« ForrigeFortsæt »
mon impulse, made a bound overboard. Although they sunk up to the waist, they made a desperate attempt to reach the bank; the leading one, who seemed to have been an officer, shouting out to their allies in the wood: “Camaradas, una golpe bueno, y somos salvados, una golpe fuerte, y somos libres." This was the signal for a general rush of the combined column from the thicket -the black naked savages, led on by the white crew of the slaver. As they rushed down to the brink, the poor wounded lad made a desperate attempt to rise; and as he ran a step or two staggering towards the creek, he looked behind him at the negroes, who were advancing with loud shouts. He then, with his face as pale as ashes, and lips blue as indigo, and eyes starting from the socket, called out, “For the dear love of Jesus, shove ahead, and save me; oh, Mr. Sprawl, save me! Mr. Brail, for God Almighty's sake, don't desert me! Oh, Sir!" A black savage had rushed forward and seized him. I fired, he dropped, dragging the boy down with him; and I could see him in his agony try to tear him with his teeth, while the helpless lad struggled with all his might to escape from the dying barbarian. He did get clear of him, and with a strength that I could not believe he had possessed he once more got on his legs and hailed me again; but the uproar was now so loud, and the firing so hot, that I could not hear what he said.
"The boats are afloat, the boats are afloat!" shouted twenty voices at once. At this very moment a negro caught the lad round the waist; another laid hold of him by the hair, and before he could free himself, the latter drew his knife round his neck. The next instant the trunk, with the blood gushing from the severed arteries,
was quivering amongst the mud, while the monster held aloft the bleeding head with its quivering and twitching features.
"Heaven have mercy on us! Heaven have mercy on us!" said I; but we were now widening our distance fast, although I could see them strip the body with the speed of the most expert camp-follower; and while the Spaniards on shore were, even under our fire, trying to extricate their comrades, all of them wounded, who were floundering in the slime and ooze, their black allies were equally active in cutting up and mutilating the poor boy with the most demoniacal ferocity and ... I dare not attempt further description of a scene so replete with horror and abomination. We poled along, with all the little strength that a day of such dreadful incidents and a climate of the most overpowering heat and fearful insalubrity had left us. At length the creek widened so as to allow us to ply our oars, when we perceived the large Eboe war-canoe, already mentioned, in the very act of entering the narrow canal we were descending. As we approached, we had an opportunity of observing the equipment of this remarkable craft. It was upwards of sixty feet long, and manned by forty hands, twenty of a side, all plying their great broad-bladed paddles. These men sat close to the gunwale of the vessel on each side, looking forward, and delving up the water with their shovel-shaped paddles; the two rows sufficiently apart to leave room for upwards of fifty naked men and women to be stowed amidships. These last were all bound with withes, or some kind of country rope; and although there was no serious or very evident demonstrations of grief amongst them, yet it at once occurred to me that they were slaves sent down to our black
friend's depôt to await the arrival of the next vessel, or probably they were intended to have completed the polacre's cargo. An old white-headed, yellow-skinned negro, bearing the tattooed marks of a high-caste man of his tribe on his square-featured visage, as if the skin had been peeled off his temples on each side, was seated in the bow. He evidently took us for part of the crew of some slaver lying below. He shouted to us, and pointed to his cargo; but we had other fish to fry, and accordingly never relaxed our pulling, until at five in the afternoon we were once more on board of the felucca. On mustering we found our loss had been exceedingly severe; no fewer than seven missing, five of whom, I knew, had been killed outright, and fourteen wounded, some of them seriously enough.
[From "An Ocean Tragedy,” by W. CLARK Russell]
E were in latitude about eight degrees north;
the longitude I do not remember. The night
had been very quiet but thick; here and there a star that was a mere lustreless blur in the void, and the water black and sluggish as liquid pitch without a gleam in it. The atmosphere had been so sultry that I could get no rest. The yacht dipped drearily from side to side, shaking thunder out of her canvas and sending a sound, like a low sobbing wail, off her sides into the midnight gloom. This prevented me from opening the scuttle, and I lay half stifled, occasionally driven on deck by a sense of suffocation, though it was like passing from one hot room to another in a Turkish bath. There was a barometer in the cabin just under the clock in the sky. light; every time I quitted my berth I peeped at it, and every time I looked I observed that the mercury had settled somewhat, a very gradual but a very steady fall. That foul weather was at hand I could not doubt, but it was hard to imagine the character it would take down amongst these equatorial parallels, where one hardly looks for gales of wind or cyclonic outbursts, or the rushing tempest red with lightning of high latitudes; though every man who has crossed the Line will know that the ocean is as full of the unexpected thereabouts as in all other parts of the globe.
I somehow have a clearer recollection of that night than of the time that followed, or, indeed, of any other passage of hours during this queer sea ramble I am writing about. It was first the intolerable heat, then the unendurably monotonous lifeless rolling of the yacht, with its regular accompaniment of the yearning wash of recoiling waters, the ceaseless and irritating clicking of cabin doors upon their hooks, the idle beating of canvas above hollowly penetrating the deck with a muffled echo as of constant sullen explosions, the creaking and straining to right and to left and above and below, a hot smell of paint and varnish and upholstery mingled with some sort of indefinable marine odour; a kind of faint scent of rotting seaweed, such as will sometimes rise off the breast of the sluggish deep when stormy weather is at hand. I believe I drank not less than one dozen bottles of seltzer water in the small hours. I was half dead of thirst, and routed out the steward and obliged him to supply me with a plentiful stock of this refreshment. But the more I drank the hotter I got, and no shipwrecked eye ever more gratefully saluted the grey of dawn than did mine when, wakening from a half-hour of feverish sleep, I beheld the light of morning lying weak and lead-coloured on the glass of the porthole.
An uglier jumble of sky I never beheld when I sent my first look up at it from the companion-hatch. It was as though some hundreds and thousands of factory chimneys had been vomiting up their black fumes throughout the night, the bodies of vapour coming together over our mastheads and compacting there lumpishly amid the stagnant air with the livid thickenings dimming into dusky browns; and here and there a sallow lump of gloom of the kind of yellowish tinge to make one think of fire and