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   Chapter 22 CAPITAN ST. CROIX

Yule Logs By Various Characters: 8931

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:04


The prize crew necessary to man this second capture left me so very short-handed that, after due consideration, I decided to escort her to Sierra Leone in the schooner, which would enable me to get my men back quickly, and would at the same time afford me an opportunity to replenish my stores and water. This I accordingly did, arriving only a few hours later than the St. Iago de Cuba. I soon had reason, however, to regret the decision at which I had arrived, for several unexpected difficulties arose over the adjudication of my prizes, involving so serious a delay that when at length we got to sea again I was tormented with anxiety lest the Josefa should have arrived upon the coast, shipped another cargo of slaves, and slipped off again ere I could obtain news of her. I had been given to understand, however, that, although somewhat erratic in her movements, she chiefly frequented the Congo; I determined, therefore, to make the best of my way back to that river in the first place, trusting to chance for information as to her whereabouts upon my arrival.

I was not destined, however, to wait so long, for while slipping across the Gulf of Guinea, in the latitude of the island of St. Thomas, we sighted a small felucca, to which we at once gave chase. This craft, however, instead of attempting to avoid us, promptly bore up and came running down to meet us. She ran down across our stern, and, in response to my hail, rounded to on our lee quarter, lowered her single lateen sail, and launched a boat from her gangway, in which her skipper, with two hands as boat's crew, presently pulled alongside us. The man-a bare-footed, decidedly unclean, and rather disreputable-looking Frenchman, attired in a suit of once white nankin, topped by a broad-brimmed straw hat-appeared to be labouring under much ill-repressed excitement as he climbed our low side and stepped in on deck, casting quick, anxious glances about him as he did so. When, however, his gaze encountered me-I was wearing my uniform cap at the moment-his anxiety appeared to subside to a considerable extent, and he at once doffed his hat as he made me a sweeping bow, exclaiming at the same time-

"Bon jour, monsieur! Have I ze honour to address an officer of Grand Bretagne?"

"Yes, sir, you have, if you choose to put the matter that way," I replied. "This vessel is his Britannic Majesty's schooner Curlew, late the Don Cristoval; and my name is Farmer. Am I correct in supposing that you have boarded me because you stand in need of assistance?"

"Ah, oui, monsieur, it is so," was the reply, given with much gesticulation. "I have been hoping to fall in wiz a Breetish man-o'-war evaire since I have sailed from ze Congo; it is two day since. Saire"-here the fellow's excitement began to grow upon him again-"I desire revenge! I have been rob, saire, by one rascal pirate who come alongside my leetle sheep, as I sail out of ze Congo; he board me, saire, with un bateau full of men, arm to ze teeth, as you Angleesh say, and he take from me all my cargo of ivory and caoutchouc, leaving me wiz only my leetle eighty barrel of palm-oil. Saire, I am ruin unless you will get back my ivory and caoutchouc for me!"

"I shall be very pleased to do my best for you, certainly, if you can put me on the track of the pirates who robbed you," answered I. "Where did they go after they had cleared you out?"

"Saire," answered the Frenchman eagerly, "dhey did sail right into ze Congo river, where dhey are doubtless now shipping a cargo of esclaves. I know ze sheep well, for I have often see her when I have been waiting for my ivory to come down."

"Oh!" exclaimed I interestedly, "so she is a slaver as well as a pirate, is she?"

"Yais, yais, pirate and slavaire both, monsieur," answered the Frenchman. "She is a large-what you call, eh?-un-un-barque-oui, monsieur, a barque call ze Josefa, commande par un coquin--"

"The Josefa?" interrupted I. "Are you quite sure of what you say, monsieur?"

"Oui, oui, monsieur," answered the fellow, "I am quite certaine; I have made no mistake; I know ze barque well as I know my own poor leetle Muette. I am not likely to make ze mistake when they have rob me of all my ivory and caoutchouc!"

"Very well, sir," responded I; "I will make a bargain with you. Guide us to where you suppose the Josefa to be; and should I find her with your assistance, I promise you that you shall have all the ivory and caoutchouc that we ma

y find on board her."

The man clasped his hands rapturously. "Bon, mon cher monsieur; bon!" he exclaimed. "It is ze bargain; it is agreed!"

"Then that is all right," I remarked. "And now, monsieur, having made our bargain, I shall be very pleased if you will do me the honour to remain on board and dine with me; we can then talk over matters a little more in detail, and you can explain to me where the Josefa is to be found."

The Frenchman-who, by the way, now introduced himself to me as "Capitan St. Croix"-at once accepted my invitation; having done which, he sent his boat back to the felucca, with instructions to his mate to make sail and keep close in our wake, whereupon we filled upon the schooner and resumed our course to the southward.

By the time that dinner was served in our hot, stuffy little cabin that evening, I had succeeded in extracting from M. St. Croix the information that the Josefa would be found concealed in a certain creek of the Congo, which had been so thoroughly fortified as to be practically impregnable. This was bad news; moreover, I found it a little difficult to clearly follow some of St. Croix' descriptions; but by the time that he left me that night to return to his felucca, I had learned enough to clearly understand that I must depend upon stratagem rather than force for success.

All this threw me into a perfect fever of impatience to get back to the river, which was not lessened when I discovered that the wretched little felucca seemed incapable of doing anything better than five knots under the most favourable conditions that we were likely to meet with on our voyage. I stood it for twenty-four hours, during which we in the schooner jogged along under nothing but a double-reefed mainsail, fore staysail, and jib, in order that we might not run away from our slow-moving consort; and then my impatience so far mastered me that I proposed to St. Croix that he should take up his quarters aboard the Curlew-as we had renamed the Don Cristoval-and leave the felucca to follow at her leisure. For two whole days the Frenchman obdurately rejected my proposal; but on the third my perseverance triumphed, and late in the afternoon we parted company with the Muette, having St. Croix on board the schooner, and with him one of his Krumen-who, he assured me, knew every creek on the river, from Shark Point up to Boma-and a small canoe, which I understood him to say would be an absolute necessity if we wished for success in our hazardous attempt.

We arrived off the mouth of the river on the following evening, about half-an-hour before sunset, and, nothing being in sight, at once stood in to make the entrance. The sky was overcast, and the night promised to be dark; but this was all in our favour, since the darkness would help to conceal our presence, while the mouth of the river being free from dangers, we could easily feel our way in with the lead.

Fortunately for my impatience, a fresh breeze happened to be blowing from the westward; we therefore crowded sail upon the schooner, and, despite the strong current, fetched up abreast of Shark Point about three bells in the first watch, when we rounded to and came to a single anchor in three fathoms in Diego Bay, just inside the river's mouth.

In accordance with the plans which I had already made, it now became necessary for me to leave the schooner, and to accompany St. Croix on a reconnoitring expedition which I was given to understand would occupy the whole of the next day, and, including the time necessary to return to the schooner, a good part of the succeeding night. I had not made up my mind to this very decisive step without due consideration, for I fully recognised the exceedingly perilous character of the adventure; but I felt convinced, from all St. Croix had told me, that my only hope of success lay in taking the Josefa and the slave factory by surprise-so preventing the possibility of the slaves being driven off to a place of safe hiding at the first alarm-and, to accomplish this surprise successfully, it was absolutely necessary that I should make myself fully acquainted, by personal observation, with every feature of the position. Attiring myself, therefore, in an old suit of slops, I embarked, with St. Croix and his Kruman, in the small canoe, leaving the schooner in charge of young Adams; when, under the impulse of a small sail, we shoved off and sped rapidly in the darkness up the river.

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