Joseph Xavier Saintine.

The Solitary of Juan Fernandez, or the Real Robinson Crusoe online

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whether I may not aid him in the discovery of some new continent, some
unknown island which shall bear my name!'

And, cradled by the wave in the frail canoe that bore him, he dreamed
of government, perhaps of royalty, in one of those archipelagoes which
he imagined to exist in the bosom of the distant Southern seas, long
afterwards explored by Cook, Bougainville and Vancouver.

Once in port, he hastened to inquire for the dwelling occupied by
Dampier. The latter was absent; he was in the harbor.

While awaiting his return, our young sailor thought of his old friend
Catherine, his pretty black-eyed Kitty, and directed his steps towards
the inn.

He found her already enthroned in her leathern arm-chair, her hair
neatly braided, with two small curls on her temples; in a toilette
which the early hour of the morning did not seem to authorize; but it
was the famous third day, and she was awaiting Stradling.

On seeing Selkirk enter, she exclaimed to the boy, pointing to the
newly-arrived: 'A pot of ale!'

'No,' cried the young man smiling; 'the ale which I once drank here
was for me a philter full of bitterness; a glass of whiskey, if you
please, - - ' and, pointing to the little table opposite the bar at
which he was formerly accustomed to place himself, he said:

'Serve me there; I will return to my old habits.'

Catherine looked at him with astonishment.

'Does not pretty Kate recognize me?' said he in a caressing tone,
approaching her.

'How! Is it possible! is it you, indeed, Sandy?'

'Yes, Alexander Selkirk, formerly a fugitive from the University of
St. Andrew; recently a master pilot in the royal marine; now, as ever,
your very humble servant.'

And they shook hands, and examined each other closely, but the
impression on both sides was far from being the same.

Catherine finds Selkirk much changed, but for the better; time and
navigation have been favorable to him. He is no longer the raw student
with embarrassed air, awkward manner, bony frame and dilapidated
costume; but a stout young man, with a broad chest, active and
graceful form; though his features are decidedly Scotch, they are
handsome; his eyes, less brilliant than formerly, are animated with a
more attractive thoughtfulness, and the naval uniform, which he still
wears, sets off his person to advantage.

On his part, Selkirk finds Catherine also much changed; the rosy
complexion, the soft voice, the youthful look, the twenty-two years,
all are gone. Her form has assumed a superabundant amplitude.

They drop each other's hands and utter a sigh; he, of regret; she, of
surprise.

Both close their eyes, at the same time; she, with the fear of gazing
too earnestly; he, to recall the being of his imagination.

However this may be, she is not yet a woman to be despised by a
sailor. He therefore prolongs his visit: they come to interrogations,
to confidences.

Catherine acquaints him with the situation of her little business
affairs; her fortune is improving; she gives him an estimate of it in
round numbers, as well as of the suitors she has rejected; but she
does not mention Captain Stradling, whose arrival she yet fears every
moment.

Selkirk relates to her his campaigns, his combats against the French,
against the Danish, the victorious attack of the English ships against
the great boom of Vigo; but, when she asks him what motive has brought
him back to St. Andrew, he replies boldly that he came to see her and
no one else, and says not a word of Captain Dampier, whom he is even
now impatient to meet.

At last the old friends say adieu.

Then the gallant sailor, with an apparent effort, goes away, not
forgetting, however, to drink his glass of whiskey.

And this is the reason why, on the third day, Catherine has the
vapors; this is the reason why, notwithstanding her soft words of the
evening before and her grand morning toilette, she receives so coldly
the scarred adversary of the celebrated Jean Bart.

During the whole of the week following, Stradling, Dampier and
Selkirk, did not fail to meet at the Royal Salmon. Selkirk came to see
Dampier; Dampier came to see Stradling; Stradling came to see
Catherine Felton.

The latter thought the young man already knew the two others, that he
had sailed with them, and was not surprised at their intimacy.

Sometimes Selkirk, leaving his companions in the midst of their
bottles and glasses, would describe a tangent towards the counter, and
come to converse with the pretty hostess. He no longer felt love for
her, and notwithstanding this, perhaps for this very reason, he now
talked eloquently.

Kitty blushed, was embarrassed, and poor Captain Stradling, listening
with all his ears to the narratives of his illustrious friend William
Dampier, or pre-occupied with his pipe, lost in its cloud, saw
nothing, - or seemed to see nothing.

Nevertheless one evening, he went, in his turn, to lean on the
counter:

'Kate,' said he, 'when is our marriage to take place?'

'Are you thinking of that still?' replied she, with an air of levity
which would once have became her better; 'I hoped this fancy had
passed out of your head.'

'I may then set out on my voyage, Kate?'

'Why not? We will talk of our plans on your return.'

'But I am going to make the tour of the world, as well as my friend
Dampier. Kate, it is the affair of three years!'

'So much the better! it will give us both time for reflection.'

'It is well!' replied the phlegmatic Englishman, and nothing on his
polar face betokened an afterthought.

The doors closed, the lights extinguished, Catherine retired to rest
the happiest woman in the world. She said to herself: 'Alexander loves
me, and has loved me for eight years! he deserves to be rewarded. He
has less money than the other, it is a misfortune; but he has more
youth and grace, that balances it. As to rank, a master pilot of
twenty-four is as far advanced as a captain of forty. Between Selkirk
and myself, if the wealth is on my side, on his will be gratitude and
little attentions. At all events, I prefer a young husband who will
whisper words of love in my ear, to amusing myself by pouring out
drink for my lord and master, while he smokes his pipe, with his feet
on the brands. Was it not thus that icicle, dressed in blue, called
Stradling, talked to me of the pleasures of marriage? And what a name!
But Mistress Selkirk! - that sounds well. In our Scotland, there is the
county of Selkirk, the town of Selkirk; there is even a great nobleman
of this name, who is something like minister to our Queen Anne, I
believe. Who knows? we are perhaps of his family! As for walking about
the port arm-in-arm with a captain, I am sure my very dear friends and
neighbors would die with jealousy if I took, instead of this scarred
captain, a young and handsome man. It is settled. I will marry
Alexander; to-morrow I will myself announce it to him. I hope he will
not die of joy!'

On the morrow she attired herself as on the day of Selkirk's return,
in her beautiful dress of cloth and silk, with the two little curls
upon her temples. She thus waited a great part of the day. At last,
about four o'clock, Selkirk arrives in haste, his face beaming with
joy, and a gleam of triumph in his eye.

'Has he then,' thought Catherine, 'a presentiment of the happiness in
store for him?'

'Congratulate me, pretty Kitty,' said the young man, almost out of
breath; 'I am appointed mate of the brig Swordfish, which I am to join
at Dunbar.'

'How! you are going?'

'In an hour.'

'For a long time?'

'For three years at least. In a fortnight we set sail for the East
Indies. It will be a great commercial voyage and a voyage of
discovery. Unfortunately William Dampier does not accompany us; but he
furnishes funds to the brave Captain Stradling.'

'Stradling!'

'Yes, it is he who has just engaged me, and with whom I am to sail.
Our agreement is signed, - I am mate! I am going to explore the New
World! Ah! I would not exchange my fate for that of a king. But time
presses; adieu, Kitty, till I see you again!'

'Three years!' murmured Catherine.

And her curls grew straight beneath the cold perspiration that covered
her forehead.




CHAPTER III.


The Tour of the World. - The Way to manufacture Negroes - California.
- The Eldorado. - Revolt of Selkirk. - The Log-Book. - Degradation.
- A Free Shore.

The Swordfish, well provisioned, even with guns and ammunition, left
Dunbar one morning with a fresh breeze, sailed down the North Sea,
passed Ireland, France and Spain, the Azores, Canaries, and Cape Verd
Islands on the coast of Africa, and, after having stopped for a short
time in the harbors of Guinea and Congo, doubled the Cape of Good
Hope, amid the traditional tempest.

Entering the Indian Ocean, and passing through the Straits of Sunda,
she touched at Borneo, and at Java, reached the Southern Sea by the
Gulf of Siam, passed the Philippine Isles, then, through the vast
regions of the Pacific Ocean, pursued the route which had been marked
out by the exploring ship of William Dampier in 1686. Like that, the
Swordfish remained a few days at the Island of St. Pierre, before
launching into that immensity where, during nearly two months, wave
only succeeded to wave; at last she reached the coasts of South
America, and cast anchor in the Gulf of California.

This gigantic voyage, which seemed as if it must have been attempted
under the inspiration of science and with the hope of the most
important discoveries, had been undertaken by Stradling with no object
but of traffic and even of rapine. These had been the great ends of
most of the bold enterprises which had preceded. The Spanish and
Portuguese, in their discoveries of new continents, had thought less
of glory than of riches; they had conquered the New World only to
pillage it; the vanquished who escaped extermination, were forced to
dig their native soil, not to render it more fruitful, but to procure
from it, for the profit of the vanquisher, the gold it might contain.
Among the European nations, those who had had no part in the conquest
now sought to share the spoils. For this the least pretext of war or
commerce sufficed.

Stradling availed himself of both these pretences; when he touched at
the coasts of Guinea and Congo, it was to obtain negroes whom he
expected to sell in America. At Borneo, the opportunity presented
itself for an advantageous disposal of the greater part of his black
merchandize; as he was a man of resources and not at all scrupulous,
he soon found means to replace them.

In the Straits of Sunda, several barques, manned by negroes and
Malays, had become entangled in the masses of seaweed which are every
where floating on the surface of the wave; Stradling encountered them,
made the rowers enter his ship, and obligingly took the barques in
tow, to extricate them from their difficulty. But those who ascended
the side of the Swordfish, descended only to be sold in their turn.

Although he had received an education superior to that of his
companions, Selkirk shared in the prejudices of his times; he had
therefore found nothing objectionable in seeing his captain exchange
at Congo little mirrors, a few glass beads, half a dozen useless guns,
and some gallons of brandy, for men still young and vigorous, torn
from their country and their families. Their skin was of another
color, their heads woolly; this was a profitable traffic, recognized
by governments; but when he saw Stradling seize the property of others
to refill his empty hold, he could not control his indignation and
boldly expressed it:

'It is for their salvation,' replied the captain, without emotion; 'we
will make Christians of them.'

On approaching the Vermilion Sea, a deep gulf which separates
California from the American continent, and makes it almost an island,
the Malays were rubbed with a mixture of tar and dragon's blood,
dissolved in a caustic oil, to give to their olive skins a deeper
shade, and their flat noses and silky hair making them pass for Yolof
negroes, they were exchanged at Cape St. Lucas, along with the rest,
for pearls and native productions.

The young mate thought this proceeding not less mean and dishonorable
than the first; he made new observations.

'Nothing now remains to be done, captain,' said he, 'but to shave and
besmear with tar the monkey you have just bought, and to include it
among your new race of negroes.'

This time, the captain looked at him askance, and shrugged his
shoulders without replying.

The storm was beginning to growl in the distance.

It was not without a secret object that, in his course through the
Southern Sea, Stradling had first of all aimed at California.

He devoted an entire month to cruising along both shores of this
almost island, and penetrating all the bays of the Vermilion Sea; he
hoped to find there a passage to an unknown land, then predicted and
coveted by all navigators. What was this land? The _Eldorado_!

Although I would hasten over these details of the voyage to arrive at
the more important events of this history; now that the recent
discovery of the immense mines of gold buried beneath the hills of
California has aroused the entire world, that the name alone of
_Sacramento_ seems to fill with gold the mouth which pronounces it,
there is a curious fact, perhaps entirely unknown, which I cannot pass
over in silence.

After the middle of the sixteenth century, and long before the
seventeenth, a vague rumor, a confused tradition, had located, in the
neighborhood of the Vermilion Sea, a famed land, whose rivers rolled
over gold, and whose mountains rested on golden foundations; the
treasures of Mexico and Peru were nothing in comparison with those
which were to be gathered there. An ingot of native gold was talked
of, of a _pepite_ or eighty pounds weight.

It was a grape from the promised land.

This marvellous country had been named, in advance, _Eldorado_.

Among the bold Argonauts of these two centuries, there was a contest
as to who should first raise his flag over this new Colchis, defended,
it was said, by the Apaches, a terrible, sanguinary and cannibal race,
whom Cortez himself could not subdue. This land of gold some had
located in New Biscay or New Mexico; others, in the pretended kingdoms
of Sonora and Quivira; then, after several ineffectual attempts, the
possibility of reaching it was denied; learned men, from the various
academies of Europe, proved that the _Eldorado_ was not a country, but
a dream; on this subject the Old World laughed at the New; the
Argonauts became discouraged, and during a century the subject was
named only to be ridiculed.

And yet, in spite of sceptics and scoffers, the _Eldorado_ existed. It
existed where tradition had placed it, on the shores of this Vermilion
Sea, now the Gulf of California. For once, popular opinion had the
advantage over scientific dissertations and philosophic denials;
there, where, according to the Dictionary of Alcedo, nothing had been
discovered but mines of pewter! where Jacques Baegert had indeed
acknowledged the presence of gold, but _in meagre veins_; where Raynal
had named as curiosities only fishes and pearls, declaring, in
California, _the sea richer than the land_; where in our own times M.
Humboldt discovered nothing but cylindrical cacti, on a sandy soil,
remained buried, as a deposit for future ages, this treasure of the
world, which seemed to be waiting in order to leave its native soil,
the moment of falling into the hands of a commercial and industrious
people, that of the United States.

This _Eldorado_, Stradling sought in vain; he therefore decided to
pursue his route along the coast of Mexico, now under the French flag,
when he found an opportunity for traffic with the natives, colonists
or savages; now under the English flag, when he wished to exercise his
trade of corsair, an easy profession, for since the disaster of Vigo,
the Spanish had abandoned their transatlantic possessions to
themselves.

The Spanish soldiery of America then found themselves, in the presence
of European adventurers, in that state of pusillanimous inferiority in
which had been, at the period of the conquest, the subjects of the
Incas and Montezuma before the soldiers of Cortez and Pizarro. The
time was not already far passed, when a few bands of freebooters, from
France, England and Holland, had well nigh wrested from his Majesty,
the King of Spain and the Indies, the most extensive and wealthy of
his twenty-two hereditary kingdoms.

Stradling was following in the footsteps of these freebooters.

Recently, two little cities on the coast had been put under
contribution for the supplies of the Swordfish; there had been
resistance, a threatened attack, a parley, and capitulation; in this
affair, the young mate had nobly distinguished himself both as a
combatant and a negotiator, and yet the captain had not deigned to
give him a share in his distribution of compliments.

Selkirk felt an irritation the more lively that this shore life began
to be irksome. Not that his conscience disturbed him any more than in
the treatment of the blacks; he thought it as honorable to war with
the Spaniards in the New World, as to be beaten by them in the Old;
but he compared his present chief, Captain Stradling, with his former
commander, the noble and brave Admiral Rooke; the parallel extended in
his mind to his old companions in the royal navy, all so frank, so
gay, so loyal, - among whom he had yet never found a friend, - and his
new companions of to-day, recruited for the most part in the marshy
lowlands of the merchant marine of Scotland; his thoughts became
overshadowed, and his desires for independence, which dated from his
college life, returned in full force.

As much as his duties permitted, he loved to isolate himself from all;
when he could remain some time alone in his cabin, or gaze upon the
sea from a retired corner of the deck and watch the ploughing of the
vessel, then only he was happy.

As if to increase his uneasiness, Stradling became daily more severe
and more exacting towards his chief officer; he imposed upon him rude
labors foreign to his station. It seemed as if he were determined to
drive him to desperation.

He succeeded.

Selkirk protested against such treatment, and recapitulated his
subjects of complaint. The other paid no more attention than he would
have done to the buzzing of a fly.

Irritated by this outrageous impassibility, the young man declared
that there should no longer be any thing in common between them, and
that, whatever fate might await him, he demanded to be set on shore.

Stradling touched his forehead:

'That is a good idea,' said he, and he turned away.

The next day, they reached the Isthmus of Panama; the persevering
Selkirk returned to the charge: 'The moment is favorable for ridding
yourself of me, and me of you,' said he to the captain; 'let the boat
convey me to the shore; I will cross the Isthmus, reach the Gulf of
Darien, the North Sea, and return to Scotland, even before the
Swordfish!'

This time the honest corsair listened attentively, then shaking his
head and winking his eye, with the smile of a hungry vampire, replied:

'You are then in great haste to be married, comrade.'

It was the first word he had addressed to him relative to Catherine
during this long voyage, and this word Selkirk had not even
understood.

They were about passing Panama: the vessel continuing her voyage,
Selkirk interposed his authority, ordered the men to put about, take
in sail and approach the shore.

This Stradling prohibited, uttered a formidable oath, and commanded
the young man to bring the log-book. When it was brought, he made the
following entry:

'To-day, Sept. 24th, 1704, Alexander Selkirk, mate of this vessel,
having mutinied and attempted to desert to the enemy, we have deprived
him of his title and his office; in case of obstinacy we shall hang
him to the yard-arm.'

And he read the sentence to the offender.

From this day, the rebel saw himself compelled to serve in the
Swordfish as a simple sailor, and his subordinates of yesterday,
to-day his equals, indemnified themselves for the authority he had
exercised over them, which did not cure him of that native contempt he
had always felt for mankind.

A month passed away thus, during which the Swordfish several times
touched the shores of Peru, now to renew her supplies of provisions
and water, now to exchange with the Indians, nails, hatchets, knives,
and necklaces of beads, for gold dust, furs, and garments trimmed with
colored feathers.

During one of these pauses, Selkirk, left on the ship, accosted the
captain once more. He knew that the remains of some bands of
freebooters were colonized there, leading a peaceful and agricultural
life; this fact was known to all. At Coquimbo in Chili, some English
and Dutch pirates had formed a settlement of this kind, now in the
full tide of prosperity. Selkirk, who, during an entire month, had not
spoken to the captain, now demanded, in a voice which he attempted to
render calm and almost supplicating, to be landed at Coquimbo, from
which they were only a few days sail.

'You will not this time accuse me of wishing to desert to the enemy;
they are the English, Scotch, Dutch, our countrymen and allies whom I
wish to join! Do you still suspect me? Well, do not content yourself
with setting me on shore; place me in the hands of the chief men of
the settlement. Will that suit you?'

Stradling winked significantly; but this was all.

'Ah!' resumed the young man with increasing emotion, 'do not think to
detain me longer on board, to crush me beneath this humiliation! I
consented to serve under your orders as mate, and you have made me the
lowest of your sailors; this you had no right to do.'

Stradling took his glass and directed it towards the shore, where his
people were engaged in trafficking their beads and hardware.

Raising his head and folding his arms:

'Captain,' pursued Selkirk with vehemence, 'some day or other we shall
return to England, where the laws protect all; there, I shall have the
right of complaint, and Queen Anne loves to render justice; beware!'

Stradling, still spying, began to whistle _God save the Queen_; then
he called his monkey and made it gambol before him.

'I will depart, I will free myself from your presence, and that of
your worthy companions; I will do so at all events, do you
understand!' exclaimed Selkirk exasperated, 'I will not endure your
infamous treatment another week! If you refuse to consent to my
demand, I will leave without your permission; were the vessel twenty
miles from the land, and were I to perish twenty times on the way, I
will attempt to swim ashore. Will you land me at Coquimbo, yes or no?
Reply!'

By way of reply, Stradling ordered him to be confined in the hold.

Poor Selkirk! Ah! if pretty Kitty, if the beautiful landlady of the
Royal Salmon could know all thou hast endured for her sake, how many
tears would her fine eyes shed over thy fate! But who knows whether
she will ever hear of thee? Who can tell whether any human being will
learn the sufferings in reserve for thee?

Poor Selkirk! you who painted to yourself so smiling a picture of this
grand voyage to America; who hoped to leave, like Dampier, your name
to some strait, some newly discovered island; you who dreamed of
scientific walks in vast prairies and under the arches of virgin
forests, you have shared only in the career of a trafficker and a
pirate; of this New World, full of marvellous sights, you have seen
only the shore, the fringe of the mantle, the margin of this last work
of God!

Poor Selkirk, must you then return to your cold and foggy Scotland,
without having contemplated at your ease, beneath the brilliant sun of
the tropics, one of those Edens overshadowed by the luxuriant verdure
of palm-trees, bananas, mimosas and gigantic ferns? In your country,
the bark of the trees is clad with lichens and mosses, and the
parasite mistletoe suspends itself to the branches, more as a burden
than as an ornament; here, numerous families of the orchis, with their
singular forms, showy and variegated blossoms, climb along the knotty
stems of the tall monarchs of the forests; from their feet spring up,
as if to enlace them with a magic network, the brilliant passiflora,
the vanilla with its intoxicating perfume, the banisteria whose roots
seem to have dived into mines of gold and borrowed from thence the
color of its petals! Hither the birds of Paradise and Brazilian
parrots come to build their nests; here the bluebird and the


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Online LibraryJoseph Xavier SaintineThe Solitary of Juan Fernandez, or the Real Robinson Crusoe → online text (page 2 of 9)