Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

“Lost your way !” says his mother, alarmed. “My dear boy, you should not have left the path at dusk.”

“O ma,” says the little midshipman, with a smile, “ you're always thinking we're in danger. If you could see me sometimes sitting at the jib-boom end, or across the main-top-mast cross-trees, you would be frightened. But what danger can there be in a wood ?"

“Well, my boy,” she answers, “I don't wish to be over-anxious, and to make my children uncomfortable by my fears. What did you stray from the path for?”

“Only to chase a little owl, mamma; but I did n't catch her, after all. I got a roll down a bank, and caught my jacket against a thorn-bush, which was rather unlucky. Ah! three large holes I see in my sleeve. And so I scrambled up again, and got into the path, and asked at the cottage for some beer. What a time the woman kept me, to be sure! I thought it would never come. But very soon after Mr. D- drove up in his gig, and he brought me on to the gate.”

“And so, this account of your adventures being brought to a close,” his father says, “we discover that there were no adventures to tell !”

“No, papa, nothing happened, — nothing particular, I mean.”

Nothing particular! If they could have known, they would have thought lightly in comparison of the dangers of “the jib-boom end, and the main-topmast cross-trees.” But they did not know, any more than we do, of the dangers that hourly beset us. Some few dangers we are aware of, and we do what we can to provide against them ; but, for the greater portion, “our eyes are held that we cannot see.” We walk securely under His guidance, without whom “not a sparrow falleth to the ground”; and when we have had escapes that the angels have admired at, we come home and say, perhaps, that “nothing has happened, — at least, nothing particular."

It is not well that our minds should be much exercised about these hidden dangers, since they are so many and so great that no human art or foresight can prevent them. But it is very well that we should reflect constantly on that loving Providence which watches every footstep of a track always balancing between time and eternity; and that such reflections should make us both happy and afraid, - afraid of trusting our souls and bodies too much to any earthly guide or earthly security, — happy from the knowledge that there is One with whom we may trust them wholly, and with whom the very hairs of our heads are all numbered. Without such trust, how can we rest or be at peace? but with it we may say with the Psalmist, “I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep, for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety !”

Jean Ingelow.

[graphic][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

TN reading the newspaper reports of the Titanic contest lately carried on I by the armies of America, and now happily come to a close, ever and anon have been brought under my notice the names of old comrades who had shared with me in the perils of the Mexican campaign of 1846 – 48, which, with no slight conceit, we were wont to designate the “Second Conquest of Mexico." Alas! many of these have since fallen upon another field, and are now slumbering with the dead, the victims of a fraternal strife of which I-at that time an impartial observer - could not detect either sign or seed !

In the Mexican expedition there was no quarrelling between the sons of the North and the sons of the South, — no trace of sectional jealousy, beyond that slight feeling of rivalry such as in our own land exists between Saxon and Scot, and occasionally expends itself in the interchange of a harmless badinage. If the volcano then slumbered, it was too deep for the detection of one who was a stranger to both sides, and alike the friend of both before the breaking out of the quarrel.

It is pleasanter to record that many of my quondam comrades still survive, and that many of them who were simple subs when the writer of this was a a full-pay captain” are now brigadier, major, and lieutenant-generals. Nor does the reflection detract one iota from the pleasure of the record. All

honor to my former associates, who have pursued the path, by me forsaken, in obedience to the dictates of destiny. • Of one, among others, who has since risen to a high reputation, — so high that I may not trifle with his name, - I have a vivid remembrance. Despite the wide war experience he has since undergone, he will scarce have forgotten me, nor that campaign, so romantically picturesque, that terminated in our sojourn in the “halls of the Montezumas.” No doubt he will remember that night when he sat by my side under the Peruvian pepper-trees, by the edge of the Pedrega, through which chaotic tract of country we had succeeded in scrambling. It was the night that preceded our first action in the actual Valley of Mexico. On the following morn, as the cocks of San Geronimo began to crow, we entered that quince-growing village, and cleared it of the enemy, capturing the intrenched camp of General Victoria, with thirty pieces of cannon, and half his corps d'armée, while the writer of this sketch, then a believer in military fame, had the felicity of enscarfing his shoulders with a battle-flag, snatched by his own hand from the enemy's ensign, who tried hard to retain it. They are not adventures of his own he is now about to relate ; nor was he even an eyewitness of them. They were the deeds of Lieutenant, now General C- , communicated under the shade of the mollé, where both of us, on picket-guard, had taken shelter from the dews of the night.

“How sharply those mosquitoes bite !” I remarked to my comrade, after rubbing my cheeks into a state of fire. “I've never felt them half so bad down in the tierra caliente. One would suppose they could not sting so violently up here in the cold table-lands."

“It's not that,” answered he. “Have n't you been pulling some of these pepper-berries and squeezing them between your fingers ?”

“Why - yes — I believe I have.”

“Then you've been adding fuel to the flame. It's the juice of the pimento that has added irritation to the sting. Stay a bit! Perhaps I can find something here that will relieve you from the pain, and something else that will secure you against further molestation.”

“And yourself ?”
“O, I never suffer from such things. Mosquitoes don't sting me.”

His remark did not cause me any surprise. I knew that two persons may be seated or standing side by side, even sleeping in the same bed, and that in the morning one of them may be spotted with mosquito punctures, while the other shows a skin into which the poisonous proboscis has not been once inserted.

I made no rejoinder, as C— had arisen from his seat, and strolled off into the chapparal. In a short time he returned ; and, although it was a dark night, I could see that he carried something in his hands.

“I've got two plants here,” he said, crouching back under the branches of the pepper-tree. “One is a cure, the other a preventive. Rub this over · your cheeks, and it will take out the sting of the mosquitoes before you can count sixteen.”

I did as desired, applying to my skin some succulent leaf, - a species of cactus, I think, — which C— had split open with his knife. I felt relief almost instantaneously.

“ Now the other !” said he, extending his hand towards me. “Give your skin a smearing of that, Captain, and I'll lay three months of my pay-roll against one of yours, — which is about two to one, — that you won't be bitten by another mosquito before to-morrow night."

Once more I yielded obedience to my subaltern, though this time less ignorant of the remedy administered. The smell of the plant that was to act as a preventive was not new to me; it was the pennyroyal of the Americans, a weed well known in the Southwestern States under a still more eccentric appellation. My companion had collected a handful of leaves, which he directed me to crush between the palms of my hands; and afterwards to rub the sap thus extracted over such parts of my skin as were exposed to the attacks of the insects.

I followed his instructions. The recipe proved a perfect success; and often afterwards, when every contrivance — spirits of turpentine, camphor, tobacco-smoke, and the like — has failed, I have seen the mosquito hosts routed and put to flight by a single drop of the essence of pennyroyal. I have never known this remedy to fail.

The little incident led me to a series of reflections, of which was the subject. He was one of the most singular of my comrades. He had entered the company I commanded as a private soldier; but that was nothing strange. It did not preclude the probability of his being a “born gentleman." There were many well-educated young fellows, sons of planters, professional men, and merchants, who shouldered the musket alongside of him. And yet he was not one of them. Notwithstanding a handsome person, and a certain elegance of air that proclaimed aristocratic descent, he was but imperfectly educated; and what was stranger still, he knew not where he had been born, and could scarce tell how or where he had been taught the little of booklearning he knew. He only remembered that his early life had been spent aboard ship, and that he had tossed about from one port to another, until he had completed the circumnavigation of the globe. He was a true stray. At New Orleans he had joined the corps of “Rifle-Rangers,” in which he was soon promoted to the highest rank its commander could bestow upon him, — that of first sergeant. His conduct at the battle of Cerro Gordo brought him under the notice of higher authority, and obtained for him the commission of lieutenant.

“You have seen much of the world, Mr. C— ," said I, after smearing my cheeks with the sap of the pennyroyal. “I've heard that you've been a good deal to sea; and, if report speaks true, a good deal under the sea.”

“ Ha! ha! ha!” laughed my subaltern; “ you allude to my having once been a pearl-diver? O yes, that is true enough.”

“Come, give me an account of your experiences in the submarine world ; and if you have an adventure to relate, it will help to while away the hours. Notwithstanding the relief I have obtained from your soothing syrup, I don't

VOL. II. — NO. I.

think I shall sleep to-night; especially since we know that, instead of the fife and drum, our reveillé will be the boom of the cannon.”.

“With all my heart, Captain ; you are welcome to an account of my pearldiving experiences. I shall relate one that I suppose may be fairly entitled to the name of adventure. The scene, as you will have anticipated, lies in the Gulf of California ; for it was there that I practised plucking the precious gems from the dark, unfathomed caves of ocean.'"

I made no rejoinder ; but lighting a cigar, and inviting my comrade to do the same, I left him free to continue his narration.

“How I came to visit California will scarce interest you. I chanced to be aboard of a whaling-ship that had entirely failed to strike cachalots in the Pacific, but had got short-handed by a sort of virulent scurvy that in a week carried off two thirds of the crew. Our captain, a thorough Yankee, had no idea of going home with an empty ship; and, from some information he had received, took a fancy into his head that he could make his fortune by collecting pearls in the Gulf of California. Thither he steered; and, after rounding Cape St. Lucas, entered the famed Sea of Cortez, and came to anchor between the islands of Cerralvo and Espiritu Santo.

“To understand my motive for becoming a pearl-diver, it will be necessary to give you some account of this calling, which is both precarious and perilous. As you may know, the pearl-oyster beds — by the Mexicans called placeres - are found in several parts of the Californian Gulf; but only along the shores of the peninsula itself, or around the islands. On the coast of the Mexican mainland they have not been discovered ; in all likelihood owing to the strong sou’-westers that keep the surf in constant commotion. The pearl-oyster is the inhabitant of a tranquil sea; and as the other side is sheltered by the elevated mountain range running longitudinally throughout the peninsula, it there finds the sort of bed it delights to lie upon.

“The fishery is carried on at different points of the coast, extending from the Bay of Molexe to Cape Palmo. Of late years the most celebrated placeres have been those of the harbors Pichelingo and La Paz, the isles Cerralvo and Espiritu Santo, Point Lorenzo, and the Bay of Molexe itself. But a placer resorted to one year may be shunned in the next, or become the place of general rendezvous, according to the repute it may have gained by its products of the preceding season.

“In the olden time, when the Spanish colonists prosecuted this branch of industry with more energy than their Mexican descendants, there were other placeres of grand repute. One of these was the island of Tiburon, farther up the Gulf. That many pearls were obtained there is proved by the vast mounds of shells and the remains of washing-tanks still seen upon the shores of the island. It is supposed that the placeres of Tiburon are still rich in the precious bivalve ; but the present divers have no knowledge of the fact beyond their conjectures. They dare not land on the island, or even approach its shores, through fear of the Ceres Indians, - a warlike and hostile tribe, — who make it their occasional home.

But few of the men who engage in the Californian pearl-fishery belong to

« PoprzedniaDalej »