Adventures of an African Slaver (African American)
As soon as I was sure of my calculation and sensible of im- minent danger, I did not hesitate to order the second officer, — whose watch it was, — to call all hands and tack ship. But time was precious. Delay would lose us. As I felt confi- dent of my opinion, I turned abruptly from the disobedient mariners, and letting go the main brace, brought the vessel to with the topsail aback. Quickly, then, I ordered the watch as it rushed aft, to clew up the mainsail ; — but alas! With a shrug of my shoulders, I obeyed. For twenty minutes the galliot cleft the waters on her old course, when the look-out screamed: All was consternation ; — sails flapping ; breakers roaring ; ropes snapping and beating ; masts creaking ; hull thumping ; men shouting!
The captain and his wife were on deck in the wink of an eye. Every one issued an order and no one obeyed. At last, the lady shouted — " let go the anchor! No one seemed to think of clewing up the sails, and thereby lessening the impetuous surges of the unfor- tunate galliot. Our sad mishap occurred about one o'clock in the morning. Fortunately there was not much wind and the sea was tolerably calm, so that we could recognize, and, in some degree, control our situation ; — yet, every thing on board appeared given over to Batavian stupidity and panic.
There was no use of my in- terference, for no one would heed me. At last the captain's wife, who was probably the most collected individual on board, called my name loudly, and in the presence of officers and crew, who, by this time were generally crowded on the quarter-deck, en- treated me to save her ship! Of course, I sprang to duty. Every sail was clewed up, while the anchors were weighed to prevent our thumping on them.
I next ordered the boats to be lowered ; and, taking a crew in one, directed the captain to embark in another to seek an escape from our perilous trap. At daylight, we ascertained that we had crossed the edge of the reef at high water, yet it would be useless to attempt to force her back, as she was already half a foot buried in the soft and mushy outcroppings of coral. Soon after sunrise, we beheld, at no great distance, one of those low sandy keys which are so well known to West Indian navigators; while, further in the distance, loomed up the blue and beautiful outline of the highlands of Cuba.
The sea was not much ruffled by swell or waves ; but as we gazed at the key, which we supposed deserted, we saw a boat suddenly shoot from behind one of its points and approach our wreck. The whole crew were dressed in flannel shirts, the skirts of which were belted by a leather strap over their trowsers, and when the wind suddenly dashed the flannel aside, I saw they had long knives concealed beneath it.
The patron of these fellows offered to aid us in lightening the galliot and depositing the cargo on the key ; where, he said, there was a hut in whiqh he would guarantee the safety of our merchan- dise until, at the full of the moon, we could float the vessel from the reef. He offered, moreover, to pilot us out of harm's way; and, for all his services in salvage, we were to pay him a thou- sand dollars. It was finally agreed by the captain and his petticoat commodore, that if, by evening and the return of tide, our gal- liot would not float, we would accept the wreckers' offer ; and, accordingly, I was ordered to inform them of the resolution.
I thought the demand a significant one, and hoped the joint partners would neither yield nor admit their ability to do so ; but, unfortunately, they assented at once. The fishermen departed to try their luck on the sea, pro- mising to be back at sunset, on their way to the island.
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We spent the day in fruitless efforts to relieve the galliot or to find a channel, so that when the Spaniards returned in the afternoon with a rather careless reiteration of their proposal, our captam, with some eagerness, made his final arrangements for the cargo's discharge early next morning.
Our skipper had visited the key in the course of the day, and finding the place of deposit appa- rently safe, and every thing else seemingly honest, he was anx- ious that the night might pass in order that the disembarkation might begin. The calm quiet of that tropic season soon wore away, and, when I looked landward, at day-dawn, I perceived two strange boats at anchor near the key. As this gave me some uneasiness, I mentioned it to the captain and his wife, but they laughed at my suspicions.
After an early meal we began to discharge our heaviest cargo with the fishermen's aid, yet we made little pro- gress towards completion by the afternoon. At sunset, accounts were compared, and finding a considerable difference in favor of the wreckers, I was dispatched ashore to ascertain the error. At the landing I was greeted by several new faces. I particu- larly observed a Frenchman whom I had not noticed before.
He addressed me with a courteous offer of refreshijicnts. After a delightful chat in my mother-tongue with the pleasant stranger, he invited me to spend the night on shore, I declined politely, and, having rectified the cargo's error, was preparing to re-embark, when the Frenchman once more approached and insist- ed on my remaining. I again declined, asserting that duty for- bade my absence. He then remarked that orders had been left by my countryman the patron to detain me ; but if I was so ob- stinate as to go, I migJit jjTobably regret it.
With a laugh, I stepped into my boat, and on reaching the galliot, learned that our skipper had imprudently avowed the rich nature of our cargo. Before leaving the vessel that night, the patron took me aside, and inquired whether I received the invitation to pass the night on the key, and why I had not accepted it?
To my great astonishment, he addressed me in pure Italian ; and when I ex- pressed gratitude for his ofi"er, he beset me with questions about my country, my parents, my age, my objects in life, and my prospects. Once or twice he threw in the ejaculation of, " poor boy! I could not help putting these things together in my mind during the glowing twilight. I felt as if walking in a cold shadow ; an unconquerable sense of impending danger oppressed me. When I set the first night watch, I took good care to place every case containing valuables beloiv, and to order the look-out to call all hands at the first appearance or sound of a boat.
Had we been provided with arms, I would have equipped the crew 28 with weapons of defence, but, unluckily, there was not on board even a rusty firelock or sabre. How wondrously calm was all nature that night! Not a breath of air, or a ripple on the water! The sky was brilliant with stars, as if the firmament were strewn with silver dust. The full moon, with its glowing disc, hung some fifteen or twenty dep;rees above the horizon.
The intense stillness weighed upon my tired limbs and eyes, while I leaned with my elbows on the tafi'rail, watching the roll of the vessel as she swung lazily from side to side on the long and weary swell. Every body but the watch had retired, and I, too, went to my state-room in hope of burying my sorrows in sleep. But the calm night near the land had so completely filled my berth with annoying insects, that I was obliged to decamp and take refuge in the stay-sail netting, where, wrapped in the cool canvas, I was at rest in quicker time than I have taken to tell it.
Notwithstanding my nervous apprehension, a sleep more like the torpor of lethargy than natural slumber, fell on me at once. I neither stirred nor heard any thing till near two o'clock, when a piercing shriek from the deck aroused me. The moon had set, but there was light enough to show the decks abaft filled with men, though I could distinguish neither their persons nor move- ments.
Cries of appeal, and moans as of wounded or dying, constantly reached me. I roused myself as well and quickly as I could from the oppression of my deathlike sleep, and tried to shake off the nightmare. The effort assured me that it was reality and not a dream! In an instant, that presence of mind which has seldom deserted me, suggested escape. I seized the gasket, and dropping by aid of it as softly as I could in the water, struck out for shore. My plunge into the sea, notwithstanding its caution, had made some noise, and a rough voice called in Spanish to return or I would be shot.
When I began to go to sea, I took pains to become a good swimmer, and my acquired skill served well on this occasion. This operation I repeated several times, till I was lost in the distant darkness ; nor can I pride myself much on my address in escap- ing the musket balls, as I have since had my own aim similarly eluded by many a harmless duck. After swimming about ten minutes, I threw myself on my back to rest and " take a fresh departure. In this way was I tormented the whole night.
At dawn, I retreated once more to the bushes; and climbing the highest tree I found, — whose altitude, however, was not more than twelve feet above the sand, — I beheld, across the calm sea, the dismantled hull of my late home, surrounded by a crowd of boats, which were rapidly filling with plundered merchandise.
All the morning I continued in my comfortless position, watching their movements, — occasionally refreshing my parched lips by chewing the bitter berries of the thicket. Daylight, with its heat, was as intolerable as night, with its venom. The tropical sun and the glaring reflection from a wavcless sea, poured through the calm atmosphere upon my naked flesh, like boiling oil. My thirst was intense. As the afternoon wore away, I observed sev- eral boats tow the lightened hull of our galliot southeast of the key till it disappeared behind a point of the island.
Adventures Of an African Slaver by Canot, Theodore
Up to that moment, my manhood had not forsaken me ; but, as the last tim- ber of my vessel was lost to sight, nature resumed its dominion. If this narrative were designed to be a sentimental con- fession, the reader might see unveiled the ghastly spectacle of a '' troubled conscience," nor am I ashamed to say that no conso- lation cheered my desolate heart, till I prayed to my Maker that the loss of so many lives might not be imputed to the wilful malice of a proud and stubborn nature.
So passed the day. As the sun sank in the west, I began to re- flect about obtaining the rest for mind and body I so much needed. My system was almost exhausted by want of food and water, while the dreadful tragedy of the preceding night shat- tered my nerves far more than they ever suffered amid the try- ing scenes I have passed through since. It was my Jirst adven- ture of peril and of blood ; and my soul shrank with the natural recoil tliat virtue experiences in its earliest encounter with fla- grant crime.
In order to escape the incessant torment of insects, I had just determined to bury my naked body in the sand, and to cover my head with the only garment I possessed, when I heard a noise in the neighboring bushes, and perceived a large and sav- age dog rushing rapidly from side to side, with his nose to the ground, evidently in search of game or prey. I could not mistake the nature of his hunt. With the agility of a harlequin, I sprang to my friendly perch just in time to save myself from his fangs. The foiled and ferocious beast, yelling with rage, gave an alarm which was quickly responded to by other dogs, three of which — followed by two armed men — promptly made their appearance beneath my tree.
The hunters were not surprised at finding me, as, in truth, I was the game they sought. Ordering me down, I was commanded to march slowly before them, and especially warned to make no attempt at flight, as the bloodhounds would tear me to pieces on the spot. I told my guard that I should of course manifest no such folly as to attempt an escape from 32 CAPTAIN canot; or, caballeros like themselves, — upon a desolate sand key half a mile wide, — especially when my alternative refuge could only be found among the fish of the sea.
The self-possession and good humor with which I replied, seemed somewhat to mollify the cross- grained savages, and we soon approached a habitation, where I was ordered to sit down until the whole party assembled. After a while, I was invited to join them in their evening meal. The piquant stew upon which we fed effectually loosened their tongues, so that, in the course of conversation, I discovered my pursuers had been in quest of me since early morning, though it was hardly believed I had either escaped the shot, or swam fully a mile amid sharks during the darkness.
Upon this, I ven- tured to put some ordinary questions, but was quickly informed that inquisitiveness was considered very unwholesome on the sand keys about Cuba! At sunset, the whole piratical community of the little isle was assembled. It consisted of two parties, each headed by its respec- tive chief Both gangs were apparently subject to the leadership of the rancho's proprietor ; and in this man I recognized the jf? His companions addressed him either as " El senor patron " or " Don Rafael. My guard or sentinel consisted of but a single vagabond, who amused himself by whetting a long knife on a hone, and then trying its sharpness on a single hair and then on his finger.
Sometimes the scoundrel made a face at me, and drew the back of his wea- pon across his throat. The conversation within, which I felt satisfied involved my fate, was a long one. I could distinctly overhear the murmuring roar of talk, although I could not distinguish words.
One sen- tence, however, did not escape me, and its signification proved particularly interesting: It is hard to imagine a situation more trying for a young, hearty, and hopeful man. Dante's Inferno had hardly more torments. The Jilidiistero conclave lasted quite an hour without reaching a conclusion. At length, after an unusual clamor, the patron Rafael rushed from the rancho with a horseman's pistol, and, calling my name, whirled me behind him in his strong and irre- sistible grasp.
I complied with the condition unhesitatingly, and shook hands with every one present except the sentry, of whom I shall have occasion to speak hereafter. It is astonishing what revulsions of manner, if not of feeling, take place suddenly among the class of men with whom my lot had now been cast. Ten minutes before, they were greedy for my blood, not on account of personal malice, but from utter recklessness of life whenever an individual interfered with their personal hopes or tenure of existence.
Each one of these out- laws now vied with his companions in finding articles to cover my nakedness and make me comfortable. As soon as I was clothed, supper was announced and I was given almost a seat of honor at a table plentifully spread with fresh fish, sardines, olives, ham, cheese, and an abundance of capital claret. The chat naturally turned upon me, and some sly jokes were uttered at the expense of Rafael, concerning the kinsman who had suddenly sprung up like a mushroom out of this pool of blood.
We have broken bread together during four months ; we have shared the same dangers and divided our spoils fairly: Can this wine have made you mad? Has the blood of last night unsettled your nerves and made you deli- rious? Let me not hear another word of doubt as to this youth. The first who utters a syllable of incredulity shall kill me on the spot or fall by my hand! The speech was delivered with such genuine vehe- mence and resolution that no one could cxuestion his sincerity or suppose him acting.
But, as soon as he was done, the leader of the other gang, who had been very unconcernedly smoking his cigar, and apparently punctuating Don Rafael's oration with his little puffs, advanced to my new uncle, and laying his hand on his arm, said: No one here certainly desires to harm the boy or disbelieve you. Take my advice, — calm yourself, light a cigarillo, drink a tumbler of claret, and drop the subject. Men of his quality require to be let down gradually from their wrath, for I have frequently noticed that when their object is too easily gained, they interpose obstacles and start new sub- jects of controversy, so that the most amiable and yielding tem- per may at last become inflamed to passionate resistance.
A doubted man has no business at tho head of such fellows as you are. Begone out of my hearing, Theodore," continued he, pointing to the canvas door, "begone till I convince these people that I am your uncle! Mesclet performed the service in a kind manner, opening the interview by asking the names of my father and mother, and then demanding how many uncles I had on my mother's side? My replies appeared satisfactory. But once in my life had I seen him, and that was while on his way to Marseilles, in , to embark for the Spanish main; since then no intelligence of the wanderer had reached my ears.
Had I been a French scholar at that time, my adventures of consan- guinity at Ferrol and on this key might well have brought Mo- liere's satire to my mind: A bumper, all round, closed the night ; and each slunk off to his cot or blanket beneath a mosquito bar, while the blood- hounds were chained at the door to do double duty as sentinels and body guard. I hope there are few who will deny me the justice to believe that when I stretched my limbs on the hard couch assigned me that night, I remembered my God in heaven, and my home in Tuscany.
At that period of manhood we are grateful for the mere boon of life. It is pleasant to live, to breathe, to have one's being, on this glorious earth, even though that life maybe cast among felons. There is still ii future before us ; and Hope, the bright goddess of health and enthusiasm, in- spires our nerves with energy to conquer our present ills. I threw myself down thankfully, but I could not rest. Sore and tired as I was, I could not compose my mind to sleep. The conduct of Rafael surprised me. I could not imagine how he became familiar with my biography, nor could I identify his per- sonal appearance with my uncle who went so long before to South America.
A thousand fancies jumbled themselves in my brain , and, in their midst, I fell into slumber. Yet my self-oblivion was broken and short. My pulse beat wildly, but my skin did not indicate the heat of fever. The tragedy of the galliot was reacted before me. Then the wretched woman would hang round my neck, and crawl on my breast, be- sprinkling me with gore that spouted from her eyeless sockets, imploring me to save her ; — till, shrieking and panting, I awoke from the horrible nightmare. Such were the dreams that haunted my pillow nearly all the time I was forced to remain with these desperadoes.
I thanked God that the night of the tropics was so brief. The first glimmer of light found me up, and as soon as I could find a companion to control the hounds, I ran to the sea for re- freshment by a glorious surf-bath. I was on a miserable sand- bar, whose surface was hardly covered with soil ; yet, in that prolific land of rain and sunshine, nature seems only to require the slightest footing to assert her magnificent power of vegeta- tion.
In spots, along the arid island, were the most beautiful groves of abundant undergrowth, matted with broad-leaved vines, while, within their shadow, the fresh herbage sprang up, sparkling with morning dew. The twin gangs had gone off in their boats soon after daylight, with saws and axes ; but Rafael left orders with my brutal sentry that I should assist him in preparing breakfast, which was to be ready by eleven o'clock.
I never knew the real patronymic of this fellow, who was a Spaniard, and passed among us by the nickname of Gallego. Gallego possessed a good figure, — symmetrical and strong, while it was lithe and active. But his head and face were the most repulsive I ever encountered.
The fellow was not absolutely ugly, so far as mere contour of features was concerned ; but there was so dropsical a bloat in his cheeks, such a stagnant sallowness in his complexion, such a watching scowl in his eyes, such a drawling suUenness of speech, such sensuality in the turn of his resolute lips, that I trembled to know he was to be my daily companion. His dress and skin denoted slovenly habits, while a rude and growling voice gave token of the bitter heart that kept the enginery of the brute in motion. In the corners, strewn at random on the ground, I observed spy-glasses, compasses, sea-charts, books, and a quantity of choice cabin-furniture.
The premises being reviewed, I retarned with my ill-favored guard to take a lesson in piratical cookery. It is astonishing how well these wandering vagabonds know how to toss up a savory mess, and how admirably they under- stand its enjoyment. A tickled palate is one of the great objects of their mere animal existence, and they are generally prepared with a mate who might pass muster in a second-rate restaurant.
The d jeuner we served of codfish stewed in claret, snowy and granulated rice, delicious tomatoes and fried ham, was irreproach- able. Coffee had been drunk at day dawn ; so that my comrades contented themselves during the meal with liberal potations of claret, while they finished the morning with brandy and cigars.
By two o'clock the breakfast was over, and most of the gorged scamps had retired for a siesta during the sweltering heat. A few of the toughest took muskets and went to the beach to shoot gulls or sharks. Gallego and myself were dispatched to our grove-kitchen to scullionize our utensils ; and, finally, being the youngest, I was intrusted with the honorable duty of feeding the blood-hounds. As soon as my duties were over, I was preparing to follow the siesta-example of my betters, when I met Don Rafael coming out of the door, and, without a word, was beckoned to follow to- wards the interior of the island.
I must confess that I saw little for any thing else but astonishment in them, and I took the liberty to concede that fact to the Don. The resemblance caused him to address me as partic- ularly as he had done on the night of the piracy, the conse- quence of which was that his suspicions ripened into certainty.
If I were writing the story of Don Rafael's life, instead of my own, I might give an interesting and instructive narrative, which showed, — as he alleged, — how those potent controllers of outlaws, — " circumstances," — had changed him from a very re- spectable soldier of fortune into a genuine buccaneer. He as- serted that my uncle had been his schoolmate and professional companion in the old world. Rejniblics are proverbially ungrateful, and Mex- ico, alas! After many a buffet of fortune, my poor uncle, it seems, per- ished in a duel at which Don Rafael performed the professional part of " his friend.
I must admit that I use this flippant tone with a twinge of sorrow, for I think I perceived certain spasms of conscience dur- ing our interview, which proved that, among the lees of that withered heart, there were some rich drops of manhood ready to mantle his cheek with shame at our surroundings. Such is life — and " circum- stances! It was terminated by a counsel from my friend to be wary in my deport- ment, and a direction to console myself with the idea that he did not mean I should tarry long upon the island.
Men in our situation are Ishmael- ites. Our hands are not only against all, and all against us, but we do not know the minute when we may be all against each other. The power of habitual control may do much for a leader among such men ; but such an one must neither quail nor deceive.
Let them never suspect the truth of our consanguinity. Call me " uncle ; " and in my mouth you shall always be " Theodore. He is our man of dirty work, — a shameless coward, though re- vengeful as a cat. If it shall ever happen that you come in col- lision with him, strike first and well: In a few days, I may say more to you ; until then, — corragio figlio, i addio.
The life of men under the ban of society, on a desolate sand key, whose only visitors are land-crabs and sea-gulls, is a dull and dreary affair. The genuine pirate, properly equipped for a desperate lot, who has his swift keel beneath him and is wafted wheresoever he lists on canvas wings, encounters, it is true, an existence of peril ; yet there is something exhilarating and romantic in his- dashing career of incessant peril: But the wrecker-pirate takes his victim at a disadvantage, for he is not a genuine freebooter of the sea.
He shuns an able foe and strikes the crippled. Like the shark and the eagle, he delights to prey on the carcass, rather than to strike the living quarry. TJ]e companionship into which misfortune had thrown me was precisely of this character, and I gladly confess that I was never tempted for a moment to bind up my fate with the sorry gang. I confided, it is true, in Rafael's promise to liberate me ; yet I never abandoned the hope of escape by my own tact and energy. Meanwhile, I became heartily tired of my scullion duties as the subordinate of Gallego.
I was raised to the head of our " naval bureau " as boatbuilder in chief. Indeed, it was admitted on all hands that I was abler with the adze than the ladle and spoiled fewer boards than broths. A few days passed, during which I learned that our unfor- tunate galliot was gradually emptied and destroyed. This was the usual morning occupation of the whole gang until the enterprise ended. When the job was over Don Rafael told me that he was about to depart hurriedly on business with the whole company, to the mainland of Cuba, so that, during his absence, the island and its property would be left in custody of Gallego, myself, and the bloodhounds.
Of course, I speed- ily attended to the welfare of myself and the animals ; but, at night, the surly Galician came home, prepared his own supper, drank till he was completely drunk, and retired without uttering a word. I was glad that he yielded to the temptation of liquor, as I hoped he would thereby become incapable of harming me during the watches of the night, if weariness compelled me to sleep. He was a malignant wretch, and his taciturnity and ill-will ap- peared so ominous now that I was left utterly alone, that I resolved, if possible, to keep awake, and not to trust to luck or liquor.
The galliot's tragedy and anxiety stood me in stead, so that I did not close my eyes in sleep the whole of that dreary vigil. He did not return until near day dawn: During the day he kept entirely aloof, — generally at sea fishing, — affording me time for a long siesta in a nook near the shore, penetrated by a thorny path, which Gallego could not have traced without hounds.
On the fourth night, when the pirate left our hut for his accustomed excursion, I resolved to follow ; and taking a pistol with renewed priming, I pursued his steps at a safe dis- tance, till I saw him enter a thick shrubbery, in which he was lost. I marked the spot and returned to the cabin.
Next morning, after coffee, Gallego departed in his canoe to fish. I watched him anxiously from the beach until he anchored about two miles from the reef, and then calling the dogs, retraced my way to the thicket. The hounds were of great service, for, having placed them on the track, they instantly traced the path of the surly scoundrel. After some trouble in passing the dense copse of underwood, I entered a large patch of naked sand, broken by heaps of stones, which appeared to cover graves.
One heap bore the form of a cross, and was probably the sepulchre of a wrecker. I stopped awhile and reflected as to further explorations. On entering this arid graveyard, I observed a number of land-crabs scamper away ; but, after awhile, when I sat down in a corner and became per- fectly quiet, I noticed that the army returned to the field and introduced themselves into all the heaps of stones or graves save one. This struck me as singular ; for, when people are so hope- lessly alone as I was, they become minute observers, and derive infinite happiness from the consideration of the merest trifles.
Accordingly, I ventured close to the abandoned heap, and found at once that the neighboring sand had been freshly smoothed. I was on Gallego's track! In dread of detection, I stealthily 44 CAPTAIN canot; or, climbed a tree, and, screening myself behind the foliage, peered out towards the sea till I beheld the cook at work beyond the reef.
My musket and pistols were again examined and found in order. One bundle, tied in a Madras handkerchief, particularly attracted my attention, for I thought I recognized the covering. Within it I found a number of trin- kets belonging to the wife of my Dutch captain, and a large hair- pin, set with diamonds, which I remember she wore the last day of her life. Had this wretch torn it from her head, as he im- brued his hands in her blood on that terrible night? The pain- ful revelation brought all before me once more with appalling force.
I shuddered and became sick. Yet, I had no time for maudlin dalliance with my feelings. Replacing every thing with precision, and smoothing the sand once more M'ith my flannel shirt, I returned to the rancho, where I indulged in the boyish but honest outburst of nature which I could no longer restrain. I was not then — and, thank God, I am not now — a stranger to tears! To the world, the human heart and the human eye, like the coral isle of the Atlantic, may be parched and withered ; yet, beneath the seared and arid surface, the living water still flows and gushes, when the rock and the heart alike are stricken!
Just before sunset of this day, the deep baying of our hounds gave notice of approaching strangers ; and, soon after, four boats appeared in the cove. The two foremost belonged to Don Rafael and his crew, while the others were filled with strangers whose appearance was that of landsmen rather than mariners. As Rafael received them on the beach, he introduced them to me as his especial pets, the " AMrniBious jews. During his visit to Cuba, Don Rafael was apprised that the Cuban authorities were about sending an Inspector among the islands oflF the coast, and accordingly took precaution to furnish himself in advance with a regular " fishing license.
In fact, our piscatory character could not be doubted. In our persons and occupation, we looked as innocent and rustic as a pic-nic party on a summer bivouac for fresh air and salt bathing. Nor was the transformation less real in regard to our daily tasks. We became, in reality, most industrious fishermen ; so that we had more than a thousand of the finny tribe piled up and dried, when the hounds signalled the arrival of the expected oflBcials. Breakfast was on the table when they landed, but it was the banyan meal of humble men, whose nets were never filled with aught but the scaly products of the sea.
Our inspector was regaled with a scant fish-feast, and allowed to digest it over the genuine license. Rafael complained sadly of hard times and poverty; — in fact, the drama of humility was played to perfec- tion, and, finally, the functionary signed our license, with a cer- tificate of our loyalty, and pocketed a moderate " gratification " oi five ounces!
Six long, hot, and wretched weeks passed over my head before any striking occurrence relieved the monotony of my life. During the whole of this period, our fishing adventure was steadily pursued, when information was mysteriously brought to the key that a richly-laden French vessel had run ashore on the Cayo Verde, an islet some forty miles east of the Cruz del Padre. That afternoon, both of our large boats were filled with armed men, and, as they departed with every wrecker 46 CAPTAIN canot; or, aboard, I alone was left on the islet to guard our property with the dogs.
The thought and hope of escape both swelled in my breast as I saw the hulls dwindle to a dot and disappear behind the horizon. In a moment, my plan was conceived and perfected. The sea was perfectly smooth, and I was expert in the use of oars. That very night I launched our canoe, — the only vessel left in the cove, — and placing the sail, scullers, and grappling-hook within it, returned to the rancho for clothing. As it was dark, I lighted a candle, when, on looking into the clothes-chest beneath my bed, I found inscribed on the lid, in fresh chalk- marks, the words " Patience! Was it the warning — as it was certainly the handwriting — of Rafael?
Had he purposely and honorably left me alone, in order to escape this scene of blood? Did he anticipate my effort to fly, and en- deavor to save me from the double risk of crossing to the main- land, and of future provision for my comfort? I could not doubt its being the work of my friend ; and, whether it was superstition or prudence, I cannot say, but I resolved, unhesitatingly, to abandon a scheme in regard to which I hesitated. Instead, therefore, of attempting to pass the strait between the key and Cuba, I went to bed, and slept more comfortably in my utter abandonment than I had done since I was on the island.
Next day, at noon, I descried a small pilot-boat sailing inside the reef, with all the confidence of a perfect master of the chan- nel. Two persons speedily landed, with provisions from the mainland, and stated that, on his last visit to Cuba, Don Rafael engaged them to take me to Havana.
This, however, was to bo done with much caution, inasmuch as his men would not assent to my departure until they had compromised my life with theirs by some act of desperate guilt. The pilots declined taking me then without my guardian's assent; — and, in truth, so fully was I convinced of his intention to liberate me in the best and speed- iest way, that I made up my mind to abide where I was till he returned.
For three days more I was doomed to solitude. The pilot-boat appeared to be deeply laden.
Next day, she was taken to the mazes of the winding and wooded creek, where, I learned, the booty was disembarked and hidden. While the party had gone to complete this portion of their enterprise, the Frenchman, who was wounded in the head and remained behind, took that oppor- tunity to enlighten me on passing events. When the wreckers reached Cayo Verde, they found the French vessel already taken possession of by " fishermen " of that quarter. Anticipated in their dirty work, our comrades were in no mood to be sociable with the fortunate party.
An affray was the natural result, in which knives had been freely used, while Mesclet himself had been rescued by Rafael, pistol in hand, after receiving the violent blow on his head from which he was now suffering. Having se- cured a retreat to their boats, they were just beginning to think of a rapid departure, when the friendly pilot-boat hove in sight. So fortunate a reinforcement renerved our gang. A plan of united action was quickly concerted. The French vessel was again boarded and carried. Two of the opposite party were slain in the onslaught; and, finally, a rich remnant of the cargo was seized, though the greater part of the valuables had, no doubt, been previously dispatched ashore by the earlier band of desperadoes.
Sacrebleu I we may now cruise under the Columbian flag, and rob Peter to pay Paul! But poor Mesclet did not live to enjoy the fruits of the larger piracy, which he hoped to carry on in a more elegant way with Bachicha. The roue could not be restrained from the favorite beverages of his beautiful France.
At his departure, he repeated the cherished promise of liberty, and privately hinted that I had better continue fishing on good terms with Senor Gal- lego. It required some time to repair the nets, for they had been rather neglected during our late fishing, so that it was not, in fact, until Rafael had been three days gone that I took the canoe with Gallego, and dropped anchor outside the reef, to take break- fast before beginning our labor. We had hardly begun a frugal meal when, suddenly, a large schooner shot from behind a bend of the island, and steered in our direction.
As the surly Spaniard never spoke, I had become accustomed to be equally silent. Unexpectedly, how- ever, he gave a scowling glance from beneath his shaggy brows at the vessel, and exclaimed with unusual energy: The impulse was sudden and silly. Still Gallego insisted on retreating ; until, at length, we got into an angry controversy, which the cook, who was in the bow of the boat, attempted to end by cutting the anchor-rope. By this time the schooner was within pistol-shot ; and, as she passed with a three-knot breeze, the captain, who had witnessed the scene, threw a grappling-iron into our skiff, and taking us in tow, dragged the boat from its moorings.
As soon as we got into deeper water, I was ordered on deck, while Gallego, still quite insensible, was hoisted carefully on board. I told the truth as to our dispute, reserving, however, the important fact that I had been originally urged into the quar- rel by my anxiety " to ship " on board a privateer. Can either of you perform this service?
I was a pilot in spite of myself The malicious cook enjoyed the joke of which I had so has- tily become the victim. As they lowered him again into the boat, he jeered at my incredulity, and in ten minutes was towed to the edge of the reef, where the scamp was turned adrift to make for the island.
When the schooner was once more under full sail, I was or- dered to give the course for Key West. I at once informed the captain, whose name I understood to be Lamine, that he really labored under a mistake in translating the Spanish word pilote into port guide, and assured him that Gallego had been prompted 3 60 CAPTAIN canot; or, by a double desire to get rid of him as well as me by fostering bis pernicious error.
Hereupon the first lieutenant or mate interposed. This fellow was a short, stout-built person of thirty-five, with reddish whiskers and hair, a long-projecting un- der-jaw, and eye-teeth that jutted out like tusks. To add to his ugliness, he was sadly pitted by small-pox, and waddled about on short duck legs, which were altogether out of proportion to his long body, immense arms, and broad, massive shoulders. I do not remember a more vulgarly repulsive person than this pri- vateering lieutenant.
To the helm, sir — to the helm! Lamine was born in the isle of France, while Lasquetti, the lieutenant, was a Creole of Pensacola. The latter spoke French and Spanish quite well, but very little English ; while both master and mate were almost entirely ignorant of navigation, having intrusted that task to the third lieutenant, who was then ill with yellow fever. The second lieutenant was absent on board a prize. Thus forced to take charge of a privateer without a moment's warning, I submitted with the best grace, and, calling for charts and instruments, I shaped my way for the destined port.
The wind and weather were both charmingly fair, and objections were of course made to my command. But, as the most difficult part of our navigation was to be encountered during the night, if I kept on my course, I resolved to persist to the last in my resolution, and I was fortunate enough to carry my point.
Master Teodore; this laying-to shall give you no rest, at least, if you thought to dodge work, and get into a hammock by means of it! You shall march the deck all night to see that we don't drift on a reef, if I have to sit up, or stand up till day-dawn to watch you! I know not how long I rested, but a tremendous shock knocked me from the cannon and laid me flat on the deck, bleed- ing from mouth, nose and ears.
Lasquetti stood beside me, cigar in hand, laughing immoderately, blaspheming like a demon, and kicking me in the ribs with his rough wet-weather boots. He had detected me asleep, and touched off the gun with his havanna! The explosion aroused all hands, and brought the commander on deck. My blood flowed, but it did not pour fast enough to relieve my agonizing rage. As soon as I recovered conscious- ness, I seized the first heavy implement I could grasp, and rushed at my aggressor, whose skull was saved from the blow by de- scending beneath the combings of the hatchway, which, the in- stant after, were shivered by the descent of my heavy weapon.
Lamine was a man of some sensibility, and, though selfish, as usual with his set, could not avoid at once reprimanding Lasquetti with uncommon severity in presence of his men.
Adventures Of an African Slaver
When Lamine went 52 CAPTAIN canot; or, ashore, he ordered me not to leave the schooner, while sentries were placed to prevent boats from boarding or even approaching us. Hardly was the master out of the vessel before two men seized me as I looked at the shore through a telescope. In the twinkling of an eye, I was hurried below and double-ironed ; nor would I have received a morsel of food save bread and water during our detention, had I not been secretly fed by some good fellows from the forecastle, who stole to me after dark with the remnant of their rations.
This was the cowardly revenge of Lasquetti. On the third day, Lamine returned, bringing an American pilot for the coast and islands. I was set at liberty as he was seen approaching ; and when we got under way on another cruise, I was commanded to do duty as sailing-master, which I promptly refused with spirited indignation, until I received sat- isfaction from the dastard lieutenant. But this fellow had taken care to forestall me, by assuring Lamine that he never dreamed of securing me until I was caught in the very act of escaping from the schooner! During a week's cruise of indifferent success with these " patriots," I won the kind heart of the American pilot, who heard the story of my late adventures with patience ; and, through his influence with'the commander, my lot was mitigated, notwith- standing my refusal to do duty.
By this time, the third lieuten- ant was restored to sufficient health to resume the deck. He was a native of Spain and a gallant sailor. Many an hour did he pass beside me, recounting his adventures or listening to mine, until I seemed to win his sympathy, and insure his assist- ance for relief from this miserable tyranny. At length, the schooner's course was shaped for the Cruz del Padre, while I was summoned to the cabin. I perceived at once a singular change for the better in Monsieur Lamine 's manner. I promptly saw that his object in replacing me on the island was to prevent my complaints against his conduct from reaching the ears of a tribunal in a neutral port ; and, accordingly, I declined the proposition, — demanding, however, to be put on board of any vessel we met, no matter what might be her nation- ality.
I sternly refused his money, and insisted that my only desire was to be free from his brutal officer. But Lamine was in power and I was not. I discovered that worse consequences might befall me among these ruffians, if I hesitated to take the recompense and sign the paper. In fact, I began to be quite satisfied that, in reality, it was an escape to be freed from the privateer, even if I took refuge once more among pirates!
So, after a good deal of claret and controversy had been wasted, I signed the document and pocketed the cash. As the first bars of safi'ron streaked the east next morning, the reef of the Cruz del Padre hove in sight dead ahead. The third lieutenant presented me at my departure with a set of charts, a sp3'-glass, a quadrant, and a large bag of clothes ; while, in the breast of a rich silk waistcoat, he concealed three ounces and a silver watch, which he desired me to wear in honor of him, if ever I was fortunate enough to tread the streets of Havana.
Several of the white sailors also offered me useful garments ; and a black fellow, who had charge of the boat in which I was sent ashore, forced on me two sovereigns, which he considered a small gratuity to " a countryman " in distress. He hailed from Mar- blehead, and protested that he knew me in Salem when I was a lad. As the boat approached the ranclio's cove, I perceived every body under arms, and heard Don Rafael command my boatmen, in a loud, imperious voice, to begone, or he would fire. Standing on the thwarts of the boat, I ordered the oarsmen to back water, and leaping into the sea, waist-deep, struggled alone to the beach, calling " mi tio!
Our boat was then allowed to approacli the land- ing and disburthen itself of the gifts. I thought it best to request my sable ally from Marblehead to narrate, in as good Spanish or lingua-franca as he could press into his service, the whole story of my capture and the conduct of Gallego.
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This being done, the boat and its crew were dispatched aboard with a multitude of Spanish courtesies and the substantial gift of some Chateau Margaux. After an early supper, I became the lion of the evening, and was requested to give a narrative of my cruise in the " patriot service. At its conclusion, I arose and deposited in the hands of Don Rafael my gifts of two hundred dollars and the two sovereigns.
This evidence of reciprocity seemed to restore the good temper of" my impatient hearers, so that, by the time the 2 itron went round the circle, giving each man his share of my earnings, — not even omitting Gallego, — my credit was almost restored among the gang. The money was another thing. That was his earning, as the ' fishing revenue ' is ours ; and as he is entitled to a share of what we gain, we are entitled to participate in whatever he wins. Yet, amigos, this is not all. My nephew, caballeros, has been accused, by one of this party, during his absence, of being not only a contemptible thief, but a traitor and coward.
Now, as these are three ' blasphemous vituperations ' which are not to be found under any head in my prayer-book, and never were chargeable on the blood of our family, I insist on immediate jus- tice to my kinsman. Let that cowardly scoundrel repeat and prove his accusation of Teodore, face to face! You, senores, shall stand judges. Every thing shall be fair.
His voluntary return was a voucher of honesty ; and I doubt whether there is a clever man among you who does not agree with me. Stand forth, Gal- lego, and charge this youth again with the infamy you heaped on him while he was away. Still he remained perfectly silent. If Don Rafael is ready to meet me, knife in hand, in support of my cause, why, all I have to say is, that I am ready for him and his bastard to boot!
In the hurly burly, Gallego took to his heels and departed. The scoundrel's escape caused some alarm in the camp, as it was feared he might leave the island, and, turning king's evi- dence, make the waters of Cuba too hot for the band. Accord- ingly, all the canoes and boats that night were drawn up on the beach and kept under double watch. Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read. Want to Read saving…. Want to Read Currently Reading Read.
Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. Republication of the classic edition. Paperback , pages. Published September 18th by Dover Publications first published Adventures of an African Slaver: Written Out and Edited from the Captain's. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.
To ask other readers questions about Adventures of an African Slaver , please sign up. Be the first to ask a question about Adventures of an African Slaver. Lists with This Book. Oct 13, Glyn Samuel rated it it was amazing. A wonderful and disturbing read. This should be compulsory reading - especially for those who do not appreciate how much the British Nation did to stop the international slave trade.
This book tells the tale of the son of a Napoleonic Officer who had little option but to seek a trade at sea, and chose the slave trade. Adventure after misadventure followed but - in the end- the slave trade proved just more problematic than he had ever imagined. I was moved more than I can say when I first read th A wonderful and disturbing read. I was moved more than I can say when I first read this true story - I have never forgotten it, even though I read it first at least fifteen years ago.
Aug 29, Lynette rated it really liked it Shelves: Dark subject but interesting. Not sure how much is true in regards to the Africans, and how much is made up to ease his conscience or justify slavery. He had quite a fascinating life from being stuck with pirates, being in prison, building and losing fortunes. This book is also interesting look at the history of how the natives indulged in the slave trade through capture of rival tribes and would in turn trade the people for rum, tobacco, cloth, etc.
Esteban rated it it was ok Oct 31, Scrim Door rated it really liked it Jul 07, Patrick Andersen rated it really liked it Apr 05, Leonel Esteban rated it it was amazing Jun 18, Ward L rated it liked it Oct 27, Lauren rated it liked it Oct 12, Shannon rated it it was amazing Feb 05, Karlos Dearma rated it it was amazing Sep 13, Roy Rowlett rated it liked it Feb 26, Simon rated it liked it Jun 13,