Billeder på siden

to extricate themselves, and endeavouring to attain the hard footing of the platform of planks. Three of them, with the assistance of their messmates, did accomplish this; but the fourth was too badly hurt, and too faint from the loss of blood, to persevere, and in despair threw himself back, gasping, on the bloody quagmire.

“What is that?" said I, while a half-a-dozen dropping shots sparkled out from beneath the thick jungle, and at the very instant one of the boat-keepers stuck his head over the stockade.

"The tide has left us, sir, and the mouth of the creek has not six inches of water in it, sir. The boats must stick hard and fast until next flood."

Startling enough this. What was to be done? To retreat, for the time, was out of the question, so we had no chance but in a forward demonstration.

“After these miscreants, men !" cried old Sprawl, having previously ordered ten hands back to cover the boats. “After them, and drive them from the jungle.”

"Hurrah !” We shoved along the narrow path through which the enemy had vanished, and the first we overtook was a poor devil shot through the neck, writhing in agony, and endeavouring to extricate himself from the slough. He was thrust through on the instant, as unceremoniously as if he had been a crushed beetle. A little farther on we encountered, in another small by-track that took away to the left, three others, evidently part of the gang who had been peppering us from beneath the covert of the bushes. These were shot down as unceremoniously where they stood. I cannot forget the imploring glances of the poor fellows as they vainly beseeched our mercy, and the fearful sight of their stretching themselves out, and falling crash back amongst the branches when we fired. Two of them seemed to fall at once quite dead amongst the bloody leaves; but the third, shrieking aloud, had wrestled himself a fathom or two into the brake before he received his quietus from a marine, who walked close up to him and shot him deliberately through the heart. Still we heard the shouts of the rest of the party who had retreated and were now well ahead of us, and we pushed on in pursuit, when all at once, as if I had been struck by the levin-brand, a flash of light blazed across my eyes, and I came to the ground by the run.

When I came to myself I was sitting in the small muddy path through which our antagonists had been driven. About a fathom from me, partly hid by the mangrove-bushes, lay the dead body of one of the white crew of the polacre. He had fallen on his back across a stout branch that shot out horizontally from one of the trees at a height of about a foot from the ground, so that, while his feet and legs rested on the soft black alluvial soil on one side of it, his head, with the face turned upwards, and relaxed arms, hung down on the other. He was dressed in the striped shirt already mentioned, largely open at the breast, and wide white petticoat trousers, that reached to the knee, made of some strong cotton stuff of the same fabric as the India salampore, so that the garment looked like a Greek kilt. It was fastened at the waist by a red silk sash, one end of which hung down over the branch across which he lay, apparently saturated and heavy with black blood, that gave it the appearance of a large purple tassel. His collapsed loins, where he was doubled over the branch, looked as thin and attenuated as if he had been shot in two, and his prominent chest and lower extremities merely connected by his clothing. His feet and legs, as well as his arms, were bare—his shirt-sleeves extending only three inches below his shoulder; and it was a fearful sight to look on the death-blue colour of the muscles, which no longer stood out in well-defined and high relief, but had fallen and assumed the rounded appearance of a woman's limbs. The crown of his head touched the ground, resting on his long black hair, that had been worn turned up into a knot, but was now spread out in a rich tress, a foot beyond him. He had ear-rings in his ears, and a broad gold crucifix tied round his neck by a cord of spun hair. Alas for her whose raven locks composed the strands of it! His mouth was open, but his eyes were closed as if he slept; and a small coal-black tuft of hair on his chin, under his nether lip, startled one, from its conspicuousness in contrast with the deathly pallor of his face. He was a very handsome youth; yet the features, inverted, as his head hung down, assumed from this circumstance an expression so unusual, yet so soft and so touchingly melancholy, that although I had often looked on death before, even in my own miserable plight I could not help noticing it and being moved by it. There was no wound that I could see, but thick black gouts were slowly trickling from the white, fresh-splintered end of the branch that had been split off in the rush across which he lay; but this was only noticeable at the splinter-mark, the sluggish stream being invisible, while it crept from his body along the dark green bark of the limb of the mangrove-tree. A small pyramid had already been formed on the ground, directly below the end of the branch, by the dropping of the coagulating blood. The whole scene was pervaded by the faint mysterious light of the subdued sunbeams, as they struggled through the screen of motionless leaves above; while the dead corpse slept in the deep cold shadow below, that to the eye of one suddenly withdrawn from the glare of the tropical noontide, appeared to approach absolute darkness. Still a soft green ray, or pensil, like moonlight piercing the thick-woven foliage of a summer arbour, fell on and floated over the face and one of the naked arms, until the still features appeared to become radiant of themselves, as if they had been blanched by it into the self-luminous whiteness of freshhewn alabaster.

It was in truth a most piteous sight, and as the image of my aged parent rose up, in my extremity, before my mind's eye at the moment, I held up my feeble hands to heaven, and prayed fervently unto the Almighty to bless her declining years; and, if that my race were indeed run, and now in very truth my place was to know me no more, that my sins might, for Christ's sake, be forgiven me. "Alas, alas l" thought I, bowed down by intense suffering to the very dust, “may he too not have had a mother?"

For a minute, as I slowly recovered from the stunning effects of the shot, I sat observing all this, and pressing the torn skin of my forehead to my temples with one hand, whilst with the other I kept clearing away the blood as it flowed into my eyes; but by the time I had perfectly recovered my recollection, my sympathy vanished, all my thoughts became absorbed, and my energies, small as they were at the time, excited in almost a supernatural degree by the actual approach of a hideous, and, in my helpless condition, probably the most appalling danger that a human being could be threatened with.

For a second or two I had noticed that the branch

across which the dead Spaniard lay was slightly moved now and then, and that some object was advancing from beneath it, out of the thicket beyond. I was not long left in doubt, for one of the noble bloodhounds now dragged himself into the light, and wriggled from amongst the mangroves to within a fathom of me. At first when he struggled from beneath his master's body, he began to lick his face and hands, and then threw his head back with a loud whine, as if disappointed in his expectation of some acknowledgment. Alas! none came; and after another vain attempt, pain seemed to drive the creature furious, for he seized the arm next me, that he had been licking the minute before, by the wrist, making the dead bones crackle between his teeth in his agony. All at once he began to yell and bark, and at intervals turned his fierce eyes on me, then swung his head violently back, and again howled most piteously.

All this time I could hear the loud shouting of our people in the distance, and a scattering shot now and then; but the work nearer home was more than sufficient to occupy me, for the dog, after another moment of comparative repose, suddenly raised himself on his forepaws. For the first time I could see that he had been shot through the spine, near the flank, so that his two hind legs were utterly powerless and trailing on the ground.

He scrambled on a foot or two nearer; again all was still, and he lay quiet with his nose resting on the ground, as if he had been watching his prey; but pain appeared suddenly to overcome him again, as, stretching out his fore-paws straight before him, and throwing his head back, he set up the most infernal howl that ear ever tingled to. "Merciful powers! can he mean to attack

« ForrigeFortsæt »