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- The Bushman - 4/51 -


We remained a week at St. Jago, the captain being busily engaged in taking in water, and quarrelling with his crew. One day, at the instigation of our friend, the French waiter, we made a trip of seven miles into the interior of the island, to visit a beautiful valley called Trinidad. Mounted on donkeys, and attended by two ragged, copper-coloured youths, we proceeded in gallant style up the main street, and, leaving the town, crossed the valley beyond it, and emerged into the open country. It was a rough, stony, and hilly road, through a barren waste, where there scarcely appeared a stray blade of grass for the goats which rambled over it in anxious search of herbage.

At length, after a wearisome ride of several hours, we descended suddenly into the most fertile and luxuriant valley I ever beheld, and which seemed to extend a distance of some miles. A mountain brook flowed down the midst, on the banks of which numerous scattered and picturesque cottages appeared. On either side the ground was covered with the green carpet of Nature in the spring of the year. Everywhere, except in this smiling valley, we saw nothing but the aridity of summer, and the desolation caused by a scorching tropical sun. But here -- how very different! How sudden, how magical was the change! Every species of vegetable grew here in finest luxuriance. Melons of every variety, pine-apples, sweet potatoes, plantains, and bananas, with their broad and drooping leaves of freshest green and rich purple flower, and ripe yellow fruit. Orange-trees, cocoa-nut trees, limes -- the fig, the vine, the citron, the pomegranate, and numerous others, grateful to the weary sight, and bearing precious stores amid their branches, combined to give the appearance of wealth and plenty to this happy valley. It was not, however, destined to be entered by us without a fierce combat for precedence between two of our steeds. The animal whom it was the evil lot of Meliboeus to bestride, suddenly threw back its ears, and darted madly upon the doctor's quadruped, which, on its side, manifested no reluctance to the fight.

Dreadful was the scene; the furious donkeys nearing and striking with their fore-feet, and biting each other about the head and neck without the smallest feeling of compunction or remorse; the two guides shrieking and swearing in Portuguese at the donkeys and each other, and striking right and left with their long staves, perfectly indifferent as to whom they hit; the unhappy riders, furious with fright and chagrin, shouting in English to the belligerents of both classes to "keep off!" The screams of two women, who were carrying water in the neighbourhood, enhanced by the barking of a terrified cur, that ran blindly hither and thither with its tail between its legs, in a state of frantic excitement -- altogether produced a tableau of the most spirited description. Peace was at length restored, and we all dismounted from our saddles with fully as much satisfaction as we had experienced when vaulting into them.

There is little more to say about the valley of Trinidad. The cottagers who supply the town of Porto Praya with fruits and vegetables are extremely poor, and very uncleanly and untidy in their houses and habits. We had intended to spend the night with them, but the appearance of the accommodations determined us to return to our inn, in spite of the friendly and disinterested advice of our guides.

St. Jago abounds with soldiers and priests; the former of whom are chiefly convicts from Lisbon, condemned to serve here in the ranks.

The day for sailing arrived, and we were all on board and ready. Our barque was a temperance ship; that is, she belonged to owners who refused to allow their sailors the old measure of a wine-glass of rum in the morning, and another in the afternoon, but liberally substituted an extra pint of water instead.

There is always one thing remarkable about these temperance ships, that when they arrive in harbour, their crews, excited to madness by long abstinence from their favourite liquor, and suffering in consequence all the excruciating torments of thirst, run into violent excesses the moment they get on shore. St. Jago is famous for a kind of liquid fire, called aguadente, which is smuggled on board ship in the shape of pumpkins and watermelons. These are sold to the sailors for shirts and clothing; there being nothing so eagerly sought for by the inhabitants of St. Jago as linen and calico.

Our crew, being thoroughly disgusted with their captain, as indeed they had some reason to be, and their valour being wondrously excited by their passionate fondness for water-melons, came to a stern resolution of spending the remainder of their lives on this agreeable island; at any rate, they determined to sail no farther in our company. The captain was ashore, settling his accounts and receiving his papers; the chief-mate had given orders to loose the fore-topsail and weigh anchor; and we were all in the cuddy, quietly sipping our wine, when we heard three cheers and a violent scuffling on deck. In a few moments down rushed the mate in a state of delirious excitement, vociferating that the men were in open mutiny, and calling upon us, in the name of the Queen, to assist the officers of the ship in bringing them to order. Starting up at the call of our Sovereign, we rushed to our cabins in a state of nervous bewilderment, and loading our pistols in a manner that ensured their not going off, we valiantly hurried on deck in the rear of the exasperated officer. On reaching the raised quarter-deck of the vessel, we found the crew clustered together near the mainmast, armed with hand-spikes, boat-oars, crow-bars, and a miscellaneous assortment of other weapons, and listening to an harangue which the carpenter was in the act of delivering to them. They were all intoxicated; but the carpenter, a ferocious, determined villain, was the least so.

At one of the quarter-deck gangways stood the captain's lady, a lean and wizened Hecate, as famous for her love of rum as any of the crew, but more openly rejoicing in the no less objectionable spirit of ultra-methodism. Screaming at the top of her voice, whilst her unshawled and dusky shoulders, as well as the soiled ribands of her dirty cap, were gently fanned by the sea-breeze, she commanded the men to return to their duty, in a volume of vociferation that seemed perfectly inexhaustible. Fearing that the quarter-deck would be carried by storm, we divided our party, consisting of the two mates, three passengers with their servants, and Mungo the black servant, into two divisions, each occupying one of the gang-ways.

In a few moments the carpenter ceased his oration; the men cheered and danced about the deck, brandishing their weapons, and urging one another to "come on." Then with a rush, or rather a stagger, they assailed our position, hoping to carry it in an instant by storm. The mate shouted to us to fire, and pick out three or four of the most desperate; but perceiving the intoxicated state of the men we refused to shed blood, except in the last extremity of self-defence; and determined to maintain our post, if possible, by means of our pistol-butts, or our fists alone. In the general melee which ensued, the captain's lady, who fought in the van, and looked like a lean Helen MacGregor, or the mythological Ate, was captured by the assailants, and dragged to the deck below. Then it was that combining our forces, and inspired with all the ardour which is naturally excited by the appearance of beauty in distress, we made a desperate sally, and after a fearful skirmish, succeeded in rescuing the lady, and replacing her on the quarter-deck, with the loss only of her cap and gown, and a few handfuls of hair.

After this exploit, both parties seemed inclined to pause and take breath, and in the interval we made an harangue to the sailors, expressive of our regret that they should act in so disgraceful a manner.

The gallant (or rather ungallant) fellows replied that they were determined to be no longer commanded by a she-captain, as they called the lady, and therefore would sail no farther in such company.

I really believe that most of them had no serious intention whatever in their proceedings, but the officers of the ship were firmly convinced that the carpenter and one or two others had resolved to get possession of the vessel, dispose of the passengers and mates somehow or other, and then slip the cable, and wreck and sell the ship and cargo on the coast of South America.

Whilst the truce lasted, the second mate had been busily engaged making signals of distress, by repeatedly hoisting and lowering the ensign reversed, from the mizen-peak. This was soon observed from the deck of a small Portuguese schooner of war, which lay at anchor about half a mile from us, having arrived a few hours previously, bringing the Bishop of some-where-or-other on a visitation to the island. The attention of the officer of the watch had been previously attracted towards us by the noise we had made, and the violent scuffle which he had been observing through his glass. No sooner, therefore, was the flag reversed, than a boat was lowered from the quarter-davits, filled with marines, and pulled towards our vessel with the utmost rapidity. The mutineers, whose attention was directed entirely to the quarter-deck, did not perceive this manoeuvre, which, however, was evident enough to us, who exerted ourselves to the utmost to prolong the parley until our allies should arrive.

The carpenter now decided upon renewing the assault, having laid aside his handspike and armed himself with an axe; but just at this moment the man-of-war's boat ran alongside, and several files of marines, with fixed bayonets, clambering on to the deck, effected a speedy change in the aspect of affairs. Perceiving at once how matters stood, the officer in command, without asking a single question, ordered a charge against the astonished sailors, who, after a short resistance, and a few violent blows given and received, were captured and disarmed.

There was a boy among the party called Shiny Bill, some fifteen years of age, who managed to escape to the fore-shrouds, and giving the marine who pursued him a violent kick in the face, succeeded in reaching the fore-top, where he coiled himself up like a ball. Two or three marines, exasperated by the scuffle, and by several smart raps on the head which they had received, hastened up the shrouds after the fugitive, who, however, ascended to the fore-top-mast cross-trees, whither his enemies, after some hesitation, pursued. Finding this post also untenable, he proceeded to swarm up the fore-top-gallant-mast shrouds, and at last seated himself on the royal yard, where he calmly awaited the approach of the enemy. These, however, feeling that the position was too strong to be successfully assailed by marines, deliberately commenced their retreat, and arrived on deck, whilst their officer was hailing the immovable Bill in Portuguese, and swearing he would shoot him unless he instantly descended.

Disdaining, however, to pay the least attention to these threats, Shiny William continued to occupy his post with the greatest tranquillity; and the officer, giving up the attempt in despair, proceeded to inquire from us in Portuguese-French the history of this outbreak. The scene concluded with the removal of the mutineers in one of the ship's boats to the man-of-war, where, in a few moments, several dozen lashes were administered to every man in detail, and the whole party were then sent on shore, and committed to a dungeon darker and dirtier than the worst among them had ever before been acquainted with. But before all this was done, and when the boats


The Bushman - 4/51

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