A great deal of prize-money being due to us, I called upon the agent at Port Royal to obtain an advance. I found him in a puzzle. Owing to the death of Captain Weatherall and so many of the officers, he hardly knew whether those who applied to him were entitled to prize-money or not. Whether he thought I appeared more honest than the others, or from what cause I know not, he requested me, as I knew everything that had passed, to remain with him for a short time: and, finding that I could read and write well, he obtained from me correct lists of the privateer’s crew, with those who were killed, and on what occasion. All this information I was able to give him, as well as the ratings of the parties; for on more than one occasion the privateer’s-men had come to him representing themselves as petty officers when they were only common seamen on board, and had in consequence received from him a larger advance than they were entitled to. As soon as his accounts were pretty well made up, he asked me whether I intended to go to England, as if so he would send me home with all the papers and documents to the owner at Liverpool, who would require my assistance to arrange the accounts; and, as I had had quite enough of privateering for a time, I consented to go. About two months after leaving the hospital, during which I had passed a very pleasant life, and quite recovered from my wounds and injuries, I sailed for Liverpool in the Sally and Kitty West-Indiaman, commanded by Captain Clarke, a very violent man.
We had not sailed twelve hours before we fell in with a gale, which lasted several days, and we kept under close-reef-topsails and storm-staysails. The gale lasting a week raised a mountainous swell, but it was very long and regular. On the seventh day the wind abated, but the swell continued, and at evening there was very little wind, when a circumstance occurred which had nearly cost me my life, as you will acknowledge, Madam, when I relate the story to you. During the dog-watch, between six and eight, some hands being employed in the foretop, the other watch below at supper, and the captain and all the officers in the cabin, I being at the helm heard a voice, apparently rising out of the sea, calling me by name. Surprised, I ran to the side of the ship, and saw a youth named Richard Pallant in the water going astern. He had fallen out of the forechains, and, knowing that I was at the helm, had shouted to me for help. I immediately called all hands, crying, “A man overboard.” The captain hastened on deck with all the others, and ordered the helm a-lee. The ship went about, and then fell round off, driving fast before the swell, till at last we brought her to.
The captain, although a resolute man, was much confused and perplexed at the boy’s danger—for his friends were people of property at Ipswich, and had confided the boy to his particular care. He ran backwards and forwards, crying out that the boy must perish, as the swell was so high that he dared not send a boat, for the boat could not live in such a sea, and if the boat were lost with the crew there would not be hands enow left on board to take the vessel home. As the youth was not a hundred yards from the vessel, I stated the possibility of swimming to him with the deep-sea line, which would be strong enough to haul both him and the man who swam to him on board. Captain Clarke, in a great rage, swore that it was impossible, and asked me who the devil would go. Piqued at his answer, and anxious to preserve the life of the youth, I offered to try it myself. I stripped, and, making the line fast round my body, plunged from the ship’s side into the sea. It was a new deep-sea line, and stiff in the coil, so that, not drawing close round me, it slipped, and I swam through it, but catching it as it slipped over my feet, I made it secure by putting my head and one arm through the noose. I swam direct for the boy, and found that I swam with ease, owing to the strength and buoyant nature of the water in those latitudes. I had not swum more than half-way before the line got foul on the coil on board, and, checking me suddenly, it pulled me backwards and under water. I recovered myself and struck out again. During this time, to clear the line on board, they had cut some of the entangled parts, and in the confusion and hurry severed the wrong part, so that the end went overboard, and I had half the coil of line hanging to me, and at the same time was adrift from the ship. They immediately hailed me to return, but from the booming of the waves I could not hear what they said, and thought that they were encouraging me to proceed. I shouted in return to show the confidence which I had in myself. I easily mounted the waves as they breasted me, but still I made my way very slowly against such a swell, and saw the boy only at intervals when I was on the top of the wave. He could swim very little, and did not make for the ship, but, with his eyes fixed upon the sky, paddled like a dog to keep himself above water. I now began to feel the weight of the line upon me, and to fear that I should never hold out. I began to repent of my rashness, and thought I had only sacrificed myself without any chance of saving him. I persevered, nevertheless, and having, as I guessed, come to the spot where the boy was, I looked round, and not seeing him was afraid that he had gone down, but on mounting the next wave I saw him in the hollow, struggling hard to keep above water, and almost spent with his long exertion.
I swam down to him, and, hailing him, found he was still sensible, but utterly exhausted. I desired him to hold on by my hand but not to touch my body, as we should both sink. He promised to obey me, and I held out my right hand to him, and made a signal for them to haul in on board, for I had no idea that the line had been cut. I was frightened when I perceived the distance that the ship was from me—at least a quarter of a mile. I knew that the deep-sea line was but a hundred fathoms in length, and therefore that I must be adrift, and my heart sunk within me. All the horrors of my situation came upon me, and I felt that I was lost; but although death appeared inevitable, I still struggled for life—but the rope now weighed me down more and more. While swimming forward it trailed behind, and although it impeded my way, I did not feel half its weight. Now, however, that I was stationary, it sank deep, and pulled me down with it. The waves, too, which, while I breasted them and saw them approach, I easily rose over, being now behind us, broke over our heads, burying us under them, or rolling us over by their force.
I tried to disengage myself from the line, but the noose being jammed, and having the boy in one hand, I could not possibly effect it. But what gave me courage in my difficulties was, that I perceived that the people on board were getting out the boat; for although the captain would not run the risk for one person, now that two were overboard, and one of them risking his life for the other, the men insisted that the boat should be hoisted out. It was an anxious time to me, but at last I had the satisfaction of seeing her clear of the ship, and pulling round her bow. The danger was, however, considered so great, that when they came to man the boat only three men could be found who would go in her, and in the confusion they came away with but two oars and no rudder. Under these disadvantages they of course pulled very slowly against a mountainous sea, as they were obliged to steer with the oars to meet it, that the boat might not be swamped. But the sight of the boat was sufficient to keep me up. My exertions were certainly incredible; but what will not a man do when in fear of death! As it approached—slowly and slowly did my powers decrease. I was now often under water with the boy, and rose again to fresh exertion, when at last a crested wave broke over us, and down we went several feet under the water. The force of the sea drove the boy against me, and he seized me by the loins with my head downwards. I struggled to disengage myself! It was impossible. I gave myself up for lost—and what a crowd of thoughts and memories passed through my brain in a few moments, for it could not have been longer! At last, being head downwards, I dived deeper, although I was bursting from so long holding my breath under water.
This had the desired effect. Finding me sinking instead of rising with him, the boy let go his hold that he might gain the surface. I turned and followed him, and drew breath once more. Another moment had sealed our fates. I no longer thought of saving the boy, but struck out for the boat which was now near me. Perceiving this, the boy cried out to me for pity’s sake not to leave him. I felt myself so far recovered from my exhaustion, that I thought I could save him as well as myself, and compassion induced me to turn back. I again gave him my hand, charging him on his life not to attempt to grapple with me, and again resumed the arduous struggle of keeping him as well as myself above water. My strength was nearly gone, the boat approached but slowly, and we now sunk constantly under the water, rising every few seconds to draw breath. Merciful God! How slow appeared the approach of the boat. Struggle after struggle—fainter and fainter still—still I floated. At last my senses almost left me, I took in water in quantities. I felt I was in green fields, when I was seized by the men and thrown into the bottom of the boat, where I lay senseless alongside of the boy. There was great danger and difficulty in getting again to the ship. More than once the boat was half filled by the following seas, and when they gained the ship it was impossible to get us out, as, had they approached the side, the boat would have been dashed to atoms. They lowered the tackles from the yard-arms. The three men clambered up them, leaving us to take our chance of the boat being got in, or her being stove to pieces, in which latter case we should have been lost. They did get us in, with great damage to the boat, but we were saved. The line was still round me, and it was found that I had been supporting the weight of seventy yards. So sore was I with such exertion, that I kept my hammock for many days, during which I reviewed my past life, and vowed amendment.
We arrived at Liverpool without any further adventure worth recording, and I immediately called upon the owner with the papers intrusted to me. I gave him all the information he required, and he asked me whether I should like to return to privateering, or to go as mate of a vessel bound to the coast of Africa. I inquired what her destination was to be, and, as I found that she was to go to Senegal for ivory, wax, gold-dust, and other articles, in exchange for English prints and cutlery, I consented. I mention this, as, had she been employed in the slave-trade, as were most of the vessels from Liverpool to the Coast, I would not have joined her. A few days afterwards I went on board of the Dalrymple, Captain Jones, as mate; we had a very quick passage to Senegal, and brought our vessel to an anchor off the bar.
A day or two after we had arrived, the master of another vessel that was at anchor near to us came on board and borrowed our long-boat and some hands that he might go in it to Senegal. The captain, who was an old friend of the party who made the request, agreed to lend it to him, and as accidents are very frequent with boats crossing the bar, on account of the heavy breakers, the best swimmers were selected for the purpose, and the charge of the boat was given to me. We set off, five men rowing and I at the helm. When we approached the bar, a tornado, which had been for some time threatening, came upon us. The impetuosity of these blasts is to be matched in no part of the world, and as it came at once in its full force, we endeavoured, by putting the boat before it, to escape its fury. This compelled us to run to the southward along the coast. We managed to keep the boat up for a long while, and hoped to have weathered it, when, being on the bar, and in broken water, a large wave curled over us, filled the boat, and it went down in an instant.
Our only chance now was to reach the shore by swimming, but it was at a distance, with broken water the whole way; and our great terror was from the sharks, which abound on the coast and are extremely ravenous—nor were we without reason for our alarm. Scarcely had the boat gone down, and we were all stretching out for the shore, when one of our men shrieked, having been seized by the sharks, and instantly torn to pieces. His blood stained the water all around, and this attracting all the sharks proved the means of our escape. Never shall I forget the horrible sensation which I felt as I struggled through the broken water, expecting every minute a limb to be taken off by one of those voracious animals. If one foot touched the other, my heart sunk, thinking it was the nose of a shark, and that its bite would immediately follow. Agonised with these terrors, we struggled on—now a large wave curling over us and burying us under water, or now forced by the waves towards the beach, rolling us over and over. So battered were we by the surf, that we dived under the waves to escape the blows which we received, and then rose and struck out again. At last, worn out with exertion, we gained the shore, but our toil was not over.
The beach was of a sand so light that it crumbled beneath us, and at the return of the wave which threw us on shore we were dragged back again and buried in sand and water. We rose to renew our endeavours, but several times without success, for we could not obtain a firm footing. At last the Negroes, who had witnessed our accident, and who now came down in great numbers on the beach, laid hold of us as the sea threw us up, and dragged us beyond the reach of the waves. Worn out with fatigue we lay on the sand, waiting to ascertain what the savages would do with us; they were not long in letting us know, for they soon began to strip us of every article of clothing on our backs. One of our men attempted to resist, upon which a Negro drove a spear through his thigh.
Having divided our apparel, after some consultation, they tied our hands, and placing us in the midst of a large force, armed with spears and bows and arrows, they went off with us for the inland part of the country. We set off with heavy hearts; taking, as we thought, a last farewell of the ocean, and going forwards in great apprehension of the fate that awaited us. The sand was very deep, and the heat of the sun excessive, for it was then about noon. Without any garments, we were soon scorched and blistered all over, and in intolerable anguish, as well as fatigued; but the Negroes compelled us to move on, goading us with their spears if we slackened our pace, and threatening to run us through if we made a halt. We longed for the night, as it would afford a temporary relief to our sufferings. It came at last, and the Negroes collected wood and lighted a fire to keep off the wild beasts, lying round it in a circle, and placing us in the midst of them. We hoped to have some rest after what we had gone through, but it was impossible—the night proved even worse than the day. The mosquitoes came down upon us in such swarms, and their bites were so intolerable, that we were almost frantic. Our hands being tied, we could not beat them off and we rolled over and over to get rid of them. This made matters worse, for our whole bodies being covered with raised blisters, from the rays of the sun, our rolling over and over broke the blisters, and the sand getting into the wounds, added to the bites of the mosquitoes, made our sufferings intolerable. We had before prayed for night, we now prayed for day. Some prayed for death.
When the sun rose, we set off again, our conductors utterly disregarding our anguish, and goading us on as before. In the forenoon we arrived at a village, where our guards refreshed themselves; a very small quantity of boiled corn was given to each of us, and we continued our journey, passing by several small towns, consisting, as they all do in that country, of huts built of reeds, round in form, and gathered to a point at top. This day was the same as the preceding. We were pricked with spears if we stumbled or lagged, threatened with death if we had not strength to go on. At last the evening arrived, and the fires were lighted. The fires were much larger than before, I presume because the wild beasts were more numerous, for we heard them howling in every direction round us, which we had not done on the night before. The mosquitoes did not annoy us so much, and we obtained some intervals of broken rest. At daylight we resumed our journey, as near as we could judge by the sun, in a more easterly direction.
During the first two days we were badly received by the inhabitants of the towns, whose people had been kidnapped so often for the slave-trade; they hated the sight of our white faces, for they presumed that we had come for that purpose; but as we advanced in the interior, we were better treated, and the natives looked upon us with surprise and wonder, considering us as a new race of beings. Some of the women, seeing how utterly exhausted we were with fatigue and hunger, looked with compassion on us, and brought us plenty of boiled corn and goats’ milk to drink. This refreshed us greatly, and we continued our journey in anxious expectation of the fate for which we were reserved.
On crossing a small river, which appeared to be the boundary of two different states, a multitude of Negroes approached, and seemed disposed to take us from our present masters, but after a conference, they agreed among themselves, and a party of them joined with those who had previously conducted us. We soon came to the edge of a desert, and there we halted till the Negroes had filled several calabashes and gourds full of water, and collected a quantity of boiled corn. As soon as this was done, we set off again, and entered the desert. We were astonished and terrified when we looked around us, not a single vestige of herbage, not a blade of grass was to be seen—all was one wide waste of barren sand, so light as to rise in clouds at the least wind, and we sank so deep in walking through it that at last we could hardly drag one foot after the other. But we were repaid for our fatigue, for when we halted at night, no fires were lighted, and to our great delight we found that there were no mosquitoes to annoy us. We fell into a sound sleep, which lasted till morning, and were much refreshed; indeed, so much so as to enable us to pursue our journey with alacrity.
In our passage over the desert we saw numbers of elephants’ teeth, but no animals. How the teeth came there, unless it were that the elephants were lost in attempting to cross the desert, I cannot pretend to say. Before we had crossed the desert, our water was expended, and we suffered dreadfully from thirst, walking as we did during the whole day under a vertical sun. The night was equally painful, as we were so tortured with the want of water; but on the following day, when our strength was nearly exhausted, and we were debating whether we should not lie down and allow the spears of our conductors to put an end to our miseries, we came to the banks of a river which the Negroes had evidently been anxiously looking for. Here we drank plentifully, and remained all the day to recruit ourselves, for the Negroes were almost as exhausted as we were. The next morning we crossed the river, and plunged into a deep wood: the ground being high, the mosquitoes did not annoy us so much as they did down on the low marshy land near the sea-coast. During our traverse through the wood we subsisted solely upon the birds and animals which the Negroes killed with their bows and arrows.
When we had forced our way through the forest, we found the country, as before, interspersed with wicker villages or small hamlets at a few miles’ distance from each other. Round each village there were small patches of Guinea corn, and we frequently came to clusters of huts which had been deserted. Between the sea-coast and the desert we had traversed we observed that many of the inhabitants had European fire-arms, but now the only weapons to be seen were spears and bows and arrows. As we advanced we were surrounded at every village by the natives, who looked upon us with surprise and astonishment, examining us, and evidently considering us a new species. One morning we arrived at a very large Negro town, and as we approached, our guards began to swell with pride and exultation, and drove us before them among the crowds of inhabitants, singing songs of triumph, and brandishing their weapons. Having been driven through a great part of the town, we arrived at a number of huts separated by a high palisade from the rest, and appropriated, as we afterwards found, to the use of the king of the country, his wives and attendants. Here we waited outside some time, while our guards went in and acquainted this royal personage with the present which they had brought for him.
We had reason to think that our captors were not his subjects, but had been at variance with him, and had brought us as a present, that they might make peace with an enemy too strong for them. We were at last ordered to go inside the enclosure, and found ourselves in a large open building, constructed like the others, of reeds and boughs. In the centre was squatted a ferocious-looking old Negro, attended by four young Negro women. He was raw-boned and lean, and of a very large frame. A diabolical ferocity was imprinted on his grim countenance, and as he moved his arms and legs he showed that under his loose skin there was a muscle of extraordinary power. I never had before seen such a living type of brutal strength and barbarity. On a mat before him were provisions of different kinds. Behind him stood several grim savages who held his weapons, and on each side, at a greater distance, were rows of Negroes, with their heads bent down and their arms crossed, awaiting his orders. The chief or king, as well as the four women, had clothes of the blue cotton cloth of the country, that is, one piece wrapped round the loins and descending to the ankles, and another worn over their shoulders; but, with few exceptions, all the rest, as well as the inhabitants generally, were quite naked. So were we, as the reader may recollect. Round the necks of the women were rows of gold beads, longer by degrees, until the last of the rows hung lower than their bosoms, and both the king and they had large bracelets of gold round their arms, wrists, and legs. The women, who were young and well-looking, stared at us with eager astonishment, while the old king scowled upon us so as to freeze our blood. At last, rising from the ground, he took his sabre from the man who held it behind him, and walked up among us, who with our heads bowed, and breathless with fear, awaited our impending fate. I happened to be standing the foremost, and grasping my arm with a gripe which made my heart sink, with his hand which held the sword he bent down my head still lower than it was. I made sure that he was about to cut off my head, when the women, who had risen from the ground, ran crowding round him, and with mingled entreaties and caresses strove to induce him not to put his intentions, if such he really had, into execution. They prevailed at last; the youngest took away his sword, and then they led him back to his seat, after which the women came to us to gratify their curiosity. They felt our arms and breasts, putting innumerable questions to those who brought us thither. They appeared very much amazed at the length of my hair, for I had worn it tied in a long cue. Taking hold of it, they gave it two or three severe pulls, to ascertain if it really grew to my head, and finding that it did so, they expressed much wonder. When their curiosity was satisfied, they then appeared to consider our condition, and having obtained the old king’s permission, they brought us a calabash full of cush-cush, that is, Guinea corn boiled into a thick paste. Our hands being still tied, we could only by shaking our heads express our inability to profit by their kindness. Understanding what we meant, they immediately cut our thongs, and the youngest of the four perceiving that my arms were benumbed from having been confined so many days, and that I could not use them, showed the most lively commiseration for my sufferings. She gently chafed my wrists with her hands, and showed every sign of pity in her countenance, as indeed did all the other three. But I was by far the youngest of the whole party who had been captured, and seemed most to excite their pity and good-will. Shortly afterwards we were all taken into an adjoining tent or hut, and our bodies were rubbed all over with an oil, which after a few days’ application left us perfectly healed, and as smooth as silk. So altered was our condition, that those very people who had guarded us with their spears and threatened us with death, were now ordered to wait upon us, and as the king’s wives frequently came to see how we were treated, we were served with the utmost humility and attention.