« ForrigeFortsæt »
and stiff, before him, on a dead body, was tugging with his front teeth at the large pectoral muscle; occasionally letting go his hold to look at us, and utter a short angry bark, and again tearing at the bleeding flesh, as if it had been a carcase thrown to him for food. Another dog had lain down, with a hold on one of the same poor fellow's cold hands. Every now and then he would clap his head sideways on the ground, so as to get the back grinders to bear on his prey; and there the creature was, with the dead blue fingers across his teeth, crunching and crunching, and gasping, with his mouth full of froth and blood, and marrow, and white splinters of the crushed bones, the sinews and nerves of the dead limb hanging like bloody cords and threads from— "Bah! you have given us a little de trop of this, Master Benjie.”
Two wounded Spaniards were all this time struggling in the soft mud beyond the platform; their lower limbs, and in fact their whole bodies up to the arm-pits, had already settled down into the loathsome chaos. Some of our people were soft-hearted enough to endeavour to extricate them, but, “Get along, get along; get off to the boats, will ye? Be off to the boats, if you wish to sleep in a sound skin,” shouted by Mr. Sprawl, made all hands turn to the more engrossing affair of selfpreservation.
But as it was some time before we could all string over the stockade and the single plank that led to it from the platform across the mud, I could not help remarking one of the poor fellows who appeared to have been badly wounded, for there was blood on his ghastly visage. His struggles had gradually settled him up to the chin in the mire. He was shrieking miserably; he sunk over the mouth; his exertions to escape increased; the mud covered his nose; he began to cough and splutter for breath; while he struggled hard with his arms to keep himself above the surface. Had he been one of the best swimmers alive-alas! he was now neither on earth nor in water; his eyes were still visible. Father of Mercies, let me forget their expression—their hopeless dying glare-as he gradually sank deeper and deeper into the quagmire! Oh, what a horrible grave! He disappeared, but his hands were still visible; he clasped them together, then opened them again. The fingers spread out, and quivered like aspen leaves, as he held them up towards heaven in an attitude of supplication. There—he is gone!
By the time the last of our stragglers had dragged their weary limbs into the enclosure, the shouting and firing again waxed warm in the direction of the boats; so we made all sail towards them the instant we had scrambled over the rude stockade, leaving the other wounded Spaniard, who lay in a harder part of the mud, to his fate, notwithstanding the poor fellow's heart-piercing supplication not to be left to perish in so horrible a manner as his comrade, who had just disappeared. We advanced as rapidly as we could, and presently came in sight of this new scene of action. The boats were filled with our people who had been left to guard them, but were still aground, although the flood was fast making. They had evidently made the most desperate attempts to get them afloat, and had been wading up to their waists in the mud. Four white Spaniards were blazing away at them, and at least one hundred and fifty naked negroes were crowding round the head of the creek, and firing from half-a-dozen old rusty muskets, and throwing spears made of some sort of hard wood burnt at the ends, while several were employed cutting down the mangroves and throwing them into the mud, so as to be able to pass over them like a mat, and get at the boats. One or two of the demon-like savages were "routing” on bullocks' horns, while six or seven had already fallen wounded, and lay bellowing and struggling on the ground before the well-directed fire of our people.
"Advance, Mr. Sprawl, for the love of heaven!" the midshipman in charge of the party in the boats sung out; "advance, or we are lost; our ammunition is almost out!"
Our own danger made it sufficiently evident, without this hint, that our only chance of safety was by a desperate effort to drive our opponents back into the wood, and there keep them at bay until the boats floated.
“Ay, ay, my boys!" cried Lanyard, "keep your fire-don't run short!"
“Confound you, don't fire!" shouted Mr. Sprawl, "or you will hit some of us !” as several of the boat's crew nearest us continued, notwithstanding, to pepper away. Then, to his own people: “Follow me, men; if we don't drive them into the wood, as Mr. Lanyard says, till the tide makes, we are lost."
"Hurrah !" shouted the brave fellows; "give them a touch of the pike and cutlass, but no firing. Hurrah !"
When we charged them, the negroes and their white leaders were in an instant driven into the recesses of the jungle, but not before we had captured three more of the Spaniards and seven of their black allies. Our object being in the meantime attained, we called a halt, and sent back a man to the boats, with orders to advise us the moment they were afloat. Worn out and feeble as most of the party were, from want of food and fatigue, many fell asleep in a moment, leaning against trees, or slipped down on the twisted roots of the mangroves. Everything had continued quiet for about a quarter of an hour, no sound being heard beyond an occasional shout or wild cry in the recesses of the brushwood, when all at once the man we had despatched to the rear, came rushing up to us at the top of his speed.
“The boats will be afloat in ten minutes, sir.” "Thank heaven, thank heaven!" I exclaimed.
“But an Eboe canoe," continued the man, suddenly changing my joy into sadness, "with more than fifty people on board, is now paddling up the creek.”
"The devil!” exclaimed Mr. Sprawl; "are we never to get clear of this infernal corner?” And then recollecting who he was, and where he was, and that the lives of the whole party, were dependent on his courage and self-possession, he rose, calm and resolute, from where he had sat himself down on the root of a bush.
"Men, we may go to the right about now and be off to the boats; so send the wounded forward; the officers and marines will bring up the rear. So heave ahead, will ye? but rushing now; be cool, for the credit of the ship."
The instant wc retreated, the sound of the negro horns and drums again commenced, showing that our movements were watched; the yells rose higher than ever, and dropping shots whistled overhead, clipping off a leaf here and a dry branch there. We sculled along, the noises behind us increasing, until we once more reached the head of the creek. The boats were by this time not afloat exactly, but the advance of the tide had so thinned the mud, that it was clear, if we could once get the people on board, we should have little difficulty in sliding them into deep water. However, the nearest could not be got within boat-hook length of the bank, and two of the oars being laid out to form a gangway, no sooner did the first seaman step along them, than -crack l-one gave way, and the poor fellow plumped up to the waist in the mud. If we were to get disabled in our fins, certain destruction must ensue—this was palpable to all of us; so we had to scramble on board through the abominable stinking slime the best way we could, without risking any more of the ash-staves. In the meantime the uncouth noises and firing in the rear came nearer and increased.
"So now hand the prisoners on board, and place them beside their comrades there," shouted Mr. Sprawl.
Easier said than done. Taking advantage of the uproar, they had hung back, and now, as the first of the savages appeared from under the green trees, evidently with an intention of again attacking us, they fairly turned tail, and before we could prevent them, they were off, and for ever beyond our ken. The last of our people had got on board, all to a poor boy, who had been badly wounded, indeed ham-strung with a knife, and as he had fainted on the brink from pain and loss of blood, for a moment he had been forgotten. But only for a moment.
"God help me, God help me!” said I, "why, it is poor little Graham, my own servant; shove close to, and let me try to get him on board.” The lad spoken of was a slight brown-haired boy, about fifteen years of age. The sound of my voice seemed to revive him. He lifted his head; but the four Spanish prisoners, whom we had secured on board, on the instant, as if moved by one com