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The Wanderers; Or, Adventures in the Wilds of Trinidad and Orinoco, Page 2

William Henry Giles Kingston



  We had now a toilsome journey to perform, partly along the coast andpartly inland, where the rocks which jutted into the sea, were soprecipitous that we were unable to climb over them. Still, thoughMarian was already much fatigued, we pushed forward, as it was of thegreatest importance that we should reach a place of concealment beforethe officials of the dreaded Inquisition had discovered our flight.Even should they pursue us, and take natives with them as guides, wehoped that they might be deceived by our having sent the horses into theinterior, and would follow their footsteps, supposing that we were stillupon them, instead of continuing along the shore in the direction wewere taking. The rocky character of the ground over which we passedafter dismounting would, we believed, prevent any traces which even thekeen eyes of Indians could discover, and we were careful not to breakany branches or twigs as we passed along. When on the seashore, we kepteither in the water or on the hard sand, which the tide, as it rose,would soon cover. But as we thus proceeded along the shore, or climbedover the rocks, where we could obtain no shelter from the sun's rays, wefound the heat at times almost overpowering.

  To relieve Marian, Uncle Paul and Arthur joined their hands and insistedon carrying her between them. She soon begged to be put down, however,as she saw that the task much increased their fatigue.

  Having reached the north-eastern end of the island, the rocky range ofmountains which extends along the northern shore terminated, and weentered a region covered with a dense and tangled forest. Uncle Pauland Tim had brought their guns and some ammunition with them, that wemight kill game when the small stock of provisions we had been able tocarry was exhausted. The larger portion of these provisions, with somecooking utensils, had been placed on the backs of the horses, and ournative guides had promised to bring it on to us as soon as they had leftthe steeds in a place of safety. We were, however, likely to besomewhat badly off in the meantime; and as a considerable period mightelapse before we could get on board a vessel, we should probably have todepend on our own exertions for obtaining a fresh supply. The twovessels we had seen when we were on the side of the mountain had tackedand stood away from the island, so that we had to abandon theexpectation of getting on board either of them.

  I could not help expressing my doubts about the fidelity of the Indians;but Uncle Paul, who knew them better than I did, was convinced that theywere honest, and would follow us as soon as they had secured the horsesin a place of safety.

  We were now travelling southward along the coast, and at some littledistance from the shore. We had the mountains rising above us on theright, while the lower ground was covered with a dense vegetation,through which it was often difficult to force our way. At length wereached a small river, the most northern of several which ran into theocean on the eastern side of the island. Our guides had told us that weshould find a secure place of concealment on the banks of another streamabout a couple of miles beyond this, but without their assistance we hadlittle hope of discovering it. However, we were unwilling to wait, andaccordingly prepared to cross the river; Tim volunteering to go first,in order to ascertain the depth. We watched him anxiously. He sankdeeper and deeper, till the water reached his armpits, and we began tofear that we should be unable to carry Marian over without wetting her.Still Tim went bravely on, feeling his way with a long stick which hecarried, till once more he began to get higher and higher out of thewater, and soon reached the opposite bank in safety. Unable, however,to divest myself of the idea that there might be sharks, or evenalligators, in the river, I, imitating Tim's example, cut a long pole,which would enable me to defend my companions while they were crossing.Uncle Paul and Arthur then took up Marian and placed her on theirshoulders, putting their arms round each other's necks to support her.Tim then waded back to meet them; while I went behind, beating the waterfuriously with my stick, so that no alligator or shark would haveventured near us. My uncle and Arthur, being both of good height, wereable to keep Marian out of the water, and we happily got across withoutany accident. She then insisted on being put down, declaring that shewas not tired, and could walk as well as any of us.

  Nearly the whole day had been spent on the journey, and we were anxiousto find a place where we could rest. Had it not been for the somewhatexposed position, we would gladly have stopped on the banks of theriver; but Uncle Paul thought it wiser to continue on till the nativesshould overtake us.

  Evening was approaching, and it would soon be dark, when, looking backalong the forest glade through which we had come, we saw a personrunning towards us; we quickly made him out to be Camo, one of thenative guides. He signed to us not to stop, and as he ran much fasterthan we could, he soon overtook us.

  "Hasten on," he exclaimed; "we are not far from the place to which Iwish to lead you. Already your flight has been discovered, and thealguazils are searching for us."

  "If they come, I will be after giving them a taste of my shillelagh,"exclaimed Tim, flourishing the thick stick he carried.

  "It will be far better to hide ourselves than to oppose them," observedthe guide, in his peculiar dialect, which I cannot attempt to imitate.

  He went ahead, while Uncle Paul and Arthur helped on Marian betweenthem, Tim and I bringing up the rear; Tim every now and then lookingback and flourishing his stick, as if he already saw our pursuers, andwas resolved to give them a warm reception. Though very tired, we maderapid progress; Camo guiding us through a part of the forest which weshould have been unable to discover by ourselves.

  Just as the shades of evening were stealing amid the trees, we caughtsight of the glimmer of water before us, and Camo led the way up a steepascent to the right, amid the trunks of trees, through between whichoften only one person could pass at a time; and we soon found ourselvesin a small open space, so closely surrounded by dense underwood that itwould have been impossible for anyone to discover us, unless acquaintedwith the spot. Above us a precipitous hill rose to a considerableheight; while the branches of the trees, joining overhead, wouldcompletely shut us out from the sight of any person looking down fromthe hill.

  "Here you will be perfectly safe, for there is no other path besides theone by which we have come," said Camo. "I will go back, however, and soarrange the branches and creepers that the sharpest eyes among ourpursuers will be unable to discover that anyone has passed this way."

  An opening towards the east admitted the only light which reached thespot. Through it we could see the sea, from which we were not fardistant. Uncle Paul expressed himself perfectly satisfied with theplace of concealment which Camo had selected, and declared that he hadlittle fear of our being discovered.

  Weary as we were, we were thankful to throw ourselves on the ground; andafter we had eaten some of the provisions we had brought with us, wesought that rest we so much required. The wind being completelyexcluded from the place, it was almost as warm as inside a house, and wehad no need of any covering. As our shoes and stockings were wet,however, we took them off and hung them up on the trees to dry, ratherthan sleep in them.

  Uncle Paul had placed Marian by his side, and allowed his arm to serveas her pillow. Poor girl, it was only now that, all cause for exertionbeing for the present over, she seemed to feel her sad bereavement, andthe dangerous position in which we were placed. Her grief for a timeprevented her from closing her eyes; but at length, overcome by fatigue,she dropped into a peaceful sleep. I sat for some time talking toArthur; while Tim insisted on standing sentry at the entrance of thepassage till the return of Camo, who had gone to look after hiscompanions. We had great difficulty in keeping awake, and even Timfound it a hard matter not to drop down on the ground; but a sense ofduty triumphed over his natural desire for rest, and he kept pacing upand down with his stout shillelagh in his hand, ready to do battle withany foes, eith
er human or four-footed, which might approach our retreat.We also kept the guns ready, not to defend ourselves against ourpursuers, for that would have been madness, but to shoot any wild beastwhich might approach us.

  "It's as well to be prepared," observed Arthur. "But though there arejaguars and pumas on the mainland, I am doubtful whether they exist inTrinidad."

  "I have heard that most of the animals on the opposite shore of SouthAmerica are to be found in this island," I answered. "Both the jaguarand puma steal silently on their prey; and if one of them were to findus out, it might pounce down into our midst before we were prepared todefend ourselves. It will not do to risk the chance of there being nosuch animals in the island. Should we arrive at the conclusion thatthere are none, I should be very sorry to find, by positive proof, thatwe were wrong!"

  "Well, at all events, we will act on the safe side," observed Arthur."It is wise to be prepared, even though we may find that our care hasbeen unnecessary."

  An hour or more might have passed, when we heard a rustling in theneighbouring bushes. Arthur and I started to our feet, and Tim clutchedhis shillelagh more firmly. We listened. The sound came from thebottom of the path leading up to our hiding-place. We waited in perfectsilence, for it was too dark to observe anything; but presently our earscaught the sound of light footsteps approaching, and, much to ourrelief, we heard Camo's voice.

  "All right!" he exclaimed. "The alguazils have turned back, afraid oftrusting themselves to this part of the country in the dark. We may nowall rest in quiet, for no one is likely to come near us--for some hours,at all events."

  This was satisfactory, and honest Camo and his two followers assured usthat they would keep the necessary watch while we rested. Scarcely hada minute elapsed after this when Arthur and I were fast asleep; and Isuspect that Tim was not long in following our example.

  Daylight streaming through the opening in our woody bower towards theeast, aroused us from our slumbers. We were all very hungry, for we hadtaken but a small amount of food the previous evening; but we wereafraid of lighting a fire, lest the smoke might betray us, should ourenemies by any chance be in the neighbourhood. We were obliged tocontent ourselves, therefore, with our cold provisions, and a draught ofwater, which Camo brought from the neighbouring stream. Marian somewhatrecovered her spirits, but we all felt very anxious about my father, andwondered how he might be treated when the inquisitors found that we hadmade our escape.

  The district we had reached was wild in the extreme; the footsteps ofcivilised men appeared never to have reached it, and the natives whoonce had their quiet homes in this part of the country had long sincebeen carried off to labour for the ruthless Spaniards, who had alreadydestroyed nearly nine-tenths of the original population. Our nativeattendants, from the kind way in which my father had treated them, werewarmly attached to us, and proportionately hated the Spaniards, and weknew that we were perfectly safe under their care.

  We were afraid of moving out during the day, though Camo and the othernatives made several exploring expeditions, and at length came back withthe satisfactory intelligence that our pursuers were nowhere in theneighbourhood. They brought also a couple of ducks which they hadkilled with their arrows; and they assured us that there would be nodanger in lighting a fire to cook them. We soon gathered a sufficientsupply of broken branches and twigs to begin with; and while the nativeswere collecting more fuel from the neighbouring trees, and blowing upthe fire, I sat down to pluck one of the ducks--Uncle Paul, with Arthurand Marian kneeling by his side, watching the process. We quickly hadthe ducks roasting on spits before the fire, supported by two forkedsticks stuck in the ground. With these, when cooked, and some hot teawhich was made in a tin kettle Tim had brought with him, with a smallquantity of sugar which he had put up, as he said, for the youngmistress--though we had no milk to drink with it--we made an excellentsupper. It was a scene which to our eyes, unaccustomed to anything ofthe sort, was wild in the extreme; but we were destined to becomeacquainted with many even wilder and more romantic. That night waspassed much as the preceding one had been, except that we were able tokeep up a fire without the fear of betraying our retreat.

  Next morning, having left Marian in her bower, with Tim, armed with oneof the guns, to keep guard, I accompanied Arthur--who carried the othergun--into the woods in search of game. Uncle Paul meanwhile went downto the seashore to look out for any vessel which might be approachingthe coast; intending, should she prove to be English, to make a signal,in the hope that a boat might be sent on shore to take us off. Wecaught sight of him in the distance during our ramble, but as we lookedseaward we could make out no vessel on any part of the ocean over whichour eyes ranged.

  "Not much chance of getting off today," I observed.

  "Nor for many days, probably," answered Arthur. "The chances areagainst any vessel coming near enough to this exact spot to see us; sowe must make up our minds, I suspect, to remain here for some weeks, orperhaps months, to come. However, the life may not prove an unpleasantone; and, at all events, it will be far better than being shut up in thedungeons of the Inquisition."

  "I should think so, indeed," I said. "And if I knew that my poor fatherwas safe, I should not care, but rather enjoy it; and so, I am sure,would Marian."

  We made our way down to the bank of the river, which appeared to bebroad and deep, and thickly shaded on both sides by trees. Knowing thatall the rivers in Trinidad abound with fish, we regretted that we hadneither spears, nor rods and lines, with which we might: easily havecaught an ample supply. Arthur, however, made good use of his gun, andsoon shot a number of birds; among which were several parrots withflaming scarlet bodies, and a lovely variety of red, blue, and green ontheir wings. Loaded with the results of our sport, we returned to theencampment, which by this time afforded us more comfort than at first.

  Uncle Paul, with the aid of the natives, had been busy at work erectinga small hut, or rather an arbour, for Marian; and they had also formed abed-place for each of us, raised off the ground, and roofed over withpalm-leaves. Uncle confessed that he could not tell when we might getoff, and that it would be wise, for the sake of our health, to makeourselves as comfortable as we could. We might indeed remain where wewere in safety, for if the inquisitors had given up the search for us,they had probably done so under the belief that we had already made ourescape from the island.

  Camo and the other natives had during the day made a wide circuitwithout meeting with anyone, and they were more than ever convinced thatour enemies were not likely to search for us in that neighbourhood.Uncle Paul was much inclined to send back to ascertain the fate of ourfather; but Camo declared that the risk would be very great, as in allprobability a watch would have been set on the house, and whoever wentwould be traced back to our hiding-place. So the idea was accordinglyabandoned.

  We sat round our campfire in the evening, and discussed all sorts ofplans. Arthur proposed that we should move further to the south; Camorecommended that we should remain where we were. The district wasthinly populated, and we might range for miles through the woods withoutmeeting with anyone.

  "But how are we to procure provisions?" asked Arthur.

  "Our guns, as you have proved, will furnish us with an abundance ofgame," I answered. "The woods will afford us fruit, and we can do verywell without bread or any luxuries. I shall always be ready to act assportsman for the camp."

  "And I should like to accompany you," said Marian. "My eyes are verysharp; and I might be able to see the birds and animals, which you couldthen shoot."

  From the report given to us by our faithful Indians, we had no longermuch fear of being discovered. We felt sure, also, that should we beseen by any of the natives, they would not betray us to the hatedSpaniards. We agreed that we would go out the next morning, Arthurtaking one gun and I the other, while Marian was to accompany me. UnclePaul was too eager in watching for a vessel, willingly to leave thecoast. Tim was to keep watch at the camp; and the natives were to a
ctthe part of scouts, so that we might have timely notice should theSpaniards approach the wood--in which case we were to hurry back to ourplace of concealment, where we had no fear of being discovered.

  The night passed away much as the former ones had done. On thefollowing morning, Arthur, Marian, and I set out after breakfast, withthe expectation of amply replenishing our larder; but as our supply ofammunition was small, we determined not to fire unless we could makesure of our game. I had not gone far, when I caught sight of a largeparrot with beautiful plumage. I fired, and brought it to the ground.Though badly wounded and unable to fly, it pecked fiercely at Marianwhen she ran forward to pick it up. However, a blow which I gave itwith the butt of my fowling-piece soon brought its struggles to an end.I afterwards killed three others in the same manner.

  We made our way on till we caught sight of the river below us; but,hoping to meet with more birds near it, we descended to the bank, andwere making our way in silence through the thick jungle, which greatlyimpeded our progress, when Marian exclaimed--

  "O Guy! what can that creature be, hanging to yonder bough?"

  We both stopped, peering ahead, when I caught sight of the animal ofwhich Marian spoke. It looked like an exaggerated spider, with itsenormously long arms, its equally long hinder legs, and its still longertail, by which it was swinging from a branch overhanging the river.Suddenly it threw itself round, and caught the branch by its fore paws.Just then turning its head, it caught sight of us. Probably this wasthe first time it had ever seen any human beings,--or, at all events,civilised people with white skins. Uttering loud shrieks, the monkey--for a monkey it was--sprang to the end of the branch, when, in itsterror, it let go its hold, and plunged into the water. I should, Iconfess, have shot the creature; for I knew that the natives, and indeedmany of the white inhabitants, of Trinidad, eat monkey flesh, though wehad never had any on our table. Away the creature went, floating downthe stream, and shrieking loudly for help. Its cries were answered by anumber of its kind, of whom we caught sight in the branches directlyabove our heads. Without noticing us, they ran to the end of a longbough, which extended far over the water. Immediately one of them threwitself off, and caught with its fore paws a long sepo, or vine, whichhung from the branch; another descended, hanging on with its tailtwisted round the tail of the first; a third sprang nimbly down theliving rope, and allowed the second to catch hold of its tail; while afourth came down, immediately afterwards, almost as quick as lightning,the third catching hold of its tail and one of its arms, while its otherarm reached down to the surface of the water, so that when its drowningcompanion came by it was able to grasp it and hold it tightly. Thefirst now, with wonderful power of limb, hauled itself up, dragging thefour monkeys hanging to it, till the second was able to grasp the vine.They then hauled away till the other monkeys in succession were drawnup, and the one which had been in the water was placed safely on thebough. The whole operation was carried on amid the most terriblehowlings and cries, as if the creatures, all the time that they wereperforming this really heroic act, were suffering the greatest possiblepain. The chatterings, shrieks, and cries continued after they were allseated on the bough, convincing us that the monkey which had tumbledinto the water was telling its companions about the strange creatures ithad seen; for they all cast eager glances around and below them, peeringthrough the foliage, evidently endeavouring to catch a sight of us.Though I could have shot one of them, I could not bring myself to do soafter seeing the way they had behaved. Presently they saw us, and oneglance was sufficient; for, renewing their shrieks and cries, theysprang up the vines, like sailors swarming up ropes, and quicklydisappeared amid the dense foliage. Still, we could hear themchattering away in the distance, and I have no doubt that they werecommunicating their ideas about us to each other, and all the monkeysthey met.

  Having remained perfectly silent, we presently saw a little dark head,with bright eyes, looking out at us from among the boughs; then another,and another came; and as we did not move they gained courage, and creptnearer and nearer. They looked so comical that Marian could not helpbursting into a fit of laughter, in which I joined; but no sooner didthe monkeys hear our voices than off they scampered to the end of abough which stretched a considerable way across the stream. They now,almost with the rapidity of lightning, formed a chain similar to the onethey had made to drag up their companion, and began swinging backwardsand forwards, each time approaching nearer the opposite shore. At lastthe monkey at the end of the chain caught, with his outstretched arms, abough extending from that side, and then climbed up the trunk, dragginghis companions after him, till the whole hung like a festoon across theriver, or rather like a rope-bridge, for a bridge it was. A whole tribeof monkeys now appeared upon the bough on our side, and began to crossby the living bridge thus formed, chattering and shrieking as they rantill they reached the opposite bank. There were old monkeys, and mothermonkeys with little ones on their backs, and young monkeys of all sizes.I observed that some of the latter gave a slight pinch, as they wentalong, to the backs of the big fellows, who could not, of course,retaliate. Probably the rascals took this opportunity of revengingthemselves for the sundry beatings they had received for theirmisconduct on various occasions.

  When the whole tribe had passed over, with the exception of the livingchain, the monkey holding on to the upper bough on our side let go,while those who had hitherto been holding on by the opposite lowerbranch began rapidly to scramble up the tree, so that the brave oldfellow who had borne for the whole time the weight of his companions wasfor a minute in the water. Once safe, the whole of them scampered awayamid the boughs, uttering loud shrieks, and apparently well-satisfied athaving placed the river between themselves and us. We stood watchingthem, laughing heartily at their strange proceedings. Curiosity,however, soon again gained the victory over their fears, and they cameback, peering at us amid the foliage; while we could see the young onesrunning up and down the vines, and playing all sorts of antics. Weforgot, for the moment, our grief, and the dangerous position in whichwe were placed.

  These monkeys are known by the name of "ateles," or "spider-monkeys;"and certainly their long thin arms and legs, and longer tails, greatlyresemble the legs of spiders.

  They continued to watch us, but did not recross the river, beingevidently satisfied that they were safe on the further side; though, hadI been anxious, I might easily have brought down one or two of them.Marian, however, charged me not to fire; indeed, it would have beenalmost like murder to have killed such apparently intelligent creatures.

  After watching them for some time, we turned our steps towards ourretreat; and as we made our way through the forest, I added several morebirds to stock of provisions.