THE PERILS OF CERTAIN ENGLISH PRISONERS
THE PERILS OF CERTAIN ENGLISH PRISONERS
CHAPTER I--THE ISLAND OF SILVER-STORE
It was in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and forty-
four that I Gill Davis to command His Mark having then the
honour to be a private in the Royal Marines stood a-leaning over
the bulwarks of the armed sloop Christopher Columbus in the South
American waters off the Mosquito shore.
My lady remarks to me before I go any further that there is no
such christian-name as Gill and that her confident opinion is that
the name given to me in the baptism wherein I was made &c. was
Gilbert. She is certain to be right but I never heard of it. I
was a foundling child picked up somewhere or another and I always
understood my christian-name to be Gill. It is true that I was
called Gills when employed at Snorridge Bottom betwixt Chatham and
Maidstone to frighten birds; but that had nothing to do with the
Baptism wherein I was made &c. and wherein a number of things were
promised for me by somebody who let me alone ever afterwards as to
performing any of them and who I consider must have been the
Beadle. Such name of Gills was entirely owing to my cheeks or
gills which at that time of my life were of a raspy description.
My lady stops me again before I go any further by laughing exactly
in her old way and waving the feather of her pen at me. That action
on her part calls to my mind as I look at her hand with the rings
on it--Well! I won't! To be sure it will come in in its own
place. But it's always strange to me noticing the quiet hand and
noticing it (as I have done you know so many times) a-fondling
children and grandchildren asleep to think that when blood and
honour were up--there! I won't! not at present!--Scratch it out.
She won't scratch it out and quite honourable; because we have made
an understanding that everything is to be taken down and that
nothing that is once taken down shall be scratched out. I have the
great misfortune not to be able to read and write and I am speaking
my true and faithful account of those Adventures and my lady is
writing it word for word.
I say there I was a-leaning over the bulwarks of the sloop
Christopher Columbus in the South American waters off the Mosquito
shore: a subject of his Gracious Majesty King George of England
and a private in the Royal Marines.
In those climates you don't want to do much. I was doing nothing.
I was thinking of the shepherd (my father I wonder?) on the
hillsides by Snorridge Bottom with a long staff and with a rough
white coat in all weathers all the year round who used to let me
lie in a corner of his hut by night and who used to let me go about
with him and his sheep by day when I could get nothing else to do
and who used to give me so little of his victuals and so much of his
staff that I ran away from him--which was what he wanted all along
I expect--to be knocked about the world in preference to Snorridge
Bottom. I had been knocked about the world for nine-and-twenty
years in all when I stood looking along those bright blue South
American Waters. Looking after the shepherd I may say. Watching
him in a half-waking dream with my eyes half-shut as he and his
flock of sheep and his two dogs seemed to move away from the
ship's side far away over the blue water and go right down into
"It's rising out of the water steady" a voice said close to me. I
had been thinking on so that it like woke me with a start though
it was no stranger voice than the voice of Harry Charker my own
"What's rising out of the water steady?" I asked my comrade.
"What?" says he. "The Island."
"O! The Island!" says I turning my eyes towards it. "True. I
forgot the Island."
"Forgot the port you're going to? That's odd ain't it?"
"It is odd" says I.
"And odd" he said slowly considering with himself "ain't even.
Is it Gill?"
He had always a remark just like that to make and seldom another.
As soon as he had brought a thing round to what it was not he was
satisfied. He was one of the best of men and in a certain sort of
a way one with the least to say for himself. I qualify it
because besides being able to read and write like a Quarter-master
he had always one most excellent idea in his mind. That was Duty.
Upon my soul I don't believe though I admire learning beyond
everything that he could have got a better idea out of all the
books in the world if he had learnt them every word and been the
cleverest of scholars.
My comrade and I had been quartered in Jamaica and from there we
had been drafted off to the British settlement of Belize lying away
West and North of the Mosquito coast. At Belize there had been
great alarm of one cruel gang of pirates (there were always more
pirates than enough in those Caribbean Seas) and as they got the
better of our English cruisers by running into out-of-the-way creeks
and shallows and taking the land when they were hotly pressed the
governor of Belize had received orders from home to keep a sharp
look-out for them along shore. Now there was an armed sloop came
once a-year from Port Royal Jamaica to the Island laden with all
manner of necessaries to eat and to drink and to wear and to use
in various ways; and it was aboard of that sloop which had touched
at Belize that I was a-standing leaning over the bulwarks.
The Island was occupied by a very small English colony. It had been
given the name of Silver-Store. The reason of its being so called
was that the English colony owned and worked a silver-mine over on
the mainland in Honduras and used this Island as a safe and
convenient place to store their silver in until it was annually
fetched away by the sloop. It was brought down from the mine to the
coast on the backs of mules attended by friendly Indians and
guarded by white men; from thence it was conveyed over to Silver-
Store when the weather was fair in the canoes of that country;
from Silver-Store it was carried to Jamaica by the armed sloop once
a-year as I have already mentioned; from Jamaica it went of
course all over the world.
How I came to be aboard the armed sloop is easily told. Four-and-
twenty marines under command of a lieutenant--that officer's name
was Linderwood--had been told off at Belize to proceed to Silver-
Store in aid of boats and seamen stationed there for the chase of
the Pirates. The Island was considered a good post of observation
against the pirates both by land and sea; neither the pirate ship
nor yet her boats had been seen by any of us but they had been so
much heard of that the reinforcement was sent. Of that party I
was one. It included a corporal and a sergeant. Charker was
corporal and the sergeant's name was Drooce. He was the most
tyrannical non-commissioned officer in His Majesty's service.
The night came on soon after I had had the foregoing words with
Charker. All the wonderful bright colours went out of the sea and
sky in a few minutes and all the stars in the Heavens seemed to
shine out together and to look down at themselves in the sea over
one another's shoulders millions deep. Next morning we cast
anchor off the Island. There was a snug harbour within a little
reef; there was a sandy beach; there were cocoa-nut trees with high
straight stems quite bare and foliage at the top like plumes of
magnificent green feathers; there were all the objects that are
usually seen in those parts and I am not going to describe them
having something else to tell about.
Great rejoicings to be sure were made on our arrival. All the
flags in the place were hoisted all the guns in the place were
fired and all the people in the place came down to look at us. One
of those Sambo fellows--they call those natives Sambos when they
are half-negro and half-Indian--had come off outside the reef to
pilot us in and remained on board after we had let go our anchor.
He was called Christian George King and was fonder of all hands
than anybody else was. Now I confess for myself that on that
first day if I had been captain of the Christopher Columbus
instead of private in the Royal Marines I should have kicked
Christian George King--who was no more a Christian than he was a
King or a George--over the side without exactly knowing why except
that it was the right thing to do.
But I must likewise confess that I was not in a particularly
pleasant humour when I stood under arms that morning aboard the
Christopher Columbus in the harbour of the Island of Silver-Store.
I had had a hard life and the life of the English on the Island
seemed too easy and too gay to please me. "Here you are" I thought
to myself "good scholars and good livers; able to read what you
like able to write what you like able to eat and drink what you
like and spend what you like and do what you like; and much you
care for a poor ignorant Private in the Royal Marines! Yet it's
hard too I think that you should have all the half-pence and I
all the kicks; you all the smooth and I all the rough; you all the
oil and I all the vinegar." It was as envious a thing to think as
might be let alone its being nonsensical; but I thought it. I
took it so much amiss that when a very beautiful young English
lady came aboard I grunted to myself "Ah! you have got a lover
I'll be bound!" As if there was any new offence to me in that if
She was sister to the captain of our sloop who had been in a poor
way for some time and who was so ill then that he was obliged to be
carried ashore. She was the child of a military officer and had
come out there with her sister who was married to one of the owners
of the silver-mine and who had three children with her. It was
easy to see that she was the light and spirit of the Island. After
I had got a good look at her I grunted to myself again in an even
worse state of mind than before "I'll be damned if I don't hate
him whoever he is!"
My officer Lieutenant Linderwood was as ill as the captain of the
sloop and was carried ashore too. They were both young men of
about my age who had been delicate in the West India climate. I
even took that in bad part. I thought I was much fitter for the
work than they were and that if all of us had our deserts I should
be both of them rolled into one. (It may be imagined what sort of
an officer of marines I should have made without the power of
reading a written order. And as to any knowledge how to command the
sloop--Lord! I should have sunk her in a quarter of an hour!)
However such were my reflections; and when we men were ashore and
dismissed I strolled about the place along with Charker making my
observations in a similar spirit.
It was a pretty place: in all its arrangements partly South
American and partly English and very agreeable to look at on that
account being like a bit of home that had got chipped off and had
floated away to that spot accommodating itself to circumstances as
it drifted along. The huts of the Sambos to the number of five-
and-twenty perhaps were down by the beach to the left of the
anchorage. On the right was a sort of barrack with a South
American Flag and the Union Jack flying from the same staff where
the little English colony could all come together if they saw
occasion. It was a walled square of building with a sort of
pleasure-ground inside and inside that again a sunken block like a
powder magazine with a little square trench round it and steps
down to the door. Charker and I were looking in at the gate which
was not guarded; and I had said to Charker in reference to the bit
like a powder magazine "That's where they keep the silver you see;"
and Charker had said to me after thinking it over "And silver
ain't gold. Is it Gill?" when the beautiful young English lady I
had been so bilious about looked out of a door or a window--at all
events looked out from under a bright awning. She no sooner saw us
two in uniform than she came out so quickly that she was still
putting on her broad Mexican hat of plaited straw when we saluted.
"Would you like to come in" she said "and see the place? It is
rather a curious place."
We thanked the young lady and said we didn't wish to be
troublesome; but she said it could be no trouble to an English
soldier's daughter to show English soldiers how their countrymen
and country-women fared so far away from England; and consequently
we saluted again and went in. Then as we stood in the shade she