Billeder på siden

wit, but a great deal of laugh- dim and defaced that you will ing.

'You ought to know all about our family affairs, Mr. Burnett,' said the old gentleman, 'now that you are likely to be connected with us.' Here Flora blushed 'celestial rosy red.'

'I am sorry to inform you that we have had a pirate in the family.'

'O, never mind that,' said Jack. 'When Dr. Johnson was engaged to the lady who became his wife, she told him that she ought to let him know that she had had a relation who had been hung. Old Johnson replied that he had half a dozen who deserved to be hung.'

'Well, papa, it was not quite so bad as all that,' exclaimed Fanny. 'The poor fellow did not mean to be a pirate. He couldn't help himself.'

'They would have hung him all the same if they had caught him. Hung him first and tried him afterwards.'

I confess that I was beginning to feel a little astonished, and had given my friends credit for better connections.

'But you had better tell the gentlemen all about it,' said Mrs. Delorme.

It was the funniest thing that ever happened,' said Fanny. It was quite by accident that we discovered it. We happened to knock up against an old hair-trunk, which flew open, and a lot of papers tumbled out. We spent the whole afternoon looking them through: such a lot of letters and bills of lading and old almanacs, and all sorts of queer papers! Among the rest we found a letter from our great-great-great-grandfather, telling us of some extraordinary adventures in the Southern Seas.'

'I should like to see it above all things.'

'Well, we have two copies. Here is the original, but it is so

hardly be able to make it out. The copy was made many years ago. It is quite clear; but we should not be able to make out the original without a great deal of difficulty.'

The following is this extraordinary letter, Englished to suit our modern date:

'My dear son George,-I am just going to put down divers strange passages of my life. There are some things which you ought to know, for the part clearing of my memory and for your own welldoing and fame hereafter. Alas,

I am a sinful man, and there has been much that is bad and evil in my life, and some things that press very heavy on my poor soul. And yet I do protest that when Captain Morgan did invite me to go on board his ship, that had letters of marque and reprisals, I thought that he had the King's warrant to take ships in the Spanish Main; these said Spaniards, so to speak, being our natural enemies, and unjustly claiming all the Indian But, alas, he was more of a buccaneer than a privateer; and although he had the flags of many nations folded up in his state cabin, to use as might befit his occasions, yet was there one flag properer than any other under which he ought to have sailed-the Black Flag?


'To be sure, at first he was more like a general or an admiral leading an army against an enemy. For he had three ships that could fire their cannon against a strong fort, and he once landed enough men on a certain island that should fight a great battle. And well it was that the foe yielded when they did; for we had hardly two rounds of ammunition left when they so yielded and turned their backs. And, indeed, without the gunpow

der he wreaked his wicked will on the poor hapless wretches whom he took captive. For if one of their slaves did say that such a one had money, but concealed it, he would tie him up by the wrist to a tree, or would beat him and make sore wound, or would rack his feet with irons, which no true sailor with his Highness's commission would ever do. Moreover, he would send some of us round in a periaga into the little creeks to ravage and plunder and torture any people, we ourselves being as bad as savages, and more like pirates than honest sailors. And, indeed, I take great shame to myself to confess that there was much savagery and wild adventure to which my evil heart did much incline at the time, and for which I do humbly hope to be forgiven; for I have learned by a sad experience that as shadow follows substance, so doth retribution follow villany. As may be seen among other things by the sad fate which overtook at the last this very Morgan himself. Among his cruelties he would tie a cord around the forehead of one who, he thought, might have a secret of stored jewels, until his eyes grew as big as eggs, and seemed to start from the forehead. All which things were rendered unto him.

'Around the isle of Cuba are innumerable little islands which the Indian folk do call "cayos." And one of these islands he had a design to make a retreat, where he might rest after much fighting and toils, and recover himself, and then sally forth for more booty. And truly it would have been well for him, and me too, if we could have tarried in that pleasant island. For, indeed, the woods were most delicious, the air pure and delicate, the streams very clear, with varieties of choice fish; and many great turtle come up on the sands, and these are easily overturned, and their flesh

and broth are excellent. And there are many monkeys, which played and leaped from bough to bough with incredible agility; and it was wonderful to see how, when their young were wounded by the arquebus, or they were wounded themselves, their mothers would carry them on their backs. If we threw up stones at them they would throw down much fruit, which we thus gained without toil or discouragement. And if the captain made us sow anything, it was wonderful how the kind earth gave back plenteously all manner of yield. There were no Indians in this our island, howbeit there were many on some of the other cayos. But divers of them made us a house in the woods, which grew up very dense around us, so that there was but one difficult path through the forest, which a few of us could hold almost against any number, and which, indeed, it would be hard for those who knew it not to find. "Master," I said to Captain Morgan, "if you do not mean to go back to our own land-to old England-which is cold and rainy and dull, will you not stay in this beautiful island, where all is ease and wealth and comfort?' He was hard and cruel to others, but to me he was always in a rough sort courteous. I often thought that he would come back here to die, as indeed he did, though not in the way I thought for. But when he might have heaped up abundance for himself, I considered he would be satisfied; for, indeed, in his storehouse in the woods he had many costly and pleasant things, -rare carpets and hangings, and silver, carven, and chasened work, and linen, and stores of wines and strong waters. Also the birds they call the Faisands breed there much. Each time he came I thought he would stay there for many days, and that he would stay there

for good at last. For, indeed, it was come to his knowledge that some mighty powers had sent about him to the King of England, so much was his evil repute wafted abroad; and the King, to give satisfaction, - had declared that one day he should be tried as an enemy to the race of mankind, being a common pirate. And, alas, would not the world call me, and not unrightly, a pirate also?

But to rest was not in the nature of this extraordinary villain; and, indeed, so it seemed to me, who too felt myself a villain, because I felt myself so wicked and unhappy in the following of him. "Master," I said to him one day, when we were in a little boat going off to meet our pinnace in the offing, "will you never rest?" Then, for once, I thought that his face had a sad remorseful look, as he said, "There is no rest for me, Harry, in this world." Then I took heart of grace, and said, "Well, master, will there be rest for us in any other world?" to which he answered not so much as a word. That time he had to meet with some other captains of vessels, whether buccaneers, privateers, or pirates, it was all one in those days, with an intent to go over and sack a Spanish town on the continent or mainland. And at that time it was awful to see what our men did when they were mad with drink and fighting and cruelty. I remember that ladders were put up for an escalade, and very fierce was the fighting that day. And when the place was taken, worst of all was the way in which he would treat the religious in their holy places. For, indeed, I have seen pious women whom he struck down to the earth, and did even torture, because he thought that they had jewels hid in the convent. And doubtless he found, indeed, in that place some diamonds of great price,

and even he was most keen after the precious stones. I thought the poor ladies would suffer much more if the men became drunk; and I shouted out, "The Spaniards have poisoned the wine; drink no wine!" And Morgan heard me, and winked, and called out, "Yes, the wine is poisoned; drink no wine!" Not that he cared for what the men might do in their drink, but because he thought the little army would all be disabled by the strong drink, and that other Spaniards might come in numbers and destroy both him and them when in that state.

Now after a time he and his associates gathered together to make a dividend of the spoil that they had gotten. And truly, if there were many men, there was also very much and exceeding booty that had been obtained. And when the dividend was made, it was declared to each man that he should receive two hundred pieces of eight. Whereat there was great murmuring among the men; each man expected that he would receive at least four or five hundred pieces, which he deserved for his perils, hard fighting, and wounds. They said he had kept back too much money, and had put too little value on the precious silks and stones. To me, indeed, I thought he would have been more kind; for I had ever fought very close to him, and, indeed, had nearly saved his life once or twice, when menaced, at the peril of my own. But he, in his hard voice, only said, "Harry, here be thy share;" and, indeed, it was worth the life of any man to murmur against him openly at any time. But, nevertheless, men spoke low to one another, and looked sullen, and there were confabulations among the crews of the other vessels. Then John Morgan crowded all sail and went off. He had kept well to the front,

and his ship was the fastest sailer of all.

Then did the other pirates give chase after him; but he showed them a pair of clean heels, and left them far behind. And, indeed, there was not much of "honour among thieves" in this case, if, indeed, there is in any


'But he, sailing away, came that evening to the neighbourhood of the pleasant cayos, and here he went off in a boat with only me and a boy with him. His ship should cruise for a time under the command of the first mate, who, indeed, as I came to learn, did perform some memorable exploits on the high seas in the way of piracy and murder, and afterwards came to be hung at the dock of Devonport, nigh unto Plymouth, in England, a fair and most pleasant town. And here he lazed and lounged mightily. It was easy to see that he had his share, and more than his share, of good things.

'But it was the fate of this man that he should quarrel with the friendly Indians, who had always been peaceable and true to him, had helped him with his vessel, and tended cattle for him, and brought him fish and fruit. But he was not a man who could live in peace unless he knew that he had enemies to fight; nor could he ever make entirely his friends those who lived closest to him, even such a one as myself. Now these Indians trembled before him exceedingly, especially when he made his thunder and lightning, as they called the firing-off his musket, which they saw had a deadly effect. They were a simple folk. For on the mainland or continentby which I mean not the mainland or continent of America, but the vast island of Cuba-they do after this fashion: When there is a male child born to them they wrap

it in its swathings, and leave it near to the hole of some wildbeast. There they leave the child until they are quite sure that the beast has been near to the spot where they have put it. Perhaps the wild-beast may rend it, but not always. Then when the wildbeast has been near the child and hath not touched it, they bring it home and tend it carefully. But many children are lost by the wildbeasts or by the exposure, for they do this thing both winter and summer. And though they know not God, yet have they dealings with the devil. For certainly there are witches among them, such as are hanged or burned in our own assizes, as serveth them right. They have charms and incantations and the snake-like fascinations of the Evil Eye. Now there was such a witch who lived in a hut nigh unto a point in the isle of Cuba, whither our boat could go in a pleasant day of a summer's sailing. Indeed, to hear such mutterings and to see such eyes was to know for certain that she was a witch who ought not to live. I do not know that John Morgan quite knew that she was a witch; for, indeed, his mind was not set on deep questions of this nature. But he thought that the old woman was rich, for so he heard from the Indians; and, indeed, he had seen a rich string of pearls and other precious things, and he had in vain tried to entice them from her by strips of cloth and glass beads. Neither would she consent to give them up; for, indeed, they had not been found by the Indians, but had come from a Spanish wreck, and were used by her as a charm in her infernal business. But John Morgan was not a man to be balked in his lust by man, woman, or devil; so seeing her one day wearing the string of pearls, he chased her into a

wood and opened upon her with a drawn knife. As he stretched out his arm towards her throat she seized it by her right arm, and fixed her evil eye upon him, and cursed the right arm that was raised to slay her. None of which things did move John Morgan, for he cut her throat from ear to ear, and made off with the treasure.

'But that very night, as he lay abed in his little house in the cayo, there came a slight pain in the arm of John Morgan. And when he tried to sleep he could not sleep soundly, by reason of that pain, but had only broken fits of slumber. But, indeed, never more did he sleep again as in old times. For, always, he would awake with frightful dreamswhich thing had never happened to him before in all his wickedness -and there were great perspirations on him, and tinglings of the flesh even to excruciating torments, and an emaciation; and it was plain to see that his right arm was withering away, cursed by the Evil Eye. He said he felt the old woman eating away his heart and brain. Sometimes he would go and look on a little box, in which I thought rightly that he kept his treasures; but he would only sigh and groan mightily over it.

'And all this time we saw nothing of our friendly Indians, or those who erewhile had been our friendly Indians. And I think that the fear of them was heavy upon the mind of John Morgan. And now he was very weak and feeble, and could hardly partake of the turtlebroth which I made for him. And once he wept piteously over his shrunken arm; and weep I never saw him do in all former times; and day by day it shrank more and more, the bone being evidently decayed and dead. And even the young boy who was with us could have struck down John Morgan



if he had been so minded. indeed, it was plain to see that the great John Morgan was perishing bit by bit through the witch.. But it was not destined to him to die in his bed as a Christian man; for one evening, as he lay on a couch covered with a puma's skin, outside his door, by the side of the pleasant stream, we saw angry eyes glaring at us through the wood. Then a file of Indians through the secret path-not secret to them, for before now they had come to him hither on his behalf and behoof-and raising great shrieks ran at him with spears and instruments of sharpened wood. I, who knew all the intricacies and ways of the place, bounded off at once and lay hid. But they cut John Morgan limb from limb, and disembowelled him, and burnt his body, and threw the ashes to the winds. And so came to his end John Morgan. As for the poor boy, I never saw anything of him afterwards; but I once heard a strange story that the Cuban Indians had an Englishman among them who was a kind of king, and as much an Indian as any of them, neither could he speak one word of the English tongue.

'After I had seen those Indians

go off in their boats or canoes, I returned to the house, which, indeed, I found devastated and in some places fired. Our beeves had been taken from the savanna beyond the woods with the costly stuffs, and nearly all the good things and the fire-water. But I found the precious box hid away where no man could easily find it, and I knew its whereabouts at least. And then I found the accursed necklace, to obtain which had withered the arm and finished the life of John Morgan. And I could not prevail on myself to take that necklace, but I digged deep and buried the accursed thing


[ocr errors]
« ForrigeFortsæt »