ALL hands turned out early on the morning after our arrival anxious for shore-leave, so that they might inspect the city that rose before them so majestically from the edge of the green water. Now could they realize better than by night what a magnificent harbour is this Reconcavo — an extensive inland sea 100 miles in circumference, into which several large rivers pour their waters, surrounded by a country of prodigal fertility, and studded with beautiful islands!
The town was merry as usual with a sound of bells, crackers, and rockets. These are never silent in Bahia. It is a most religious city. It is called Bahia dos Todos os Santos, the Bay of All Saints, and every day of the year is the saint's day of some parish or street or even family, and it has to be celebrated by fireworks, which, according to the custom of the country, are let off by day quite as much as by night. If there happened a sudden cessation of this noise of bells, crackers, and rockets, I believe the inhabitants would run out of their houses in consternation under the impression that an earthquake or a revolution had come upon them.
The Bahian custom-house is not open on Sundays, but the authorities were good enough to break through their rule, and, coming off to us in their launch at an early hour, gave us pratique. They also gave us permission to land with our boats at the arsenal, and to put off from it at any hour of the day or night. This important privilege is granted as a matter of courtesy to every foreign man-of-war and yacht. On the other hand, very inconvenient restrictions are placed on merchantmen, originally, I believe, for the purpose of preventing slaves from escaping on board foreign vessels. Slavery has been abolished quite recently, but the old rules still remain in force. No one may leave or board a merchantman alter 8 p.m., and any one who is not on the ship's Articles cannot do so even in the daytime without a special permit from the custom-house. We were free to do what we pleased during our stay, but I observed that the custom-house boats hovered round the Alerte a good deal at night, and that a sharp watch was evidently kept on us. All manual labour is left to the negroes in the Brazils, and a yacht manned for the most part with volunteer milords instead of paid hands must have appeared to the natives an incomprehensible, and consequently a highly suspicious, phenomenon.
Even before we had obtained pratique the energetic ship-chandlers were off to us in their boats, soliciting our custom by shouting to us from a distance. Pratique granted, they closed in upon us. There is a tremendous competition between these gentry at Bahia, as I had discovered while here in the Falcon. But I was soon recognised, and then all retired from the field save two, between whom the competition waxed most furiously. It seemed that my old ship-chandling firm had split itself into two houses, so the two ex-partners and now bitter rivals boarded the Alerte, and each claimed me as his own lawful prey.
This was embarrassing, for I had been satisfied with both when they were as one at the time of the Falcon's visit; but, as a single ship-chandler at a time is quite enough, I had to make an invidious choice between my old friends. One was an Englishman, the other a Brazilian, so I thought it right to surrender myself into the hands of a fellow-countryman, Mr. Wilson, who carried us off in triumph in his boat as soon as we had donned our shore-going clothes.
We landed at the Praya, the ancient and dirty stone quay which stretches along the shore for four miles, a spot of great commercial activity. Here are the great warehouses whence the coffee, sugar, tobacco, cotton, logwood, and the other produce of this rich tropical land, are shipped to every quarter of the globe. Here, too, are markets of strange fruits and vegetables, and a bazaar where one can buy gorgeous or voluble parrots, baboons and monkeys of many species, pumas and jaguars too, and, indeed, specimens of nearly all the wild beasts of South America. Grog shops, where poisonous white rum is sold to British seamen, are frequent. Along the quay are ranged the quaint native lighters with their half-naked ebon crews. A jostling, jabbering crowd of negroes and regresses with gaudy robes and turbans throngs the Praya, and when one first lands one is oppressed by a bewildering sense of confusion — a flashing of bright colours — a din of Negroes, parrots, and monkeys — a compound smell of pineapples and other fruit, of molasses, Africans, bilgewater, tar, filth, too, of every description; not a monotonous smell, however, but ever varying, now a whiff of hot air sweet with spice, then an odour that might well be the breath of Yellow Jack himself.
There was no yellow fever at the time in Bahia, though it had been rather severe at Rio not long before. We repaired to the ship-chandler's, saw the latest papers and heard all the news. I found that Brazilian politics formed the chief topic of conversation. A stranger visiting this country ten years back would have almost imagined that this was a happy land in which politics were unknown, so little did he hear of them. Now all was changed. Everybody was complaining of the stagnation of business. The Creoles were irritated at the recent abolition of slavery — a measure which, according to them, would ruin the country, but which, in the opinion of some, was rendered necessary by the determined resistance of the large bands of fugitive slaves in the southern provinces. The troops were unable to put them down, their success had brought the country to the verge of a general servile insurrection, so that it became merely a question whether the Government should submit quietly to their demands at once or be compelled to do so later on after much bloodshed. I do not think the revolution that took place a few days later was altogether unexpected. There were rumours of it in the air and an uneasy feeling existed among the mercantile classes.
This was my third visit to this port, so I had, of course, plenty of friends in the city. These soon found me out, and I noticed that, despite the supposed unhealthiness of Bahia, none of them looked much the worse for the eight years they had spent here since I had seen them last. There can be no doubt that Brazil enjoys a very healthy climate considering its position within the tropics.
We were elected honorary members of the English Club during our stay at Bahia, and there we found that the object of our voyage had been much discussed. The English papers had advertised us somewhat too well, and though the name of the island we were bound for was not exactly mentioned, my Bahian friends had formed more than a suspicion as to our destination. They, of course, knew that I had visited Trinidad before, and they also were aware that treasure was supposed to be concealed there, for the American adventurer called here after the unsuccessful search to which I have alluded.
"Tell me," said Mr. Wilson, with a smile, when he got me alone, "tell me in confidence. Are you not going to Trinidad again from here?"
When I had replied in the affirmative, he said, "Three years after you sailed from here with the Falcon an American came into my office. He had just come from Trinidad, and was very reserved about it. But two of the crew told me that they had been on shore digging for three days; they did not know what for, but they supposed the captain had some information about hidden treasure. At any rate they found nothing, and while he was at Bahia the captain seemed to be very disappointed, and would speak of his adventures to no one."
This tallied exactly with the letter of the Danish captain which I have already quoted. It was not altogether agreeable to us to find that our plans were so generally canvassed, for we knew that the Portuguese had laid claim to Trinidad something like two hundred years ago, and it was possible that the Brazilians, as successors to the Portuguese in this quarter of the globe, might consider the island as their own, and assert their right to any valuables we might kind upon it. I need scarcely say that I had made up my mind, should we find the treasure, to sail directly to some British port. I would not trust myself in any country of the Spanish or Portuguese: for once in their clutches we should in all probability lose all the results of our labour. The Roman Catholic Church of Spain or Lima might, with a fair show of right, demand the treasure as her own; so might the Governments of Peru, Chile, Brazil, Spain, or Portugal. But if we could once secure it, get it safely home, and divide it, it would be exceedingly difficult for any one to establish a better right to it than we could — for should we not have the right of possession, with nine-tenths ot the law on our side?
Bahia is a dull place, but it is an interesting old city, and contains some very picturesque streets, especially those which connect the upper and the lower town, and which wind, in flights of stone steps, up a precipitous wall of rock 240 feet in height. This cliff, despite its steepness, is green with bananas, palms, and other tropical plants, which fill up all the space between the ancient stone houses and tortuous alleys, producing a very pleasing effect from the sea.
The old Dutch and Portuguese houses are very solidly built of stone, and among them are some of the most ancient buildings of the New World. The Fort la Mar, under which we were anchored, is a picturesque fortress constructed by the Dutch 400 years ago on a rocky islet in the harbour. The cathedral and some other of the ecclesiastical buildings in the upper town are built of marble that was brought from Europe. In the olden days—and to some extent this is the case even now — everything needed by the Spanish and Portuguese colonists of the New World, with the exception of gold and jewels, was imported to them from the mother-countries. Thus there are cities in the heart of South America which have quarries of marble in their immediate vicinity, and whose churches are, notwithstanding, built of marble blocks carried from Europe by sea and land at tremendous cost. With its vast arable lands, that might supply the granaries of the world, the River Plate district, until quite recently, depended on foreign countries for its supplies of grain. The old theory of the Conquistadores, that it was beneath their dignity to perform any labour save that of extracting gold from the country and its natives, seems never to have been quite eradicated from the Creole mind.
I could see few changes in Bahia since my last visit. It seemed the same busy, dirty old place. A new broad carriage-road had been carried up the cliff, and this, together with the hydraulic lift which connects the lower with the upper town, has certainly diminished the number of sedan chairs. Once these were a quaint feature in a Bahian street scene. They are almost of the same model as those in use in London 200 years ago, and are carried by stout negroes. Now they are only employed by Creole ladies of the old school, who do not care to sit in the trams by the side of their late slaves.
The crew of the Alerte had now the opportunity of relaxing themselves a little before sailing away for the scene of their real work. Some made expeditions up the rivers into the beautiful country that surrounds Bahia, and the frequent race-meetings afforded amusement to others. I believe we were lucky, on the whole, while matching; ourselves against the local bookmakers, and realized a few thousands — not of pounds, but reis, of which a thousand were equivalent to two shillings.
Our first and second mate left us after we had been a few days at Bahia, packing up their traps and getting ashore before they ventured to announce their intention. From this date things went smoother with us. The cause of all the mischief on board had departed. There was an alacrity and cheerfulness fore and aft that had been wanting so far. Now when reefing or other work had to be done it was accomplished by a third of the number of hands, in one-third of the time and with none of the fuss that seemed to be necessary before. I do not go so far as to say that a sort of millennium came to the Alerte — there was still, of course, occasional discord, but on what vessel are there not rows and growlings? It can be safely asserted, however, that from the time we left Bahia the Alerte was far freer than the average foreign-going vessel from troubles of this description; and this is very creditable seeing that our crew was so unusually constituted, half of the men being paying instead of paid, hands, and, therefore, possibly inclined to imagine that they had a right to more voice in the management of things than was quite feasible.
The crew of the Alerte now consisted of ten all told: Dr. Cloete-Smith, Mr. Pollock, Mr. Powell, Mr. Pursell, and myself aft; Ted Milner, John Wright, Arthur Cotton, and the two coloured men forward. Of the nine volunteers who sailed from England five thus remained.
None of the gentlemen above mentioned had any practical knowledge of the sea when we left Southampton; but they picked up a good deal in the course of the voyage to Bahia, and now set to with a will to learn more. I was the only navigator on board when we sailed from Bahia, but before the cruise was over everybody aft could take his observations of the sun and work out his latitude and longitude. I now appointed Dr. Cloete-Smith as my mate, he to take the port watch and myself the starboard. Mr. Pollock and Mr. Pursell undertook the posts of purser and carpenter.
We laid in a quantity of provisions at Bahia; these, in consequence partly of the heavy duties and partly of the constant obstacles placed by a corrupt administration in the way of all commerce, are excessively dear in this port. Among other stores we procured two barrels of salt beef, which proved to be somewhat better than we got at Santa Cruz, a cask of rough and strong Portuguese wine, cases of preserved guavas, tamarinds, and figs; and, of course, as many pineapples, hands of bananas, oranges, yams, sweet potatoes, and pumpkins as we could carry.
Here, too, we purchased some tools, a large iron cooking-pot for our camp on the island, some blasting powder, and several stout bamboos for the purpose of constructing rafts.
We had had enough of Bahia in a week and were all ready for sea again on November 8th; but as several letters expected by members of the expedition had not arrived, we put off our departure until the coming of the next mail steamer from England. It was lucky for us that we did this, for we thereby escaped some rather tempestuous weather.
On November 11th the Royal Mail steamer La Plata arrived from the north, bringing with her the missing letters. We had intended to sail at daybreak on the following morning, but the glass began to fall and the wind rose in the night. In the morning the sky had a very stormy appearance and a fresh south-west gale was blowing. On the following day, November 13th, there was a continuance of the same weather, and the scud overhead was travelling at a great rate.
An English cargo steamer came in this day from the southward, so I went on shore to find her captain and inquire from him what it was like outside the bay. He told me that he had been overtaken by the gale in the latitude of Cape Frio, and that a heavy sea was running in the Atlantic, while on the bar the breakers would be dangerous for a small vessel. Hearing this, impatient as we were to get away, I decided that it would be better to remain where we were until the gale had blown itself out.
This was, no doubt, the fag-end of a pampero or River Plate hurricane. The pampero — so called because, after rising in the Andes, it sweeps over the vast plains of the pampas, increasing in force as it travels — blows with great fury at the mouth of the River Plate and sometimes extends far north. I had had some experience of pamperos and was not fond of them. I rode out one on the Falcon at anchor off Montevideo, and on that occasion fifteen solid stone houses were blown down in a row on the seafront, the exhibition building at Buenos Ayres was destroyed, and a barque lying at anchor near us was capsized by the first gust. We ran before another of these storms for three days and were nearly lost.
The pampero was our bugbear while we lay off Trinidad; for this islet is within the range of the more formidable of these gales, and, even when they do not extend so far, the great swell raised by them rolls up hundreds of miles to the northward of the wind's influence and breaks furiously all around the exposed shores of Trinidad.
Towards evening the wind moderated and the glass began to rise, but the rain continued to fall heavily. On the following morning, November I4th, the weather had still further improved; so anchor was weighed at 8 a.m. and we sailed out of the harbour, my companions in very cheerful spirits and eager to get to the desert island and be at work with pick and shovel as soon as possible.
We had now done with civilisation for some time to come, and we had no idea when and where, and under what conditions, we should next see any men save those forming our own little band.
Trinidad is roughly 680 nautical miles from Bahia; we sighted it in exactly six days from the time we weighed anchor.
The experiences of our first day out did not promise well for a smart voyage. We tumbled about a good deal on the bar at the mouth of the bay, and found that the sea outside had not yet gone down. The wind was moderate and variable, but generally south-east — that is, right in our teeth. We tacked ship three times in the course of the day, and made little progress against the head sea.
On the following day, November 15th, things looked better; the wind veered to the eastward, so that the yacht could lay her course with her sheets slacked off a bit.
The next day the wind was fairer still — from the east-north-east — blowing fresh and raising a steep, confused sea, for the south-west swell of the pampero had not yet entirely subsided. We close-reefed the foresail so as to prevent the vessel driving her nose into the seas, and during this day and the next, November 17th, we were constantly tricing up the tack of the mainsail in the squalls.
On the 18th and 19th the wind was moderate, so we had all canvas on the old vessel again, including topsail and balloon foresail; and on the morning of November 20th all hands were in eager expectance of catching the first glimpse of Treasure Island.
At about 8 a.m. it suddenly appeared right ahead, a faint blue peak on the horizon, fully forty miles away.