THE CRUISE OF THE DART
By S. B. Beckett
"There was an old and quiet man,
And by the fire sat he;
And now, said he, to you I'll tell
Things passing strange that once befell
A ship upon the sea."—Mary Howitt.
"There she is, Ricardo," said I to my friend, as we
reached the end of the pier, in Havana, while the Dart
lay about half a mile off the shore,—"what think you
"Beautiful!—a more symmetrical craft never passed
So thought I, and my heart responded with a thrill
of pride to the sentiment. How saucy she looked,
with her gay streamers abroad upon the winds, and the
red-striped flag of the Union floating jauntily at the
main peak—with her lofty masts tapering away, till,
relieved against the blue abyss, they were apparently
diminished to the size of willow wands, while the slight
ropes that supported the upper spars seemed, from the
pier, like the fairy tracery of the spider. Although surrounded
by ships, xebecs, brigantines, polacres, galleys
and galliots from almost every clime in christendom,
she stood up conspicuously among them all, an
apt representative of the land whence she came! But
let us take a nearer view of the beauty. The hull was
long, low, and at the bows almost as sharp as the missile
after which she was named. From the waist to
the stern she tapered away in the most graceful proportions,
and she had as lovely a run as ever slid over
the dancing billows. Light and graceful as a sea-bird,
she rocked on the undulating water. But her rig!—herein,
to my thinking, was her chiefest beauty—every
thing pertaining to it was so exact, so even and so
tanto. Besides the sail usually carried by man-of-war
schooners, she had the requisite appertenances for a
royal and flying kite, or sky-sail, which, now that she
was in port, were all rigged up. Not another vessel of
her class in the navy could spread so much canvas to
the influence of old Boreas as the Dart.
Her armament consisted of one long brass twenty-four
pounder, mounted on a revolving carriage midships,
and six twelve-pound carronades. Add to this
a picked crew of ninety men, with the redoubtable
Jonathan West as our captain, Mr. Dacre Dacres as first,
and your humble servant, Ahasuerus Hackinsack, as
second lieutenant, besides a posse of minor officers
and middies,—and you may form a faint idea of the
Bidding adieu to my friend, I jumped into the pinnace
waiting, and in a few minutes stood on her quarter
But it will be necessary for me to explain for what
purpose the Dart was here. She had been dispatched
by government to cruise among the Leeward Islands,
and about Cape St. Antonio, in quest of a daring band
of pirates, who, trusting to their superior prowess and
the fleetness of their vessel, a schooner called the Sea-Sprite,
had long scourged the merchantmen of the Indian
seas with impunity. Cruiser after cruiser had
been sent out to attack them in vain. She had invariably
escaped, until at length, in reality, they were left
for awhile, the undisputed 'rulers of the waves,' as
they vauntingly styled themselves. It was said of the
Sea-Sprite, that she was as fleet as the winds, and as
mysterious in her movements; and her master spirit,
the fierce Juan Piesta, was as wily and fierce a robber,
as ever prowled upon the western waters. Indeed,
so wonderful and various had been his escapes, that
many of the Spaniards, and the lower orders of seamen
in general, believed him to be leagued with the Powers
But the Dart had been fitted up for the present
cruise expressly on account of her matchless speed,
and our captain, generally known in the service by the
significant appellation of Old Satan West, was, in situations
where fighting or peril formed any part of the
story, a full match for his namesake.
After cruising about the western extremity of Cuba,
for nearly a month, to no purpose, we bore away for
the southern coast of St. Domingo, and at the time my
story opens, were off Jacquemel. The morning was
heralded onward by troops of clouds, of the most
brilliant and burning hues—deep crimson ridges—fire-fringed
volumes of purple, hanging far in the depths of
the mild and beautiful heaven—long, rose-tinted and
golden plumes, stretching up from the horizon to the
zenith,—forming altogether a most gorgeous and magnificent
spectacle, while, to complete the pageant, the
sun, just rising from his ocean lair, shed a flood of
glaring light far over the restless expanse toward us,
and every rope and spar of our vessel, begemmed with
bright dew-drops, flashed and twinkled in his beams,
like the jeweled robes of a princely bride.
"Fore top there! what's that away in the wake o'
the sun?" called out Mr. Dacres.
"A drifting spar, I believe, Sir—but the sun throws
such a glare on the water I cannot see plainly."
I looked in the direction pointed out, and saw a
dark object tumbling about on the fiery swell, like an
evil spirit in torment. We altered our course and stood
away toward it. It turned out to be a boat, apparently
empty, but on a nearer inspection we perceived a man
lying under its thwarts, whose pale, lank features and
sunken eye bespoke him as suffering the last pangs of
starvation. My surprise can better be imagined than
described, on discovering in the unfortunate man a
highly loved companion of my boyhood, Frederick
Percy! He was transferred from his miserable quarters
to a snug berth on board of the Dart, and in a few
hours, by the judicious management of our surgeon,
was resuscitated, so as to be able to come on deck.
His story may be told in a few words. He had been
travelling in England—while there had married a beautiful,
but friendless orphan. Soon after this occurrence
he embarked in one of his father's ships for Philadelphia,
intending to touch at St. Domingo city, and take
in a freight. But, three days before, when within a
few hours' sail of their destined port, they had fallen in
with a piratical schooner, which, after a short struggle,
succeeded in capturing them. While protecting his
wife from the insults of the bucaneers, he received a
blow in the temple, which deprived him of his senses;
and when he awoke to consciousness it was night, wild
and dark, and he was tossing on the lone sea, without
provisions, sail or oars, as we had found him. For three
days he had not tasted food. Poor fellow! his anxiety
as to the fate of his wife almost drove him to distraction.
This circumstance assured us that we were on the
right trail of the marauder whom we sought. We continued
beating up the coast till noon, when the breeze
died away into a stark calm, and we lay rolling on the
long glassy swell, about ten leagues from the St. Domingo
shore. The sun was intensely powerful, glowing
through the hazy atmosphere, directly over our
heads, like a red-hot cannon ball; and the far-stretching
main was as sultry and arid as the sands of an
African desert. To the north, the cloud-topped mountains
of St. Domingo obstructed our view, looming
through the blue haze to an immense height—presenting
to as the aspect of huge, flat, shadowy walls; and
one need have taxed his imagination but lightly, to
fancy them the boundaries dividing us from a brighter
and a better clime. The depths of the ocean were
as translucent as an unobscured summer sky, and far
beneath us we could distinguish the dolphins and king-fish,
roaming leisurely about, or darting hither and thither
as some object attracted their pursuit; while nearer
its surface the blue element was alive with myriads
of minor nondescripts, riggling, flouncing and lazily
moving up and down,—probably attracted by the shade
of our dark hull.
The men having little else to do, obtained from the
captain permission to fish. Directly they had hauled
in a dozen or more of the most ill-favored, shapeless,
unchristian-looking articles I ever clapped eyes on,
which, when I came from aft, were dancing their
death jigs on the forecastle-deck, much to the diversion
of the captain's black waiter, Essequibo.
"Halloo!—this way, blackey!" shouted an old tar
to the merry African, who, by the way, was a kind of
reference table for the whole crew—"Egad! Billy,
look here,—what do you call this comical looking
devil that has helped himself to my hook? Why! his
body is as long as the articles of discipline, and his
mouth almost as long as his body!—your own main-hatch-way
is not a circumstance to it!"
"Him be one gar fish—ocium gar!—he no good
for eat," answered the black with a grin that drew the
corners of his mouth almost back to his ears, so that,
to appearance, small was the hinge that kept brain and
At the sight the querist dropped the fish, exclaiming
with feigned wonder, "By all that's crooked, an even
bet!—ar'n't your mouth made ov injy rubber, Billy!"
"Good ting to hab de larsh mout, Misser Mongo,—eat
de more—lib de longer," said Billy.
"Screw your blinkers this way, Jack Simpson, there's
a prize for you," said another, as he dragged a huge
lump-headed, bull-eyed, tail-less mass out of the water,
with fins protruding, like thorns, from every part of his
body!—"Guess he's one of the fighting cocks down
below, seeing his spurs!—any how, he's well armed,—I'll
be keel-hauled, if he don't look like the beauty that
we saw carved out on the Frencher's stern, with the
Neptune bestride it, in Havana, barin' he wants a tail!
Han't he a queer un?—but how in natur do you suppose
he makes out to steer without a rudder?"
"Steer wid he head turn behin' him!" answered
Seignor Essequibo, bursting into a chuckling laugh—mightily
tickled with the struggles of the ungainly
monster,—"Che, che, che!—him sea-dragum—catch
um plenty on de cos ob Barbado. Take care ob him
"Yo, heave, ho! Shaint Pathrick, an' it's me what's
caught a whale!" drawled out a brawny Patlander,
while he tugged and sweated to heave in his prize.
"My gorra! you hook one barracouter!" cried
Billy, as his eye caught a glimpse of the big fish curveting
in the water at the end of Paddy's line,—"Bes'
fish in de worl'!—good for make um chowder—good
for fry—for ebery ting,—me help you pull him in,
Massa Coulan," and without further ado, he laid hold
of the line. The beautiful fish was hauled in, and
consigned to the custody of the cook.
"Stave in my bulwarks, if this 'ere dragon-fish ha'n't
stuck one of his horns into my foot an inch deep!"
roared an old marine,—"Hand me that sarving mallet,
snow ball, I'll see if I can't give him a hint to
"Hurrah!—here comes an owl-fish, I reckon;"
shouted a merry wight of a tar, from the land of wooden
nutmegs,—"specimen of the salt-water owl! Lord,
look at his teeth—how he grins!—What are you
laughing at, my beauty?"
"Le diable! une chouette dans la mer?" exclaimed
a little wizen-pated Frenchman, who had seated himself
astraddle of the cathead.—"Vel, Monsieur Vagastafsh,
comment nommez vous dish petit poisson?"
"Poison! No, Monsheer, I rather guess there han't
the least bit o' poison in natur about that ere young
shark!" replied Wagstaff, "though for that matter
a shark's worse'n poison."
"I not mean poison—I say poisson—fish."
"O, poison fish—yes, I know—you'll find plenty of
them on the Bahamy copper banks. I always gets the
cook to put a piece of silver in the boilers, when we
grub on fish in them ere parts."
"O, mon dieu! le rashcalle hash bitez mon vum
almos' off! Sacré, vous ingrat, to treatez me so like,
when I am feed you wis de bon dîner!"
My attention was called away from this scene of
hilarity, by the voice of the watch in the fore-top, announcing
a sail in sight.
A faint indefinable speck could be seen in the quarter
designated, fluttering on the bosom of the blue sea
like a drift of foam. With the aid of the glass we made
it out to be the topsail of a schooner, so distant that her
hull and lower sails were below the brim of the horizon.
Her canvas had probably just been unloosed to the
breeze, which was directly after seen roughening the
face of the broad, smooth expanse as it swept down toward
"That glass, Mr. Waters—she is standing toward
us, and by the gods of war! the cut of her narrow flying
royal, looks marvellously like that of our friend,
the Sea-Sprite!" said the captain, while the blood
flashed over his bald forehead, like 'heat lightning' over
a summer cloud; "Mr. Hackinsack, see that every
thing is ready for a chase."
The broad sails were unloosed and sheeted close
home. Directly the wind was with us, and we were
bowling along under a press of canvas.
"Now, quartermaster, look to your sails as closely,
as you would watch one seeking your life." Another
squint through the glass. "Ha! they have suspected
us, and are standing in toward the land, jam on the
wind;—let them look to it sharply; it must be a fleet
pair of heels that can keep pace with the Dart,—though
to say the least of yonder cruiser, she is no laggard!"
After pacing the deck some ten minutes, he again
hove short and lifted the glass to his eye.
"By heavens! the little witch still holds her way
with us!—Have the skysail set, and rig out the top-gallant-studd'n'sail!"
Every one on board was now eager in the chase. The
orders were obeyed almost as soon as given. Our
proud vessel, under the press of sail, absolutely flew
over the water, haughtily tossing the rampant surges
from her sides, while her bows were buried in a roaring
and swirling sheet of foam, and a broad band of snow
stretched far over the dark blue waste astern, showing
a wake as strait as an arrow. She was careened down
to the breeze, so that her lower studd'n'sail-boom every
moment dashed a cloud of spray from the romping
billows, and her lee rail was at times under water. Her
masts curved and whiffled beneath the immense piles of
canvas, like a stringed bow.
"She walks the waters bravely," said the captain,
casting a glance of exultation at the distended sails and
bending spars, and then at our arrowy wake.—"But,
by Jupiter, the chase still almost holds her way with us.
We need more sail aft. Bear a hand, my men, and
run up the ringtail."
"That will answer,—a dolphin would have a sweat
to beat us in this trim!"
"Well, Mr Percy, is yonder dasher the craft that
pillaged your ship, and sent you cruising about the
ocean in that bit of a cockle-shell, think you?"
"That is the pirate schooner—I cannot mistake her,"
replied Percy, who stood with his flashing eyes rivetted
on the vessel, and his fingers impatiently working about
the hilt of his cutlass, while his brow was darkened
with an intense desire of revenge.
Three hours passed, and we had gained within a
league of the noble looking craft. She was heeled
down to the breeze, so that owing to the 'bagging' of
her lower sails, her hull was almost hidden from sight.
Like a snowy cloud, she darted along the revelling waters,
the sunbeams basking on her wide-spread wings,
and the sprightly billows flashing and surging around
her bows. Never saw I an object more beautiful.
The land was now fully in sight—a stern and rock-bound
coast, against which the breakers dashed with
maddening violence, and for half a mile from the shore,
the water was one conflicting waste of snowy surf and
billow. No signs of inhabitants, on either hand, as far
as the eye could view, were discernible. The long
range of stern, solitary mountains arose from the waves,
and towered away till lost in the clouds. Their sides,
save where some splintered cliff lifted its gray peaks in
the day, were clothed with thick forests, among which
the tufted palm and wild cinnamon stood up conspicuously,
like sentinels looking afar over the wide waste
of blue. Here and there a torrent could be traced,
leaping from crag to cliff, seeming, as it blazed in the
fierce sun-light, to run liquid fire; and gorgeous masses
of wild creepers and tangled undergrowth hung down
over the embattled heights, swaying and flaunting in
the gale, like the banners and streamers of an encamped
Not the slightest chance for harbor or anchorage
could be discovered along the whole iron-bound coast,
yet the gallant little Sea-sprite held steadily on her
course, steering broad for the base of the mountains.
"Why, in the name of madness, is the fellow driving
in among the breakers?" muttered our captain;—"Thinks
he to escape by running into danger? By
Mars, and if I mistake not, he shall have peril to his
heart's content, ere nightfall!"
But fate willed that we should be disappointed; for
just as every thing had been arranged to treat the bucaneer
with a fist full of grape and canister, one of those
sudden tempests, so common to the West Indies in the
autumn months, was upon us. A vast, black, conglomerated
volume of vapor swung against the mountain
summits, and curled heavily down over the cliffs. Brilliant
scintillations were darting from its shadowy borders,
and the zigzag lightnings were playing about it, and
licking its ragged folds like the tongues of an evil
spirit! Suddenly it burst asunder, and a burning
gleam—a wide conflagration, as if the very earth had
exploded—flashed over the hills, accompanied with a
peal of thunder that made the broad ocean tremble,
and our deck quiver under us, like a harpooned grampus
in his death gasp! The electric fluid upheaved
and hurled to fragments an immense peak near the
summit of the mountains, and huge masses of rock,
with thunderous din, and amid clouds of dust, smoke
and fire, came bounding and racing down from crag to
crag, uprooting the tall cedars, and dashing to splinters
the firm iron-wood trees, as though they had been but
reeds—sweeping a wide path of ruin through the thick
forests, and shivering to atoms and dust the loose rocks
that obstructed their career, till, with a whirring bound,
they plunged from a beetling cliff into the sea, causing
the tortured water to send up a cloud of mist and spray.
All on board were struck aghast at the blinding brilliancy
of the flash and its terrible effects.
We were aroused to a sense of our situation, by the
clear, sonorous voice of Satan West, whom nothing
pertaining to earth could daunt, calling all hands to
take in sail.
Instantly the trade-wind ceased, and a fearful, death-like
silence ensued. This was of short duration; hardly
were our sails stowed close, when we saw the trees on
shore drawn upwards, twisted off and rent to pieces,
while a dense mass of leaves and broken branches
whirled over the land; and a wild, deep, wailing sound,
as of rushing wings, filled the air, foretelling the onset
of the whirlwind.
"The hurricane is upon us!—helm hard aweather!"
thundered the captain.
But the Dart was already lying on her beam-ends,
heaving, groaning and quivering throughout every
timber, in the fierce embrace of the tremendous blast!
After its first overpowering shock, however, the gallant
craft slowly recovered, and by dint of the strenuous
exertions of our men, she was got before the gale.
Away she sprang, like a frighted thing, over the tormented
and whitening surges, completely shrouded in
foam and spray. A dense cloud, murky as midnight,
spread over the face of the heavens, where a moment
before, naught met the gazer's eye, save the fleecy
mackerel-clouds, drifting afar through its cerulean halls.
The blue lightnings gleamed, the thunder boomed and
rattled, the black billows shook their flashing manes, the
whole firmament was in an uproar; and amid the wild
rout, our little Dart, as a dry leaf in the autumn winds,
was borne about, a very plaything in the eddying whirls
of the frantic elements.
The tempest was as short lived as it was sudden,
and, as the schooner had sustained no material injury,
directly after it had abated she was under sail again.
When the rain cleared up in shore, every eye sought
eagerly for the pirate craft.
She had vanished!
Nothing met our view but the tossing and tumbling
surges, and the breaker-beaten coast. If ever old Satan
West was taken aback, it was then. His brow
darkened, and a shadow of unutterable disappointment
passed over his countenance.
"Gone!—By all that is mysterious and wonderful—gone!"
he muttered to himself,—"escaped from my
very grasp! Can there be truth in the wild tales told
of her? No, no!—idiot to harbor the thought for a
moment—she has foundered!"
But this was hardly probable, as not the slightest
vestige of her remained about the spot.
Poor Percy, too, was the picture of despair. His
hat had been blown away by the hurricane; and his
hair tossed rudely in the wind, as he stood in the main-chains,
gazing with the wildness of a maniac over the
"The lovers of the marvelous would here find
enough to fatten upon, I ween," said Dacres, composedly
helping himself to a quid of tobacco. "What think you
is to come next? for I hardly think the play ends with
actors and all being spirited away in a thunder gust!"
I was interrupted in my reply by the energetic exclamations
of the captain, who had been gazing seaward,
over the quarter-rail.
"Yes, by all the imps in purgatory, it is that devil-leagued
pirate," burst from his lips; and at the same
moment the cry of Sail O! was heard from the forward
A long-sparred vessel could be seen, relieved against
the black bank of clouds, that were crowding down the
horizon. Surprise was imaged on every countenance,
and when the order was passed to crowd on all sail in
pursuit, a murmur of disapprobation
whole crew. However, such was their respect for the
regulations of the service, and so great their dread of
old Satan West, that no one dared demur openly.
Again the Dart was bounding over the waves in pursuit
of the stranger, which had confirmed our suspicions as
to her character, by hoisting all sail and endeavoring to
But here likewise we were disappointed. She proved
to be a Baltimore clipper, and had endeavored to
run away from us, taking us for the same craft we had
supposed her to be.
After parting from the Baltimorean, we ran in; and
as the evening fell, anchored under the land, sheltered
from the waves by a little rocky promontory. It was my
turn to take the evening watch. Our wearied crew were
soon lost in sleep, and all was hushed into repose, if I
except the shrill, rasping voices of the green lizards,
the buzzing and humming of the numerous insects on
shore, and the occasional, long-drawn creak, creak of
the cable, as the schooner swung at her anchor. The
evening was mild and beautiful. The moon, attended
by one bright, beautiful planet, was on her wonted
round through the heavens, and the far expanse of
ocean, reflecting her effulgence, seemed to roll in billows
of molten silver beneath the gentle night-wind,
which swept from the land, fragrant with the breath of
wild-flowers and spicy shrubs.
Little Ponto, the royal reefer, lay on a gun carriage
near me. This boy, whom, when on a former cruise,
I had rescued from a Turkish Trader, was a favorite
with all on board. Although, in person, effeminate and
beautiful as a girl, and possessing the strong affections
of the weaker sex, he still was not wanting in that high
courage and energy which constitutes the pride of
manhood. He was an orphan, and with the exception
of a sister and aunt, who were living together in England,
there was not, in the wide world, one being with
whom he could claim relationship. When very young,
he had been entrusted to the charge of the friendly
captain of a merchant ship, bound to Smyrna, for the
purpose of improving his health. But the vessel never
reached her destined port. She was captured by an
Algerine rover, and the boy made prisoner. It was
from the worst of slavery that I had rescued him, and
ever after the occurrence his gratitude toward me knew
no bounds. He appeared to be contented and happy
in his present situation, save when his thoughts reverted
to his lone sister. Then the tears would spring into
his eyes, and he would talk to me of her beauty and
goodness, till I was almost in love with the pure being
which his glowing descriptions had conjured to my
mind. I loved that boy as a brother, and he returned
my affection with a fervor, equalling that of a trusting
As I leaned against the companion-way, absorbed in
pleasant dreams of my far home, a touch on the shoulder
aroused me. I turned and Percy stood by my
side. The beauty of the evening had soothed his wild
and agitated feelings. He spoke of his wife with touching
regret, as if certain that she was lost to him forever.
For nearly an hour he stood gazing on the moon's
bright attendant, as if he fancied it her home.
At length he disappeared below, and again Ponto,
who seemed to be wrapped in a deep revery, was my
only companion. We had remained several minutes
in silence, when suddenly, as if it had dropped from
the clouds, a female form appeared far above us, on a
precipitous bluff that leaned out over the deep, on which
the solitary moonlight slept in unobstructed brightness.
The form advanced so near the brink of the fearful
crag, that we could even distinguish the color of her
drapery as it fluttered in the wind. By the motion of
her arms she seemed beckoning us on shore; then, as
if despairing to attract our attention, she looked fearfully
about, and the next moment a strain of exquisite
melody came floating down to us, like a voice from
heaven. We remained breathless, and could almost
distinguish the words.
The strain terminated in a startling cry, and with a
frantic gesture the figure tore a crimson scarf from her
neck, and shook it wildly on the winds; at the same
moment the dark form of a man leaped out on the
cliff. There was a short struggle, with reiterated
shrieks of 'help! help! help!' in a voice of agony,
and all disappeared in the deep shadow of another rock.
Ponto, who at the first burst of the song, had started
up and grasped my arm with a degree of wild energy
I had never witnessed in him before, now suddenly
released his hold, and with a single bound plunged into
the sea. So lost was I in amazement at the whole
scene, that for a moment I remained undecided what
course to pursue; then, not wishing to alarm the ship,
I ordered Waters, the midshipman of the watch, to
jump into the boat with a few of the men, and pull
The head of my little favorite soon became visible
in the moonlight. With a vigorous arm he struck out
for the shore, and was immediately hid in the deep
shadow of its mural cliffs. A moment, and I again
saw him on the beetling rocks, whence the female had
just disappeared; then he, too, was lost in the darkness.
Waters, after being absent in the boat about half an
hour, returned without having discovered the least sign
of the fugitive. Hour after hour I awaited the return
of my adventurous boy, filled with painful anxiety.
As the night deepened, the clouds, which during the
day had slumbered on the mountain battlements, as if
held in awe by the majesty of the burning sun, rolled
slowly down the steeps and gradually spread out on the
sea, enveloping us in their humid embrace. A denser
mist I never saw; my thin clothing was soon wet
through and clinging to me like steel to a magnet, and
we were completely lost in darkness. As I paced the
deck, not willing to go below while my young favorite
was in peril, Waters tapped me on the shoulder.
"Did you notice any thing then, Mr. Hackinsack?
I thought I heard a splash in the water, like the dip of
"Some fish, I suppose, Waters."
"I think not, Sir; besides, just now I saw a dark
object gliding slowly across our bow in the mist, which
I then took for a drifting log."
I walked round the deck and peered into the fog on
every side, but could discover nothing. I listened; all
was silent save the tweet, tweet, of the lizards and the
roar of the surf, as it beat on the rocks astern. Presently
old Benjamin Ramrod, the gunner, came aft.
"I wish this infernal fog would clear up!" said he,
"for the last half hour, I have heard strange noises
about us! I am much mistaken, or we are surrounded
by enemies of some sort or other. When that shining
apparition arose from the bluff there, and began to
beckon to us, I said to myself, some accident is going
to happen before many hours, and you see if my pro'nostics
ar'n't true. Minded you how, by her sweet
voice, she lured that poor boy, Ponto, overboard?—and
even I, who may say I've had some experience in such
matters, began to feel a queerish sensation, as I harkened
to her witchery. Many a poor sailor has lost his
life by listening to their lonesome-like songs. I remember
once when I was on the coast of Africa, in a
gold-dust and ivory trader, we heard the water-wraiths
and mermaids singing to each other all night long,
and the very next day our ship was driven upon the
rocks in a white squall, and wrecked, and only myself
and a Congo nigger escaped alive, out of a crew of
twenty-three!—It strikes me, too," he continued, after
listening a moment, "that we shall have a storm before
morning; the fog seems to be brushing by us, and the
noise of the breakers on shore grows terribly loud. I
would give all the prize-money I ever gained to be out
of the place, with good sea-room, a flowing sheet, and
our bows turned toward home—no good ever came of
fighting these pirate imps.—Heaven help us! what is
that?" he exclaimed with a start, as a tall, white form
shot up, a few rods under our stern, seen but dimly
through the fog.
The fact flashed upon me at once; our cable had
been cut; it was the spray of the breakers rebounding
from the shore. The best bower anchor was instantly
let go, which brought us up; not however till we had
drifted within a cable's length of the breakers, which
ramped and roared all the night with maddening violence,
as if eager to engulf us. The alarm was given,
and in a few minutes every thing was prepared for
any emergency that might occur.
I ordered Ramrod to clap a charge of grape into one
of the bow-chasers and let drive at the first object that
came in sight. As I gave the order the dip of oars
could be plainly distinguished, receding from our bows.
Benjamin did not wait to see the marauders, but fired
in the direction of the sound. The fog was swept
away before the mouth of the gun, to some distance,
and I caught a glimpse of a boat filled with men. A
deep groan told that the gun had been rightly directed.
There was now no doubt that we were surrounded
by enemies. It was only by the foreboding watchfulness
of the gunner that we were prevented from going
ashore, where, doubtless, the pirates expected to have
obtained an easy victory over us.
About ten minutes after this incident I was startled
by the faint voice of Ponto, hailing me from under the
schooner's side. I joyfully lowered the man-ropes, and
immediately had the adventurous boy beside me, on the
quarter-deck. He grasped my hand, and I felt him
tremble all over with eagerness.
"You heard that song; the voice was that of my
own sister! That shriek, too, was hers; do you wonder
that I leaped overboard? I scarcely know how I
reached the rock from which she was dragged. I
climbed up and up, in the direction I supposed they
must have taken, until I gained the very summit of one
of the hills. I looked down, and as it were floating in
the haze, many feet below me, saw the face of a rock
reddened by the blaze of a fire opposite. I clambered
from cliff to cliff, clinging to the branches of the trees,
and letting myself down by the mountain creepers that
hung like thick drapery over the descent, till all at
once I dropped over the very mouth of a deep cavern.
A massy vine fell in heavy festoons down over the
rugged pillars that formed its portal. Securing a foothold
among its tendrils, concealed by its luxuriant foliage,
I bent over and looked in. A large party of
fierce-looking men, with pistols in their belts and cutlasses
lying by them, were seated round a rude table,
feasting and making merry over their wine beakers. I
paid little attention to them, for against the rough wall
was an old woman, and leaning upon her—as I live, it
is true—was my own, my beautiful sister, she whom I
had left in England! I thought my heart would have
choked me, as I looked upon her pale, sorrowful face,
and heard her low sobs. In my tremor the vine shook;
some loose stones were started, and went clattering
down into the very mouth of the cavern. Two of the
pirates sprang up, and seizing a flaming brand, rushed
out. The red blaze flashed over her face as they
passed, and I heard them threaten her with a terrible
fate, if they were discovered through her means. At
the first start of the rocks I drew back into the vines,
where I remained breathless and still, while they scanned
the recesses of the crag. 'We were mistaken,
Jacopo,' at length said one of them, 'it was probably a
drawn hither by the fire.' Satisfied that no one
was near, they returned to their comrades, who ridiculed
them for their temerity.
"Again I listened, and heard them plan to cut the
cable of the Dart, and run her into the breakers. If
they failed in this attempt, they were to haul the Sea-Sprite
out of her hiding place and leave the coast,
trusting, with the aid of the fresh land-breeze, to get
beyond pursuit before day-break.—The mist had come
on, and knowing it impossible to reach the Dart over
the rough precipices in time to give you warning, I remained
in my concealment, undecided what course to
pursue, when I saw a party of the pirates leave the
cavern to go to their boats. Perceiving beneath me,
on the bough of a wild tamarind, sundry articles of
clothing, similar to those worn by the bucaneers, a bold
thought occurred to me. When they had gone beyond
the light from the cave, I cautiously lowered myself
down, and drawing on a jacket and one of the caps,
jumped with them into the boat, no one in the darkness
"To appearance we were in the very heart of the
mountains. I am certain that rocks and foliage were
piled up all around us.—After a short row we passed
through what seemed to be a deep chasm, between
two crags, which must have been very high, as the
darkness between them was almost palpable, and in a
few moments we were riding over the long swell of the
open sea. We groped about in the mist for some time,
till the position of the Dart was ascertained by the
chafing noise of one of her booms, when, gliding softly
up, with their sharp knives they cut her cable, and she
began to drift astern. The strictest silence was enjoined
upon us all, so that had I moved or made the
least noise, as I had intended, my life had been the
forfeit. However, I had just made up my mind to run
all hazards, when the flame of the gun gleamed through
the fog. One of the pirates fell dead in the bottom of
the boat, and in the hurried stir which this produced, I
contrived to slip into the water.
"Now let me conjure you to take measures for the
rescue of my poor sister. How she came into their
power is a mystery. But my heart will break if she is
not soon freed from these lawless men."
I informed the captain of Ponto's discovery, but he
saw at once that it would be madness to attempt any
thing in our present situation, with sunken rocks around
us, the breakers astern, and a thick mist wrapping all
At last, after a night of the most wearisome watching,
the day dawned, and the mists returned to their
mountain fastnesses. Burning for a brush with the
desperadoes, we towed the Dart out of her critical
situation and got her under sail. The launch and cutter
were ordered out, but here we were at fault. The
morning sunlight slept calmly on the forest clad ridges
and gray cliffs, and every irregularity and indentation
of the shore were strongly shadowed forth; but not the
least sign of harbor or anchorage could be seen, except
under the rocky promontory we had just left, and every
thing looked as forsaken and solitary as a creation's
birth. However, not doubting that we should be able
to sift the mystery, the boats put off, with full and well-armed
crews, and on nearing the shore discovered a
narrow inlet, that wound in between the two lofty cliffs,
the one projecting out with a magnificent curve, so as
entirely to conceal the channel until we approached
within a few rods of the shore.
"We've got on the right scent of the old fox now,
I think," said Waters.
"Speak low, gentlemen; if discovered we may meet
with a reception here not altogether so agreeable—I
don't like the appearance of those grave looking fellows,
yonder," said Dacres, pointing to four cannon
mounted on a low parapet, with their muzzles bearing
directly toward us.
"Why, the place is as silent as a grave-yard," muttered
the old cockswain of the cutter.
We advanced softly up the inlet, and found it to
branch out into a broad basin. Here was explained
the mystery of the Sea-Sprite's sudden disappearance;
this was the Pirate's Retreat, and from their escaping
hither and into similar resorts known only to themselves,
arose the many wild stories that were abroad
respecting their supernatural prowess. Fifty well armed
men might have defended the place against five
hundred assailants, as there was only one point, the
inlet, susceptible of an attack. The entrance was not
more than thirty feet in width—only sufficient for one
vessel to enter at a time; but the water was bold and
deep, with a sandy bottom. An enormous cavern
yawned at the farther extremity of the basin, which
Ponto immediately recognized as that where the pirates
held their revel the previous night. But now the place
was evidently deserted; the Sea-Sprite had made her
The crew of the barge were despatched on shore to
explore the premises, while we, as a corps-de-reserve,
lay on our oars, with fire-arms loaded, ready for any
emergency. While waiting I had an opportunity of
surveying the magnificent scene around me. We lay
in the deep shadow of a beetling precipice of such immense
altitude, that the snow-white morning clouds, as
they floated onward, like messengers from heaven,
swept its summit. Thousands of gray sea-birds were
sailing around their eyries, along its dark craggy sides
far above us, while its hollow recesses reverberated
their shrill cries, till to our ears they sounded like one
continued scream. The cliffs all around were tumbled
about in the most chaotic confusion, as if they had been
upheaved by some tremendous throe of nature. Stinted
forest trees and brush wood, with here and there a
wild locust or banana, had gained a footing in the
seams and fissures of the crags, and thick masses of
the lusty mountain creepers, intertwined with wild
flowering jessamin and grenadilla, fell in gorgeous
festoons down the embattled heights, draping their
rough projections in robes of the most magnificent
woof. Nearly opposite was a yawning ravine, filled
with myriads of huge, shattered trees, ragged stumps,
loose stones and gravel, which probably had been
swept from the mountains, by the foaming torrents that
rush down to the sea in the rainy months. The desolation
of this scene was in a measure relieved by the
quick springing vegetation that had found sustenance
among the decayed trunks, and in the black earth that
still adhered to the matted roots; so that green foliage,
and wild flowers of the most brilliant dies in sumptuous
profusion, were waving and nodding over prostrate
trees, which perchance a year before, had stood up in
the pride of primeval lustihood, on the mountain ridges.
Further back, beyond this gorge, the sloping steeps
were clothed with dark waving forests, stretching up
their sides, till they faded into the blue haze resting on
the mountain summits. The freshness of early day
had not yet been dissipated. Among the undergrowth
and brakes, on the tips of the tall, sweeping guinea
grass, and in the cups of the wild flowers, the pure
dews hung in glittering globules, sparkling with brilliant
prismatic tints, as they flashed back the glances
of the rising sun. Calmness and repose reigned over
the unequalled sublimities of the place; and although
the billows were madly beating and roaring against the
outer base of the crescent-like promontory, within, the
water was silent and unruffled by a breath, reflecting
in its depths the wild and gorgeous array of rock and
verdure around, almost as unwavering as reality itself;
and had it not been for the tiny wavelets that rippled
up a small sandy beach, adorning the water's edge
with a narrow frill of foam, its likeness to a broad sheet
of glass had been perfect.
At length, after the premises had been thoroughly
reconnoitered, the crew of the cutter were permitted to
go on shore. They were soon revelling amidst the
costly merchandize and the luxuries, with which the
cavern was gorged.
"Holloa, Price!" said Waters to a fellow mid, as he
came out of the cave, dragging an old hag of a woman
after him, apparently much against her will; "I've
found the presiding goddess of the place. Isn't she a
"Wenus indeed!" echoed the old beldame, "take
that, young madcap, and larn better how to treat a
lady!" administering a thwack on his ear that sent
him staggering a rod from her.
Waters gathered himself together, and a general
laugh took place at his expense.
"A fair representative of the amorous goddess—quite
liberal with her love pats!" said Price in a tantalizing
"Confound the old hag," muttered the discomfited
mid, "if it were not a waste of good powder and ball,
I'd make a riddle of her in the twinkling of a grog-can!"
This female and one man, found wounded and languishing
on his pallet, were the only denizens of the
"Croesus! what hav'nt we here?" exclaimed Price,
glancing over the medley of rich merchandize heaped
together in one of the apartments of the huge cavern;
"boxes of silks and satins, sashes, ribbons, lace, tortoise
shell!—whew!—I say, Waters, what heathen are
these pirates to let such a profusion of pretty gewgaws
lay here, which ought to be setting off the fairy forms
of the Spanish lasses! Now there's as handsome a piece
of trumpery as one often sees," tying a delicate crimson
silk manta about him—"as I'm a sinner I'll carry
that home to Nell Gray!—Ha! Burgundy wine?
Is the gush of bright wine;
'Tis the life, 'tis the breath of the soul,
"Odds! but I must quicken my memory, and clear
my pipes with a can of the critter to get into the spirit
He drew a beaker from the cask and took a deep
"Capital, by Bacchus!" he exclaimed, smacking his
lips,—"Try it, Waters, these fellows fare like princes."
"Bear a hand, Mr. Price, and don't set the men a
bad example," thundered the first lieutenant, who had
stationed himself as a sentinel outside.
In the meantime the men had not been idle. The
sight of such a profusion of riches, all at their own
mercy, had turned their brains, and the confusion that
prevailed among the silks and finery would have rivalled
that of a London milliner's shop on a gala day.
But the voice of the lieutenant, as if by magic, restored
them to order, and Waters ordered the most
costly of the goods to be carried to the boats.
"An 'ai'nt it Roary McGran 'as found a nest o 'the
shiners," exclaimed a son of Erin, as he emerged, covered
with dirt, from a small, deep cavity at the inmost
extremity of the cavern, dragging after him a large
bag of doubloons,—"'Ai'nt them the beauties, Misther
Waters?—its what they're as plenty there as paraites
in a parson's cellar."
Half a dozen similar bags were brought to light;
besides which more than a score of boxes containing
rix dollars, and a great many parcels of coin of different
nations, silver and gold, tied up in old pieces of canvas,
"Some sport in sacking such a fortress as this,"
observed Price,—"no blood and plenty of booty! By
Jove, though, what a confounded pity it is we hav'nt a
ship of some size, that we might load her with these
silken goods? Our share of the prize money would
be a fortune to us."
While the men were ransacking the cavern, I had
climbed by a narrow foot-path to the top of a lofty bluff.
A small telescope, found in a hollow that had been
worked in the rock, assured me that this served as a
look-out station. It commanded a wide view of the
surrounding ocean, now tenanted only by the sun-beam
and solitude, if I except the presence of the Dart,
which sat lilting on the glittering swell, with her white
wings outspread, like a huge sea-bird stretching his
pinions for flight.
The boats shoved off, loaded gunwale deep with gold
and silver, ivory, tortoise-shell and the most choice of
the merchandise found in the cavern, and in fifteen
minutes all was safely secured on board the schooner.
After a short consultation it was agreed to run the
Dart into the Pirates' Retreat, and there await the return
of the Sea-Sprite, deeming that the bucaneers
would scarcely be long absent from the chief depository
of their treasures. She was soon safely anchored
in the basin. A lookout was stationed at the mouth of
the inlet, while Ponto and Percy undertook, with the
consent of the captain, the task of watching from the
cliff. Waters was then sent with a party of the men
to explore the cavern more thoroughly, and before noon
there was not a chink nor cranny of the place which
had not been thrice overhauled. Immense treasures,
in gold, silver and jewelry, were brought to light.
Toward the latter part of the afternoon, Percy gave
the signal agreed upon for an approaching vessel, and
directly after made his appearance on the beach, informing
us that they had examined her carefully, and
that there could be no mistaking her—it was the Sea-Sprite.
"Strange!" said the captain; "I knew that they
were brave—fearless to desperation, but I did not expect
to see them show such fool-hardiness. However,
they shall meet with a welcome reception. Mr. Dacres,
see that all the men are on board, and have things put
to rights for a brush. If I mistake not, there will be
desperate work ere the rascal receives his deserts."
In a few minutes every thing was ready; the boats
were got out forward, and the Dart was towed to the
mouth of the inlet, remaining concealed.
The Sea-Sprite, which could be seen from the outer
edge of the rocks, stood gallantly in, driving a drift of
snow before her, till within about a mile of the shore;
when, as if she had discovered some signs of our presence,
she wore round, hoisted her studd'n'sails, and
stood away in a south-westerly direction.
"Pull away cheerily," said the captain to the men in
the boats, who had lain on their oars in readiness.
Slowly the Dart emerged from her hiding place—the
sails were squared round so as to present their broad
surfaces to the wind, and away she darted in swift
pursuit, like an eagle in quest of his prey. A stern
chase is proverbially a long one; so it proved in this
instance. The wind was light, and although we hung
out every rag of sail, the sun was sinking beyond the
sea when we approached within gun-shot of the rover.
Not a soul could be seen on her decks,—she was worked
as if by magic.
"Mr. Ramrod," said the captain, "clap a round shot
into the long-tom, and let us see if we cannot make
them show some signs of life."
Benjamin loaded the gun, and having got it poised
to his fancy, applied the match. Away whizzed the
iron messenger. The chips flew from the stern of the
rover, and a swarm of grizzly heads, belonging to
bona fide bodies, popped up above the bulwarks, and
then settled down again, like so many wild sea-fowl
disturbed in their nests.
"Well done, Benjamin!—I see you have not lost
any of your skill for lack of practice."
The pirate, at length finding it impossible to escape
us, shortened sail.
"Now my men," said the captain, "to your duty!—let
every gun be double-shotted—a round shot and
By a well-timed manoeuvre, we ranged up under
her stern. Our men stood with their arms extended,
ready to apply their lighted matches.
"Fire!" thundered Satan West.
A storm of flame burst from our side, and the Dart
reeled half out of water under the recoil of the overloaded
guns. The iron shower raked the pirate fore
and aft, hurling those deadly missiles, the splinters, in
every direction, and doing terrible execution on their
decks. Two more such broad-sides would have sent
her to the bottom.
"Helm aweather—jam hard!" roared the captain.
"Ay, ay, sir!"—and we wore round so as to present
our other broad-side to the enemy.
While this manoeuvre was going on, the bows of
the Sea-Sprite had fallen off in the wind, so as to bring
us side by side, within half pistol shot. She returned
the fire with a vengeance, and several of our brave
tars fell wounded or slain to the deck.
"Ready! blaze away!"—but the sound of our captain's
voice was lost in the thunder of the heavy ordnance.
The battle now commenced in real earnest. The
cannon bellowed, small arms rattled, the combatants
yelled, the dying groaned, the iron thunder-bolt crashed,
riving the vessel's oaken timbers, and a dense sulphur-cloud
overspread the scene of furious commotion,
so that we fought with an invisible enemy. We could
see nothing save the streaming lightning of the cannon,
or the fiend-like figures that worked our aftermost
guns, begrimmed with powder and blood, stripped
nearly naked, and sweltering in their eager toil. As
the smoke occasionally lifted, however, the battered
bulwarks of the enemy, and the glimmering streaks
along her black waist, showed that our fire had been
rightly directed; and the irregularity with which it was
returned, told the confusion that prevailed on her decks.
Several times we attempted to run her aboard, but they
discovered our intentions in time to avoid us.
At length a discharge from the well-directed gun of
old Benjamin, took effect in her fore-top. The topmast
came thundering down with all its rigging, over
the foresail. Having thus lost the benefit of her head
sail, she rounded to, and her jib-boom came in contact
with our fore rigging.
"Now is our time!—into her, boarders!" roared
Dacres, leaping upon the pirate's forecastle deck.
But the order was useless—they were already hard
on his track. A close and desperate struggle now took
place. Pistols cracked, sabres gleamed, and deadly
blows were dealt on either side, till a rampart of the
slain and wounded was raised high between the furious
combatants. Gloomy and dark as an arch-fiend, the
pirate leader raged among his men, urging them on
with threats and curses, in a voice of thunder, and
sweeping down all opposition before his dripping blade.
But Dacres, backed by his well-trained boarders, received
them on the points of their pikes, with a coolness
and bravery that made them recoil upon each
other, like surges from a rock-ribbed coast. Thus the
fight continued with various success, till the attention
of the bucaneers was arrested by an unearthly shout
in the rear, and the tall figure of Percy was seen, laying
about him with whirlwind impetuosity, his long,
untrimmed hair flying wildly in the commotion of the
atmosphere, his features working with the madness
that controlled him, and his dilated eyes flashing with
a fierce, unnatural fire upon his opponents. All quailed
before him. Wherever his merciless arm fell there
was an instant vacancy. Although a score of cutlasses
were glancing, meteor-like, around his person, as if
by a spell, he remained uninjured. At length his eye
detected the pirate leader. Dashing aside all before
him, with one bound he was at his side. The fierce
chief started in amazement at the sight of him whom
he supposed many a league from the spot, if not dead,
but quickly recovered his stern and gloomy bearing.
"Monster! where is she?" shouted Percy.
"Ask the sharks!" replied the captain, lunging at
him with his sabre.
These were his last words. Percy, quick as thought,
drew a pistol from his belt and fired into his face! He
fell heavily to the deck, and the combatants closed
around him, as tempest-waves close over a foundering
The pirates, now that their leader was slain, fought
with less spirit, and the victory was soon decided in our
favor. Sooth to say, it was dearly earned; and many
who sought the battle with a quickened pulse, and
eager for the strife, were that evening consigned to the
waves. Of all the pirate's crew, consisting of nearly a
hundred men, but thirteen remained unharmed. Heavens!—what
a ghastly spectacle her decks presented!
Fifty stalwart forms lay there, stiffened in death, or
writhing in the agony of their deep wounds, severed
and mangled in every way imaginable; and so slippery
was the main deck that we could hardly cross it, while
the sea all around was died with the red waters of life,
that gushed in a continuous stream from her scuppers.
On the forecastle deck, where the last desperate
struggle had taken place, I recognized many of our
own crew among the lifeless heaps. Poor old Ramrod,
the gunner, lay there, with the black blood trickling
over his swarthy brow, from a bullet hole in his
temple. He had died while the might of battle was
yet upon him—and the fierce scowl which he darted
at his foes, still remained on his rigid features.
His hand, even in the agonies of death, had not relinquished
its firm grasp on his cutlass, and the gigantic
form of a swart pirate, with his skull cloven down,
close at hand, showed that it had been swayed to some
purpose. Poor Benjamin! I could have wept over
him. He had been in the service from his earliest
days, and the scars of many a sanguinary fight were
visible upon his muscular arms, and on his bronzed
and powerful chest. My brave boy, Ponto, was there
also, hanging pale and wounded over the britch of the
bow gun. He had followed me when we boarded,
like a young tiger robbed of his mate. Although faint
and helpless with the loss of blood, which belched at
every heave of his bosom, from a deep sabre wound in
his shoulder, and which had completely saturated his
checked shirt and his duck pantaloons, yet his firmness
was unshaken. I ordered one of our men to take
charge of him, until he could be looked to by the surgeon.
"Not yet," faintly exclaimed the generous
child, pointing to Mengs, the boatswain, who lay wounded
over a coil of the cable, with three or four grim
looking bucaneers stretched dead across his chest, the
blood from their wounds streaming into his face and
neck,—"look to him first, he may be suffocated."
"No, no, youngster," murmured the hardy Briton,
"I'd do very well till my turn comes, if I had this
ugly looking craft cast off from my gun-deck, and a can
of water stowed away in my cable tier!"
After the prisoners were secured, I sought the cabin,
where I had ordered Ponto to be carried. It was a
richly garnished room, with berth hangings of crimson
damask and amber colored silk, a gorgeous carpet
from the looms of Brussels, and furniture in keeping.
Opposite the companion-way hung a superb picture of
the virgin mother and her infant, and over it a golden
crucifix, while beneath, on a rose wood table, lay a
guitar, implements for sketching, and various articles
for female employ and amusement. Indeed, one
might have supposed himself entering the boudoir of
a delicate Spanish belle, rather than the domicil of a
lawless rover. This I remember but from the glance
of a moment. My attention was drawn to the occupants
of the place. There lay my wounded boy, by
the side of a silken sofa-couch, his face buried in the
garments of a female stretched lifeless upon it, and
over them bent the tall form of Percy, gazing upon the
group with a fixed, vacant stare, which told that suffering
could wring his soul no longer—desolation and
madness had come upon him. His attitude, the expression
of his features, and the low, convulsive sobs
and broken murmurs of the boy, at once explained the
scene. The one had found a wife, the other a sister,
in that inanimate form. I advanced nearer, in hopes
that life might not be altogether extinct. The sight
was appalling, but beautiful. The pale, dead face, upon
which the mellow radiance of sunset streamed
through the sky-light, was lovely as a seraph's. Her
eyes were closed as if in sleep; the long braids of her
bright hair lay undisturbed upon her marble forehead,
and there was no appearance of violence, save where
the dress of sea-green silk had been torn back from her
bosom, as if in her dying agonies, displaying a dark
puncture, as of a grape-shot, just below the snowy
swell of the throat, from which the crimson blood oozed,
slowly trickling down over her white and rounded
shoulder. She had probably been killed by our first
"Fire! fire!" shouted a dozen voices on deck. I
sprang up the companion-way. The fore-hatch had
been removed, and a dense volume of smoke was rolling
up from below. A glance was sufficient to show
that no effort of ours could save the vessel, and preparations
were speedily made to rescue the wounded,
and abandon her to her fate. It being impossible for
me to leave my duty on deck, I sent a trusty Hibernian
to rescue my helpless boy and to inform Percy of
our situation. He returned with a rueful countenance.
"Ochone! Mr. Hackinsack," said the tender hearted
fellow, "it almost made the salt wather come intil
my een, to see the poor man and the beautiful kilt
leddy,—an' whin I tould 'em as how the schooner was
burnin' and would be blown to Jerico in a twinklin' all
he said was to give me a terrible, ferocious-like scowl
and point with a loaded pistol to the companion; so I
took his mainin' an' left 'em."
Two other messengers, sent to take him away by
force, met with no better success.
The flames were ready to burst out on every side,
and from each chink and crevice around the hatches—which
had been replaced and barred down—the smoke
was darting up with the force of vapour from a steam
engine. The deck had become so heated that it was
painful to stand upon it—the fire was fast progressing
towards the run, where the magazine was situated.
Thrice had the order been given to quit the burning
vessel, but I could not forsake my friend without one
more effort to rescue him from the terrible fate that
awaited him, if left behind. He still held the loaded
pistol in his hand and sternly forbade my approach.
Poor Ponto had fainted from grief and loss of blood,
and lay across his sister's body. I sprang forward and
raised him in my arms, regardless of the maniac's
threats. The pistol banged in my ear, but fortunately
the ball passed over me as I stooped, and I regained
the companion-way without injury. By this time, he
had drawn another from his belt.
"Put away the pistol, and come with me," I urged,—"the
vessel is on fire and will soon be blown to atoms."
He looked at me with a grim stare for a moment,
then burst into an idiotic laugh. That wild laugh is
still ringing in my brain. "Ha! ha! ha!—Fire?
fire? here it is, wreathing and coiling!—here! here!"
dashing his hand against his forehead.
Perceiving that it was vain to reason with his madness,
and fearing for the life of the wounded boy in
my arms, I reluctantly left the hapless man to his fate.
The boat had already put off for the last time, but
I succeeded in prevailing upon them to return, and
leaping in, soon reached the Dart in safety.
The night set in wild and black as Death. Disparted
and ragged masses of cloud were rushing over the
face of the heavens, where once and again, the soaring
moon, and that same bright, solitary star, would show
their calm faces through the reeling rack, apparently
flying from this scene of turmoil and death. The increasing
wind howled mournfully through the rigging,
and our battered hull staggered along the inky main
writhing and shuddering on the heave of the surge like
a weary, wounded thing.
We followed in the track of the burning vessel as
she fled along before the gale, awaiting in breathless
suspense the consummation of her wild career. The
black smoke, interfulgent with tortuous tongues of lurid
fire, rolled in immense volumes over her!—the red
flames darted up her masts, along the spars and rigging,
and gushed in swirling sheets from her ports and
bulwarks, while in their fierce gleams, the billows
that ramped and raved about her, glowed like a huge
seething cauldron of molten iron, and the gloomy clouds
that lowered above were tinged in their ragged borders,
as with blood. Occasionally the jarring thunder
of her cannon, as they became heated to explosion,
announced to us the progress of the insidious destroyer.
But a still more thrilling spectacle awaited us. In
the height of the conflagration, the hapless Percy,
bearing his dead wife in his arms, emerged as it were
from the very midst of the flames, and took a stand on
the companion-way. So strongly was the tall, dark-figure
relieved against the glowing element, that his
slightest gesture could not escape our scrutiny. While
with one arm he spanned the waist of the supple corse,
which apparently struggled to escape from his grasp,
he waved the other on high as if exulting in the whirl
and commotion around him. He seemed like the minister
of some dark rite of heathenism, preparing to offer
up a victim to the Moloch of his superstition.
At length arrived the dreadful moment! The black
hull seemed to be lifted bodily out of the water. A
volume of smoke burst over her like the first eruption
of a volcano! A spire of flame shot up to the heavens,
filling the firmament with burning fragments, while
the clouds that overhung the sea, were torn and scattered
by the tremendous concussion. A crash followed—a
deep, bellowing boom, as if the solid globe had
split asunder!—then all was darkness—dreary, void,
silent as death!