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The mutilated frigate, as uncomely and as unrecognizable as a man whose nose is gone, made her way with infinite precautions through the shoals and mudbanks of the estuary with the making tide, guided by the grave pilot, who sent his men ahead to mark the turns in the channel with a pole; then she tacked painfully up the river, her head heaved round by boats at the end of each board - each short board, for by the height of Penedo the São Francisco narrowed to no more than a mile. However, they got her in at last, by torchlight, with no more than one wait in mid-channel for the ebb, and Jack found to his great satisfaction that Allen and Lopez, the owner of the shipyard, had already chosen a fine piece of timber for the new bowsprit, that the carpenters had already roughed out a splendid greenheart cap for it, and that the sheers to extract the shattered stump were to be erected first thing in the morning.
'This Lopez is a man after my own heart, ' he said to Stephen. 'He understands the importance of time and the thorough leathering of a jibboom hole, and I have little doubt we shall be at sea by Sunday.'
'Only three days, ' said Stephen. 'Alas for poor Martin: I told him a much longer period and he had set his heart upon seeing the boa-constrictor, the jaguar, and the owl-faced night-ape, as well as making a reasonably complete collection of the local beetles; but so much can hardly be expected in so short a time. I agree with you about Senhor Lopez, however. He is also a most amiable, hospitable man, and has invited me to stay the night and to meet a Peruvian gentleman, a great traveller, who is also a guest. This gentleman has crossed the Andes, I find, and must necessarily have seen a very great deal of the inland country.'
'I am sure he must, ' said Jack. 'But I do beg of you, Stephen, not to keep Lopez long from his bed. There is not a moment to lose - think what flats we should look, was the Norfolk to pass by while we were sitting here - and we must start work a little before dawn: it would be the world's pity to have him stupid, sleepy and jaded. Could you not give him a hint, to the effect that you would be happy to entertain the Peruvian gentleman, if he chose to turn in?'
In the event Lopez needed no hints. He spoke Spanish only with difficulty, and seeing that both his guests were fluent, even enormously fluent, in that language and that they agreed very well, he excused himself on the grounds of early work to be done and bade them good night, leaving them on a broad veranda with a number of domesticated creatures on it, marmosets of three different kinds, an old bald toucan, a row of sleepy parrots, something hairy in the background that might have been a sloth or an ant-eater or even a doormat but that it farted from time to time, looking round censoriously on each occasion, and a strikingly elegant small blue heron that walked in and out. Two bottles of white port stood between them, two hammocks hung behind, and Lopez returned for a moment to beg them to use the mosquito-netting. 'Not that we have mosquitoes in Penedo, gentlemen, ' he said, 'but it must be confessed that at the change of the moon the vampires do grow a little importunate.'
They did not annoy his guests however, since the vampire really needs a sleeping prey and these two (though eyed wistfully from the rafters) never went to bed. They sat talking all night, watching the sliver of the new moon go down and the procession of great glowing stars pass across the sky: bats of a more amiable kind, two feet across, showed briefly against their light, and in the river only a few yards below could be seen the star-twinkling wake of turtles and the occasional alligator: the lion-maned marmoset in Stephen's lap snored very gently, sleeping on and on in spite of the continual flow of talk. They had surveyed the infamous career of Buonaparte (no end yet in view, alas, alas), the melancholy record of Spain as an imperial power in the New World and the almost certain liberation of her colonies - 'Though when I look at the reptiles coming to the fore in such places as Buenos Aires, ' said the Peruvian, 'I sometimes fear that our last state may be even worse than our first' - and now, at the tail end of the night, they returned to the geology of the Andes, and the difficulty of crossing them.
'I should never have accomplished it but for these, ' 'said the Peruvian, nodding toward the half-finished packet of coca leaves on the table between them. 'When we were near the top of the pass the wind increased, bringing frozen pellets of snow and cutting off one's breath, already so short at that height that every step called for two or three gasping inhalations. My companions were in much the same condition, and two of our llamas had died. I thought we should have to turn back, but the headman led us to something of a shelter among the rocks, took out his pouch of coca and his box of lime and passed them round. We each chewed a ball - an acullico, we call it - and then, resuming our burdens with the greatest ease, we walked fast up the cruel slope through the driving snow, over the top and so down into kinder weather.'
'You do not surprise me, ' said Stephen. 'Ever since the first acullico that you were so good as to give me I have felt my mind glow, my mental and no doubt physical powers increase. I have little doubt that I could swim the river that lies before us. I shall not do so, however. I prefer to enjoy your conversation and my present state of remarkable wellbeing - no fatigue, no hunger, no perplexity of mind, but a power of apprehension and synthesis that I have rarely known before. Your coca, sir, is the most virtuous simple I have ever met with. I had read about it in Garcilasso de la Vega and in Faulkner's account, but I had no idea it was a hundredth part as efficacious.'
'This of course is the best flat-leaved mountain coca, ' said the Peruvian. 'It was given me by the grower, an intimate friend, and I always travel with a substantial packet of the most recent crop. Allow me to pour a glass of wine: there is some left in the other bottle.'
'You are very good, but it would be wasted on me: ever since the pleasant tingling subsided after the first ball, my sense of taste is entirely gone.'
'What, what is that outcry?' exclaimed the Peruvian, for a screech of pipes could be heard from the Surprise, and a roaring of 'Out or down, out or down. Rouse and bitt. Here I come with a sharp knife and a clear conscience: out or down. Bundle up, bundle up, bundle up, ' as the bosun's mates roused the sleeping lower-deck and all the frigate's open ports showed golden in the darkness.
'It is only the mariners being summoned to their duty, ' said Stephen. 'They like to begin cleaning the deck before daylight; the sun must not be offended with the sight of dust. It is a very superstitious ritual, I am afraid.'
A little later the stars began to pale; there was a lightening in the east; and within a few minutes the sun thrust his rim above the far edge of the sea. The briefest dawn, and it was day, full day. Captain Aubrey stepped from his cabin and Senhor Lopez from his house. They met on the quay, Lopez accompanied by an embarrassing, unnecessary spidermonkey that had to be menaced and hissed at to make it go home, and Jack by the master for the language and the bosun for any technical questions that might arise.
By mid-morning all hands were steadily at work: that is to say, all the hands there were, for Pullings in the launch and Mowett in the barge, with their respective crews, had been left far out beyond the bar to keep watch and to gather news. But there were plenty of Surprises left; the frigate had been warped alongside the sheers and the shipwrights were busy on her head; along the wharf the great smooth chips flew as the carpenters plied their adzes on the new bowsprit, cap and jibboom; the bosun, his mates and a strong party of unusually able seamen were stripping almost all her standing rigging in order to set it up again Bristol-fashion when the new spar should be in; and an army of caulkers swarmed over her decks and sides. Few of the Defenders could be of any use at these skilled tasks, but by now they could all pull an oar, more or less, and they and the Marines were sent off to complete the ship's water at a spring a little way up the river.
'I feel exceedingly guilty, watching all these men so earnestly at work and doing nothing myself, ' said Martin.
'The back of my hand to guilt, ' said Stephen, lively and cheerful in spite of his wholly sleepless night. 'Let us walk out and view the country. I am told that there is a path leading behind the mangrove-swamp and through the forest to an open glade where a certain palm-tree grows. Its name I forget, but it bears a round and crimson fruit. We have so little time: it would be a pity to waste it in an idle beating of one's breast.'
Little time indeed: yet it was long enough for Martin to be bitten by an owl-faced night-ape, bitten dangerously, and to the very bone. They walked behind the mangrove-swamp, along the broad forest track with vegetation rising in a brilliant green wall on either side, a wall made of trees as its powerful basis and then of uncountable twining creepers, climbers, bushes, lianas and parasites filling all the interstices so that in the thicker parts nothing but a serpent could get through. They walked with foolish smiles upon their faces, astonished by the butterflies, the innumerable butterflies of so very many different species and by the occasional humming-bird; and once the all-pervading sound of stridulating insects had lasted ten or twenty minutes it could no longer be heard and they seemed to be walking in total silence - very few birds, and these few mute. But when they came to the glade, where the trees stood fairly wide and the ground was clear, they startled a mixed flock of parrots; and there on a well-beaten path they saw a marching column of leaf-carrying ants a foot wide and so long that it vanished in either direction. Stephen contemplated the ants, distinguishing the various soldier and worker forms; and being fond of calculation he worked out the number in a square foot and the probable weight of their burden, meaning thereby to make some estimate of all the army he could see; but his arithmetic had always been slow hesitant and poor, and he was still scratching numbers with a twig on a broad leaf when he heard a startled cry from Martin, over by a hollow tree on the far side of the glade. 'Hush, ' he said, frowning. 'I write three, I carry seven.' But now the cry had anguish in it too and turning he saw that Martin's hand was streaming with blood: he ran towards him, his little penknife out and ready, crying, 'Was it a serpent, at all? Was it ever a snake?'
'No, ' said Martin, with the strangest mixture of delight and pain in his face. 'It was an owl-faced night-ape. He was in here' - pointing to a hole in the hollow tree - 'peering out: such a pleasant striped round-eyed inquisitive little face, that I ventured . . .'
'To the very bone, ' said Stephen. 'And you will certainly lose your nail, if you live at all. Let it bleed, soul, let it bleed: I have no doubt the ape was mad, and the flow may get rid of a little of the poison, with the blessing. There, I will bind it up now, and we will hurry back to the ship. You must certainly be cauterized as soon as possible. Where is the ape?'
'I am very sorry to say he ran off directly. I should have called you earlier.'
'Let us imitate him. There is not a moment to lose. The river-bank is quicker than the mangrove-swamp. Keep your hand in your bosom; and take notice that the handkerchief is mine.'
As they ran under the powerful sun Martin said, 'It is not every man that can show a wound inflicted by an owl-faced night-ape.'
A belt of feathery bamboos to traverse and they came on to the river-bank, broad sand now, the tide being out; and there before them stood two seamen, Awkward Davis and Fat-Arse Jenks, grasping driftwood clubs and looking grim.
'Why, it's the Doctor, ' cried Davis, the brighter of the two. 'We thought you was Indians - savages - cannibals.'
'Tigers, ' said Jenks. 'Theshing about in them reeds, and ravening for blood.'
'What are you doing here?' asked Stephen, since both of them belonged to the launch.
'Why, ain't you heard the news, sir?' asked Davis.
'He ain't heard the news, ' said Davis, turning to Jenks.
'You tell him, then, mate, ' said Jenks.
The news, extricated from its web of irrelevant detail and the correction of minute circumstantial points, was that the Norfolk had passed by, steering south-south-west under all plain sail, that Captain Pullings had instantly set off in the launch for Penedo, that they had had great difficulty in finding the channel, and that this being the lowest ebb of a spring tide or close on the launch had grounded so often in this last stretch that Davis and Jenks, being unusually heavy and not being needed to row with this leading breeze, had been told to walk the rest of the way, but to mind out for the tigers. Mr Mowett in the barge, on the other hand, had carried all away, being overset on a sandbank quite early on, and would have to wait there till the ship came down.
'The launch will have got in an hour ago, ' said Davis. 'Oh my eye, they will be as busy as bees by now.'
Bees indeed, and bees under an exceptionally active taskmaster. Meals, abolished for the cabin, gunroom and midshipmen's berth, were reduced to a mere snapping ten minutes for the hands; all pretty-work was abandoned; and so many extra carpenters, hired out of Jack's pocket, were set to work on the bowsprit that they barely had room to wield their tools. Then after nightfall what could be done by the light of huge fires blazing on the quay was done, and although there was still a great deal of fine-work that must wait for the sun Jack was fairly confident that they should sail on tomorrow evening's tide.
'You will not mind its being Friday?' asked Stephen.
'Friday?' cried Jack, who had lost count in the fury of headlong work. 'God help us, so it is. But it don't signify, you know; we do not do it voluntarily; it is forced upon us. No, no. But leaving that aside - and pray don't mention it to anyone else, Stephen - there are two things in our favour: one is that the Norfolk was under no more than plain sail when she could easily have spread very much more canvas by far; so it is likely we may catch her by cracking on. The other is that this is a spring tide, and it will carry us down a great deal quicker than we came up.'
A third thing was the arrival of Mowett and the barge's crew, who, having accomplished prodigies of repair, appeared a little before dawn. With their help - and some of the cleverest riggers were among the bargemen - the work went forward at a splendid pace. The new bowsprit was home by half past ten, gammoned and frapped by eleven, and the new jibboom rigged out, with all stays and shrouds set up by the depth of low tide. Jack gave the order to splice the main brace, and turning to Pullings he said, 'The painting and titivating we must leave until we are at sea, and of course she don't look pretty; but I never thought we could have done so much in the time. Please ask the master to tell Mr Lopez that we should be happy to accept his invitation after all: he knows we shall have to leave him at the turn of the tide. Lord, I could do with my dinner: and with a glass of wine, by God! '
Glasses of wine were not lacking at that cheerful feast, nor excellent food (for the turtle counted as fish), nor yet song: indeed Jack thought the pilot came it a little too high with the shanties he had learnt aboard English and American merchantmen. But then Jack's mind was too much taken up with the flowing tide to take much delight in music, and as soon as the youngster he had posted by the chronometers came to tell him that the time was ripe he stood up, thanked Mr Lopez most heartily, and walked off, followed by Stephen and the master, disregarding the pilot's plea for a last toast to St Peter.
The tide, now at slack-water, was exceptionally high, so high that small waves lapped over the quay, since for most of the flood it had been a leeward tide, though now the wind had hauled conveniently into the south-west. Once this vast body of water began to ebb, reflected Jack, looking over to the far brimming bank, it would sweep the Surprise down to the sea at a splendid rate; and with even a little help from the breeze they should be well clear of the estuary before the turn, particularly as with so much water in the river they would not have to follow all the windings of the ebb-tide fairway. The uncommon height had another advantage too: Stephen stepped straight into the pilot's boat and sat there peaceably without having either fallen into the bottom or pitched over the far side or even barked his shins, while the pilot and his man rowed them out to the Surprise, which was already in the channel, holding on by two buoyed kedges belonging to the yard and only waiting for her commander to let go.
'So we are away, ' said Martin, gazing at the brilliant sunlit wall of green to starboard as it glided by.
'If this had been a civilized voyage of inquiry we might have staved for three weeks, ' said Stephen. 'How is your hand?'
'It is very well, I thank you, ' said Martin. 'And had it been fifty times more severe I should still have thought it nothing, for those few hours - such wealth .. . Maturin, if you direct your glass to that enormous tree upon the point and look a little to the right, do not you make out something very like a troop of monkeys?'
'I do. And take them to be howlers, black howlers.'
'Howlers, did you say? Yes, no doubt. I wish, ' he added in a low voice, not to be overheard by the pilot, 'I wish that fellow would make less noise.'
'He is grown somewhat exuberant, ' said Stephen. 'Let us move forward.'
But even when they were in the bows the pilot's merriment pursued them, together with his imitation of the jaguar's cry, a gruff Boo boo; and most disappointingly he moved the ship out into the middle of the river, so that neither bank could be seen in any detail. The tide had begun to ebb and she was running surprisingly fast under topsails and jib with a quartering wind. Fast, that is to say, until with a smooth but sudden check she came to a dead halt on a sandbank with her deck sloping from fore to aft and a huge cloud of mud and sand flowing away from her down the rapid stream. Hands had instantly started the sheets, and now as they were dewing up Jack came racing forward from his cabin calling out, 'Light along the lead, light along the lead there.' He leant far over the headrails, staring down into the water as it cleared: she had ploughed her way so far up the bank that the bottom was within a yard of her bridle-ports.
'Take a cast well out, ' he said to the quartermaster, in the hope that the lead might show a narrow spit that she might be dragged off sideways. It showed nothing of the kind; and while the lead was whirling for the second cast to larboard he saw bushes and reeds under the frigate's forefoot. She was on a bank so high that it was rarely covered. Running aft to see how things were astern he saw that Pullings and Mowett were already getting the boats over the side. 'Cable out of the gunroom port, ' he shouted as he passed.
The stern was unnaturally low in the water and the rudder was probably unshipped, but that did not matter for the moment. 'Just drop it under the counter, ' he said, and the lead splashed down.
'By the mark twain, sir, ' said the quartermaster in a shocked voice. 'And barely that.'
It was very bad indeed, but it was not quite hopeless. 'Best bower into the launch, ' he called. 'Kedge and hawser into the red cutter.' He glanced over the taffrail to see whether the run of the current gave any hint of the bank's limits and he noticed that the pilot and his man were already two hundred yards away in their little skiff, pulling furiously. He said to the master, 'Start the water over the side, ' and plunged below, to where the bosun and a gang of powerful tierers from both watches were passing one of the new fifteen-inch cables aft with rhythmic cries of 'Heave one, heave two, heave away, away and go.' All was well here and moving very fast, and as he ran on deck, calling aloud for the jolly-boat and a can-buoy, some part of his mind had time to thank God for good officers and a crew of thoroughpaced seamen.
By the time he dropped into the jolly-boat the kedge had already been lowered into the red cutter, the best bower was hanging from the cathead, poised just over the launch, and fresh water was spouting over the side, lightening the ship at a great pace.
The jolly-boat cast to and fro like an eager dog, searching for depth and a good holding-ground, and at the first tolerable place Jack tossed the buoy over the gunwale and hailed the launch, now pulling as fast as it could with the anchor aboard and the cable trailing behind, pulling as fast as it could against the wind and the now much more powerful ebb, pulling so hard that the men's faces were crimson, while the oars bent dangerously at the tholes. For now there was not a moment, not a single moment to lose, now less than ever, for as every seaman knew, this tide would drop thirty feet: even in the last ten minutes five inches of precious depth had ebbed from over the shoal and round the ship, and if they did not have her off this tide there would be little hope for the next, since it would not rise so high. Furthermore there was the fear of the ship's breaking her back as the water left her. 'Stretch out, stretch out, ' roared Pullings in the launch, and 'Stretch out, stretch out, ' roared Mowett in the cutter.
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