongside where these scoundrels are ensconced?"
"I consider there must be," said he, “but we had better remain quiet where we are until night, if they will let us, so that we may be off with the ebb if need be."
The advice was good and discreet. So Old Bloody Politeful, Dick Lanyard, and I set to clean our beautiful persons, and make ourselves as comfortable as our scanty means permitted, while the men did the same. now near five P. M., and the tide began to flow again. As there were two good hours' daylight still, we determined to prove our friends a little further, rather than lie inactive any longer; the same restless feeling had spread to the men.
"The tide is on the turn now, sir," said the old quartermaster.
"Then all hands up anchor, weigh, and sweep in close to that dwarf palm there."
The smoke had come from a spot close under its shade. "Hurrah !" shouted the men.
The anchor was catted, the sweeps were manned, the guns were loaded with grape, the marines stood to their arms, and in five minutes we were once more at anchor, with the two boats in tow, within half pistol-shot of the bank. All remained still. Not a breath stirred the leaves of the mangrove bushes or the jungle of wild cane that grew close to the river brink. I was sure we were directly opposite the spot from whence the shots were fired.
Whenever we were fairly settled in our position, we let drive both guns. The grape pattered in the water, and rattled amongst the leaves of the trees, but all continued still as death. We loaded and fired again; but as we had only one boat untouched, Mr. Sprawl determined, instead of attempting a landing, in order to cope with enemies whom we could not see, to weigh and sweep towards the brig again, with the intention, if opportunity offered, of boarding her. But the moment we turned our stern to the shore, and began to pull in that direction—bang !several cannon were again fired at us, in this instance loaded with round and grape, but fortunately missed us this time.
“Pull, men, like fury; give way, and clap the hull of the brig between you and our honest friends there." Crack !
-another rally from the masked battery; the next minute, we had swept round the stern of the polacre, and were alongside. Lanyard laid hold of the manrope: "Now, men, there can be no tricks here, or they would have shown themselves before now; so, follow me." The rope gave in his grasp, and a gun exploded on board. Dick fell back on the deck of the felucca. "Cast off your fastenings, and sheer off, my lads, or we may get a hoist we don't dream of."
At this instant the battery on shore began to play in earnest; not in broadsides, but by single guns, as fast as they could pepper; some of the shot coming through and through both sides of the polacre. We immediately hauled off for the opposite bank of the river, but took the ground on a bank, where the current, setting strong down, jammed us hard and fast. We were about two cables' length from the brig at this time, and the sun was now near setting. The firing continued, the flashes became brighter, the smoke began, as the sky darkened, to grow luminous, and presently the polacre appeared to be sinking. “She is settling fast down forward,” said I; "by St. Patrick, she is sinking, sure enough. There; there, she goes; what a list to port she is getting !" She slowly fell over on her beam-ends, in the mud, with everything under water but about ten feet of the quarter bulwark next us, and the masts and rigging which the setting sun was now gilding. The long shadows of the palms on the western bank now gradually crept across the whole breadth of the unwholesome stream, chasing the blood-red gleam of the sinking sun, first from the water, and then from the eastern bank, where it lingered for a moment on the topmost branches of the trees, from which it also speedily disappeared, until the objects that vouched for his being still above the horizon were the wand-like tops of the polacre's tall masts, that shone like burnished brass rods for a brief moment, and then blackened under the fast-falling darkness, which rapidly shrouded the whole melancholy scene; while creeping churchyard-looking vapours, as if the pestilence no longer walked in darkness, but had become palpable to the senses of sight, smell, and feeling, shrouded every object on the shores from our view, like a London fog. Myriads of mosquitoes now began to attack us in every way, and several white cranes fitted past and around us, like ghosts, sailing slowly on their widespread wings; the chirping and croaking of numberless insects and reptiles came off strong from the banks, borne on the putrid exhalations that were like to poison us; the rushing of the river, that in the daytime we could scarcely hear, now sounded loud and hoarse, and rippled, lip, lipping against the stem as we lay aground, before circling away in dark frothy eddies in our wake.
We lay still for several hours without seeing any light, or hearing any noises on shore that indicated the vicinity of our dangerous neighbours. Once, tempted by the apparent quietude, the boat shoved off a stroke or two in the direction of the polacre, with the intention of setting fire to her, if possible; but when within pistolshot of their object, a loud voice from the shore sang out in a threatening tone: “Cuidado," 1 when the officer wisely pulled round and returned to us.
We could hear the frigate in the offing through the livelong night, firing signal-guns every ten minutes, which we durst not answer, without the certainty of being speedily blown to pieces by our invisible antagonists. About ten o'clock I went along with little Binnacle in one of the boats with muffled oars, and made directly for the bank opposite where he had been fired at; on a nearer approach I found it to be free of mangroves, and to consist of a black overhanging scaur that had been scarped out by the rush of the stream, reflected across from the jutting point on the side where the slavers had intrenched themselves. All continued still, and here we skulked for a full hour, when we stole out, and pulled gently towards the wreck, the hull of which, either from a fresh in the river, or the rising of the tide, was now entirely under water. But we had not advanced more than fifty yards towards our object, when the same unearthly "Beware!” swung booming along the water, reflected in a small echo from the opposite side, as if a water-fiend had been answered by a spirit of the air. We got back to the felucca, and now made up our minds to while away the time until the day broke, in the best way we could, all hands being set to cooper the damaged boat, of which we contrived to make a very tolerable job, so that she leaked very little. 1 Literally, "Take care; mind your eye."
The lieutenant in command, Lanyard, and I, now went below, and immediately sent for the three midshipmen detached on the same service. We had some grog and a piece of rancid mess-beef, and as turning in was out of the question, we planked it on the deck and lockers, and by the help of boat-cloaks and blankets were endeavouring to make ourselves as comfortable as we could, when the sound of a cannon-shot was once more heard.
"Why, what the deuce," said I, "we are making no movement; what can the fellows mean?"
There was no saying; they might, from the success they had met with in neutralising the attempts of the boats to disturb them, or destroy the wreck, have overvalued the strength of their position, for this shot had been aimed at us. We had now plenty of water, so we instantly weighed, and dropped down the river out of range. All now remained quiet until the day dawned, streaks of dull gray appeared in the eastern horizon. There was not a single warm tint in the sky, although we were in a regular vapour-bath of pestilential effluvia, and were anything but cold. An hour before daylight the fog again sank down on us even thicker than before, so that everything was hid from our view beyond ten paces' distance; but as it drew nearer sunrise, this watery canopy rose, and gradually evaporated in a dropping mist, until the gorgeous east once more resumed its glowing blush, and the stars sparkled brightly as the fastreddening firmament gave token that day was at hand. The sun rose.
"Midge ahoy!" sang out a voice from the bow of a boat, that had on the instant stuck its snout round the point below us. Before we could answer, the yawl, full of inquiring messmates, was alongside.