The Encantadas; or, Enchanted Isles
by Herman Melville
(1854)SKETCH FIRST.THE ISLES AT LARGE. –“That may not be, said then the ferryman, Least we unweeting hap to be fordonne; For those same islands seeming now and than, Are not firme land, nor any certein wonne, But stragling plots which to and fro do ronne In the wide waters; therefore are they hight The Wandering Islands; therefore do them shonne; For they have oft drawne many a wandring wight Into most deadly daunger and distressed plight; For whosoever once hath fastened His foot thereon may never it secure But wandreth evermore uncertein and unsure.”
* * * * *
“Darke, dolefull, dreary, like a greedy grave, That still for carrion carcasses doth crave; On top whereof ay dwelt the ghastly owl, Shrieking his balefull note, which ever drave Far from that haunt all other cheerful fowl, And all about it wandring ghosts did wayle and howl.”
Take five-and-twenty heaps of cinders dumped here and there in anoutside city lot; imagine some of them magnified into mountains, andthe vacant lot the sea; and you will have a fit idea of the generalaspect of the Encantadas, or Enchanted Isles. A group rather of extinctvolcanoes than of isles; looking much as the world at large might, aftera penal conflagration.
It is to be doubted whether any spot of earth can, in desolateness,furnish a parallel to this group. Abandoned cemeteries of long ago, oldcities by piecemeal tumbling to their ruin, these are melancholy enough;but, like all else which has but once been associated with humanity,they still awaken in us some thoughts of sympathy, however sad. Hence,even the Dead Sea, along with whatever other emotions it may at timesinspire, does not fail to touch in the pilgrim some of his lessunpleasurable feelings.
And as for solitariness; the great forests of the north, the expanses ofunnavigated waters, the Greenland ice-fields, are the profoundest ofsolitudes to a human observer; still the magic of their changeable tidesand seasons mitigates their terror; because, though unvisited by men,those forests are visited by the May; the remotest seas reflect familiarstars even as Lake Erie does; and in the clear air of a fine Polar day,the irradiated, azure ice shows beautifully as malachite.
But the special curse, as one may call it, of the Encantadas, that whichexalts them in desolation above Idumea and the Pole, is, that to themchange never comes; neither the change of seasons nor of sorrows. Cut bythe Equator, they know not autumn, and they know not spring; whilealready reduced to the lees of fire, ruin itself can work little moreupon them. The showers refresh the deserts; but in these isles, rainnever falls. Like split Syrian gourds left withering in the sun, theyare cracked by an everlasting drought beneath a torrid sky. “Have mercyupon me,” the wailing spirit of the Encantadas seems to cry, “and sendLazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool mytongue, for I am tormented in this flame.”
Another feature in these isles is their emphatic uninhabitableness. Itis deemed a fit type of all-forsaken overthrow, that the jackal shouldden in the wastes of weedy Babylon; but the Encantadas refuse to harboreven the outcasts of the beasts. Man and wolf alike disown them. Littlebut reptile life is here found: tortoises, lizards, immense spiders,snakes, and that strangest anomaly of outlandish nature, the _aguano_.No voice, no low, no howl is heard; the chief sound of life here is ahiss.
On most of the isles where vegetation is found at all, it is moreungrateful than the blankness of Aracama. Tangled thickets of wirybushes, without fruit and without a name, springing up among deepfissures of calcined rock, and treacherously masking them; or a parchedgrowth of distorted cactus trees.
In many places the coast is rock-bound, or, more properly,clinker-bound; tumbled masses of blackish or greenish stuff like thedross of an iron-furnace, forming dark clefts and caves here and there,into which a ceaseless sea pours a fury of foam; overhanging them with aswirl of gray, haggard mist, amidst which sail screaming flights ofunearthly birds heightening the dismal din. However calm the seawithout, there is no rest for these swells and those rocks; they lashand are lashed, even when the outer ocean is most at peace with, itself.On the oppressive, clouded days, such as are peculiar to this part ofthe watery Equator, the dark, vitrified masses, many of which raisethemselves among white whirlpools and breakers in detached and perilousplaces off the shore, present a most Plutonian sight. In no world but afallen one could such lands exist.
Those parts of the strand free from the marks of fire, stretch away inwide level beaches of multitudinous dead shells, with here and theredecayed bits of sugar-cane, bamboos, and cocoanuts, washed upon thisother and darker world from the charming palm isles to the westward andsouthward; all the way from Paradise to Tartarus; while mixed with therelics of distant beauty you will sometimes see fragments of charredwood and mouldering ribs of wrecks. Neither will any one be surprised atmeeting these last, after observing the conflicting currents which eddythroughout nearly all the wide channels of the entire group. Thecapriciousness of the tides of air sympathizes with those of the sea.Nowhere is the wind so light, baffling, and every way unreliable, and sogiven to perplexing calms, as at the Encantadas. Nigh a month has beenspent by a ship going from one isle to another, though but ninety milesbetween; for owing to the force of the current, the boats employed totow barely suffice to keep the craft from sweeping upon the cliffs, butdo nothing towards accelerating her voyage. Sometimes it is impossiblefor a vessel from afar to fetch up with the group itself, unless largeallowances for prospective lee-way have been made ere its coming insight. And yet, at other times, there is a mysterious indraft, whichirresistibly draws a passing vessel among the isles, though not bound tothem.
True, at one period, as to some extent at the present day, large fleetsof whalemen cruised for spermaceti upon what some seamen call theEnchanted Ground. But this, as in due place will be described, was offthe great outer isle of Albemarle, away from the intricacies of thesmaller isles, where there is plenty of sea-room; and hence, to thatvicinity, the above remarks do not altogether apply; though even therethe current runs at times with singular force, shifting, too, with assingular a caprice.
Indeed, there are seasons when currents quite unaccountable prevail fora great distance round about the total group, and are so strong andirregular as to change a vessel’s course against the helm, thoughsailing at the rate of four or five miles the hour. The difference inthe reckonings of navigators, produced by these causes, along with thelight and variable winds, long nourished a persuasion, that thereexisted two distinct clusters of isles in the parallel of theEncantadas, about a hundred leagues apart. Such was the idea of theirearlier visitors, the Buccaneers; and as late as 1750, the charts ofthat part of the Pacific accorded with the strange delusion. And thisapparent fleetingness and unreality of the locality of the isles wasmost probably one reason for the Spaniards calling them the Encantada,or Enchanted Group.
But not uninfluenced by their character, as they now confessedly exist,the modern voyager will be inclined to fancy that the bestowal of thisname might have in part originated in that air of spell-bound desertnesswhich so significantly invests the isles. Nothing can better suggest theaspect of once living things malignly crumbled from ruddiness intoashes. Apples of Sodom, after touching, seem these isles.
However wavering their place may seem by reason of the currents, theythemselves, at least to one upon the shore, appear invariably the same:fixed, cast, glued into the very body of cadaverous death.
Nor would the appellation, enchanted, seem misapplied in still anothersense. For concerning the peculiar reptile inhabitant of thesewilds–whose presence gives the group its second Spanish name,Gallipagos–concerning the tortoises found here, most mariners have longcherished a superstition, not more frightful than grotesque. Theyearnestly believe that all wicked sea-officers, more especiallycommodores and captains, are at death (and, in some cases, before death)transformed into tortoises; thenceforth dwelling upon these hotaridities, sole solitary lords of Asphaltum.
Doubtless, so quaintly dolorous a thought was originally inspired by thewoe-begone landscape itself; but more particularly, perhaps, by thetortoises. For, apart from their strictly physical features, there issomething strangely self-condemned in the appearance of these creatures.Lasting sorrow and penal hopelessness are in no animal form sosuppliantly expressed as in theirs; while the thought of their wonderfullongevity does not fail to enhance the impression.
Nor even at the risk of meriting the charge of absurdly believing inenchantments, can I restrain the admission that sometimes, even now,when leaving the crowded city to wander out July and August among theAdirondack Mountains, far from the influences of towns andproportionally nigh to the mysterious ones of nature; when at such timesI sit me down in the mossy head of some deep-wooded gorge, surrounded byprostrate trunks of blasted pines and recall, as in a dream, my otherand far-distant rovings in the baked heart of the charmed isles; andremember the sudden glimpses of dusky shells, and long languid necksprotruded from the leafless thickets; and again have beheld thevitreous inland rocks worn down and grooved into deep ruts by ages andages of the slow draggings of tortoises in quest of pools of scantywater; I can hardly resist the feeling that in my time I have indeedslept upon evilly enchanted ground.
Nay, such is the vividness of my memory, or the magic of my fancy, thatI know not whether I am not the occasional victim of optical delusionconcerning the Gallipagos. For, often in scenes of social merriment, andespecially at revels held by candle-light in old-fashioned mansions, sothat shadows are thrown into the further recesses of an angular andspacious room, making them put on a look of haunted undergrowth oflonely woods, I have drawn the attention of my comrades by my fixed gazeand sudden change of air, as I have seemed to see, slowly emerging fromthose imagined solitudes, and heavily crawling along the floor, theghost of a gigantic tortoise, with “Memento * * * * *” burning in liveletters upon his back. * * * * *SKETCH SECOND.
TWO SIDES TO A TORTOISE. “Most ugly shapes and horrible aspects, Such as Dame Nature selfe mote feare to see, Or shame, that ever should so fowle defects From her most cunning hand escaped bee; All dreadfull pourtraicts of deformitee. No wonder if these do a man appall; For all that here at home we dreadfull hold Be but as bugs to fearen babes withall Compared to the creatures in these isles’ entrall
* * * * *
“Fear naught, then said the palmer, well avized, For these same monsters are not there indeed, But are into these fearful shapes disguized.
* * * * *
“And lifting up his vertuous staffe on high, Then all that dreadful armie fast gan flye Into great Zethy’s bosom, where they hidden lye.”
In view of the description given, may one be gay upon the Encantadas?Yes: that is, find one the gayety, and he will be gay. And, indeed,sackcloth and ashes as they are, the isles are not perhaps unmitigatedgloom. For while no spectator can deny their claims to a most solemn andsuperstitious consideration, no more than my firmest resolutions candecline to behold the spectre-tortoise when emerging from its shadowyrecess; yet even the tortoise, dark and melancholy as it is upon theback, still possesses a bright side; its calipee or breast-plate beingsometimes of a faint yellowish or golden tinge. Moreover, every oneknows that tortoises as well as turtle are of such a make, that if youbut put them on their backs you thereby expose their bright sideswithout the possibility of their recovering themselves, and turning intoview the other. But after you have done this, and because you have donethis, you should not swear that the tortoise has no dark side. Enjoy thebright, keep it turned up perpetually if you can, but be honest, anddon’t deny the black. Neither should he, who cannot turn the tortoisefrom its natural position so as to hide the darker and expose hislivelier aspect, like a great October pumpkin in the sun, for that causedeclare the creature to be one total inky blot. The tortoise is bothblack and bright. But let us to particulars.
Some months before my first stepping ashore upon the group, my ship wascruising in its close vicinity. One noon we found ourselves off theSouth Head of Albemarle, and not very far from the land. Partly by wayof freak, and partly by way of spying out so strange a country, a boat’screw was sent ashore, with orders to see all they could, and besides,bring back whatever tortoises they could conveniently transport.
It was after sunset, when the adventurers returned. I looked down overthe ship’s high side as if looking down over the curb of a well, anddimly saw the damp boat, deep in the sea with some unwonted weight.Ropes were dropt over, and presently three huge antediluvian-lookingtortoises, after much straining, were landed on deck. They seemed hardlyof the seed of earth. We had been broad upon the waters for five longmonths, a period amply sufficient to make all things of the land wear afabulous hue to the dreamy mind. Had three Spanish custom-house officersboarded us then, it is not unlikely that I should have curiously staredat them, felt of them, and stroked them much as savages serve civilizedguests. But instead of three custom-house officers, behold these reallywondrous tortoises–none of your schoolboy mud-turtles–but black aswidower’s weeds, heavy as chests of plate, with vast shells medallionedand orbed like shields, and dented and blistered like shields that havebreasted a battle, shaggy, too, here and there, with dark green moss,and slimy with the spray of the sea. These mystic creatures, suddenlytranslated by night from unutterable solitudes to our peopled deck,affected me in a manner not easy to unfold. They seemed newly crawledforth from beneath the foundations of the world. Yea, they seemed theidentical tortoises whereon the Hindoo plants this total sphere. With alantern I inspected them more closely. Such worshipful venerableness ofaspect! Such furry greenness mantling the rude peelings and healing thefissures of their shattered shells. I no more saw three tortoises. Theyexpanded–became transfigured. I seemed to see three Roman Coliseums inmagnificent decay.
Ye oldest inhabitants of this, or any other isle, said I, pray, give methe freedom of your three-walled towns.
The great feeling inspired by these creatures was that ofage:–dateless, indefinite endurance. And in fact that any othercreature can live and breathe as long as the tortoise of the Encantadas,I will not readily believe. Not to hint of their known capacity ofsustaining life, while going without food for an entire year, considerthat impregnable armor of their living mail. What other bodily beingpossesses such a citadel wherein to resist the assaults of Time?
As, lantern in hand, I scraped among the moss and beheld the ancientscars of bruises received in many a sullen fall among the marlymountains of the isle–scars strangely widened, swollen, halfobliterate, and yet distorted like those sometimes found in the bark ofvery hoary trees, I seemed an antiquary of a geologist, studying thebird-tracks and ciphers upon the exhumed slates trod by incrediblecreatures whose very ghosts are now defunct.
As I lay in my hammock that night, overhead I heard the slow wearydraggings of the three ponderous strangers along the encumbered deck.Their stupidity or their resolution was so great, that they never wentaside for any impediment. One ceased his movements altogether justbefore the mid-watch. At sunrise I found him butted like a battering-ramagainst the immovable foot of the foremast, and still striving, toothand nail, to force the impossible passage. That these tortoises are thevictims of a penal, or malignant, or perhaps a downright diabolicalenchanter, seems in nothing more likely than in that strange infatuationof hopeless toil which so often possesses them. I have known them intheir journeyings ram themselves heroically against rocks, and longabide there, nudging, wriggling, wedging, in order to displace them, andso hold on their inflexible path. Their crowning curse is their drudgingimpulse to straightforwardness in a belittered world.
Meeting with no such hinderance as their companion did, the othertortoises merely fell foul of small stumbling-blocks–buckets, blocks,and coils of rigging–and at times in the act of crawling over themwould slip with an astounding rattle to the deck. Listening to thesedraggings and concussions, I thought me of the haunt from which theycame; an isle full of metallic ravines and gulches, sunk bottomlesslyinto the hearts of splintered mountains, and covered for many mileswith inextricable thickets. I then pictured these three straight-forwardmonsters, century after century, writhing through the shades, grim asblacksmiths; crawling so slowly and ponderously, that not only didtoad-stools and all fungus things grow beneath their feet, but a sootymoss sprouted upon their backs. With them I lost myself in volcanicmazes; brushed away endless boughs of rotting thickets; till finally ina dream I found myself sitting crosslegged upon the foremost, a Brahminsimilarly mounted upon either side, forming a tripod of foreheads whichupheld the universal cope.
Such was the wild nightmare begot by my first impression of theEncantadas tortoise. But next evening, strange to say, I sat down withmy shipmates, and made a merry repast from tortoise steaks, and tortoisestews; and supper over, out knife, and helped convert the three mightyconcave shells into three fanciful soup-tureens, and polished the threeflat yellowish calipees into three gorgeous salvers. * * * * *SKETCH THIRD.
ROCK RODONDO. “For they this tight the Rock of vile Reproach, A dangerous and dreadful place, To which nor fish nor fowl did once approach, But yelling meaws with sea-gulls hoars and bace And cormoyrants with birds of ravenous race, Which still sit waiting on that dreadful clift.”
* * * * *
“With that the rolling sea resounding soft In his big base them fitly answered, And on the Rock, the waves breaking aloft, A solemn ineane unto them measured.”
* * * * *
“Then he the boteman bad row easily, And let him heare some part of that rare melody.”
* * * * *
“Suddeinly an innumerable flight Of harmefull fowles about them fluttering cride, And with their wicked wings them oft did smight And sore annoyed, groping in that griesly night.”
* * * * *
“Even all the nation of unfortunate And fatal birds about them flocked were.”
To go up into a high stone tower is not only a very fine thing initself, but the very best mode of gaining a comprehensive view of theregion round about. It is all the better if this tower stand solitaryand alone, like that mysterious Newport one, or else be sole survivorof some perished castle.
Now, with reference to the Enchanted Isles, we are fortunately suppliedwith just such a noble point of observation in a remarkable rock, fromits peculiar figure called of old by the Spaniards, Rock Rodondo, orRound Rock. Some two hundred and fifty feet high, rising straight fromthe sea ten miles from land, with the whole mountainous group to thesouth and east. Rock Rodondo occupies, on a large scale, very much theposition which the famous Campanile or detached Bell Tower of St. Markdoes with respect to the tangled group of hoary edifices around it.
Ere ascending, however, to gaze abroad upon the Encantadas, thissea-tower itself claims attention. It is visible at the distance ofthirty miles; and, fully participating in that enchantment whichpervades the group, when first seen afar invariably is mistaken for asail. Four leagues away, of a golden, hazy noon, it seems some SpanishAdmiral’s ship, stacked up with glittering canvas. Sail ho! Sail ho!Sail ho! from all three masts. But coming nigh, the enchanted frigateis transformed apace into a craggy keep.
My first visit to the spot was made in the gray of the morning. With aview of fishing, we had lowered three boats and pulling some two milesfrom our vessel, found ourselves just before dawn of day close under themoon-shadow of Rodondo. Its aspect was heightened, and yet softened, bythe strange double twilight of the hour. The great full moon burnt inthe low west like a half-spent beacon, casting a soft mellow tinge uponthe sea like that cast by a waning fire of embers upon a midnighthearth; while along the entire east the invisible sun sent pallidintimations of his coming. The wind was light; the waves languid; thestars twinkled with a faint effulgence; all nature seemed supine withthe long night watch, and half-suspended in jaded expectation of thesun. This was the critical hour to catch Rodondo in his perfect mood.The twilight was just enough to reveal every striking point, withouttearing away the dim investiture of wonder.
From a broken stair-like base, washed, as the steps of a water-palace,by the waves, the tower rose in entablatures of strata to a shavensummit. These uniform layers, which compose the mass, form its mostpeculiar feature. For at their lines of junction they project flatlyinto encircling shelves, from top to bottom, rising one above another ingraduated series. And as the eaves of any old barn or abbey are alivewith swallows, so were all these rocky ledges with unnumbered sea-fowl.Eaves upon eaves, and nests upon nests. Here and there were longbirdlime streaks of a ghostly white staining the tower from sea to air,readily accounting for its sail-like look afar. All would have beenbewitchingly quiescent, were it not for the demoniac din created by thebirds. Not only were the eaves rustling with them, but they flew denselyoverhead, spreading themselves into a winged and continually shiftingcanopy. The tower is the resort of aquatic birds for hundreds of leaguesaround. To the north, to the east, to the west, stretches nothing buteternal ocean; so that the man-of-war hawk coming from the coasts ofNorth America, Polynesia, or Peru, makes his first land at Rodondo. Andyet though Rodondo be terra-firma, no land-bird ever lighted on it.Fancy a red-robin or a canary there! What a falling into the hands ofthe Philistines, when the poor warbler should be surrounded by suchlocust-flights of strong bandit birds, with long bills cruel as daggers.
I know not where one can better study the Natural History of strangesea-fowl than at Rodondo. It is the aviary of Ocean. Birds light herewhich never touched mast or tree; hermit-birds, which ever fly alone;cloud-birds, familiar with unpierced zones of air.
Let us first glance low down to the lowermost shelf of all, which is thewidest, too, and but a little space from high-water mark. Whatoutlandish beings are these? Erect as men, but hardly as symmetrical,they stand all round the rock like sculptured caryatides, supporting thenext range of eaves above. Their bodies are grotesquely misshapen; theirbills short; their feet seemingly legless; while the members at theirsides are neither fin, wing, nor arm. And truly neither fish, flesh, norfowl is the penguin; as an edible, pertaining neither to Carnival norLent; without exception the most ambiguous and least lovely creature yetdiscovered by man. Though dabbling in all three elements, and indeedpossessing some rudimental claims to all, the penguin is at home innone. On land it stumps; afloat it sculls; in the air it flops. As ifashamed of her failure, Nature keeps this ungainly child hidden away atthe ends of the earth, in the Straits of Magellan, and on the abasedsea-story of Rodondo.
But look, what are yon wobegone regiments drawn up on the next shelfabove? what rank and file of large strange fowl? what sea Friars ofOrders Gray? Pelicans. Their elongated bills, and heavy leathern pouchessuspended thereto, give them the most lugubrious expression. A pensiverace, they stand for hours together without motion. Their dull, ashyplumage imparts an aspect as if they had been powdered over withcinders. A penitential bird, indeed, fitly haunting the shores of theclinkered Encantadas, whereon tormented Job himself might have well satdown and scraped himself with potsherds.
Higher up now we mark the gony, or gray albatross, anomalously socalled, an unsightly unpoetic bird, unlike its storied kinsman, which isthe snow-white ghost of the haunted Capes of Hope and Horn.
As we still ascend from shelf to shelf, we find the tenants of the towerserially disposed in order of their magnitude:–gannets, black andspeckled haglets, jays, sea-hens, sperm-whale-birds, gulls of allvarieties:–thrones, princedoms, powers, dominating one above another insenatorial array; while, sprinkled over all, like an ever-repeated flyin a great piece of broidery, the stormy petrel or Mother Cary’s chickensounds his continual challenge and alarm. That this mysterioushummingbird of ocean–which, had it but brilliancy of hue, might, fromits evanescent liveliness, be almost called its butterfly, yet whosechirrup under the stern is ominous to mariners as to the peasant thedeath-tick sounding from behind the chimney jamb–should have itsspecial haunt at the Encantadas, contributes, in the seaman’s mind, nota little to their dreary spell.
As day advances the dissonant din augments. With ear-splitting cries thewild birds celebrate their matins. Each moment, flights push from thetower, and join the aerial choir hovering overhead, while their placesbelow are supplied by darting myriads. But down through all this discordof commotion, I hear clear, silver, bugle-like notes unbrokenly falling,like oblique lines of swift-slanting rain in a cascading shower. I gazefar up, and behold a snow-white angelic thing, with one long, lance-likefeather thrust out behind. It is the bright, inspiriting chanticleer ofocean, the beauteous bird, from its bestirring whistle of musicalinvocation, fitly styled the “Boatswain’s Mate.”
The winged, life-clouding Rodondo had its full counterpart in the finnyhosts which peopled the waters at its base. Below the water-line, therock seemed one honey-comb of grottoes, affording labyrinthinelurking-places for swarms of fairy fish. All were strange; manyexceedingly beautiful; and would have well graced the costliest glassglobes in which gold-fish are kept for a show. Nothing was more strikingthan the complete novelty of many individuals of this multitude. Herehues were seen as yet unpainted, and figures which are unengraved.
To show the multitude, avidity, and nameless fearlessness and tamenessof these fish, let me say, that often, marking through clear spaces ofwater–temporarily made so by the concentric dartings of the fish abovethe surface–certain larger and less unwary wights, which swam slow anddeep; our anglers would cautiously essay to drop their lines down tothese last. But in vain; there was no passing the uppermost zone. Nosooner did the hook touch the sea, than a hundred infatuates contendedfor the honor of capture. Poor fish of Rodondo! in your victimizedconfidence, you are of the number of those who inconsiderately trust,while they do not understand, human nature.
But the dawn is now fairly day. Band after band, the sea-fowl sail awayto forage the deep for their food. The tower is left solitary save thefish-caves at its base. Its birdlime gleams in the golden rays like thewhitewash of a tall light-house, or the lofty sails of a cruiser. Thismoment, doubtless, while we know it to be a dead desert rock othervoyagers are taking oaths it is a glad populous ship.
But ropes now, and let us ascend. Yet soft, this is not so easy. * * * * *SKETCH FOURTH.
A PISGAH VIEW FROM THE ROCK. –“That done, he leads him to the highest mount, From whence, far off he unto him did show:”–
If you seek to ascend Rock Rodondo, take the following prescription. Gothree voyages round the world as a main-royal-man of the tallest frigatethat floats; then serve a year or two apprenticeship to the guides whoconduct strangers up the Peak of Teneriffe; and as many morerespectively to a rope-dancer, an Indian juggler, and a chamois. Thisdone, come and be rewarded by the view from our tower. How we get there,we alone know. If we sought to tell others, what the wiser were they?Suffice it, that here at the summit you and I stand. Does anyballoonist, does the outlooking man in the moon, take a broader view ofspace? Much thus, one fancies, looks the universe from Milton’scelestial battlements. A boundless watery Kentucky. Here Daniel Boonewould have dwelt content.
Never heed for the present yonder Burnt District of the Enchanted Isles.Look edgeways, as it were, past them, to the south. You see nothing; butpermit me to point out the direction, if not the place, of certaininteresting objects in the vast sea, which, kissing this tower’s base,we behold unscrolling itself towards the Antarctic Pole.
We stand now ten miles from the Equator. Yonder, to the East, some sixhundred miles, lies the continent; this Rock being just about on theparallel of Quito.
Observe another thing here. We are at one of three uninhabited clusters,which, at pretty nearly uniform distances from the main, sentinel, atlong intervals from each other, the entire coast of South America. In apeculiar manner, also, they terminate the South American character ofcountry. Of the unnumbered Polynesian chains to the westward, not onepartakes of the qualities of the Encantadas or Gallipagos, the isles ofSt. Felix and St. Ambrose, the isles Juan-Fernandez and Massafuero. Ofthe first, it needs not here to speak. The second lie a little above theSouthern Tropic; lofty, inhospitable, and uninhabitable rocks, one ofwhich, presenting two round hummocks connected by a low reef, exactlyresembles a huge double-headed shot. The last lie in the latitude of33; high, wild and cloven. Juan Fernandez is sufficiently famouswithout further description. Massafuero is a Spanish name, expressive ofthe fact, that the isle so called lies _more without_, that is, furtheroff the main than its neighbor Juan. This isle Massafuero has a veryimposing aspect at a distance of eight or ten miles. Approached in onedirection, in cloudy weather, its great overhanging height and ruggedcontour, and more especially a peculiar slope of its broad summits, giveit much the air of a vast iceberg drifting in tremendous poise. Itssides are split with dark cavernous recesses, as an old cathedral withits gloomy lateral chapels. Drawing nigh one of these gorges from sea,after a long voyage, and beholding some tatterdemalion outlaw, staff inhand, descending its steep rocks toward you, conveys a very queeremotion to a lover of the picturesque.
On fishing parties from ships, at various times, I have chanced tovisit each of these groups. The impression they give to the strangerpulling close up in his boat under their grim cliffs is, that surely hemust be their first discoverer, such, for the most part, is theunimpaired … silence and solitude. And here, by the way, the mode inwhich these isles were really first lighted upon by Europeans is notunworthy of mention, especially as what is about to be said, likewiseapplies to the original discovery of our Encantadas.
Prior to the year 1563, the voyages made by Spanish ships from Peru toChili, were full of difficulty. Along this coast, the winds from theSouth most generally prevail; and it had been an invariable custom tokeep close in with the land, from a superstitious conceit on the part ofthe Spaniards, that were they to lose sight of it, the eternaltrade-wind would waft them into unending waters, from whence would be noreturn. Here, involved among tortuous capes and headlands, shoals andreefs, beating, too, against a continual head wind, often light, andsometimes for days and weeks sunk into utter calm, the provincialvessels, in many cases, suffered the extremest hardships, in passages,which at the present day seem to have been incredibly protracted. Thereis on record in some collections of nautical disasters, an account ofone of these ships, which, starting on a voyage whose duration wasestimated at ten days, spent four months at sea, and indeed never againentered harbor, for in the end she was cast away. Singular to tell, thiscraft never encountered a gale, but was the vexed sport of maliciouscalms and currents. Thrice, out of provisions, she put back to anintermediate port, and started afresh, but only yet again to return.Frequent fogs enveloped her; so that no observation could be had of herplace, and once, when all hands were joyously anticipating sight oftheir destination, lo! the vapors lifted and disclosed the mountainsfrom which they had taken their first departure. In the like deceptivevapors she at last struck upon a reef, whence ensued a long series ofcalamities too sad to detail.
It was the famous pilot, Juan Fernandez, immortalized by the islandnamed after him, who put an end to these coasting tribulations, byboldly venturing the experiment–as De Gama did before him with respectto Europe–of standing broad out from land. Here he found the windsfavorable for getting to the South, and by running westward till beyondthe influences of the trades, he regained the coast without difficulty;making the passage which, though in a high degree circuitous, proved farmore expeditious than the nominally direct one. Now it was upon thesenew tracks, and about the year 1670, or thereabouts, that the EnchantedIsles, and the rest of the sentinel groups, as they may be called, werediscovered. Though I know of no account as to whether any of them werefound inhabited or no, it may be reasonably concluded that they havebeen immemorial solitudes. But let us return to Redondo.
Southwest from our tower lies all Polynesia, hundreds of leagues away;but straight west, on the precise line of his parallel, no land risestill your keel is beached upon the Kingsmills, a nice little sail of,say 5000 miles.
Having thus by such distant references–with Rodondo the only possibleones–settled our relative place on the sea, let us consider objects notquite so remote. Behold the grim and charred Enchanted Isles. Thisnearest crater-shaped headland is part of Albemarle, the largest of thegroup, being some sixty miles or more long, and fifteen broad. Did youever lay eye on the real genuine Equator? Have you ever, in the largestsense, toed the Line? Well, that identical crater-shaped headland there,all yellow lava, is cut by the Equator exactly as a knife cuts straightthrough the centre of a pumpkin pie. If you could only see so far, justto one side of that same headland, across yon low dikey ground, youwould catch sight of the isle of Narborough, the loftiest land of thecluster; no soil whatever; one seamed clinker from top to bottom;abounding in black caves like smithies; its metallic shore ringing underfoot like plates of iron; its central volcanoes standing grouped like agigantic chimney-stack.
Narborough and Albemarle are neighbors after a quite curious fashion. Afamiliar diagram will illustrate this strange neighborhood:
Cut a channel at the above letter joint, and the middle transverse limbis Narborough, and all the rest is Albemarle. Volcanic Narborough liesin the black jaws of Albemarle like a wolf’s red tongue in his openmonth.
If now you desire the population of Albemarle, I will give you, in roundnumbers, the statistics, according to the most reliable estimates madeupon the spot:Men, none.Ant-eaters, unknown.Man-haters, unknown.Lizards, 500,000.Snakes, 500,000.Spiders, 10,000,000.Salamanders, unknown.Devils, do.Making a clean total of 11,000,000,exclusive of an incomputable host of fiends, ant-eaters, man-haters, andsalamanders.
Albemarle opens his mouth towards the setting sun. His distended jawsform a great bay, which Narborough, his tongue, divides into halves, onewhereof is called Weather Bay, the other Lee Bay; while the volcanicpromontories, terminating his coasts, are styled South Head and NorthHead. I note this, because these bays are famous in the annals of theSperm Whale Fishery. The whales come here at certain seasons to calve.When ships first cruised hereabouts, I am told, they used to blockadethe entrance of Lee Bay, when their boats going round by Weather Bay,passed through Narborough channel, and so had the Leviathans very neatlyin a pen.
The day after we took fish at the base of this Round Tower, we had afine wind, and shooting round the north headland, suddenly descried afleet of full thirty sail, all beating to windward like a squadron inline. A brave sight as ever man saw. A most harmonious concord ofrushing keels. Their thirty kelsons hummed like thirty harp-strings, andlooked as straight whilst they left their parallel traces on the sea.But there proved too many hunters for the game. The fleet broke up, andwent their separate ways out of sight, leaving my own ship and two trimgentlemen of London. These last, finding no luck either, likewisevanished; and Lee Bay, with all its appurtenances, and without a rival,devolved to us.
The way of cruising here is this. You keep hovering about the entranceof the bay, in one beat and out the next. But at times–not always, asin other parts of the group–a racehorse of a current sweeps rightacross its mouth. So, with all sails set, you carefully ply your tacks.How often, standing at the foremast head at sunrise, with our patientprow pointed in between these isles, did I gaze upon that land, not ofcakes, but of clinkers, not of streams of sparkling water, but arrestedtorrents of tormented lava.
As the ship runs in from the open sea, Narborough presents its side inone dark craggy mass, soaring up some five or six thousand feet, atwhich point it hoods itself in heavy clouds, whose lowest level fold isas clearly defined against the rocks as the snow-line against the Andes.There is dire mischief going on in that upper dark. There toil thedemons of fire, who, at intervals, irradiate the nights with a strangespectral illumination for miles and miles around, but unaccompanied byany further demonstration; or else, suddenly announce themselves byterrific concussions, and the full drama of a volcanic eruption. Theblacker that cloud by day, the more may you look for light by night.Often whalemen have found themselves cruising nigh that burning mountainwhen all aglow with a ball-room blaze. Or, rather, glass-works, you maycall this same vitreous isle of Narborough, with its tallchimney-stacks.
Where we still stand, here on Rodondo, we cannot see all the otherisles, but it is a good place from which to point out where they lie.Yonder, though, to the E.N.E., I mark a distant dusky ridge. It isAbington Isle, one of the most northerly of the group; so solitary,remote, and blank, it looks like No-Man’s Land seen off our northernshore. I doubt whether two human beings ever touched upon that spot. Sofar as yon Abington Isle is concerned, Adam and his billions ofposterity remain uncreated.
Ranging south of Abington, and quite out of sight behind the long spineof Albemarle, lies James’s Isle, so called by the early Buccaneers afterthe luckless Stuart, Duke of York. Observe here, by the way, that,excepting the isles particularized in comparatively recent times, andwhich mostly received the names of famous Admirals, the Encantadas werefirst christened by the Spaniards; but these Spanish names weregenerally effaced on English charts by the subsequent christenings ofthe Buccaneers, who, in the middle of the seventeenth century, calledthem after English noblemen and kings. Of these loyal freebooters andthe things which associate their name with the Encantadas, we shall hearanon. Nay, for one little item, immediately; for between James’s Isleand Albemarle, lies a fantastic islet, strangely known as “Cowley’sEnchanted Isle.” But, as all the group is deemed enchanted, the reasonmust be given for the spell within a spell involved by this particulardesignation. The name was bestowed by that excellent Buccaneer himself,on his first visit here. Speaking in his published voyages of this spot,he says–“My fancy led me to call it Cowley’s Enchanted Isle, for, wehaving had a sight of it upon several points of the compass, it appearedalways in so many different forms; sometimes like a ruinedfortification; upon another point like a great city,” etc. No wonderthough, that among the Encantadas all sorts of ocular deceptions andmirages should be met.
That Cowley linked his name with this self-transforming and bemockingisle, suggests the possibility that it conveyed to him some meditativeimage of himself. At least, as is not impossible, if he were anyrelative of the mildly-thoughtful and self-upbraiding poet Cowley, wholived about his time, the conceit might seem unwarranted; for that sortof thing evinced in the naming of this isle runs in the blood, and maybe seen in pirates as in poets.
Still south of James’s Isle lie Jervis Isle, Duncan Isle, Grossman’sIsle, Brattle Isle, Wood’s Isle, Chatham Isle, and various lesser isles,for the most part an archipelago of aridities, without inhabitant,history, or hope of either in all time to come. But not far from theseare rather notable isles–Barrington, Charles’s, Norfolk, and Hood’s.Succeeding chapters will reveal some ground for their notability. * * * * *SKETCH FIFTH.
THE FRIGATE, AND SHIP FLYAWAY. “Looking far forth into the ocean wide, A goodly ship with banners bravely dight, And flag in her top-gallant I espide, Through the main sea making her merry flight.”
Ere quitting Rodondo, it must not be omitted that here, in 1813, theU.S. frigate Essex, Captain David Porter, came near leaving her bones.Lying becalmed one morning with a strong current setting her rapidlytowards the rock, a strange sail was descried, which–not out of keepingwith alleged enchantments of the neighborhood–seemed to be staggeringunder a violent wind, while the frigate lay lifeless as if spell-bound.But a light air springing up, all sail was made by the frigate in chaseof the enemy, as supposed–he being deemed an English whale-ship–butthe rapidity of the current was so great, that soon all sight was lostof him; and, at meridian, the Essex, spite of her drags, was driven soclose under the foam-lashed cliffs of Rodondo that, for a time, allhands gave her up. A smart breeze, however, at last helped her off,though the escape was so critical as to seem almost miraculous.
Thus saved from destruction herself, she now made use of that salvationto destroy the other vessel, if possible. Renewing the chase in thedirection in which the stranger had disappeared, sight was caught of himthe following morning. Upon being descried he hoisted American colorsand stood away from the Essex. A calm ensued; when, still confident thatthe stranger was an Englishman, Porter dispatched a cutter, not to boardthe enemy, but drive back his boats engaged in towing him. The cuttersucceeded. Cutters were subsequently sent to capture him; the strangernow showing English colors in place of American. But, when the frigate’sboats were within a short distance of their hoped-for prize, anothersudden breeze sprang up; the stranger, under all sail, bore off to thewestward, and, ere night, was hull down ahead of the Essex, which, allthis time, lay perfectly becalmed.
This enigmatic craft–American in the morning, and English in theevening–her sails full of wind in a calm–was never again beheld. Anenchanted ship no doubt. So, at least, the sailors swore.
This cruise of the Essex in the Pacific during the war of 1812, is,perhaps, the strangest and most stirring to be found in the history ofthe American navy. She captured the furthest wandering vessels; visitedthe remotest seas and isles; long hovered in the charmed vicinity of theenchanted group; and, finally, valiantly gave up the ghost fighting twoEnglish frigates in the harbor of Valparaiso. Mention is made of herhere for the same reason that the Buccaneers will likewise receiverecord; because, like them, by long cruising among the isles,tortoise-hunting upon their shores, and generally exploring them; forthese and other reasons, the Essex is peculiarly associated with theEncantadas.
Here be it said that you have but three, eye-witness authorities worthmentioning touching the Enchanted Isles:–Cowley, the Buccaneer (1684);Colnet the whaling-ground explorer (1798); Porter, the post captain(1813). Other than these you have but barren, bootless allusions fromsome few passing voyagers or compilers. * * * * *SKETCH SIXTH.
BARRINGTON ISLE AND THE BUCCANEERS. “Let us all servile base subjection scorn, And as we be sons of the earth so wide, Let us our father’s heritage divide, And challenge to ourselves our portions dew Of all the patrimony, which a few hold on hugger-mugger in their hand.”
* * * * *
“Lords of the world, and so will wander free, Whereso us listeth, uncontroll’d of any.”
* * * * *
“How bravely now we live, how jocund, how near the first inheritance, without fear, how free from little troubles!”
Near two centuries ago Barrington Isle was the resort of that famouswing of the West Indian Buccaneers, which, upon their repulse from theCuban waters, crossing the Isthmus of Darien, ravaged the Pacific sideof the Spanish colonies, and, with the regularity and timing of a modernmail, waylaid the royal treasure-ships plying between Manilla andAcapulco. After the toils of piratic war, here they came to say theirprayers, enjoy their free-and-easies, count their crackers from thecask, their doubloons from the keg, and measure their silks of Asia withlong Toledos for their yard-sticks.
As a secure retreat, an undiscoverable hiding-place, no spot in thosedays could have been better fitted. In the centre of a vast and silentsea, but very little traversed–surrounded by islands, whoseinhospitable aspect might well drive away the chance navigator–and yetwithin a few days’ sail of the opulent countries which they made theirprey–the unmolested Buccaneers found here that tranquillity which theyfiercely denied to every civilized harbor in that part of the world.Here, after stress of weather, or a temporary drubbing at the hands oftheir vindictive foes, or in swift flight with golden booty, those oldmarauders came, and lay snugly out of all harm’s reach. But not only wasthe place a harbor of safety, and a bower of ease, but for utility inother things it was most admirable.
Barrington Isle is, in many respects, singularly adapted to careening,refitting, refreshing, and other seamen’s purposes. Not only has it goodwater, and good anchorage, well sheltered from all winds by the highland of Albemarle, but it is the least unproductive isle of the group.Tortoises good for food, trees good for fuel, and long grass good forbedding, abound here, and there are pretty natural walks, and severallandscapes to be seen. Indeed, though in its locality belonging to theEnchanted group, Barrington Isle is so unlike most of its neighbors,that it would hardly seem of kin to them.
“I once landed on its western side,” says a sentimental voyager longago, “where it faces the black buttress of Albemarle. I walked beneathgroves of trees–not very lofty, and not palm trees, or orange trees, orpeach trees, to be sure–but, for all that, after long sea-faring, verybeautiful to walk under, even though they supplied no fruit. And here,in calm spaces at the heads of glades, and on the shaded tops of slopescommanding the most quiet scenery–what do you think I saw? Seats whichmight have served Brahmins and presidents of peace societies. Fine oldruins of what had once been symmetric lounges of stone and turf, theybore every mark both of artificialness and age, and were, undoubtedly,made by the Buccaneers. One had been a long sofa, with back and arms,just such a sofa as the poet Gray might have loved to throw himselfupon, his Crebillon in hand.
“Though they sometimes tarried here for months at a time, and used thespot for a storing-place for spare spars, sails, and casks; yet it ishighly improbable that the Buccaneers ever erected dwelling-houses uponthe isle. They never were here except their ships remained, and theywould most likely have slept on board. I mention this, because I cannotavoid the thought, that it is hard to impute the construction of theseromantic seats to any other motive than one of pure peacefulness andkindly fellowship with nature. That the Buccaneers perpetrated thegreatest outrages is very true–that some of them were mere cutthroatsis not to be denied; but we know that here and there among their hostwas a Dampier, a Wafer, and a Cowley, and likewise other men, whoseworst reproach was their desperate fortunes–whom persecution, oradversity, or secret and unavengeable wrongs, had driven from Christiansociety to seek the melancholy solitude or the guilty adventures of thesea. At any rate, long as those ruins of seats on Barrington remain,the most singular monuments are furnished to the fact, that all of theBuccaneers were not unmitigated monsters.
“But during my ramble on the isle I was not long in discovering othertokens, of things quite in accordance with those wild traits, popularly,and no doubt truly enough, imputed to the freebooters at large. Had Ipicked up old sails and rusty hoops I would only have thought of theship’s carpenter and cooper. But I found old cutlasses and daggersreduced to mere threads of rust, which, doubtless, had stuck betweenSpanish ribs ere now. These were signs of the murderer and robber; thereveler likewise had left his trace. Mixed with shells, fragments ofbroken jars were lying here and there, high up upon the beach. They wereprecisely like the jars now used upon the Spanish coast for the wine andPisco spirits of that country.
“With a rusty dagger-fragment in one hand, and a bit of a wine-jar inanother, I sat me down on the ruinous green sofa I have spoken of, andbethought me long and deeply of these same Buccaneers. Could it bepossible, that they robbed and murdered one day, reveled the next, andrested themselves by turning meditative philosophers, rural poets, andseat-builders on the third? Not very improbable, after all. For considerthe vacillations of a man. Still, strange as it may seem, I must alsoabide by the more charitable thought; namely, that among theseadventurers were some gentlemanly, companionable souls, capable ofgenuine tranquillity and virtue.” * * * * *SKETCH SEVENTH.
CHARLES’S ISLE AND THE DOG-KING. –So with outragious cry, A thousand villeins round about him swarmed Out of the rocks and caves adjoining nye; Vile caitive wretches, ragged, rude, deformed; All threatning death, all in straunge manner armed; Some with unweldy clubs, some with long speares. Some rusty knives, some staves in fier warmd.
* * * * *
We will not be of any occupation, Let such vile vassals, born to base vocation, Drudge in the world, and for their living droyle, Which have no wit to live withouten toyle.
Southwest of Barrington lies Charles’s Isle. And hereby hangs a historywhich I gathered long ago from a shipmate learned in all the lore ofoutlandish life.
During the successful revolt of the Spanish provinces from Old Spain,there fought on behalf of Peru a certain Creole adventurer from Cuba,who, by his bravery and good fortune, at length advanced himself to highrank in the patriot army. The war being ended, Peru found itself likemany valorous gentlemen, free and independent enough, but with few shotin the locker. In other words, Peru had not wherewithal to pay off itstroops. But the Creole–I forget his name–volunteered to take his payin lands. So they told him he might have his pick of the EnchantedIsles, which were then, as they still remain, the nominal appanage ofPeru. The soldier straightway embarks thither, explores the group,returns to Callao, and says he will take a deed of Charles’s Isle.Moreover, this deed must stipulate that thenceforth Charles’s Isle isnot only the sole property of the Creole, but is forever free of Peru,even as Peru of Spain. To be short, this adventurer procures himself tobe made in effect Supreme Lord of the Island, one of the princes of thepowers of the earth.[A] [Footnote A: The American Spaniards have long been in the habit ofmaking presents of islands to deserving individuals. The pilot JuanFernandez procured a deed of the isle named after him, and for someyears resided there before Selkirk came. It is supposed, however, thathe eventually contracted the blues upon his princely property, for aftera time he returned to the main, and as report goes, became a verygarrulous barber in the city of Lima.]
He now sends forth a proclamation inviting subjects to his as yetunpopulated kingdom. Some eighty souls, men and women, respond; andbeing provided by their leader with necessaries, and tools of varioussorts, together with a few cattle and goats, take ship for the promisedland; the last arrival on board, prior to sailing, being the Creolehimself, accompanied, strange to say, by a disciplined cavalry companyof large grim dogs. These, it was observed on the passage, refusing toconsort with the emigrants, remained aristocratically grouped aroundtheir master on the elevated quarter-deck, casting disdainful glancesforward upon the inferior rabble there; much as, from the ramparts, thesoldiers of a garrison, thrown into a conquered town, eye the ingloriouscitizen-mob over which they are set to watch.
Now Charles’s Isle not only resembles Barrington Isle in being much moreinhabitable than other parts of the group, but it is double the size ofBarrington, say forty or fifty miles in circuit.
Safely debarked at last, the company, under direction of their lord andpatron, forthwith proceeded to build their capital city. They makeconsiderable advance in the way of walls of clinkers, and lava floors,nicely sanded with cinders. On the least barren hills they pasturetheir cattle, while the goats, adventurers by nature, explore the farinland solitudes for a scanty livelihood of lofty herbage. Meantime,abundance of fish and tortoises supply their other wants.
The disorders incident to settling all primitive regions, in the presentcase were heightened by the peculiarly untoward character of many of thepilgrims. His Majesty was forced at last to proclaim martial law, andactually hunted and shot with his own hand several of his rebellioussubjects, who, with most questionable intentions, had clandestinelyencamped in the interior, whence they stole by night, to prowlbarefooted on tiptoe round the precincts of the lava-palace. It is to beremarked, however, that prior to such stern proceedings, the morereliable men had been judiciously picked out for an infantry body-guard,subordinate to the cavalry body-guard of dogs. But the state of politicsin this unhappy nation may be somewhat imagined, from the circumstancethat all who were not of the body-guard were downright plotters andmalignant traitors. At length the death penalty was tacitly abolished,owing to the timely thought, that were strict sportsman’s justice to bedispensed among such subjects, ere long the Nimrod King would havelittle or no remaining game to shoot. The human part of the life-guardwas now disbanded, and set to work cultivating the soil, and raisingpotatoes; the regular army now solely consisting of the dog-regiment.These, as I have heard, were of a singularly ferocious character, thoughby severe training rendered docile to their master. Armed to the teeth,the Creole now goes in state, surrounded by his canine janizaries, whoseterrific bayings prove quite as serviceable as bayonets in keeping downthe surgings of revolt.
But the census of the isle, sadly lessened by the dispensation ofjustice, and not materially recruited by matrimony, began to fill hismind with sad mistrust. Some way the population must be increased. Now,from its possessing a little water, and its comparative pleasantness ofaspect, Charles’s Isle at this period was occasionally visited byforeign whalers. These His Majesty had always levied upon for portcharges, thereby contributing to his revenue. But now he had additionaldesigns. By insidious arts he, from time to time, cajoles certainsailors to desert their ships, and enlist beneath his banner. Soon asmissed, their captains crave permission to go and hunt them up.Whereupon His Majesty first hides them very carefully away, and thenfreely permits the search. In consequence, the delinquents are neverfound, and the ships retire without them.
Thus, by a two-edged policy of this crafty monarch, foreign nations werecrippled in the number of their subjects, and his own were greatlymultiplied. He particularly petted these renegado strangers. But alasfor the deep-laid schemes of ambitious princes, and alas for the vanityof glory. As the foreign-born Pretorians, unwisely introduced into theRoman state, and still more unwisely made favorites of the Emperors, atlast insulted and overturned the throne, even so these lawless mariners,with all the rest of the body-guard and all the populace, broke out intoa terrible mutiny, and defied their master. He marched against them withall his dogs. A deadly battle ensued upon the beach. It raged for threehours, the dogs fighting with determined valor, and the sailors recklessof everything but victory. Three men and thirteen dogs were left deadupon the field, many on both sides were wounded, and the king was forcedto fly with the remainder of his canine regiment. The enemy pursued,stoning the dogs with their master into the wilderness of the interior.Discontinuing the pursuit, the victors returned to the village on theshore, stove the spirit casks, and proclaimed a Republic. The dead menwere interred with the honors of war, and the dead dogs ignominiouslythrown into the sea. At last, forced by stress of suffering, thefugitive Creole came down from the hills and offered to treat for peace.But the rebels refused it on any other terms than his unconditionalbanishment. Accordingly, the next ship that arrived carried away theex-king to Peru.
The history of the king of Charles’s Island furnishes anotherillustration of the difficulty of colonizing barren islands withunprincipled pilgrims.
Doubtless for a long time the exiled monarch, pensively ruralizing inPeru, which afforded him a safe asylum in his calamity, watched everyarrival from the Encantadas, to hear news of the failure of theRepublic, the consequent penitence of the rebels, and his own recall toroyalty. Doubtless he deemed the Republic but a miserable experimentwhich would soon explode. But no, the insurgents had confederatedthemselves into a democracy neither Grecian, Roman, nor American. Nay,it was no democracy at all, but a permanent Riotocracy, which gloriedin having no law but lawlessness. Great inducements being offered todeserters, their ranks were swelled by accessions of scamps from everyship which touched their shores. Charles’s Island was proclaimed theasylum of the oppressed of all navies. Each runaway tar was hailed as amartyr in the cause of freedom, and became immediately installed aragged citizen of this universal nation. In vain the captains ofabsconding seamen strove to regain them. Their new compatriots wereready to give any number of ornamental eyes in their behalf. They hadfew cannon, but their fists were not to be trifled with. So at last itcame to pass that no vessels acquainted with the character of thatcountry durst touch there, however sorely in want of refreshment. Itbecame Anathema–a sea Alsatia–the unassailed lurking-place of allsorts of desperadoes, who in the name of liberty did just what theypleased. They continually fluctuated in their numbers. Sailors,deserting ships at other islands, or in boats at sea anywhere in thatvicinity, steered for Charles’s Isle, as to their sure home of refuge;while, sated with the life of the isle, numbers from time to timecrossed the water to the neighboring ones, and there presentingthemselves to strange captains as shipwrecked seamen, often succeeded ingetting on board vessels bound to the Spanish coast, and having acompassionate purse made up for them on landing there.
One warm night during my first visit to the group, our ship was floatingalong in languid stillness, when some one on the forecastle shouted”Light ho!” We looked and saw a beacon burning on some obscure land offthe beam. Our third mate was not intimate with this part of the world.Going to the captain he said, “Sir, shall I put off in a boat? Thesemust be shipwrecked men.”
The captain laughed rather grimly, as, shaking his fist towards thebeacon, he rapped out an oath, and said–“No, no, you precious rascals,you don’t juggle one of my boats ashore this blessed night. You do well,you thieves–you do benevolently to hoist a light yonder as on adangerous shoal. It tempts no wise man to pull off and see what’s thematter, but bids him steer small and keep off shore–that is Charles’sIsland; brace up, Mr. Mate, and keep the light astern.” * * * * *SKETCH EIGHTH.
NORFOLK ISLE AND THE CHOLA WIDOW. “At last they in an island did espy A seemly woman sitting by the shore, That with great sorrow and sad agony Seemed some great misfortune to deplore; And loud to them for succor called evermore.”
“Black his eye as the midnight sky. White his neck as the driven snow, Red his cheek as the morning light;– Cold he lies in the ground below. My love is dead, Gone to his death-bed, ys All under the cactus tree.”
“Each lonely scene shall thee restore, For thee the tear be duly shed; Belov’d till life can charm no more, And mourned till Pity’s self be dead.”
Far to the northeast of Charles’s Isle, sequestered from the rest, liesNorfolk Isle; and, however insignificant to most voyagers, to me,through sympathy, that lone island has become a spot made sacred by thestrangest trials of humanity.
It was my first visit to the Encantadas. Two days had been spent ashorein hunting tortoises. There was not time to capture many; so on thethird afternoon we loosed our sails. We were just in the act of gettingunder way, the uprooted anchor yet suspended and invisibly swayingbeneath the wave, as the good ship gradually turned her heel to leavethe isle behind, when the seaman who heaved with me at the windlasspaused suddenly, and directed my attention to something moving on theland, not along the beach, but somewhat back, fluttering from a height.
In view of the sequel of this little story, be it here narrated how itcame to pass, that an object which partly from its being so small wasquite lost to every other man on board, still caught the eye of myhandspike companion. The rest of the crew, myself included, merely stoodup to our spikes in heaving, whereas, unwontedly exhilarated, at everyturn of the ponderous windlass, my belted comrade leaped atop of it,with might and main giving a downward, thewey, perpendicular heave, hisraised eye bent in cheery animation upon the slowly receding shore.Being high lifted above all others was the reason he perceived theobject, otherwise unperceivable; and this elevation of his eye wasowing to the elevation of his spirits; and this again–for truth mustout–to a dram of Peruvian pisco, in guerdon for some kindness done,secretly administered to him that morning by our mulatto steward. Now,certainly, pisco does a deal of mischief in the world; yet seeing that,in the present case, it was the means, though indirect, of rescuing ahuman being from the most dreadful fate, must we not also needs admitthat sometimes pisco does a deal of good?
Glancing across the water in the direction pointed out, I saw some whitething hanging from an inland rock, perhaps half a mile from the sea.
“It is a bird; a white-winged bird; perhaps a–no; it is–it is ahandkerchief!”
“Ay, a handkerchief!” echoed my comrade, and with a louder shoutapprised the captain.
Quickly now–like the running out and training of a great gun–the longcabin spy-glass was thrust through the mizzen rigging from the highplatform of the poop; whereupon a human figure was plainly seen upon theinland rock, eagerly waving towards us what seemed to be thehandkerchief.
Our captain was a prompt, good fellow. Dropping the glass, he lustilyran forward, ordering the anchor to be dropped again; hands to stand bya boat, and lower away.
In a half-hour’s time the swift boat returned. It went with six and camewith seven; and the seventh was a woman.
It is not artistic heartlessness, but I wish I could but draw incrayons; for this woman was a most touching sight; and crayons, tracingsoftly melancholy lines, would best depict the mournful image of thedark-damasked Chola widow.
Her story was soon told, and though given in her own strange languagewas as quickly understood; for our captain, from long trading on theChilian coast, was well versed in the Spanish. A Cholo, or half-breedIndian woman of Payta in Peru, three years gone by, with her youngnew-wedded husband Felipe, of pure Castilian blood, and her one onlyIndian brother, Truxill, Hunilla had taken passage on the main in aFrench whaler, commanded by a joyous man; which vessel, bound to thecruising grounds beyond the Enchanted Isles, proposed passing close bytheir vicinity. The object of the little party was to procure tortoiseoil, a fluid which for its great purity and delicacy is held in highestimation wherever known; and it is well known all along this part ofthe Pacific coast. With a chest of clothes, tools, cooking utensils, arude apparatus for trying out the oil, some casks of biscuit, and otherthings, not omitting two favorite dogs, of which faithful animal all theCholos are very fond, Hunilla and her companions were safely landed attheir chosen place; the Frenchman, according to the contract made eresailing, engaged to take them off upon returning from a four months’cruise in the westward seas; which interval the three adventurers deemedquite sufficient for their purposes.
On the isle’s lone beach they paid him in silver for their passage out,the stranger having declined to carry them at all except upon thatcondition; though willing to take every means to insure the duefulfillment of his promise. Felipe had striven hard to have this paymentput off to the period of the ship’s return. But in vain. Still theythought they had, in another way, ample pledge of the good faith of theFrenchman. It was arranged that the expenses of the passage home shouldnot be payable in silver, but in tortoises; one hundred tortoises readycaptured to the returning captain’s hand. These the Cholos meant tosecure after their own work was done, against the probable time of theFrenchman’s coming back; and no doubt in prospect already felt, that inthose hundred tortoises–now somewhere ranging the isle’s interior–theypossessed one hundred hostages. Enough: the vessel sailed; the gazingthree on shore answered the loud glee of the singing crew; and ereevening, the French craft was hull down in the distant sea, its maststhree faintest lines which quickly faded from Hunilla’s eye.
The stranger had given a blithesome promise, and anchored it with oaths;but oaths and anchors equally will drag; naught else abides on fickleearth but unkept promises of joy. Contrary winds from out unstableskies, or contrary moods of his more varying mind, or shipwreck andsudden death in solitary waves; whatever was the cause, the blithestranger never was seen again.
Yet, however dire a calamity was here in store, misgivings of it ere duetime never disturbed the Cholos’ busy mind, now all intent upon thetoilsome matter which had brought them hither. Nay, by swift doom cominglike the thief at night, ere seven weeks went by, two of the littleparty were removed from all anxieties of land or sea. No more theysought to gaze with feverish fear, or still more feverish hope, beyondthe present’s horizon line; but into the furthest future their ownsilent spirits sailed. By persevering labor beneath that burning sun,Felipe and Truxill had brought down to their hut many scores oftortoises, and tried out the oil, when, elated with their good success,and to reward themselves for such hard work, they, too hastily, made acatamaran, or Indian raft, much used on the Spanish main, and merrilystarted on a fishing trip, just without a long reef with many jaggedgaps, running parallel with the shore, about half a mile from it. Bysome bad tide or hap, or natural negligence of joyfulness (for thoughthey could not be heard, yet by their gestures they seemed singing atthe time) forced in deep water against that iron bar, the ill-madecatamaran was overset, and came all to pieces; when dashed bybroad-chested swells between their broken logs and the sharp teeth ofthe reef, both adventurers perished before Hunilla’s eyes.
Before Hunilla’s eyes they sank. The real woe of this event passedbefore her sight as some sham tragedy on the stage. She was seated on arude bower among the withered thickets, crowning a lofty cliff, a littleback from the beach. The thickets were so disposed, that in looking uponthe sea at large she peered out from among the branches as from thelattice of a high balcony. But upon the day we speak of here, the betterto watch the adventure of those two hearts she loved, Hunilla hadwithdrawn the branches to one side, and held them so. They formed anoval frame, through which the bluely boundless sea rolled like a paintedone. And there, the invisible painter painted to her view thewave-tossed and disjointed raft, its once level logs slantinglyupheaved, as raking masts, and the four struggling armsindistinguishable among them; and then all subsided into smooth-flowingcreamy waters, slowly drifting the splintered wreck; while first andlast, no sound of any sort was heard. Death in a silent picture; a dreamof the eye; such vanishing shapes as the mirage shows.
So instant was the scene, so trance-like its mild pictorial effect, sodistant from her blasted bower and her common sense of things, thatHunilla gazed and gazed, nor raised a finger or a wail. But as good tosit thus dumb, in stupor staring on that dumb show, for all thatotherwise might be done. With half a mile of sea between, how could hertwo enchanted arms aid those four fated ones? The distance long, thetime one sand. After the lightning is beheld, what fool shall stay thethunder-bolt? Felipe’s body was washed ashore, but Truxill’s never came;only his gay, braided hat of golden straw–that same sunflower thing hewaved to her, pushing from the strand–and now, to the last gallant, itstill saluted her. But Felipe’s body floated to the marge, with one armencirclingly outstretched. Lock-jawed in grim death, the lover-husbandsoftly clasped his bride, true to her even in death’s dream. Ah,heaven, when man thus keeps his faith, wilt thou be faithless whocreated the faithful one? But they cannot break faith who never plightedit.
It needs not to be said what nameless misery now wrapped the lonelywidow. In telling her own story she passed this almost entirely over,simply recounting the event. Construe the comment of her features as youmight, from her mere words little would you have weened that Hunilla washerself the heroine of her tale. But not thus did she defraud us of ourtears. All hearts bled that grief could be so brave.
She but showed us her soul’s lid, and the strange ciphers thereonengraved; all within, with pride’s timidity, was withheld. Yet was thereone exception. Holding out her small olive hand before her captain, shesaid in mild and slowest Spanish, “Seor, I buried him;” then paused,struggled as against the writhed coilings of a snake, and cringingsuddenly, leaped up, repeating in impassioned pain, “I buried him, mylife, my soul!”
Doubtless, it was by half-unconscious, automatic motions of her hands,that this heavy-hearted one performed the final office for Felipe, andplanted a rude cross of withered sticks–no green ones might be had–atthe head of that lonely grave, where rested now in lasting un-complaintand quiet haven he whom untranquil seas had overthrown.
But some dull sense of another body that should be interred, of anothercross that should hallow another grave–unmade as yet–some dull anxietyand pain touching her undiscovered brother, now haunted the oppressedHunilla. Her hands fresh from the burial earth, she slowly went back tothe beach, with unshaped purposes wandering there, her spell-bound eyebent upon the incessant waves. But they bore nothing to her but a dirge,which maddened her to think that murderers should mourn. As time wentby, and these things came less dreamingly to her mind, the strongpersuasions of her Romish faith, which sets peculiar store byconsecrated urns, prompted her to resume in waking earnest that pioussearch which had but been begun as in somnambulism. Day after day, weekafter week, she trod the cindery beach, till at length a double motiveedged every eager glance. With equal longing she now looked for theliving and the dead; the brother and the captain; alike vanished, neverto return. Little accurate note of time had Hunilla taken under suchemotions as were hers, and little, outside herself, served for calendaror dial. As to poor Crusoe in the self-same sea, no saint’s bell pealedforth the lapse of week or month; each day went by unchallenged; nochanticleer announced those sultry dawns, no lowing herds thosepoisonous nights. All wonted and steadily recurring sounds, human, orhumanized by sweet fellowship with man, but one stirred that torridtrance–the cry of dogs; save which naught but the rolling sea invadedit, an all-pervading monotone; and to the widow that was the least lovedvoice she could have heard.
No wonder, that as her thoughts now wandered to the unreturning ship,and were beaten back again, the hope against hope so struggled in hersoul, that at length she desperately said, “Not yet, not yet; my foolishheart runs on too fast.” So she forced patience for some further weeks.But to those whom earth’s sure indraft draws, patience or impatience isstill the same.
Hunilla now sought to settle precisely in her mind, to an hour, how longit was since the ship had sailed; and then, with the same precision, howlong a space remained to pass. But this proved impossible. What presentday or month it was she could not say. Time was her labyrinth, in whichHunilla was entirely lost.
And now follows–
Against my own purposes a pause descends upon me here. One knows notwhether nature doth not impose some secrecy upon him who has been privyto certain things. At least, it is to be doubted whether it be good toblazon such. If some books are deemed most baneful and their saleforbid, how, then, with deadlier facts, not dreams of doting men? Thosewhom books will hurt will not be proof against events. Events, notbooks, should be forbid. But in all things man sows upon the wind, whichbloweth just there whither it listeth; for ill or good, man cannot know.Often ill comes from the good, as good from ill.
Dire sight it is to see some silken beast long dally with a goldenlizard ere she devour. More terrible, to see how feline Fate willsometimes dally with a human soul, and by a nameless magic make itrepulse a sane despair with a hope which is but mad. Unwittingly I impthis cat-like thing, sporting with the heart of him who reads; for if hefeel not he reads in vain.
–“The ship sails this day, to-day,” at last said Hunilla to herself;”this gives me certain time to stand on; without certainty I go mad. Inloose ignorance I have hoped and hoped; now in firm knowledge I will butwait. Now I live and no longer perish in bewilderings. Holy Virgin, aidme! Thou wilt waft back the ship. Oh, past length of weary weeks–all tobe dragged over–to buy the certainty of to-day, I freely give ye,though I tear ye from me!”
As mariners, tost in tempest on some desolate ledge, patch them a boatout of the remnants of their vessel’s wreck, and launch it in theself-same waves, see here Hunilla, this lone shipwrecked soul, out oftreachery invoking trust. Humanity, thou strong thing, I worship thee,not in the laureled victor, but in this vanquished one.
Truly Hunilla leaned upon a reed, a real one; no metaphor; a realEastern reed. A piece of hollow cane, drifted from unknown isles, andfound upon the beach, its once jagged ends rubbed smoothly even as bysand-paper; its golden glazing gone. Long ground between the sea andland, upper and nether stone, the unvarnished substance was filed bare,and wore another polish now, one with itself, the polish of its agony.Circular lines at intervals cut all round this surface, divided it intosix panels of unequal length. In the first were scored the days, eachtenth one marked by a longer and deeper notch; the second was scored forthe number of sea-fowl eggs for sustenance, picked out from the rockynests; the third, how many fish had been caught from the shore; thefourth, how many small tortoises found inland; the fifth, how many daysof sun; the sixth, of clouds; which last, of the two, was the greaterone. Long night of busy numbering, misery’s mathematics, to weary hertoo-wakeful soul to sleep; yet sleep for that was none.
The panel of the days was deeply worn–the long tenth notches halfeffaced, as alphabets of the blind. Ten thousand times the longing widowhad traced her finger over the bamboo–dull flute, which played, on,gave no sound–as if counting birds flown by in air would hastentortoises creeping through the woods.
After the one hundred and eightieth day no further mark was seen; thatlast one was the faintest, as the first the deepest.
“There were more days,” said our Captain; “many, many more; why did younot go on and notch them, too, Hunilla?”
“Seor, ask me not.”
“And meantime, did no other vessel pass the isle?”
“You do not speak; but _what_, Hunilla?”
“Ask me not, Seor.”
“You saw ships pass, far away; you waved to them; they passed on;–wasthat it, Hunilla?”
“Seor, be it as you say.”
Braced against her woe, Hunilla would not, durst not trust the weaknessof her tongue. Then when our Captain asked whether any whale-boatshad–
But no, I will not file this thing complete for scoffing souls to quote,and call it firm proof upon their side. The half shall here remainuntold. Those two unnamed events which befell Hunilla on this isle, letthem abide between her and her God. In nature, as in law, it may belibelous to speak some truths.
Still, how it was that, although our vessel had lain three days anchorednigh the isle, its one human tenant should not have discovered us tilljust upon the point of sailing, never to revisit so lone and far a spot,this needs explaining ere the sequel come.
The place where the French captain had landed the little party was onthe further and opposite end of the isle. There, too, it was that theyhad afterwards built their hut. Nor did the widow in her solitude desertthe spot where her loved ones had dwelt with her, and where the dearestof the twain now slept his last long sleep, and all her plaints awakedhim not, and he of husbands the most faithful during life.
Now, high, broken land rises between the opposite extremities of theisle. A ship anchored at one side is invisible from the other. Neitheris the isle so small, but a considerable company might wander for daysthrough the wilderness of one side, and never be seen, or their halloosheard, by any stranger holding aloof on the other. Hence Hunilla, whonaturally associated the possible coming of ships with her own part ofthe isle, might to the end have remained quite ignorant of the presenceof our vessel, were it not for a mysterious presentiment, borne to her,so our mariners averred, by this isle’s enchanted air. Nor did thewidow’s answer undo the thought.
“How did you come to cross the isle this morning, then, Hunilla?” saidour Captain.
“Seor, something came flitting by me. It touched my cheek, my heart,Seor.”
“What do you say, Hunilla?”
“I have said, Seor, something came through the air.”
It was a narrow chance. For when in crossing the isle Hunilla gained thehigh land in the centre, she must then for the first have perceived ourmasts, and also marked that their sails were being loosed, perhaps evenheard the echoing chorus of the windlass song. The strange ship wasabout to sail, and she behind. With all haste she now descends theheight on the hither side, but soon loses sight of the ship among thesunken jungles at the mountain’s base. She struggles on through thewithered branches, which seek at every step to bar her path, till shecomes to the isolated rock, still some way from the water. This sheclimbs, to reassure herself. The ship is still in plainest sight. Butnow, worn out with over tension, Hunilla all but faints; she fears tostep down from her giddy perch; she is fain to pause, there where sheis, and as a last resort catches the turban from her head, unfurls andwaves it over the jungles towards us.
During the telling of her story the mariners formed a voiceless circleround Hunilla and the Captain; and when at length the word was given toman the fastest boat, and pull round to the isle’s thither side, tobring away Hunilla’s chest and the tortoise-oil, such alacrity of bothcheery and sad obedience seldom before was seen. Little ado was made.Already the anchor had been recommitted to the bottom, and the shipswung calmly to it.
But Hunilla insisted upon accompanying the boat as indispensable pilotto her hidden hut. So being refreshed with the best the steward couldsupply, she started with us. Nor did ever any wife of the most famousadmiral, in her husband’s barge, receive more silent reverence ofrespect than poor Hunilla from this boat’s crew.
Rounding many a vitreous cape and bluff, in two hours’ time we shotinside the fatal reef; wound into a secret cove, looked up along a greenmany-gabled lava wall, and saw the island’s solitary dwelling.
It hung upon an impending cliff, sheltered on two sides by tangledthickets, and half-screened from view in front by juttings of the rudestairway, which climbed the precipice from the sea. Built of canes, itwas thatched with long, mildewed grass. It seemed an abandoned hay-rick,whose haymakers were now no more. The roof inclined but one way; theeaves coming to within two feet of the ground. And here was a simpleapparatus to collect the dews, or rather doubly-distilled and finestwinnowed rains, which, in mercy or in mockery, the night-skies sometimesdrop upon these blighted Encantadas. All along beneath the eaves, aspotted sheet, quite weather-stained, was spread, pinned to short,upright stakes, set in the shallow sand. A small clinker, thrown intothe cloth, weighed its middle down, thereby straining all moisture intoa calabash placed below. This vessel supplied each drop of water everdrunk upon the isle by the Cholos. Hunilla told us the calabash, wouldsometimes, but not often, be half filled overnight. It held six quarts,perhaps. “But,” said she, “we were used to thirst. At sandy Payta, whereI live, no shower from heaven ever fell; all the water there is broughton mules from the inland vales.”
Tied among the thickets were some twenty moaning tortoises, supplyingHunilla’s lonely larder; while hundreds of vast tableted black bucklers,like displaced, shattered tomb-stones of dark slate, were also scatteredround. These were the skeleton backs of those great tortoises fromwhich Felipe and Truxill had made their precious oil. Several largecalabashes and two goodly kegs were filled with it. In a pot near bywere the caked crusts of a quantity which had been permitted toevaporate. “They meant to have strained it off next day,” said Hunilla,as she turned aside.
I forgot to mention the most singular sight of all, though the firstthat greeted us after landing.
Some ten small, soft-haired, ringleted dogs, of a beautiful breed,peculiar to Peru, set up a concert of glad welcomings when we gained thebeach, which was responded to by Hunilla. Some of these dogs had, sinceher widowhood, been born upon the isle, the progeny of the two broughtfrom Payta. Owing to the jagged steeps and pitfalls, tortuous thickets,sunken clefts and perilous intricacies of all sorts in the interior,Hunilla, admonished by the loss of one favorite among them, neverallowed these delicate creatures to follow her in her occasionalbirds’-nests climbs and other wanderings; so that, through longhabituation, they offered not to follow, when that morning she crossedthe land, and her own soul was then too full of other things to heedtheir lingering behind. Yet, all along she had so clung to them, that,besides what moisture they lapped up at early daybreak from the smallscoop-holes among the adjacent rocks, she had shared the dew of hercalabash among them; never laying by any considerable store againstthose prolonged and utter droughts which, in some disastrous seasons,warp these isles.
Having pointed out, at our desire, what few things she would liketransported to the ship–her chest, the oil, not omitting the livetortoises which she intended for a grateful present to our Captain–weimmediately set to work, carrying them to the boat down the long,sloping stair of deeply-shadowed rock. While my comrades were thusemployed, I looked and Hunilla had disappeared.
It was not curiosity alone, but, it seems to me, something differentmingled with it, which prompted me to drop my tortoise, and once moregaze slowly around. I remembered the husband buried by Hunilla’s hands.A narrow pathway led into a dense part of the thickets. Following itthrough many mazes, I came out upon a small, round, open space, deeplychambered there.
The mound rose in the middle; a bare heap of finest sand, like thatunverdured heap found at the bottom of an hour-glass run out. At itshead stood the cross of withered sticks; the dry, peeled bark stillfraying from it; its transverse limb tied up with rope, and forlornlyadroop in the silent air.
Hunilla was partly prostrate upon the grave; her dark head bowed, andlost in her long, loosened Indian hair; her hands extended to thecross-foot, with a little brass crucifix clasped between; a crucifixworn featureless, like an ancient graven knocker long plied in vain. Shedid not see me, and I made no noise, but slid aside, and left the spot.
A few moments ere all was ready for our going, she reappeared among us.I looked into her eyes, but saw no tear. There was something whichseemed strangely haughty in her air, and yet it was the air of woe. ASpanish and an Indian grief, which would not visibly lament. Pride’sheight in vain abased to proneness on the rack; nature’s pride subduingnature’s torture.
Like pages the small and silken dogs surrounded her, as she slowlydescended towards the beach. She caught the two most eager creatures inher arms:–“Mia Teeta! Mia Tomoteeta!” and fondling them, inquired howmany could we take on board.
The mate commanded the boat’s crew; not a hard-hearted man, but his wayof life had been such that in most things, even in the smallest, simpleutility was his leading motive.
“We cannot take them all, Hunilla; our supplies are short; the winds areunreliable; we may be a good many days going to Tombez. So take thoseyou have, Hunilla; but no more.”
She was in the boat; the oarsmen, too, were seated; all save one, whostood ready to push off and then spring himself. With the sagacity oftheir race, the dogs now seemed aware that they were in the very instantof being deserted upon a barren strand. The gunwales of the boat werehigh; its prow–presented inland–was lifted; so owing to the water,which they seemed instinctively to shun, the dogs could not well leapinto the little craft. But their busy paws hard scraped the prow, as ithad been some farmer’s door shutting them out from shelter in a winterstorm. A clamorous agony of alarm. They did not howl, or whine; they allbut spoke.
“Push off! Give way!” cried the mate. The boat gave one heavy drag andlurch, and next moment shot swiftly from the beach, turned on her heel,and sped. The dogs ran howling along the water’s marge; now pausing togaze at the flying boat, then motioning as if to leap in chase, butmysteriously withheld themselves; and again ran howling along the beach.Had they been human beings, hardly would they have more vividly inspiredthe sense of desolation. The oars were plied as confederate feathers oftwo wings. No one spoke. I looked back upon the beach, and then uponHunilla, but her face was set in a stern dusky calm. The dogs crouchingin her lap vainly licked her rigid hands. She never looked be her: butsat motionless, till we turned a promontory of the coast and lost allsights and sounds astern. She seemed as one who, having experienced thesharpest of mortal pangs, was henceforth content to have all lesserheartstrings riven, one by one. To Hunilla, pain seemed so necessary,that pain in other beings, though by love and sympathy made her own, wasunrepiningly to be borne. A heart of yearning in a frame of steel. Aheart of earthly yearning, frozen by the frost which falleth from thesky.
The sequel is soon told. After a long passage, vexed by calms andbaffling winds, we made the little port of Tombez in Peru, there torecruit the ship. Payta was not very distant. Our captain sold thetortoise oil to a Tombez merchant; and adding to the silver acontribution from all hands, gave it to our silent passenger, who knewnot what the mariners had done.
The last seen of lone Hunilla she was passing into Payta town, ridingupon a small gray ass; and before her on the ass’s shoulders, she eyedthe jointed workings of the beast’s armorial cross. * * * * *SKETCH NINTH.
HOOD’S ISLE AND THE HERMIT OBERLUS. “That darkesome glen they enter, where they find That cursed man low sitting on the ground, Musing full sadly in his sullein mind; His griesly lockes long gronen and unbound, Disordered hong about his shoulders round, And hid his face, through which his hollow eyne Lookt deadly dull, and stared as astound; His raw-bone cheekes, through penurie and pine, Were shronke into the jawes, as he did never dine. His garments nought but many ragged clouts, With thornes together pind and patched reads, The which his naked sides he wrapt abouts.”
Southeast of Crossman’s Isle lies Hood’s Isle, or McCain’s BecloudedIsle; and upon its south side is a vitreous cove with a wide strand ofdark pounded black lava, called Black Beach, or Oberlus’s Landing. Itmight fitly have been styled Charon’s.
It received its name from a wild white creature who spent many yearshere; in the person of a European bringing into this savage regionqualities more diabolical than are to be found among any of thesurrounding cannibals.
About half a century ago, Oberlus deserted at the above-named island,then, as now, a solitude. He built himself a den of lava and clinkers,about a mile from the Landing, subsequently called after him, in a vale,or expanded gulch, containing here and there among the rocks about twoacres of soil capable of rude cultivation; the only place on the islenot too blasted for that purpose. Here he succeeded in raising a sort ofdegenerate potatoes and pumpkins, which from time to time he exchangedwith needy whalemen passing, for spirits or dollars.
His appearance, from all accounts, was that of the victim of somemalignant sorceress; he seemed to have drunk of Circe’s cup; beast-like;rags insufficient to hide his nakedness; his befreckled skin blisteredby continual exposure to the sun; nose flat; countenance contorted,heavy, earthy; hair and beard unshorn, profuse, and of fiery red. Hestruck strangers much as if he were a volcanic creature thrown up by thesame convulsion which exploded into sight the isle. All bepatched andcoiled asleep in his lonely lava den among the mountains, he looked,they say, as a heaped drift of withered leaves, torn from autumn trees,and so left in some hidden nook by the whirling halt for an instant of afierce night-wind, which then ruthlessly sweeps on, somewhere else torepeat the capricious act. It is also reported to have been thestrangest sight, this same Oberlus, of a sultry, cloudy morning, hiddenunder his shocking old black tarpaulin hat, hoeing potatoes among thelava. So warped and crooked was his strange nature, that the very handleof his hoe seemed gradually to have shrunk and twisted in his grasp,being a wretched bent stick, elbowed more like a savage’s war-sicklethan a civilized hoe-handle. It was his mysterious custom upon a firstencounter with a stranger ever to present his back; possibly, becausethat was his better side, since it revealed the least. If the encounterchanced in his garden, as it sometimes did–the new-landed strangersgoing from the sea-side straight through the gorge, to hunt up the queergreen-grocer reported doing business here–Oberlus for a time hoed on,unmindful of all greeting, jovial or bland; as the curious strangerwould turn to face him, the recluse, hoe in hand, as diligently wouldavert himself; bowed over, and sullenly revolving round his murphy hill.Thus far for hoeing. When planting, his whole aspect and all hisgestures were so malevolently and uselessly sinister and secret, that heseemed rather in act of dropping poison into wells than potatoes intosoil. But among his lesser and more harmless marvels was an idea he everhad, that his visitors came equally as well led by longings to beholdthe mighty hermit Oberlus in his royal state of solitude, as simply, toobtain potatoes, or find whatever company might be upon a barren isle.It seems incredible that such a being should possess such vanity; amisanthrope be conceited; but he really had his notion; and upon thestrength of it, often gave himself amusing airs to captains. But afterall, this is somewhat of a piece with the well-known eccentricity ofsome convicts, proud of that very hatefulness which makes themnotorious. At other times, another unaccountable whim would seize him,and he would long dodge advancing strangers round the clinkered cornersof his hut; sometimes like a stealthy bear, he would slink through thewithered thickets up the mountains, and refuse to see the human face.
Except his occasional visitors from the sea, for a long period, the onlycompanions of Oberlus were the crawling tortoises; and he seemed morethan degraded to their level, having no desires for a time beyondtheirs, unless it were for the stupor brought on by drunkenness. Butsufficiently debased as he appeared, there yet lurked in him, onlyawaiting occasion for discovery, a still further proneness. Indeed, thesole superiority of Oberlus over the tortoises was his possession of alarger capacity of degradation; and along with that, something like anintelligent will to it. Moreover, what is about to be revealed, perhapswill show, that selfish ambition, or the love of rule for its own sake,far from being the peculiar infirmity of noble minds, is shared bybeings which have no mind at all. No creatures are so selfishlytyrannical as some brutes; as any one who has observed the tenants ofthe pasture must occasionally have observed.
“This island’s mine by Sycorax my mother,” said Oberlus to himself,glaring round upon his haggard solitude. By some means, barter ortheft–for in those days ships at intervals still kept touching at hisLanding–he obtained an old musket, with a few charges of powder andball. Possessed of arms, he was stimulated to enterprise, as a tigerthat first feels the coming of its claws. The long habit of soledominion over every object round him, his almost unbroken solitude, hisnever encountering humanity except on terms of misanthropicindependence, or mercantile craftiness, and even such encounters beingcomparatively but rare; all this must have gradually nourished in him avast idea of his own importance, together with a pure animal sort ofscorn for all the rest of the universe.
The unfortunate Creole, who enjoyed his brief term of royalty atCharles’s Isle was perhaps in some degree influenced by not unworthymotives; such as prompt other adventurous spirits to lead colonists intodistant regions and assume political preeminence over them. His summaryexecution of many of his Peruvians is quite pardonable, considering thedesperate characters he had to deal with; while his offering caninebattle to the banded rebels seems under the circumstances altogetherjust. But for this King Oberlus and what shortly follows, no shade ofpalliation can be given. He acted out of mere delight in tyranny andcruelty, by virtue of a quality in him inherited from Sycorax hismother. Armed now with that shocking blunderbuss, strong in the thoughtof being master of that horrid isle, he panted for a chance to prove hispotency upon the first specimen of humanity which should fallunbefriended into his hands.
Nor was he long without it. One day he spied a boat upon the beach, withone man, a negro, standing by it. Some distance off was a ship, andOberlus immediately knew how matters stood. The vessel had put in forwood, and the boat’s crew had gone into the thickets for it. From aconvenient spot he kept watch of the boat, till presently a stragglingcompany appeared loaded with billets. Throwing these on the beach, theyagain went into the thickets, while the negro proceeded to load theboat.
Oberlus now makes all haste and accosts the negro, who, aghast atseeing any living being inhabiting such a solitude, and especially sohorrific a one, immediately falls into a panic, not at all lessened bythe ursine suavity of Oberlus, who begs the favor of assisting him inhis labors. The negro stands with several billets on his shoulder, inact of shouldering others; and Oberlus, with a short cord concealed inhis bosom, kindly proceeds to lift those other billets to their place.In so doing, he persists in keeping behind the negro, who, rightlysuspicious of this, in vain dodges about to gain the front of Oberlus;but Oberlus dodges also; till at last, weary of this bootless attempt attreachery, or fearful of being surprised by the remainder of the party,Oberlus runs off a little space to a bush, and fetching his blunderbuss,savagely commands the negro to desist work and follow him. He refuses.Whereupon, presenting his piece, Oberlus snaps at him. Luckily theblunderbuss misses fire; but by this time, frightened out of his wits,the negro, upon a second intrepid summons, drops his billets, surrendersat discretion, and follows on. By a narrow defile familiar to him,Oberlus speedily removes out of sight of the water.
On their way up the mountains, he exultingly informs the negro, thathenceforth he is to work for him, and be his slave, and that histreatment would entirely depend on his future conduct. But Oberlus,deceived by the first impulsive cowardice of the black, in an evilmoment slackens his vigilance. Passing through a narrow way, andperceiving his leader quite off his guard, the negro, a powerful fellow,suddenly grasps him in his arms, throws him down, wrests his musketoonfrom him, ties his hands with the monster’s own cord, shoulders him, andreturns with him down to the boat. When the rest of the party arrive,Oberlus is carried on board the ship. This proved an Englishman, and asmuggler; a sort of craft not apt to be over-charitable. Oberlus isseverely whipped, then handcuffed, taken ashore, and compelled to makeknown his habitation and produce his property. His potatoes, pumpkins,and tortoises, with a pile of dollars he had hoarded from his mercantileoperations were secured on the spot. But while the too vindictivesmugglers were busy destroying his hut and garden, Oberlus makes hisescape into the mountains, and conceals himself there in impenetrablerecesses, only known to himself, till the ship sails, when he venturesback, and by means of an old file which he sticks into a tree, contrivesto free himself from his handcuffs.
Brooding among the ruins of his hut, and the desolate clinkers andextinct volcanoes of this outcast isle, the insulted misanthrope nowmeditates a signal revenge upon humanity, but conceals his purposes.Vessels still touch the Landing at times; and by-and-by Oberlus isenabled to supply them with some vegetables.
Warned by his former failure in kidnapping strangers, he now pursues aquite different plan. When seamen come ashore, he makes up to them likea free-and-easy comrade, invites them to his hut, and with whateveraffability his red-haired grimness may assume, entreats them to drinkhis liquor and be merry. But his guests need little pressing; and so,soon as rendered insensible, are tied hand and foot, and pitched amongthe clinkers, are there concealed till the ship departs, when, findingthemselves entirely dependent upon Oberlus, alarmed at his changeddemeanor, his savage threats, and above all, that shocking blunderbuss,they willingly enlist under him, becoming his humble slaves, and Oberlusthe most incredible of tyrants. So much so, that two or three perishbeneath his initiating process. He sets the remainder–four of them–tobreaking the caked soil; transporting upon their backs loads of loamyearth, scooped up in moist clefts among the mountains; keeps them on theroughest fare; presents his piece at the slightest hint of insurrection;and in all respects converts them into reptiles at his feet–plebeiangarter-snakes to this Lord Anaconda.
At last, Oberlus contrives to stock his arsenal with four rustycutlasses, and an added supply of powder and ball intended for hisblunderbuss. Remitting in good part the labor of his slaves, he nowapproves himself a man, or rather devil, of great abilities in the wayof cajoling or coercing others into acquiescence with his own ulteriordesigns, however at first abhorrent to them. But indeed, prepared foralmost any eventual evil by their previous lawless life, as a sort ofranging Cow-Boys of the sea, which had dissolved within them the wholemoral man, so that they were ready to concrete in the first offeredmould of baseness now; rotted down from manhood by their hopeless miseryon the isle; wonted to cringe in all things to their lord, himself theworst of slaves; these wretches were now become wholly corrupted to hishands. He used them as creatures of an inferior race; in short, hegaffles his four animals, and makes murderers of them; out of cowardsfitly manufacturing bravos.
Now, sword or dagger, human arms are but artificial claws and fangs,tied on like false spurs to the fighting cock. So, we repeat, Oberlus,czar of the isle, gaffles his four subjects; that is, with intent ofglory, puts four rusty cutlasses into their hands. Like any otherautocrat, he had a noble army now.
It might be thought a servile war would hereupon ensue. Arms in thehands of trodden slaves? how indiscreet of Emperor Oberlus! Nay, theyhad but cutlasses–sad old scythes enough–he a blunderbuss, which byits blind scatterings of all sorts of boulders, clinkers, and otherscoria would annihilate all four mutineers, like four pigeons at oneshot. Besides, at first he did not sleep in his accustomed hut; everylurid sunset, for a time, he might have been seen wending his way amongthe riven mountains, there to secrete himself till dawn in somesulphurous pitfall, undiscoverable to his gang; but finding this at lasttoo troublesome, he now each evening tied his slaves hand and foot, hidthe cutlasses, and thrusting them into his barracks, shut to the door,and lying down before it, beneath a rude shed lately added, slept outthe night, blunderbuss in hand.
It is supposed that not content with daily parading over a cinderysolitude at the head of his fine army, Oberlus now meditated the mostactive mischief; his probable object being to surprise some passing shiptouching at his dominions, massacre the crew, and run away with her toparts unknown. While these plans were simmering in his head, two shipstouch in company at the isle, on the opposite side to his; when hisdesigns undergo a sudden change.
The ships are in want of vegetables, which Oberlus promises in greatabundance, provided they send their boats round to his landing, so thatthe crews may bring the vegetables from his garden; informing the twocaptains, at the same time, that his rascals–slaves and soldiers–hadbecome so abominably lazy and good-for-nothing of late, that he couldnot make them work by ordinary inducements, and did not have the heartto be severe with them.
The arrangement was agreed to, and the boats were sent and hauled uponthe beach. The crews went to the lava hut; but to their surprise nobodywas there. After waiting till their patience was exhausted, theyreturned to the shore, when lo, some stranger–not the Good Samaritaneither–seems to have very recently passed that way. Three of the boatswere broken in a thousand pieces, and the fourth was missing. By hardtoil over the mountains and through the clinkers, some of the strangerssucceeded in returning to that side of the isle where the ships lay,when fresh boats are sent to the relief of the rest of the haplessparty.
However amazed at the treachery of Oberlus, the two captains, afraid ofnew and still more mysterious atrocities–and indeed, half imputing suchstrange events to the enchantments associated with these isles–perceiveno security but in instant flight; leaving Oberlus and his army in quietpossession of the stolen boat.
On the eve of sailing they put a letter in a keg, giving the PacificOcean intelligence of the affair, and moored the keg in the bay. Sometime subsequent, the keg was opened by another captain chancing toanchor there, but not until after he had dispatched a boat round toOberlus’s Landing. As may be readily surmised, he felt no littleinquietude till the boat’s return: when another letter was handed him,giving Oberlus’s version of the affair. This precious document had beenfound pinned half-mildewed to the clinker wall of the sulphurous anddeserted hut. It ran as follows: showing that Oberlus was at least anaccomplished writer, and no mere boor; and what is more, was capable ofthe most tristful eloquence.
“Sir: I am the most unfortunate ill-treated gentleman that lives. I ama patriot, exiled from my country by the cruel hand of tyranny.
“Banished to these Enchanted Isles, I have again and again besoughtcaptains of ships to sell me a boat, but always have been refused,though I offered the handsomest prices in Mexican dollars. At length anopportunity presented of possessing myself of one, and I did not let itslip.
“I have been long endeavoring, by hard labor and much solitarysuffering, to accumulate something to make myself comfortable in avirtuous though unhappy old age; but at various times have been robbedand beaten by men professing to be Christians.
“To-day I sail from the Enchanted group in the good boat Charity boundto the Feejee Isles.
“P.S.–Behind the clinkers, nigh the oven, you will find the old fowl.Do not kill it; be patient; I leave it setting; if it shall have anychicks, I hereby bequeath them to you, whoever you may be. But don’tcount your chicks before they are hatched.”
The fowl proved a starveling rooster, reduced to a sitting posture bysheer debility.
Oberlus declares that he was bound to the Feejee Isles; but this wasonly to throw pursuers on a false scent. For, after a long time, hearrived, alone in his open boat, at Guayaquil. As his miscreants werenever again beheld on Hood’s Isle, it is supposed, either that theyperished for want of water on the passage to Guayaquil, or, what isquite as probable, were thrown overboard by Oberlus, when he found thewater growing scarce.
From Guayaquil Oberlus proceeded to Payta; and there, with that namelesswitchery peculiar to some of the ugliest animals, wound himself into theaffections of a tawny damsel; prevailing upon her to accompany him backto his Enchanted Isle; which doubtless he painted as a Paradise offlowers, not a Tartarus of clinkers.
But unfortunately for the colonization of Hood’s Isle with a choicevariety of animated nature, the extraordinary and devilish aspect ofOberlus made him to be regarded in Payta as a highly suspiciouscharacter. So that being found concealed one night, with matches in hispocket, under the hull of a small vessel just ready to be launched, hewas seized and thrown into jail.
The jails in most South American towns are generally of the leastwholesome sort. Built of huge cakes of sun-burnt brick, and containingbut one room, without windows or yard, and but one door heavily gratedwith wooden bars, they present both within and without the grimmestaspect. As public edifices they conspicuously stand upon the hot anddusty Plaza, offering to view, through the gratings, their villainousand hopeless inmates, burrowing in all sorts of tragic squalor. Andhere, for a long time, Oberlus was seen; the central figure of a mongreland assassin band; a creature whom it is religion to detest, since it isphilanthropy to hate a misanthrope. Note.–They who may be disposed to question the possibility of the character above depicted, are referred to the 2d vol. of Porter’s Voyage into the Pacific, where they will recognize many sentences, for expedition’s sake derived verbatim from thence, and incorporated here; the main difference–save a few passing reflections–between the two accounts being, that the present writer has added to Porter’s facts accessory ones picked up in the Pacific from reliable sources; and where facts conflict, has naturally preferred his own authorities to Porter’s. As, for instance, his authorities place Oberlus on Hood’s Isle: Porter’s, on Charles’s Isle. The letter found in the hut is also somewhat different; for while at the Encantadas he was informed that, not only did it evince a certain clerkliness, but was full of the strangest satiric effrontery which does not adequately appear in Porter’s version. I accordingly altered it to suit the general character of its author.
* * * * *SKETCH TENTH.
RUNAWAYS, CASTAWAYS, SOLITARIES, GRAVE-STONES, ETC. “And all about old stocks and stubs of trees, Whereon nor fruit nor leaf was ever seen, Did hang upon ragged knotty knees, On which had many wretches hanged been.”
Some relics of the hut of Oberlus partially remain to this day at thehead of the clinkered valley. Nor does the stranger, wandering amongother of the Enchanted Isles, fail to stumble upon still other solitaryabodes, long abandoned to the tortoise and the lizard. Probably fewparts of earth have, in modern times, sheltered so many solitaries. Thereason is, that these isles are situated in a distant sea, and thevessels which occasionally visit them are mostly all whalers, or shipsbound on dreary and protracted voyages, exempting them in a good degreefrom both the oversight and the memory of human law. Such is thecharacter of some commanders and some seamen, that under these untowardcircumstances, it is quite impossible but that scenes of unpleasantnessand discord should occur between them. A sullen hatred of the tyrannicship will seize the sailor, and he gladly exchanges it for isles, which,though blighted as by a continual sirocco and burning breeze, stilloffer him, in their labyrinthine interior, a retreat beyond thepossibility of capture. To flee the ship in any Peruvian or Chilianport, even the smallest and most rustical, is not unattended with greatrisk of apprehension, not to speak of jaguars. A reward of five pesossends fifty dastardly Spaniards into the wood, who, with long knives,scour them day and night in eager hopes of securing their prey. Neitheris it, in general, much easier to escape pursuit at the isles ofPolynesia. Those of them which have felt a civilizing influence presentthe same difficulty to the runaway with the Peruvian ports, the advancednatives being quite as mercenary and keen of knife and scent as theretrograde Spaniards; while, owing to the bad odor in which allEuropeans lie, in the minds of aboriginal savages who have chanced tohear aught of them, to desert the ship among primitive Polynesians, is,in most cases, a hope not unforlorn. Hence the Enchanted Isles becomethe voluntary tarrying places of all sorts of refugees; some of whomtoo sadly experience the fact, that flight from tyranny does not ofitself insure a safe asylum, far less a happy home.
Moreover, it has not seldom happened that hermits have been made uponthe isles by the accidents incident to tortoise-hunting. The interior ofmost of them is tangled and difficult of passage beyond description; theair is sultry and stifling; an intolerable thirst is provoked, for whichno running stream offers its kind relief. In a few hours, under anequatorial sun, reduced by these causes to entire exhaustion, woe betidethe straggler at the Enchanted Isles! Their extent is such-as to forbidan adequate search, unless weeks are devoted to it. The impatient shipwaits a day or two; when, the missing man remaining undiscovered, upgoes a stake on the beach, with a letter of regret, and a keg ofcrackers and another of water tied to it, and away sails the craft.
Nor have there been wanting instances where the inhumanity of somecaptains has led them to wreak a secure revenge upon seamen who havegiven their caprice or pride some singular offense. Thrust ashore uponthe scorching marl, such mariners are abandoned to perish outright,unless by solitary labors they succeed in discovering some preciousdribblets of moisture oozing from a rock or stagnant in a mountain pool.
I was well acquainted with a man, who, lost upon the Isle of Narborough,was brought to such extremes by thirst, that at last he only saved hislife by taking that of another being. A large hair-seal came upon thebeach. He rushed upon it, stabbed it in the neck, and then throwinghimself upon the panting body quaffed at the living wound; thepalpitations of the creature’s dying heart injected life into thedrinker.
Another seaman, thrust ashore in a boat upon an isle at which no shipever touched, owing to its peculiar sterility and the shoals about it,and from which all other parts of the group were hidden–this man,feeling that it was sure death to remain there, and that nothing worsethan death menaced him in quitting it, killed seals, and inflating theirskins, made a float, upon which he transported himself to Charles’sIsland, and joined the republic there.
But men, not endowed with courage equal to such desperate attempts, findtheir only resource in forthwith seeking some watering-place, howeverprecarious or scanty; building a hut; catching tortoises and birds; andin all respects preparing for a hermit life, till tide or time, or apassing ship arrives to float them off.
At the foot of precipices on many of the isles, small rude basins in therocks are found, partly filled with rotted rubbish or vegetable decay,or overgrown with thickets, and sometimes a little moist; which, uponexamination, reveal plain tokens of artificial instruments employed inhollowing them out, by some poor castaway or still more miserablerunaway. These basins are made in places where it was supposed somescanty drops of dew might exude into them from the upper crevices.
The relics of hermitages and stone basins are not the only signs ofvanishing humanity to be found upon the isles. And, curious to say, thatspot which of all others in settled communities is most animated, atthe Enchanted Isles presents the most dreary of aspects. And though itmay seem very strange to talk of post-offices in this barren region, yetpost-offices are occasionally to be found there. They consist of a stakeand a bottle. The letters being not only sealed, but corked. They aregenerally deposited by captains of Nantucketers for the benefit ofpassing fishermen, and contain statements as to what luck they had inwhaling or tortoise-hunting. Frequently, however, long months andmonths, whole years glide by and no applicant appears. The stake rotsand falls, presenting no very exhilarating object.
If now it be added that grave-stones, or rather grave-boards, are alsodiscovered upon some of the isles, the picture will be complete.
Upon the beach of James’s Isle, for many years, was to be seen a rudefinger-post, pointing inland. And, perhaps, taking it for some signal ofpossible hospitality in this otherwise desolate spot–some good hermitliving there with his maple dish–the stranger would follow on in thepath thus indicated, till at last he would come out in a noiseless nook,and find his only welcome, a dead man–his sole greeting theinscription over a grave. Here, in 1813, fell, in a daybreak duel, alieutenant of the U.S. frigate Essex, aged twenty-one: attaining hismajority in death.
It is but fit that, like those old monastic institutions of Europe,whose inmates go not out of their own walls to be inurned, but areentombed there where they die, the Encantadas, too, should bury theirown dead, even as the great general monastery of earth does hers.
It is known that burial in the ocean is a pure necessity of sea-faringlife, and that it is only done when land is far astern, and not clearlyvisible from the bow. Hence, to vessels cruising in the vicinity of theEnchanted Isles, they afford a convenient Potter’s Field. The intermentover, some good-natured forecastle poet and artist seizes hispaint-brush, and inscribes a doggerel epitaph. When, after a long lapseof time, other good-natured seamen chance to come upon the spot, theyusually make a table of the mound, and quaff a friendly can to the poorsoul’s repose.
As a specimen of these epitaphs, take the following, found in a bleakgorge of Chatham Isle:– “Oh, Brother Jack, as you pass by, As you are now, so once was I. Just so game, and just so gay, But now, alack, they’ve stopped my pay. No more I peep out of my blinkers, Here I be–tucked in with clinkers!”