Charles James Lever.

[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 5) online

. (page 11 of 50)
Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 5) → online text (page 11 of 50)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

I would a wild beast. I'll proceed up the river in the disguise
of an itinerant merchant, one of those pedlar fellows of
which this land is full, taking the Irish dog along with me."

" Of whom, remember, you know nothing, sir," interposed

" Nor need to know," said he, impatient at the interruption.
" Let him play me false ; let me only suspect that he means
it, and my reckoning with him will be short. I have watched
him closely of late, and I see the fellow's curiosity is excited
about ITS ; he is evidently on the alert to learn something of
our object in this voyage ; but the day he gains the know-
ledge, Tom, will be his last to enjoy it. It is a cheap process
if we are at sea a dark night and an eighteen-pound shot !
If on shore, I'll readily find some one to take the trouble
off my hands."



It may be imagined with what a sensation of terror I
heard these words, feeling that my actual position at the
moment would have decided my fate, if discovered ; and
yet, with all this, I could not stir, nor make an effort to
leave the spot ; a fascination to hear the remainder of the
conversation had thoroughly bound me as by a spell ; and in
breathless anxiety I listened, as Sir Dudley resumed.

" You, with Heckenstein and the Greek, must follow, ready
to assist me when I need your aid ; for my plan is this : I
mean to entice the fellow, on pretence of a pleasure excur-
sion, a few miles from the town, into the bush, there to bind
him hand and foot, and convey him, by the forest tracks, to
the second ' portage,' where the batteaux are stationed, by
one of which these Canadian fellows are easily bribed we
shall drop down to Montreal, there the yacht shall be in wait-
ing all ready for sea. Even without a wind, three days will
bring us off the Island of Orleans, and as many more, if we
be but fortunate, to the Gulf. The very worst that can
happen is discovery and detection, and if that ensue, I'll
blow his brains out."

" And if we succeed in carrying him off, Sir Dudley, what

" I have not made up my mind, Halkett, what I'll do.
I've thought of a hundred schemes of vengeance ; but, con-
found it, I must be content with one only, though fifty deaths
would not satisfy my hate."

"I'd put a bullet through his skull, or swing him from the
yard-arm, and make an end of it," said Halkett, roughly.

" Not I, faith ; he shall live ; and, if I can have my will,
a long life too. His own government would take charge
of him at ' Irkutsk,' for that matter at the quicksilver
mines ; and they say the diseased bones, from the absorption
of that poison, is a terrible punishment. But I have a better
notion still. Do you remember that low island off the east
shore of the Niger, where the negro fellows live in log huts,
threshing the water all day, to keep the caymans from the

"The devil!" exclaimed Halkett, "you'll not put him

" I have thought of it very often," said Sir Dudley, calmly.
" He'd see his doom before him every day, and dream of it
each night too. One cannot easily forget that horrid swamp,
alive and moving with those reptiles ! It was nigh two months
ere I could fall asleep at night without starting up in terror
at the thought of them." Sir Dudley arose as he said this,


and walked the cabin with impatient steps ; sometimes as he
passed his arm would graze the curtain, and shake its folds,
and then my heart leaped to my mouth in very terror. At
last, with an effort, that I felt as the last chance of life, 1
secured the papers in my bosom, and, standing up on the
seat, crept through the window, and, after a second's delay to
adjust the rope, clambered up the side, and gained the deck
unobserved. It could not have been real fatigue, for there
was little or no exertion in the feat ; but yet such was my
state of exhaustion that I crept over to the boat that was
fastened midships, and lying down in her, on a coil of cable,
slept soundly till morning. If my boyish experiences had
familiarised my mind with schemes of vengeance as terrible
as ever faction fabricated, I had yet to learn that " gentlemen"
cherished such feelings, and I own the discovery gave me a
tremendous shock. That some awful debt of injury was on
Sir Dudley's mind was clear enough, and that I was to be, in
some capacity or other, an aid to him in acquitting it, was a
fact I was more convinced of than pleased at. Neither did I
fancy his notions of summary justice perhaps it was my
legal education had prejudiced me in favour of more formal
proceedings ; but I saw, with a most constitutional horror, the
function of justice, jury, and executioner, in the hands of
one single individual.

So impressed was I with these thoughts, that had I not
been on the high seas, I should inevitably have run for it,
Alas, however, the banks of Newfoundland which, after all
I had heard mentioned on our voyage, I imagined to be grassy
slopes, glittering with daises, and yellow with daffodils are
but sand heaps, some two hundred fathoms down in " the
ocean blue ; " and all one ever knows of them is, the small
geological specimens brought up on the tallowed end of the
deep sea-lead. Escape, therefore, was for the present out of the
question ; but the steady determination to attempt it was
spared me, by a circumstance that occurred about a week

After some days of calm, common enough in these latitudes,
a slight but steady breeze set in from the north-east which
bore us up the Gulf with easy sail, till we came in sight of
the long low island of Anticosti, which, like some gigantic
monster, raises its dark misshapen beach above the water.
Not the slightest trace of foilage or vendure to give it a
semblance to the aspect of land ! Two dreary-looking log-
houses, about eighteen miles apart, remind one that a refuge
for the shipwrecked is deemed necessary in this dangerous

H 2


channel ; but, except these, not a trace exists to show that
the foot of man had trod that dreary spot.

The cook's galley is sure to have its share of horrors when
a ship " lies to " near this gloomy shore ; scarcely a crew
exists where some one belonging to it has not had a messmate
wrecked there ; and then, the dreadful narratives of starva-
tion, and strife, and murders, were too fearful to dwell on.
.Among the horrors recorded on every hand all agreed in
.'speaking of a terrible character who had never quitted the
'island for upwards of forty years. He was a sailor who had
committed a murder under circumstances of great ati'ocity,
and dared not revisit the mainland, for fear of the penalty
of his guilt. Few had ever seen him ; for years back, indeed,
he had not been met with at all, and rumour said that he
was dead. Still no trace of his body could be found, and
some inclined to the opinion that he might at last have made
his escape.

He was a negro, and was described as possessing the
strength of three or four men ; and although the proverbial
exaggeration of sailors might, and very probably did, colour
these narratives, the sad fate of more than one party who
had set out to capture him, gave the stories a terrible air of
truth. The fear of him was such, that although very liberal
terms had been offered to induce men to take up their abode
in the island to succour the crews of wrecked vessels, none
could be found to accept the post ; and even at the period
when I visited these seas, and after a long lapse of years since
the Black Boatswain had been seen, no one would venture.

The story went that his ghost still wandered there, and
that at night, when the storm was high, and the waves of the
Gulf sent the spray over that low and dreary island, his cries
could be heard, calling aloud to " shorten sail, to brace round
the yards, close the hatchways," mingled with blasphemies
that made the very hair stand on end.

If the reader, armed with the triple mail of incredulity, so
snugly ensconsced in his easy chair, before a sea-coal fire, can
afford to scoff at such perils, not so did I, as I sat in a
corner of the galley gathering with greedy ears the horrors
that fell on every side, and now and then stealing out to cast
a glance over the bulwarks at the long low bank of sand,
which seemed more like an exhalation from the water than a
solid mass of rock and shingle.

I have said that a feeling of rivalry existed between the
Moorish boy, El Jarasch and myself, and although I endured
the scoffs and sneers at first with a humility my own humble


garb and anomalous position enforced, I soon began to feel
more confidence in myself, and that species of assurance a
becoming dress seems somehow to inspire ; for I was now
attired like the rest of the crew, and wore the name of the
yacht in gold letters on nay cap, as well as on the breast of
my waistcoat.

The hatred of El Jarasch increased with every day, and
mutual scoffs and gibes were the only intercourse between us.
More than once, Halkett, who had always befriended me,
warned me of the boy, and said that his Moorish blood was sure
to make his vengeance felt ; but I only laughed at his caution,
and avowed myself ready to confront him when and however
he pleased. Generosity was little wasted on either side, so
that when one day, in a fierce encounter with the lions, El
Jarasch received a fall which broke one of his ribs, and was
carried in a state of insensibility to his berth, I neither pitied
him nor regretted his misfortune. I affected even to say that
his own cowardice had rendered the creatures more daring,
and that had he preserved a bolder front the mischance would
have never occurred. These vauntings of mine, coupled with
an avowed willingness to take his place, came to Sir Dudley's
ears on the third evening after the accident, and he imme-
diately sent for me to his cabin.

" Is it true, sirrah ? " said he, in a harsh unpleasant voice,
" that you have been jesting about Jarasch, and saying that
you were ready to take charge of the whelps in his stead ? "

" It is," said I, answering both questions together.

" You shall do so to-morrow, then," replied he, solemnly ;
" take care that you can do something, as well as boast ! '*
and with this he motioned me to leave the cabin.

I at once repaired to the steerage to report my interview
to the men, who were all more friendly with me than with the
" Moor." Many were the counsels I received about how I
should conduct myself the next morning; some asserting
that, as it was my first time, I could not be too gentle with
the animals, avoiding the slightest risk of hurting them, and
even suffering their rough play without any effort to check
it. Others, on the contrary, advised me at once to seek the
mastery over the beasts, and by two or three severe lessons
to teach them caution if not respect. This counsel, I own,
chimed in with my own notions, and also better accorded
with what, after my late vauntings, I felt to be my duty.

It was altogether a very anxious night with me, not exactly
through fear, because I knew, as the men were always ready
with their arms loaded, life could not be perilled, and I did


not dread the infliction of a mere sprain or fracture ; but I
felt it was an ordeal wherein my fame was at stake. Were I
to acquit myself well, there would be an end for ever of those
insulting airs of superiority the Moorish boy had assumed
towards me. Whereas, if I failed, I must consent to bear
his taunts and sarcasms without a murmur.

In one point only the advice of all the crew agreed, which
was, that the female cub, much larger, and more ferocious
than the male, should more particularly demand my watch-
fulness. " If she scratch you, boy, mind that you desist,"
said an old Danish sailor, who had been long on the African
coast. This caution was re-echoed by all, and resolving to
follow its dictates, I " turned in " to my hammock, to dream
of combats and battles till morning.

I was early astir, waking with a sudden start, I had
been dreaming of a lion-hunt, and fancied I heard the deep-
mouthed roaring of the beasts in a jungle ; and, true enough,
a low monotonous howl came from the place where the
animals lay, for it was now the fourth morning of their being
confined without having been once at liberty.

I had just completed my dressing the costume was simply
a short pair of loose trousers, hands, arms, and feet bare, and
a small Fez cap on my head, when Halkett came down to
me to say that he had been speaking to Sir Dudley about the
matter, and that as I had never yet accustomed myself to the
whelps, it was better that I should not begin the acquaint-
ance after they had been four days in durance. " At the
same time," added Halkett, " he gives you the choice ; you
can venture if you please,"

"I've made up my mind," said I. "I'm sure I'm able
for anything the black fellow can do."

" My advice to you, boy," said he, " is to leave them alone.
Those Moorish chaps are the creatures' countrymen, and
have almost the same kind of natures they are stealthy,
treacherous, and cruel. They never trust anything man or
beast ! "

" No matter ! " said I. " I'm as strong as ho is, and my
courage is not less."

" If you will have it so, I have nothing to say ; indeed, I
promised Sir Dudley I'd give you no advice one way or other:
so now get the staff from Jarasch, and come on deck,"

The staff was a short thick truncheon of oak, tipped with
brass at each end, and the only weapon ever used by the boy
in his encounters.

" So you're going to take my place ! " said the black fellow,


while his dark eyes were lighted up like coals of fire, and his
white teeth glanced between his purple lips. " Don't hurt
my poor pet cubs ; be gentle with them."

" Where's the staff? " said I, not liking the tone in which
he spoke, or well knowing if he affected earnest or jest.

" There it is," said he ; "but your white hands will be enough
without that. You'll not need the weapon the coward used ! "
and as he spoke a kind of shuddering convulsion shook his
frame from head to foot.

" Come, come ! " said I stretching out my hand ; " I ought
not to have called you a coward, Jarasch that you are not !
I ask you to forgive me ; will you? "

He never spoke, but nestled lower down in the hammock,
so that I could not even see his face.

" There, they're calling me already. I must be off ! Let
us shake hands and be friends this time at least. When
you're well and up, we can fight it out about something
else ! "

" Kiss me, then," said he ; and though I had no fancy for
the embrace, or the tone it was asked in, I leaned over the
hammock, and while he placed one arm round my neck, and
drew me towards him, I kissed his forehead, and he mine, in
true Moorish fashion ; and not sorry to have made my peace
with my only enemy, I stepped up the ladder with a light
heart and a firm courage.

I little knew what need I had for both ! When Jarasch
had put his arm around my neck, I did not know that he had
inserted his hand beneath the collar of my shirt, and drawn a
long streak of blood from his own vein across my back be-
tween my shoulders. When I arrived on deck, it was to re-
ceive the congratulations of the crew, who were all struck
with my muscular arms and legs, and who unanimously pro-
nounced that I was far fitter to exercise the whelps than was
the Moor.

Sir Dudley said nothing. A short nod greeted me as I
came towards him, and then he waved me back with his hand
a motion, which, having something contemptuous in it, pained
me acutely at the moment. I had not much time, however,
to indulge such feelings. The whelps were already on deck,
and springing madly at the wooden bars of their cage for
liberty. Eager as themselves, I hastened to unbolt the door,
and set them free.

El o sooner were they at large than they set off down one
side of the deck and up the other, careering at full speed,
clearing with a bound whatever stood in their way ; and when


by any chance meeting each other, stopping for an instant, to
stare with glaring eyes and swelling nostrils, and then, either
passing stealthily and warily past, or one would crouch while
the other cleared him at a spring, and so ofi' again. In all
this I had no part to play. I could neither call them back,
like Jarasch, whose voice they knew, nor had I his dexterity
in catching them as they went, and throwing all manner of
gambols over and upon them, as he did.

I felt this poignantly, the more as I saw, or thought I saw,
Sir Dudley's eyes upon me more than once, with an expres-
sion of disdainful pity. At last, the great tub which contained
the creatures' food was wheeled forward; and no sooner had the
men retired, than the quick-scented animals were on the spot
so rapidly, indeed, that I had barely time to seat rays-elf,
crosslegged, on the lid, when they approached, and with
stately step walked round the vessel, staring as it were in
surprise at the new figure who disputed their meal with them.-

At last, the male placed one paw on the lid, and with the
other tapped me twice or thrice on the shoulder with the
kind of gentle, pattering blow a cat will sometimes use with
a mouse. It was a sort of mild admonition to " leave that,"
nothing of hostility whatever being announced.

I replied by imitating the gesture, so far as a half-closed
fist would permit, and struck him on the side of the head.
He looked grave at this treatment, and, slowing descending
from his place, he lay down about a yard off. Meanwhile the
female, who had been smelling and sniffing round and round
the tub, made an effort to lift the lid with her head, and fail-
ing, began to strike it in sharp, short blows with her paw ;
the excitement of her face, and the sturdy position of her
hind legs, showing that her temper was chafed at the delay.
To increase her rage, I pushed the lid a few inches back ; and
as the savoury steam arose, the creature grew more eager,
and at last attracted the other to the spot.

It was quite clear that hunger was the passion uppermost
with them, and that they had not yet connected me with tho
cause of their disappointment, for they laboured by twenty
devices to insert a paw or to smash the lid, but never noticed
me in tho least. Wearied of my failures to induce them to
play, and angry at the indifference they manifested to me, I
sprang from the lid, and, lifting it from the tub, flung it back.
In an instant they had each their heads in the mess ; tho
female had even her great paw in the midst of the tub, and
was eating away with that low, gurgling growl peculiar to
the wild beast.


Dashing right between them, I seized ono by the throat
with both hands, and hurled him back upon the deck. A
shout of "Bravo!" burst from the crew at the boldness of
the feat, and with a bound the fellow made at me. I dropped
suddenly on one knee as he came, and struck him with the
staff on the fore legs. Had he been shot, he could not have
fallen more rapidly ; down he went, like a dead mass, on the
deck. To spring on his back, and hold him fast down, was
the work of a second, while I belaboured him about the head
with my fists.

The stunning effect of his first fall gave me the victory for
a moment, but he soon rallied, and attacked me boldly. Ifc
was now a fair fight ; for, if I sometimes succeeded in mak-
ing him shake his huge head or drop his paw with pain, more
than once he staggered me with a blow, which, had it been
only quickly followed, would soon have decided the struggle.
At last, after a scuffle in which he had nearly vanquished me,
he made a leap at my throat. I put in a blow of such power
with the staff on the forehead, that he gave a loud roar of
pain, and, with drooping tail, slunk to hide away himself
beneath a boat.

Up to this moment the female had never stirred from the
mess of food, but continued eating and snarling as though
every mouthful was a battle. Scarcely, however, had the
roar of the other cub been heard, than she lifted her head,
and, slowly turning round, stared at me with an expression
which, even now, my dreams will recall.

I had not yet recovered from the exhaustion of my late en-
counter, and was half sitting, half kneeling on the deck, as
the whelp stood glowering at me, with every vein in her vast
forehead swollen, and her large, red eyes seeming to dilate as
she looked. The attitude of the creature must have been
striking, for the crew cheered with a heartiness that showed
how much they admired her.

So long as I sat unmoved she never stirred; but when I
prepared t) arise, she gave one bound, and striking me with
her head, hurled me back upon the deck : her own impulse
had carried her clean over me, and when she returned I was
already up, on my knees, and better prepared to receive her.
Again she tried the same manoeuvre ; but this time I leaped
to my feet, and springing on one side, struck her a heavy
blow on the top of the head. Twice or thrice the same
attack, with the same result, followed ; and at each blow a
gallant cheer from the men gave me fresh courage.

The beast was now excited to a dreadful degree, but her


very passion favoured me, for her assaults were wilder and
less circumspect than at first. At length, just as I was again,
making the side leap by which I had escaped, my foot slipped,
and I fell. I was scarcely down ere she was upon me, not,
as before, to strike with her paws, but with a rude shock, she
threw herself across me, as if to crush me by her weight ;
while her huge head, and terrific mouth, frothy and steaming,
lay within a few inches of my face.

Halkett and two others advanced to my rescue ; but I bade
them go back, and leave me to myself, for I was only wearied,
not conquered. For some minutes we lay thus ; when at
length, having recovered strength once more, I grasped the
whelp's throat with both hands, and then by a tremendous
effort, threw her back and rolled myself uppermost. She
soon shook herself free, however, and turned upon me : I was
now on my knees, and with the staff" I dealt her a fierce blow
on the leg. A terrific howl followed, and she closed with me in
full fury. Seizing my shirt, she tore it away from my breast,
and with her paw upon the fragment, ripped it in a hundred
pieces. I endeavoured to catch her by the throat once more,
but failed, and rolled over on my face, and in doing so, dis-
closed the bloody streak between my shoulders ; she saw it,
and at the same instant sprang on me. I felt her teeth as
they met in my neck, while her terrible cry, the most appal-
ling ears ever heard, rang through my brain.

" Save him ! save him ! she's killing him ! " were now heard
on every side ; but none dared to fire for fear of wounding
me, and the terrible rage of the animal deterred all from
approaching her. The struggle was now a life-and-death
one ; and alternately falling and rolling, we fought I can-
not tell how for the blood blinded me, as it came from a
wound in my forehead ; and I only felt one firm purpose in
my heart " If I fall, she shall not survive me." Several of
the sailors came near enough to strike her with their cut-
lasses, but these wounds only increased her rage, and I cried
to them to desist.

" Shoot her ! put a bullet through her ! " cried Halkett.
" Let none dare to shoot her ! " cried Sir Dudley, loudly. I
just heard these words, as, after a fierce struggle, in which she
had seized me by the shoulder, I fell against the bulwark.
With a last effort I staggered to my knees, flung open the
gangway, and then, with an exertion that to myself seemed
my very last on earth, I seized her by the throat and hurled
her backwards into the sea. On hands and knees I leaned
forward to see her, as the rapid Gulf- stream, hurrying on-


ward to the ocean, bore her away ; and then, as my sight
grew fainter, I fell back upon the deck, and believed I was



IT was the second evening after my lion adventure, and I
was stretched in my hammock in a low, half-torpid state, not
a limb nor a joint in all my body that had not its own
peculiar pain ; while a sharp wound in my neck, and another
still deeper one in the fleshy part of my shoulder, had just
begun that process called " union " one which, I am bound
to say, however satisfactory in result, is often very painful in
its progress. The slightest change of position gave me in-

Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 5) → online text (page 11 of 50)