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.