During the night fierce gusts blew down the ravine from the north-east, and black masses of cloud were constantly sweeping across the mountains. The wind howled as it does in a wintry gale on the North Sea, and to all appearance a heavy storm was raging. Still, it was quite smooth at our anchorage under the lee of the island, and we noticed that seawards the sky looked fine enough, and the clouds were travelling at no great pace. The storm, in fact, was entirely local, and was limited to the islet and its immediate neighbourhood. We afterwards became quite accustomed to these harmless gales, which had a habit of springing up at sunset.
Trinidad, in consequence of the loftiness of its mountains, can boast of a climate of its own. It is subject to miniature cyclones, whose influence does not extend a mile from the shore, and which, therefore, cannot raise a heavy sea. We were sometimes riding with straining chain to a wind of hurricane force, when we could see a vessel a league or so from the land making no progress, her canvas shaking in the calm; and, however fine it might be outside, the clouds would collect upon the peaks in ominous torn masses, that whirled along as if impelled by a terrific blast, and which looked very alarming until we came to understand the innocence of the phenomenon. We also found that the landing was often the most perilous on clear, windless days, when no clouds crowned the mountains.
These storms were, however, a nuisance to us; for the squalls would strike the yacht with great force, so that she strained at her chain and was likely to drag; consequently the officer in charge was unable to enjoy an undisturbed night's rest, but was in a state of constant anxiety for the vessel, and was often brought on deck by the turmoil to satisfy himself that all was going well.
The next day, November 29th, was fine, the wind being still from the north-east. There was even less swell than on the previous day, so we saw that no time must be lost in landing more stores. A neglected opportunity on Trinidad might mean a month's delay.
We examined the boat, and found that she had started a plank, but that the damage was slight and could be easily repaired. A few copper nails, some cotton thrust between the seams with a knife, and a little marine glue, made her right again; and, after breakfast, she put off to Treasure Bay with a miscellaneous cargo, the tents, a barrel of flour, wire-fencing, the blankets and baggage for the shore-party, etc.; but we did not venture to put nearly so heavy a weight into her as on the previous day.
The surf in the bay was no longer dangerous, and though water was shipped, all was landed without accident. At midday the boat returned to the yacht, was reloaded, and another successful disembarkation was effected. This put us in very good spirits. We had succeeded in overcoming the difficulties that had caused previous expeditions to fail, and had now got on shore all that was absolutely necessary for carrving on the digging for some time to come. The doctor, Pursell, Powell, and Ted Milner were left on shore for the night, and the boat returned to the yacht.
The next day, November 30th, was the first on which we divided ourselves definitely into two parties, the working gang on shore and a crew of three to take charge of the yacht. I had talked our plans over on the previous day with my sole officer, our medico-mate, and we came to the conclusion that it would be advisable for me to stay on board for the first fortnight at least; for we did not know as yet whether it would be safe to remain at anchor for any length of time, or what steps might become necessary in order to ensure the safety of the vessel; and, until such knowledge had been gained by experience of the conditions of the place, it was right that I should undertake the responsibility of looking after the yacht.
So, on this morning, I went on shore for the last time, before settling down to my fortnight's watch. We took another cargo of stores in the boat, and landed without difficulty. This long spell of smooth sea was a most fortunate occurrence for us.
On landing I found that the shore-party had been hard at work. They had arranged the camp — and very snug it looked. Two ridge tents had been placed side by side, to be occupied by the gentlemen volunteers, two in each; while a short way off was a larger tent, constructed of our racing spinnaker and the quarter-deck awning supported by bamboos. This was our dining-room and kitchen, and also served as sleeping-quarters for the paid hands. At one end of it was an elegant dining-table — planks from the deck of some old wreck, supported by one of Mr. A—'s wheelbarrows which had been found in the ravine. A few camp-stools and barrels served as chairs, and the arrangements generally were almost luxurious. Many improvements were made to the camp during our stay in Trinidad, and at last it became a comfortable little village. A conspicuous object near the tents was the condensing apparatus. Later on, the cooking was all done out of doors, a neat oven having been constructed of stones and plaster of Paris. The plaster of Paris had formed part of the taxidermist's stores, but, little used for its original purpose, it was found to be of much service in the way of cement.
A list of all that we landed on the shore of Southwest Bay would be a long one. There was, at the very least, eight tons weight in all. I need not say that the cook was well provided with culinary apparatus and that such articles as paraffin lamps for the tents, a library of books, fishing lines and hooks, and carpenter's tools had not been forgotten — our camp, in short, was fully furnished with everything that could be required.
The doctor and myself discussed the scheme of work on shore, and, when all was settled, we launched the boat again and pulled off to the yacht. It was decided that the shore-party should keep the whaleboat — in the first place, because the crew on board would be insufficient to man her, and, secondly, because it was only right and prudent to leave a boat on the island in case of any accident happening to the yacht. It would be easy for the working party to pull off, if necessary, and intercept a passing vessel. The dilapidated dinghy was left on board for our use.
The hands who had come off in the boat dined on board, and then the doctor, taking with him those who were going to stay on shore, pulled back to the bay, to commence his duties as Governor of Trinidad, leaving me with my two hands, Wright and the coloured man Spanner. And a very good governor the doctor proved too, as I discovered when I next went on shore and saw the work that had been got through. He kept up a discipline quite strict enough for all practical purposes. He did more work than any one else himself, being physically the strongest man of us all, and he superintended all the operations with great skill and judgment. The control could not have been left in better hands, and he was well backed up by his comrades. There was hard work done on that island, considerable hardships were undergone, there was often dangerous landing and beaching of boats, and all was carried on under a vertical sun on one of the hottest and most depressing spots on earth. Great credit is due to the doctor and the others who worked so hard and with such pluck and cheerful zeal, and the ungenerous remarks of the one discontented volunteer we had left — a man who did not do his share of work either at sea or on shore, but who did far more than his share of criticism and fault-finding — can only reflect upon himself. As he has favoured the world with his sneers through the medium of the papers, I feel bound to say this much.
The doctor remained and worked hard on the island during the whole time that our operations were being carried on, as did Powell and Pursell, and they, with the paid hands, who relieved each other at intervals, practically did all the digging. I was on shore for one fortnight only, as will appear in the course of this narrative. I had, consequently, but a very small share of the hard work and of roughing it, for the life on board ship was incomparably more comfortable and easy than the life on shore. Our critical volunteer also only passed about two weeks, of not arduous work, on the island; for the rest of the time he was on the yacht.
This night we had another local storm, but by now we were getting accustomed to this.
Shortly after dawn on the following morning, Sunday, December 1st, I saw, to my surprise, the whale-boat rounding the point. She came alongside, and the doctor, who was in charge of her, boarded us. Seeing that there was very little surf in South-west Bay, he had rightly taken the opportunity of putting off for another cargo of stores. Among other articles, he carried away some large coconut mats we had purchased at Bahia, and which, when laid on the sandy floor of the tents, would make things more comfortable. He also took off the heavy boiler and receiving-tank of the condensing apparatus, which could only be landed on a favourable day such as this was. Having loaded the boat, he left us again.
We had now taken so much weight out of the yacht that she was high out of the water, and might possibly prove somewhat cranky under canvas. So, after dinner, I took the two men off with me in the dinghy, for the purpose of fetching some heavy stones from the beach, to put in our hold in the place of all the tools we had taken out. First we pulled to the pier, where we landed without the slightest difficulty. Wright, while wandering about the beach, came across the last object one would expect to find on a desert island — a rather smart lady's straw-hat, so far as my judgment goes, of modern fashion. It had, probably, been blown off some fair head on a passenger steamer. The gallant gentlemen-adventurers, when they heard of this discovery, proposed that it should be stuck on a pole in the middle of the camp, to remind them of home and beauty.
Finding that there were no suitable stones near this beach, we got in the boat again and rowed to West Bay, to see if we should have better luck there. Three islets — as indicated in the plan of Trinidad — lie off the east side of the Ness. We found that the narrow deep-water channel between these and the cape could be taken with safety on a fine day like this. As a rule, this channel is impracticable, for the ocean swell penetrating it produces a great commotion, the sea being dashed with violence from the cliffs on one side to those on the other, so that the entire channel presents the appearance of a boiling cauldron; and, even on this quiet day, we had to keep the boat carefully in the middle, for the waves leapt high up the rocky walls with a loud noise, which was repeated in manifold echoes by the crags above. When we were in the passage between the third islet and the shore the scene before us was most impressive. The black cliffs rose perpendicularly on either side of us, about thirty feet apart, casting a profound shade on the heaving water, so that it looked like ink beneath us; and between these cliffs, as through a dark tunnel, we saw the sunlit water and shores of West Bay. The mountains that lay to the back of it were barren and of bold outline, great pinnacles of rock dominating huge landslips that slope to the shingle beach. We could distinguish the familiar forms of the Sugarloaf and Noah's Ark towering over the depressions of the hills.
At the farther end of the bay we found a suitable place for getting stones. Here a rocky shelf formed a sort of jetty. George leapt on shore and brought down the stones, while Wright, sitting in the stern, took them from him and placed them at the bottom of the boat, while I backed in towards the jetty and pulled out again between the waves, for there was sufficient sea to do damage if proper caution was not observed. Having taken on board about half a ton of large heavy stones, we returned to the yacht and stowed them under the cabin floor.
On the following morning, December 2nd, the doctor came off again in the life-boat, and carried off another moderate load of stores. He reported that on the previous day, being Sunday, he had given all hands a holiday on his return to the shore, and that they had passed the day in exploring the neighbourhood of Treasure Bay. They came across some more tent poles and picks left by Mr. A—'s party. They also made one very curious discovery — a quantity of broken pottery, lying in a little rocky ravine at a considerable height above the shore. All this was of Oriental manufacture. Some were of unglazed earthenware, some of glazed china—the remains of what appeared to have been water-jars and punch-bowls. There were also some broken case-bottles of glass, oxidized and brittle from long exposure. The bowls proved to be of Blue Dragon china, about a hundred years old, and, therefore, of some value to the connoisseur.
Pottery of this description had certainly not formed part of the equipment of Mr. A—'s, or of any other of the treasure-hunting expeditions. Could these be relics of the pirates' booty — articles they had thrown away as being of no value to them when they buried the rest of the treasure? It was, certainly, difficult to account for the presence of old blue china on a barren hill-side of Trinidad. It has been suggested by an old sea-captain that an East Indiaman may have been wrecked here many years ago, and that her crew had contrived to reach the shore with provisions and other property, for bowls of the same description as those of which these fragments had formed part were commonly used by the Malay sailors to eat their curry in.
The doctor soon left me, and hurried back with his boat's crew to the camp, for the sea was rising, the glass had been falling for twenty-four hours, and the sky had a stormy appearance, not only over the mountains, but on the sea horizon as well.
These signs of foul weather did not deceive us, for it now blew hard from the south-east for several days, and the sea was so rough that we were unable to launch the dinghy, while, on the other hand, it was impossible to put out from the bay in the whale-boat. All communication was, therefore, cut off between the yacht and the shore for six days, and we could not even see each other during this time, as two capes stretched out between us.
It was fortunate that we had landed such an ample supply of stores while the weather was fine.
We had rather an uncomfortable time of it on board for the next few days. For a good part of the time the wind was blowing with the force of a gale, and it howled and whistled among the crags in a dreadful fashion, while the surf thundered at the base of the cliffs. The wind being south-east was parallel to this portion of the coast; so we were scarcely, if at all, protected by the island. A great swell rolled up, travelling in the same direction as the wind. But as violent squalls occasionally rushed down the ravines at right angles to the true wind, we were blown round by them, so that we were riding broadside on to the sea, rolling scuppers under in the trough of it, pitching the whole bowsprit in at one moment and thumping our counter on to the water the next.
Things looked so bad on December 4th that I was thinking of slipping the anchor and putting to sea, but, as the vessel did not appear to be straining herself, I held on. Our dinghy was dipping into the sea as we rolled, so we took it from the davits and secured it on deck.
We had now ample leisure to study the meteorology of Trinidad. The rains were heavy during this stormy period and the cascade swelled visibly. I do not think this island is subject to drought; for, notwithstanding that this — the summer — was the dry season here, scarcely a day passed without a shower during our long stay. In the winter season this is, to judge from the logs of passing vessels, a very rainy spot. The glass never fell below thirty inches while we were here, and generally stood at about thirty and two-tenths. The temperature in the shade on board averaged about eighty. In the tents on shore it was far hotter. The sunsets are often very fine on Trinidad, of wild and stormy appearance and full of vivid colouring; these indicate fine weather. The boisterous south-west winds, extensions of River Plate pamperos, are heralded by clear blue skies.
We three now imprisoned on the yacht occupied our time in tidying her up, and making all necessary repairs in the sails and gear generally. We occasionally knocked down some birds as they flew over us. Some would coolly perch on our davits and stare at us very rudely, to the great indignation of Jacko, who swore at them in his own language. It was curious to watch the birds fly far out to sea each morning; for their day's fishing, the air full of their shrill and melancholy cries, and return again in the evening. It was invariably while starting at daybreak that they called on the yacht. While going home in the evening they had their business to attend to. It was then that they carried food to their young — fluffy balls of insatiable appetite, which, I am afraid, had sometimes to go to bed supperless; for the anxious mothers are often robbed of their hard-earned fish by the cruel pirates who are perpetually hovering round this island.
These pirates are the frigate or man-of-war birds. They do not fish themselves, but attack the honest fishers in mid-air, and compel them to surrender what they have caught. The frigate-bird is of the orthodox piratical colour — black — but has a vermilion beak and a few white patches on its throat. It has a forked tail, and wings of extraordinary length in proportion to its body, their spread sometimes attaining, it is said, as much as fifteen feet.
There are other pirates here as well, of a meaner description, who, being able to fish for themselves have no excuse for their crimes; whereas the frigate-bird is unable to skim the sea after fish. Should he touch the water he cannot make use of his unwieldy wings and flounders helplessly about until he becomes the prey of sharks.
But these other robbers have taken to dishonest ways from sheer laziness and lack of principle. Their favourite method is to seize a smaller fisher by the throat and hold him under water until he is half-drowned and has to disgorge his fish. Sometimes two or three plucky little birds will assist a neighbour in resisting the big bully, and often drive him off discomfited. We witnessed several most exciting combats of this description.
We skinned the birds we killed, and I have brought these specimens home with me. Of fish we now caught plenty. We salted and sun-dried some, but these were not a great success, and had a rank flavour in consequence of their oily nature.