In the year 1799, Captain Amasa Delano, of Duxbury, in Massachusetts,
commanding a large sealer and general trader, lay at anchor with a
valuable cargo, in the harbor of St. Maria--a small, desert, uninhabited
island toward the southern extremity of the long coast of Chili. There
he had touched for water.
On the second day, not long after dawn, while lying in his berth, his
mate came below, informing him that a strange sail was coming into the
bay. Ships were then not so plenty in those waters as now. He rose,
dressed, and went on deck.
The morning was one peculiar to that coast. Everything was mute and
calm; everything gray. The sea, though undulated into long roods of
swells, seemed fixed, and was sleeked at the surface like waved lead
that has cooled and set in the smelter's mould. The sky seemed a gray
surtout. Flights of troubled gray fowl, kith and kin with flights of
troubled gray vapors among which they were mixed, skimmed low and
fitfully over the waters, as swallows over meadows before storms.
Shadows present, foreshadowing deeper shadows to come.
To Captain Delano's surprise, the stranger, viewed through the glass,
showed no colors; though to do so upon entering a haven, however
uninhabited in its shores, where but a single other ship might be lying,
was the custom among peaceful seamen of all nations. Considering the
lawlessness and loneliness of the spot, and the sort of stories, at that
day, associated with those seas, Captain Delano's surprise might have
deepened into some uneasiness had he not been a person of a singularly
undistrustful good-nature, not liable, except on extraordinary and
repeated incentives, and hardly then, to indulge in personal alarms, any
way involving the imputation of malign evil in man. Whether, in view of
what humanity is capable, such a trait implies, along with a benevolent
heart, more than ordinary quickness and accuracy of intellectual
perception, may be left to the wise to determine.
But whatever misgivings might have obtruded on first seeing the
stranger, would almost, in any seaman's mind, have been dissipated by
observing that, the ship, in navigating into the harbor, was drawing too
near the land; a sunken reef making out off her bow. This seemed to
prove her a stranger, indeed, not only to the sealer, but the island;
consequently, she could be no wonted freebooter on that ocean. With no
small interest, Captain Delano continued to watch her--a proceeding not
much facilitated by the vapors partly mantling the hull, through which
the far matin light from her cabin streamed equivocally enough; much
like the sun--by this time hemisphered on the rim of the horizon, and,
apparently, in company with the strange ship entering the harbor--which,
wimpled by the same low, creeping clouds, showed not unlike a Lima
intriguante's one sinister eye peering across the Plaza from the Indian
loop-hole of her dusk saya-y-manta.
It might have been but a deception of the vapors, but, the longer the
stranger was watched the more singular appeared her manoeuvres. Ere
long it seemed hard to decide whether she meant to come in or no--what
she wanted, or what she was about. The wind, which had breezed up a
little during the night, was now extremely light and baffling, which the
more increased the apparent uncertainty of her movements. Surmising, at
last, that it might be a ship in distress, Captain Delano ordered his
whale-boat to be dropped, and, much to the wary opposition of his mate,
prepared to board her, and, at the least, pilot her in. On the night
previous, a fishing-party of the seamen had gone a long distance to some
detached rocks out of sight from the sealer, and, an hour or two before
daybreak, had returned, having met with no small success. Presuming that
the stranger might have been long off soundings, the good captain put
several baskets of the fish, for presents, into his boat, and so pulled
away. From her continuing too near the sunken reef, deeming her in
danger, calling to his men, he made all haste to apprise those on board
of their situation. But, some time ere the boat came up, the wind, light
though it was, having shifted, had headed the vessel off, as well as
partly broken the vapors from about her.
Upon gaining a less remote view, the ship, when made signally visible on
the verge of the leaden-hued swells, with the shreds of fog here and
there raggedly furring her, appeared like a white-washed monastery after
a thunder-storm, seen perched upon some dun cliff among the Pyrenees.
But it was no purely fanciful resemblance which now, for a moment,
almost led Captain Delano to think that nothing less than a ship-load of
monks was before him. Peering over the bulwarks were what really seemed,
in the hazy distance, throngs of dark cowls; while, fitfully revealed
through the open port-holes, other dark moving figures were dimly
descried, as of Black Friars pacing the cloisters.
Upon a still nigher approach, this appearance was modified, and the true
character of the vessel was plain--a Spanish merchantman of the first
class, carrying negro slaves, amongst other valuable freight, from one
colonial port to another. A very large, and, in its time, a very fine
vessel, such as in those days were at intervals encountered along that
main; sometimes superseded Acapulco treasure-ships, or retired frigates
of the Spanish king's navy, which, like superannuated Italian palaces,
still, under a decline of masters, preserved signs of former state.
As the whale-boat drew more and more nigh, the cause of the peculiar
pipe-clayed aspect of the stranger was seen in the slovenly neglect
pervading her. The spars, ropes, and great part of the bulwarks, looked
woolly, from long unacquaintance with the scraper, tar, and the brush.
Her keel seemed laid, her ribs put together, and she launched, from
Ezekiel's Valley of Dry Bones.
In the present business in which she was engaged, the ship's general
model and rig appeared to have undergone no material change from their
original warlike and Froissart pattern. However, no guns were seen.
The tops were large, and were railed about with what had once been
octagonal net-work, all now in sad disrepair. These tops hung overhead
like three ruinous aviaries, in one of which was seen, perched, on a
ratlin, a white noddy, a strange fowl, so called from its lethargic,
somnambulistic character, being frequently caught by hand at sea.
Battered and mouldy, the castellated forecastle seemed some ancient
turret, long ago taken by assault, and then left to decay. Toward the
stern, two high-raised quarter galleries--the balustrades here and there
covered with dry, tindery sea-moss--opening out from the unoccupied
state-cabin, whose dead-lights, for all the mild weather, were
hermetically closed and calked--these tenantless balconies hung over the
sea as if it were the grand Venetian canal. But the principal relic of
faded grandeur was the ample oval of the shield-like stern-piece,
intricately carved with the arms of Castile and Leon, medallioned about
by groups of mythological or symbolical devices; uppermost and central
of which was a dark satyr in a mask, holding his foot on the prostrate
neck of a writhing figure, likewise masked.
Whether the ship had a figure-head, or only a plain beak, was not quite
certain, owing to canvas wrapped about that part, either to protect it
while undergoing a re-furbishing, or else decently to hide its decay.
Rudely painted or chalked, as in a sailor freak, along the forward side
of a sort of pedestal below the canvas, was the sentence, "_Seguid
vuestro jefe_" (follow your leader); while upon the tarnished
headboards, near by, appeared, in stately capitals, once gilt, the
ship's name, "SAN DOMINICK," each letter streakingly corroded with
tricklings of copper-spike rust; while, like mourning weeds, dark
festoons of sea-grass slimily swept to and fro over the name, with every
hearse-like roll of the hull.
As, at last, the boat was hooked from the bow along toward the gangway
amidship, its keel, while yet some inches separated from the hull,
harshly grated as on a sunken coral reef. It proved a huge bunch of
conglobated barnacles adhering below the water to the side like a wen--a
token of baffling airs and long calms passed somewhere in those seas.
Climbing the side, the visitor was at once surrounded by a clamorous
throng of whites and blacks, but the latter outnumbering the former more
than could have been expected, negro transportation-ship as the stranger
in port was. But, in one language, and as with one voice, all poured out
a common tale of suffering; in which the negresses, of whom there were
not a few, exceeded the others in their dolorous vehemence. The scurvy,
together with the fever, had swept off a great part of their number,
more especially the Spaniards. Off Cape Horn they had narrowly escaped
shipwreck; then, for days together, they had lain tranced without wind;
their provisions were low; their water next to none; their lips that
moment were baked.
While Captain Delano was thus made the mark of all eager tongues, his
one eager glance took in all faces, with every other object about him.
Always upon first boarding a large and populous ship at sea, especially
a foreign one, with a nondescript crew such as Lascars or Manilla men,
the impression varies in a peculiar way from that produced by first
entering a strange house with strange inmates in a strange land. Both
house and ship--the one by its walls and blinds, the other by its high
bulwarks like ramparts--hoard from view their interiors till the last
moment: but in the case of the ship there is this addition; that the
living spectacle it contains, upon its sudden and complete disclosure,
has, in contrast with the blank ocean which zones it, something of the
effect of enchantment. The ship seems unreal; these strange costumes,
gestures, and faces, but a shadowy tableau just emerged from the deep,
which directly must receive back what it gave.
Perhaps it was some such influence, as above is attempted to be
described, which, in Captain Delano's mind, heightened whatever, upon a
staid scrutiny, might have seemed unusual; especially the conspicuous
figures of four elderly grizzled negroes, their heads like black,
doddered willow tops, who, in venerable contrast to the tumult below
them, were couched, sphynx-like, one on the starboard cat-head, another
on the larboard, and the remaining pair face to face on the opposite
bulwarks above the main-chains. They each had bits of unstranded old
junk in their hands, and, with a sort of stoical self-content, were
picking the junk into oakum, a small heap of which lay by their sides.
They accompanied the task with a continuous, low, monotonous, chant;
droning and drilling away like so many gray-headed bag-pipers playing a
The quarter-deck rose into an ample elevated poop, upon the forward
verge of which, lifted, like the oakum-pickers, some eight feet above
the general throng, sat along in a row, separated by regular spaces, the
cross-legged figures of six other blacks; each with a rusty hatchet in
his hand, which, with a bit of brick and a rag, he was engaged like a
scullion in scouring; while between each two was a small stack of
hatchets, their rusted edges turned forward awaiting a like operation.
Though occasionally the four oakum-pickers would briefly address some
person or persons in the crowd below, yet the six hatchet-polishers
neither spoke to others, nor breathed a whisper among themselves, but
sat intent upon their task, except at intervals, when, with the peculiar
love in negroes of uniting industry with pastime, two and two they
sideways clashed their hatchets together,' like cymbals, with a
barbarous din. All six, unlike the generality, had the raw aspect of
But that first comprehensive glance which took in those ten figures,
with scores less conspicuous, rested but an instant upon them, as,
impatient of the hubbub of voices, the visitor turned in quest of
whomsoever it might be that commanded the ship.
But as if not unwilling to let nature make known her own case among his
suffering charge, or else in despair of restraining it for the time, the
Spanish captain, a gentlemanly, reserved-looking, and rather young man
to a stranger's eye, dressed with singular richness, but bearing plain
traces of recent sleepless cares and disquietudes, stood passively by,
leaning against the main-mast, at one moment casting a dreary,
spiritless look upon his excited people, at the next an unhappy glance
toward his visitor. By his side stood a black of small stature, in whose
rude face, as occasionally, like a shepherd's dog, he mutely turned it
up into the Spaniard's, sorrow and affection were equally blended.
Struggling through the throng, the American advanced to the Spaniard,
assuring him of his sympathies, and offering to render whatever
assistance might be in his power. To which the Spaniard returned for
the present but grave and ceremonious acknowledgments, his national
formality dusked by the saturnine mood of ill-health.
But losing no time in mere compliments, Captain Delano, returning to the
gangway, had his basket of fish brought up; and as the wind still
continued light, so that some hours at least must elapse ere the ship
could be brought to the anchorage, he bade his men return to the sealer,
and fetch back as much water as the whale-boat could carry, with
whatever soft bread the steward might have, all the remaining pumpkins
on board, with a box of sugar, and a dozen of his private bottles of
Not many minutes after the boat's pushing off, to the vexation of all,
the wind entirely died away, and the tide turning, began drifting back
the ship helplessly seaward. But trusting this would not long last,
Captain Delano sought, with good hopes, to cheer up the strangers,
feeling no small satisfaction that, with persons in their condition, he
could--thanks to his frequent voyages along the Spanish main--converse
with some freedom in their native tongue.
While left alone with them, he was not long in observing some things
tending to heighten his first impressions; but surprise was lost in
pity, both for the Spaniards and blacks, alike evidently reduced from
scarcity of water and provisions; while long-continued suffering seemed
to have brought out the less good-natured qualities of the negroes,
besides, at the same time, impairing the Spaniard's authority over them.
But, under the circumstances, precisely this condition of things was to
have been anticipated. In armies, navies, cities, or families, in nature
herself, nothing more relaxes good order than misery. Still, Captain
Delano was not without the idea, that had Benito Cereno been a man of
greater energy, misrule would hardly have come to the present pass. But
the debility, constitutional or induced by hardships, bodily and mental,
of the Spanish captain, was too obvious to be overlooked. A prey to
settled dejection, as if long mocked with hope he would not now indulge
it, even when it had ceased to be a mock, the prospect of that day, or
evening at furthest, lying at anchor, with plenty of water for his
people, and a brother captain to counsel and befriend, seemed in no
perceptible degree to encourage him. His mind appeared unstrung, if not
still more seriously affected. Shut up in these oaken walls, chained to
one dull round of command, whose unconditionality cloyed him, like some
hypochondriac abbot he moved slowly about, at times suddenly pausing,
starting, or staring, biting his lip, biting his finger-nail, flushing,
paling, twitching his beard, with other symptoms of an absent or moody
mind. This distempered spirit was lodged, as before hinted, in as
distempered a frame. He was rather tall, but seemed never to have been
robust, and now with nervous suffering was almost worn to a skeleton. A
tendency to some pulmonary complaint appeared to have been lately
confirmed. His voice was like that of one with lungs half gone--hoarsely
suppressed, a husky whisper. No wonder that, as in this state he
tottered about, his private servant apprehensively followed him.
Sometimes the negro gave his master his arm, or took his handkerchief
out of his pocket for him; performing these and similar offices with
that affectionate zeal which transmutes into something filial or
fraternal acts in themselves but menial; and which has gained for the
negro the repute of making the most pleasing body-servant in the world;
one, too, whom a master need be on no stiffly superior terms with, but
may treat with familiar trust; less a servant than a devoted companion.
Marking the noisy indocility of the blacks in general, as well as what
seemed the sullen inefficiency of the whites it was not without humane
satisfaction that Captain Delano witnessed the steady good conduct of
But the good conduct of Babo, hardly more than the ill-behavior of
others, seemed to withdraw the half-lunatic Don Benito from his cloudy
languor. Not that such precisely was the impression made by the Spaniard
on the mind of his visitor. The Spaniard's individual unrest was, for
the present, but noted as a conspicuous feature in the ship's general
affliction. Still, Captain Delano was not a little concerned at what he
could not help taking for the time to be Don Benito's unfriendly
indifference towards himself. The Spaniard's manner, too, conveyed a
sort of sour and gloomy disdain, which he seemed at no pains to
disguise. But this the American in charity ascribed to the harassing
effects of sickness, since, in former instances, he had noted that there
are peculiar natures on whom prolonged physical suffering seems to
cancel every social instinct of kindness; as if, forced to black bread
themselves, they deemed it but equity that each person coming nigh them
should, indirectly, by some slight or affront, be made to partake of
But ere long Captain Delano bethought him that, indulgent as he was at
the first, in judging the Spaniard, he might not, after all, have
exercised charity enough. At bottom it was Don Benito's reserve which
displeased him; but the same reserve was shown towards all but his
faithful personal attendant. Even the formal reports which, according to
sea-usage, were, at stated times, made to him by some petty underling,
either a white, mulatto or black, he hardly had patience enough to
listen to, without betraying contemptuous aversion. His manner upon such
occasions was, in its degree, not unlike that which might be supposed
to have been his imperial countryman's, Charles V., just previous to the
anchoritish retirement of that monarch from the throne.
This splenetic disrelish of his place was evinced in almost every
function pertaining to it. Proud as he was moody, he condescended to no
personal mandate. Whatever special orders were necessary, their delivery
was delegated to his body-servant, who in turn transferred them to their
ultimate destination, through runners, alert Spanish boys or slave boys,
like pages or pilot-fish within easy call continually hovering round Don
Benito. So that to have beheld this undemonstrative invalid gliding
about, apathetic and mute, no landsman could have dreamed that in him
was lodged a dictatorship beyond which, while at sea, there was no
Thus, the Spaniard, regarded in his reserve, seemed the involuntary
victim of mental disorder. But, in fact, his reserve might, in some
degree, have proceeded from design. If so, then here was evinced the
unhealthy climax of that icy though conscientious policy, more or less
adopted by all commanders of large ships, which, except in signal
emergencies, obliterates alike the manifestation of sway with every
trace of sociality; transforming the man into a block, or rather into a
loaded cannon, which, until there is call for thunder, has nothing to
Viewing him in this light, it seemed but a natural token of the perverse
habit induced by a long course of such hard self-restraint, that,
notwithstanding the present condition of his ship, the Spaniard should
still persist in a demeanor, which, however harmless, or, it may be,
appropriate, in a well-appointed vessel, such as the San Dominick might
have been at the outset of the voyage, was anything but judicious now.
But the Spaniard, perhaps, thought that it was with captains as with
gods: reserve, under all events, must still be their cue. But probably
this appearance of slumbering dominion might have been but an attempted
disguise to conscious imbecility--not deep policy, but shallow device.
But be all this as it might, whether Don Benito's manner was designed or
not, the more Captain Delano noted its pervading reserve, the less he
felt uneasiness at any particular manifestation of that reserve towards
Neither were his thoughts taken up by the captain alone. Wonted to the
quiet orderliness of the sealer's comfortable family of a crew, the
noisy confusion of the San Dominick's suffering host repeatedly
challenged his eye. Some prominent breaches, not only of discipline but
of decency, were observed. These Captain Delano could not but ascribe,
in the main, to the absence of those subordinate deck-officers to whom,
along with higher duties, is intrusted what may be styled the police
department of a populous ship. True, the old oakum-pickers appeared at
times to act the part of monitorial constables to their countrymen, the
blacks; but though occasionally succeeding in allaying trifling
outbreaks now and then between man and man, they could do little or
nothing toward establishing general quiet. The San Dominick was in the
condition of a transatlantic emigrant ship, among whose multitude of
living freight are some individuals, doubtless, as little troublesome as
crates and bales; but the friendly remonstrances of such with their
ruder companions are of not so much avail as the unfriendly arm of the
mate. What the San Dominick wanted was, what the emigrant ship has,
stern superior officers. But on these decks not so much as a fourth-mate
was to be seen.
The visitor's curiosity was roused to learn the particulars of those
mishaps which had brought about such absenteeism, with its consequences;
because, though deriving some inkling of the voyage from the wails which
at the first moment had greeted him, yet of the details no clear
understanding had been had. The best account would, doubtless, be given
by the captain. Yet at first the visitor was loth to ask it, unwilling
to provoke some distant rebuff. But plucking up courage, he at last
accosted Don Benito, renewing the expression of his benevolent interest,
adding, that did he (Captain Delano) but know the particulars of the
ship's misfortunes, he would, perhaps, be better able in the end to
relieve them. Would Don Benito favor him with the whole story.
Don Benito faltered; then, like some somnambulist suddenly interfered
with, vacantly stared at his visitor, and ended by looking down on the
deck. He maintained this posture so long, that Captain Delano, almost
equally disconcerted, and involuntarily almost as rude, turned suddenly
from him, walking forward to accost one of the Spanish seamen for the
desired information. But he had hardly gone five paces, when, with a
sort of eagerness, Don Benito invited him back, regretting his momentary
absence of mind, and professing readiness to gratify him.
While most part of the story was being given, the two captains stood on
the after part of the main-deck, a privileged spot, no one being near
but the servant.
"It is now a hundred and ninety days," began the Spaniard, in his husky
whisper, "that this ship, well officered and well manned, with several
cabin passengers--some fifty Spaniards in all--sailed from Buenos Ayres
bound to Lima, with a general cargo, hardware, Paraguay tea and the
like--and," pointing forward, "that parcel of negroes, now not more than
a hundred and fifty, as you see, but then numbering over three hundred
souls. Off Cape Horn we had heavy gales. In one moment, by night, three
of my best officers, with fifteen sailors, were lost, with the
main-yard; the spar snapping under them in the slings, as they sought,
with heavers, to beat down the icy sail. To lighten the hull, the
heavier sacks of mata were thrown into the sea, with most of the
water-pipes lashed on deck at the time. And this last necessity it was,
combined with the prolonged detections afterwards experienced, which
eventually brought about our chief causes of suffering. When--"
Here there was a sudden fainting attack of his cough, brought on, no
doubt, by his mental distress. His servant sustained him, and drawing a
cordial from his pocket placed it to his lips. He a little revived. But
unwilling to leave him unsupported while yet imperfectly restored, the
black with one arm still encircled his master, at the same time keeping
his eye fixed on his face, as if to watch for the first sign of complete
restoration, or relapse, as the event might prove.
The Spaniard proceeded, but brokenly and obscurely, as one in a dream.
--"Oh, my God! rather than pass through what I have, with joy I would
have hailed the most terrible gales; but--"
His cough returned and with increased violence; this subsiding; with
reddened lips and closed eyes he fell heavily against his supporter.
"His mind wanders. He was thinking of the plague that followed the
gales," plaintively sighed the servant; "my poor, poor master!" wringing
one hand, and with the other wiping the mouth. "But be patient, Señor,"
again turning to Captain Delano, "these fits do not last long; master
will soon be himself."
Don Benito reviving, went on; but as this portion of the story was very
brokenly delivered, the substance only will here be set down.
It appeared that after the ship had been many days tossed in storms off
the Cape, the scurvy broke out, carrying off numbers of the whites and
blacks. When at last they had worked round into the Pacific, their spars
and sails were so damaged, and so inadequately handled by the surviving
mariners, most of whom were become invalids, that, unable to lay her
northerly course by the wind, which was powerful, the unmanageable ship,
for successive days and nights, was blown northwestward, where the
breeze suddenly deserted her, in unknown waters, to sultry calms. The
absence of the water-pipes now proved as fatal to life as before their
presence had menaced it. Induced, or at least aggravated, by the more
than scanty allowance of water, a malignant fever followed the scurvy;
with the excessive heat of the lengthened calm, making such short work
of it as to sweep away, as by billows, whole families of the Africans,
and a yet larger number, proportionably, of the Spaniards, including, by
a luckless fatality, every remaining officer on board. Consequently, in
the smart west winds eventually following the calm, the already rent
sails, having to be simply dropped, not furled, at need, had been
gradually reduced to the beggars' rags they were now. To procure
substitutes for his lost sailors, as well as supplies of water and
sails, the captain, at the earliest opportunity, had made for Baldivia,
the southernmost civilized port of Chili and South America; but upon
nearing the coast the thick weather had prevented him from so much as
sighting that harbor. Since which period, almost without a crew, and
almost without canvas and almost without water, and, at intervals giving
its added dead to the sea, the San Dominick had been battle-dored about
by contrary winds, inveigled by currents, or grown weedy in calms. Like
a man lost in woods, more than once she had doubled upon her own track.
"But throughout these calamities," huskily continued Don Benito,
painfully turning in the half embrace of his servant, "I have to thank
those negroes you see, who, though to your inexperienced eyes appearing
unruly, have, indeed, conducted themselves with less of restlessness
than even their owner could have thought possible under such
Here he again fell faintly back. Again his mind wandered; but he
rallied, and less obscurely proceeded.
"Yes, their owner was quite right in assuring me that no fetters would
be needed with his blacks; so that while, as is wont in this
transportation, those negroes have always remained upon deck--not thrust
below, as in the Guinea-men--they have, also, from the beginning, been
freely permitted to range within given bounds at their pleasure."
Once more the faintness returned--his mind roved--but, recovering, he
"But it is Babo here to whom, under God, I owe not only my own
preservation, but likewise to him, chiefly, the merit is due, of
pacifying his more ignorant brethren, when at intervals tempted to
"Ah, master," sighed the black, bowing his face, "don't speak of me;
Babo is nothing; what Babo has done was but duty."
"Faithful fellow!" cried Captain Delano. "Don Benito, I envy you such a
friend; slave I cannot call him."
As master and man stood before him, the black upholding the white,
Captain Delano could not but bethink him of the beauty of that
relationship which could present such a spectacle of fidelity on the one
hand and confidence on the other. The scene was heightened by, the
contrast in dress, denoting their relative positions. The Spaniard wore
a loose Chili jacket of dark velvet; white small-clothes and stockings,
with silver buckles at the knee and instep; a high-crowned sombrero, of
fine grass; a slender sword, silver mounted, hung from a knot in his
sash--the last being an almost invariable adjunct, more for utility than
ornament, of a South American gentleman's dress to this hour. Excepting
when his occasional nervous contortions brought about disarray, there
was a certain precision in his attire curiously at variance with the
unsightly disorder around; especially in the belittered Ghetto, forward
of the main-mast, wholly occupied by the blacks.
The servant wore nothing but wide trowsers, apparently, from their
coarseness and patches, made out of some old topsail; they were clean,
and confined at the waist by a bit of unstranded rope, which, with his
composed, deprecatory air at times, made him look something like a
begging friar of St. Francis.
However unsuitable for the time and place, at least in the
blunt-thinking American's eyes, and however strangely surviving in the
midst of all his afflictions, the toilette of Don Benito might not, in
fashion at least, have gone beyond the style of the day among South
Americans of his class. Though on the present voyage sailing from Buenos
Ayres, he had avowed himself a native and resident of Chili, whose
inhabitants had not so generally adopted the plain coat and once
plebeian pantaloons; but, with a becoming modification, adhered to their
provincial costume, picturesque as any in the world. Still, relatively
to the pale history of the voyage, and his own pale face, there seemed
something so incongruous in the Spaniard's apparel, as almost to suggest
the image of an invalid courtier tottering about London streets in the
time of the plague.
The portion of the narrative which, perhaps, most excited interest, as
well as some surprise, considering the latitudes in question, was the
long calms spoken of, and more particularly the ship's so long drifting
about. Without communicating the opinion, of course, the American could
not but impute at least part of the detentions both to clumsy seamanship
and faulty navigation. Eying Don Benito's small, yellow hands, he
easily inferred that the young captain had not got into command at the
hawse-hole, but the cabin-window; and if so, why wonder at incompetence,
in youth, sickness, and gentility united?
But drowning criticism in compassion, after a fresh repetition of his
sympathies, Captain Delano, having heard out his story, not only
engaged, as in the first place, to see Don Benito and his people
supplied in their immediate bodily needs, but, also, now farther
promised to assist him in procuring a large permanent supply of water,
as well as some sails and rigging; and, though it would involve no small
embarrassment to himself, yet he would spare three of his best seamen
for temporary deck officers; so that without delay the ship might
proceed to Conception, there fully to refit for Lima, her destined port.
Such generosity was not without its effect, even upon the invalid. His
face lighted up; eager and hectic, he met the honest glance of his
visitor. With gratitude he seemed overcome.
"This excitement is bad for master," whispered the servant, taking his
arm, and with soothing words gently drawing him aside.
When Don Benito returned, the American was pained to observe that his
hopefulness, like the sudden kindling in his cheek, was but febrile and
Ere long, with a joyless mien, looking up towards the poop, the host
invited his guest to accompany him there, for the benefit of what little
breath of wind might be stirring.
As, during the telling of the story, Captain Delano had once or twice
started at the occasional cymballing of the hatchet-polishers, wondering
why such an interruption should be allowed, especially in that part of
the ship, and in the ears of an invalid; and moreover, as the hatchets
had anything but an attractive look, and the handlers of them still less
so, it was, therefore, to tell the truth, not without some lurking
reluctance, or even shrinking, it may be, that Captain Delano, with
apparent complaisance, acquiesced in his host's invitation. The more so,
since, with an untimely caprice of punctilio, rendered distressing by
his cadaverous aspect, Don Benito, with Castilian bows, solemnly
insisted upon his guest's preceding him up the ladder leading to the
elevation; where, one on each side of the last step, sat for armorial
supporters and sentries two of the ominous file. Gingerly enough stepped
good Captain Delano between them, and in the instant of leaving them
behind, like one running the gauntlet, he felt an apprehensive twitch in
the calves of his legs.
But when, facing about, he saw the whole file, like so many
organ-grinders, still stupidly intent on their work, unmindful of
everything beside, he could not but smile at his late fidgety panic.
Presently, while standing with his host, looking forward upon the decks
below, he was struck by one of those instances of insubordination
previously alluded to. Three black boys, with two Spanish boys, were
sitting together on the hatches, scraping a rude wooden platter, in
which some scanty mess had recently been cooked. Suddenly, one of the
black boys, enraged at a word dropped by one of his white companions,
seized a knife, and, though called to forbear by one of the
oakum-pickers, struck the lad over the head, inflicting a gash from
which blood flowed.
In amazement, Captain Delano inquired what this meant. To which the pale
Don Benito dully muttered, that it was merely the sport of the lad.
"Pretty serious sport, truly," rejoined Captain Delano. "Had such a
thing happened on board the Bachelor's Delight, instant punishment would
At these words the Spaniard turned upon the American one of his sudden,
staring, half-lunatic looks; then, relapsing into his torpor, answered,
"Doubtless, doubtless, Señor."
Is it, thought Captain Delano, that this hapless man is one of those
paper captains I've known, who by policy wink at what by power they
cannot put down? I know no sadder sight than a commander who has little
of command but the name.
"I should think, Don Benito," he now said, glancing towards the
oakum-picker who had sought to interfere with the boys, "that you would
find it advantageous to keep all your blacks employed, especially the
younger ones, no matter at what useless task, and no matter what happens
to the ship. Why, even with my little band, I find such a course
indispensable. I once kept a crew on my quarter-deck thrumming mats for
my cabin, when, for three days, I had given up my ship--mats, men, and
all--for a speedy loss, owing to the violence of a gale, in which we
could do nothing but helplessly drive before it."
"Doubtless, doubtless," muttered Don Benito.
"But," continued Captain Delano, again glancing upon the oakum-pickers
and then at the hatchet-polishers, near by, "I see you keep some, at
least, of your host employed."
"Yes," was again the vacant response.
"Those old men there, shaking their pows from their pulpits," continued
Captain Delano, pointing to the oakum-pickers, "seem to act the part of
old dominies to the rest, little heeded as their admonitions are at
times. Is this voluntary on their part, Don Benito, or have you
appointed them shepherds to your flock of black sheep?"
"What posts they fill, I appointed them," rejoined the Spaniard, in an
acrid tone, as if resenting some supposed satiric reflection.
"And these others, these Ashantee conjurors here," continued Captain
Delano, rather uneasily eying the brandished steel of the
hatchet-polishers, where, in spots, it had been brought to a shine,
"this seems a curious business they are at, Don Benito?"
"In the gales we met," answered the Spaniard, "what of our general cargo
was not thrown overboard was much damaged by the brine. Since coming
into calm weather, I have had several cases of knives and hatchets daily
brought up for overhauling and cleaning."
"A prudent idea, Don Benito. You are part owner of ship and cargo, I
presume; but none of the slaves, perhaps?"
"I am owner of all you see," impatiently returned Don Benito, "except
the main company of blacks, who belonged to my late friend, Alexandro
As he mentioned this name, his air was heart-broken; his knees shook;
his servant supported him.
Thinking he divined the cause of such unusual emotion, to confirm his
surmise, Captain Delano, after a pause, said: "And may I ask, Don
Benito, whether--since awhile ago you spoke of some cabin
passengers--the friend, whose loss so afflicts you, at the outset of the
voyage accompanied his blacks?"
"But died of the fever?"
"Died of the fever. Oh, could I but--"
Again quivering, the Spaniard paused.
"Pardon me," said Captain Delano, lowly, "but I think that, by a
sympathetic experience, I conjecture, Don Benito, what it is that gives
the keener edge to your grief. It was once my hard fortune to lose, at
sea, a dear friend, my own brother, then supercargo. Assured of the
welfare of his spirit, its departure I could have borne like a man; but
that honest eye, that honest hand--both of which had so often met
mine--and that warm heart; all, all--like scraps to the dogs--to throw
all to the sharks! It was then I vowed never to have for fellow-voyager
a man I loved, unless, unbeknown to him, I had provided every requisite,
in case of a fatality, for embalming his mortal part for interment on
shore. Were your friend's remains now on board this ship, Don Benito,
not thus strangely would the mention of his name affect you."
"On board this ship?" echoed the Spaniard. Then, with horrified
gestures, as directed against some spectre, he unconsciously fell into
the ready arms of his attendant, who, with a silent appeal toward
Captain Delano, seemed beseeching him not again to broach a theme so
unspeakably distressing to his master.
This poor fellow now, thought the pained American, is the victim of that
sad superstition which associates goblins with the deserted body of man,
as ghosts with an abandoned house. How unlike are we made! What to me,
in like case, would have been a solemn satisfaction, the bare
suggestion, even, terrifies the Spaniard into this trance. Poor
Alexandro Aranda! what would you say could you here see your
friend--who, on former voyages, when you, for months, were left behind,
has, I dare say, often longed, and longed, for one peep at you--now
transported with terror at the least thought of having you anyway nigh
At this moment, with a dreary grave-yard toll, betokening a flaw, the
ship's forecastle bell, smote by one of the grizzled oakum-pickers,
proclaimed ten o'clock, through the leaden calm; when Captain Delano's
attention was caught by the moving figure of a gigantic black, emerging
from the general crowd below, and slowly advancing towards the elevated
poop. An iron collar was about his neck, from which depended a chain,
thrice wound round his body; the terminating links padlocked together at
a broad band of iron, his girdle.
"How like a mute Atufal moves," murmured the servant.
The black mounted the steps of the poop, and, like a brave prisoner,
brought up to receive sentence, stood in unquailing muteness before Don
Benito, now recovered from his attack.
At the first glimpse of his approach, Don Benito had started, a
resentful shadow swept over his face; and, as with the sudden memory of
bootless rage, his white lips glued together.
This is some mulish mutineer, thought Captain Delano, surveying, not
without a mixture of admiration, the colossal form of the negro.
"See, he waits your question, master," said the servant.
Thus reminded, Don Benito, nervously averting his glance, as if
shunning, by anticipation, some rebellious response, in a disconcerted
voice, thus spoke:--
"Atufal, will you ask my pardon, now?"
The black was silent.
"Again, master," murmured the servant, with bitter upbraiding eyeing his
countryman, "Again, master; he will bend to master yet."
"Answer," said Don Benito, still averting his glance, "say but the one
word, _pardon_, and your chains shall be off."
Upon this, the black, slowly raising both arms, let them lifelessly
fall, his links clanking, his head bowed; as much as to say, "no, I am
"Go," said Don Benito, with inkept and unknown emotion.
Deliberately as he had come, the black obeyed.
"Excuse me, Don Benito," said Captain Delano, "but this scene surprises
me; what means it, pray?"
"It means that that negro alone, of all the band, has given me peculiar
cause of offense. I have put him in chains; I--"
Here he paused; his hand to his head, as if there were a swimming there,
or a sudden bewilderment of memory had come over him; but meeting his
servant's kindly glance seemed reassured, and proceeded:--
"I could not scourge such a form. But I told him he must ask my pardon.
As yet he has not. At my command, every two hours he stands before me."
"And how long has this been?"
"Some sixty days."
"And obedient in all else? And respectful?"
"Upon my conscience, then," exclaimed Captain Delano, impulsively, "he
has a royal spirit in him, this fellow."
"He may have some right to it," bitterly returned Don Benito, "he says
he was king in his own land."
"Yes," said the servant, entering a word, "those slits in Atufal's ears
once held wedges of gold; but poor Babo here, in his own land, was only
a poor slave; a black man's slave was Babo, who now is the white's."
Somewhat annoyed by these conversational familiarities, Captain Delano
turned curiously upon the attendant, then glanced inquiringly at his
master; but, as if long wonted to these little informalities, neither
master nor man seemed to understand him.
"What, pray, was Atufal's offense, Don Benito?" asked Captain Delano;
"if it was not something very serious, take a fool's advice, and, in
view of his general docility, as well as in some natural respect for his
spirit, remit him his penalty."
"No, no, master never will do that," here murmured the servant to
himself, "proud Atufal must first ask master's pardon. The slave there
carries the padlock, but master here carries the key."
His attention thus directed, Captain Delano now noticed for the first,
that, suspended by a slender silken cord, from Don Benito's neck, hung
a key. At once, from the servant's muttered syllables, divining the
key's purpose, he smiled, and said:--"So, Don Benito--padlock and
key--significant symbols, truly."
Biting his lip, Don Benito faltered.
Though the remark of Captain Delano, a man of such native simplicity as
to be incapable of satire or irony, had been dropped in playful allusion
to the Spaniard's singularly evidenced lordship over the black; yet the
hypochondriac seemed some way to have taken it as a malicious reflection
upon his confessed inability thus far to break down, at least, on a
verbal summons, the entrenched will of the slave. Deploring this
supposed misconception, yet despairing of correcting it, Captain Delano
shifted the subject; but finding his companion more than ever withdrawn,
as if still sourly digesting the lees of the presumed affront
above-mentioned, by-and-by Captain Delano likewise became less
talkative, oppressed, against his own will, by what seemed the secret
vindictiveness of the morbidly sensitive Spaniard. But the good sailor,
himself of a quite contrary disposition, refrained, on his part, alike
from the appearance as from the feeling of resentment, and if silent,
was only so from contagion.
Presently the Spaniard, assisted by his servant somewhat discourteously
crossed over from his guest; a procedure which, sensibly enough, might
have been allowed to pass for idle caprice of ill-humor, had not master
and man, lingering round the corner of the elevated skylight, began
whispering together in low voices. This was unpleasing. And more; the
moody air of the Spaniard, which at times had not been without a sort of
valetudinarian stateliness, now seemed anything but dignified; while the
menial familiarity of the servant lost its original charm of
In his embarrassment, the visitor turned his face to the other side of
the ship. By so doing, his glance accidentally fell on a young Spanish
sailor, a coil of rope in his hand, just stepped from the deck to the
first round of the mizzen-rigging. Perhaps the man would not have been
particularly noticed, were it not that, during his ascent to one of the
yards, he, with a sort of covert intentness, kept his eye fixed on
Captain Delano, from whom, presently, it passed, as if by a natural
sequence, to the two whisperers.
His own attention thus redirected to that quarter, Captain Delano gave a
slight start. From something in Don Benito's manner just then, it seemed
as if the visitor had, at least partly, been the subject of the
withdrawn consultation going on--a conjecture as little agreeable to the
guest as it was little flattering to the host.
The singular alternations of courtesy and ill-breeding in the Spanish
captain were unaccountable, except on one of two suppositions--innocent
lunacy, or wicked imposture.
But the first idea, though it might naturally have occurred to an
indifferent observer, and, in some respect, had not hitherto been wholly
a stranger to Captain Delano's mind, yet, now that, in an incipient way,
he began to regard the stranger's conduct something in the light of an
intentional affront, of course the idea of lunacy was virtually vacated.
But if not a lunatic, what then? Under the circumstances, would a
gentleman, nay, any honest boor, act the part now acted by his host? The
man was an impostor. Some low-born adventurer, masquerading as an
oceanic grandee; yet so ignorant of the first requisites of mere
gentlemanhood as to be betrayed into the present remarkable indecorum.
That strange ceremoniousness, too, at other times evinced, seemed not
uncharacteristic of one playing a part above his real level. Benito
Cereno--Don Benito Cereno--a sounding name. One, too, at that period,
not unknown, in the surname, to super-cargoes and sea captains trading
along the Spanish Main, as belonging to one of the most enterprising and
extensive mercantile families in all those provinces; several members of
it having titles; a sort of Castilian Rothschild, with a noble brother,
or cousin, in every great trading town of South America. The alleged Don
Benito was in early manhood, about twenty-nine or thirty. To assume a
sort of roving cadetship in the maritime affairs of such a house, what
more likely scheme for a young knave of talent and spirit? But the
Spaniard was a pale invalid. Never mind. For even to the degree of
simulating mortal disease, the craft of some tricksters had been known
to attain. To think that, under the aspect of infantile weakness, the
most savage energies might be couched--those velvets of the Spaniard but
the silky paw to his fangs.
From no train of thought did these fancies come; not from within, but
from without; suddenly, too, and in one throng, like hoar frost; yet as
soon to vanish as the mild sun of Captain Delano's good-nature regained
Glancing over once more towards his host--whose side-face, revealed
above the skylight, was now turned towards him--he was struck by the
profile, whose clearness of cut was refined by the thinness, incident to
ill-health, as well as ennobled about the chin by the beard. Away with
suspicion. He was a true off-shoot of a true hidalgo Cereno.
Relieved by these and other better thoughts, the visitor, lightly
humming a tune, now began indifferently pacing the poop, so as not to
betray to Don Benito that he had at all mistrusted incivility, much less
duplicity; for such mistrust would yet be proved illusory, and by the
event; though, for the present, the circumstance which had provoked that
distrust remained unexplained. But when that little mystery should have
been cleared up, Captain Delano thought he might extremely regret it,
did he allow Don Benito to become aware that he had indulged in
ungenerous surmises. In short, to the Spaniard's black-letter text, it
was best, for awhile, to leave open margin.
Presently, his pale face twitching and overcast, the Spaniard, still
supported by his attendant, moved over towards his guest, when, with
even more than his usual embarrassment, and a strange sort of intriguing
intonation in his husky whisper, the following conversation began:--
"Señor, may I ask how long you have lain at this isle?"
"Oh, but a day or two, Don Benito."
"And from what port are you last?"
"And there, Señor, you exchanged your sealskins for teas and silks, I
think you said?"
"Yes, Silks, mostly."
"And the balance you took in specie, perhaps?"
Captain Delano, fidgeting a little, answered--
"Yes; some silver; not a very great deal, though."
"Ah--well. May I ask how many men have you, Señor?"
Captain Delano slightly started, but answered--
"About five-and-twenty, all told."
"And at present, Señor, all on board, I suppose?"
"All on board, Don Benito," replied the Captain, now with satisfaction.
"And will be to-night, Señor?"
At this last question, following so many pertinacious ones, for the soul
of him Captain Delano could not but look very earnestly at the
questioner, who, instead of meeting the glance, with every token of
craven discomposure dropped his eyes to the deck; presenting an unworthy
contrast to his servant, who, just then, was kneeling at his feet,
adjusting a loose shoe-buckle; his disengaged face meantime, with
humble curiosity, turned openly up into his master's downcast one.
The Spaniard, still with a guilty shuffle, repeated his question:
"And--and will be to-night, Señor?"
"Yes, for aught I know," returned Captain Delano--"but nay," rallying
himself into fearless truth, "some of them talked of going off on
another fishing party about midnight."
"Your ships generally go--go more or less armed, I believe, Señor?"
"Oh, a six-pounder or two, in case of emergency," was the intrepidly
indifferent reply, "with a small stock of muskets, sealing-spears, and
cutlasses, you know."
As he thus responded, Captain Delano again glanced at Don Benito, but
the latter's eyes were averted; while abruptly and awkwardly shifting
the subject, he made some peevish allusion to the calm, and then,
without apology, once more, with his attendant, withdrew to the opposite
bulwarks, where the whispering was resumed.
At this moment, and ere Captain Delano could cast a cool thought upon
what had just passed, the young Spanish sailor, before mentioned, was
seen descending from the rigging. In act of stooping over to spring
inboard to the deck, his voluminous, unconfined frock, or shirt, of
coarse woolen, much spotted with tar, opened out far down the chest,
revealing a soiled under garment of what seemed the finest linen, edged,
about the neck, with a narrow blue ribbon, sadly faded and worn. At this
moment the young sailor's eye was again fixed on the whisperers, and
Captain Delano thought he observed a lurking significance in it, as if
silent signs, of some Freemason sort, had that instant been
This once more impelled his own glance in the direction of Don Benito,
and, as before, he could not but infer that himself formed the subject
of the conference. He paused. The sound of the hatchet-polishing fell on
his ears. He cast another swift side-look at the two. They had the air
of conspirators. In connection with the late questionings, and the
incident of the young sailor, these things now begat such return of
involuntary suspicion, that the singular guilelessness of the American
could not endure it. Plucking up a gay and humorous expression, he
crossed over to the two rapidly, saying:--"Ha, Don Benito, your black
here seems high in your trust; a sort of privy-counselor, in fact."
Upon this, the servant looked up with a good-natured grin, but the
master started as from a venomous bite. It was a moment or two before
the Spaniard sufficiently recovered himself to reply; which he did, at
last, with cold constraint:--"Yes, Señor, I have trust in Babo."
Here Babo, changing his previous grin of mere animal humor into an
intelligent smile, not ungratefully eyed his master.
Finding that the Spaniard now stood silent and reserved, as if
involuntarily, or purposely giving hint that his guest's proximity was
inconvenient just then, Captain Delano, unwilling to appear uncivil even
to incivility itself, made some trivial remark and moved off; again and
again turning over in his mind the mysterious demeanor of Don Benito
He had descended from the poop, and, wrapped in thought, was passing
near a dark hatchway, leading down into the steerage, when, perceiving
motion there, he looked to see what moved. The same instant there was a
sparkle in the shadowy hatchway, and he saw one of the Spanish sailors,
prowling there hurriedly placing his hand in the bosom of his frock, as
if hiding something. Before the man could have been certain who it was
that was passing, he slunk below out of sight. But enough was seen of
him to make it sure that he was the same young sailor before noticed in
What was that which so sparkled? thought Captain Delano. It was no
lamp--no match--no live coal. Could it have been a jewel? But how come
sailors with jewels?--or with silk-trimmed under-shirts either? Has he
been robbing the trunks of the dead cabin-passengers? But if so, he
would hardly wear one of the stolen articles on board ship here. Ah,
ah--if, now, that was, indeed, a secret sign I saw passing between this
suspicious fellow and his captain awhile since; if I could only be
certain that, in my uneasiness, my senses did not deceive me, then--
Here, passing from one suspicious thing to another, his mind revolved
the strange questions put to him concerning his ship.
By a curious coincidence, as each point was recalled, the black wizards
of Ashantee would strike up with their hatchets, as in ominous comment
on the white stranger's thoughts. Pressed by such enigmas: and portents,
it would have been almost against nature, had not, even into the least
distrustful heart, some ugly misgivings obtruded.
Observing the ship, now helplessly fallen into a current, with enchanted
sails, drifting with increased rapidity seaward; and noting that, from a
lately intercepted projection of the land, the sealer was hidden, the
stout mariner began to quake at thoughts which he barely durst confess
to himself. Above all, he began to feel a ghostly dread of Don Benito.
And yet, when he roused himself, dilated his chest, felt himself strong
on his legs, and coolly considered it--what did all these phantoms
Had the Spaniard any sinister scheme, it must have reference not so much
to him (Captain Delano) as to his ship (the Bachelor's Delight). Hence
the present drifting away of the one ship from the other, instead of
favoring any such possible scheme, was, for the time, at least, opposed
to it. Clearly any suspicion, combining such contradictions, must need
be delusive. Beside, was it not absurd to think of a vessel in
distress--a vessel by sickness almost dismanned of her crew--a vessel
whose inmates were parched for water--was it not a thousand times absurd
that such a craft should, at present, be of a piratical character; or
her commander, either for himself or those under him, cherish any desire
but for speedy relief and refreshment? But then, might not general
distress, and thirst in particular, be affected? And might not that same
undiminished Spanish crew, alleged to have perished off to a remnant, be
at that very moment lurking in the hold? On heart-broken pretense of
entreating a cup of cold water, fiends in human form had got into lonely
dwellings, nor retired until a dark deed had been done. And among the
Malay pirates, it was no unusual thing to lure ships after them into
their treacherous harbors, or entice boarders from a declared enemy at
sea, by the spectacle of thinly manned or vacant decks, beneath which
prowled a hundred spears with yellow arms ready to upthrust them through
the mats. Not that Captain Delano had entirely credited such things. He
had heard of them--and now, as stories, they recurred. The present
destination of the ship was the anchorage. There she would be near his
own vessel. Upon gaining that vicinity, might not the San Dominick, like
a slumbering volcano, suddenly let loose energies now hid?
He recalled the Spaniard's manner while telling his story. There was a
gloomy hesitancy and subterfuge about it. It was just the manner of one
making up his tale for evil purposes, as he goes. But if that story was
not true, what was the truth? That the ship had unlawfully come into the
Spaniard's possession? But in many of its details, especially in
reference to the more calamitous parts, such as the fatalities among the
seamen, the consequent prolonged beating about, the past sufferings from
obstinate calms, and still continued suffering from thirst; in all
these points, as well as others, Don Benito's story had corroborated not
only the wailing ejaculations of the indiscriminate multitude, white and
black, but likewise--what seemed impossible to be counterfeit--by the
very expression and play of every human feature, which Captain Delano
saw. If Don Benito's story was, throughout, an invention, then every
soul on board, down to the youngest negress, was his carefully drilled
recruit in the plot: an incredible inference. And yet, if there was
ground for mistrusting his veracity, that inference was a legitimate
But those questions of the Spaniard. There, indeed, one might pause. Did
they not seem put with much the same object with which the burglar or
assassin, by day-time, reconnoitres the walls of a house? But, with ill
purposes, to solicit such information openly of the chief person
endangered, and so, in effect, setting him on his guard; how unlikely a
procedure was that? Absurd, then, to suppose that those questions had
been prompted by evil designs. Thus, the same conduct, which, in this
instance, had raised the alarm, served to dispel it. In short, scarce
any suspicion or uneasiness, however apparently reasonable at the time,
which was not now, with equal apparent reason, dismissed.
At last he began to laugh at his former forebodings; and laugh at the
strange ship for, in its aspect, someway siding with them, as it were;
and laugh, too, at the odd-looking blacks, particularly those old
scissors-grinders, the Ashantees; and those bed-ridden old knitting
women, the oakum-pickers; and almost at the dark Spaniard himself, the
central hobgoblin of all.
For the rest, whatever in a serious way seemed enigmatical, was now
good-naturedly explained away by the thought that, for the most part,
the poor invalid scarcely knew what he was about; either sulking in
black vapors, or putting idle questions without sense or object.
Evidently for the present, the man was not fit to be intrusted with the
ship. On some benevolent plea withdrawing the command from him, Captain
Delano would yet have to send her to Conception, in charge of his
second mate, a worthy person and good navigator--a plan not more
convenient for the San Dominick than for Don Benito; for, relieved from
all anxiety, keeping wholly to his cabin, the sick man, under the good
nursing of his servant, would, probably, by the end of the passage, be
in a measure restored to health, and with that he should also be
restored to authority.
Such were the American's thoughts. They were tranquilizing. There was a
difference between the idea of Don Benito's darkly pre-ordaining Captain
Delano's fate, and Captain Delano's lightly arranging Don Benito's.
Nevertheless, it was not without something of relief that the good
seaman presently perceived his whale-boat in the distance. Its absence
had been prolonged by unexpected detention at the sealer's side, as well
as its returning trip lengthened by the continual recession of the goal.
The advancing speck was observed by the blacks. Their shouts attracted
the attention of Don Benito, who, with a return of courtesy, approaching
Captain Delano, expressed satisfaction at the coming of some supplies,
slight and temporary as they must necessarily prove.
Captain Delano responded; but while doing so, his attention was drawn to
something passing on the deck below: among the crowd climbing the
landward bulwarks, anxiously watching the coming boat, two blacks, to
all appearances accidentally incommoded by one of the sailors, violently
pushed him aside, which the sailor someway resenting, they dashed him to
the deck, despite the earnest cries of the oakum-pickers.
"Don Benito," said Captain Delano quickly, "do you see what is going on
But, seized by his cough, the Spaniard staggered, with both hands to his
face, on the point of falling. Captain Delano would have supported him,
but the servant was more alert, who, with one hand sustaining his
master, with the other applied the cordial. Don Benito restored, the
black withdrew his support, slipping aside a little, but dutifully
remaining within call of a whisper. Such discretion was here evinced as
quite wiped away, in the visitor's eyes, any blemish of impropriety
which might have attached to the attendant, from the indecorous
conferences before mentioned; showing, too, that if the servant were to
blame, it might be more the master's fault than his own, since, when
left to himself, he could conduct thus well.
His glance called away from the spectacle of disorder to the more
pleasing one before him, Captain Delano could not avoid again
congratulating his host upon possessing such a servant, who, though
perhaps a little too forward now and then, must upon the whole be
invaluable to one in the invalid's situation.
"Tell me, Don Benito," he added, with a smile--"I should like to have
your man here, myself--what will you take for him? Would fifty doubloons
be any object?"
"Master wouldn't part with Babo for a thousand doubloons," murmured the
black, overhearing the offer, and taking it in earnest, and, with the
strange vanity of a faithful slave, appreciated by his master, scorning
to hear so paltry a valuation put upon him by a stranger. But Don
Benito, apparently hardly yet completely restored, and again
interrupted by his cough, made but some broken reply.
Soon his physical distress became so great, affecting his mind, too,
apparently, that, as if to screen the sad spectacle, the servant gently
conducted his master below.
Left to himself, the American, to while away the time till his boat
should arrive, would have pleasantly accosted some one of the few
Spanish seamen he saw; but recalling something that Don Benito had said
touching their ill conduct, he refrained; as a shipmaster indisposed to
countenance cowardice or unfaithfulness in seamen.
While, with these thoughts, standing with eye directed forward towards
that handful of sailors, suddenly he thought that one or two of them
returned the glance and with a sort of meaning. He rubbed his eyes, and
looked again; but again seemed to see the same thing. Under a new form,
but more obscure than any previous one, the old suspicions recurred,
but, in the absence of Don Benito, with less of panic than before.
Despite the bad account given of the sailors, Captain Delano resolved
forthwith to accost one of them. Descending the poop, he made his way
through the blacks, his movement drawing a queer cry from the
oakum-pickers, prompted by whom, the negroes, twitching each other
aside, divided before him; but, as if curious to see what was the object
of this deliberate visit to their Ghetto, closing in behind, in
tolerable order, followed the white stranger up. His progress thus
proclaimed as by mounted kings-at-arms, and escorted as by a Caffre
guard of honor, Captain Delano, assuming a good-humored, off-handed air,
continued to advance; now and then saying a blithe word to the negroes,
and his eye curiously surveying the white faces, here and there sparsely
mixed in with the blacks, like stray white pawns venturously involved in
the ranks of the chess-men opposed.
While thinking which of them to select for his purpose, he chanced to
observe a sailor seated on the deck engaged in tarring the strap of a
large block, a circle of blacks squatted round him inquisitively eying
The mean employment of the man was in contrast with something superior
in his figure. His hand, black with continually thrusting it into the
tar-pot held for him by a negro, seemed not naturally allied to his
face, a face which would have been a very fine one but for its
haggardness. Whether this haggardness had aught to do with criminality,
could not be determined; since, as intense heat and cold, though unlike,
produce like sensations, so innocence and guilt, when, through casual
association with mental pain, stamping any visible impress, use one
seal--a hacked one.
Not again that this reflection occurred to Captain Delano at the time,
charitable man as he was. Rather another idea. Because observing so
singular a haggardness combined with a dark eye, averted as in trouble
and shame, and then again recalling Don Benito's confessed ill opinion
of his crew, insensibly he was operated upon by certain general notions
which, while disconnecting pain and abashment from virtue, invariably
link them with vice.
If, indeed, there be any wickedness on board this ship, thought Captain
Delano, be sure that man there has fouled his hand in it, even as now he
fouls it in the pitch. I don't like to accost him. I will speak to this
other, this old Jack here on the windlass.
He advanced to an old Barcelona tar, in ragged red breeches and dirty
night-cap, cheeks trenched and bronzed, whiskers dense as thorn hedges.
Seated between two sleepy-looking Africans, this mariner, like his
younger shipmate, was employed upon some rigging--splicing a cable--the
sleepy-looking blacks performing the inferior function of holding the
outer parts of the ropes for him.
Upon Captain Delano's approach, the man at once hung his head below its
previous level; the one necessary for business. It appeared as if he
desired to be thought absorbed, with more than common fidelity, in his
task. Being addressed, he glanced up, but with what seemed a furtive,
diffident air, which sat strangely enough on his weather-beaten visage,
much as if a grizzly bear, instead of growling and biting, should simper
and cast sheep's eyes. He was asked several questions concerning the
voyage--questions purposely referring to several particulars in Don
Benito's narrative, not previously corroborated by those impulsive cries
greeting the visitor on first coming on board. The questions were
briefly answered, confirming all that remained to be confirmed of the
story. The negroes about the windlass joined in with the old sailor;
but, as they became talkative, he by degrees became mute, and at length
quite glum, seemed morosely unwilling to answer more questions, and yet,
all the while, this ursine air was somehow mixed with his sheepish one.
Despairing of getting into unembarrassed talk with such a centaur,
Captain Delano, after glancing round for a more promising countenance,
but seeing none, spoke pleasantly to the blacks to make way for him; and
so, amid various grins and grimaces, returned to the poop, feeling a
little strange at first, he could hardly tell why, but upon the whole
with regained confidence in Benito Cereno.
How plainly, thought he, did that old whiskerando yonder betray a
consciousness of ill desert. No doubt, when he saw me coming, he
dreaded lest I, apprised by his Captain of the crew's general
misbehavior, came with sharp words for him, and so down with his head.
And yet--and yet, now that I think of it, that very old fellow, if I err
not, was one of those who seemed so earnestly eying me here awhile
since. Ah, these currents spin one's head round almost as much as they
do the ship. Ha, there now's a pleasant sort of sunny sight; quite
His attention had been drawn to a slumbering negress, partly disclosed
through the lacework of some rigging, lying, with youthful limbs
carelessly disposed, under the lee of the bulwarks, like a doe in the
shade of a woodland rock. Sprawling at her lapped breasts, was her
wide-awake fawn, stark naked, its black little body half lifted from the
deck, crosswise with its dam's; its hands, like two paws, clambering
upon her; its mouth and nose ineffectually rooting to get at the mark;
and meantime giving a vexatious half-grunt, blending with the composed
snore of the negress.
The uncommon vigor of the child at length roused the mother. She started
up, at a distance facing Captain Delano. But as if not, at all concerned
at the attitude in which she had been caught, delightedly she caught the
child up, with maternal transports, covering it with kisses.
There's naked nature, now; pure tenderness and love, thought Captain
Delano, well pleased.
This incident prompted him to remark the other negresses more
particularly than before. He was gratified with their manners: like most
uncivilized women, they seemed at once tender of heart and tough of
constitution; equally ready to die for their infants or fight for them.
Unsophisticated as leopardesses; loving as doves. Ah! thought Captain
Delano, these, perhaps, are some of the very women whom Ledyard saw in
Africa, and gave such a noble account of.
These natural sights somehow insensibly deepened his confidence and
ease. At last he looked to see how his boat was getting on; but it was
still pretty remote. He turned to see if Don Benito had returned; but
he had not.
To change the scene, as well as to please himself with a leisurely
observation of the coming boat, stepping over into the mizzen-chains, he
clambered his way into the starboard quarter-gallery--one of
those abandoned Venetian-looking water-balconies previously
mentioned--retreats cut off from the deck. As his foot pressed the
half-damp, half-dry sea-mosses matting the place, and a chance phantom
cats-paw--an islet of breeze, unheralded unfollowed--as this ghostly
cats-paw came fanning his cheek; as his glance fell upon the row of
small, round dead-lights--all closed like coppered eyes of the
coffined--and the state-cabin door, once connecting with the gallery,
even as the dead-lights had once looked out upon it, but now calked fast
like a sarcophagus lid; and to a purple-black tarred-over, panel,
threshold, and post; and he bethought him of the time, when that
state-cabin and this state-balcony had heard the voices of the Spanish
king's officers, and the forms of the Lima viceroy's daughters had
perhaps leaned where he stood--as these and other images flitted
through his mind, as the cats-paw through the calm, gradually he felt
rising a dreamy inquietude, like that of one who alone on the prairie
feels unrest from the repose of the noon.
He leaned against the carved balustrade, again looking off toward his
boat; but found his eye falling upon the ribbon grass, trailing along
the ship's water-line, straight as a border of green box; and parterres
of sea-weed, broad ovals and crescents, floating nigh and far, with what
seemed long formal alleys between, crossing the terraces of swells, and
sweeping round as if leading to the grottoes below. And overhanging all
was the balustrade by his arm, which, partly stained with pitch and
partly embossed with moss, seemed the charred ruin of some summer-house
in a grand garden long running to waste.
Trying to break one charm, he was but becharmed anew. Though upon the
wide sea, he seemed in some far inland country; prisoner in some
deserted château, left to stare at empty grounds, and peer out at vague
roads, where never wagon or wayfarer passed.
But these enchantments were a little disenchanted as his eye fell on the
corroded main-chains. Of an ancient style, massy and rusty in link,
shackle and bolt, they seemed even more fit for the ship's present
business than the one for which she had been built.
Presently he thought something moved nigh the chains. He rubbed his
eyes, and looked hard. Groves of rigging were about the chains; and
there, peering from behind a great stay, like an Indian from behind a
hemlock, a Spanish sailor, a marlingspike in his hand, was seen, who
made what seemed an imperfect gesture towards the balcony, but
immediately as if alarmed by some advancing step along the deck within,
vanished into the recesses of the hempen forest, like a poacher.
What meant this? Something the man had sought to communicate, unbeknown
to any one, even to his captain. Did the secret involve aught
unfavorable to his captain? Were those previous misgivings of Captain
Delano's about to be verified? Or, in his haunted mood at the moment,
had some random, unintentional motion of the man, while busy with the
stay, as if repairing it, been mistaken for a significant beckoning?
Not unbewildered, again he gazed off for his boat. But it was
temporarily hidden by a rocky spur of the isle. As with some eagerness
he bent forward, watching for the first shooting view of its beak, the
balustrade gave way before him like charcoal. Had he not clutched an
outreaching rope he would have fallen into the sea. The crash, though
feeble, and the fall, though hollow, of the rotten fragments, must have
been overheard. He glanced up. With sober curiosity peering down upon
him was one of the old oakum-pickers, slipped from his perch to an
outside boom; while below the old negro, and, invisible to him,
reconnoitering from a port-hole like a fox from the mouth of its den,
crouched the Spanish sailor again. From something suddenly suggested by
the man's air, the mad idea now darted into Captain Delano's mind, that
Don Benito's plea of indisposition, in withdrawing below, was but a
pretense: that he was engaged there maturing his plot, of which the
sailor, by some means gaining an inkling, had a mind to warn the
stranger against; incited, it may be, by gratitude for a kind word on
first boarding the ship. Was it from foreseeing some possible
interference like this, that Don Benito had, beforehand, given such a
bad character of his sailors, while praising the negroes; though,
indeed, the former seemed as docile as the latter the contrary? The
whites, too, by nature, were the shrewder race. A man with some evil
design, would he not be likely to speak well of that stupidity which was
blind to his depravity, and malign that intelligence from which it might
not be hidden? Not unlikely, perhaps. But if the whites had dark secrets
concerning Don Benito, could then Don Benito be any way in complicity
with the blacks? But they were too stupid. Besides, who ever heard of a
white so far a renegade as to apostatize from his very species almost,
by leaguing in against it with negroes? These difficulties recalled
former ones. Lost in their mazes, Captain Delano, who had now regained
the deck, was uneasily advancing along it, when he observed a new face;
an aged sailor seated cross-legged near the main hatchway. His skin was
shrunk up with wrinkles like a pelican's empty pouch; his hair frosted;
his countenance grave and composed. His hands were full of ropes, which
he was working into a large knot. Some blacks were about him obligingly
dipping the strands for him, here and there, as the exigencies of the
Captain Delano crossed over to him, and stood in silence surveying the
knot; his mind, by a not uncongenial transition, passing from its own
entanglements to those of the hemp. For intricacy, such a knot he had
never seen in an American ship, nor indeed any other. The old man looked
like an Egyptian priest, making Gordian knots for the temple of Ammon.
The knot seemed a combination of double-bowline-knot, treble-crown-knot,
back-handed-well-knot, knot-in-and-out-knot, and jamming-knot.
At last, puzzled to comprehend the meaning of such a knot, Captain
Delano addressed the knotter:--
"What are you knotting there, my man?"
"The knot," was the brief reply, without looking up.
"So it seems; but what is it for?"
"For some one else to undo," muttered back the old man, plying his
fingers harder than ever, the knot being now nearly completed.
While Captain Delano stood watching him, suddenly the old man threw the
knot towards him, saying in broken English--the first heard in the
ship--something to this effect: "Undo it, cut it, quick." It was said
lowly, but with such condensation of rapidity, that the long, slow words
in Spanish, which had preceded and followed, almost operated as covers
to the brief English between.
For a moment, knot in hand, and knot in head, Captain Delano stood mute;
while, without further heeding him, the old man was now intent upon
other ropes. Presently there was a slight stir behind Captain Delano.
Turning, he saw the chained negro, Atufal, standing quietly there. The
next moment the old sailor rose, muttering, and, followed by his
subordinate negroes, removed to the forward part of the ship, where in
the crowd he disappeared.
An elderly negro, in a clout like an infant's, and with a pepper and
salt head, and a kind of attorney air, now approached Captain Delano. In
tolerable Spanish, and with a good-natured, knowing wink, he informed
him that the old knotter was simple-witted, but harmless; often playing
his odd tricks. The negro concluded by begging the knot, for of course
the stranger would not care to be troubled with it. Unconsciously, it
was handed to him. With a sort of congé, the negro received it, and,
turning his back, ferreted into it like a detective custom-house officer
after smuggled laces. Soon, with some African word, equivalent to pshaw,
he tossed the knot overboard.
All this is very queer now, thought Captain Delano, with a qualmish sort
of emotion; but, as one feeling incipient sea-sickness, he strove, by
ignoring the symptoms, to get rid of the malady. Once more he looked off
for his boat. To his delight, it was now again in view, leaving the
rocky spur astern.
The sensation here experienced, after at first relieving his uneasiness,
with unforeseen efficacy soon began to remove it. The less distant sight
of that well-known boat--showing it, not as before, half blended with
the haze, but with outline defined, so that its individuality, like a
man's, was manifest; that boat, Rover by name, which, though now in
strange seas, had often pressed the beach of Captain Delano's home, and,
brought to its threshold for repairs, had familiarly lain there, as a
Newfoundland dog; the sight of that household, boat evoked a thousand
trustful associations, which, contrasted with previous suspicions,
filled him not only with lightsome confidence, but somehow with half
humorous self-reproaches at his former lack of it.
"What, I, Amasa Delano--Jack of the Beach, as they called me when a
lad--I, Amasa; the same that, duck-satchel in hand, used to paddle along
the water-side to the school-house made from the old hulk--I, little
Jack of the Beach, that used to go berrying with cousin Nat and the
rest; I to be murdered here at the ends of the earth, on board a haunted
pirate-ship by a horrible Spaniard? Too nonsensical to think of! Who
would murder Amasa Delano? His conscience is clean. There is some one
above. Fie, fie, Jack of the Beach! you are a child indeed; a child of
the second childhood, old boy; you are beginning to dote and drule, I'm
Light of heart and foot, he stepped aft, and there was met by Don
Benito's servant, who, with a pleasing expression, responsive to his own
present feelings, informed him that his master had recovered from the
effects of his coughing fit, and had just ordered him to go present his
compliments to his good guest, Don Amasa, and say that he (Don Benito)
would soon have the happiness to rejoin him.
There now, do you mark that? again thought Captain Delano, walking the
poop. What a donkey I was. This kind gentleman who here sends me his
kind compliments, he, but ten minutes ago, dark-lantern in had, was
dodging round some old grind-stone in the hold, sharpening a hatchet for
me, I thought. Well, well; these long calms have a morbid effect on the
mind, I've often heard, though I never believed it before. Ha! glancing
towards the boat; there's Rover; good dog; a white bone in her mouth. A
pretty big bone though, seems to me.--What? Yes, she has fallen afoul
of the bubbling tide-rip there. It sets her the other way, too, for the
It was now about noon, though, from the grayness of everything, it
seemed to be getting towards dusk.
The calm was confirmed. In the far distance, away from the influence of
land, the leaden ocean seemed laid out and leaded up, it's course
finished, soul gone, defunct. But the current from landward, where the
ship was, increased; silently sweeping her further and further towards
the tranced waters beyond.
Still, from his knowledge of those latitudes, cherishing hopes of a
breeze, and a fair and fresh one, at any moment, Captain Delano, despite
present prospects, buoyantly counted upon bringing the San Dominick
safely to anchor ere night. The distance swept over was nothing; since,
with a good wind, ten minutes' sailing would retrace more than sixty
minutes, drifting. Meantime, one moment turning to mark "Rover" fighting
the tide-rip, and the next to see Don Benito approaching, he continued
walking the poop.
Gradually he felt a vexation arising from the delay of his boat; this
soon merged into uneasiness; and at last--his eye falling continually,
as from a stage-box into the pit, upon the strange crowd before and
below him, and, by-and-by, recognizing there the face--now composed to
indifference--of the Spanish sailor who had seemed to beckon from the
main-chains--something of his old trepidations returned.
Ah, thought he--gravely enough--this is like the ague: because it went
off, it follows not that it won't come back.
Though ashamed of the relapse, he could not altogether subdue it; and
so, exerting his good-nature to the utmost, insensibly he came to a
Yes, this is a strange craft; a strange history, too, and strange folks
on board. But--nothing more.
By way of keeping his mind out of mischief till the boat should arrive,
he tried to occupy it with turning over and over, in a purely
speculative sort of way, some lesser peculiarities of the captain and
crew. Among others, four curious points recurred:
First, the affair of the Spanish lad assailed with a knife by the slave
boy; an act winked at by Don Benito. Second, the tyranny in Don Benito's
treatment of Atufal, the black; as if a child should lead a bull of the
Nile by the ring in his nose. Third, the trampling of the sailor by the
two negroes; a piece of insolence passed over without so much as a
reprimand. Fourth, the cringing submission to their master, of all the
ship's underlings, mostly blacks; as if by the least inadvertence they
feared to draw down his despotic displeasure.
Coupling these points, they seemed somewhat contradictory. But what
then, thought Captain Delano, glancing towards his now nearing
boat--what then? Why, Don Benito is a very capricious commander. But he
is not the first of the sort I have seen; though it's true he rather
exceeds any other. But as a nation--continued he in his reveries--these
Spaniards are all an odd set; the very word Spaniard has a curious,
conspirator, Guy-Fawkish twang to it. And yet, I dare say, Spaniards in
the main are as good folks as any in Duxbury, Massachusetts. Ah good!
last "Rover" has come.
As, with its welcome freight, the boat touched the side, the
oakum-pickers, with venerable gestures, sought to restrain the blacks,
who, at the sight of three gurried water-casks in its bottom, and a pile
of wilted pumpkins in its bow, hung over the bulwarks in disorderly
Don Benito, with his servant, now appeared; his coming, perhaps,
hastened by hearing the noise. Of him Captain Delano sought permission
to serve out the water, so that all might share alike, and none injure
themselves by unfair excess. But sensible, and, on Don Benito's account,
kind as this offer was, it was received with what seemed impatience; as
if aware that he lacked energy as a commander, Don Benito, with the true
jealousy of weakness, resented as an affront any interference. So, at
least, Captain Delano inferred.
In another moment the casks were being hoisted in, when some of the
eager negroes accidentally jostled Captain Delano, where he stood by the
gangway; so, that, unmindful of Don Benito, yielding to the impulse of
the moment, with good-natured authority he bade the blacks stand back;
to enforce his words making use of a half-mirthful, half-menacing
gesture. Instantly the blacks paused, just where they were, each negro
and negress suspended in his or her posture, exactly as the word had
found them--for a few seconds continuing so--while, as between the
responsive posts of a telegraph, an unknown syllable ran from man to man
among the perched oakum-pickers. While the visitor's attention was fixed
by this scene, suddenly the hatchet-polishers half rose, and a rapid cry
came from Don Benito.
Thinking that at the signal of the Spaniard he was about to be
massacred, Captain Delano would have sprung for his boat, but paused, as
the oakum-pickers, dropping down into the crowd with earnest
exclamations, forced every white and every negro back, at the same
moment, with gestures friendly and familiar, almost jocose, bidding him,
in substance, not be a fool. Simultaneously the hatchet-polishers
resumed their seats, quietly as so many tailors, and at once, as if
nothing had happened, the work of hoisting in the casks was resumed,
whites and blacks singing at the tackle.
Captain Delano glanced towards Don Benito. As he saw his meagre form in
the act of recovering itself from reclining in the servant's arms, into
which the agitated invalid had fallen, he could not but marvel at the
panic by which himself had been surprised, on the darting supposition
that such a commander, who, upon a legitimate occasion, so trivial, too,
as it now appeared, could lose all self-command, was, with energetic
iniquity, going to bring about his murder.
The casks being on deck, Captain Delano was handed a number of jars and
cups by one of the steward's aids, who, in the name of his captain,
entreated him to do as he had proposed--dole out the water. He complied,
with republican impartiality as to this republican element, which always
seeks one level, serving the oldest white no better than the youngest
black; excepting, indeed, poor Don Benito, whose condition, if not rank,
demanded an extra allowance. To him, in the first place, Captain Delano
presented a fair pitcher of the fluid; but, thirsting as he was for it,
the Spaniard quaffed not a drop until after several grave bows and
salutes. A reciprocation of courtesies which the sight-loving Africans
hailed with clapping of hands.
Two of the less wilted pumpkins being reserved for the cabin table, the
residue were minced up on the spot for the general regalement. But the
soft bread, sugar, and bottled cider, Captain Delano would have given
the whites alone, and in chief Don Benito; but the latter objected;
which disinterestedness not a little pleased the American; and so
mouthfuls all around were given alike to whites and blacks; excepting
one bottle of cider, which Babo insisted upon setting aside for his
Here it may be observed that as, on the first visit of the boat, the
American had not permitted his men to board the ship, neither did he
now; being unwilling to add to the confusion of the decks.
Not uninfluenced by the peculiar good-humor at present prevailing, and
for the time oblivious of any but benevolent thoughts, Captain Delano,
who, from recent indications, counted upon a breeze within an hour or
two at furthest, dispatched the boat back to the sealer, with orders for
all the hands that could be spared immediately to set about rafting
casks to the watering-place and filling them. Likewise he bade word be
carried to his chief officer, that if, against present expectation, the
ship was not brought to anchor by sunset, he need be under no concern;
for as there was to be a full moon that night, he (Captain Delano) would
remain on board ready to play the pilot, come the wind soon or late.
As the two Captains stood together, observing the departing boat--the
servant, as it happened, having just spied a spot on his master's velvet
sleeve, and silently engaged rubbing it out--the American expressed his
regrets that the San Dominick had no boats; none, at least, but the
unseaworthy old hulk of the long-boat, which, warped as a camel's
skeleton in the desert, and almost as bleached, lay pot-wise inverted
amidships, one side a little tipped, furnishing a subterraneous sort of
den for family groups of the blacks, mostly women and small children;
who, squatting on old mats below, or perched above in the dark dome, on
the elevated seats, were descried, some distance within, like a social
circle of bats, sheltering in some friendly cave; at intervals, ebon
flights of naked boys and girls, three or four years old, darting in and
out of the den's mouth.
"Had you three or four boats now, Don Benito," said Captain Delano, "I
think that, by tugging at the oars, your negroes here might help along
matters some. Did you sail from port without boats, Don Benito?"
"They were stove in the gales, Señor."
"That was bad. Many men, too, you lost then. Boats and men. Those must
have been hard gales, Don Benito."
"Past all speech," cringed the Spaniard.
"Tell me, Don Benito," continued his companion with increased interest,
"tell me, were these gales immediately off the pitch of Cape Horn?"
"Cape Horn?--who spoke of Cape Horn?"
"Yourself did, when giving me an account of your voyage," answered
Captain Delano, with almost equal astonishment at this eating of his own
words, even as he ever seemed eating his own heart, on the part of the
Spaniard. "You yourself, Don Benito, spoke of Cape Horn," he
The Spaniard turned, in a sort of stooping posture, pausing an instant,
as one about to make a plunging exchange of elements, as from air to
At this moment a messenger-boy, a white, hurried by, in the regular
performance of his function carrying the last expired half hour forward
to the forecastle, from the cabin time-piece, to have it struck at the
ship's large bell.
"Master," said the servant, discontinuing his work on the coat sleeve,
and addressing the rapt Spaniard with a sort of timid apprehensiveness,
as one charged with a duty, the discharge of which, it was foreseen,
would prove irksome to the very person who had imposed it, and for whose
benefit it was intended, "master told me never mind where he was, or how
engaged, always to remind him to a minute, when shaving-time comes.
Miguel has gone to strike the half-hour afternoon. It is _now_, master.
Will master go into the cuddy?"
"Ah--yes," answered the Spaniard, starting, as from dreams into
realities; then turning upon Captain Delano, he said that ere long he
would resume the conversation.
"Then if master means to talk more to Don Amasa," said the servant, "why
not let Don Amasa sit by master in the cuddy, and master can talk, and
Don Amasa can listen, while Babo here lathers and strops."
"Yes," said Captain Delano, not unpleased with this sociable plan, "yes,
Don Benito, unless you had rather not, I will go with you."
"Be it so, Señor."
As the three passed aft, the American could not but think it another
strange instance of his host's capriciousness, this being shaved with
such uncommon punctuality in the middle of the day. But he deemed it
more than likely that the servant's anxious fidelity had something to do
with the matter; inasmuch as the timely interruption served to rally his
master from the mood which had evidently been coming upon him.
The place called the cuddy was a light deck-cabin formed by the poop, a
sort of attic to the large cabin below. Part of it had formerly been
the quarters of the officers; but since their death all the partitioning
had been thrown down, and the whole interior converted into one spacious
and airy marine hall; for absence of fine furniture and picturesque
disarray of odd appurtenances, somewhat answering to the wide, cluttered
hall of some eccentric bachelor-squire in the country, who hangs his
shooting-jacket and tobacco-pouch on deer antlers, and keeps his
fishing-rod, tongs, and walking-stick in the same corner.
The similitude was heightened, if not originally suggested, by glimpses
of the surrounding sea; since, in one aspect, the country and the ocean
The floor of the cuddy was matted. Overhead, four or five old muskets
were stuck into horizontal holes along the beams. On one side was a
claw-footed old table lashed to the deck; a thumbed missal on it, and
over it a small, meagre crucifix attached to the bulk-head. Under the
table lay a dented cutlass or two, with a hacked harpoon, among some;
melancholy old rigging, like a heap of poor friars' girdles. There were
also two long, sharp-ribbed settees of Malacca cane, black with age,
and uncomfortable to look at as inquisitors' racks, with a large,
misshapen arm-chair, which, furnished with a rude barber's crotch at the
back, working with a screw, seemed some grotesque engine of torment. A
flag locker was in one corner, open, exposing various colored bunting,
some rolled up, others half unrolled, still others tumbled. Opposite was
a cumbrous washstand, of black mahogany, all of one block, with a
pedestal, like a font, and over it a railed shelf, containing combs,
brushes, and other implements of the toilet. A torn hammock of stained
grass swung near; the sheets tossed, and the pillow wrinkled up like a
brow, as if who ever slept here slept but illy, with alternate
visitations of sad thoughts and bad dreams.
The further extremity of the cuddy, overhanging the ship's stern, was
pierced with three openings, windows or port-holes, according as men or
cannon might peer, socially or unsocially, out of them. At present
neither men nor cannon were seen, though huge ring-bolts and other rusty
iron fixtures of the wood-work hinted of twenty-four-pounders.
Glancing towards the hammock as he entered, Captain Delano said, "You
sleep here, Don Benito?"
"Yes, Señor, since we got into mild weather."
"This seems a sort of dormitory, sitting-room, sail-loft, chapel,
armory, and private closet all together, Don Benito," added Captain
Delano, looking round.
"Yes, Señor; events have not been favorable to much order in my
Here the servant, napkin on arm, made a motion as if waiting his
master's good pleasure. Don Benito signified his readiness, when,
seating him in the Malacca arm-chair, and for the guest's convenience
drawing opposite one of the settees, the servant commenced operations by
throwing back his master's collar and loosening his cravat.
There is something in the negro which, in a peculiar way, fits him for
avocations about one's person. Most negroes are natural valets and
hair-dressers; taking to the comb and brush congenially as to the
castinets, and flourishing them apparently with almost equal
satisfaction. There is, too, a smooth tact about them in this
employment, with a marvelous, noiseless, gliding briskness, not
ungraceful in its way, singularly pleasing to behold, and still more so
to be the manipulated subject of. And above all is the great gift of
good-humor. Not the mere grin or laugh is here meant. Those were
unsuitable. But a certain easy cheerfulness, harmonious in every glance
and gesture; as though God had set the whole negro to some pleasant
When to this is added the docility arising from the unaspiring
contentment of a limited mind and that susceptibility of blind
attachment sometimes inhering in indisputable inferiors, one readily
perceives why those hypochondriacs, Johnson and Byron--it may be,
something like the hypochondriac Benito Cereno--took to their hearts,
almost to the exclusion of the entire white race, their serving men, the
negroes, Barber and Fletcher. But if there be that in the negro which
exempts him from the inflicted sourness of the morbid or cynical mind,
how, in his most prepossessing aspects, must he appear to a benevolent
one? When at ease with respect to exterior things, Captain Delano's
nature was not only benign, but familiarly and humorously so. At home,
he had often taken rare satisfaction in sitting in his door, watching
some free man of color at his work or play. If on a voyage he chanced to
have a black sailor, invariably he was on chatty and half-gamesome terms
with him. In fact, like most men of a good, blithe heart, Captain Delano
took to negroes, not philanthropically, but genially, just as other men
to Newfoundland dogs.
Hitherto, the circumstances in which he found the San Dominick had
repressed the tendency. But in the cuddy, relieved from his former
uneasiness, and, for various reasons, more sociably inclined than at any
previous period of the day, and seeing the colored servant, napkin on
arm, so debonair about his master, in a business so familiar as that of
shaving, too, all his old weakness for negroes returned.
Among other things, he was amused with an odd instance of the African
love of bright colors and fine shows, in the black's informally taking
from the flag-locker a great piece of bunting of all hues, and lavishly
tucking it under his master's chin for an apron.
The mode of shaving among the Spaniards is a little different from what
it is with other nations. They have a basin, specifically called a
barber's basin, which on one side is scooped out, so as accurately to
receive the chin, against which it is closely held in lathering; which
is done, not with a brush, but with soap dipped in the water of the
basin and rubbed on the face.
In the present instance salt-water was used for lack of better; and the
parts lathered were only the upper lip, and low down under the throat,
all the rest being cultivated beard.
The preliminaries being somewhat novel to Captain Delano, he sat
curiously eying them, so that no conversation took place, nor, for the
present, did Don Benito appear disposed to renew any.
Setting down his basin, the negro searched among the razors, as for the
sharpest, and having found it, gave it an additional edge by expertly
strapping it on the firm, smooth, oily skin of his open palm; he then
made a gesture as if to begin, but midway stood suspended for an
instant, one hand elevating the razor, the other professionally dabbling
among the bubbling suds on the Spaniard's lank neck. Not unaffected by
the close sight of the gleaming steel, Don Benito nervously shuddered;
his usual ghastliness was heightened by the lather, which lather, again,
was intensified in its hue by the contrasting sootiness of the negro's
body. Altogether the scene was somewhat peculiar, at least to Captain
Delano, nor, as he saw the two thus postured, could he resist the
vagary, that in the black he saw a headsman, and in the white a man at
the block. But this was one of those antic conceits, appearing and
vanishing in a breath, from which, perhaps, the best regulated mind is
not always free.
Meantime the agitation of the Spaniard had a little loosened the bunting
from around him, so that one broad fold swept curtain-like over, the
chair-arm to the floor, revealing, amid a profusion of armorial bars and
ground-colors--black, blue, and yellow--a closed castle in a blood red
field diagonal with a lion rampant in a white.
"The castle and the lion," exclaimed Captain Delano--"why, Don Benito,
this is the flag of Spain you use here. It's well it's only I, and not
the King, that sees this," he added, with a smile, "but"--turning
towards the black--"it's all one, I suppose, so the colors be gay;"
which playful remark did not fail somewhat to tickle the negro.
"Now, master," he said, readjusting the flag, and pressing the head
gently further back into the crotch of the chair; "now, master," and the
steel glanced nigh the throat.
Again Don Benito faintly shuddered.
"You must not shake so, master. See, Don Amasa, master always shakes
when I shave him. And yet master knows I never yet have drawn blood,
though it's true, if master will shake so, I may some of these times.
Now master," he continued. "And now, Don Amasa, please go on with your
talk about the gale, and all that; master can hear, and, between times,
master can answer."
"Ah yes, these gales," said Captain Delano; "but the more I think of
your voyage, Don Benito, the more I wonder, not at the gales, terrible
as they must have been, but at the disastrous interval following them.
For here, by your account, have you been these two months and more
getting from Cape Horn to St. Maria, a distance which I myself, with a
good wind, have sailed in a few days. True, you had calms, and long
ones, but to be becalmed for two months, that is, at least, unusual.
Why, Don Benito, had almost any other gentleman told me such a story, I
should have been half disposed to a little incredulity."
Here an involuntary expression came over the Spaniard, similar to that
just before on the deck, and whether it was the start he gave, or a
sudden gawky roll of the hull in the calm, or a momentary unsteadiness
of the servant's hand, however it was, just then the razor drew blood,
spots of which stained the creamy lather under the throat: immediately
the black barber drew back his steel, and, remaining in his professional
attitude, back to Captain Delano, and face to Don Benito, held up the
trickling razor, saying, with a sort of half humorous sorrow, "See,
master--you shook so--here's Babo's first blood."
No sword drawn before James the First of England, no assassination in
that timid King's presence, could have produced a more terrified aspect
than was now presented by Don Benito.
Poor fellow, thought Captain Delano, so nervous he can't even bear the
sight of barber's blood; and this unstrung, sick man, is it credible
that I should have imagined he meant to spill all my blood, who can't
endure the sight of one little drop of his own? Surely, Amasa Delano,
you have been beside yourself this day. Tell it not when you get home,
sappy Amasa. Well, well, he looks like a murderer, doesn't he? More like
as if himself were to be done for. Well, well, this day's experience
shall be a good lesson.
Meantime, while these things were running through the honest seaman's
mind, the servant had taken the napkin from his arm, and to Don Benito
had said--"But answer Don Amasa, please, master, while I wipe this ugly
stuff off the razor, and strop it again."
As he said the words, his face was turned half round, so as to be alike
visible to the Spaniard and the American, and seemed, by its
expression, to hint, that he was desirous, by getting his master to go
on with the conversation, considerately to withdraw his attention from
the recent annoying accident. As if glad to snatch the offered relief,
Don Benito resumed, rehearsing to Captain Delano, that not only were the
calms of unusual duration, but the ship had fallen in with obstinate
currents; and other things he added, some of which were but repetitions
of former statements, to explain how it came to pass that the passage
from Cape Horn to St. Maria had been so exceedingly long; now and then,
mingling with his words, incidental praises, less qualified than before,
to the blacks, for their general good conduct. These particulars were
not given consecutively, the servant, at convenient times, using his
razor, and so, between the intervals of shaving, the story and panegyric
went on with more than usual huskiness.
To Captain Delano's imagination, now again not wholly at rest, there was
something so hollow in the Spaniard's manner, with apparently some
reciprocal hollowness in the servant's dusky comment of silence, that
the idea flashed across him, that possibly master and man, for some
unknown purpose, were acting out, both in word and deed, nay, to the
very tremor of Don Benito's limbs, some juggling play before him.
Neither did the suspicion of collusion lack apparent support, from the
fact of those whispered conferences before mentioned. But then, what
could be the object of enacting this play of the barber before him? At
last, regarding the notion as a whimsy, insensibly suggested, perhaps,
by the theatrical aspect of Don Benito in his harlequin ensign, Captain
Delano speedily banished it.
The shaving over, the servant bestirred himself with a small bottle of
scented waters, pouring a few drops on the head, and then diligently
rubbing; the vehemence of the exercise causing the muscles of his face
to twitch rather strangely.
His next operation was with comb, scissors, and brush; going round and
round, smoothing a curl here, clipping an unruly whisker-hair there,
giving a graceful sweep to the temple-lock, with other impromptu
touches evincing the hand of a master; while, like any resigned
gentleman in barber's hands, Don Benito bore all, much less uneasily, at
least than he had done the razoring; indeed, he sat so pale and rigid
now, that the negro seemed a Nubian sculptor finishing off a white
All being over at last, the standard of Spain removed, tumbled up, and
tossed back into the flag-locker, the negro's warm breath blowing away
any stray hair, which might have lodged down his master's neck; collar
and cravat readjusted; a speck of lint whisked off the velvet lapel; all
this being done; backing off a little space, and pausing with an
expression of subdued self-complacency, the servant for a moment
surveyed his master, as, in toilet at least, the creature of his own
Captain Delano playfully complimented him upon his achievement; at the
same time congratulating Don Benito.
But neither sweet waters, nor shampooing, nor fidelity, nor sociality,
delighted the Spaniard. Seeing him relapsing into forbidding gloom, and
still remaining seated, Captain Delano, thinking that his presence was
undesired just then, withdrew, on pretense of seeing whether, as he had
prophesied, any signs of a breeze were visible.
Walking forward to the main-mast, he stood awhile thinking over the
scene, and not without some undefined misgivings, when he heard a noise
near the cuddy, and turning, saw the negro, his hand to his cheek.
Advancing, Captain Delano perceived that the cheek was bleeding. He was
about to ask the cause, when the negro's wailing soliloquy enlightened
"Ah, when will master get better from his sickness; only the sour heart
that sour sickness breeds made him serve Babo so; cutting Babo with the
razor, because, only by accident, Babo had given master one little
scratch; and for the first time in so many a day, too. Ah, ah, ah,"
holding his hand to his face.
Is it possible, thought Captain Delano; was it to wreak in private his
Spanish spite against this poor friend of his, that Don Benito, by his
sullen manner, impelled me to withdraw? Ah this slavery breeds ugly
passions in man.--Poor fellow!
He was about to speak in sympathy to the negro, but with a timid
reluctance he now re-entered the cuddy.
Presently master and man came forth; Don Benito leaning on his servant
as if nothing had happened.
But a sort of love-quarrel, after all, thought Captain Delano.
He accosted Don Benito, and they slowly walked together. They had gone
but a few paces, when the steward--a tall, rajah-looking mulatto,
orientally set off with a pagoda turban formed by three or four Madras
handkerchiefs wound about his head, tier on tier--approaching with a
saalam, announced lunch in the cabin.
On their way thither, the two captains were preceded by the mulatto,
who, turning round as he advanced, with continual smiles and bows,
ushered them on, a display of elegance which quite completed the
insignificance of the small bare-headed Babo, who, as if not unconscious
of inferiority, eyed askance the graceful steward. But in part, Captain
Delano imputed his jealous watchfulness to that peculiar feeling which
the full-blooded African entertains for the adulterated one. As for the
steward, his manner, if not bespeaking much dignity of self-respect, yet
evidenced his extreme desire to please; which is doubly meritorious, as
at once Christian and Chesterfieldian.
Captain Delano observed with interest that while the complexion of the
mulatto was hybrid, his physiognomy was European--classically so.
"Don Benito," whispered he, "I am glad to see this
usher-of-the-golden-rod of yours; the sight refutes an ugly remark once
made to me by a Barbadoes planter; that when a mulatto has a regular
European face, look out for him; he is a devil. But see, your steward
here has features more regular than King George's of England; and yet
there he nods, and bows, and smiles; a king, indeed--the king of kind
hearts and polite fellows. What a pleasant voice he has, too?"
"He has, Señor."
"But tell me, has he not, so far as you have known him, always proved a
good, worthy fellow?" said Captain Delano, pausing, while with a final
genuflexion the steward disappeared into the cabin; "come, for the
reason just mentioned, I am curious to know."
"Francesco is a good man," a sort of sluggishly responded Don Benito,
like a phlegmatic appreciator, who would neither find fault nor flatter.
"Ah, I thought so. For it were strange, indeed, and not very creditable
to us white-skins, if a little of our blood mixed with the African's,
should, far from improving the latter's quality, have the sad effect of
pouring vitriolic acid into black broth; improving the hue, perhaps, but
not the wholesomeness."
"Doubtless, doubtless, Señor, but"--glancing at Babo--"not to speak of
negroes, your planter's remark I have heard applied to the Spanish and
Indian intermixtures in our provinces. But I know nothing about the
matter," he listlessly added.
And here they entered the cabin.
The lunch was a frugal one. Some of Captain Delano's fresh fish and
pumpkins, biscuit and salt beef, the reserved bottle of cider, and the
San Dominick's last bottle of Canary.
As they entered, Francesco, with two or three colored aids, was hovering
over the table giving the last adjustments. Upon perceiving their master
they withdrew, Francesco making a smiling congé, and the Spaniard,
without condescending to notice it, fastidiously remarking to his
companion that he relished not superfluous attendance.
Without companions, host and guest sat down, like a childless married
couple, at opposite ends of the table, Don Benito waving Captain Delano
to his place, and, weak as he was, insisting upon that gentleman being
seated before himself.
The negro placed a rug under Don Benito's feet, and a cushion behind his
back, and then stood behind, not his master's chair, but Captain
Delano's. At first, this a little surprised the latter. But it was soon
evident that, in taking his position, the black was still true to his
master; since by facing him he could the more readily anticipate his
"This is an uncommonly intelligent fellow of yours, Don Benito,"
whispered Captain Delano across the table.
"You say true, Señor."
During the repast, the guest again reverted to parts of Don Benito's
story, begging further particulars here and there. He inquired how it
was that the scurvy and fever should have committed such wholesale havoc
upon the whites, while destroying less than half of the blacks. As if
this question reproduced the whole scene of plague before the Spaniard's
eyes, miserably reminding him of his solitude in a cabin where before he
had had so many friends and officers round him, his hand shook, his face
became hueless, broken words escaped; but directly the sane memory of
the past seemed replaced by insane terrors of the present. With starting
eyes he stared before him at vacancy. For nothing was to be seen but the
hand of his servant pushing the Canary over towards him. At length a few
sips served partially to restore him. He made random reference to the
different constitution of races, enabling one to offer more resistance
to certain maladies than another. The thought was new to his companion.
Presently Captain Delano, intending to say something to his host
concerning the pecuniary part of the business he had undertaken for him,
especially--since he was strictly accountable to his owners--with
reference to the new suit of sails, and other things of that sort; and
naturally preferring to conduct such affairs in private, was desirous
that the servant should withdraw; imagining that Don Benito for a few
minutes could dispense with his attendance. He, however, waited awhile;
thinking that, as the conversation proceeded, Don Benito, without being
prompted, would perceive the propriety of the step.
But it was otherwise. At last catching his host's eye, Captain Delano,
with a slight backward gesture of his thumb, whispered, "Don Benito,
pardon me, but there is an interference with the full expression of what
I have to say to you."
Upon this the Spaniard changed countenance; which was imputed to his
resenting the hint, as in some way a reflection upon his servant. After
a moment's pause, he assured his guest that the black's remaining with
them could be of no disservice; because since losing his officers he had
made Babo (whose original office, it now appeared, had been captain of
the slaves) not only his constant attendant and companion, but in all
things his confidant.
After this, nothing more could be said; though, indeed, Captain Delano
could hardly avoid some little tinge of irritation upon being left
ungratified in so inconsiderable a wish, by one, too, for whom he
intended such solid services. But it is only his querulousness, thought
he; and so filling his glass he proceeded to business.
The price of the sails and other matters was fixed upon. But while this
was being done, the American observed that, though his original offer of
assistance had been hailed with hectic animation, yet now when it was
reduced to a business transaction, indifference and apathy were
betrayed. Don Benito, in fact, appeared to submit to hearing the details
more out of regard to common propriety, than from any impression that
weighty benefit to himself and his voyage was involved.
Soon, his manner became still more reserved. The effort was vain to seek
to draw him into social talk. Gnawed by his splenetic mood, he sat
twitching his beard, while to little purpose the hand of his servant,
mute as that on the wall, slowly pushed over the Canary.
Lunch being over, they sat down on the cushioned transom; the servant
placing a pillow behind his master. The long continuance of the calm had
now affected the atmosphere. Don Benito sighed heavily, as if for
"Why not adjourn to the cuddy," said Captain Delano; "there is more air
there." But the host sat silent and motionless.
Meantime his servant knelt before him, with a large fan of feathers. And
Francesco coming in on tiptoes, handed the negro a little cup of
aromatic waters, with which at intervals he chafed his master's brow;
smoothing the hair along the temples as a nurse does a child's. He spoke
no word. He only rested his eye on his master's, as if, amid all Don
Benito's distress, a little to refresh his spirit by the silent sight
Presently the ship's bell sounded two o'clock; and through the cabin
windows a slight rippling of the sea was discerned; and from the desired
"There," exclaimed Captain Delano, "I told you so, Don Benito, look!"
He had risen to his feet, speaking in a very animated tone, with a view
the more to rouse his companion. But though the crimson curtain of the
stern-window near him that moment fluttered against his pale cheek, Don
Benito seemed to have even less welcome for the breeze than the calm.
Poor fellow, thought Captain Delano, bitter experience has taught him
that one ripple does not make a wind, any more than one swallow a
summer. But he is mistaken for once. I will get his ship in for him, and
Briefly alluding to his weak condition, he urged his host to remain
quietly where he was, since he (Captain Delano) would with pleasure take
upon himself the responsibility of making the best use of the wind.
Upon gaining the deck, Captain Delano started at the unexpected figure
of Atufal, monumentally fixed at the threshold, like one of those
sculptured porters of black marble guarding the porches of Egyptian
But this time the start was, perhaps, purely physical. Atufal's
presence, singularly attesting docility even in sullenness, was
contrasted with that of the hatchet-polishers, who in patience evinced
their industry; while both spectacles showed, that lax as Don Benito's
general authority might be, still, whenever he chose to exert it, no man
so savage or colossal but must, more or less, bow.
Snatching a trumpet which hung from the bulwarks, with a free step
Captain Delano advanced to the forward edge of the poop, issuing his
orders in his best Spanish. The few sailors and many negroes, all
equally pleased, obediently set about heading the ship towards the
While giving some directions about setting a lower stu'n'-sail, suddenly
Captain Delano heard a voice faithfully repeating his orders. Turning,
he saw Babo, now for the time acting, under the pilot, his original
part of captain of the slaves. This assistance proved valuable. Tattered
sails and warped yards were soon brought into some trim. And no brace or
halyard was pulled but to the blithe songs of the inspirited negroes.
Good fellows, thought Captain Delano, a little training would make fine
sailors of them. Why see, the very women pull and sing too. These must
be some of those Ashantee negresses that make such capital soldiers,
I've heard. But who's at the helm. I must have a good hand there.
He went to see.
The San Dominick steered with a cumbrous tiller, with large horizontal
pullies attached. At each pully-end stood a subordinate black, and
between them, at the tiller-head, the responsible post, a Spanish
seaman, whose countenance evinced his due share in the general
hopefulness and confidence at the coming of the breeze.
He proved the same man who had behaved with so shame-faced an air on the
"Ah,--it is you, my man," exclaimed Captain Delano--"well, no more
sheep's-eyes now;--look straight forward and keep the ship so. Good
hand, I trust? And want to get into the harbor, don't you?"
The man assented with an inward chuckle, grasping the tiller-head
firmly. Upon this, unperceived by the American, the two blacks eyed the
Finding all right at the helm, the pilot went forward to the forecastle,
to see how matters stood there.
The ship now had way enough to breast the current. With the approach of
evening, the breeze would be sure to freshen.
Having done all that was needed for the present, Captain Delano, giving
his last orders to the sailors, turned aft to report affairs to Don
Benito in the cabin; perhaps additionally incited to rejoin him by the
hope of snatching a moment's private chat while the servant was engaged
From opposite sides, there were, beneath the poop, two approaches to the
cabin; one further forward than the other, and consequently
communicating with a longer passage. Marking the servant still above,
Captain Delano, taking the nighest entrance--the one last named, and at
whose porch Atufal still stood--hurried on his way, till, arrived at the
cabin threshold, he paused an instant, a little to recover from his
eagerness. Then, with the words of his intended business upon his lips,
he entered. As he advanced toward the seated Spaniard, he heard another
footstep, keeping time with his. From the opposite door, a salver in
hand, the servant was likewise advancing.
"Confound the faithful fellow," thought Captain Delano; "what a
Possibly, the vexation might have been something different, were it not
for the brisk confidence inspired by the breeze. But even as it was, he
felt a slight twinge, from a sudden indefinite association in his mind
of Babo with Atufal.
"Don Benito," said he, "I give you joy; the breeze will hold, and will
increase. By the way, your tall man and time-piece, Atufal, stands
without. By your order, of course?"
Don Benito recoiled, as if at some bland satirical touch, delivered with
such adroit garnish of apparent good breeding as to present no handle
He is like one flayed alive, thought Captain Delano; where may one touch
him without causing a shrink?
The servant moved before his master, adjusting a cushion; recalled to
civility, the Spaniard stiffly replied: "you are right. The slave
appears where you saw him, according to my command; which is, that if at
the given hour I am below, he must take his stand and abide my coming."
"Ah now, pardon me, but that is treating the poor fellow like an ex-king
indeed. Ah, Don Benito," smiling, "for all the license you permit in
some things, I fear lest, at bottom, you are a bitter hard master."
Again Don Benito shrank; and this time, as the good sailor thought, from
a genuine twinge of his conscience.
Again conversation became constrained. In vain Captain Delano called
attention to the now perceptible motion of the keel gently cleaving the
sea; with lack-lustre eye, Don Benito returned words few and reserved.
By-and-by, the wind having steadily risen, and still blowing right into
the harbor bore the San Dominick swiftly on. Sounding a point of land,
the sealer at distance came into open view.
Meantime Captain Delano had again repaired to the deck, remaining there
some time. Having at last altered the ship's course, so as to give the
reef a wide berth, he returned for a few moments below.
I will cheer up my poor friend, this time, thought he.
"Better and better," Don Benito, he cried as he blithely re-entered:
"there will soon be an end to your cares, at least for awhile. For when,
after a long, sad voyage, you know, the anchor drops into the haven, all
its vast weight seems lifted from the captain's heart. We are getting on
famously, Don Benito. My ship is in sight. Look through this side-light
here; there she is; all a-taunt-o! The Bachelor's Delight, my good
friend. Ah, how this wind braces one up. Come, you must take a cup of
coffee with me this evening. My old steward will give you as fine a cup
as ever any sultan tasted. What say you, Don Benito, will you?"
At first, the Spaniard glanced feverishly up, casting a longing look
towards the sealer, while with mute concern his servant gazed into his
face. Suddenly the old ague of coldness returned, and dropping back to
his cushions he was silent.
"You do not answer. Come, all day you have been my host; would you have
hospitality all on one side?"
"I cannot go," was the response.
"What? it will not fatigue you. The ships will lie together as near as
they can, without swinging foul. It will be little more than stepping
from deck to deck; which is but as from room to room. Come, come, you
must not refuse me."
"I cannot go," decisively and repulsively repeated Don Benito.
Renouncing all but the last appearance of courtesy, with a sort of
cadaverous sullenness, and biting his thin nails to the quick, he
glanced, almost glared, at his guest, as if impatient that a stranger's
presence should interfere with the full indulgence of his morbid hour.
Meantime the sound of the parted waters came more and more gurglingly
and merrily in at the windows; as reproaching him for his dark spleen;
as telling him that, sulk as he might, and go mad with it, nature cared
not a jot; since, whose fault was it, pray?
But the foul mood was now at its depth, as the fair wind at its height.
There was something in the man so far beyond any mere unsociality or
sourness previously evinced, that even the forbearing good-nature of his
guest could no longer endure it. Wholly at a loss to account for such
demeanor, and deeming sickness with eccentricity, however extreme, no
adequate excuse, well satisfied, too, that nothing in his own conduct
could justify it, Captain Delano's pride began to be roused. Himself
became reserved. But all seemed one to the Spaniard. Quitting him,
therefore, Captain Delano once more went to the deck.
The ship was now within less than two miles of the sealer. The
whale-boat was seen darting over the interval.
To be brief, the two vessels, thanks to the pilot's skill, ere long
neighborly style lay anchored together.
Before returning to his own vessel, Captain Delano had intended
communicating to Don Benito the smaller details of the proposed services
to be rendered. But, as it was, unwilling anew to subject himself to
rebuffs, he resolved, now that he had seen the San Dominick safely
moored, immediately to quit her, without further allusion to hospitality
or business. Indefinitely postponing his ulterior plans, he would
regulate his future actions according to future circumstances. His boat
was ready to receive him; but his host still tarried below. Well,
thought Captain Delano, if he has little breeding, the more need to show
mine. He descended to the cabin to bid a ceremonious, and, it may be,
tacitly rebukeful adieu. But to his great satisfaction, Don Benito, as
if he began to feel the weight of that treatment with which his slighted
guest had, not indecorously, retaliated upon him, now supported by his
servant, rose to his feet, and grasping Captain Delano's hand, stood
tremulous; too much agitated to speak. But the good augury hence drawn
was suddenly dashed, by his resuming all his previous reserve, with
augmented gloom, as, with half-averted eyes, he silently reseated
himself on his cushions. With a corresponding return of his own chilled
feelings, Captain Delano bowed and withdrew.
He was hardly midway in the narrow corridor, dim as a tunnel, leading
from the cabin to the stairs, when a sound, as of the tolling for
execution in some jail-yard, fell on his ears. It was the echo of the
ship's flawed bell, striking the hour, drearily reverberated in this
subterranean vault. Instantly, by a fatality not to be withstood, his
mind, responsive to the portent, swarmed with superstitious suspicions.
He paused. In images far swifter than these sentences, the minutest
details of all his former distrusts swept through him.
Hitherto, credulous good-nature had been too ready to furnish excuses
for reasonable fears. Why was the Spaniard, so superfluously punctilious
at times, now heedless of common propriety in not accompanying to the
side his departing guest? Did indisposition forbid? Indisposition had
not forbidden more irksome exertion that day. His last equivocal
demeanor recurred. He had risen to his feet, grasped his guest's hand,
motioned toward his hat; then, in an instant, all was eclipsed in
sinister muteness and gloom. Did this imply one brief, repentant
relenting at the final moment, from some iniquitous plot, followed by
remorseless return to it? His last glance seemed to express a
calamitous, yet acquiescent farewell to Captain Delano forever. Why
decline the invitation to visit the sealer that evening? Or was the
Spaniard less hardened than the Jew, who refrained not from supping at
the board of him whom the same night he meant to betray? What imported
all those day-long enigmas and contradictions, except they were intended
to mystify, preliminary to some stealthy blow? Atufal, the pretended
rebel, but punctual shadow, that moment lurked by the threshold without.
He seemed a sentry, and more. Who, by his own confession, had stationed
him there? Was the negro now lying in wait?
The Spaniard behind--his creature before: to rush from darkness to
light was the involuntary choice.
The next moment, with clenched jaw and hand, he passed Atufal, and stood
unharmed in the light. As he saw his trim ship lying peacefully at
anchor, and almost within ordinary call; as he saw his household boat,
with familiar faces in it, patiently rising and falling, on the short
waves by the San Dominick's side; and then, glancing about the decks
where he stood, saw the oakum-pickers still gravely plying their
fingers; and heard the low, buzzing whistle and industrious hum of the
hatchet-polishers, still bestirring themselves over their endless
occupation; and more than all, as he saw the benign aspect of nature,
taking her innocent repose in the evening; the screened sun in the quiet
camp of the west shining out like the mild light from Abraham's tent; as
charmed eye and ear took in all these, with the chained figure of the
black, clenched jaw and hand relaxed. Once again he smiled at the
phantoms which had mocked him, and felt something like a tinge of
remorse, that, by harboring them even for a moment, he should, by
implication, have betrayed an atheist doubt of the ever-watchful
There was a few minutes' delay, while, in obedience to his orders, the
boat was being hooked along to the gangway. During this interval, a sort
of saddened satisfaction stole over Captain Delano, at thinking of the
kindly offices he had that day discharged for a stranger. Ah, thought
he, after good actions one's conscience is never ungrateful, however
much so the benefited party may be.
Presently, his foot, in the first act of descent into the boat, pressed
the first round of the side-ladder, his face presented inward upon the
deck. In the same moment, he heard his name courteously sounded; and, to
his pleased surprise, saw Don Benito advancing--an unwonted energy in
his air, as if, at the last moment, intent upon making amends for his
recent discourtesy. With instinctive good feeling, Captain Delano,
withdrawing his foot, turned and reciprocally advanced. As he did so,
the Spaniard's nervous eagerness increased, but his vital energy failed;
so that, the better to support him, the servant, placing his master's
hand on his naked shoulder, and gently holding it there, formed himself
into a sort of crutch.
When the two captains met, the Spaniard again fervently took the hand of
the American, at the same time casting an earnest glance into his eyes,
but, as before, too much overcome to speak.
I have done him wrong, self-reproachfully thought Captain Delano; his
apparent coldness has deceived me: in no instance has he meant to
Meantime, as if fearful that the continuance of the scene might too much
unstring his master, the servant seemed anxious to terminate it. And so,
still presenting himself as a crutch, and walking between the two
captains, he advanced with them towards the gangway; while still, as if
full of kindly contrition, Don Benito would not let go the hand of
Captain Delano, but retained it in his, across the black's body.
Soon they were standing by the side, looking over into the boat, whose
crew turned up their curious eyes. Waiting a moment for the Spaniard to
relinquish his hold, the now embarrassed Captain Delano lifted his foot,
to overstep the threshold of the open gangway; but still Don Benito
would not let go his hand. And yet, with an agitated tone, he said, "I
can go no further; here I must bid you adieu. Adieu, my dear, dear Don
Amasa. Go--go!" suddenly tearing his hand loose, "go, and God guard you
better than me, my best friend."
Not unaffected, Captain Delano would now have lingered; but catching the
meekly admonitory eye of the servant, with a hasty farewell he descended
into his boat, followed by the continual adieus of Don Benito, standing
rooted in the gangway.
Seating himself in the stern, Captain Delano, making a last salute,
ordered the boat shoved off. The crew had their oars on end. The bowsmen
pushed the boat a sufficient distance for the oars to be lengthwise
dropped. The instant that was done, Don Benito sprang over the bulwarks,
falling at the feet of Captain Delano; at the same time calling towards
his ship, but in tones so frenzied, that none in the boat could
understand him. But, as if not equally obtuse, three sailors, from
three different and distant parts of the ship, splashed into the sea,
swimming after their captain, as if intent upon his rescue.
The dismayed officer of the boat eagerly asked what this meant. To
which, Captain Delano, turning a disdainful smile upon the unaccountable
Spaniard, answered that, for his part, he neither knew nor cared; but it
seemed as if Don Benito had taken it into his head to produce the
impression among his people that the boat wanted to kidnap him. "Or
else--give way for your lives," he wildly added, starting at a
clattering hubbub in the ship, above which rang the tocsin of the
hatchet-polishers; and seizing Don Benito by the throat he added, "this
plotting pirate means murder!" Here, in apparent verification of the
words, the servant, a dagger in his hand, was seen on the rail overhead,
poised, in the act of leaping, as if with desperate fidelity to befriend
his master to the last; while, seemingly to aid the black, the three
white sailors were trying to clamber into the hampered bow. Meantime,
the whole host of negroes, as if inflamed at the sight of their
jeopardized captain, impended in one sooty avalanche over the bulwarks.
All this, with what preceded, and what followed, occurred with such
involutions of rapidity, that past, present, and future seemed one.
Seeing the negro coming, Captain Delano had flung the Spaniard aside,
almost in the very act of clutching him, and, by the unconscious recoil,
shifting his place, with arms thrown up, so promptly grappled the
servant in his descent, that with dagger presented at Captain Delano's
heart, the black seemed of purpose to have leaped there as to his mark.
But the weapon was wrenched away, and the assailant dashed down into the
bottom of the boat, which now, with disentangled oars, began to speed
through the sea.
At this juncture, the left hand of Captain Delano, on one side, again
clutched the half-reclined Don Benito, heedless that he was in a
speechless faint, while his right-foot, on the other side, ground the
prostrate negro; and his right arm pressed for added speed on the after
oar, his eye bent forward, encouraging his men to their utmost.
But here, the officer of the boat, who had at last succeeded in beating
off the towing sailors, and was now, with face turned aft, assisting the
bowsman at his oar, suddenly called to Captain Delano, to see what the
black was about; while a Portuguese oarsman shouted to him to give heed
to what the Spaniard was saying.
Glancing down at his feet, Captain Delano saw the freed hand of the
servant aiming with a second dagger--a small one, before concealed in
his wool--with this he was snakishly writhing up from the boat's bottom,
at the heart of his master, his countenance lividly vindictive,
expressing the centred purpose of his soul; while the Spaniard,
half-choked, was vainly shrinking away, with husky words, incoherent to
all but the Portuguese.
That moment, across the long-benighted mind of Captain Delano, a flash
of revelation swept, illuminating, in unanticipated clearness, his
host's whole mysterious demeanor, with every enigmatic event of the day,
as well as the entire past voyage of the San Dominick. He smote Babo's
hand down, but his own heart smote him harder. With infinite pity he
withdrew his hold from Don Benito. Not Captain Delano, but Don Benito,
the black, in leaping into the boat, had intended to stab.
Both the black's hands were held, as, glancing up towards the San
Dominick, Captain Delano, now with scales dropped from his eyes, saw the
negroes, not in misrule, not in tumult, not as if frantically concerned
for Don Benito, but with mask torn away, flourishing hatchets and
knives, in ferocious piratical revolt. Like delirious black dervishes,
the six Ashantees danced on the poop. Prevented by their foes from
springing into the water, the Spanish boys were hurrying up to the
topmost spars, while such of the few Spanish sailors, not already in the
sea, less alert, were descried, helplessly mixed in, on deck, with the
Meantime Captain Delano hailed his own vessel, ordering the ports up,
and the guns run out. But by this time the cable of the San Dominick had
been cut; and the fag-end, in lashing out, whipped away the canvas
shroud about the beak, suddenly revealing, as the bleached hull swung
round towards the open ocean, death for the figure-head, in a human
skeleton; chalky comment on the chalked words below, "Follow your
At the sight, Don Benito, covering his face, wailed out: "'Tis he,
Aranda! my murdered, unburied friend!"
Upon reaching the sealer, calling for ropes, Captain Delano bound the
negro, who made no resistance, and had him hoisted to the deck. He would
then have assisted the now almost helpless Don Benito up the side; but
Don Benito, wan as he was, refused to move, or be moved, until the negro
should have been first put below out of view. When, presently assured
that it was done, he no more shrank from the ascent.
The boat was immediately dispatched back to pick up the three swimming
sailors. Meantime, the guns were in readiness, though, owing to the San
Dominick having glided somewhat astern of the sealer, only the aftermost
one could be brought to bear. With this, they fired six times; thinking
to cripple the fugitive ship by bringing down her spars. But only a few
inconsiderable ropes were shot away. Soon the ship was beyond the gun's
range, steering broad out of the bay; the blacks thickly clustering
round the bowsprit, one moment with taunting cries towards the whites,
the next with upthrown gestures hailing the now dusky moors of
ocean--cawing crows escaped from the hand of the fowler.
The first impulse was to slip the cables and give chase. But, upon
second thoughts, to pursue with whale-boat and yawl seemed more
Upon inquiring of Don Benito what firearms they had on board the San
Dominick, Captain Delano was answered that they had none that could be
used; because, in the earlier stages of the mutiny, a cabin-passenger,
since dead, had secretly put out of order the locks of what few muskets
there were. But with all his remaining strength, Don Benito entreated
the American not to give chase, either with ship or boat; for the
negroes had already proved themselves such desperadoes, that, in case of
a present assault, nothing but a total massacre of the whites could be
looked for. But, regarding this warning as coming from one whose spirit
had been crushed by misery the American did not give up his design.
The boats were got ready and armed. Captain Delano ordered his men into
them. He was going himself when Don Benito grasped his arm.
"What! have you saved my life, Señor, and are you now going to throw
away your own?"
The officers also, for reasons connected with their interests and those
of the voyage, and a duty owing to the owners, strongly objected against
their commander's going. Weighing their remonstrances a moment, Captain
Delano felt bound to remain; appointing his chief mate--an athletic and
resolute man, who had been a privateer's-man--to head the party. The
more to encourage the sailors, they were told, that the Spanish captain
considered his ship good as lost; that she and her cargo, including some
gold and silver, were worth more than a thousand doubloons. Take her,
and no small part should be theirs. The sailors replied with a shout.
The fugitives had now almost gained an offing. It was nearly night; but
the moon was rising. After hard, prolonged pulling, the boats came up on
the ship's quarters, at a suitable distance laying upon their oars to
discharge their muskets. Having no bullets to return, the negroes sent
their yells. But, upon the second volley, Indian-like, they hurtled
their hatchets. One took off a sailor's fingers. Another struck the
whale-boat's bow, cutting off the rope there, and remaining stuck in the
gunwale like a woodman's axe. Snatching it, quivering from its lodgment,
the mate hurled it back. The returned gauntlet now stuck in the ship's
broken quarter-gallery, and so remained.
The negroes giving too hot a reception, the whites kept a more
respectful distance. Hovering now just out of reach of the hurtling
hatchets, they, with a view to the close encounter which must soon come,
sought to decoy the blacks into entirely disarming themselves of their
most murderous weapons in a hand-to-hand fight, by foolishly flinging
them, as missiles, short of the mark, into the sea. But, ere long,
perceiving the stratagem, the negroes desisted, though not before many
of them had to replace their lost hatchets with handspikes; an exchange
which, as counted upon, proved, in the end, favorable to the assailants.
Meantime, with a strong wind, the ship still clove the water; the boats
alternately falling behind, and pulling up, to discharge fresh volleys.
The fire was mostly directed towards the stern, since there, chiefly,
the negroes, at present, were clustering. But to kill or maim the
negroes was not the object. To take them, with the ship, was the object.
To do it, the ship must be boarded; which could not be done by boats
while she was sailing so fast.
A thought now struck the mate. Observing the Spanish boys still aloft,
high as they could get, he called to them to descend to the yards, and
cut adrift the sails. It was done. About this time, owing to causes
hereafter to be shown, two Spaniards, in the dress of sailors, and
conspicuously showing themselves, were killed; not by volleys, but by
deliberate marksman's shots; while, as it afterwards appeared, by one
of the general discharges, Atufal, the black, and the Spaniard at the
helm likewise were killed. What now, with the loss of the sails, and
loss of leaders, the ship became unmanageable to the negroes.
With creaking masts, she came heavily round to the wind; the prow slowly
swinging into view of the boats, its skeleton gleaming in the horizontal
moonlight, and casting a gigantic ribbed shadow upon the water. One
extended arm of the ghost seemed beckoning the whites to avenge it.
"Follow your leader!" cried the mate; and, one on each bow, the boats
boarded. Sealing-spears and cutlasses crossed hatchets and hand-spikes.
Huddled upon the long-boat amidships, the negresses raised a wailing
chant, whose chorus was the clash of the steel.
For a time, the attack wavered; the negroes wedging themselves to beat
it back; the half-repelled sailors, as yet unable to gain a footing,
fighting as troopers in the saddle, one leg sideways flung over the
bulwarks, and one without, plying their cutlasses like carters' whips.
But in vain. They were almost overborne, when, rallying themselves into
a squad as one man, with a huzza, they sprang inboard, where, entangled,
they involuntarily separated again. For a few breaths' space, there was
a vague, muffled, inner sound, as of submerged sword-fish rushing hither
and thither through shoals of black-fish. Soon, in a reunited band, and
joined by the Spanish seamen, the whites came to the surface,
irresistibly driving the negroes toward the stern. But a barricade of
casks and sacks, from side to side, had been thrown up by the main-mast.
Here the negroes faced about, and though scorning peace or truce, yet
fain would have had respite. But, without pause, overleaping the
barrier, the unflagging sailors again closed. Exhausted, the blacks now
fought in despair. Their red tongues lolled, wolf-like, from their black
mouths. But the pale sailors' teeth were set; not a word was spoken;
and, in five minutes more, the ship was won.
Nearly a score of the negroes were killed. Exclusive of those by the
balls, many were mangled; their wounds--mostly inflicted by the
long-edged sealing-spears, resembling those shaven ones of the English
at Preston Pans, made by the poled scythes of the Highlanders. On the
other side, none were killed, though several were wounded; some
severely, including the mate. The surviving negroes were temporarily
secured, and the ship, towed back into the harbor at midnight, once more
Omitting the incidents and arrangements ensuing, suffice it that, after
two days spent in refitting, the ships sailed in company for Conception,
in Chili, and thence for Lima, in Peru; where, before the vice-regal
courts, the whole affair, from the beginning, underwent investigation.
Though, midway on the passage, the ill-fated Spaniard, relaxed from
constraint, showed some signs of regaining health with free-will; yet,
agreeably to his own foreboding, shortly before arriving at Lima, he
relapsed, finally becoming so reduced as to be carried ashore in arms.
Hearing of his story and plight, one of the many religious institutions
of the City of Kings opened an hospitable refuge to him, where both
physician and priest were his nurses, and a member of the order
volunteered to be his one special guardian and consoler, by night and by
The following extracts, translated from one of the official Spanish
documents, will, it is hoped, shed light on the preceding narrative, as
well as, in the first place, reveal the true port of departure and true
history of the San Dominick's voyage, down to the time of her touching
at the island of St. Maria.
But, ere the extracts come, it may be well to preface them with a
The document selected, from among many others, for partial translation,
contains the deposition of Benito Cereno; the first taken in the case.
Some disclosures therein were, at the time, held dubious for both
learned and natural reasons. The tribunal inclined to the opinion that
the deponent, not undisturbed in his mind by recent events, raved of
some things which could never have happened. But subsequent depositions
of the surviving sailors, bearing out the revelations of their captain
in several of the strangest particulars, gave credence to the rest. So
that the tribunal, in its final decision, rested its capital sentences
upon statements which, had they lacked confirmation, it would have
deemed it but duty to reject.
* * * * *
Do certify and declare, as much as is requisite in law, that, in the
criminal cause commenced the twenty-fourth of the month of September, in
the year seventeen hundred and ninety-nine, against the negroes of the
ship San Dominick, the following declaration before me was made:
Declaration of the first witness, DON BENITO CERENO.
The same day, and month, and year, His Honor, Doctor Juan Martinez
de Rozas, Councilor of the Royal Audience of this Kingdom, and
learned in the law of this Intendency, ordered the captain of the
ship San Dominick, Don Benito Cereno, to appear; which he did, in
his litter, attended by the monk Infelez; of whom he received the
oath, which he took by God, our Lord, and a sign of the Cross;
under which he promised to tell the truth of whatever he should
know and should be asked;--and being interrogated agreeably to
the tenor of the act commencing the process, he said, that on the
twentieth of May last, he set sail with his ship from the port of
Valparaiso, bound to that of Callao; loaded with the produce of
the country beside thirty cases of hardware and one hundred and
sixty blacks, of both sexes, mostly belonging to Don Alexandro
Aranda, gentleman, of the city of Mendoza; that the crew of the
ship consisted of thirty-six men, beside the persons who went as
passengers; that the negroes were in part as follows:
[Here, in the original, follows a list of some fifty names,
descriptions, and ages, compiled from certain recovered documents
of Aranda's, and also from recollections of the deponent, from
which portions only are extracted.]
--One, from about eighteen to nineteen years, named José, and this
was the man that waited upon his master, Don Alexandro, and who
speaks well the Spanish, having served him four or five years; * *
* a mulatto, named Francesco, the cabin steward, of a good person
and voice, having sung in the Valparaiso churches, native of the
province of Buenos Ayres, aged about thirty-five years. * * * A
smart negro, named Dago, who had been for many years a
grave-digger among the Spaniards, aged forty-six years. * * * Four
old negroes, born in Africa, from sixty to seventy, but sound,
calkers by trade, whose names are as follows:--the first was named
Muri, and he was killed (as was also his son named Diamelo); the
second, Nacta; the third, Yola, likewise killed; the fourth,
Ghofan; and six full-grown negroes, aged from thirty to
forty-five, all raw, and born among the Ashantees--Matiluqui, Yan,
Leche, Mapenda, Yambaio, Akim; four of whom were killed; * * * a
powerful negro named Atufal, who being supposed to have been a
chief in Africa, his owner set great store by him. * * * And a
small negro of Senegal, but some years among the Spaniards, aged
about thirty, which negro's name was Babo; * * * that he does not
remember the names of the others, but that still expecting the
residue of Don Alexandra's papers will be found, will then take
due account of them all, and remit to the court; * * * and
thirty-nine women and children of all ages.
[The catalogue over, the deposition goes on]
* * * That all the negroes slept upon deck, as is customary in
this navigation, and none wore fetters, because the owner, his
friend Aranda, told him that they were all tractable; * * * that
on the seventh day after leaving port, at three o'clock in the
morning, all the Spaniards being asleep except the two officers on
the watch, who were the boatswain, Juan Robles, and the carpenter,
Juan Bautista Gayete, and the helmsman and his boy, the negroes
revolted suddenly, wounded dangerously the boatswain and the
carpenter, and successively killed eighteen men of those who were
sleeping upon deck, some with hand-spikes and hatchets, and others
by throwing them alive overboard, after tying them; that of the
Spaniards upon deck, they left about seven, as he thinks, alive
and tied, to manoeuvre the ship, and three or four more, who hid
themselves, remained also alive. Although in the act of revolt the
negroes made themselves masters of the hatchway, six or seven
wounded went through it to the cockpit, without any hindrance on
their part; that during the act of revolt, the mate and another
person, whose name he does not recollect, attempted to come up
through the hatchway, but being quickly wounded, were obliged to
return to the cabin; that the deponent resolved at break of day to
come up the companion-way, where the negro Babo was, being the
ringleader, and Atufal, who assisted him, and having spoken to
them, exhorted them to cease committing such atrocities, asking
them, at the same time, what they wanted and intended to do,
offering, himself, to obey their commands; that notwithstanding
this, they threw, in his presence, three men, alive and tied,
overboard; that they told the deponent to come up, and that they
would not kill him; which having done, the negro Babo asked him
whether there were in those seas any negro countries where they
might be carried, and he answered them, No; that the negro Babo
afterwards told him to carry them to Senegal, or to the
neighboring islands of St. Nicholas; and he answered, that this
was impossible, on account of the great distance, the necessity
involved of rounding Cape Horn, the bad condition of the vessel,
the want of provisions, sails, and water; but that the negro Babo
replied to him he must carry them in any way; that they would do
and conform themselves to everything the deponent should require
as to eating and drinking; that after a long conference, being
absolutely compelled to please them, for they threatened to kill
all the whites if they were not, at all events, carried to
Senegal, he told them that what was most wanting for the voyage
was water; that they would go near the coast to take it, and
thence they would proceed on their course; that the negro Babo
agreed to it; and the deponent steered towards the intermediate
ports, hoping to meet some Spanish, or foreign vessel that would
save them; that within ten or eleven days they saw the land, and
continued their course by it in the vicinity of Nasca; that the
deponent observed that the negroes were now restless and mutinous,
because he did not effect the taking in of water, the negro Babo
having required, with threats, that it should be done, without
fail, the following day; he told him he saw plainly that the coast
was steep, and the rivers designated in the maps were not to be
found, with other reasons suitable to the circumstances; that the
best way would be to go to the island of Santa Maria, where they
might water easily, it being a solitary island, as the foreigners
did; that the deponent did not go to Pisco, that was near, nor
make any other port of the coast, because the negro Babo had
intimated to him several times, that he would kill all the whites
the very moment he should perceive any city, town, or settlement
of any kind on the shores to which they should be carried: that
having determined to go to the island of Santa Maria, as the
deponent had planned, for the purpose of trying whether, on the
passage or near the island itself, they could find any vessel that
should favor them, or whether he could escape from it in a boat to
the neighboring coast of Arruco, to adopt the necessary means he
immediately changed his course, steering for the island; that the
negroes Babo and Atufal held daily conferences, in which they
discussed what was necessary for their design of returning to
Senegal, whether they were to kill all the Spaniards, and
particularly the deponent; that eight days after parting from the
coast of Nasca, the deponent being on the watch a little after
day-break, and soon after the negroes had their meeting, the negro
Babo came to the place where the deponent was, and told him that
he had determined to kill his master, Don Alexandro Aranda, both
because he and his companions could not otherwise be sure of their
liberty, and that to keep the seamen in subjection, he wanted to
prepare a warning of what road they should be made to take did
they or any of them oppose him; and that, by means of the death of
Don Alexandro, that warning would best be given; but, that what
this last meant, the deponent did not at the time comprehend, nor
could not, further than that the death of Don Alexandro was
intended; and moreover the negro Babo proposed to the deponent to
call the mate Raneds, who was sleeping in the cabin, before the
thing was done, for fear, as the deponent understood it, that the
mate, who was a good navigator, should be killed with Don
Alexandro and the rest; that the deponent, who was the friend,
from youth, of Don Alexandro, prayed and conjured, but all was
useless; for the negro Babo answered him that the thing could not
be prevented, and that all the Spaniards risked their death if
they should attempt to frustrate his will in this matter, or any
other; that, in this conflict, the deponent called the mate,
Raneds, who was forced to go apart, and immediately the negro Babo
commanded the Ashantee Martinqui and the Ashantee Lecbe to go and
commit the murder; that those two went down with hatchets to the
berth of Don Alexandro; that, yet half alive and mangled, they
dragged him on deck; that they were going to throw him overboard
in that state, but the negro Babo stopped them, bidding the murder
be completed on the deck before him, which was done, when, by his
orders, the body was carried below, forward; that nothing more was
seen of it by the deponent for three days; * * * that Don Alonzo
Sidonia, an old man, long resident at Valparaiso, and lately
appointed to a civil office in Peru, whither he had taken passage,
was at the time sleeping in the berth opposite Don Alexandro's;
that awakening at his cries, surprised by them, and at the sight
of the negroes with their bloody hatchets in their hands, he threw
himself into the sea through a window which was near him, and was
drowned, without it being in the power of the deponent to assist
or take him up; * * * that a short time after killing Aranda, they
brought upon deck his german-cousin, of middle-age, Don Francisco
Masa, of Mendoza, and the young Don Joaquin, Marques de
Aramboalaza, then lately from Spain, with his Spanish servant
Ponce, and the three young clerks of Aranda, José Mozairi Lorenzo
Bargas, and Hermenegildo Gandix, all of Cadiz; that Don Joaquin
and Hermenegildo Gandix, the negro Babo, for purposes hereafter to
appear, preserved alive; but Don Francisco Masa, José Mozairi, and
Lorenzo Bargas, with Ponce the servant, beside the boatswain, Juan
Robles, the boatswain's mates, Manuel Viscaya and Roderigo Hurta,
and four of the sailors, the negro Babo ordered to be thrown alive
into the sea, although they made no resistance, nor begged for
anything else but mercy; that the boatswain, Juan Robles, who knew
how to swim, kept the longest above water, making acts of
contrition, and, in the last words he uttered, charged this
deponent to cause mass to be said for his soul to our Lady of
Succor: * * * that, during the three days which followed, the
deponent, uncertain what fate had befallen the remains of Don
Alexandro, frequently asked the negro Babo where they were, and,
if still on board, whether they were to be preserved for interment
ashore, entreating him so to order it; that the negro Babo
answered nothing till the fourth day, when at sunrise, the
deponent coming on deck, the negro Babo showed him a skeleton,
which had been substituted for the ship's proper figure-head--the
image of Christopher Colon, the discoverer of the New World; that
the negro Babo asked him whose skeleton that was, and whether,
from its whiteness, he should not think it a white's; that, upon
discovering his face, the negro Babo, coming close, said words to
this effect: "Keep faith with the blacks from here to Senegal, or
you shall in spirit, as now in body, follow your leader," pointing
to the prow; * * * that the same morning the negro Babo took by
succession each Spaniard forward, and asked him whose skeleton
that was, and whether, from its whiteness, he should not think it
a white's; that each Spaniard covered his face; that then to each
the negro Babo repeated the words in the first place said to the
deponent; * * * that they (the Spaniards), being then assembled
aft, the negro Babo harangued them, saying that he had now done
all; that the deponent (as navigator for the negroes) might pursue
his course, warning him and all of them that they should, soul and
body, go the way of Don Alexandro, if he saw them (the Spaniards)
speak, or plot anything against them (the negroes)--a threat which
was repeated every day; that, before the events last mentioned,
they had tied the cook to throw him overboard, for it is not known
what thing they heard him speak, but finally the negro Babo
spared his life, at the request of the deponent; that a few days
after, the deponent, endeavoring not to omit any means to preserve
the lives of the remaining whites, spoke to the negroes peace and
tranquillity, and agreed to draw up a paper, signed by the
deponent and the sailors who could write, as also by the negro
Babo, for himself and all the blacks, in which the deponent
obliged himself to carry them to Senegal, and they not to kill any
more, and he formally to make over to them the ship, with the
cargo, with which they were for that time satisfied and quieted. *
* But the next day, the more surely to guard against the sailors'
escape, the negro Babo commanded all the boats to be destroyed but
the long-boat, which was unseaworthy, and another, a cutter in
good condition, which knowing it would yet be wanted for towing
the water casks, he had it lowered down into the hold.
* * * * *
[Various particulars of the prolonged and perplexed navigation
ensuing here follow, with incidents of a calamitous calm, from
which portion one passage is extracted, to wit:]
--That on the fifth day of the calm, all on board suffering much
from the heat, and want of water, and five having died in fits,
and mad, the negroes became irritable, and for a chance gesture,
which they deemed suspicious--though it was harmless--made by the
mate, Raneds, to the deponent in the act of handing a quadrant,
they killed him; but that for this they afterwards were sorry, the
mate being the only remaining navigator on board, except the
* * * * *
--That omitting other events, which daily happened, and which can
only serve uselessly to recall past misfortunes and conflicts,
after seventy-three days' navigation, reckoned from the time they
sailed from Nasca, during which they navigated under a scanty
allowance of water, and were afflicted with the calms before
mentioned, they at last arrived at the island of Santa Maria, on
the seventeenth of the month of August, at about six o'clock in
the afternoon, at which hour they cast anchor very near the
American ship, Bachelor's Delight, which lay in the same bay,
commanded by the generous Captain Amasa Delano; but at six o'clock
in the morning, they had already descried the port, and the
negroes became uneasy, as soon as at distance they saw the ship,
not having expected to see one there; that the negro Babo pacified
them, assuring them that no fear need be had; that straightway he
ordered the figure on the bow to be covered with canvas, as for
repairs and had the decks a little set in order; that for a time
the negro Babo and the negro Atufal conferred; that the negro
Atufal was for sailing away, but the negro Babo would not, and, by
himself, cast about what to do; that at last he came to the
deponent, proposing to him to say and do all that the deponent
declares to have said and done to the American captain; * * * * *
* * that the negro Babo warned him that if he varied in the least,
or uttered any word, or gave any look that should give the least
intimation of the past events or present state, he would instantly
kill him, with all his companions, showing a dagger, which he
carried hid, saying something which, as he understood it, meant
that that dagger would be alert as his eye; that the negro Babo
then announced the plan to all his companions, which pleased them;
that he then, the better to disguise the truth, devised many
expedients, in some of them uniting deceit and defense; that of
this sort was the device of the six Ashantees before named, who
were his bravoes; that them he stationed on the break of the poop,
as if to clean certain hatchets (in cases, which were part of the
cargo), but in reality to use them, and distribute them at need,
and at a given word he told them; that, among other devices, was
the device of presenting Atufal, his right hand man, as chained,
though in a moment the chains could be dropped; that in every
particular he informed the deponent what part he was expected to
enact in every device, and what story he was to tell on every
occasion, always threatening him with instant death if he varied
in the least: that, conscious that many of the negroes would be
turbulent, the negro Babo appointed the four aged negroes, who
were calkers, to keep what domestic order they could on the decks;
that again and again he harangued the Spaniards and his
companions, informing them of his intent, and of his devices, and
of the invented story that this deponent was to tell; charging
them lest any of them varied from that story; that these
arrangements were made and matured during the interval of two or
three hours, between their first sighting the ship and the arrival
on board of Captain Amasa Delano; that this happened about
half-past seven o'clock in the morning, Captain Amasa Delano
coming in his boat, and all gladly receiving him; that the
deponent, as well as he could force himself, acting then the part
of principal owner, and a free captain of the ship, told Captain
Amasa Delano, when called upon, that he came from Buenos Ayres,
bound to Lima, with three hundred negroes; that off Cape Horn, and
in a subsequent fever, many negroes had died; that also, by
similar casualties, all the sea officers and the greatest part of
the crew had died.
* * * * *
[And so the deposition goes on, circumstantially recounting the
fictitious story dictated to the deponent by Babo, and through the
deponent imposed upon Captain Delano; and also recounting the
friendly offers of Captain Delano, with other things, but all of
which is here omitted. After the fictitious story, etc. the
* * * * *
--that the generous Captain Amasa Delano remained on board all the
day, till he left the ship anchored at six o'clock in the evening,
deponent speaking to him always of his pretended misfortunes,
under the fore-mentioned principles, without having had it in his
power to tell a single word, or give him the least hint, that he
might know the truth and state of things; because the negro Babo,
performing the office of an officious servant with all the
appearance of submission of the humble slave, did not leave the
deponent one moment; that this was in order to observe the
deponent's actions and words, for the negro Babo understands well
the Spanish; and besides, there were thereabout some others who
were constantly on the watch, and likewise understood the Spanish;
* * * that upon one occasion, while deponent was standing on the
deck conversing with Amasa Delano, by a secret sign the negro Babo
drew him (the deponent) aside, the act appearing as if originating
with the deponent; that then, he being drawn aside, the negro Babo
proposed to him to gain from Amasa Delano full particulars about
his ship, and crew, and arms; that the deponent asked "For what?"
that the negro Babo answered he might conceive; that, grieved at
the prospect of what might overtake the generous Captain Amasa
Delano, the deponent at first refused to ask the desired
questions, and used every argument to induce the negro Babo to
give up this new design; that the negro Babo showed the point of
his dagger; that, after the information had been obtained the
negro Babo again drew him aside, telling him that that very night
he (the deponent) would be captain of two ships, instead of one,
for that, great part of the American's ship's crew being to be
absent fishing, the six Ashantees, without any one else, would
easily take it; that at this time he said other things to the same
purpose; that no entreaties availed; that, before Amasa Delano's
coming on board, no hint had been given touching the capture of
the American ship: that to prevent this project the deponent was
powerless; * * *--that in some things his memory is confused, he
cannot distinctly recall every event; * * *--that as soon as they
had cast anchor at six of the clock in the evening, as has before
been stated, the American Captain took leave, to return to his
vessel; that upon a sudden impulse, which the deponent believes to
have come from God and his angels, he, after the farewell had been
said, followed the generous Captain Amasa Delano as far as the
gunwale, where he stayed, under pretense of taking leave, until
Amasa Delano should have been seated in his boat; that on shoving
off, the deponent sprang from the gunwale into the boat, and fell
into it, he knows not how, God guarding him; that--
* * * * *
[Here, in the original, follows the account of what further
happened at the escape, and how the San Dominick was retaken, and
of the passage to the coast; including in the recital many
expressions of "eternal gratitude" to the "generous Captain Amasa
Delano." The deposition then proceeds with recapitulatory remarks,
and a partial renumeration of the negroes, making record of their
individual part in the past events, with a view to furnishing,
according to command of the court, the data whereon to found the
criminal sentences to be pronounced. From this portion is the
--That he believes that all the negroes, though not in the first
place knowing to the design of revolt, when it was accomplished,
approved it. * * * That the negro, José, eighteen years old, and
in the personal service of Don Alexandro, was the one who
communicated the information to the negro Babo, about the state of
things in the cabin, before the revolt; that this is known,
because, in the preceding midnight, he use to come from his berth,
which was under his master's, in the cabin, to the deck where the
ringleader and his associates were, and had secret conversations
with the negro Babo, in which he was several times seen by the
mate; that, one night, the mate drove him away twice; * * that
this same negro José was the one who, without being commanded to
do so by the negro Babo, as Lecbe and Martinqui were, stabbed his
master, Don Alexandro, after be had been dragged half-lifeless to
the deck; * * that the mulatto steward, Francesco, was of the
first band of revolters, that he was, in all things, the creature
and tool of the negro Babo; that, to make his court, he, just
before a repast in the cabin, proposed, to the negro Babo,
poisoning a dish for the generous Captain Amasa Delano; this is
known and believed, because the negroes have said it; but that the
negro Babo, having another design, forbade Francesco; * * that the
Ashantee Lecbe was one of the worst of them; for that, on the day
the ship was retaken, he assisted in the defense of her, with a
hatchet in each hand, with one of which he wounded, in the breast,
the chief mate of Amasa Delano, in the first act of boarding; this
all knew; that, in sight of the deponent, Lecbe struck, with a
hatchet, Don Francisco Masa, when, by the negro Babo's orders, he
was carrying him to throw him overboard, alive, beside
participating in the murder, before mentioned, of Don Alexandro
Aranda, and others of the cabin-passengers; that, owing to the
fury with which the Ashantees fought in the engagement with the
boats, but this Lecbe and Yan survived; that Yan was bad as Lecbe;
that Yan was the man who, by Babo's command, willingly prepared
the skeleton of Don Alexandro, in a way the negroes afterwards
told the deponent, but which he, so long as reason is left him,
can never divulge; that Yan and Lecbe were the two who, in a calm
by night, riveted the skeleton to the bow; this also the negroes
told him; that the negro Babo was he who traced the inscription
below it; that the negro Babo was the plotter from first to last;
he ordered every murder, and was the helm and keel of the revolt;
that Atufal was his lieutenant in all; but Atufal, with his own
hand, committed no murder; nor did the negro Babo; * * that Atufal
was shot, being killed in the fight with the boats, ere boarding;
* * that the negresses, of age, were knowing to the revolt, and
testified themselves satisfied at the death of their master, Don
Alexandro; that, had the negroes not restrained them, they would
have tortured to death, instead of simply killing, the Spaniards
slain by command of the negro Babo; that the negresses used their
utmost influence to have the deponent made away with; that, in the
various acts of murder, they sang songs and danced--not gaily, but
solemnly; and before the engagement with the boats, as well as
during the action, they sang melancholy songs to the negroes, and
that this melancholy tone was more inflaming than a different one
would have been, and was so intended; that all this is believed,
because the negroes have said it.--that of the thirty-six men of
the crew, exclusive of the passengers (all of whom are now dead),
which the deponent had knowledge of, six only remained alive, with
four cabin-boys and ship-boys, not included with the crew; *
*--that the negroes broke an arm of one of the cabin-boys and gave
him strokes with hatchets.
[Then follow various random disclosures referring to various
periods of time. The following are extracted;]
--That during the presence of Captain Amasa Delano on board, some
attempts were made by the sailors, and one by Hermenegildo Gandix,
to convey hints to him of the true state of affairs; but that
these attempts were ineffectual, owing to fear of incurring death,
and, futhermore, owing to the devices which offered contradictions
to the true state of affairs, as well as owing to the generosity
and piety of Amasa Delano incapable of sounding such wickedness; *
* * that Luys Galgo, a sailor about sixty years of age, and
formerly of the king's navy, was one of those who sought to convey
tokens to Captain Amasa Delano; but his intent, though
undiscovered, being suspected, he was, on a pretense, made to
retire out of sight, and at last into the hold, and there was made
away with. This the negroes have since said; * * * that one of the
ship-boys feeling, from Captain Amasa Delano's presence, some
hopes of release, and not having enough prudence, dropped some
chance-word respecting his expectations, which being overheard and
understood by a slave-boy with whom he was eating at the time, the
latter struck him on the head with a knife, inflicting a bad
wound, but of which the boy is now healing; that likewise, not
long before the ship was brought to anchor, one of the seamen,
steering at the time, endangered himself by letting the blacks
remark some expression in his countenance, arising from a cause
similar to the above; but this sailor, by his heedful after
conduct, escaped; * * * that these statements are made to show the
court that from the beginning to the end of the revolt, it was
impossible for the deponent and his men to act otherwise than they
did; * * *--that the third clerk, Hermenegildo Gandix, who before
had been forced to live among the seamen, wearing a seaman's
habit, and in all respects appearing to be one for the time; he,
Gandix, was killed by a musket ball fired through mistake from the
boats before boarding; having in his fright run up the
mizzen-rigging, calling to the boats--"don't board," lest upon
their boarding the negroes should kill him; that this inducing the
Americans to believe he some way favored the cause of the negroes,
they fired two balls at him, so that he fell wounded from the
rigging, and was drowned in the sea; * * *--that the young Don
Joaquin, Marques de Aramboalaza, like Hermenegildo Gandix, the
third clerk, was degraded to the office and appearance of a common
seaman; that upon one occasion when Don Joaquin shrank, the negro
Babo commanded the Ashantee Lecbe to take tar and heat it, and
pour it upon Don Joaquin's hands; * * *--that Don Joaquin was
killed owing to another mistake of the Americans, but one
impossible to be avoided, as upon the approach of the boats, Don
Joaquin, with a hatchet tied edge out and upright to his hand, was
made by the negroes to appear on the bulwarks; whereupon, seen
with arms in his hands and is a questionable altitude, he was shot
for a renegade seaman; * * *--that on the person of Don Joaquin
was found secreted a jewel, which, by papers that were discovered,
proved to have been meant for the shrine of our Lady of Mercy in
Lima; a votive offering, beforehand prepared and guarded, to
attest his gratitude, when he should have landed in Peru, his last
destination, for the safe conclusion of his entire voyage from
Spain; * * *--that the jewel, with the other effects of the late
Don Joaquin, is in the custody of the brethren of the Hospital de
Sacerdotes, awaiting the disposition of the honorable court; * *
*--that, owing to the condition of the deponent, as well as the
haste in which the boats departed for the attack, the Americans
were not forewarned that there were, among the apparent crew, a
passenger and one of the clerks disguised by the negro Babo; * *
*--that, beside the negroes killed in the action, some were killed
after the capture and re-anchoring at night, when shackled to the
ring-bolts on deck; that these deaths were committed by the
sailors, ere they could be prevented. That so soon as informed of
it, Captain Amasa Delano used all his authority, and, in
particular with his own hand, struck down Martinez Gola, who,
having found a razor in the pocket of an old jacket of his, which
one of the shackled negroes had on, was aiming it at the negro's
throat; that the noble Captain Amasa Delano also wrenched from the
hand of Bartholomew Barlo a dagger, secreted at the time of the
massacre of the whites, with which he was in the act of stabbing a
shackled negro, who, the same day, with another negro, had thrown
him down and jumped upon him; * * *--that, for all the events,
befalling through so long a time, during which the ship was in the
hands of the negro Babo, he cannot here give account; but that,
what he has said is the most substantial of what occurs to him at
present, and is the truth under the oath which he has taken; which
declaration he affirmed and ratified, after hearing it read to
He said that he is twenty-nine years of age, and broken in body
and mind; that when finally dismissed by the court, he shall not
return home to Chili, but betake himself to the monastery on Mount
Agonia without; and signed with his honor, and crossed himself,
and, for the time, departed as he came, in his litter, with the
monk Infelez, to the Hospital de Sacerdotes.
If the Deposition have served as the key to fit into the lock of the
complications which precede it, then, as a vault whose door has been
flung back, the San Dominick's hull lies open to-day.
Hitherto the nature of this narrative, besides rendering the intricacies
in the beginning unavoidable, has more or less required that many
things, instead of being set down in the order of occurrence, should be
retrospectively, or irregularly given; this last is the case with the
following passages, which will conclude the account:
During the long, mild voyage to Lima, there was, as before hinted, a
period during which the sufferer a little recovered his health, or, at
least in some degree, his tranquillity. Ere the decided relapse which
came, the two captains had many cordial conversations--their fraternal
unreserve in singular contrast with former withdrawments.
Again and again it was repeated, how hard it had been to enact the part
forced on the Spaniard by Babo.
"Ah, my dear friend," Don Benito once said, "at those very times when
you thought me so morose and ungrateful, nay, when, as you now admit,
you half thought me plotting your murder, at those very times my heart
was frozen; I could not look at you, thinking of what, both on board
this ship and your own, hung, from other hands, over my kind benefactor.
And as God lives, Don Amasa, I know not whether desire for my own safety
alone could have nerved me to that leap into your boat, had it not been
for the thought that, did you, unenlightened, return to your ship, you,
my best friend, with all who might be with you, stolen upon, that night,
in your hammocks, would never in this world have wakened again. Do but
think how you walked this deck, how you sat in this cabin, every inch of
ground mined into honey-combs under you. Had I dropped the least hint,
made the least advance towards an understanding between us, death,
explosive death--yours as mine--would have ended the scene."
"True, true," cried Captain Delano, starting, "you have saved my life,
Don Benito, more than I yours; saved it, too, against my knowledge and
"Nay, my friend," rejoined the Spaniard, courteous even to the point of
religion, "God charmed your life, but you saved mine. To think of some
things you did--those smilings and chattings, rash pointings and
gesturings. For less than these, they slew my mate, Raneds; but you had
the Prince of Heaven's safe-conduct through all ambuscades."
"Yes, all is owing to Providence, I know: but the temper of my mind that
morning was more than commonly pleasant, while the sight of so much
suffering, more apparent than real, added to my good-nature, compassion,
and charity, happily interweaving the three. Had it been otherwise,
doubtless, as you hint, some of my interferences might have ended
unhappily enough. Besides, those feelings I spoke of enabled me to get
the better of momentary distrust, at times when acuteness might have
cost me my life, without saving another's. Only at the end did my
suspicions get the better of me, and you know how wide of the mark they
"Wide, indeed," said Don Benito, sadly; "you were with me all day; stood
with me, sat with me, talked with me, looked at me, ate with me, drank
with me; and yet, your last act was to clutch for a monster, not only an
innocent man, but the most pitiable of all men. To such degree may
malign machinations and deceptions impose. So far may even the best man
err, in judging the conduct of one with the recesses of whose condition
he is not acquainted. But you were forced to it; and you were in time
undeceived. Would that, in both respects, it was so ever, and with all
"You generalize, Don Benito; and mournfully enough. But the past is
passed; why moralize upon it? Forget it. See, yon bright sun has
forgotten it all, and the blue sea, and the blue sky; these have turned
over new leaves."
"Because they have no memory," he dejectedly replied; "because they are
"But these mild trades that now fan your cheek, do they not come with a
human-like healing to you? Warm friends, steadfast friends are the
"With their steadfastness they but waft me to my tomb, Señor," was the
"You are saved," cried Captain Delano, more and more astonished and
pained; "you are saved: what has cast such a shadow upon you?"
There was silence, while the moody man sat, slowly and unconsciously
gathering his mantle about him, as if it were a pall.
There was no more conversation that day.
But if the Spaniard's melancholy sometimes ended in muteness upon topics
like the above, there were others upon which he never spoke at all; on
which, indeed, all his old reserves were piled. Pass over the worst,
and, only to elucidate let an item or two of these be cited. The dress,
so precise and costly, worn by him on the day whose events have been
narrated, had not willingly been put on. And that silver-mounted sword,
apparent symbol of despotic command, was not, indeed, a sword, but the
ghost of one. The scabbard, artificially stiffened, was empty.
As for the black--whose brain, not body, had schemed and led the revolt,
with the plot--his slight frame, inadequate to that which it held, had
at once yielded to the superior muscular strength of his captor, in the
boat. Seeing all was over, he uttered no sound, and could not be forced
to. His aspect seemed to say, since I cannot do deeds, I will not speak
words. Put in irons in the hold, with the rest, he was carried to Lima.
During the passage, Don Benito did not visit him. Nor then, nor at any
time after, would he look at him. Before the tribunal he refused. When
pressed by the judges he fainted. On the testimony of the sailors alone
rested the legal identity of Babo.
Some months after, dragged to the gibbet at the tail of a mule, the
black met his voiceless end. The body was burned to ashes; but for many
days, the head, that hive of subtlety, fixed on a pole in the Plaza,
met, unabashed, the gaze of the whites; and across the Plaza looked
towards St. Bartholomew's church, in whose vaults slept then, as now,
the recovered bones of Aranda: and across the Rimac bridge looked
towards the monastery, on Mount Agonia without; where, three months
after being dismissed by the court, Benito Cereno, borne on the bier,
did, indeed, follow his leader.