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My attention was here so completely attracted by what was going on elsewhere, that I involuntarily left the vagabond where he sat, and turned a step or two towards the long barn-like building.
The noise in the interior continued. “Hillo,” sung out the lieutenant Hillo, men, what are you after? Haul off-come out, will ye-come out;" and he began to thunder at the low door, with his pillar-like trams, each of which might have made a very passable battering-ram.
The uproar increased. "Zounds!" said he, "the fellows are mad;" and he started off round the northernmost end of the shed, finding that all attempts to force the door on the side next us proved futile. Presently the topman, and two marines, who had remained beside him, also bolted to 66 see the fun on the other side of the house," and left me alone with the savage to whom allusion has already been made.
It was now" the uproar, with variations," as old Bloody Politeful's two voices swelled the row. I looked at the negro, weak and worn-out as I was. "And can I manage him, in case he shews fight?" thought I. He seemed to be taking the same measure; for by this time he had gathered himself up, and advancing a stride or two from his seat or bench, he appeared to balance himself, and weigh his gigantic proportions against my comparatively tiny thews and sinews; and like a tiger about to make his spring, he now drew suddenly back, and crouched, concentrating all his energies, as it were. Time to make a demonstration, thought I; and I thereupon drew a pistol from my belt, and opening the pan, slapped it with my right hand, to see that the priming was all right, and in immediate communication with the charge in the barrel. He looked rapidly, but keenly, all round, and then at me. I grasped the weapon firmly in my right hand. He rose-upset the bench on which he sat, in a twinkling screwed out a leg of it, and with it was in the very act of making a blow at me, when the shouts and yells in the long shed increased to an infernal degree of vivacity, and a hot sharp crackling, and a thick stifling smoke, that burst in white wreaths from the corners of the building, ar
rested his uplifted arm, and I spoke. "You infamous renegade, if you don't lay down the leg of that stool, I will, on the credit of a Kilkenny man, by the mother's side, send a bullet through your breadbasket—If I don't, never fear me."
He advanced, and nothing daunted, made a blow at my head, which, if I had not dodged, would have sent me to answer for many a sin unrepented of; as it was, it descended with great force on my left shoulder, but on the instant I shot him through the muscle of his uplifted arm, and down he tumbled, roaring like the very devil. I had started up the instant I pulled the trigger. The door of the long building, at that very instant of time, gave way, and out rushed four white men-evidently part of the crew of the polacre brig followed by our people. Weak as I was, I stood up to the headmost; and I appeared to have quelled him, for he instantly threw down his arms. The crackling of the fire continued; bursts of blue smoke spouted from the roof; presently they were intermingled with bright sparks, and the yells arose even louder, if possible, from the inside; presently out rushed our people, headed by the redoubtable Davie Doublepipe himself, who was thrashing and smashing in his usual style, until his opponents vanished, and he had time to recognise me.
"Hillo, Brail," said he, "why, what has come over you?—who has wounded you?"
"That black rascal there."
"The devil! shall we immolate the savage where he lies?"
"No, no-attend to what is going on in the house-for Godsake, mind what may befall there."
With the gallant fellow, it was a word and a blow, "Here, here, try back, my fine fellows, try back."
The yells increased. "Merciful Providence!" exclaimed Mr Sprawl, as he saw his people recoil from the heat and flame, "what is to be done? These poor creatures will be roasted alive where they are made fast." Our party turned, made as if they would have entered the house, but the scorching fire kept them back. The cries were now mixed with low moans and suffocating coughs, and presently a string of miserable naked
the shed amidst flame and smoke,
savages appeared streaming out of
"Brail, my dear," said Lieutenant Sprawl, "what is to be done? Had we not better be off with our white prisoners, and take fresh instructions from the captain ?”
"If the tide will let us," said I; "but the boats are high and dry in the creek, and we have lost the only opportunity that offered for burning the polacre; had we confined ourselves to that object, and kept the boats afloat, we might have accomplished it where she lies at low water."
"Better as it is," rejoined Sprawl -"better as it is; we found no slaves on board, and might have got into a scrape, had we set fire to her in cold blood.-No, no! let us be off and try and launch the boats. Here, men, secure your prisoners; shall we carry the black Broker - this respectable resetter of human beings with us, Brail-eh?"
"Why, we had better," said I; we may get some information out of the vagabond; so kick him up, Moses;"-he was at this moment lying on his back, apparently in a trance-" up with him, pique him with your boarding pike, my man."
The seaman I had addressed did as he was desired; but the fellow was now either dead-drunk, or had sufficient nerve to control any expression of pain, for the deuced hard thumps and sharp progues he received, produced no apparent effect. He lay like a log through them all; even the pain of the wound in his arm seemed insufficient to keep him awake.
Why, what is that-do you hear that?" said I, in great alarm; for several dropping shots now rattled in the direction of the boats. All was still for a minute, and every ear
place of our former conflict. Hea. vens! what a scene presented itself! It makes one's blood run cold to reflect on it, even after the lapse of years. On the platform lay three of our people and two Spaniards stark and stiff, and already stripped naked as the day they were born, by whom Heaven only knows, while half-adozen native dogs were tearing and riving the yet scarcely cold carcasses, and dragging the dead arms hither and thither, until our near approach frightened them away, with a loud unearthly scream, of no kindred to a common bark.
was turned to catch the sound, during which time we distinctly heard in the distance a loud voice hail,
"Come out from beneath the bushes there, you villains, or we shall fire a volley."
Again there was a long pausea horn was sounded—then another and a wild confused yell was heard, mingled with which the musketry again breezed up, and we could hear from the shouts of our people that the covering party at the boats had been assailed. When the first shot was fired, the black resetter lifted his bead, anxiously, as if to listen, but seeing my eyes were fixed on him, he instantly dropped it again. But the instant he heard the negro horns, and the yells set up at their onset, and the renewal of the firing, he started to his legs, as active as a lynx, and before any of us could gather our senses about us, he was on the verge of the wood, when all at once a thought seemed to come across him, and he turned, and hung in the wind for a moment, as if irresolute whether to bolt or turn back. At this moment one of our people let drive at him, but missed him, although the ball nipped off a dry branch close above his head. He instantly ran and laid hold of one of the pillars of the frame that supported the abominable little idol. Another shot was fired, when down tumbled his godship on the head of his worshipper, who instantly caught the image by the legs, and seeing some of our people rushing to seize him, he let go his hold of the upright, and whirling the figure round, holding on by its legs, he let drive with it at the man nearest him, and dropped him like a shot. He then bolted out of sight, through one of the several muddy paths that opened into the mangrove thicket landward. "No time to be lost, my lads," whistled old Davie; 66 keep toge ther;"-then, in his thorough bass, "Don't throw away a shot; so now bring along your prisoners, and let us fall back on the boats-that's itmarch the Dons to the front-shove on, my fine fellows-shove on."
The firing had by this time slackened in the distance, but the cries had increased, and were now rising higher and fiercer as we approached. At length we reached the fort, the
One fierce brute, with his forepaws planted, straight 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 carcass thrown to him for food. Another dog had lain down, with a hold of 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-be 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 self-preservation.
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 face, and he appeared
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, notwithstand ing 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 black savages 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 demonlike sa
vages 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 I, "keep your fire-don't run short."
"Confound you, don't fire," continued 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 Brail says, "till the tide makes, we are lost."
"Hurrah!" shouted the brave fellows, "we shall give them a touch of the pike and cutlass, but no firing. -Hurrah."
We charged them, and the black savages 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 white Spaniards and seven of their black allies. Our object being in the meantime attained, we now 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, leaning against trees, or slipped down on the twisted roots of the mangroves. Every thing 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 from where he had sat himself down on the root of a bush.
"Men, we must go the right about, 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 no rushing now-be cool, for the credit of the ship."
The instant we retreated the sound of the negro horns and drums again commenced; the yells rose higher than ever, and dropping shots whistled over-head, 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 boathook 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-crackone 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 mean time 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 gather our wits about us, 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
"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 common impulse, made a bound overboard, and although they sank 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 out the thicket of 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 savages, 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 Ifired-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 savage. 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 savage caught the lad round the