WE LAND THE STORES IN THE BAY
THE patience of my men was now to be severely tried. Here before them was the mysterious isle, with all its golden possibilities; but for five days the sea was in far too disturbed a condition to permit of a landing; so they were confined to their floating prison, which rolled and pitched at her anchorage all the while, and gazed with vain desire at the forbidden land.
It was now that Ted came up to me, as spokesman for the rest of his shipmates in the forecastle, and said that they were all anxious to go on shore in turn, and do their share of digging with the rest of us. It had been part of the original scheme to keep the paid hands — with the exception, perhaps, of the cook — on board the vessel; but as by this time we knew the ways of the Alerte, and could handle her with fewer men than when we had started, I decided that an officer and two paid hands would be a sufficient crew while she was lying off the island, and that all the other men could be spared for the work on shore. I therefore acceded to Ted's request. The men were led to understand that they would be entitled to no share of the proceeds if the treasure were found, though they, of course, knew that, should fortune favour us, a handsome present would be given to them.
The agreement as to the division of the spoil among the gentlemen-adventurers had also to be revised in one respect. It was settled that the shares of those who had abandoned the expedition were to be portioned out among those who remained. By this arrangement each of my companions became nearly twice as rich — in expectations — as when he sailed from England.
Trinidad is supposed to be outside the limit of the south-east trade-winds, but I think this is doubtful; for, so far as my experience goes, the prevailing winds are from the easterly quarter, and more commonly from the south-east. When the winds are in the west quadrant, and more especially when from the south-west, a heavy sea rises, and landing is rendered altogether impossible. This was our experience for the next few days.
On November 24th there was a high wind from the north-west and a great swell. We were now on a lee shore, and a very dangerous one too; so all was got ready for slipping the anchor and running to the open sea in a moment, should it become necessary to do so. We gave the yacht all her starboard chain — sixty fathoms. We got up the end of the chain, and made it fast to the main-mast in such a way that we could let it go at once. One end of a stout thirty-fathom hawser was attached to the chain, just below the hawse-pipe, and to the other end of it we fastened an improvised buoy, made of a breaker and a small bamboo raft. In order to get under way we should now merely have to throw the buoy overboard and cast off the end of the chain from the mast. We could then sail away and leave our moorings behind us.
Then we set to work to bend the storm-trysail, a very handy sail, which could be hoisted much more readily than our heavy mainsail. We reefed the foresail, had a storm-jib ready, and housed our topmast. We were now prepared for anything that might turn up.
We were not idle this day, for, after making all snug, we got the spades, hydraulic jack, and other tools out of the hold, so as to have them in readiness to put in the boat the moment there was a chance of landing.
Our fire on the mountain blazed away all this night and was not entirely extinguished for six days afterwards.
The next day was overcast, and the wind was from the south-west, then it veered to the southward. The sea was higher than on the previous day. The vessel tumbled about a great deal, rolling her scuppers under water, flooding her decks, and running her bowsprit under, all the while. Still, she rode very easily, the great length of heavy chain we had given her acting as a spring. We watched carefully for the first signs of dragging, but the anchor had evidently got a good hold now and she did not budge a foot. In the afternoon the glass fell rapidly and the sky looked very stormy, while the temperature in our saloon fell to 75°, which made us feel quite chilly.
It is probable that this disturbed weather and high sea were the results of a pampero raging thousands of miles to the southward of us.
On this day we took our dinghy on deck — a dilapidated little boat — and proceeded to stop her leaks, in a novel, but for the time effectual, manner with plaster of Paris and tar.
The fish would not be caught while this heavy sea was running, but we secured some sharks and ate their flesh for dinner, to the horror of our black cook whom I overheard telling his shipmates that he considered it "degrading to eat de meat of de dam shark."
November 26th.— Same weather, blowing, raining, rolling, and impatient grumbling of men. Even the two amiable blacks, eager to be at work on shore, fretted a bit at the enforced imprisonment on board.
They had always been fond of argument, but now the arguments became stormy, and we could hear them laying down the law to each other in the forecastle, while the English sailors sat round them smoking in silence and listening with amused wonder. One black was a Roman Catholic, the other a Methodist; their discussions were generally theological, and they exchanged vituperations with a fine theological fury. It was grand to hear Theodosius rail at the Pope and call his comrade a heathen idolater, while George would pour the vials of his wrath on the Methodist heretic. These two poor fellows were the greatest friends, but, of course, each was confident that the other was doomed to perdition. When, in the course of one of these controversies, a theologian found himself caught in a dilemma, he would wax impatient and cry, "Oh, chew it!" — an expression I have never heard before — indicating that one has been worsted in argument, but will not allow it, and insists, having had enough of it, on winding up the debate at once.
On the 27th the glass rose, the wind veered to north-east, and the sea moderated; but the surf was still dangerous, and we could see it breaking over a rock sixty feet in height. On this day we sighted two homeward-bound sailing-vessels. During our stay on Trinidad we saw a good many craft, sometimes four or five in a week, all homeward-bounders, for, as I have already explained, it is usual for vessels coming round Cape Horn to make for and sight this island, so as to correct the rate of their chronometers. Few outward-bounders pass it, and it is altogether out of the track of steamers.
On November 28th things looked better, the sea had all gone down. In the morning a few hands pulled off to the pier, where they found the landing perfectly easy, and brought off the coat which the doctor had left on the rock when we had jumped into the sea. My coat could not be found, as it had been washed off by a wave. They also brought off a specimen of a land-crab, which did not seem at all at home on our deck. He was introduced to Master Jacko, our monkey, whose horror at the uncouth apparition was intense. The wise monkey would not get within reach of the crab's nippers, but, having cleverly driven him into a corner, tried to push his ugly visitor through a scupper into the sea with a bit of firewood.
I must now apologise to Jacko for not having before this introduced him to my readers. He was a delightful little creature that we had purchased on the Praya at Bahia. He was very affectionate, and was free from malice, though, of course, full of mischief. He had a red blanket of his own, which he would carry about with him wherever he went, and, should a few drops of rain fall or spray come on board, he would deftly roll it about him in the fashion of a cloak, with his funny little head just peeping out of the hood. He was very fond of tea, and while we were at sea he took his 4 a.m. cup with the others. As soon as the cook began to lift the boiler of tea from the stove Jacko would give a whistle of delight, clamber up the pantry wall, unhook a pannikin, and walk up with it to be filled, "all de same as a little ole man," as the cook used to say. It was amusing to see him test the temperature of the tea with his fingers before drinking it. He was a marvellously intelligent and jolly little creature, and is now dwelling happily in a little house on a coconut tree in a plantation near Port of Spain. He prefers a West Indian life of warmth and unlimited bananas to an existence in a damp ship on salt junk and biscuit.
At noon, as the sea was still smooth, we made our first attempt at landing in Treasure Bay. We put the whale-boat in the water, and loaded her with about a ton of stores, consisting of tinned provisions of various sorts, biscuit, salt beef the picks, spades, crowbars, wheelbarrows, hydraulic jack, and other tools. We also took in tow a raft constructed of the long bamboos we had brought from Bahia. These we knew would be useful for several purposes.
I steered the boat, while the doctor, Powell, Pursell, and two paid hands took the oars. Having the wind behind us we were not long in crossing the two miles of smoothly heaving sea that lay between us and South-west Bay. We rounded the point into the bay, and, leaving on our port hand the islet in the middle, we made for the channel which the doctor and myself had surveyed from the mountains. When we came near we found that there were three parallel lines of breakers to be traversed, and, consequently, there was a treble chance of swamping. The surf was much more formidable than we had expected to find it, considering how smooth the sea was outside the bay. The wind was blowing in strong gusts right off shore, over the depression in the mountains at the back of the bay. It drove off the tops of the oncoming waves into great veils of spray, curling over in a contrary direction to the curl of the swell, and bright with shifting rainbows as the sun's rays fell upon it. The bay presented a most beautiful appearance from the boat, and those who had not seen the pirates' haunt before uttered exclamations of admiration and wonder. Between the gloomy black mountains on the left and the unearthly looking dark-red walls of Noah's Ark on the right was a scene in which, flooded with tropical sunlight, earth and ocean vied with each other in vividness of colouring. Directly in front were the great rollers of transparent green, their snowy crests flashing with rainbows; beyond, dazzling golden sands; above domes of brilliant emerald cleaving the cloudless sky.
But this was no time to dwell on the beautiful; we had other matters to consider. The grand rollers with their breaking tops had no charms for us, for we had to get through them — a risky undertaking with a deeply laden boat.
We discovered afterwards that it is almost impossible to judge from the height of the swell near our anchorage, or from the surf on the pier, whether landing in South-west Bay is likely to be easy or the reverse. The surf on this sandy beach is governed by a different system of laws to that which prevails on other portions of the coast of Trinidad. Here, curiously enough, there is more surf when the wind is blowing off shore than when it is blowing on. The north-east wind, sweeping in violent gusts down the slopes that back the bay, offers a resistance to the swell rolling in, and piles it into steep walls of water, breaking dangerously. The south-east wind raises a higher swell outside, but, blowing right into this bay, drives the sea down, and the landing becomes comparatively easy. At the anchorage opposite the cascade the contrary is the rule: with a north-east wind blowing off shore the sea is smooth, with a south-east wind the surf increases; but, as I have already stated, it is always smoother there than in South-west Bay.
The men rested on their oars, and we watched the surf from a safe distance, to discover if there were any chance of picking a favourable opportunity for landing. It would be a disappointing matter if we had to pull our boatload of stores back to the yacht against the wind; so, after a little hesitation, I decided to risk the landing. One must run some risks on such a place as Trinidad, and we might as well commence at once. All in the boat were delighted at the decision.
Every one knows how the ocean swell proceeds in regular rhythm, and how one sees at intervals three greater waves than usual come up, one after the other, to be succeeded by a comparative calm. We took the boat just outside the outer breakers and awaited one of these smoothes. Soon three great waves passed under us, and broke beyond us with terrific force. Now was our time, and we made a dash for it. The long ash oars bent as the men, putting their backs into their work, drove the boat through the sea. Pull away! Pull away! The first row of breakers is passed; then we are safely borne on the top of the second, looking down upon the beach as from a hill. It passes us and breaks. All safe so far. We are close to the beach. Then, behind us, we see a wall of water suddenly rise, curling over. We should simply be rolled over if we tried to back the boat against it, so the men strain at their oars to reach the shore before it. The boat is just touching the sand, the order is given: "All hands overboard and haul her up," when the sea pours over our heads, filling the boat. The men leap or are washed overboard. One catches hold of the long painter we had provided in view of such an emergency and contrives to reach the shore, then, planting his heels in the sand, he holds on with all his strength, to prevent the boat being swept off into deep water by the receding wave. At first the other hands are out of their depth, but, as the roller recoils, they feel bottom; then, two of us holding on to one side of the boat and two on the other, while the remaining man scrambles on shore to assist the man with the painter, we haul the boat up till she grounds; then we all stand by till the next roller comes on to help us up a bit farther. Here it comes! right over our heads, and we are afloat once more. But the two men on shore haul away with all their might, as do the others when they touch bottom, and when the wave recoils it has left us fifty feet higher up the bank and out of reach of any heavy body of water.
It was lucky for us that ours was a life-boat with a watertight compartment at either end or we should not have got out of this scrape so well. The boat did not capsize when she filled neither did she broach to, her head was always direct for the shore. The tide was coming in fast, so we lost no time in getting her safely drawn up. While some hands took out the stores and tools, others baled her out, and, by placing bamboo rollers under her, we dragged her up the steep incline of sand until she was quite out of reach of the sea. We found that we had not lost or damaged any of our stores, so had good reason to congratulate ourselves on our success.
A tot of rum was served to all hands after their exertions, and then we carried all our property up to the spot we had selected for our camp — a plateau of sand and earth opposite the mouth of the ravine.
Then, as all were, of course, anxious to see the supposed hiding-place of the treasure, the doctor and myself took them to it. On ascending the gully somewhat higher than we had gone on our previous visit we discovered two or three small pools of inferior water. But the supply was insufficient, even after the recent heavy rains; so it was evident that unless we found some other source, our condensing apparatus would not have been brought in vain. There was, fortunately, an abundance of fuel in the neighbourhood, for the dead trees were strewn over all the hill-side.
We had not brought off any of the tents, but with a good fire and plenty to eat, drink, and smoke, there would be little hardship in sleeping out; and the doctor and Powell volunteered to stay on shore, while I went back to the yacht. It was my intention to return, if possible, on the following day with the tents and other stores, and then to leave a working party on the island. We might, of course, on the other hand, be prevented by a heavy sea from landing again for a week or more; so we bade our comrades an affectionate farewell, and enjoined them not to be lazy, but to dig away until they saw us again — a quite unnecessary suggestion, for they were very keen to begin work.
Taking with me Pursell and the paid hands, we hauled the boat down to the beach; we dragged her into the water quickly, just as one big roller was recoiling, jumped in and pulled hard out to sea. We shipped a little water at the second line of breakers, and were then in safety.
We soon found, as we pulled back to the yacht, that our boat had sprung a leak, for the water was pouring in fast through her bottom, so that we had to stop and bale occasionally. She was an excellent sea-boat, but lightly built, and her bump on the sands had done her no good.