In the year 1799, Captain Amasa Delano, of Duxbury, in Massachusetts,commanding a large sealer and general trader, lay at anchor with a valuable cargo, in the harbor of St. Maria–a small, desert, uninhabited island toward the southern extremity of the long coast of Chili. There he had touched for water.
On the second day, not long after dawn, while lying in his berth, his mate came below, informing him that a strange sail was coming into the bay. Ships were then not so plenty in those waters as now. He rose,dressed, and went on deck.
The morning was one peculiar to that coast. Everything was mute and calm; everything gray. The sea, though undulated into long roods of swells, seemed fixed, and was sleeked at the surface like waved lead that has cooled and set in the smelter’s mould. The sky seemed a gray surtout. Flights of troubled gray fowl, kith and kin with flights of troubled gray vapors among which they were mixed, skimmed low and fitfully over the waters, as swallows over meadows before storms.Shadows present, foreshadowing deeper shadows to come.
To Captain Delano’s surprise, the stranger, viewed through the glass,showed no colors; though to do so upon entering a haven, however uninhabited in its shores, where but a single other ship might be lying,was the custom among peaceful seamen of all nations. Considering the lawlessness and loneliness of the spot, and the sort of stories, at that day, associated with those seas, Captain Delano’s surprise might have deepened into some uneasiness had he not been a person of a singularly undistrustful good-nature, not liable, except on extraordinary and repeated incentives, and hardly then, to indulge in personal alarms, anyway involving the imputation of malign evil in man. Whether, in view of what humanity is capable, such a trait implies, along with a benevolent heart, more than ordinary quickness and accuracy of intellectual perception, may be left to the wise to determine.
But whatever misgivings might have obtruded on first seeing the stranger, would almost, in any seaman’s mind, have been dissipated by observing that, the ship, in navigating into the harbor, was drawing too near the land; a sunken reef making out off her bow. This seemed to prove her a stranger, indeed, not only to the sealer, but the island;consequently, she could be no wonted freebooter on that ocean. With no small interest, Captain Delano continued to watch her–a proceeding not much facilitated by the vapors partly mantling the hull, through which the far matin light from her cabin streamed equivocally enough; much like the sun–by this time hemisphered on the rim of the horizon, and,apparently, in company with the strange ship entering the harbor–which,wimpled by the same low, creeping clouds, showed not unlike a Limaintriguante’s one sinister eye peering across the Plaza from the Indianloop-hole of her dusk saya-y-manta.
It might have been but a deception of the vapors, but, the longer the stranger was watched the more singular appeared her manoeuvres. Erelong it seemed hard to decide whether she meant to come in or no–whatshe wanted, or what she was about. The wind, which had breezed up a little during the night, was now extremely light and baffling, which the more increased the apparent uncertainty of her movements. Surmising, at last, that it might be a ship in distress, Captain Delano ordered hiswhale-boat to be dropped, and, much to the wary opposition of his mate,prepared to board her, and, at the least, pilot her in. On the night previous, a fishing-party of the seamen had gone a long distance to some detached rocks out of sight from the sealer, and, an hour or two before daybreak, had returned, having met with no small success. Presuming that the stranger might have been long off soundings, the good captain putseveral baskets of the fish, for presents, into his boat, and so pulledaway. From her continuing too near the sunken reef, deeming her indanger, calling to his men, he made all haste to apprise those on boardof their situation. But, some time ere the boat came up, the wind, lightthough it was, having shifted, had headed the vessel off, as well aspartly broken the vapors from about her.
Upon gaining a less remote view, the ship, when made signally visible onthe verge of the leaden-hued swells, with the shreds of fog here andthere raggedly furring her, appeared like a white-washed monastery aftera thunder-storm, seen perched upon some dun cliff among the Pyrenees.But it was no purely fanciful resemblance which now, for a moment,almost led Captain Delano to think that nothing less than a ship-load ofmonks was before him. Peering over the bulwarks were what really seemed,in the hazy distance, throngs of dark cowls; while, fitfully revealedthrough the open port-holes, other dark moving figures were dimlydescried, as of Black Friars pacing the cloisters.
Upon a still nigher approach, this appearance was modified, and the truecharacter of the vessel was plain–a Spanish merchantman of the firstclass, carrying negro slaves, amongst other valuable freight, from onecolonial port to another. A very large, and, in its time, a very finevessel, such as in those days were at intervals encountered along thatmain; sometimes superseded Acapulco treasure-ships, or retired frigatesof the Spanish king’s navy, which, like superannuated Italian palaces,still, under a decline of masters, preserved signs of former state.
As the whale-boat drew more and more nigh, the cause of the peculiarpipe-clayed aspect of the stranger was seen in the slovenly neglectpervading her. The spars, ropes, and great part of the bulwarks, lookedwoolly, from long unacquaintance with the scraper, tar, and the brush.Her keel seemed laid, her ribs put together, and she launched, fromEzekiel’s Valley of Dry Bones.
In the present business in which she was engaged, the ship’s generalmodel and rig appeared to have undergone no material change from theiroriginal warlike and Froissart pattern. However, no guns were seen.
The tops were large, and were railed about with what had once beenoctagonal net-work, all now in sad disrepair. These tops hung overheadlike three ruinous aviaries, in one of which was seen, perched, on aratlin, a white noddy, a strange fowl, so called from its lethargic,somnambulistic character, being frequently caught by hand at sea.Battered and mouldy, the castellated forecastle seemed some ancientturret, long ago taken by assault, and then left to decay. Toward thestern, two high-raised quarter galleries–the balustrades here and therecovered with dry, tindery sea-moss–opening out from the unoccupiedstate-cabin, whose dead-lights, for all the mild weather, werehermetically closed and calked–these tenantless balconies hung over thesea as if it were the grand Venetian canal. But the principal relic offaded grandeur was the ample oval of the shield-like stern-piece,intricately carved with the arms ofCastile and Leon, medallioned aboutby groups of mythological or symbolical devices; uppermost and centralof which was a dark satyr in a mask, holding his foot on the prostrateneck of a writhing figure, likewise masked.
Whether the ship had a figure-head, or only a plain beak, was not quitecertain, owing to canvas wrapped about that part, either to protect itwhile undergoing a re-furbishing, or else decently to hide its decay.Rudely painted or chalked, as in a sailor freak, along the forward sideof a sort of pedestal below thecanvas, was the sentence, “_Seguidvuestro jefe_” (follow your leader); while upon the tarnishedheadboards, near by, appeared, in stately capitals, once gilt, theship’s name, “SAN DOMINICK,” each letter streakingly corroded withtricklings of copper-spike rust; while, like mourning weeds, darkfestoons of sea-grass slimily swept to and fro over the name, with everyhearse-like roll of the hull.
As, at last, the boat was hooked from the bow along toward the gangwayamidship, its keel, while yet some inches separated from the hull,harshly grated as on a sunken coral reef. It proved a huge bunch ofconglobated barnacles adhering below the water to the side like a wen–atoken of baffling airs and long calms passed somewhere in those seas.
Climbing the side, the visitor was at once surrounded by a clamorousthrong of whites and blacks, but the latter outnumbering the former morethan could have been expected, negro transportation-ship as the strangerin port was. But, in one language, and as with one voice, all poured outa common tale of suffering; in which the negresses, of whom there werenot a few, exceeded the others in their dolorous vehemence. The scurvy,together with the fever, had swept off a great part of their number,more especially the Spaniards. Off Cape Horn they had narrowly escapedshipwreck; then, for days together, they had lain tranced without wind;their provisions were low; their water next to none; their lips thatmoment were baked.
While Captain Delano was thus made the mark of all eager tongues, hisone eager glance took in all faces, with every other object about him.
Always upon first boarding a large and populous ship at sea, especiallya foreign one, with a nondescript crew such as Lascars or Manilla men,the impression varies in a peculiar way from that produced by firstentering a strange house with strange inmates in a strange land. Bothhouse and ship–the one by its walls and blinds, the other by its highbulwarks like ramparts–hoard from view their interiors till the lastmoment: but in the case of the ship there is this addition; that theliving spectacle it contains, upon its sudden and complete disclosure,has, in contrast with the blank ocean which zones it, something of theeffect of enchantment. The ship seems unreal; these strange costumes,gestures, and faces, but a shadowy tableau just emerged from the deep,which directly must receive back what it gave.
Perhaps it was some such influence, as above is attempted to bedescribed, which, in Captain Delano’s mind, heightened whatever, upon astaid scrutiny, might have seemed unusual; especially the conspicuousfigures of four elderly grizzled negroes, their heads like black,doddered willow tops, who, in venerable contrast to the tumult belowthem, were couched, sphynx-like, one on the starboard cat-head, anotheron the larboard, and the remaining pair face to face on the oppositebulwarks above the main-chains. They each had bits of unstranded oldjunk in their hands, and, with a sort of stoical self-content, werepicking the junk into oakum, a small heap of which lay by their sides.They accompanied the task with a continuous, low, monotonous, chant;droning and drilling away like so many gray-headed bag-pipers playing afuneral march.
The quarter-deck rose into an ample elevated poop, upon the forwardverge of which, lifted, like the oakum-pickers, some eight feet abovethe general throng, sat along in a row, separated by regular spaces, thecross-legged figures of six other blacks; each with a rusty hatchet inhis hand, which, with a bit of brick and a rag, he was engaged like ascullion in scouring; while between each two was a small stack ofhatchets, their rusted edges turned forward awaiting a like operation.Though occasionally the four oakum-pickers would briefly address someperson or persons in the crowd below, yet the six hatchet-polishersneither spoke to others, nor breathed a whisper among themselves, butsat intent upon their task, except at intervals, when, with the peculiarlove in negroes of uniting industry with pastime, two and two theysideways clashed their hatchets together,’ like cymbals, with abarbarous din. All six, unlike the generality, had the raw aspect ofunsophisticated Africans.
But that first comprehensive glance which took in those ten figures,with scores less conspicuous, rested but an instant upon them, as,impatient of the hubbub of voices, the visitor turned in quest ofwhomsoever it might be that commanded the ship.
But as if not unwilling to let nature make known her own case among hissuffering charge, or else in despair of restraining it for the time, theSpanish captain, a gentlemanly, reserved-looking, and rather young manto a stranger’s eye, dressed with singular richness, but bearing plaintraces of recent sleepless cares and disquietudes, stood passively by,leaning against the main-mast, at one moment casting a dreary,spiritless look upon his excited people, at the next an unhappy glancetoward his visitor. By his side stood a black of small stature, in whoserude face, as occasionally, like a shepherd’s dog, he mutely turned itup into the Spaniard’s, sorrow and affection were equally blended.
Struggling through the throng, the American advanced to the Spaniard,assuring him of his sympathies, and offering to render whateverassistance might be in his power. To which the Spaniard returned forthe present but grave and ceremonious acknowledgments, his nationalformality dusked by the saturnine mood of ill-health.
But losing no time in mere compliments, Captain Delano, returning to thegangway, had his basket of fish brought up; and as the wind stillcontinued light, so that some hours at least must elapse ere the shipcould be brought to the anchorage, he bade his men return to the sealer,and fetch back as much water as the whale-boat could carry, withwhatever soft bread the steward might have, all the remaining pumpkinson board, with a box of sugar, and a dozen of his private bottles ofcider.
Not many minutes after the boat’s pushing off, to the vexation of all,the wind entirely died away, and the tide turning, began drifting backthe ship helplessly seaward. But trusting this would not long last,Captain Delano sought, with good hopes, to cheer up the strangers,feeling no small satisfaction that, with persons in their condition, hecould–thanks to his frequent voyages along the Spanish main–conversewith some freedom in their native tongue.
While left alone with them, he was not long in observing some thingstending to heighten his first impressions; but surprise was lost inpity, both for the Spaniards and blacks, alike evidently reduced fromscarcity of water and provisions; while long-continued suffering seemedto have brought out the less good-natured qualities of the negroes,besides, at the same time, impairing the Spaniard’s authority over them.But, under the circumstances, precisely this condition of things was tohave been anticipated. In armies, navies, cities, or families, in natureherself, nothing more relaxes good order than misery. Still, CaptainDelano was not without the idea, that had Benito Cereno been a man ofgreater energy, misrule would hardly have come to the present pass. Butthe debility, constitutional or induced by hardships, bodily and mental,of the Spanish captain, was too obvious to be overlooked. A prey tosettled dejection, as if long mocked with hope he would not now indulgeit, even when it had ceased to be a mock, the prospect of that day, orevening at furthest, lying at anchor, with plenty of water for hispeople, and a brother captain to counsel and befriend, seemed in noperceptible degree to encourage him. His mind appeared unstrung, if notstill more seriously affected. Shut up in these oaken walls, chained toone dull round of command, whose unconditionality cloyed him, like somehypochondriac abbot he moved slowly about, at times suddenly pausing,starting, or staring, biting his lip, biting his finger-nail, flushing,paling, twitching his beard, with other symptoms of an absent or moodymind. This distempered spirit was lodged, as before hinted, in asdistempered a frame. He was rather tall, but seemed never to have beenrobust, and now with nervous suffering was almost worn to a skeleton. Atendency to some pulmonary complaint appeared to have been latelyconfirmed. His voice was like that of one with lungs half gone–hoarselysuppressed, a husky whisper. No wonder that, as in this state hetottered about, his private servant apprehensively followed him.Sometimes the negro gave his master his arm, or took his handkerchiefout of his pocket for him; performing these and similar offices withthat affectionate zeal which transmutes into something filial orfraternal acts in themselves but menial; and which has gained for thenegro the repute of making the most pleasing body-servant in the world;one, too, whom a master need be on no stiffly superior terms with, butmay treat with familiar trust; less a servant than a devoted companion.
Marking the noisy indocility of the blacks in general, as well as whatseemed the sullen inefficiency of the whites it was not without humanesatisfaction that Captain Delano witnessed the steady good conduct ofBabo.
But the good conduct of Babo, hardly more than the ill-behavior ofothers, seemed to withdraw the half-lunatic Don Benito from his cloudylanguor. Not that such precisely was the impression made by the Spaniardon the mind of his visitor. The Spaniard’s individual unrest was, forthe present, but noted as a conspicuous feature in the ship’s generalaffliction. Still, Captain Delano was not a little concerned at what hecould not help taking for the time to be Don Benito’s unfriendlyindifference towards himself. The Spaniard’s manner, too, conveyed asort of sour and gloomy disdain, which he seemed at no pains todisguise. But this the American in charity ascribed to the harassingeffects of sickness, since, in former instances, he had noted that thereare peculiar natures on whom prolonged physical suffering seems tocancel every social instinct of kindness; as if, forced to black breadthemselves, they deemed it but equity that each person coming nigh themshould, indirectly, by some slight or affront, be made to partake oftheir fare.
But ere long Captain Delano bethought him that, indulgent as he was atthe first, in judging the Spaniard, he might not, after all, haveexercised charity enough. At bottom it was Don Benito’s reserve whichdispleased him; but the same reserve was shown towards all but hisfaithful personal attendant. Even the formal reports which, according tosea-usage, were, at stated times, made to him by some petty underling,either a white, mulatto or black, he hardly had patience enough tolisten to, without betraying contemptuous aversion. His manner upon suchoccasions was, in its degree, not unlike that which might be supposedto have been his imperial countryman’s, Charles V., just previous to theanchoritish retirement of that monarch from the throne.
This splenetic disrelish of his place was evinced in almost everyfunction pertaining to it. Proud as he was moody, he condescended to nopersonal mandate. Whatever special orders were necessary, their deliverywas delegated to his body-servant, who in turn transferred them to theirultimate destination, through runners, alert Spanish boys or slave boys,like pages or pilot-fish within easy call continually hovering round DonBenito. So that to have beheld this undemonstrative invalid glidingabout, apathetic and mute, no landsman could have dreamed that in himwas lodged a dictatorship beyond which, while at sea, there was noearthly appeal.
Thus, the Spaniard, regarded in his reserve, seemed the involuntaryvictim of mental disorder. But, in fact, his reserve might, in somedegree, have proceeded from design. If so, then here was evinced theunhealthy climax of that icy though conscientious policy, more or lessadopted by all commanders of large ships, which, except in signalemergencies, obliterates alike the manifestation of sway with everytrace of sociality; transforming the man into a block, or rather into aloaded cannon, which, until there is call for thunder, has nothing tosay.
Viewing him in this light, it seemed but a natural token of the perversehabit induced by a long course of such hard self-restraint, that,notwithstanding the present condition of his ship, the Spaniard shouldstill persist in a demeanor, which, however harmless, or, it may be,appropriate, in a well-appointed vessel, such as the San Dominick mighthave been at the outset of the voyage, was anything but judicious now.But the Spaniard, perhaps, thought that it was with captains as withgods: reserve, under all events, must still be their cue. But probablythis appearance of slumbering dominion might have been but an attempteddisguise to conscious imbecility–not deep policy, but shallow device.But be all this as it might, whether Don Benito’s manner was designed ornot, the more Captain Delano noted its pervading reserve, the less hefelt uneasiness at any particular manifestation of that reserve towardshimself.
Neither were his thoughts taken up by the captain alone. Wonted to thequiet orderliness of the sealer’s comfortable family of a crew, thenoisy confusion of the San Dominick’s suffering host repeatedlychallenged his eye. Some prominent breaches, not only of discipline butof decency, were observed. These Captain Delano could not but ascribe,in the main, to the absence of those subordinate deck-officers to whom,along with higher duties, is intrusted what may be styled the policedepartment of a populous ship. True, the old oakum-pickers appeared attimes to act the part of monitorial constables to their countrymen, theblacks; but though occasionally succeeding in allaying triflingoutbreaks now and then between man and man, they could do little ornothing toward establishing general quiet. The San Dominick was in thecondition of a transatlantic emigrant ship, among whose multitude ofliving freight are some individuals, doubtless, as little troublesome ascrates and bales; but the friendly remonstrances of such with theirruder companions are of not so much avail as the unfriendly arm of themate. What the San Dominick wanted was, what the emigrant ship has,stern superior officers. But on these decks not so much as a fourth-matewas to be seen.
The visitor’s curiosity was roused to learn the particulars of thosemishaps which had brought about such absenteeism, with its consequences;because, though deriving some inkling of the voyage from the wails whichat the first moment had greeted him, yet of the details no clearunderstanding had been had. The best account would, doubtless, be givenby the captain. Yet at first the visitor was loth to ask it, unwillingto provoke some distant rebuff. But plucking up courage, he at lastaccosted Don Benito, renewing the expression of his benevolent interest,adding, that did he (Captain Delano) but know the particulars of theship’s misfortunes, he would, perhaps, be better able in the end torelieve them. Would Don Benito favor him with the whole story.
Don Benito faltered; then, like some somnambulist suddenly interferedwith, vacantly stared at his visitor, and ended by looking down on thedeck. He maintained this posture so long, that Captain Delano, almostequally disconcerted, and involuntarily almost as rude, turned suddenlyfrom him, walking forward to accost one of the Spanish seamen for thedesired information. But he had hardly gone five paces, when, with asort of eagerness, Don Benito invited him back, regretting his momentaryabsence of mind, and professing readiness to gratify him.
While most part of the story was being given, the two captains stood onthe after part of the main-deck, a privileged spot, no one being nearbut the servant.
“It is now a hundred and ninety days,” began the Spaniard, in his huskywhisper, “that this ship, well officered and well manned, with severalcabin passengers–some fifty Spaniards in all–sailed from Buenos Ayresbound to Lima, with a general cargo, hardware, Paraguay tea and thelike–and,” pointing forward, “that parcel of negroes, now not more thana hundred and fifty, as you see, but then numbering over three hundredsouls. Off Cape Horn we had heavy gales. In one moment, by night, threeof my best officers, with fifteen sailors, were lost, with themain-yard; the spar snapping under them in the slings, as they sought,with heavers, to beat down the icy sail. To lighten the hull, theheavier sacks of mata were thrown into the sea, with most of thewater-pipes lashed on deck at the time. And this last necessity it was,combined with the prolonged detections afterwards experienced, whicheventually brought about our chief causes of suffering. When–”
Here there was a sudden fainting attack of his cough, brought on, nodoubt, by his mental distress. His servant sustained him, and drawing acordial from his pocket placed it to his lips. He a little revived. Butunwilling to leave him unsupported while yet imperfectly restored, theblack with one arm still encircled his master, at the same time keepinghis eye fixed on his face, as if to watch for the first sign of completerestoration, or relapse, as the event might prove.
The Spaniard proceeded, but brokenly and obscurely, as one in a dream.
–“Oh, my God! rather than pass through what I have, with joy I wouldhave hailed the most terrible gales; but–”
His cough returned and with increased violence; this subsiding; withreddened lips and closed eyes he fell heavily against his supporter.
“His mind wanders. He was thinking of the plague that followed thegales,” plaintively sighed the servant; “my poor, poor master!” wringingone hand, and with the other wiping the mouth. “But be patient, Seor,”again turning to Captain Delano, “these fits do not last long; masterwill soon be himself.”
Don Benito reviving, went on; but as this portion of the story was verybrokenly delivered, the substance only will here be set down.
It appeared that after the ship had been many days tossed in storms offthe Cape, the scurvy broke out, carrying off numbers of the whites andblacks. When at last they had worked round into the Pacific, their sparsand sails were so damaged, and so inadequately handled by the survivingmariners, most of whom were become invalids, that, unable to lay hernortherly course by the wind, which was powerful, the unmanageable ship,for successive days and nights, was blown northwestward, where thebreeze suddenly deserted her, in unknown waters, to sultry calms. Theabsence of the water-pipes now proved as fatal to life as before theirpresence had menaced it. Induced, or at least aggravated, by the morethan scanty allowance of water, a malignant fever followed the scurvy;with the excessive heat of the lengthened calm, making such short workof it as to sweep away, as by billows, whole families of the Africans,and a yet larger number, proportionably, of the Spaniards, including, bya luckless fatality, every remaining officer on board. Consequently, inthe smart west winds eventually following the calm, the already rentsails, having to be simply dropped, not furled, at need, had beengradually reduced to the beggars’ rags they were now. To procuresubstitutes for his lost sailors, as well as supplies of water andsails, the captain, at the earliest opportunity, had made for Baldivia,the southernmost civilized port of Chili and South America; but uponnearing the coast the thick weather had prevented him from so much assighting that harbor. Since which period, almost without a crew, andalmost without canvas and almost without water, and, at intervals givingits added dead to the sea, the San Dominick had been battle-dored aboutby contrary winds, inveigled by currents, or grown weedy in calms. Likea man lost in woods, more than once she had doubled upon her own track.
“But throughout these calamities,” huskily continued Don Benito,painfully turning in the half embrace of his servant, “I have to thankthose negroes you see, who, though to your inexperienced eyes appearingunruly, have, indeed, conducted themselves with less of restlessnessthan even their owner could have thought possible under suchcircumstances.”
Here he again fell faintly back. Again his mind wandered; but herallied, and less obscurely proceeded.
“Yes, their owner was quite right in assuring me that no fetters wouldbe needed with his blacks; so that while, as is wont in thistransportation, those negroes have always remained upon deck–not thrustbelow, as in the Guinea-men–they have, also, from the beginning, beenfreely permitted to range within given bounds at their pleasure.”
Once more the faintness returned–his mind roved–but, recovering, heresumed:
“But it is Babo here to whom, under God, I owe not only my ownpreservation, but likewise to him, chiefly, the merit is due, ofpacifying his more ignorant brethren, when at intervals tempted tomurmurings.”
“Ah, master,” sighed the black, bowing his face, “don’t speak of me;Babo is nothing; what Babo has done was but duty.”
“Faithful fellow!” cried Captain Delano. “Don Benito, I envy you such afriend; slave I cannot call him.”
As master and man stood before him, the black upholding the white,Captain Delano could not but bethink him of the beauty of thatrelationship which could present such a spectacle of fidelity on the onehand and confidence on the other. The scene was heightened by, thecontrast in dress, denoting their relative positions. The Spaniard worea loose Chili jacket of dark velvet; white small-clothes and stockings,with silver buckles at the knee and instep; a high-crowned sombrero, offine grass; a slender sword, silver mounted, hung from a knot in hissash–the last being an almost invariable adjunct, more for utility thanornament, of a South American gentleman’s dress to this hour. Exceptingwhen his occasional nervous contortions brought about disarray, therewas a certain precision in his attire curiously at variance with theunsightly disorder around; especially in the belittered Ghetto, forwardof the main-mast, wholly occupied by the blacks.
The servant wore nothing but wide trowsers, apparently, from theircoarseness and patches, made out of some old topsail; they were clean,and confined at the waist by a bit of unstranded rope, which, with hiscomposed, deprecatory air at times, made him look something like abegging friar of St. Francis.
However unsuitable for the time and place, at least in theblunt-thinking American’s eyes, and however strangely surviving in themidst of all his afflictions, the toilette of Don Benito might not, infashion at least, have gone beyond the style of the day among SouthAmericans of his class. Though on the present voyage sailing from BuenosAyres, he had avowed himself a native and resident of Chili, whoseinhabitants had not so generally adopted the plain coat and onceplebeian pantaloons; but, with a becoming modification, adhered to theirprovincial costume, picturesque as any in the world. Still, relativelyto the pale history of the voyage, and his own pale face, there seemedsomething so incongruous in the Spaniard’s apparel, as almost to suggestthe image of an invalid courtier tottering about London streets in thetime of the plague.
The portion of the narrative which, perhaps, most excited interest, aswell as some surprise, considering the latitudes in question, was thelong calms spoken of, and more particularly the ship’s so long driftingabout. Without communicating the opinion, of course, the American couldnot but impute at least part of the detentions both to clumsy seamanshipand faulty navigation. Eying Don Benito’s small, yellow hands, heeasily inferred that the young captain had not got into command at thehawse-hole, but the cabin-window; and if so, why wonder at incompetence,in youth, sickness, and gentility united?
But drowning criticism in compassion, after a fresh repetition of hissympathies, Captain Delano, having heard out his story, not onlyengaged, as in the first place, to see Don Benito and his peoplesupplied in their immediate bodily needs, but, also, now fartherpromised to assist him in procuring a large permanent supply of water,as well as some sails and rigging; and, though it would involve no smallembarrassment to himself, yet he would spare three of his best seamenfor temporary deck officers; so that without delay the ship mightproceed to Conception, there fully to refit for Lima, her destined port.
Such generosity was not without its effect, even upon the invalid. Hisface lighted up; eager and hectic, he met the honest glance of hisvisitor. With gratitude he seemed overcome.
“This excitement is bad for master,” whispered the servant, taking hisarm, and with soothing words gently drawing him aside.
When Don Benito returned, the American was pained to observe that hishopefulness, like the sudden kindling in his cheek, was but febrile andtransient.
Ere long, with a joyless mien, looking up towards the poop, the hostinvited his guest to accompany him there, for the benefit of what littlebreath of wind might be stirring.
As, during the telling of the story, Captain Delano had once or twicestarted at the occasional cymballing of the hatchet-polishers, wonderingwhy such an interruption should be allowed, especially in that part ofthe ship, and in the ears of an invalid; and moreover, as the hatchetshad anything but an attractive look, and the handlers of them still lessso, it was, therefore, to tell the truth, not without some lurkingreluctance, or even shrinking, it may be, that Captain Delano, withapparent complaisance, acquiesced in his host’s invitation. The more so,since, with an untimely caprice of punctilio, rendered distressing byhis cadaverous aspect, Don Benito, with Castilian bows, solemnlyinsisted upon his guest’s preceding him up the ladder leading to theelevation; where, one on each side of the last step, sat for armorialsupporters and sentries two of the ominous file. Gingerly enough steppedgood Captain Delano between them, and in the instant of leaving thembehind, like one running the gauntlet, he felt an apprehensive twitch inthe calves of his legs.
But when, facing about, he saw the whole file, like so manyorgan-grinders, still stupidly intent on their work, unmindful ofeverything beside, he could not but smile at his late fidgety panic.
Presently, while standing with his host, looking forward upon the decksbelow, he was struck by one of those instances of insubordinationpreviously alluded to. Three black boys, with two Spanish boys, weresitting together on the hatches, scraping a rude wooden platter, inwhich some scanty mess had recently been cooked. Suddenly, one of theblack boys, enraged at a word dropped by one of his white companions,seized a knife, and, though called to forbear by one of theoakum-pickers, struck the lad over the head, inflicting a gash fromwhich blood flowed.
In amazement, Captain Delano inquired what this meant. To which the paleDon Benito dully muttered, that it was merely the sport of the lad.
“Pretty serious sport, truly,” rejoined Captain Delano. “Had such athing happened on board the Bachelor’s Delight, instant punishment wouldhave followed.”
At these words the Spaniard turned upon the American one of his sudden,staring, half-lunatic looks; then, relapsing into his torpor, answered,”Doubtless, doubtless, Seor.”
Is it, thought Captain Delano, that this hapless man is one of thosepaper captains I’ve known, who by policy wink at what by power theycannot put down? I know no sadder sight than a commander who has littleof command but the name.
“I should think, Don Benito,” he now said, glancing towards theoakum-picker who had sought to interfere with the boys, “that you wouldfind it advantageous to keep all your blacks employed, especially theyounger ones, no matter at what useless task, and no matter what happensto the ship. Why, even with my little band, I find such a courseindispensable. I once kept a crew on my quarter-deck thrumming mats formy cabin, when, for three days, I had given up my ship–mats, men, andall–for a speedy loss, owing to the violence of a gale, in which wecould do nothing but helplessly drive before it.”
“Doubtless, doubtless,” muttered Don Benito.
“But,” continued Captain Delano, again glancing upon the oakum-pickersand then at the hatchet-polishers, near by, “I see you keep some, atleast, of your host employed.”
“Yes,” was again the vacant response.
“Those old men there, shaking their pows from their pulpits,” continuedCaptain Delano, pointing to the oakum-pickers, “seem to act the part ofold dominies to the rest, little heeded as their admonitions are attimes. Is this voluntary on their part, Don Benito, or have youappointed them shepherds to your flock of black sheep?”
“What posts they fill, I appointed them,” rejoined the Spaniard, in anacrid tone, as if resenting some supposed satiric reflection.
“And these others, these Ashantee conjurors here,” continued CaptainDelano, rather uneasily eying the brandished steel of thehatchet-polishers, where, in spots, it had been brought to a shine,”this seems a curious business they are at, Don Benito?”
“In the gales we met,” answered the Spaniard, “what of our general cargowas not thrown overboard was much damaged by the brine. Since cominginto calm weather, I have had several cases of knives and hatchets dailybrought up for overhauling and cleaning.”
“A prudent idea, Don Benito. You are part owner of ship and cargo, Ipresume; but none of the slaves, perhaps?”
“I am owner of all you see,” impatiently returned Don Benito, “exceptthe main company of blacks, who belonged to my late friend, AlexandroAranda.”
As he mentioned this name, his air was heart-broken; his knees shook;his servant supported him.
Thinking he divined the cause of such unusual emotion, to confirm hissurmise, Captain Delano, after a pause, said: “And may I ask, DonBenito, whether–since awhile ago you spoke of some cabinpassengers–the friend, whose loss so afflicts you, at the outset of thevoyage accompanied his blacks?”
“But died of the fever?”
“Died of the fever. Oh, could I but–”
Again quivering, the Spaniard paused.
“Pardon me,” said Captain Delano, lowly, “but I think that, by asympathetic experience, I conjecture, Don Benito, what it is that givesthe keener edge to your grief. It was once my hard fortune to lose, atsea, a dear friend, my own brother, then supercargo. Assured of thewelfare of his spirit, its departure I could have borne like a man; butthat honest eye, that honest hand–both of which had so often metmine–and that warm heart; all, all–like scraps to the dogs–to throwall to the sharks! It was then I vowed never to have for fellow-voyagera man I loved, unless, unbeknown to him, I had provided every requisite,in case of a fatality, for embalming his mortal part for interment onshore. Were your friend’s remains now on board this ship, Don Benito,not thus strangely would the mention of his name affect you.”
“On board this ship?” echoed the Spaniard. Then, with horrifiedgestures, as directed against some spectre, he unconsciously fell intothe ready arms of his attendant, who, with a silent appeal towardCaptain Delano, seemed beseeching him not again to broach a theme sounspeakably distressing to his master.
This poor fellow now, thought the pained American, is the victim of thatsad superstition which associates goblins with the deserted body of man,as ghosts with an abandoned house. How unlike are we made! What to me,in like case, would have been a solemn satisfaction, the baresuggestion, even, terrifies the Spaniard into this trance. PoorAlexandro Aranda! what would you say could you here see yourfriend–who, on former voyages, when you, for months, were left behind,has, I dare say, often longed, and longed, for one peep at you–nowtransported with terror at the least thought of having you anyway nighhim.
At this moment, with a dreary grave-yard toll, betokening a flaw, theship’s forecastle bell, smote by one of the grizzled oakum-pickers,proclaimed ten o’clock, through the leaden calm; when Captain Delano’sattention was caught by the moving figure of a gigantic black, emergingfrom the general crowd below, and slowly advancing towards the elevatedpoop. An iron collar was about his neck, from which depended a chain,thrice wound round his body; the terminating links padlocked together ata broad band of iron, his girdle.
“How like a mute Atufal moves,” murmured the servant.
The black mounted the steps of the poop, and, like a brave prisoner,brought up to receive sentence, stood in unquailing muteness before DonBenito, now recovered from his attack.
At the first glimpse of his approach, Don Benito had started, aresentful shadow swept over his face; and, as with the sudden memory ofbootless rage, his white lips glued together.
This is some mulish mutineer, thought Captain Delano, surveying, notwithout a mixture of admiration, the colossal form of the negro.
“See, he waits your question, master,” said the servant.
Thus reminded, Don Benito, nervously averting his glance, as ifshunning, by anticipation, some rebellious response, in a disconcertedvoice, thus spoke:–
“Atufal, will you ask my pardon, now?”
The black was silent.
“Again, master,” murmured the servant, with bitter upbraiding eyeing hiscountryman, “Again, master; he will bend to master yet.”
“Answer,” said Don Benito, still averting his glance, “say but the oneword, _pardon_, and your chains shall be off.”
Upon this, the black, slowly raising both arms, let them lifelesslyfall, his links clanking, his head bowed; as much as to say, “no, I amcontent.”
“Go,” said Don Benito, with inkept and unknown emotion.
Deliberately as he had come, the black obeyed.
“Excuse me, Don Benito,” said Captain Delano, “but this scene surprisesme; what means it, pray?”
“It means that that negro alone, of all the band, has given me peculiarcause of offense. I have put him in chains; I–”
Here he paused; his hand to his head, as if there were a swimming there,or a sudden bewilderment of memory had come over him; but meeting hisservant’s kindly glance seemed reassured, and proceeded:–
“I could not scourge such a form. But I told him he must ask my pardon.As yet he has not. At my command, every two hours he stands before me.”
“And how long has this been?”
“Some sixty days.”
“And obedient in all else? And respectful?”
“Upon my conscience, then,” exclaimed Captain Delano, impulsively, “hehas a royal spirit in him, this fellow.”
“He may have some right to it,” bitterly returned Don Benito, “he sayshe was king in his own land.”
“Yes,” said the servant, entering a word, “those slits in Atufal’s earsonce held wedges of gold; but poor Babo here, in his own land, was onlya poor slave; a black man’s slave was Babo, who now is the white’s.”
Somewhat annoyed by these conversational familiarities, Captain Delanoturned curiously upon the attendant, then glanced inquiringly at hismaster; but, as if long wonted to these little informalities, neithermaster nor man seemed to understand him.
“What, pray, was Atufal’s offense, Don Benito?” asked Captain Delano;”if it was not something very serious, take a fool’s advice, and, inview of his general docility, as well as in some natural respect for hisspirit, remit him his penalty.”
“No, no, master never will do that,” here murmured the servant tohimself, “proud Atufal must first ask master’s pardon. The slave therecarries the padlock, but master here carries the key.”
His attention thus directed, Captain Delano now noticed for the first,that, suspended by a slender silken cord, from Don Benito’s neck, hunga key. At once, from the servant’s muttered syllables, divining thekey’s purpose, he smiled, and said:–“So, Don Benito–padlock andkey–significant symbols, truly.”
Biting his lip, Don Benito faltered.
Though the remark of Captain Delano, a man of such native simplicity asto be incapable of satire or irony, had been dropped in playful allusionto the Spaniard’s singularly evidenced lordship over the black; yet thehypochondriac seemed some way to have taken it as a malicious reflectionupon his confessed inability thus far to break down, at least, on averbal summons, the entrenched will of the slave. Deploring thissupposed misconception, yet despairing of correcting it, Captain Delanoshifted the subject; but finding his companion more than ever withdrawn,as if still sourly digesting the lees of the presumed affrontabove-mentioned, by-and-by Captain Delano likewise became lesstalkative, oppressed, against his own will, by what seemed the secretvindictiveness of the morbidly sensitive Spaniard. But the good sailor,himself of a quite contrary disposition, refrained, on his part, alikefrom the appearance as from the feeling of resentment, and if silent,was only so from contagion.
Presently the Spaniard, assisted by his servant somewhat discourteouslycrossed over from his guest; a procedure which, sensibly enough, mighthave been allowed to pass for idle caprice of ill-humor, had not masterand man, lingering round the corner of the elevated skylight, beganwhispering together in low voices. This was unpleasing. And more; themoody air of the Spaniard, which at times had not been without a sort ofvaletudinarian stateliness, now seemed anything but dignified; while themenial familiarity of the servant lost its original charm ofsimple-hearted attachment.
In his embarrassment, the visitor turned his face to the other side ofthe ship. By so doing, his glance accidentally fell on a young Spanishsailor, a coil of rope in his hand, just stepped from the deck to thefirst round of the mizzen-rigging. Perhaps the man would not have beenparticularly noticed, were it not that, during his ascent to one of theyards, he, with a sort of covert intentness, kept his eye fixed onCaptain Delano, from whom, presently, it passed, as if by a naturalsequence, to the two whisperers.
His own attention thus redirected to that quarter, Captain Delano gave aslight start. From something in Don Benito’s manner just then, it seemedas if the visitor had, at least partly, been the subject of thewithdrawn consultation going on–a conjecture as little agreeable to theguest as it was little flattering to the host.
The singular alternations of courtesy and ill-breeding in the Spanishcaptain were unaccountable, except on one of two suppositions–innocentlunacy, or wicked imposture.
But the first idea, though it might naturally have occurred to anindifferent observer, and, in some respect, had not hitherto been whollya stranger to Captain Delano’s mind, yet, now that, in an incipient way,he began to regard the stranger’s conduct something in the light of anintentional affront, of course the idea of lunacy was virtually vacated.But if not a lunatic, what then? Under the circumstances, would agentleman, nay, any honest boor, act the part now acted by his host? Theman was an impostor. Some low-born adventurer, masquerading as anoceanic grandee; yet so ignorant of the first requisites of meregentlemanhood as to be betrayed into the present remarkable indecorum.That strange ceremoniousness, too, at other times evinced, seemed notuncharacteristic of one playing a part above his real level. BenitoCereno–Don Benito Cereno–a sounding name. One, too, at that period,not unknown, in the surname, to super-cargoes and sea captains tradingalong the Spanish Main, as belonging to one of the most enterprising andextensive mercantile families in all those provinces; several members ofit having titles; a sort of Castilian Rothschild, with a noble brother,or cousin, in every great trading town of South America. The alleged DonBenito was in early manhood, about twenty-nine or thirty. To assume asort of roving cadetship in the maritime affairs of such a house, whatmore likely scheme for a young knave of talent and spirit? But theSpaniard was a pale invalid. Never mind. For even to the degree ofsimulating mortal disease, the craft of some tricksters had been knownto attain. To think that, under the aspect of infantile weakness, themost savage energies might be couched–those velvets of the Spaniard butthe silky paw to his fangs.
From no train of thought did these fancies come; not from within, butfrom without; suddenly, too, and in one throng, like hoar frost; yet assoon to vanish as the mild sun of Captain Delano’s good-nature regainedits meridian.
Glancing over once more towards his host–whose side-face, revealedabove the skylight, was now turned towards him–he was struck by theprofile, whose clearness of cut was refined by the thinness, incident toill-health, as well as ennobled about the chin by the beard. Away withsuspicion. He was a true off-shoot of a true hidalgo Cereno.
Relieved by these and other better thoughts, the visitor, lightlyhumming a tune, now began indifferently pacing the poop, so as not tobetray to Don Benito that he had at all mistrusted incivility, much lessduplicity; for such mistrust would yet be proved illusory, and by theevent; though, for the present, the circumstance which had provoked thatdistrust remained unexplained. But when that little mystery should havebeen cleared up, Captain Delano thought he might extremely regret it,did he allow Don Benito to become aware that he had indulged inungenerous surmises. In short, to the Spaniard’s black-letter text, itwas best, for awhile, to leave open margin.
Presently, his pale face twitching and overcast, the Spaniard, stillsupported by his attendant, moved over towards his guest, when, witheven more than his usual embarrassment, and a strange sort of intriguingintonation in his husky whisper, the following conversation began:–
“Seor, may I ask how long you have lain at this isle?”
“Oh, but a day or two, Don Benito.”
“And from what port are you last?”
“And there, Seor, you exchanged your sealskins for teas and silks, Ithink you said?”
“Yes, Silks, mostly.”
“And the balance you took in specie, perhaps?”
Captain Delano, fidgeting a little, answered–
“Yes; some silver; not a very great deal, though.”
“Ah–well. May I ask how many men have you, Seor?”
Captain Delano slightly started, but answered–
“About five-and-twenty, all told.”
“And at present, Seor, all on board, I suppose?”
“All on board, Don Benito,” replied the Captain, now with satisfaction.
“And will be to-night, Seor?”
At this last question, following so many pertinacious ones, for the soulof him Captain Delano could not but look very earnestly at thequestioner, who, instead of meeting the glance, with every token ofcraven discomposure dropped his eyes to the deck; presenting an unworthycontrast to his servant, who, just then, was kneeling at his feet,adjusting a loose shoe-buckle; his disengaged face meantime, withhumble curiosity, turned openly up into his master’s downcast one.
The Spaniard, still with a guilty shuffle, repeated his question:
“And–and will be to-night, Seor?”
“Yes, for aught I know,” returned Captain Delano–“but nay,” rallyinghimself into fearless truth, “some of them talked of going off onanother fishing party about midnight.”
“Your ships generally go–go more or less armed, I believe, Seor?”
“Oh, a six-pounder or two, in case of emergency,” was the intrepidlyindifferent reply, “with a small stock of muskets, sealing-spears, andcutlasses, you know.”
As he thus responded, Captain Delano again glanced at Don Benito, butthe latter’s eyes were averted; while abruptly and awkwardly shiftingthe subject, he made some peevish allusion to the calm, and then,without apology, once more, with his attendant, withdrew to the oppositebulwarks, where the whispering was resumed.
At this moment, and ere Captain Delano could cast a cool thought uponwhat had just passed, the young Spanish sailor, before mentioned, wasseen descending from the rigging. In act of stooping over to springinboard to the deck, his voluminous, unconfined frock, or shirt, ofcoarse woolen, much spotted with tar, opened out far down the chest,revealing a soiled under garment of what seemed the finest linen, edged,about the neck, with a narrow blue ribbon, sadly faded and worn. At thismoment the young sailor’s eye was again fixed on the whisperers, andCaptain Delano thought he observed a lurking significance in it, as ifsilent signs, of some Freemason sort, had that instant beeninterchanged.
This once more impelled his own glance in the direction of Don Benito,and, as before, he could not but infer that himself formed the subjectof the conference. He paused. The sound of the hatchet-polishing fell onhis ears. He cast another swift side-look at the two. They had the airof conspirators. In connection with the late questionings, and theincident of the young sailor, these things now begat such return ofinvoluntary suspicion, that the singular guilelessness of the Americancould not endure it. Plucking up a gay and humorous expression, hecrossed over to the two rapidly, saying:–“Ha, Don Benito, your blackhere seems high in your trust; a sort of privy-counselor, in fact.”
Upon this, the servant looked up with a good-natured grin, but themaster started as from a venomous bite. It was a moment or two beforethe Spaniard sufficiently recovered himself to reply; which he did, atlast, with cold constraint:–“Yes, Seor, I have trust in Babo.”
Here Babo, changing his previous grin of mere animal humor into anintelligent smile, not ungratefully eyed his master.
Finding that the Spaniard now stood silent and reserved, as ifinvoluntarily, or purposely giving hint that his guest’s proximity wasinconvenient just then, Captain Delano, unwilling to appear uncivil evento incivility itself, made some trivial remark and moved off; again andagain turning over in his mind the mysterious demeanor of Don BenitoCereno.
He had descended from the poop, and, wrapped in thought, was passingnear a dark hatchway, leading down into the steerage, when, perceivingmotion there, he looked to see what moved. The same instant there was asparkle in the shadowy hatchway, and he saw one of the Spanish sailors,prowling there hurriedly placing his hand in the bosom of his frock, asif hiding something. Before the man could have been certain who it wasthat was passing, he slunk below out of sight. But enough was seen ofhim to make it sure that he was the same young sailor before noticed inthe rigging.
What was that which so sparkled? thought Captain Delano. It was nolamp–no match–no live coal. Could it have been a jewel? But how comesailors with jewels?–or with silk-trimmed under-shirts either? Has hebeen robbing the trunks of the dead cabin-passengers? But if so, hewould hardly wear one of the stolen articles on board ship here. Ah,ah–if, now, that was, indeed, a secret sign I saw passing between thissuspicious fellow and his captain awhile since; if I could only becertain that, in my uneasiness, my senses did not deceive me, then–
Here, passing from one suspicious thing to another, his mind revolvedthe strange questions put to him concerning his ship.
By a curious coincidence, as each point was recalled, the black wizardsof Ashantee would strike up with their hatchets, as in ominous commenton the white stranger’s thoughts. Pressed by such enigmas: and portents,it would have been almost against nature, had not, even into the leastdistrustful heart, some ugly misgivings obtruded.
Observing the ship, now helplessly fallen into a current, with enchantedsails, drifting with increased rapidity seaward; and noting that, from alately intercepted projection of the land, the sealer was hidden, thestout mariner began to quake at thoughts which he barely durst confessto himself. Above all, he began to feel a ghostly dread of Don Benito.And yet, when he roused himself, dilated his chest, felt himself strongon his legs, and coolly considered it–what did all these phantomsamount to?
Had the Spaniard any sinister scheme, it must have reference not so muchto him (Captain Delano) as to his ship (the Bachelor’s Delight). Hencethe present drifting away of the one ship from the other, instead offavoring any such possible scheme, was, for the time, at least, opposedto it. Clearly any suspicion, combining such contradictions, must needbe delusive. Beside, was it not absurd to think of a vessel indistress–a vessel by sickness almost dismanned of her crew–a vesselwhose inmates were parched for water–was it not a thousand times absurdthat such a craft should, at present, be of a piratical character; orher commander, either for himself or those under him, cherish any desirebut for speedy relief and refreshment? But then, might not generaldistress, and thirst in particular, be affected? And might not that sameundiminished Spanish crew, alleged to have perished off to a remnant, beat that very moment lurking in the hold? On heart-broken pretense ofentreating a cup of cold water, fiends in human form had got into lonelydwellings, nor retired until a dark deed had been done. And among theMalay pirates, it was no unusual thing to lure ships after them intotheir treacherous harbors, or entice boarders from a declared enemy atsea, by the spectacle of thinly manned or vacant decks, beneath whichprowled a hundred spears with yellow arms ready to upthrust them throughthe mats. Not that Captain Delano had entirely credited such things. Hehad heard of them–and now, as stories, they recurred. The presentdestination of the ship was the anchorage. There she would be near hisown vessel. Upon gaining that vicinity, might not the San Dominick, likea slumbering volcano, suddenly let loose energies now hid?
He recalled the Spaniard’s manner while telling his story. There was agloomy hesitancy and subterfuge about it. It was just the manner of onemaking up his tale for evil purposes, as he goes. But if that story wasnot true, what was the truth? That the ship had unlawfully come into theSpaniard’s possession? But in many of its details, especially inreference to the more calamitous parts, such as the fatalities among theseamen, the consequent prolonged beating about, the past sufferings fromobstinate calms, and still continued suffering from thirst; in allthese points, as well as others, Don Benito’s story had corroborated notonly the wailing ejaculations of the indiscriminate multitude, white andblack, but likewise–what seemed impossible to be counterfeit–by thevery expression and play of every human feature, which Captain Delanosaw. If Don Benito’s story was, throughout, an invention, then everysoul on board, down to the youngest negress, was his carefully drilledrecruit in the plot: an incredible inference. And yet, if there wasground for mistrusting his veracity, that inference was a legitimateone.
But those questions of the Spaniard. There, indeed, one might pause. Didthey not seem put with much the same object with which the burglar orassassin, by day-time, reconnoitres the walls of a house? But, with illpurposes, to solicit such information openly of the chief personendangered, and so, in effect, setting him on his guard; how unlikely aprocedure was that? Absurd, then, to suppose that those questions hadbeen prompted by evil designs. Thus, the same conduct, which, in thisinstance, had raised the alarm, served to dispel it. In short, scarceany suspicion or uneasiness, however apparently reasonable at the time,which was not now, with equal apparent reason, dismissed.
At last he began to laugh at his former forebodings; and laugh at thestrange ship for, in its aspect, someway siding with them, as it were;and laugh, too, at the odd-looking blacks, particularly those oldscissors-grinders, the Ashantees; and those bed-ridden old knittingwomen, the oakum-pickers; and almost at the dark Spaniard himself, thecentral hobgoblin of all.
For the rest, whatever in a serious way seemed enigmatical, was nowgood-naturedly explained away by the thought that, for the most part,the poor invalid scarcely knew what he was about; either sulking inblack vapors, or putting idle questions without sense or object.Evidently for the present, the man was not fit to be intrusted with theship. On some benevolent plea withdrawing the command from him, CaptainDelano would yet have to send her to Conception, in charge of hissecond mate, a worthy person and good navigator–a plan not moreconvenient for the San Dominick than for Don Benito; for, relieved fromall anxiety, keeping wholly to his cabin, the sick man, under the goodnursing of his servant, would, probably, by the end of the passage, bein a measure restored to health, and with that he should also berestored to authority.
Such were the American’s thoughts. They were tranquilizing. There was adifference between the idea of Don Benito’s darkly pre-ordaining CaptainDelano’s fate, and Captain Delano’s lightly arranging Don Benito’s.Nevertheless, it was not without something of relief that the goodseaman presently perceived his whale-boat in the distance. Its absencehad been prolonged by unexpected detention at the sealer’s side, as wellas its returning trip lengthened by the continual recession of the goal.
The advancing speck was observed by the blacks. Their shouts attractedthe attention of Don Benito, who, with a return of courtesy, approachingCaptain Delano, expressed satisfaction at the coming of some supplies,slight and temporary as they must necessarily prove.
Captain Delano responded; but while doing so, his attention was drawn tosomething passing on the deck below: among the crowd climbing thelandward bulwarks, anxiously watching the coming boat, two blacks, toall appearances accidentally incommoded by one of the sailors, violentlypushed him aside, which the sailor someway resenting, they dashed him tothe deck, despite the earnest cries of the oakum-pickers.
“Don Benito,” said Captain Delano quickly, “do you see what is going onthere? Look!”
But, seized by his cough, the Spaniard staggered, with both hands to hisface, on the point of falling. Captain Delano would have supported him,but the servant was more alert, who, with one hand sustaining hismaster, with the other applied the cordial. Don Benito restored, theblack withdrew his support, slipping aside a little, but dutifullyremaining within call of a whisper. Such discretion was here evinced asquite wiped away, in the visitor’s eyes, any blemish of improprietywhich might have attached to the attendant, from the indecorousconferences before mentioned; showing, too, that if the servant were toblame, it might be more the master’s fault than his own, since, whenleft to himself, he could conduct thus well.
His glance called away from the spectacle of disorder to the morepleasing one before him, Captain Delano could not avoid againcongratulating his host upon possessing such a servant, who, thoughperhaps a little too forward now and then, must upon the whole beinvaluable to one in the invalid’s situation.
“Tell me, Don Benito,” he added, with a smile–“I should like to haveyour man here, myself–what will you take for him? Would fifty doubloonsbe any object?”
“Master wouldn’t part with Babo for a thousand doubloons,” murmured theblack, overhearing the offer, and taking it in earnest, and, with thestrange vanity of a faithful slave, appreciated by his master, scorningto hear so paltry a valuation put upon him by a stranger. But DonBenito, apparently hardly yet completely restored, and againinterrupted by his cough, made but some broken reply.
Soon his physical distress became so great, affecting his mind, too,apparently, that, as if to screen the sad spectacle, the servant gentlyconducted his master below.
Left to himself, the American, to while away the time till his boatshould arrive, would have pleasantly accosted some one of the fewSpanish seamen he saw; but recalling something that Don Benito had saidtouching their ill conduct, he refrained; as a shipmaster indisposed tocountenance cowardice or unfaithfulness in seamen.
While, with these thoughts, standing with eye directed forward towardsthat handful of sailors, suddenly he thought that one or two of themreturned the glance and with a sort of meaning. He rubbed his eyes, andlooked again; but again seemed to see the same thing. Under a new form,but more obscure than any previous one, the old suspicions recurred,but, in the absence of Don Benito, with less of panic than before.Despite the bad account given of the sailors, Captain Delano resolvedforthwith to accost one of them. Descending the poop, he made his waythrough the blacks, his movement drawing a queer cry from theoakum-pickers, prompted by whom, the negroes, twitching each otheraside, divided before him; but, as if curious to see what was the objectof this deliberate visit to their Ghetto, closing in behind, intolerable order, followed the white stranger up. His progress thusproclaimed as by mounted kings-at-arms, and escorted as by a Caffreguard of honor, Captain Delano, assuming a good-humored, off-handed air,continued to advance; now and then saying a blithe word to the negroes,and his eye curiously surveying the white faces, here and there sparselymixed in with the blacks, like stray white pawns venturously involved inthe ranks of the chess-men opposed.
While thinking which of them to select for his purpose, he chanced toobserve a sailor seated on the deck engaged in tarring the strap of alarge block, a circle of blacks squatted round him inquisitively eyingthe process.
The mean employment of the man was in contrast with something superiorin his figure. His hand, black with continually thrusting it into thetar-pot held for him by a negro, seemed not naturally allied to hisface, a face which would have been a very fine one but for itshaggardness. Whether this haggardness had aught to do with criminality,could not be determined; since, as intense heat and cold, though unlike,produce like sensations, so innocence and guilt, when, through casualassociation with mental pain, stamping any visible impress, use oneseal–a hacked one.
Not again that this reflection occurred to Captain Delano at the time,charitable man as he was. Rather another idea. Because observing sosingular a haggardness combined with a dark eye, averted as in troubleand shame, and then again recalling Don Benito’s confessed ill opinionof his crew, insensibly he was operated upon by certain general notionswhich, while disconnecting pain and abashment from virtue, invariablylink them with vice.
If, indeed, there be any wickedness on board this ship, thought CaptainDelano, be sure that man there has fouled his hand in it, even as now hefouls it in the pitch. I don’t like to accost him. I will speak to thisother, this old Jack here on the windlass.
He advanced to an old Barcelona tar, in ragged red breeches and dirtynight-cap, cheeks trenched and bronzed, whiskers dense as thorn hedges.Seated between two sleepy-looking Africans, this mariner, like hisyounger shipmate, was employed upon some rigging–splicing a cable–thesleepy-looking blacks performing the inferior function of holding theouter parts of the ropes for him.
Upon Captain Delano’s approach, the man at once hung his head below itsprevious level; the one necessary for business. It appeared as if hedesired to be thought absorbed, with more than common fidelity, in histask. Being addressed, he glanced up, but with what seemed a furtive,diffident air, which sat strangely enough on his weather-beaten visage,much as if a grizzly bear, instead of growling and biting, should simperand cast sheep’s eyes. He was asked several questions concerning thevoyage–questions purposely referring to several particulars in DonBenito’s narrative, not previously corroborated by those impulsive criesgreeting the visitor on first coming on board. The questions werebriefly answered, confirming all that remained to be confirmed of thestory. The negroes about the windlass joined in with the old sailor;but, as they became talkative, he by degrees became mute, and at lengthquite glum, seemed morosely unwilling to answer more questions, and yet,all the while, this ursine air was somehow mixed with his sheepish one.
Despairing of getting into unembarrassed talk with such a centaur,Captain Delano, after glancing round for a more promising countenance,but seeing none, spoke pleasantly to the blacks to make way for him; andso, amid various grins and grimaces, returned to the poop, feeling alittle strange at first, he could hardly tell why, but upon the wholewith regained confidence in Benito Cereno.
How plainly, thought he, did that old whiskerando yonder betray aconsciousness of ill desert. No doubt, when he saw me coming, hedreaded lest I, apprised by his Captain of the crew’s generalmisbehavior, came with sharp words for him, and so down with his head.And yet–and yet, now that I think of it, that very old fellow, if I errnot, was one of those who seemed so earnestly eying me here awhilesince. Ah, these currents spin one’s head round almost as much as theydo the ship. Ha, there now’s a pleasant sort of sunny sight; quitesociable, too.
His attention had been drawn to a slumbering negress, partly disclosedthrough the lacework of some rigging, lying, with youthful limbscarelessly disposed, under the lee of the bulwarks, like a doe in theshade of a woodland rock. Sprawling at her lapped breasts, was herwide-awake fawn, stark naked, its black little body half lifted from thedeck, crosswise with its dam’s; its hands, like two paws, clamberingupon her; its mouth and nose ineffectually rooting to get at the mark;and meantime giving a vexatious half-grunt, blending with the composedsnore of the negress.
The uncommon vigor of the child at length roused the mother. She startedup, at a distance facing Captain Delano. But as if not, at all concernedat the attitude in which she had been caught, delightedly she caught thechild up, with maternal transports, covering it with kisses.
There’s naked nature, now; pure tenderness and love, thought CaptainDelano, well pleased.
This incident prompted him to remark the other negresses moreparticularly than before. He was gratified with their manners: like mostuncivilized women, they seemed at once tender of heart and tough ofconstitution; equally ready to die for their infants or fight for them.Unsophisticated as leopardesses; loving as doves. Ah! thought CaptainDelano, these, perhaps, are some of the very women whom Ledyard saw inAfrica, and gave such a noble account of.
These natural sights somehow insensibly deepened his confidence andease. At last he looked to see how his boat was getting on; but it wasstill pretty remote. He turned to see if Don Benito had returned; buthe had not.
To change the scene, as well as to please himself with a leisurelyobservation of the coming boat, stepping over into the mizzen-chains, heclambered his way into the starboard quarter-gallery–one ofthose abandoned Venetian-looking water-balconies previouslymentioned–retreats cut off from the deck. As his foot pressed thehalf-damp, half-dry sea-mosses matting the place, and a chance phantomcats-paw–an islet of breeze, unheralded unfollowed–as this ghostlycats-paw came fanning his cheek; as his glance fell upon the row ofsmall, round dead-lights–all closed like coppered eyes of thecoffined–and the state-cabin door, once connecting with the gallery,even as the dead-lights had once looked out upon it, but now calked fastlike a sarcophagus lid; and to a purple-black tarred-over, panel,threshold, and post; and he bethought him of the time, when thatstate-cabin and this state-balcony had heard the voices of the Spanishking’s officers, and the forms of the Lima viceroy’s daughters hadperhaps leaned where he stood–as these and other images flittedthrough his mind, as the cats-paw through the calm, gradually he feltrising a dreamy inquietude, like that of one who alone on the prairiefeels unrest from the repose of the noon.
He leaned against the carved balustrade, again looking off toward hisboat; but found his eye falling upon the ribbon grass, trailing alongthe ship’s water-line, straight as a border of green box; and parterresof sea-weed, broad ovals and crescents, floating nigh and far, with whatseemed long formal alleys between, crossing the terraces of swells, andsweeping round as if leading to the grottoes below. And overhanging allwas the balustrade by his arm, which, partly stained with pitch andpartly embossed with moss, seemed the charred ruin of some summer-housein a grand garden long running to waste.
Trying to break one charm, he was but becharmed anew. Though upon thewide sea, he seemed in some far inland country; prisoner in somedeserted chteau, left to stare at empty grounds, and peer out at vagueroads, where never wagon or wayfarer passed.
But these enchantments were a little disenchanted as his eye fell on thecorroded main-chains. Of an ancient style, massy and rusty in link,shackle and bolt, they seemed even more fit for the ship’s presentbusiness than the one for which she had been built.
Presently he thought something moved nigh the chains. He rubbed hiseyes, and looked hard. Groves of rigging were about the chains; andthere, peering from behind a great stay, like an Indian from behind ahemlock, a Spanish sailor, a marlingspike in his hand, was seen, whomade what seemed an imperfect gesture towards the balcony, butimmediately as if alarmed by some advancing step along the deck within,vanished into the recesses of the hempen forest, like a poacher.
What meant this? Something the man had sought to communicate, unbeknownto any one, even to his captain. Did the secret involve aughtunfavorable to his captain? Were those previous misgivings of CaptainDelano’s about to be verified? Or, in his haunted mood at the moment,had some random, unintentional motion of the man, while busy with thestay, as if repairing it, been mistaken for a significant beckoning?
Not unbewildered, again he gazed off for his boat. But it wastemporarily hidden by a rocky spur of the isle. As with some eagernesshe bent forward, watching for the first shooting view of its beak, thebalustrade gave way before him like charcoal. Had he not clutched anoutreaching rope he would have fallen into the sea. The crash, thoughfeeble, and the fall, though hollow, of the rotten fragments, must havebeen overheard. He glanced up. With sober curiosity peering down uponhim was one of the old oakum-pickers, slipped from his perch to anoutside boom; while below the old negro, and, invisible to him,reconnoitering from a port-hole like a fox from the mouth of its den,crouched the Spanish sailor again. From something suddenly suggested bythe man’s air, the mad idea now darted into Captain Delano’s mind, thatDon Benito’s plea of indisposition, in withdrawing below, was but apretense: that he was engaged there maturing his plot, of which thesailor, by some means gaining an inkling, had a mind to warn thestranger against; incited, it may be, by gratitude for a kind word onfirst boarding the ship. Was it from foreseeing some possibleinterference like this, that Don Benito had, beforehand, given such abad character of his sailors, while praising the negroes; though,indeed, the former seemed as docile as the latter the contrary? Thewhites, too, by nature, were the shrewder race. A man with some evildesign, would he not be likely to speak well of that stupidity which wasblind to his depravity, and malign that intelligence from which it mightnot be hidden? Not unlikely, perhaps. But if the whites had dark secretsconcerning Don Benito, could then Don Benito be any way in complicitywith the blacks? But they were too stupid. Besides, who ever heard of awhite so far a renegade as to apostatize from his very species almost,by leaguing in against it with negroes? These difficulties recalledformer ones. Lost in their mazes, Captain Delano, who had now regainedthe deck, was uneasily advancing along it, when he observed a new face;an aged sailor seated cross-legged near the main hatchway. His skin wasshrunk up with wrinkles like a pelican’s empty pouch; his hair frosted;his countenance grave and composed. His hands were full of ropes, whichhe was working into a large knot. Some blacks were about him obliginglydipping the strands for him, here and there, as the exigencies of theoperation demanded.
Captain Delano crossed over to him, and stood in silence surveying theknot; his mind, by a not uncongenial transition, passing from its ownentanglements to those of the hemp. For intricacy, such a knot he hadnever seen in an American ship, nor indeed any other. The old man lookedlike an Egyptian priest, making Gordian knots for the temple of Ammon.The knot seemed a combination of double-bowline-knot, treble-crown-knot,back-handed-well-knot, knot-in-and-out-knot, and jamming-knot.
At last, puzzled to comprehend the meaning of such a knot, CaptainDelano addressed the knotter:–
“What are you knotting there, my man?”
“The knot,” was the brief reply, without looking up.
“So it seems; but what is it for?”
“For some one else to undo,” muttered back the old man, plying hisfingers harder than ever, the knot being now nearly completed.
While Captain Delano stood watching him, suddenly the old man threw theknot towards him, saying in broken English–the first heard in theship–something to this effect: “Undo it, cut it, quick.” It was saidlowly, but with such condensation of rapidity, that the long, slow wordsin Spanish, which had preceded and followed, almost operated as coversto the brief English between.
For a moment, knot in hand, and knot in head, Captain Delano stood mute;while, without further heeding him, the old man was now intent uponother ropes. Presently there was a slight stir behind Captain Delano.Turning, he saw the chained negro, Atufal, standing quietly there. Thenext moment the old sailor rose, muttering, and, followed by hissubordinate negroes, removed to the forward part of the ship, where inthe crowd he disappeared.
An elderly negro, in a clout like an infant’s, and with a pepper andsalt head, and a kind of attorney air, now approached Captain Delano. Intolerable Spanish, and with a good-natured, knowing wink, he informedhim that the old knotter was simple-witted, but harmless; often playinghis odd tricks. The negro concluded by begging the knot, for of coursethe stranger would not care to be troubled with it. Unconsciously, itwas handed to him. With a sort of cong, the negro received it, and,turning his back, ferreted into it like a detective custom-house officerafter smuggled laces. Soon, with some African word, equivalent to pshaw,he tossed the knot overboard.
All this is very queer now, thought Captain Delano, with a qualmish sortof emotion; but, as one feeling incipient sea-sickness, he strove, byignoring the symptoms, to get rid of the malady. Once more he looked offfor his boat. To his delight, it was now again in view, leaving therocky spur astern.
The sensation here experienced, after at first relieving his uneasiness,with unforeseen efficacy soon began to remove it. The less distant sightof that well-known boat–showing it, not as before, half blended withthe haze, but with outline defined, so that its individuality, like aman’s, was manifest; that boat, Rover by name, which, though now instrange seas, had often pressed the beach of Captain Delano’s home, and,brought to its threshold for repairs, had familiarly lain there, as aNewfoundland dog; the sight of that household, boat evoked a thousandtrustful associations, which, contrasted with previous suspicions,filled him not only with lightsome confidence, but somehow with halfhumorous self-reproaches at his former lack of it.
“What, I, Amasa Delano–Jack of the Beach, as they called me when alad–I, Amasa; the same that, duck-satchel in hand, used to paddle alongthe water-side to the school-house made from the old hulk–I, littleJack of the Beach, that used to go berrying with cousin Nat and therest; I to be murdered here at the ends of the earth, on board a hauntedpirate-ship by a horrible Spaniard? Too nonsensical to think of! Whowould murder Amasa Delano? His conscience is clean. There is some oneabove. Fie, fie, Jack of the Beach! you are a child indeed; a child ofthe second childhood, old boy; you are beginning to dote and drule, I’mafraid.”
Light of heart and foot, he stepped aft, and there was met by DonBenito’s servant, who, with a pleasing expression, responsive to his ownpresent feelings, informed him that his master had recovered from theeffects of his coughing fit, and had just ordered him to go present hiscompliments to his good guest, Don Amasa, and say that he (Don Benito)would soon have the happiness to rejoin him.
There now, do you mark that? again thought Captain Delano, walking thepoop. What a donkey I was. This kind gentleman who here sends me hiskind compliments, he, but ten minutes ago, dark-lantern in had, wasdodging round some old grind-stone in the hold, sharpening a hatchet forme, I thought. Well, well; these long calms have a morbid effect on themind, I’ve often heard, though I never believed it before. Ha! glancingtowards the boat; there’s Rover; good dog; a white bone in her mouth. Apretty big bone though, seems to me.–What? Yes, she has fallen afoulof the bubbling tide-rip there. It sets her the other way, too, for thetime. Patience.
It was now about noon, though, from the grayness of everything, itseemed to be getting towards dusk.
The calm was confirmed. In the far distance, away from the influence ofland, the leaden ocean seemed laid out and leaded up, it’s coursefinished, soul gone, defunct. But the current from landward, where theship was, increased; silently sweeping her further and further towardsthe tranced waters beyond.
Still, from his knowledge of those latitudes, cherishing hopes of abreeze, and a fair and fresh one, at any moment, Captain Delano, despitepresent prospects, buoyantly counted upon bringing the San Dominicksafely to anchor ere night. The distance swept over was nothing; since,with a good wind, ten minutes’ sailing would retrace more than sixtyminutes, drifting. Meantime, one moment turning to mark “Rover” fightingthe tide-rip, and the next to see Don Benito approaching, he continuedwalking the poop.
Gradually he felt a vexation arising from the delay of his boat; thissoon merged into uneasiness; and at last–his eye falling continually,as from a stage-box into the pit, upon the strange crowd before andbelow him, and, by-and-by, recognizing there the face–now composed toindifference–of the Spanish sailor who had seemed to beckon from themain-chains–something of his old trepidations returned.
Ah, thought he–gravely enough–this is like the ague: because it wentoff, it follows not that it won’t come back.
Though ashamed of the relapse, he could not altogether subdue it; andso, exerting his good-nature to the utmost, insensibly he came to acompromise.
Yes, this is a strange craft; a strange history, too, and strange folkson board. But–nothing more.
By way of keeping his mind out of mischief till the boat should arrive,he tried to occupy it with turning over and over, in a purelyspeculative sort of way, some lesser peculiarities of the captain andcrew. Among others, four curious points recurred:
First, the affair of the Spanish lad assailed with a knife by the slaveboy; an act winked at by Don Benito. Second, the tyranny in Don Benito’streatment of Atufal, the black; as if a child should lead a bull of theNile by the ring in his nose. Third, the trampling of the sailor by thetwo negroes; a piece of insolence passed over without so much as areprimand. Fourth, the cringing submission to their master, of all theship’s underlings, mostly blacks; as if by the least inadvertence theyfeared to draw down his despotic displeasure.
Coupling these points, they seemed somewhat contradictory. But whatthen, thought Captain Delano, glancing towards his now nearingboat–what then? Why, Don Benito is a very capricious commander. But heis not the first of the sort I have seen; though it’s true he ratherexceeds any other. But as a nation–continued he in his reveries–theseSpaniards are all an odd set; the very word Spaniard has a curious,conspirator, Guy-Fawkish twang to it. And yet, I dare say, Spaniards inthe main are as good folks as any in Duxbury, Massachusetts. Ah good!last “Rover” has come.
As, with its welcome freight, the boat touched the side, theoakum-pickers, with venerable gestures, sought to restrain the blacks,who, at the sight of three gurried water-casks in its bottom, and a pileof wilted pumpkins in its bow, hung over the bulwarks in disorderlyraptured.
Don Benito, with his servant, now appeared; his coming, perhaps,hastened by hearing the noise. Of him Captain Delano sought permissionto serve out the water, so that all might share alike, and none injurethemselves by unfair excess. But sensible, and, on Don Benito’s account,kind as this offer was, it was received with what seemed impatience; asif aware that he lacked energy as a commander, Don Benito, with the truejealousy of weakness, resented as an affront any interference. So, atleast, Captain Delano inferred.
In another moment the casks were being hoisted in, when some of theeager negroes accidentally jostled Captain Delano, where he stood by thegangway; so, that, unmindful of Don Benito, yielding to the impulse ofthe moment, with good-natured authority he bade the blacks stand back;to enforce his words making use of a half-mirthful, half-menacinggesture. Instantly the blacks paused, just where they were, each negroand negress suspended in his or her posture, exactly as the word hadfound them–for a few seconds continuing so–while, as between theresponsive posts of a telegraph, an unknown syllable ran from man to manamong the perched oakum-pickers. While the visitor’s attention was fixedby this scene, suddenly the hatchet-polishers half rose, and a rapid crycame from Don Benito.
Thinking that at the signal of the Spaniard he was about to bemassacred, Captain Delano would have sprung for his boat, but paused, asthe oakum-pickers, dropping down into the crowd with earnestexclamations, forced every white and every negro back, at the samemoment, with gestures friendly and familiar, almost jocose, bidding him,in substance, not be a fool. Simultaneously the hatchet-polishersresumed their seats, quietly as so many tailors, and at once, as ifnothing had happened, the work of hoisting in the casks was resumed,whites and blacks singing at the tackle.
Captain Delano glanced towards Don Benito. As he saw his meagre form inthe act of recovering itself from reclining in the servant’s arms, intowhich the agitated invalid had fallen, he could not but marvel at thepanic by which himself had been surprised, on the darting suppositionthat such a commander, who, upon a legitimate occasion, so trivial, too,as it now appeared, could lose all self-command, was, with energeticiniquity, going to bring about his murder.
The casks being on deck, Captain Delano was handed a number of jars andcups by one of the steward’s aids, who, in the name of his captain,entreated him to do as he had proposed–dole out the water. He complied,with republican impartiality as to this republican element, which alwaysseeks one level, serving the oldest white no better than the youngestblack; excepting, indeed, poor Don Benito, whose condition, if not rank,demanded an extra allowance. To him, in the first place, Captain Delanopresented a fair pitcher of the fluid; but, thirsting as he was for it,the Spaniard quaffed not a drop until after several grave bows andsalutes. A reciprocation of courtesies which the sight-loving Africanshailed with clapping of hands.
Two of the less wilted pumpkins being reserved for the cabin table, theresidue were minced up on the spot for the general regalement. But thesoft bread, sugar, and bottled cider, Captain Delano would have giventhe whites alone, and in chief Don Benito; but the latter objected;which disinterestedness not a little pleased the American; and somouthfuls all around were given alike to whites and blacks; exceptingone bottle of cider, which Babo insisted upon setting aside for hismaster.
Here it may be observed that as, on the first visit of the boat, theAmerican had not permitted his men to board the ship, neither did henow; being unwilling to add to the confusion of the decks.
Not uninfluenced by the peculiar good-humor at present prevailing, andfor the time oblivious of any but benevolent thoughts, Captain Delano,who, from recent indications, counted upon a breeze within an hour ortwo at furthest, dispatched the boat back to the sealer, with orders forall the hands that could be spared immediately to set about raftingcasks to the watering-place and filling them. Likewise he bade word becarried to his chief officer, that if, against present expectation, theship was not brought to anchor by sunset, he need be under no concern;for as there was to be a full moon that night, he (Captain Delano) wouldremain on board ready to play the pilot, come the wind soon or late.
As the two Captains stood together, observing the departing boat–theservant, as it happened, having just spied a spot on his master’s velvetsleeve, and silently engaged rubbing it out–the American expressed hisregrets that the San Dominick had no boats; none, at least, but theunseaworthy old hulk of the long-boat, which, warped as a camel’sskeleton in the desert, and almost as bleached, lay pot-wise invertedamidships, one side a little tipped, furnishing a subterraneous sort ofden for family groups of the blacks, mostly women and small children;who, squatting on old mats below, or perched above in the dark dome, onthe elevated seats, were descried, some distance within, like a socialcircle of bats, sheltering in some friendly cave; at intervals, ebonflights of naked boys and girls, three or four years old, darting in andout of the den’s mouth.
“Had you three or four boats now, Don Benito,” said Captain Delano, “Ithink that, by tugging at the oars, your negroes here might help alongmatters some. Did you sail from port without boats, Don Benito?”
“They were stove in the gales, Seor.”
“That was bad. Many men, too, you lost then. Boats and men. Those musthave been hard gales, Don Benito.”
“Past all speech,” cringed the Spaniard.
“Tell me, Don Benito,” continued his companion with increased interest,”tell me, were these gales immediately off the pitch of Cape Horn?”
“Cape Horn?–who spoke of Cape Horn?”
“Yourself did, when giving me an account of your voyage,” answeredCaptain Delano, with almost equal astonishment at this eating of his ownwords, even as he ever seemed eating his own heart, on the part of theSpaniard. “You yourself, Don Benito, spoke of Cape Horn,” heemphatically repeated.
The Spaniard turned, in a sort of stooping posture, pausing an instant,as one about to make a plunging exchange of elements, as from air towater.
At this moment a messenger-boy, a white, hurried by, in the regularperformance of his function carrying the last expired half hour forwardto the forecastle, from the cabin time-piece, to have it struck at theship’s large bell.
“Master,” said the servant, discontinuing his work on the coat sleeve,and addressing the rapt Spaniard with a sort of timid apprehensiveness,as one charged with a duty, the discharge of which, it was foreseen,would prove irksome to the very person who had imposed it, and for whosebenefit it was intended, “master told me never mind where he was, or howengaged, always to remind him to a minute, when shaving-time comes.Miguel has gone to strike the half-hour afternoon. It is _now_, master.Will master go into the cuddy?”
“Ah–yes,” answered the Spaniard, starting, as from dreams intorealities; then turning upon Captain Delano, he said that ere long hewould resume the conversation.
“Then if master means to talk more to Don Amasa,” said the servant, “whynot let Don Amasa sit by master in the cuddy, and master can talk, andDon Amasa can listen, while Babo here lathers and strops.”
“Yes,” said Captain Delano, not unpleased with this sociable plan, “yes,Don Benito, unless you had rather not, I will go with you.”
“Be it so, Seor.”
As the three passed aft, the American could not but think it anotherstrange instance of his host’s capriciousness, this being shaved withsuch uncommon punctuality in the middle of the day. But he deemed itmore than likely that the servant’s anxious fidelity had something to dowith the matter; inasmuch as the timely interruption served to rally hismaster from the mood which had evidently been coming upon him.
The place called the cuddy was a light deck-cabin formed by the poop, asort of attic to the large cabin below. Part of it had formerly beenthe quarters of the officers; but since their death all the partitioninghad been thrown down, and the whole interior converted into one spaciousand airy marine hall; for absence of fine furniture and picturesquedisarray of odd appurtenances, somewhat answering to the wide, clutteredhall of some eccentric bachelor-squire in the country, who hangs hisshooting-jacket and tobacco-pouch on deer antlers, and keeps hisfishing-rod, tongs, and walking-stick in the same corner.
The similitude was heightened, if not originally suggested, by glimpsesof the surrounding sea; since, in one aspect, the country and the oceanseem cousins-german.
The floor of the cuddy was matted. Overhead, four or five old musketswere stuck into horizontal holes along the beams. On one side was aclaw-footed old table lashed to the deck; a thumbed missal on it, andover it a small, meagre crucifix attached to the bulk-head. Under thetable lay a dented cutlass or two, with a hacked harpoon, among some;melancholy old rigging, like a heap of poor friars’ girdles. There werealso two long, sharp-ribbed settees of Malacca cane, black with age,and uncomfortable to look at as inquisitors’ racks, with a large,misshapen arm-chair, which, furnished with a rude barber’s crotch at theback, working with a screw, seemed some grotesque engine of torment. Aflag locker was in one corner, open, exposing various colored bunting,some rolled up, others half unrolled, still others tumbled. Opposite wasa cumbrous washstand, of black mahogany, all of one block, with apedestal, like a font, and over it a railed shelf, containing combs,brushes, and other implements of the toilet. A torn hammock of stainedgrass swung near; the sheets tossed, and the pillow wrinkled up like abrow, as if who ever slept here slept but illy, with alternatevisitations of sad thoughts and bad dreams.
The further extremity of the cuddy, overhanging the ship’s stern, waspierced with three openings, windows or port-holes, according as men orcannon might peer, socially or unsocially, out of them. At presentneither men nor cannon were seen, though huge ring-bolts and other rustyiron fixtures of the wood-work hinted of twenty-four-pounders.
At 8 A. M. it lay on Giuseppi’s news-stand, still damp from the presses. Giuseppi, with th …
Glancing towards the hammock as he entered, Captain Delano said, “Yousleep here, Don Benito?”
“Yes, Seor, since we got into mild weather.”
“This seems a sort of dormitory, sitting-room, sail-loft, chapel,armory, and private closet all together, Don Benito,” added CaptainDelano, looking round.
“Yes, Seor; events have not been favorable to much order in myarrangements.”
Here the servant, napkin on arm, made a motion as if waiting hismaster’s good pleasure. Don Benito signified his readiness, when,seating him in the Malacca arm-chair, and for the guest’s conveniencedrawing opposite one of the settees, the servant commenced operations bythrowing back his master’s collar and loosening his cravat.
There is something in the negro which, in a peculiar way, fits him foravocations about one’s person. Most negroes are natural valets andhair-dressers; taking to the comb and brush congenially as to thecastinets, and flourishing them apparently with almost equalsatisfaction. There is, too, a smooth tact about them in thisemployment, with a marvelous, noiseless, gliding briskness, notungraceful in its way, singularly pleasing to behold, and still more soto be the manipulated subject of. And above all is the great gift ofgood-humor. Not the mere grin or laugh is here meant. Those wereunsuitable. But a certain easy cheerfulness, harmonious in every glanceand gesture; as though God had set the whole negro to some pleasanttune.
When to this is added the docility arising from the unaspiringcontentment of a limited mind and that susceptibility of blindattachment sometimes inhering in indisputable inferiors, one readilyperceives why those hypochondriacs, Johnson and Byron–it may be,something like the hypochondriac Benito Cereno–took to their hearts,almost to the exclusion of the entire white race, their serving men, thenegroes, Barber and Fletcher. But if there be that in the negro whichexempts him from the inflicted sourness of the morbid or cynical mind,how, in his most prepossessing aspects, must he appear to a benevolentone? When at ease with respect to exterior things, Captain Delano’snature was not only benign, but familiarly and humorously so. At home,he had often taken rare satisfaction in sitting in his door, watchingsome free man of color at his work or play. If on a voyage he chanced tohave a black sailor, invariably he was on chatty and half-gamesome termswith him. In fact, like most men of a good, blithe heart, Captain Delanotook to negroes, not philanthropically, but genially, just as other mento Newfoundland dogs.
Hitherto, the circumstances in which he found the San Dominick hadrepressed the tendency. But in the cuddy, relieved from his formeruneasiness, and, for various reasons, more sociably inclined than at anyprevious period of the day, and seeing the colored servant, napkin onarm, so debonair about his master, in a business so familiar as that ofshaving, too, all his old weakness for negroes returned.
Among other things, he was amused with an odd instance of the Africanlove of bright colors and fine shows, in the black’s informally takingfrom the flag-locker a great piece of bunting of all hues, and lavishlytucking it under his master’s chin for an apron.
The mode of shaving among the Spaniards is a little different from whatit is with other nations. They have a basin, specifically called abarber’s basin, which on one side is scooped out, so as accurately toreceive the chin, against which it is closely held in lathering; whichis done, not with a brush, but with soap dipped in the water of thebasin and rubbed on the face.
In the present instance salt-water was used for lack of better; and theparts lathered were only the upper lip, and low down under the throat,all the rest being cultivated beard.
The preliminaries being somewhat novel to Captain Delano, he satcuriously eying them, so that no conversation took place, nor, for thepresent, did Don Benito appear disposed to renew any.
Setting down his basin, the negro searched among the razors, as for thesharpest, and having found it, gave it an additional edge by expertlystrapping it on the firm, smooth, oily skin of his open palm; he thenmade a gesture as if to begin, but midway stood suspended for aninstant, one hand elevating the razor, the other professionally dabblingamong the bubbling suds on the Spaniard’s lank neck. Not unaffected bythe close sight of the gleaming steel, Don Benito nervously shuddered;his usual ghastliness was heightened by the lather, which lather, again,was intensified in its hue by the contrasting sootiness of the negro’sbody. Altogether the scene was somewhat peculiar, at least to CaptainDelano, nor, as he saw the two thus postured, could he resist thevagary, that in the black he saw a headsman, and in the white a man atthe block. But this was one of those antic conceits, appearing andvanishing in a breath, from which, perhaps, the best regulated mind isnot always free.
Meantime the agitation of the Spaniard had a little loosened the buntingfrom around him, so that one broad fold swept curtain-like over, thechair-arm to the floor, revealing, amid a profusion of armorial bars andground-colors–black, blue, and yellow–a closed castle in a blood redfield diagonal with a lion rampant in a white.
“The castle and the lion,” exclaimed Captain Delano–“why, Don Benito,this is the flag of Spain you use here. It’s well it’s only I, and notthe King, that sees this,” he added, with a smile, “but”–turningtowards the black–“it’s all one, I suppose, so the colors be gay;”which playful remark did not fail somewhat to tickle the negro.
“Now, master,” he said, readjusting the flag, and pressing the headgently further back into the crotch of the chair; “now, master,” and thesteel glanced nigh the throat.
Again Don Benito faintly shuddered.
“You must not shake so, master. See, Don Amasa, master always shakeswhen I shave him. And yet master knows I never yet have drawn blood,though it’s true, if master will shake so, I may some of these times.Now master,” he continued. “And now, Don Amasa, please go on with yourtalk about the gale, and all that; master can hear, and, between times,master can answer.”
“Ah yes, these gales,” said Captain Delano; “but the more I think ofyour voyage, Don Benito, the more I wonder, not at the gales, terribleas they must have been, but at the disastrous interval following them.For here, by your account, have you been these two months and moregetting from Cape Horn to St. Maria, a distance which I myself, with agood wind, have sailed in a few days. True, you had calms, and longones, but to be becalmed for two months, that is, at least, unusual.Why, Don Benito, had almost any other gentleman told me such a story, Ishould have been half disposed to a little incredulity.”
Here an involuntary expression came over the Spaniard, similar to thatjust before on the deck, and whether it was the start he gave, or asudden gawky roll of the hull in the calm, or a momentary unsteadinessof the servant’s hand, however it was, just then the razor drew blood,spots of which stained the creamy lather under the throat: immediatelythe black barber drew back his steel, and, remaining in his professionalattitude, back to Captain Delano, and face to Don Benito, held up thetrickling razor, saying, with a sort of half humorous sorrow, “See,master–you shook so–here’s Babo’s first blood.”
No sword drawn before James the First of England, no assassination inthat timid King’s presence, could have produced a more terrified aspectthan was now presented by Don Benito.
Poor fellow, thought Captain Delano, so nervous he can’t even bear thesight of barber’s blood; and this unstrung, sick man, is it crediblethat I should have imagined he meant to spill all my blood, who can’tendure the sight of one little drop of his own? Surely, Amasa Delano,you have been beside yourself this day. Tell it not when you get home,sappy Amasa. Well, well, he looks like a murderer, doesn’t he? More likeas if himself were to be done for. Well, well, this day’s experienceshall be a good lesson.
Meantime, while these things were running through the honest seaman’smind, the servant had taken the napkin from his arm, and to Don Benitohad said–“But answer Don Amasa, please, master, while I wipe this uglystuff off the razor, and strop it again.”
As he said the words, his face was turned half round, so as to be alikevisible to the Spaniard and the American, and seemed, by itsexpression, to hint, that he was desirous, by getting his master to goon with the conversation, considerately to withdraw his attention fromthe recent annoying accident. As if glad to snatch the offered relief,Don Benito resumed, rehearsing to Captain Delano, that not only were thecalms of unusual duration, but the ship had fallen in with obstinatecurrents; and other things he added, some of which were but repetitionsof former statements, to explain how it came to pass that the passagefrom Cape Horn to St. Maria had been so exceedingly long; now and then,mingling with his words, incidental praises, less qualified than before,to the blacks, for their general good conduct. These particulars werenot given consecutively, the servant, at convenient times, using hisrazor, and so, between the intervals of shaving, the story and panegyricwent on with more than usual huskiness.
To Captain Delano’s imagination, now again not wholly at rest, there wassomething so hollow in the Spaniard’s manner, with apparently somereciprocal hollowness in the servant’s dusky comment of silence, thatthe idea flashed across him, that possibly master and man, for someunknown purpose, were acting out, both in word and deed, nay, to thevery tremor of Don Benito’s limbs, some juggling play before him.Neither did the suspicion of collusion lack apparent support, from thefact of those whispered conferences before mentioned. But then, whatcould be the object of enacting this play of the barber before him? Atlast, regarding the notion as a whimsy, insensibly suggested, perhaps,by the theatrical aspect of Don Benito in his harlequin ensign, CaptainDelano speedily banished it.
The shaving over, the servant bestirred himself with a small bottle ofscented waters, pouring a few drops on the head, and then diligentlyrubbing; the vehemence of the exercise causing the muscles of his faceto twitch rather strangely.
His next operation was with comb, scissors, and brush; going round andround, smoothing a curl here, clipping an unruly whisker-hair there,giving a graceful sweep to the temple-lock, with other impromptutouches evincing the hand of a master; while, like any resignedgentleman in barber’s hands, Don Benito bore all, much less uneasily, atleast than he had done the razoring; indeed, he sat so pale and rigidnow, that the negro seemed a Nubian sculptor finishing off a whitestatue-head.
All being over at last, the standard of Spain removed, tumbled up, andtossed back into the flag-locker, the negro’s warm breath blowing awayany stray hair, which might have lodged down his master’s neck; collarand cravat readjusted; a speck of lint whisked off the velvet lapel; allthis being done; backing off a little space, and pausing with anexpression of subdued self-complacency, the servant for a momentsurveyed his master, as, in toilet at least, the creature of his owntasteful hands.
Captain Delano playfully complimented him upon his achievement; at thesame time congratulating Don Benito.
But neither sweet waters, nor shampooing, nor fidelity, nor sociality,delighted the Spaniard. Seeing him relapsing into forbidding gloom, andstill remaining seated, Captain Delano, thinking that his presence wasundesired just then, withdrew, on pretense of seeing whether, as he hadprophesied, any signs of a breeze were visible.
Walking forward to the main-mast, he stood awhile thinking over thescene, and not without some undefined misgivings, when he heard a noisenear the cuddy, and turning, saw the negro, his hand to his cheek.Advancing, Captain Delano perceived that the cheek was bleeding. He wasabout to ask the cause, when the negro’s wailing soliloquy enlightenedhim.
“Ah, when will master get better from his sickness; only the sour heartthat sour sickness breeds made him serve Babo so; cutting Babo with therazor, because, only by accident, Babo had given master one littlescratch; and for the first time in so many a day, too. Ah, ah, ah,”holding his hand to his face.
Is it possible, thought Captain Delano; was it to wreak in private hisSpanish spite against this poor friend of his, that Don Benito, by hissullen manner, impelled me to withdraw? Ah this slavery breeds uglypassions in man.–Poor fellow!
He was about to speak in sympathy to the negro, but with a timidreluctance he now re-entered the cuddy.
Presently master and man came forth; Don Benito leaning on his servantas if nothing had happened.
But a sort of love-quarrel, after all, thought Captain Delano.
He accosted Don Benito, and they slowly walked together. They had gonebut a few paces, when the steward–a tall, rajah-looking mulatto,orientally set off with a pagoda turban formed by three or four Madrashandkerchiefs wound about his head, tier on tier–approaching with asaalam, announced lunch in the cabin.
On their way thither, the two captains were preceded by the mulatto,who, turning round as he advanced, with continual smiles and bows,ushered them on, a display of elegance which quite completed theinsignificance of the small bare-headed Babo, who, as if not unconsciousof inferiority, eyed askance the graceful steward. But in part, CaptainDelano imputed his jealous watchfulness to that peculiar feeling whichthe full-blooded African entertains for the adulterated one. As for thesteward, his manner, if not bespeaking much dignity of self-respect, yetevidenced his extreme desire to please; which is doubly meritorious, asat once Christian and Chesterfieldian.
Captain Delano observed with interest that while the complexion of themulatto was hybrid, his physiognomy was European–classically so.
“Don Benito,” whispered he, “I am glad to see thisusher-of-the-golden-rod of yours; the sight refutes an ugly remark oncemade to me by a Barbadoes planter; that when a mulatto has a regularEuropean face, look out for him; he is a devil. But see, your stewardhere has features more regular than King George’s of England; and yetthere he nods, and bows, and smiles; a king, indeed–the king of kindhearts and polite fellows. What a pleasant voice he has, too?”
“He has, Seor.”
“But tell me, has he not, so far as you have known him, always proved agood, worthy fellow?” said Captain Delano, pausing, while with a finalgenuflexion the steward disappeared into the cabin; “come, for thereason just mentioned, I am curious to know.”
“Francesco is a good man,” a sort of sluggishly responded Don Benito,like a phlegmatic appreciator, who would neither find fault nor flatter.
“Ah, I thought so. For it were strange, indeed, and not very creditableto us white-skins, if a little of our blood mixed with the African’s,should, far from improving the latter’s quality, have the sad effect ofpouring vitriolic acid into black broth; improving the hue, perhaps, butnot the wholesomeness.”
“Doubtless, doubtless, Seor, but”–glancing at Babo–“not to speak ofnegroes, your planter’s remark I have heard applied to the Spanish andIndian intermixtures in our provinces. But I know nothing about thematter,” he listlessly added.
And here they entered the cabin.
The lunch was a frugal one. Some of Captain Delano’s fresh fish andpumpkins, biscuit and salt beef, the reserved bottle of cider, and theSan Dominick’s last bottle of Canary.
As they entered, Francesco, with two or three colored aids, was hoveringover the table giving the last adjustments. Upon perceiving their masterthey withdrew, Francesco making a smiling cong, and the Spaniard,without condescending to notice it, fastidiously remarking to hiscompanion that he relished not superfluous attendance.
Without companions, host and guest sat down, like a childless marriedcouple, at opposite ends of the table, Don Benito waving Captain Delanoto his place, and, weak as he was, insisting upon that gentleman beingseated before himself.
The negro placed a rug under Don Benito’s feet, and a cushion behind hisback, and then stood behind, not his master’s chair, but CaptainDelano’s. At first, this a little surprised the latter. But it was soonevident that, in taking his position, the black was still true to hismaster; since by facing him he could the more readily anticipate hisslightest want.
“This is an uncommonly intelligent fellow of yours, Don Benito,”whispered Captain Delano across the table.
“You say true, Seor.”
During the repast, the guest again reverted to parts of Don Benito’sstory, begging further particulars here and there. He inquired how itwas that the scurvy and fever should have committed such wholesale havocupon the whites, while destroying less than half of the blacks. As ifthis question reproduced the whole scene of plague before the Spaniard’seyes, miserably reminding him of his solitude in a cabin where before hehad had so many friends and officers round him, his hand shook, his facebecame hueless, broken words escaped; but directly the sane memory ofthe past seemed replaced by insane terrors of the present. With startingeyes he stared before him at vacancy. For nothing was to be seen but thehand of his servant pushing the Canary over towards him. At length a fewsips served partially to restore him. He made random reference to thedifferent constitution of races, enabling one to offer more resistanceto certain maladies than another. The thought was new to his companion.
Presently Captain Delano, intending to say something to his hostconcerning the pecuniary part of the business he had undertaken for him,especially–since he was strictly accountable to his owners–withreference to the new suit of sails, and other things of that sort; andnaturally preferring to conduct such affairs in private, was desirousthat the servant should withdraw; imagining that Don Benito for a fewminutes could dispense with his attendance. He, however, waited awhile;thinking that, as the conversation proceeded, Don Benito, without beingprompted, would perceive the propriety of the step.
But it was otherwise. At last catching his host’s eye, Captain Delano,with a slight backward gesture of his thumb, whispered, “Don Benito,pardon me, but there is an interference with the full expression of whatI have to say to you.”
Upon this the Spaniard changed countenance; which was imputed to hisresenting the hint, as in some way a reflection upon his servant. Aftera moment’s pause, he assured his guest that the black’s remaining withthem could be of no disservice; because since losing his officers he hadmade Babo (whose original office, it now appeared, had been captain ofthe slaves) not only his constant attendant and companion, but in allthings his confidant.
After this, nothing more could be said; though, indeed, Captain Delanocould hardly avoid some little tinge of irritation upon being leftungratified in so inconsiderable a wish, by one, too, for whom heintended such solid services. But it is only his querulousness, thoughthe; and so filling his glass he proceeded to business.
The price of the sails and other matters was fixed upon. But while thiswas being done, the American observed that, though his original offer ofassistance had been hailed with hectic animation, yet now when it wasreduced to a business transaction, indifference and apathy werebetrayed. Don Benito, in fact, appeared to submit to hearing the detailsmore out of regard to common propriety, than from any impression thatweighty benefit to himself and his voyage was involved.
Soon, his manner became still more reserved. The effort was vain to seekto draw him into social talk. Gnawed by his splenetic mood, he sattwitching his beard, while to little purpose the hand of his servant,mute as that on the wall, slowly pushed over the Canary.
Lunch being over, they sat down on the cushioned transom; the servantplacing a pillow behind his master. The long continuance of the calm hadnow affected the atmosphere. Don Benito sighed heavily, as if forbreath.
“Why not adjourn to the cuddy,” said Captain Delano; “there is more airthere.” But the host sat silent and motionless.
Meantime his servant knelt before him, with a large fan of feathers. AndFrancesco coming in on tiptoes, handed the negro a little cup ofaromatic waters, with which at intervals he chafed his master’s brow;smoothing the hair along the temples as a nurse does a child’s. He spokeno word. He only rested his eye on his master’s, as if, amid all DonBenito’s distress, a little to refresh his spirit by the silent sightof fidelity.
Presently the ship’s bell sounded two o’clock; and through the cabinwindows a slight rippling of the sea was discerned; and from the desireddirection.
“There,” exclaimed Captain Delano, “I told you so, Don Benito, look!”
He had risen to his feet, speaking in a very animated tone, with a viewthe more to rouse his companion. But though the crimson curtain of thestern-window near him that moment fluttered against his pale cheek, DonBenito seemed to have even less welcome for the breeze than the calm.
Poor fellow, thought Captain Delano, bitter experience has taught himthat one ripple does not make a wind, any more than one swallow asummer. But he is mistaken for once. I will get his ship in for him, andprove it.
Briefly alluding to his weak condition, he urged his host to remainquietly where he was, since he (Captain Delano) would with pleasure takeupon himself the responsibility of making the best use of the wind.
Upon gaining the deck, Captain Delano started at the unexpected figureof Atufal, monumentally fixed at the threshold, like one of thosesculptured porters of black marble guarding the porches of Egyptiantombs.
But this time the start was, perhaps, purely physical. Atufal’spresence, singularly attesting docility even in sullenness, wascontrasted with that of the hatchet-polishers, who in patience evincedtheir industry; while both spectacles showed, that lax as Don Benito’sgeneral authority might be, still, whenever he chose to exert it, no manso savage or colossal but must, more or less, bow.
Snatching a trumpet which hung from the bulwarks, with a free stepCaptain Delano advanced to the forward edge of the poop, issuing hisorders in his best Spanish. The few sailors and many negroes, allequally pleased, obediently set about heading the ship towards theharbor.
While giving some directions about setting a lower stu’n’-sail, suddenlyCaptain Delano heard a voice faithfully repeating his orders. Turning,he saw Babo, now for the time acting, under the pilot, his originalpart of captain of the slaves. This assistance proved valuable. Tatteredsails and warped yards were soon brought into some trim. And no brace orhalyard was pulled but to the blithe songs of the inspirited negroes.
Good fellows, thought Captain Delano, a little training would make finesailors of them. Why see, the very women pull and sing too. These mustbe some of those Ashantee negresses that make such capital soldiers,I’ve heard. But who’s at the helm. I must have a good hand there.
He went to see.
The San Dominick steered with a cumbrous tiller, with large horizontalpullies attached. At each pully-end stood a subordinate black, andbetween them, at the tiller-head, the responsible post, a Spanishseaman, whose countenance evinced his due share in the generalhopefulness and confidence at the coming of the breeze.
He proved the same man who had behaved with so shame-faced an air on thewindlass.
“Ah,–it is you, my man,” exclaimed Captain Delano–“well, no moresheep’s-eyes now;–look straight forward and keep the ship so. Goodhand, I trust? And want to get into the harbor, don’t you?”
The man assented with an inward chuckle, grasping the tiller-headfirmly. Upon this, unperceived by the American, the two blacks eyed thesailor intently.
Finding all right at the helm, the pilot went forward to the forecastle,to see how matters stood there.
The ship now had way enough to breast the current. With the approach ofevening, the breeze would be sure to freshen.
Having done all that was needed for the present, Captain Delano, givinghis last orders to the sailors, turned aft to report affairs to DonBenito in the cabin; perhaps additionally incited to rejoin him by thehope of snatching a moment’s private chat while the servant was engagedupon deck.
From opposite sides, there were, beneath the poop, two approaches to thecabin; one further forward than the other, and consequentlycommunicating with a longer passage. Marking the servant still above,Captain Delano, taking the nighest entrance–the one last named, and atwhose porch Atufal still stood–hurried on his way, till, arrived at thecabin threshold, he paused an instant, a little to recover from hiseagerness. Then, with the words of his intended business upon his lips,he entered. As he advanced toward the seated Spaniard, he heard anotherfootstep, keeping time with his. From the opposite door, a salver inhand, the servant was likewise advancing.
“Confound the faithful fellow,” thought Captain Delano; “what avexatious coincidence.”
Possibly, the vexation might have been something different, were it notfor the brisk confidence inspired by the breeze. But even as it was, hefelt a slight twinge, from a sudden indefinite association in his mindof Babo with Atufal.
“Don Benito,” said he, “I give you joy; the breeze will hold, and willincrease. By the way, your tall man and time-piece, Atufal, standswithout. By your order, of course?”
Don Benito recoiled, as if at some bland satirical touch, delivered withsuch adroit garnish of apparent good breeding as to present no handlefor retort.
He is like one flayed alive, thought Captain Delano; where may one touchhim without causing a shrink?
The servant moved before his master, adjusting a cushion; recalled tocivility, the Spaniard stiffly replied: “you are right. The slaveappears where you saw him, according to my command; which is, that if atthe given hour I am below, he must take his stand and abide my coming.”
“Ah now, pardon me, but that is treating the poor fellow like an ex-kingindeed. Ah, Don Benito,” smiling, “for all the license you permit insome things, I fear lest, at bottom, you are a bitter hard master.”
Again Don Benito shrank; and this time, as the good sailor thought, froma genuine twinge of his conscience.
Again conversation became constrained. In vain Captain Delano calledattention to the now perceptible motion of the keel gently cleaving thesea; with lack-lustre eye, Don Benito returned words few and reserved.
By-and-by, the wind having steadily risen, and still blowing right intothe harbor bore the San Dominick swiftly on. Sounding a point of land,the sealer at distance came into open view.
Meantime Captain Delano had again repaired to the deck, remaining theresome time. Having at last altered the ship’s course, so as to give thereef a wide berth, he returned for a few moments below.
I will cheer up my poor friend, this time, thought he.
“Better and better,” Don Benito, he cried as he blithely re-entered:”there will soon be an end to your cares, at least for awhile. For when,after a long, sad voyage, you know, the anchor drops into the haven, allits vast weight seems lifted from the captain’s heart. We are getting onfamously, Don Benito. My ship is in sight. Look through this side-lighthere; there she is; all a-taunt-o! The Bachelor’s Delight, my goodfriend. Ah, how this wind braces one up. Come, you must take a cup ofcoffee with me this evening. My old steward will give you as fine a cupas ever any sultan tasted. What say you, Don Benito, will you?”
At first, the Spaniard glanced feverishly up, casting a longing looktowards the sealer, while with mute concern his servant gazed into hisface. Suddenly the old ague of coldness returned, and dropping back tohis cushions he was silent.
“You do not answer. Come, all day you have been my host; would you havehospitality all on one side?”
“I cannot go,” was the response.
“What? it will not fatigue you. The ships will lie together as near asthey can, without swinging foul. It will be little more than steppingfrom deck to deck; which is but as from room to room. Come, come, youmust not refuse me.”
“I cannot go,” decisively and repulsively repeated Don Benito.
Renouncing all but the last appearance of courtesy, with a sort ofcadaverous sullenness, and biting his thin nails to the quick, heglanced, almost glared, at his guest, as if impatient that a stranger’spresence should interfere with the full indulgence of his morbid hour.Meantime the sound of the parted waters came more and more gurglinglyand merrily in at the windows; as reproaching him for his dark spleen;as telling him that, sulk as he might, and go mad with it, nature carednot a jot; since, whose fault was it, pray?
But the foul mood was now at its depth, as the fair wind at its height.
There was something in the man so far beyond any mere unsociality orsourness previously evinced, that even the forbearing good-nature of hisguest could no longer endure it. Wholly at a loss to account for suchdemeanor, and deeming sickness with eccentricity, however extreme, noadequate excuse, well satisfied, too, that nothing in his own conductcould justify it, Captain Delano’s pride began to be roused. Himselfbecame reserved. But all seemed one to the Spaniard. Quitting him,therefore, Captain Delano once more went to the deck.
The ship was now within less than two miles of the sealer. Thewhale-boat was seen darting over the interval.
To be brief, the two vessels, thanks to the pilot’s skill, ere longneighborly style lay anchored together.
Before returning to his own vessel, Captain Delano had intendedcommunicating to Don Benito the smaller details of the proposed servicesto be rendered. But, as it was, unwilling anew to subject himself torebuffs, he resolved, now that he had seen the San Dominick safelymoored, immediately to quit her, without further allusion to hospitalityor business. Indefinitely postponing his ulterior plans, he wouldregulate his future actions according to future circumstances. His boatwas ready to receive him; but his host still tarried below. Well,thought Captain Delano, if he has little breeding, the more need to showmine. He descended to the cabin to bid a ceremonious, and, it may be,tacitly rebukeful adieu. But to his great satisfaction, Don Benito, asif he began to feel the weight of that treatment with which his slightedguest had, not indecorously, retaliated upon him, now supported by hisservant, rose to his feet, and grasping Captain Delano’s hand, stoodtremulous; too much agitated to speak. But the good augury hence drawnwas suddenly dashed, by his resuming all his previous reserve, withaugmented gloom, as, with half-averted eyes, he silently reseatedhimself on his cushions. With a corresponding return of his own chilledfeelings, Captain Delano bowed and withdrew.
He was hardly midway in the narrow corridor, dim as a tunnel, leadingfrom the cabin to the stairs, when a sound, as of the tolling forexecution in some jail-yard, fell on his ears. It was the echo of theship’s flawed bell, striking the hour, drearily reverberated in thissubterranean vault. Instantly, by a fatality not to be withstood, hismind, responsive to the portent, swarmed with superstitious suspicions.He paused. In images far swifter than these sentences, the minutestdetails of all his former distrusts swept through him.
Hitherto, credulous good-nature had been too ready to furnish excusesfor reasonable fears. Why was the Spaniard, so superfluously punctiliousat times, now heedless of common propriety in not accompanying to theside his departing guest? Did indisposition forbid? Indisposition hadnot forbidden more irksome exertion that day. His last equivocaldemeanor recurred. He had risen to his feet, grasped his guest’s hand,motioned toward his hat; then, in an instant, all was eclipsed insinister muteness and gloom. Did this imply one brief, repentantrelenting at the final moment, from some iniquitous plot, followed byremorseless return to it? His last glance seemed to express acalamitous, yet acquiescent farewell to Captain Delano forever. Whydecline the invitation to visit the sealer that evening? Or was theSpaniard less hardened than the Jew, who refrained not from supping atthe board of him whom the same night he meant to betray? What importedall those day-long enigmas and contradictions, except they were intendedto mystify, preliminary to some stealthy blow? Atufal, the pretendedrebel, but punctual shadow, that moment lurked by the threshold without.He seemed a sentry, and more. Who, by his own confession, had stationedhim there? Was the negro now lying in wait?
The Spaniard behind–his creature before: to rush from darkness tolight was the involuntary choice.
The next moment, with clenched jaw and hand, he passed Atufal, and stoodunharmed in the light. As he saw his trim ship lying peacefully atanchor, and almost within ordinary call; as he saw his household boat,with familiar faces in it, patiently rising and falling, on the shortwaves by the San Dominick’s side; and then, glancing about the deckswhere he stood, saw the oakum-pickers still gravely plying theirfingers; and heard the low, buzzing whistle and industrious hum of thehatchet-polishers, still bestirring themselves over their endlessoccupation; and more than all, as he saw the benign aspect of nature,taking her innocent repose in the evening; the screened sun in the quietcamp of the west shining out like the mild light from Abraham’s tent; ascharmed eye and ear took in all these, with the chained figure of theblack, clenched jaw and hand relaxed. Once again he smiled at thephantoms which had mocked him, and felt something like a tinge ofremorse, that, by harboring them even for a moment, he should, byimplication, have betrayed an atheist doubt of the ever-watchfulProvidence above.
There was a few minutes’ delay, while, in obedience to his orders, theboat was being hooked along to the gangway. During this interval, a sortof saddened satisfaction stole over Captain Delano, at thinking of thekindly offices he had that day discharged for a stranger. Ah, thoughthe, after good actions one’s conscience is never ungrateful, howevermuch so the benefited party may be.
Presently, his foot, in the first act of descent into the boat, pressedthe first round of the side-ladder, his face presented inward upon thedeck. In the same moment, he heard his name courteously sounded; and, tohis pleased surprise, saw Don Benito advancing–an unwonted energy inhis air, as if, at the last moment, intent upon making amends for hisrecent discourtesy. With instinctive good feeling, Captain Delano,withdrawing his foot, turned and reciprocally advanced. As he did so,the Spaniard’s nervous eagerness increased, but his vital energy failed;so that, the better to support him, the servant, placing his master’shand on his naked shoulder, and gently holding it there, formed himselfinto a sort of crutch.
When the two captains met, the Spaniard again fervently took the hand ofthe American, at the same time casting an earnest glance into his eyes,but, as before, too much overcome to speak.
I have done him wrong, self-reproachfully thought Captain Delano; hisapparent coldness has deceived me: in no instance has he meant tooffend.
Meantime, as if fearful that the continuance of the scene might too muchunstring his master, the servant seemed anxious to terminate it. And so,still presenting himself as a crutch, and walking between the twocaptains, he advanced with them towards the gangway; while still, as iffull of kindly contrition, Don Benito would not let go the hand ofCaptain Delano, but retained it in his, across the black’s body.
Soon they were standing by the side, looking over into the boat, whosecrew turned up their curious eyes. Waiting a moment for the Spaniard torelinquish his hold, the now embarrassed Captain Delano lifted his foot,to overstep the threshold of the open gangway; but still Don Benitowould not let go his hand. And yet, with an agitated tone, he said, “Ican go no further; here I must bid you adieu. Adieu, my dear, dear DonAmasa. Go–go!” suddenly tearing his hand loose, “go, and God guard youbetter than me, my best friend.”
Not unaffected, Captain Delano would now have lingered; but catching themeekly admonitory eye of the servant, with a hasty farewell he descendedinto his boat, followed by the continual adieus of Don Benito, standingrooted in the gangway.
Seating himself in the stern, Captain Delano, making a last salute,ordered the boat shoved off. The crew had their oars on end. The bowsmenpushed the boat a sufficient distance for the oars to be lengthwisedropped. The instant that was done, Don Benito sprang over the bulwarks,falling at the feet of Captain Delano; at the same time calling towardshis ship, but in tones so frenzied, that none in the boat couldunderstand him. But, as if not equally obtuse, three sailors, fromthree different and distant parts of the ship, splashed into the sea,swimming after their captain, as if intent upon his rescue.
The dismayed officer of the boat eagerly asked what this meant. Towhich, Captain Delano, turning a disdainful smile upon the unaccountableSpaniard, answered that, for his part, he neither knew nor cared; but itseemed as if Don Benito had taken it into his head to produce theimpression among his people that the boat wanted to kidnap him. “Orelse–give way for your lives,” he wildly added, starting at aclattering hubbub in the ship, above which rang the tocsin of thehatchet-polishers; and seizing Don Benito by the throat he added, “thisplotting pirate means murder!” Here, in apparent verification of thewords, the servant, a dagger in his hand, was seen on the rail overhead,poised, in the act of leaping, as if with desperate fidelity to befriendhis master to the last; while, seemingly to aid the black, the threewhite sailors were trying to clamber into the hampered bow. Meantime,the whole host of negroes, as if inflamed at the sight of theirjeopardized captain, impended in one sooty avalanche over the bulwarks.
All this, with what preceded, and what followed, occurred with suchinvolutions of rapidity, that past, present, and future seemed one.
Seeing the negro coming, Captain Delano had flung the Spaniard aside,almost in the very act of clutching him, and, by the unconscious recoil,shifting his place, with arms thrown up, so promptly grappled theservant in his descent, that with dagger presented at Captain Delano’sheart, the black seemed of purpose to have leaped there as to his mark.But the weapon was wrenched away, and the assailant dashed down into thebottom of the boat, which now, with disentangled oars, began to speedthrough the sea.
At this juncture, the left hand of Captain Delano, on one side, againclutched the half-reclined Don Benito, heedless that he was in aspeechless faint, while his right-foot, on the other side, ground theprostrate negro; and his right arm pressed for added speed on the afteroar, his eye bent forward, encouraging his men to their utmost.
But here, the officer of the boat, who had at last succeeded in beatingoff the towing sailors, and was now, with face turned aft, assisting thebowsman at his oar, suddenly called to Captain Delano, to see what theblack was about; while a Portuguese oarsman shouted to him to give heedto what the Spaniard was saying.
Glancing down at his feet, Captain Delano saw the freed hand of theservant aiming with a second dagger–a small one, before concealed inhis wool–with this he was snakishly writhing up from the boat’s bottom,at the heart of his master, his countenance lividly vindictive,expressing the centred purpose of his soul; while the Spaniard,half-choked, was vainly shrinking away, with husky words, incoherent toall but the Portuguese.
That moment, across the long-benighted mind of Captain Delano, a flashof revelation swept, illuminating, in unanticipated clearness, hishost’s whole mysterious demeanor, with every enigmatic event of the day,as well as the entire past voyage of the San Dominick. He smote Babo’shand down, but his own heart smote him harder. With infinite pity hewithdrew his hold from Don Benito. Not Captain Delano, but Don Benito,the black, in leaping into the boat, had intended to stab.
Both the black’s hands were held, as, glancing up towards the SanDominick, Captain Delano, now with scales dropped from his eyes, saw thenegroes, not in misrule, not in tumult, not as if frantically concernedfor Don Benito, but with mask torn away, flourishing hatchets andknives, in ferocious piratical revolt. Like delirious black dervishes,the six Ashantees danced on the poop. Prevented by their foes fromspringing into the water, the Spanish boys were hurrying up to thetopmost spars, while such of the few Spanish sailors, not already in thesea, less alert, were descried, helplessly mixed in, on deck, with theblacks.
Meantime Captain Delano hailed his own vessel, ordering the ports up,and the guns run out. But by this time the cable of the San Dominick hadbeen cut; and the fag-end, in lashing out, whipped away the canvasshroud about the beak, suddenly revealing, as the bleached hull swunground towards the open ocean, death for the figure-head, in a humanskeleton; chalky comment on the chalked words below, “Follow yourleader.”
At the sight, Don Benito, covering his face, wailed out: “‘Tis he,Aranda! my murdered, unburied friend!”
Upon reaching the sealer, calling for ropes, Captain Delano bound thenegro, who made no resistance, and had him hoisted to the deck. He wouldthen have assisted the now almost helpless Don Benito up the side; butDon Benito, wan as he was, refused to move, or be moved, until the negroshould have been first put below out of view. When, presently assuredthat it was done, he no more shrank from the ascent.
The boat was immediately dispatched back to pick up the three swimmingsailors. Meantime, the guns were in readiness, though, owing to the SanDominick having glided somewhat astern of the sealer, only the aftermostone could be brought to bear. With this, they fired six times; thinkingto cripple the fugitive ship by bringing down her spars. But only a fewinconsiderable ropes were shot away. Soon the ship was beyond the gun’srange, steering broad out of the bay; the blacks thickly clusteringround the bowsprit, one moment with taunting cries towards the whites,the next with upthrown gestures hailing the now dusky moors ofocean–cawing crows escaped from the hand of the fowler.
The first impulse was to slip the cables and give chase. But, uponsecond thoughts, to pursue with whale-boat and yawl seemed morepromising.
Upon inquiring of Don Benito what firearms they had on board the SanDominick, Captain Delano was answered that they had none that could beused; because, in the earlier stages of the mutiny, a cabin-passenger,since dead, had secretly put out of order the locks of what few musketsthere were. But with all his remaining strength, Don Benito entreatedthe American not to give chase, either with ship or boat; for thenegroes had already proved themselves such desperadoes, that, in case ofa present assault, nothing but a total massacre of the whites could belooked for. But, regarding this warning as coming from one whose spirithad been crushed by misery the American did not give up his design.
The boats were got ready and armed. Captain Delano ordered his men intothem. He was going himself when Don Benito grasped his arm.
“What! have you saved my life, Seor, and are you now going to throwaway your own?”
The officers also, for reasons connected with their interests and thoseof the voyage, and a duty owing to the owners, strongly objected againsttheir commander’s going. Weighing their remonstrances a moment, CaptainDelano felt bound to remain; appointing his chief mate–an athletic andresolute man, who had been a privateer’s-man–to head the party. Themore to encourage the sailors, they were told, that the Spanish captainconsidered his ship good as lost; that she and her cargo, including somegold and silver, were worth more than a thousand doubloons. Take her,and no small part should be theirs. The sailors replied with a shout.
The fugitives had now almost gained an offing. It was nearly night; butthe moon was rising. After hard, prolonged pulling, the boats came up onthe ship’s quarters, at a suitable distance laying upon their oars todischarge their muskets. Having no bullets to return, the negroes senttheir yells. But, upon the second volley, Indian-like, they hurtledtheir hatchets. One took off a sailor’s fingers. Another struck thewhale-boat’s bow, cutting off the rope there, and remaining stuck in thegunwale like a woodman’s axe. Snatching it, quivering from its lodgment,the mate hurled it back. The returned gauntlet now stuck in the ship’sbroken quarter-gallery, and so remained.
The negroes giving too hot a reception, the whites kept a morerespectful distance. Hovering now just out of reach of the hurtlinghatchets, they, with a view to the close encounter which must soon come,sought to decoy the blacks into entirely disarming themselves of theirmost murderous weapons in a hand-to-hand fight, by foolishly flingingthem, as missiles, short of the mark, into the sea. But, ere long,perceiving the stratagem, the negroes desisted, though not before manyof them had to replace their lost hatchets with handspikes; an exchangewhich, as counted upon, proved, in the end, favorable to the assailants.
Meantime, with a strong wind, the ship still clove the water; the boatsalternately falling behind, and pulling up, to discharge fresh volleys.
The fire was mostly directed towards the stern, since there, chiefly,the negroes, at present, were clustering. But to kill or maim thenegroes was not the object. To take them, with the ship, was the object.To do it, the ship must be boarded; which could not be done by boatswhile she was sailing so fast.
The adventure of the youthful Rustan is generally known throughout the whole province of C …
A thought now struck the mate. Observing the Spanish boys still aloft,high as they could get, he called to them to descend to the yards, andcut adrift the sails. It was done. About this time, owing to causeshereafter to be shown, two Spaniards, in the dress of sailors, andconspicuously showing themselves, were killed; not by volleys, but bydeliberate marksman’s shots; while, as it afterwards appeared, by oneof the general discharges, Atufal, the black, and the Spaniard at thehelm likewise were killed. What now, with the loss of the sails, andloss of leaders, the ship became unmanageable to the negroes.
With creaking masts, she came heavily round to the wind; the prow slowlyswinging into view of the boats, its skeleton gleaming in the horizontalmoonlight, and casting a gigantic ribbed shadow upon the water. Oneextended arm of the ghost seemed beckoning the whites to avenge it.
“Follow your leader!” cried the mate; and, one on each bow, the boatsboarded. Sealing-spears and cutlasses crossed hatchets and hand-spikes.Huddled upon the long-boat amidships, the negresses raised a wailingchant, whose chorus was the clash of the steel.
For a time, the attack wavered; the negroes wedging themselves to beatit back; the half-repelled sailors, as yet unable to gain a footing,fighting as troopers in the saddle, one leg sideways flung over thebulwarks, and one without, plying their cutlasses like carters’ whips.But in vain. They were almost overborne, when, rallying themselves intoa squad as one man, with a huzza, they sprang inboard, where, entangled,they involuntarily separated again. For a few breaths’ space, there wasa vague, muffled, inner sound, as of submerged sword-fish rushing hitherand thither through shoals of black-fish. Soon, in a reunited band, andjoined by the Spanish seamen, the whites came to the surface,irresistibly driving the negroes toward the stern. But a barricade ofcasks and sacks, from side to side, had been thrown up by the main-mast.Here the negroes faced about, and though scorning peace or truce, yetfain would have had respite. But, without pause, overleaping thebarrier, the unflagging sailors again closed. Exhausted, the blacks nowfought in despair. Their red tongues lolled, wolf-like, from their blackmouths. But the pale sailors’ teeth were set; not a word was spoken;and, in five minutes more, the ship was won.
Nearly a score of the negroes were killed. Exclusive of those by theballs, many were mangled; their wounds–mostly inflicted by thelong-edged sealing-spears, resembling those shaven ones of the Englishat Preston Pans, made by the poled scythes of the Highlanders. On theother side, none were killed, though several were wounded; someseverely, including the mate. The surviving negroes were temporarilysecured, and the ship, towed back into the harbor at midnight, once morelay anchored.
Omitting the incidents and arrangements ensuing, suffice it that, aftertwo days spent in refitting, the ships sailed in company for Conception,in Chili, and thence for Lima, in Peru; where, before the vice-regalcourts, the whole affair, from the beginning, underwent investigation.
Though, midway on the passage, the ill-fated Spaniard, relaxed fromconstraint, showed some signs of regaining health with free-will; yet,agreeably to his own foreboding, shortly before arriving at Lima, herelapsed, finally becoming so reduced as to be carried ashore in arms.Hearing of his story and plight, one of the many religious institutionsof the City of Kings opened an hospitable refuge to him, where bothphysician and priest were his nurses, and a member of the ordervolunteered to be his one special guardian and consoler, by night and byday.
The following extracts, translated from one of the official Spanishdocuments, will, it is hoped, shed light on the preceding narrative, aswell as, in the first place, reveal the true port of departure and truehistory of the San Dominick’s voyage, down to the time of her touchingat the island of St. Maria.
But, ere the extracts come, it may be well to preface them with aremark.
The document selected, from among many others, for partial translation,contains the deposition of Benito Cereno; the first taken in the case.Some disclosures therein were, at the time, held dubious for bothlearned and natural reasons. The tribunal inclined to the opinion thatthe deponent, not undisturbed in his mind by recent events, raved ofsome things which could never have happened. But subsequent depositionsof the surviving sailors, bearing out the revelations of their captainin several of the strangest particulars, gave credence to the rest. Sothat the tribunal, in its final decision, rested its capital sentencesupon statements which, had they lacked confirmation, it would havedeemed it but duty to reject. * * * * *I, DON JOSE DE ABOS AND PADILLA, His Majesty’s Notary for the RoyalRevenue, and Register of this Province, and Notary Public of the HolyCrusade of this Bishopric, etc.
Do certify and declare, as much as is requisite in law, that, in thecriminal cause commenced the twenty-fourth of the month of September, inthe year seventeen hundred and ninety-nine, against the negroes of theship San Dominick, the following declaration before me was made:
Declaration of the first witness, DON BENITO CERENO.
The same day, and month, and year, His Honor, Doctor Juan Martinez de Rozas, Councilor of the Royal Audience of this Kingdom, and learned in the law of this Intendency, ordered the captain of the ship San Dominick, Don Benito Cereno, to appear; which he did, in his litter, attended by the monk Infelez; of whom he received the oath, which he took by God, our Lord, and a sign of the Cross; under which he promised to tell the truth of whatever he should know and should be asked;–and being interrogated agreeably to the tenor of the act commencing the process, he said, that on the twentieth of May last, he set sail with his ship from the port of Valparaiso, bound to that of Callao; loaded with the produce of the country beside thirty cases of hardware and one hundred and sixty blacks, of both sexes, mostly belonging to Don Alexandro Aranda, gentleman, of the city of Mendoza; that the crew of the ship consisted of thirty-six men, beside the persons who went as passengers; that the negroes were in part as follows:
[Here, in the original, follows a list of some fifty names, descriptions, and ages, compiled from certain recovered documents of Aranda’s, and also from recollections of the deponent, from which portions only are extracted.]
–One, from about eighteen to nineteen years, named Jos, and this was the man that waited upon his master, Don Alexandro, and who speaks well the Spanish, having served him four or five years; * * * a mulatto, named Francesco, the cabin steward, of a good person and voice, having sung in the Valparaiso churches, native of the province of Buenos Ayres, aged about thirty-five years. * * * A smart negro, named Dago, who had been for many years a grave-digger among the Spaniards, aged forty-six years. * * * Four old negroes, born in Africa, from sixty to seventy, but sound, calkers by trade, whose names are as follows:–the first was named Muri, and he was killed (as was also his son named Diamelo); the second, Nacta; the third, Yola, likewise killed; the fourth, Ghofan; and six full-grown negroes, aged from thirty to forty-five, all raw, and born among the Ashantees–Matiluqui, Yan, Leche, Mapenda, Yambaio, Akim; four of whom were killed; * * * a powerful negro named Atufal, who being supposed to have been a chief in Africa, his owner set great store by him. * * * And a small negro of Senegal, but some years among the Spaniards, aged about thirty, which negro’s name was Babo; * * * that he does not remember the names of the others, but that still expecting the residue of Don Alexandra’s papers will be found, will then take due account of them all, and remit to the court; * * * and thirty-nine women and children of all ages.
[The catalogue over, the deposition goes on]
* * * That all the negroes slept upon deck, as is customary in this navigation, and none wore fetters, because the owner, his friend Aranda, told him that they were all tractable; * * * that on the seventh day after leaving port, at three o’clock in the morning, all the Spaniards being asleep except the two officers on the watch, who were the boatswain, Juan Robles, and the carpenter, Juan Bautista Gayete, and the helmsman and his boy, the negroes revolted suddenly, wounded dangerously the boatswain and the carpenter, and successively killed eighteen men of those who were sleeping upon deck, some with hand-spikes and hatchets, and others by throwing them alive overboard, after tying them; that of the Spaniards upon deck, they left about seven, as he thinks, alive and tied, to manoeuvre the ship, and three or four more, who hid themselves, remained also alive. Although in the act of revolt the negroes made themselves masters of the hatchway, six or seven wounded went through it to the cockpit, without any hindrance on their part; that during the act of revolt, the mate and another person, whose name he does not recollect, attempted to come up through the hatchway, but being quickly wounded, were obliged to return to the cabin; that the deponent resolved at break of day to come up the companion-way, where the negro Babo was, being the ringleader, and Atufal, who assisted him, and having spoken to them, exhorted them to cease committing such atrocities, asking them, at the same time, what they wanted and intended to do, offering, himself, to obey their commands; that notwithstanding this, they threw, in his presence, three men, alive and tied, overboard; that they told the deponent to come up, and that they would not kill him; which having done, the negro Babo asked him whether there were in those seas any negro countries where they might be carried, and he answered them, No; that the negro Babo afterwards told him to carry them to Senegal, or to the neighboring islands of St. Nicholas; and he answered, that this was impossible, on account of the great distance, the necessity involved of rounding Cape Horn, the bad condition of the vessel, the want of provisions, sails, and water; but that the negro Babo replied to him he must carry them in any way; that they would do and conform themselves to everything the deponent should require as to eating and drinking; that after a long conference, being absolutely compelled to please them, for they threatened to kill all the whites if they were not, at all events, carried to Senegal, he told them that what was most wanting for the voyage was water; that they would go near the coast to take it, and thence they would proceed on their course; that the negro Babo agreed to it; and the deponent steered towards the intermediate ports, hoping to meet some Spanish, or foreign vessel that would save them; that within ten or eleven days they saw the land, and continued their course by it in the vicinity of Nasca; that the deponent observed that the negroes were now restless and mutinous, because he did not effect the taking in of water, the negro Babo having required, with threats, that it should be done, without fail, the following day; he told him he saw plainly that the coast was steep, and the rivers designated in the maps were not to be found, with other reasons suitable to the circumstances; that the best way would be to go to the island of Santa Maria, where they might water easily, it being a solitary island, as the foreigners did; that the deponent did not go to Pisco, that was near, nor make any other port of the coast, because the negro Babo had intimated to him several times, that he would kill all the whites the very moment he should perceive any city, town, or settlement of any kind on the shores to which they should be carried: that having determined to go to the island of Santa Maria, as the deponent had planned, for the purpose of trying whether, on the passage or near the island itself, they could find any vessel that should favor them, or whether he could escape from it in a boat to the neighboring coast of Arruco, to adopt the necessary means he immediately changed his course, steering for the island; that the negroes Babo and Atufal held daily conferences, in which they discussed what was necessary for their design of returning to Senegal, whether they were to kill all the Spaniards, and particularly the deponent; that eight days after parting from the coast of Nasca, the deponent being on the watch a little after day-break, and soon after the negroes had their meeting, the negro Babo came to the place where the deponent was, and told him that he had determined to kill his master, Don Alexandro Aranda, both because he and his companions could not otherwise be sure of their liberty, and that to keep the seamen in subjection, he wanted to prepare a warning of what road they should be made to take did they or any of them oppose him; and that, by means of the death of Don Alexandro, that warning would best be given; but, that what this last meant, the deponent did not at the time comprehend, nor could not, further than that the death of Don Alexandro was intended; and moreover the negro Babo proposed to the deponent to call the mate Raneds, who was sleeping in the cabin, before the thing was done, for fear, as the deponent understood it, that the mate, who was a good navigator, should be killed with Don Alexandro and the rest; that the deponent, who was the friend, from youth, of Don Alexandro, prayed and conjured, but all was useless; for the negro Babo answered him that the thing could not be prevented, and that all the Spaniards risked their death if they should attempt to frustrate his will in this matter, or any other; that, in this conflict, the deponent called the mate, Raneds, who was forced to go apart, and immediately the negro Babo commanded the Ashantee Martinqui and the Ashantee Lecbe to go and commit the murder; that those two went down with hatchets to the berth of Don Alexandro; that, yet half alive and mangled, they dragged him on deck; that they were going to throw him overboard in that state, but the negro Babo stopped them, bidding the murder be completed on the deck before him, which was done, when, by his orders, the body was carried below, forward; that nothing more was seen of it by the deponent for three days; * * * that Don Alonzo Sidonia, an old man, long resident at Valparaiso, and lately appointed to a civil office in Peru, whither he had taken passage, was at the time sleeping in the berth opposite Don Alexandro’s; that awakening at his cries, surprised by them, and at the sight of the negroes with their bloody hatchets in their hands, he threw himself into the sea through a window which was near him, and was drowned, without it being in the power of the deponent to assist or take him up; * * * that a short time after killing Aranda, they brought upon deck his german-cousin, of middle-age, Don Francisco Masa, of Mendoza, and the young Don Joaquin, Marques de Aramboalaza, then lately from Spain, with his Spanish servant Ponce, and the three young clerks of Aranda, Jos Mozairi Lorenzo Bargas, and Hermenegildo Gandix, all of Cadiz; that Don Joaquin and Hermenegildo Gandix, the negro Babo, for purposes hereafter to appear, preserved alive; but Don Francisco Masa, Jos Mozairi, and Lorenzo Bargas, with Ponce the servant, beside the boatswain, Juan Robles, the boatswain’s mates, Manuel Viscaya and Roderigo Hurta, and four of the sailors, the negro Babo ordered to be thrown alive into the sea, although they made no resistance, nor begged for anything else but mercy; that the boatswain, Juan Robles, who knew how to swim, kept the longest above water, making acts of contrition, and, in the last words he uttered, charged this deponent to cause mass to be said for his soul to our Lady of Succor: * * * that, during the three days which followed, the deponent, uncertain what fate had befallen the remains of Don Alexandro, frequently asked the negro Babo where they were, and, if still on board, whether they were to be preserved for interment ashore, entreating him so to order it; that the negro Babo answered nothing till the fourth day, when at sunrise, the deponent coming on deck, the negro Babo showed him a skeleton, which had been substituted for the ship’s proper figure-head–the image of Christopher Colon, the discoverer of the New World; that the negro Babo asked him whose skeleton that was, and whether, from its whiteness, he should not think it a white’s; that, upon discovering his face, the negro Babo, coming close, said words to this effect: “Keep faith with the blacks from here to Senegal, or you shall in spirit, as now in body, follow your leader,” pointing to the prow; * * * that the same morning the negro Babo took by succession each Spaniard forward, and asked him whose skeleton that was, and whether, from its whiteness, he should not think it a white’s; that each Spaniard covered his face; that then to each the negro Babo repeated the words in the first place said to the deponent; * * * that they (the Spaniards), being then assembled aft, the negro Babo harangued them, saying that he had now done all; that the deponent (as navigator for the negroes) might pursue his course, warning him and all of them that they should, soul and body, go the way of Don Alexandro, if he saw them (the Spaniards) speak, or plot anything against them (the negroes)–a threat which was repeated every day; that, before the events last mentioned, they had tied the cook to throw him overboard, for it is not known what thing they heard him speak, but finally the negro Babo spared his life, at the request of the deponent; that a few days after, the deponent, endeavoring not to omit any means to preserve the lives of the remaining whites, spoke to the negroes peace and tranquillity, and agreed to draw up a paper, signed by the deponent and the sailors who could write, as also by the negro Babo, for himself and all the blacks, in which the deponent obliged himself to carry them to Senegal, and they not to kill any more, and he formally to make over to them the ship, with the cargo, with which they were for that time satisfied and quieted. * * But the next day, the more surely to guard against the sailors’ escape, the negro Babo commanded all the boats to be destroyed but the long-boat, which was unseaworthy, and another, a cutter in good condition, which knowing it would yet be wanted for towing the water casks, he had it lowered down into the hold.
* * * * *
[Various particulars of the prolonged and perplexed navigation ensuing here follow, with incidents of a calamitous calm, from which portion one passage is extracted, to wit:]
–That on the fifth day of the calm, all on board suffering much from the heat, and want of water, and five having died in fits, and mad, the negroes became irritable, and for a chance gesture, which they deemed suspicious–though it was harmless–made by the mate, Raneds, to the deponent in the act of handing a quadrant, they killed him; but that for this they afterwards were sorry, the mate being the only remaining navigator on board, except the deponent.
* * * * *
–That omitting other events, which daily happened, and which can only serve uselessly to recall past misfortunes and conflicts, after seventy-three days’ navigation, reckoned from the time they sailed from Nasca, during which they navigated under a scanty allowance of water, and were afflicted with the calms before mentioned, they at last arrived at the island of Santa Maria, on the seventeenth of the month of August, at about six o’clock in the afternoon, at which hour they cast anchor very near the American ship, Bachelor’s Delight, which lay in the same bay, commanded by the generous Captain Amasa Delano; but at six o’clock in the morning, they had already descried the port, and the negroes became uneasy, as soon as at distance they saw the ship, not having expected to see one there; that the negro Babo pacified them, assuring them that no fear need be had; that straightway he ordered the figure on the bow to be covered with canvas, as for repairs and had the decks a little set in order; that for a time the negro Babo and the negro Atufal conferred; that the negro Atufal was for sailing away, but the negro Babo would not, and, by himself, cast about what to do; that at last he came to the deponent, proposing to him to say and do all that the deponent declares to have said and done to the American captain; * * * * * * * that the negro Babo warned him that if he varied in the least, or uttered any word, or gave any look that should give the least intimation of the past events or present state, he would instantly kill him, with all his companions, showing a dagger, which he carried hid, saying something which, as he understood it, meant that that dagger would be alert as his eye; that the negro Babo then announced the plan to all his companions, which pleased them; that he then, the better to disguise the truth, devised many expedients, in some of them uniting deceit and defense; that of this sort was the device of the six Ashantees before named, who were his bravoes; that them he stationed on the break of the poop, as if to clean certain hatchets (in cases, which were part of the cargo), but in reality to use them, and distribute them at need, and at a given word he told them; that, among other devices, was the device of presenting Atufal, his right hand man, as chained, though in a moment the chains could be dropped; that in every particular he informed the deponent what part he was expected to enact in every device, and what story he was to tell on every occasion, always threatening him with instant death if he varied in the least: that, conscious that many of the negroes would be turbulent, the negro Babo appointed the four aged negroes, who were calkers, to keep what domestic order they could on the decks; that again and again he harangued the Spaniards and his companions, informing them of his intent, and of his devices, and of the invented story that this deponent was to tell; charging them lest any of them varied from that story; that these arrangements were made and matured during the interval of two or three hours, between their first sighting the ship and the arrival on board of Captain Amasa Delano; that this happened about half-past seven o’clock in the morning, Captain Amasa Delano coming in his boat, and all gladly receiving him; that the deponent, as well as he could force himself, acting then the part of principal owner, and a free captain of the ship, told Captain Amasa Delano, when called upon, that he came from Buenos Ayres, bound to Lima, with three hundred negroes; that off Cape Horn, and in a subsequent fever, many negroes had died; that also, by similar casualties, all the sea officers and the greatest part of the crew had died.
* * * * *
[And so the deposition goes on, circumstantially recounting the fictitious story dictated to the deponent by Babo, and through the deponent imposed upon Captain Delano; and also recounting the friendly offers of Captain Delano, with other things, but all of which is here omitted. After the fictitious story, etc. the deposition proceeds:]
* * * * *
–that the generous Captain Amasa Delano remained on board all the day, till he left the ship anchored at six o’clock in the evening, deponent speaking to him always of his pretended misfortunes, under the fore-mentioned principles, without having had it in his power to tell a single word, or give him the least hint, that he might know the truth and state of things; because the negro Babo, performing the office of an officious servant with all the appearance of submission of the humble slave, did not leave the deponent one moment; that this was in order to observe the deponent’s actions and words, for the negro Babo understands well the Spanish; and besides, there were thereabout some others who were constantly on the watch, and likewise understood the Spanish; * * * that upon one occasion, while deponent was standing on the deck conversing with Amasa Delano, by a secret sign the negro Babo drew him (the deponent) aside, the act appearing as if originating with the deponent; that then, he being drawn aside, the negro Babo proposed to him to gain from Amasa Delano full particulars about his ship, and crew, and arms; that the deponent asked “For what?” that the negro Babo answered he might conceive; that, grieved at the prospect of what might overtake the generous Captain Amasa Delano, the deponent at first refused to ask the desired questions, and used every argument to induce the negro Babo to give up this new design; that the negro Babo showed the point of his dagger; that, after the information had been obtained the negro Babo again drew him aside, telling him that that very night he (the deponent) would be captain of two ships, instead of one, for that, great part of the American’s ship’s crew being to be absent fishing, the six Ashantees, without any one else, would easily take it; that at this time he said other things to the same purpose; that no entreaties availed; that, before Amasa Delano’s coming on board, no hint had been given touching the capture of the American ship: that to prevent this project the deponent was powerless; * * *–that in some things his memory is confused, he cannot distinctly recall every event; * * *–that as soon as they had cast anchor at six of the clock in the evening, as has before been stated, the American Captain took leave, to return to his vessel; that upon a sudden impulse, which the deponent believes to have come from God and his angels, he, after the farewell had been said, followed the generous Captain Amasa Delano as far as the gunwale, where he stayed, under pretense of taking leave, until Amasa Delano should have been seated in his boat; that on shoving off, the deponent sprang from the gunwale into the boat, and fell into it, he knows not how, God guarding him; that–
* * * * *
[Here, in the original, follows the account of what further happened at the escape, and how the San Dominick was retaken, and of the passage to the coast; including in the recital many expressions of “eternal gratitude” to the “generous Captain Amasa Delano.” The deposition then proceeds with recapitulatory remarks, and a partial renumeration of the negroes, making record of their individual part in the past events, with a view to furnishing, according to command of the court, the data whereon to found the criminal sentences to be pronounced. From this portion is the following;]
–That he believes that all the negroes, though not in the first place knowing to the design of revolt, when it was accomplished, approved it. * * * That the negro, Jos, eighteen years old, and in the personal service of Don Alexandro, was the one who communicated the information to the negro Babo, about the state of things in the cabin, before the revolt; that this is known, because, in the preceding midnight, he use to come from his berth, which was under his master’s, in the cabin, to the deck where the ringleader and his associates were, and had secret conversations with the negro Babo, in which he was several times seen by the mate; that, one night, the mate drove him away twice; * * that this same negro Jos was the one who, without being commanded to do so by the negro Babo, as Lecbe and Martinqui were, stabbed his master, Don Alexandro, after be had been dragged half-lifeless to the deck; * * that the mulatto steward, Francesco, was of the first band of revolters, that he was, in all things, the creature and tool of the negro Babo; that, to make his court, he, just before a repast in the cabin, proposed, to the negro Babo, poisoning a dish for the generous Captain Amasa Delano; this is known and believed, because the negroes have said it; but that the negro Babo, having another design, forbade Francesco; * * that the Ashantee Lecbe was one of the worst of them; for that, on the day the ship was retaken, he assisted in the defense of her, with a hatchet in each hand, with one of which he wounded, in the breast, the chief mate of Amasa Delano, in the first act of boarding; this all knew; that, in sight of the deponent, Lecbe struck, with a hatchet, Don Francisco Masa, when, by the negro Babo’s orders, he was carrying him to throw him overboard, alive, beside participating in the murder, before mentioned, of Don Alexandro Aranda, and others of the cabin-passengers; that, owing to the fury with which the Ashantees fought in the engagement with the boats, but this Lecbe and Yan survived; that Yan was bad as Lecbe; that Yan was the man who, by Babo’s command, willingly prepared the skeleton of Don Alexandro, in a way the negroes afterwards told the deponent, but which he, so long as reason is left him, can never divulge; that Yan and Lecbe were the two who, in a calm by night, riveted the skeleton to the bow; this also the negroes told him; that the negro Babo was he who traced the inscription below it; that the negro Babo was the plotter from first to last; he ordered every murder, and was the helm and keel of the revolt; that Atufal was his lieutenant in all; but Atufal, with his own hand, committed no murder; nor did the negro Babo; * * that Atufal was shot, being killed in the fight with the boats, ere boarding; * * that the negresses, of age, were knowing to the revolt, and testified themselves satisfied at the death of their master, Don Alexandro; that, had the negroes not restrained them, they would have tortured to death, instead of simply killing, the Spaniards slain by command of the negro Babo; that the negresses used their utmost influence to have the deponent made away with; that, in the various acts of murder, they sang songs and danced–not gaily, but solemnly; and before the engagement with the boats, as well as during the action, they sang melancholy songs to the negroes, and that this melancholy tone was more inflaming than a different one would have been, and was so intended; that all this is believed, because the negroes have said it.–that of the thirty-six men of the crew, exclusive of the passengers (all of whom are now dead), which the deponent had knowledge of, six only remained alive, with four cabin-boys and ship-boys, not included with the crew; * *–that the negroes broke an arm of one of the cabin-boys and gave him strokes with hatchets.
[Then follow various random disclosures referring to various periods of time. The following are extracted;]
–That during the presence of Captain Amasa Delano on board, some attempts were made by the sailors, and one by Hermenegildo Gandix, to convey hints to him of the true state of affairs; but that these attempts were ineffectual, owing to fear of incurring death, and, futhermore, owing to the devices which offered contradictions to the true state of affairs, as well as owing to the generosity and piety of Amasa Delano incapable of sounding such wickedness; * * * that Luys Galgo, a sailor about sixty years of age, and formerly of the king’s navy, was one of those who sought to convey tokens to Captain Amasa Delano; but his intent, though undiscovered, being suspected, he was, on a pretense, made to retire out of sight, and at last into the hold, and there was made away with. This the negroes have since said; * * * that one of the ship-boys feeling, from Captain Amasa Delano’s presence, some hopes of release, and not having enough prudence, dropped some chance-word respecting his expectations, which being overheard and understood by a slave-boy with whom he was eating at the time, the latter struck him on the head with a knife, inflicting a bad wound, but of which the boy is now healing; that likewise, not long before the ship was brought to anchor, one of the seamen, steering at the time, endangered himself by letting the blacks remark some expression in his countenance, arising from a cause similar to the above; but this sailor, by his heedful after conduct, escaped; * * * that these statements are made to show the court that from the beginning to the end of the revolt, it was impossible for the deponent and his men to act otherwise than they did; * * *–that the third clerk, Hermenegildo Gandix, who before had been forced to live among the seamen, wearing a seaman’s habit, and in all respects appearing to be one for the time; he, Gandix, was killed by a musket ball fired through mistake from the boats before boarding; having in his fright run up the mizzen-rigging, calling to the boats–“don’t board,” lest upon their boarding the negroes should kill him; that this inducing the Americans to believe he some way favored the cause of the negroes, they fired two balls at him, so that he fell wounded from the rigging, and was drowned in the sea; * * *–that the young Don Joaquin, Marques de Aramboalaza, like Hermenegildo Gandix, the third clerk, was degraded to the office and appearance of a common seaman; that upon one occasion when Don Joaquin shrank, the negro Babo commanded the Ashantee Lecbe to take tar and heat it, and pour it upon Don Joaquin’s hands; * * *–that Don Joaquin was killed owing to another mistake of the Americans, but one impossible to be avoided, as upon the approach of the boats, Don Joaquin, with a hatchet tied edge out and upright to his hand, was made by the negroes to appear on the bulwarks; whereupon, seen with arms in his hands and is a questionable altitude, he was shot for a renegade seaman; * * *–that on the person of Don Joaquin was found secreted a jewel, which, by papers that were discovered, proved to have been meant for the shrine of our Lady of Mercy in Lima; a votive offering, beforehand prepared and guarded, to attest his gratitude, when he should have landed in Peru, his last destination, for the safe conclusion of his entire voyage from Spain; * * *–that the jewel, with the other effects of the late Don Joaquin, is in the custody of the brethren of the Hospital de Sacerdotes, awaiting the disposition of the honorable court; * * *–that, owing to the condition of the deponent, as well as the haste in which the boats departed for the attack, the Americans were not forewarned that there were, among the apparent crew, a passenger and one of the clerks disguised by the negro Babo; * * *–that, beside the negroes killed in the action, some were killed after the capture and re-anchoring at night, when shackled to the ring-bolts on deck; that these deaths were committed by the sailors, ere they could be prevented. That so soon as informed of it, Captain Amasa Delano used all his authority, and, in particular with his own hand, struck down Martinez Gola, who, having found a razor in the pocket of an old jacket of his, which one of the shackled negroes had on, was aiming it at the negro’s throat; that the noble Captain Amasa Delano also wrenched from the hand of Bartholomew Barlo a dagger, secreted at the time of the massacre of the whites, with which he was in the act of stabbing a shackled negro, who, the same day, with another negro, had thrown him down and jumped upon him; * * *–that, for all the events, befalling through so long a time, during which the ship was in the hands of the negro Babo, he cannot here give account; but that, what he has said is the most substantial of what occurs to him at present, and is the truth under the oath which he has taken; which declaration he affirmed and ratified, after hearing it read to him.
He said that he is twenty-nine years of age, and broken in body and mind; that when finally dismissed by the court, he shall not return home to Chili, but betake himself to the monastery on Mount Agonia without; and signed with his honor, and crossed himself, and, for the time, departed as he came, in his litter, with the monk Infelez, to the Hospital de Sacerdotes.
If the Deposition have served as the key to fit into the lock of thecomplications which precede it, then, as a vault whose door has beenflung back, the San Dominick’s hull lies open to-day.
Hitherto the nature of this narrative, besides rendering the intricaciesin the beginning unavoidable, has more or less required that manythings, instead of being set down in the order of occurrence, should beretrospectively, or irregularly given; this last is the case with thefollowing passages, which will conclude the account:
During the long, mild voyage to Lima, there was, as before hinted, aperiod during which the sufferer a little recovered his health, or, atleast in some degree, his tranquillity. Ere the decided relapse whichcame, the two captains had many cordial conversations–their fraternalunreserve in singular contrast with former withdrawments.
Again and again it was repeated, how hard it had been to enact the partforced on the Spaniard by Babo.
“Ah, my dear friend,” Don Benito once said, “at those very times whenyou thought me so morose and ungrateful, nay, when, as you now admit,you half thought me plotting your murder, at those very times my heartwas frozen; I could not look at you, thinking of what, both on boardthis ship and your own, hung, from other hands, over my kind benefactor.And as God lives, Don Amasa, I know not whether desire for my own safetyalone could have nerved me to that leap into your boat, had it not beenfor the thought that, did you, unenlightened, return to your ship, you,my best friend, with all who might be with you, stolen upon, that night,in your hammocks, would never in this world have wakened again. Do butthink how you walked this deck, how you sat in this cabin, every inch ofground mined into honey-combs under you. Had I dropped the least hint,made the least advance towards an understanding between us, death,explosive death–yours as mine–would have ended the scene.”
“True, true,” cried Captain Delano, starting, “you have saved my life,Don Benito, more than I yours; saved it, too, against my knowledge andwill.”
“Nay, my friend,” rejoined the Spaniard, courteous even to the point ofreligion, “God charmed your life, but you saved mine. To think of somethings you did–those smilings and chattings, rash pointings andgesturings. For less than these, they slew my mate, Raneds; but you hadthe Prince of Heaven’s safe-conduct through all ambuscades.”
“Yes, all is owing to Providence, I know: but the temper of my mind thatmorning was more than commonly pleasant, while the sight of so muchsuffering, more apparent than real, added to my good-nature, compassion,and charity, happily interweaving the three. Had it been otherwise,doubtless, as you hint, some of my interferences might have endedunhappily enough. Besides, those feelings I spoke of enabled me to getthe better of momentary distrust, at times when acuteness might havecost me my life, without saving another’s. Only at the end did mysuspicions get the better of me, and you know how wide of the mark theythen proved.”
“Wide, indeed,” said Don Benito, sadly; “you were with me all day; stoodwith me, sat with me, talked with me, looked at me, ate with me, drankwith me; and yet, your last act was to clutch for a monster, not only aninnocent man, but the most pitiable of all men. To such degree maymalign machinations and deceptions impose. So far may even the best manerr, in judging the conduct of one with the recesses of whose conditionhe is not acquainted. But you were forced to it; and you were in timeundeceived. Would that, in both respects, it was so ever, and with allmen.”
“You generalize, Don Benito; and mournfully enough. But the past ispassed; why moralize upon it? Forget it. See, yon bright sun hasforgotten it all, and the blue sea, and the blue sky; these have turnedover new leaves.”
“Because they have no memory,” he dejectedly replied; “because they arenot human.”
“But these mild trades that now fan your cheek, do they not come with ahuman-like healing to you? Warm friends, steadfast friends are thetrades.”
“With their steadfastness they but waft me to my tomb, Seor,” was theforeboding response.
“You are saved,” cried Captain Delano, more and more astonished andpained; “you are saved: what has cast such a shadow upon you?”
There was silence, while the moody man sat, slowly and unconsciouslygathering his mantle about him, as if it were a pall.
There was no more conversation that day.
But if the Spaniard’s melancholy sometimes ended in muteness upon topicslike the above, there were others upon which he never spoke at all; onwhich, indeed, all his old reserves were piled. Pass over the worst,and, only to elucidate let an item or two of these be cited. The dress,so precise and costly, worn by him on the day whose events have beennarrated, had not willingly been put on. And that silver-mounted sword,apparent symbol of despotic command, was not, indeed, a sword, but theghost of one. The scabbard, artificially stiffened, was empty.
As for the black–whose brain, not body, had schemed and led the revolt,with the plot–his slight frame, inadequate to that which it held, hadat once yielded to the superior muscular strength of his captor, in theboat. Seeing all was over, he uttered no sound, and could not be forcedto. His aspect seemed to say, since I cannot do deeds, I will not speakwords. Put in irons in the hold, with the rest, he was carried to Lima.During the passage, Don Benito did not visit him. Nor then, nor at anytime after, would he look at him. Before the tribunal he refused. Whenpressed by the judges he fainted. On the testimony of the sailors alonerested the legal identity of Babo.
Some months after, dragged to the gibbet at the tail of a mule, theblack met his voiceless end. The body was burned to ashes; but for manydays, the head, that hive of subtlety, fixed on a pole in the Plaza,met, unabashed, the gaze of the whites; and across the Plaza lookedtowards St. Bartholomew’s church, in whose vaults slept then, as now,the recovered bones of Aranda: and across the Rimac bridge lookedtowards the monastery, on Mount Agonia without; where, three monthsafter being dismissed by the court, Benito Cereno, borne on the bier,did, indeed, follow his leader.
Benito Cereno – Herman Melville – Literature Short Stories – shortstories.co.in
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