WE ABANDON THE SEARCH
THE five men I had left on the island had certainly done their work well. The doctor had made an excellent leader and had organised all the operations capitally. They had toiled hard and had kept up their spirits all the while, and, what is really wonderful under circumstances so calculated to try the temper and wear out patience, they had got on exceedingly well with each other, and there had been no quarrelling or ill-feeling of any sort.
The ravine had been very thoroughly explored, and we felt that there was but little chance of our finding the treasure. It was highly improbable that the massive golden candlesticks of the Cathedral of Lima would ornament our homes in England. It was decided, however, that, if the weather permitted, we should stay here another three weeks or so, and — as we were satisfied that the treasure could not be at the first bend of the ravine — that we should dig in such other spots as appeared suitable hiding-places, and would be naturally selected for the purpose by a party of men landing in this bay.
The shore-party were glad of a holiday on the yacht after all their labours and privations, and no attempt was made to take the whale-boat through the surf again that day. All hands stayed on board for the night, and on the following morning, as the sea was still breaking too heavily on the beach of Southwest Bay to permit of a landing, I proposed to my companions that we should take another holiday and go for a picnic on the water. The cook was, therefore, instructed to prepare an especially good dinner, and, after shaking the reefs out of our mainsail, we proceeded to circumnavigate the island, keeping as close to the shore as we were able, so that we could have a good view of the scenery.
We sailed by the different points which we now knew so well — the Ness, the pier, the Ninepin — and at last doubled North Point. This end of the island is extremely wild and desolate, and is utterly inaccessible. Many of the sharp pinnacles which cap the mountains are out of the perpendicular, and lean threateningly over the sea. I have already explained that the different species of birds occupy different portions of the island: the crags by North Point are inhabited by the frigate-birds and sea-hawks.
We coasted along the weather side of the island, and when we were nearly opposite to the Portuguese settlement the wind dropped and we had to man the whale-boat and tow the yacht seaward; for we found that she was gradually sagging before the swell towards the reefs, on which the sea was breaking heavily. We could not get round the island, so sailed back, before a very light wind, to South-west Bay and hove-to as usual for the night.
Work was resumed the next day, and a boatload of stores was sent on shore. The newly formed sandbank which I have mentioned appeared to increase and become a more serious obstacle to landing every day. On this occasion the boat again drove her stem into the sand as she crossed this shoal, and the next wave swamped and capsized her, so that boat, men, and stores were tumbling about in the deep water between the sandbank and the shore.
They managed to haul the boat safely up, and, by diving in the surf, recovered a good many of the tins of food. Then the boat returned to the yacht, Joe being left alone in the camp. He did not relish this at all, for, like most black men, he was very afraid of ghosts, and had come to the conclusion that Trinidad was a place more than usually haunted by unsettled spirits. He told us that if he were left alone on shore for the night his only course would be to light a ring of fires and sit in the middle, with a tight bandage round his head, keeping awake till dawn. If he failed to take these precautions he would most certainly be torn to pieces, or otherwise seriously damaged, by the spirits. We took compassion on him and did not leave him to face the terrors of the darkness alone. In the afternoon the whale-boat returned to the bay, and Pollock swam on shore to remain with him.
A description of what happened for the next few days would be merely a repetition of what has gone before. The yacht was hove-to at night, and sailed about the mouth of the bay all day. The surf was always breaking dangerously on the sands, so that it was impossible to beach the boat, and the men had to swim to and fro between whale-boat and shore, or haul themselves along a line which we had rigged up for the purpose, and which was carried from a rock on shore to a buoy moored with the ship's kedge outside the breakers. We used also to haul the provisions on shore with a line, having lashed them to the bamboo rafts which we had constructed for this purpose.
The weather became so unsettled and the surf was so invariably high that after a few days we came to the conclusion that the sooner we left the island the better, and we decided to take the first favourable opportunity for bringing off our property from the shore. The bad season was approaching — if it had not already commenced — and if we waited much longer we might find it impossible, for months at a time, to carry off stores or men. The yacht only remained hove-to for eleven days after the shore-party had first boarded us, and during that time the men with me on the vessel were employed in setting up the rigging, rattling down the shrouds, and effecting all necessary repairs.
There was nearly always a high swell running now, which was especially uncomfortable when there was no wind, for then we would often roll scuppers under. For nearly a week it was quite impossible to beach the boat, and all communication with the shore had to be effected in the way I have described above. At last, on February13th, luckily for us, it was exceptionally calm in South-west Bay, so that it would be very easy to carry off our stores.
Such a chance was not to be lost. In the morning all hands went off in the boats, with the exception of myself and Wright, who stayed on board to work the vessel. A landing was effected without any difficulty, and the boats returned with heavy loads, bringing off the hydraulic jack, the guns, the bedding, and other articles.
I, of course, wished to see what work had been done, before giving my final decision as to the continuance or abandonment of our exploration — not that there was any doubt as to what that decision would be, after I had heard the doctor's report. In the afternoon I went off in the whale-boat, and landed on the island for the first time for forty-eight days, leaving the doctor in charge of the yacht while she lay hove-to outside the bay. I had not put foot on shore here for so long that I was astonished at the aspect of the ravine, which had been completely changed in my absence by the labours of my comrades.
I stood and contemplated the melancholy scene — the great trenches, the piled-up mounds of earth, the uprooted rocks, with broken wheelbarrows and blocks, worn-out tools, and other relics of our three months' work strewn over the ground, and it was sad to think that all the energy of these men had been spent in vain. They well deserved to succeed, and all the more so because they bore their disappointment with such philosophic cheeriness.
It was, obviously, quite useless to persevere any further in this vain search, especially as the difficulties of landing had so increased of late that our operations could only be conducted at a great risk to life. So the fiat went forth — the expedition was to be abandoned; we were to clear out of Trinidad, bag and baggage, as quickly as we could.
We returned to the yacht with a good load of stores, the condensing apparatus, and the faithful Jacko. After dinner we sailed round to the cascade and hove-to off it. I remained on board with Wright while all the other hands went off in the boats and obtained six casks of water to replenish the ship's now nearly empty tanks. This was altogether a most satisfactory day's work, and we were very well pleased with ourselves when we hove-to at sunset and drifted out to the ocean for our well-deserved night's rest.
On the following morning, Friday, 14th, we tacked to the north of South-west Bay, and found that, though there was more surf than on the previous day, landing was feasible. The boat went off under the doctor's charge, and the tents and all the remaining stores were brought safely on board. Nothing of any value was left, we not only carried off our own tools but also the picks that had been used by Mr. A—'s expedition. Only broken wheelbarrows and suchlike useless articles remained in the ravine. From the vessel the only sign of our late camp that could be seen was Powell's disabled arm-chair, which he had left standing, a melancholy object, on the top of the beach.
We stowed the heavier tools and stores under the saloon floor, and then sailed again to the cascade. The whale-boat went off to the pier and a quantity of water was brought on board, so that we had a sufficient supply — but not much to spare — for the voyage we now contemplated.
When the watering party returned we had done with Trinidad, so both boats were hoisted on deck and a melancholy ceremony was performed: our very ancient dinghy, which was too rotten to bear any further patching, and was not worth the room she used to take up on deck, was broken up and handed over to the cook as firewood.
A tot of rum was served out to each hand, we bade farewell to Trinidad, the foresail vitas allowed to draw, and we sailed away.
It had long since been decided that, whether the treasure was discovered or not, we should sail from our desert island to its wealthy namesake, Trinidad in the West Indies — a very different sort of a place. The distance between the two Trinidads is, roughly, 2,900 miles; but we knew that the voyage before us was not likely to be a lengthy one, for everything is in favour of a vessel bound the way we were going. In the first place, it was very unlikely that we should encounter head winds between our islet and Cape St. Roque, and from that point we should most probably have the wind right aft for the rest of the way, as the trade winds blow regularly along the coasts of north Brazil and the Guianas. In the next place, by sailing at a certain distance from the land we could keep our vessel in the full strength of the south equatorial current, which runs at the rate of two or three miles an hour in the direction of our course. We had, it is true, to cross the line once more, with its belt of doldrums, but we knew that we should not be much delayed by these tedious equatorial calms, as they do not prevail on the coast of Brazil to anything like the extent they do in mid-Atlantic; besides which, the favourable current would be carrying us along with it across the belt, and enable us to travel fifty miles or so a day, even in a flat calm.
This kindly current would, indeed, carry us straight to our port, for it sweeps through the Gulf of Paria as well as by the east side of Trinidad, and, as every schoolboy knows in these enlightened days, thence flows round the Caribbean Sea and ultimately emerges from it under another and better-known title — the Gulf Stream.
With the old Falcon I had sailed over a portion of this route, accomplishing the voyage from Pernambuco to Georgetown, Demerara — a distance of about 2,000 miles — in ten days, thus keeping up an average of 200 miles a day. At this rate the Alerte ought to get to Trinidad in fifteen days; but we were not fated to have such luck as that.