The adventures of Captain Horn/Chapter 41

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search




On went the boat, each one of the oarsmen pulling with all his force, the captain in the stern, shouting and encouraging them, and Shirley and Burke crouched in the bow, each with his rifle in hand. Up went the jib of the Arato. She gently turned about as she felt the influence of the wind, and then the captain believed the men on board were trying to get up the foresail.

"Are you sure there are only two of the crew on that schooner?" said the captain to the prisoner. "Now, it isn't worth while to lie to me."

"Only two," said the man. "I swear to it. Only two, Señor Capitan."

The foresail did not go up, for one of the men had to run to the wheel, and as the vessel's head got slowly around, it seemed as if she might sail away from the boat, even with nothing but the jib set. But the schooner gained headway very slowly, and the boat neared her rapidly. Now the man at the wheel gave up all hope of sailing away from his pursuers. He abandoned the helm, and in a few moments two heads and two guns showed over the rail, and two shots rang out. But the schooner was rolling, and the aim was bad. Shirley and Burke fired at the two heads as soon as they saw them, but the boat was rising and pitching, and their shots were also bad.

For a minute there was no more firing, and then one of the heads and one of the guns were seen again. Shirley was ready, and made his calculations, and, as the boat rose, he drew a bead upon the top of the rail where he saw the head, and had scarcely pulled his trigger when he saw a good deal more than a head, for a man sprung up high in the air and then fell backward.

The captain now ordered his men to rest on their oars, for, if the other man on board should show himself, they could get a better shot at him than if they were nearer. But the man did not show himself, and, on consideration of his probable tactics, it seemed extremely dangerous to approach the vessel. Even here they were in danger, but should they attempt to board her, they could not tell from what point he might fire down upon them, and some of them would surely be shot before they could get a chance at him, and the captain did not wish to sacrifice any of his men, even for a vessel, if it could be helped. There seemed to be no hope of safely gaining their object, except to wait until the man should become tired and impatient, and expose himself.

Suddenly, to the amazement of every one in the boat, for all heads were turned toward the schooner, a man appeared, boldly running over her deck. Shirley and Burke instantly raised their rifles, but dropped them again. There was a shout from Maka, and an exclamation from the prisoner. Then the man on deck stooped close to the rail and was lost to their sight, but almost instantly he reappeared again, holding in front of him a struggling pair of legs, feet uppermost. Then, upon the rail, appeared a man's head and body; but it only remained there for an instant, for his legs were raised still higher by the person behind him, and were then propelled outward with such force that he went head long overboard. Then the man on deck sprang to the top of the rail, regardless of the rolling of the vessel in the gentle swell, and waved his hands above his head.

"Inkspot!" shouted the captain. "Pull away, you fellows! Pull!"

The tall, barefooted negro sprang to the deck from his perilous position, and soon reappeared with a line ready to throw to the boat.

In a few minutes they reached the vessel and the boat was quickly made fast, and very soon they were on board. When he saw his old friends and associates upon the deck, Inkspot retired a little distance and fell upon his knees.

"You black rascal!" roared Burke, "you brought these cut-throat scoundrels down upon us! You—"

"That will do," said the captain. "There is no time for that sort of thing now. We will talk to him afterwards. Mr. Shirley, call all hands and get up sail. I am going to take this schooner inside the headland. We can find safe anchorage in the bay. We can sail over the same course we went on with the Miranda, and she drew more water than this vessel."

In an hour the Arato, moored by her spare anchor, lay in the little bay, less than two hundred yards from shore. It gave the shipwrecked men a wild delight to find themselves again upon the decks of a seaworthy vessel, and everybody worked with a will, especially the prisoner and Inkspot. And when the last sail had been furled, it became evident to all hands on board that they wanted their breakfast, and this need was speedily supplied by Maka and Inkspot from the Arato's stores.

That afternoon the captain went on shore with the negroes and the Chilian prisoner, and the bodies of the nine men who had fallen in the attack upon the wall of gold were buried where they lay. This was a very different climate from that of the Peruvian coast, where the desiccating air speedily makes a mummy of any dead body upon its arid sands.

When this work had been accomplished, the party returned to the Arato, and the captain ordered Inkspot and the prisoner to be brought aft to be tried by court martial. The big negro had been wildly and vociferously received by his fellow- country men, who, upon every possible occasion, had jabbered together in their native tongue, but Captain Horn had, so far, said nothing to him.

The captain had been greatly excited from the moment he had seen the sail in the offing. In his dire distress, on this almost desolate shore, he had beheld what might prove to be speedy relief, and, much as he had needed it, he had hoped that it might not come so soon. He had been apprehensive and anxious when he supposed friendly aid might be approaching, and he had been utterly astounded when he was forced to believe that they were armed men who were rowing to shore, and must be enemies. He had fought a terrible fight. He had conquered the scoundrels who had come for his life and his treasure, and, best of all, he had secured a vessel which would carry him and his men and his fortune to France. He had endeavored to keep cool and think only of the work that was immediately in hand, and he had no wish to ask any body why or how things had happened. They had happened, and that was all in all to him. But now he was ready to make all necessary inquiries, and he began with Inkspot. Maka being interpreter, the examination was easily carried on.

The story of the negro was a very interesting one. He told of his adventures on shore, and how kind the men had been to him until they went on board the Arato, and how then they treated him as if he had been a dog—how he had been made to do double duty in all sorts of disagreeable work, and how, after they had seen the light on the beach, he had been put into the hold and tied hand and foot. While down there in the dark he had heard the firing on shore, and, after a long while, the firing from the deck, and other shots near by. All this had so excited him that he managed to get one hand loose from his cords, and then had speedily unfastened the rest, and had quietly crept to a hatchway, where he could watch what was going on without showing himself. He had seen the two men on deck, ready to fire on the approaching boat. He had recognized Captain Horn and the people of the Miranda in the boat. And then, when there was but one man left on deck, and the boat was afraid to come nearer, he had rushed up behind him and tumbled him overboard.

One thing only did Inkspot omit: he did not say that it was Mr. Burke's example that had prompted him to go ashore for refreshments. When the story had been told, and all questions asked and answered, the captain turned to Burke and Shirley and asked their opinions upon the case. Shirley was in favor of putting the negro in irons. He had deserted them, and had nearly cost them their lives by the stories he had told on shore. Burke, to the captain's surprise,—for the second mate generally dealt severely with nautical transgressions,—was in favor of clemency.

"To be sure," said he, "the black scoundrel did get us into trouble. But then, don't you see, he has got us out of it. If these beastly fellows hadn't been led by him to come after our money, we would not have had this schooner, and how we should have got those bags away without her,—to say nothing of ourselves,—is more than I can fathom. It is my belief that no craft ever comes within twenty miles of this coast, if she can help it. So I vote for letting him off. He didn't intend to do us any harm, and he didn't intend to do us any good, but it seems to me that the good he did do rises higher above the water-line than the harm. So I say, let him off. We need another hand about as much as we need anything."

"And so say I," said the captain. "Maka, you can tell him we forgive him, because we believe that he is really a good fellow and didn't intend any harm, and he can turn in with the rest of you on his old watch. And now bring up that Chilian fellow."

The prisoner, who gave his name as Anton Garta, was now examined in regard to the schooner Arato, her extraordinary cruise, and the people who had devised it. Garta was a fellow of moderate intelligence, and still very much frightened, and having little wit with which to concoct lies, and no reason for telling them, he answered the questions put to him as correctly as his knowledge permitted. He said that about two months before he had been one of the crew of the Arato, and Manuel Cardatas was second mate, and he had been very glad to join her on this last cruise because he was out of a job. He thought she was going to Callao for a cargo, and so did the rest of the crew. They did not even know there were guns on board until they were out at sea. Then, when they had turned southward, their captain and Señor Nunez told them that they were going in pursuit of a treasure ship commanded by a Yankee captain, who had run away with ever so much money from California, and that they were sure to overhaul this ship, and that they would all be rich.

The guns were given to them, and they had had some practice with them, and thought that Cardatas intended, should the Miranda be overhauled, to run alongside of her as near as was safe, and begin operations by shooting everybody that could be seen on deck. He was not sure that this was his plan, but they all had thought it was. After the storm the men had become dissatisfied, and said they did not believe it was possible to overhaul any vessel after so much delay, and when they had gone so far out of their course; and Señor Nunez, who had hired the vessel, was in doubt as to whether it would be of any use to continue the cruise. But when Cardatas had talked to him, Señor Nunez had come among them and promised them good rewards, whether they sighted their prize or not, if they would work faithfully for ten days more. The men had agreed to do this, but when they had seen the light on shore, they had made an agreement among themselves that, if this should be nothing but a fire built by savages or shipwrecked people of no account, they would not work the schooner any farther south. They would put Cardatas and Nunez in irons, if necessary, and take the Arato back to Valparaiso. There were men among them who could navigate. But when they got near enough to shore to see that the stranded vessel was the Miranda, there was no more insubordination.

As for himself, Garta said he was a plain, common sailor, who went on board the Arato because he wanted a job. If he had known the errand on which she was bound, he would never have approached within a league of her. This he vowed, by all the saints. As to the ownership of the vessel Garta could tell but little. He had heard that Cardatas had a share in her, and thought that probably the other owners lived in Valparaiso, but he could give no positive information on this subject. He said that every man of the boat s crew was in a state of wild excitement when they saw that long pile of bags, which they knew must contain treasure of some sort, and it was because of this state of mind, most likely, that Cardatas lost his temper and got himself shot, and so opened the fight. Cardatas was a cunning fellow, and, if he had not been upset by the sight of those bags, Garta believed that he would have regularly besieged Captain Horn's party, and must have overcome them in the end. He was anxious to have the captain believe that, when he had said there were only two men on board, he had totally forgotten the negro, who had been left below.

When Garta's examination had been finished, the captain sent him forward, and then repeated his story in brief to Shirley and Burke, for, as the prisoner had spoken in Spanish, they had understood but little of it.

"I don't see that it makes much difference," said Burke, "as to what his story is. We've got to get rid of him in some way. "We don't want to carry him about with us. We might leave him here, with a lot of grub and a tent. That would be all he deserves."

"I should put him in irons, to begin with," said Shirley, "and then we can consider what to do with him when we have time."

"I shall not leave him on shore," said the captain, "for that would simply be condemning him to starvation; and as for putting him in irons, that would deprive us of an able seaman. I suppose, if we took him to France, he would have to be sent to Chili for trial, and that would be of no use, unless we went there as witnesses. It is a puzzling question to know what to do with him."

"It is that," said Burke, "and it is a great pity he wasn't shot with the others."

"Well," said the captain, "we've got a lot of work before us, and we want hands, so I think it will be best to let him turn in with the rest, and make him pay for his passage, wherever we take him. The worst he can do is to desert, and if he does that, he will settle his own business, and we shall have no more trouble with him."

"I don't like him," said Shirley. "I don't think we ought to have such a fellow going about freely on board."

"I am not afraid he will hurt any of us," said the captain, "and I am sure he will not corrupt the negroes. They hate him. It is easy to see that."

"Yes," said Burke, with a laugh. "They think he is a Rackbird, and it is just as well to let them keep on thinking so."

"Perhaps he is," thought the captain, but he did not speak this thought aloud.