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Chapter 8 AN UNKNOWN LAND.

  • Now, although we were adrift in a perilous sea, and had no hope of makin_and, save in a wild and savage country, where there was more hope of merc_rom the Indians than from the civilized Spaniards, I was yet so thankful t_ind myself free of the ship and of Senor Manuel Nunez, that for some moment_ could scarcely believe in my freedom.
  • “I could swear that I am but dreaming and shall presently awake to find mysel_ prisoner,” I said to Pharaoh, who was busily engaged in examining the boat.
  • “’Tis no dream, master,” said he. “This is a very stern reality, as you shal_uickly find. Nor is it time for dreaming. If we mean to come out of thi_dventure with whole skins, we shall have to acquit ourselves like true men.”
  • “I am ready,” said I. “Tell me what to do, and I will do it.”
  • “Well said,” he answered approvingly. “But I could see from the outset tha_ou had the true spirit in you. You are a Yorkshireman, master, and I am _ea-dog of Cornwall; but, marry, we are both Englishmen, and we will come ou_f this scrape yet. ’Tis not the worst I have been in—but more of that anon.
  • Now to begin with, we will discuss our present situation, and then, havin_etermined our course of action, we will put it into execution.”
  • So we talked things over, and eventually came to these conclusions. We were,
  • so far as Pharaoh could reckon, about ten miles from land, and we must reac_he coast during the night if we wished to escape observation. Tha_ccomplished, we must strike across country for Acapulco, where it wa_ossible we might meet with an English ship. The distance was some thre_undred miles in a bee-line, and the character of the country rough; but tha_attered little, for we should of necessity be obliged to keep away from th_oads and bridges. There was no considerable town on our way, save Oaxaca, an_hat we must leave to our left. If we fell in with Spaniards we were lost men,
  • for they would certainly carry us to Vera Cruz or to Mexico, and there hand u_ver to the Inquisitors. As for wild beasts and Indians, we must take ou_hance, trusting in God’s mercy for protection and help.
  • We now examined the boat, which was but a small craft that had been unstrun_he day before, in order that the ship’s carpenter might examine some fancie_efect in the rudder. Fortunately a pair of oars had been left in her, an_hese Pharaoh now took in hand, bidding me steer for the volcanic flame, whic_layed over the peak of Tuxtla, immediately before us.
  • “I can pull ten miles in this sea,” said he, “and I warrant you have ha_ittle experience in that line, master. Now, you see that the wind has drifte_s due south until to-night, and therefore Nunez has come some five-and-thirt_iles out of his course for Vera Cruz. He will now beat up along the coast,
  • heading north and west, and so if we steer south-by-east he will have har_ork to catch us when he finds that we are gone, as he will ere morning. An_ow to work.”
  • Thereupon he fell to the oars, and with such good-will, that the light craft,
  • her nose kept towards the volcanic fire, began to shoot through the regula_well of the placid ocean at a comfortable rate. Hour after hour he toiled,
  • and would hear naught of my relieving him, though his throat grew dry wit_hirst and his arms ached. Gradually the coast loomed higher and highe_hrough the gloom, and at length Pharaoh pulled in his oars, and stood up i_he bow to look around him.
  • “When I was off this coast ten years ago,” said he, “I remember a spo_ereabouts where a boat might land with safety and ease. We will lie quie_ill the light comes, master, and then attempt a landing.”
  • “But suppose Nunez should see us?”
  • “He could not catch us ere we land if he did, unless by some strange chance h_as gotten to the east of us—and that’s not possible,” said Pharaoh. “I recko_hat by this time he is twenty miles to westward of us, and therefore we ar_ell out of his reach.”
  • So we hove-to until the morning began to break, when, spying a convenien_reek, we ran the boat ashore, and so set foot on Mexican soil, wondering wha_as to befall us next.
  • Now, to me, who had never seen aught of any land save England, these ne_urroundings were exceeding strange and wonderful. Although it was yet but _alf-light all round us on shore, the giant peak of Orizaba, rising high an_agnificent across the land to the north-west, was already blazing in th_affron-colored tints of early morning, while directly above us the lowe_eights of Tuxtla also reflected the rays of the rising sun. Once away fro_he shore the vegetation surprised and delighted me exceedingly. Great trees,
  • such as I had never seen or heard of, sprang from the rocks and towered abov_s like gigantic ferns; the undergrowth was thick and luxurious, and the gras_nder foot was soft and heavy as velvet. Also, though it was winter, ther_ere flowers and plants blossoming in the open such as never blossom in ou_nglish glass-houses, so that altogether I was amazed at the richness an_rodigality of the land, and said so to my companion.
  • “Aye,” said he, “’tis indeed a fair land, master, and would be very well i_hese murderous Spaniards had left it alone. As it is, they have simply turne_t into a pandemonium, such as all lands, fair or foul, become when men g_-lusting for gold and treasure. Yea, not even the Indians, with all thei_eathenish practices, were half so cruel as these Spaniards with their rack_nd thumb-screws, their stakes and daggers. And therefore the more reason wh_e should avoid them.”
  • Having somewhat refreshed ourselves by a brief rest, and armed ourselves wit_wo stout cudgels cut from a neighboring tree by Pharaoh’s knife, which wa_he only weapon we had, we set forth through the woods, he leading the way. B_hat time we were faint with hunger and could well have done with a meal, bu_hough there were, doubtless, Indian villages close at hand we dare enter non_f them, and so went forward with empty stomachs. In the woods, however, w_ame upon prickly pears, which there grow wild, and these we essayed to eat;
  • but had great difficulty in stripping them of the prickles, which, if the_nter the tongue, do cause an unpleasantness that is not soon forgot. Ou_unger growing very keen we sought to capture or slay some bird or animal, an_haraoh being accustomed to this sort of hunting—for he had known man_dventures—presently succeeded in knocking down a wild turkey, flocks of whic_ird we constantly encountered. We lighted a fire by means of his flint an_teel, and cooked our quarry, and so went forward again refreshed by the food,
  • which was pleasant enough to hungry men.
  • We pressed on for two days through the woods, living as we best could upo_uch animals as Pharaoh was able to knock down, and on the pears, which wer_ll the more aggravating to our hunger because of their sharp spines. Durin_hose two days we did not come in contact with human beings, though we thric_aw parties of Indians and had to conceal ourselves from them. We followed n_ath, and if we chanced to cross one we immediately left it and plunged deepe_nto the woods. By the end of the first day our clothes were torn to rags, an_ung in strips from our backs; by the end of the second our shoes had been cu_o pieces, and so we looked as wretched and lost a couple of vagabonds as yo_ver saw.
  • On the evening of the second day we came to the verge of the wooded heights,
  • and saw before us the wide plain of Orizaba, which lay between us an_capulco, and must needs be crossed if we meant to reach the Pacific coast.
  • “It is here that I see most reason to be a-feared,” said Pharaoh, as we halte_nd looked out across the plain. “There is precious little cover or shelter o_his plain, and it will be a miracle if we escape observation in crossing it.
  • Moreover, there are constantly traversing it bodies of Spaniards, going to an_rom Oaxaca and Mexico, so that we shall be liable to capture at any moment,
  • having nowhere to hide ourselves.”
  • “How would it do to hide ourselves as we best can by day, and to go forward b_ight?” said I.
  • “’Tis a good notion, master, and we will try it,” he answered. “But I fear m_here is little in which we can hide, and as for food, I do not see how we ar_o manage. Howbeit, we will not despair yet awhile, having managed so far.”
  • That night we accordingly made our way across the wide and lonely plain,
  • having for our guide the constellation Virgo, which Pharaoh Nanjulian knew an_ointed out to me with some learning.
  • “Them that go down to the sea in ships,” said he, “must needs learn a goo_eal if they would prosper. I have studied the heavens somewhat, because mor_han once it has been my lot to find myself at sea without a compass, and in _light like that a knowledge of the stars and planets is a good thing for _an to have at his command. Now, if we do but set our faces to yonde_onstellation we shall keep in a straight line for Acapulco—and God send w_ay land there safely!”
  • We made fairly good progress across the plain, but when morning broke from th_astern horizon we were still many a long mile from the great terrace o_ountainous land which divides Mexico from Oaxaca and the Pacific coast.
  • Therefore we had to cast about us for some shelter. This we had grea_ifficulty in securing, for the plain at that part was entirely barren o_hrub or tree, and there was not even a water-course at which we could slac_ur parched throats. But coming upon a half-ruined hut, which had evidentl_een the home of some Mexican Indian, tending his sheep in those wild parts,
  • we took refuge in it and lay down to sleep, hoping that no one passing tha_ay would feel curious enough to stop and examine our shelter.
  • This sort of life continued to be our lot for another day and night, durin_hich we had scarcely anything in the way of food, and also suffered severel_rom thirst. And what with this, and with our fear of meeting Indians an_paniards materially increased, our condition was by no means a happy one. Bu_e still continued to hope, and to cheer each other onward.