Imágenes de páginas


but still, as I always found that it was useless to argue such points, I said nothing, and the captain went down into the cabin to pacify Mr. Higgins.

It was late in the first watch, and when the passengers had retired to bed, that the captain came on deck. “Well,” said he, I told Mr. Higgins my story, and as there was a bit of Obi nonsense in it, he believed it, and he has not only made friends, but thanked me for not having allowed him to shoot the birds; and now I'll tell


the real story :A schooner was coming down from the Virgin Isles with sugar and passengers to Antigua, where I was lying with my ship. She had a fine young fellow of the name of Shedden on board ; and, besides other passengers, there was an old black woman, who, where she resided, had always been considered as an Obi woman. I saw her afterwards; and you never beheld such a complication of wrinkles as she was, from her forehead to her feet, and her woolly head was as white as

They were becalmed as soon as they were clear of the islands; and, as it happened, some Mother Carey's chickens were flying about the stern. Shedden must needs get at his gun to shoot them. The old black woman sat near the taffrail ; she saw him with his gun, but she said nothing. At last he fired, and killed three of them.

« « There are three down!' cried out some of the other passengers.

“How many ?' said the old woman, raising her head; three ! Then count the sharks which are coming up.'

“Count the shårks, mother! why count them? There's plenty of thein,' replied Shedden, laughing.

“ • I tell you that there will be but three sent,' replied the old woman, who then sunk down her head and said no more.

“ Well, the negroes who were passengers on board, most of them Mr. Shedden's slaves, looked very blank, for they knew that old Etau never spoke without reason. In about ten minutes afterwards, three large sharks swam up to the vessel, with their fins above water.

" "There's the three sharks, sure enough !' said the passengers. “Are they come ?' said Etau, raising her head.


“ Yes, moder, dere dey be- very large shark,' replied one of the negroes.

“ • Then three are doomed,' said the old woman ; "and here we stay, and the waves shall not run, nor the wind blow, till the three sharks have their food. I say - three are doomed!'

“ The passengers were more or less alarmed with this prophecy of old Etau's, according as they put faith in her; however, they all went to bed quite well, and the next morning they got up the

Still there was not a breath of wind; the whole sea was as smooth as glass, and the vessel laid where she was the night before, in about six fathoms water, about a mile from the reef, and

you could see the coral rocks beneath her bottom as plain as if they were high and dry; and what alarmed them the next morning was, that the three large sharks were still slowly swimming round and round the schooner. All that day it remained a dead calm, and the heat was dreadful, although the awnings were spread. Night came on, and the people, becoming more frightened, questioned old Etau ; but all the answer she gave was, Three are doomed !'

“ The passengers and crew were now terrified out of their wits, and they all went to bed with very melancholy forebodings, for the elements appeared as if they were arrested till the penalty was paid. For, you observe, pilot, there is always a light breeze as regular as the sun rises and goes down; but now the breezes only appeared to skirt the land, and when they came from the offing, invariably stopped two or three miles from the schooner. It was about midnight that there was a stir in the cabin, and it appeared that Mr. Shedden had the yellow fever, and shortly afterwards another white' man, a sailor belonging to the schooner, then one of Mr. Shedden's slaves.

Well, there the fever stopped, one else was taken ill,

the usual remedies were applied, but before morning they were all three delirious. At sunrise it was still calm, and continued so till sunset; and all the day the passengers were annoyed by the back fins of the three sharks, which continued to swim about. Again they went to bed; and just before one o'clock in the morning


Mr. Shedden, in his delirium, got out of his bed, and, rushing on the deck, jumped overboard before any one could prevent him ; and old Etau, who never left where she sat, was heard to say, One !' and the bell was struck one by the seaman forward, who did not know what had happened. Morning came on again, and there were but two sharks to be seen. About noon the other white man died, and he was thrown overboard ; and as one shark seized his body and swam away, old Etau cried out, Two!' An hour afterwards the negro died, and was thrown overboard and carried away by the third shark, and old Etau cried out, · Three! the price is paid I'

- “ Well, every one crowded round the old woman to hear what she would say, and they asked her if all was over, and whether they should have any wind ? and her reply was,

" When the three birds come from the sea to replace those which were killed.' For you see, pilot, if one of these birds are killed, it is certain that some one of the crew must die and be thrown overboard to become a Mother Carey chicken, and replace the one that has been destroyed. Well, after a time, although we never saw them rise, three Mother Carey's chickens were seen dipping and flying about astern of the schooner; and they told old Etau, who said, “You'll have wind and plenty - and plenty of waves to make up for the calm ;' and so they had, sure enough, for it came on almost a hurricane, and the schooner scudded before it under bare poles until she arrived at Antigua, with her bulwarks washed away, and a complete wreck. I was there at the time, and old Mason, who was on board, told me the story, and asked me to take him, as he would not remain on board of the schooner. And now I leave you to judge, after knowing this to be a fact, whether I was not right in preventing Mr. Higgins from shooting the Mother Carey chickens ?"

Why, yes,” replied I; “with such a fact before my eyes, I should have done the same.'

Mr. Higgins not venturing to kill any of these receptacles for the souls of departed seamen, we arrived safely at the Downs, where I gave up charge to a river pilot, for the other vessels which

[ocr errors]

Bramble and our companions had taken charge of, were all bound to the Downs, and arrived at nearly the same time that I did, and we had agreed to embark again in the galley, and run out in quest of the remainder of the convoy. This we did on the following day, much to the vexation of Bessy, who declared we only came on shore to be off again. I ought to observe that Bessy and I had become much more intimate since the explanation which had taken place; and although it never entered my head that I should ever feel towards her more than as a brother to a sister, I was pleased and soothed with the touching proofs of kindness and commiseration which she took every opportunity of showing towards me.



We had run out in our galley as far as the Start, when the appearance of the weather became very threatening. It was just about the time of the equinoctial gales ; and there was a consultation among us whether we should run into Torquay or return to Deal.

Bramble observed, that as the gale coming on would, in all probability, blow for three days, he thought it was no use remaining all that time at Torquay, where we should be put to extra expense, and that we should be better on shore at our own homes. This remark decided the point; and about dusk we put the boat's head along shore for up Channel. The wind was at that time about S.S.W., but occasionally shifting a point or two. The sky had become covered over with one black mass of clouds, which hung down so low that they appeared almost to rest on the water; and there was that peculiar fitful moaning which is ever the precursor of a violent gale of wind. At night-fall we reefed our lug sails; and, while one sat at the helm, the rest of us lounged against the gunnel, buttoned up in our pilot-jackets; some shutting their eyes, as if to invite sleep, others watching the waves, which now rose fast, and danced and lopped at the weather broad. side as if they would fain have entered into the boat. But of that we had little fear; our galley was one of the finest boats that ever swam, and we felt as secure as if we were on board of a threedecked ship. As the night advanced, so did the wind increase and the sea rise; lightning darted through the dense clouds, and for a moment we could scan the horizon. Every thing was threatening; yet our boat, with the wind about two points free, rushed gallantly along, rising on the waves like a sea-bird, and sinking into the hollow of the waters as if she had no fear of any attempt on their part to overwhelm her. Thus did we continue to run on during the night, every hour the gale increasing; the billows mounting up until they broke in awful and majestic crests, and often so near to us that we presented our backs in a close file against the weather bulwarks to prevent any body of water from pouring in.

We shall have light soon,” observed one of the men.

" And we shall want it to beach the boat in such weather as this,” replied another. “ We shall have it harder yet before day.”

“ Depend upon it this will be a mischievous gale," observed Bramble, “and our coast will be strewed with wrecks. Any ships under canvass now, between the Channel shores, will stand but a poor chance against this heavy sea, which bears down with such force. I'd rather be in this boat now than in any vessel in mid Channel."

“ And I had rather be on shore than in either,” rejoined I.

“Well, Tom," said one of the pilots, “I do really believe you this time."

When it was broad daylight, the coast to leeward presented a wild and terrific scene, lashed as it was by the furious surf which dashed its spray half way up the towering white cliffs, for it was within two hours of high water. The waves were now really mountains high, and their broad surfaces were pitted into

« AnteriorContinuar »