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Chapter 22

OUR situation, as it now appeared, was scarcely less dreadful
than when we had conceived ourselves entombed forever. We saw before
us no prospect but that of being put to death by the savages, or of
dragging out a miserable existence in captivity among them. We might,
to be sure, conceal ourselves for a time from their observation among
the fastnesses of the hills, and, as a final resort, in the chasm
from which we had just issued; but we must either perish in the long
polar winter through cold and famine, or be ultimately discovered in
our efforts to obtain relief.

The whole country around us seemed to be swarming with savages,
crowds of whom, we now perceived, had come over from the islands to
the southward on flat rafts, doubtless with a view of lending their
aid in the capture and plunder of the Jane. The vessel still lay
calmly at anchor in the bay, those on board being apparently quite
unconscious of any danger awaiting them. How we longed at that moment
to be with them! either to aid in effecting their escape, or to
perish with them in attempting a defence. We saw no chance even of
warning them of their danger without bringing immediate destruction
upon our own heads, with but a remote hope of benefit to them. A
pistol fired might suffice to apprise them that something wrong had
occurred; but the report could not possibly inform them that their
only prospect of safety lay in getting out of the harbour forthwith--
it could not tell them that no principles of honour now bound them
to remain, that their companions were no longer among the living.
Upon hearing the discharge they could not be more thoroughly prepared
to meet the foe, who were now getting ready to attack, than they
already were, and always had been. No good, therefore, and infinite
harm, would result from our firing, and after mature deliberation,
we forbore.

Our next thought was to attempt to rush toward the vessel, to
seize one of the four canoes which lay at the head of the bay, and
endeavour to force a passage on board. But the utter impossibility of
succeeding in this desperate task soon became evident. The country,
as I said before, was literally swarming with the natives, skulking
among the bushes and recesses of the hills, so as not to be observed
from the schooner. In our immediate vicinity especially, and
blockading the sole path by which we could hope to attain the shore
at the proper point were stationed the whole party of the black skin
warriors, with Too-wit at their head, and apparently only waiting for
some re-enforcement to commence his onset upon the Jane. The canoes,
too, which lay at the head of the bay, were manned with savages,
unarmed, it is true, but who undoubtedly had arms within reach. We
were forced, therefore, however unwillingly, to remain in our place
of concealment, mere spectators of the conflict which presently
ensued.

In about half an hour we saw some sixty or seventy rafts, or
flatboats, without riggers, filled with savages, and coming round the
southern bight of the harbor. They appeared to have no arms except
short clubs, and stones which lay in the bottom of the rafts.
Immediately afterward another detachment, still larger, appeared in
an opposite direction, and with similar weapons. The four canoes,
too, were now quickly filled with natives, starting up from the
bushes at the head of the bay, and put off swiftly to join the other
parties. Thus, in less time than I have taken to tell it, and as if
by magic, the Jane saw herself surrounded by an immense multitude of
desperadoes evidently bent upon capturing her at all hazards.

That they would succeed in so doing could not be doubted for an
instant. The six men left in the vessel, however resolutely they
might engage in her defence, were altogether unequal to the proper
management of the guns, or in any manner to sustain a contest at such
odds. I could hardly imagine that they would make resistance at all,
but in this was deceived; for presently I saw them get springs upon
the cable, and bring the vessel's starboard broadside to bear upon
the canoes, which by this time were within pistol range, the rafts
being nearly a quarter of a mile to windward. Owing to some cause
unknown, but most probably to the agitation of our poor friends at
seeing themselves in so hopeless a situation, the discharge was an
entire failure. Not a canoe was hit or a single savage injured, the
shots striking short and ricocheting over their heads. The only
effect produced upon them was astonishment at the unexpected report
and smoke, which was so excessive that for some moments I almost
thought they would abandon their design entirely, and return to the
shore. And this they would most likely have done had our men followed
up their broadside by a discharge of small arms, in which, as the
canoes were now so near at hand, they could not have failed in doing
some execution, sufficient, at least, to deter this party from a
farther advance, until they could have given the rafts also a
broadside. But, in place of this, they left the canoe party to
recover from their panic, and, by looking about them, to see that no
injury had been sustained, while they flew to the larboard to get
ready for the rafts.

The discharge to larboard produced the most terrible effect. The
star and double-headed shot of the large guns cut seven or eight of
the rafts completely asunder, and killed, perhaps, thirty or forty of
the savages outright, while a hundred of them, at least, were thrown
into the water, the most of them dreadfully wounded. The remainder,
frightened out of their senses, commenced at once a precipitate
retreat, not even waiting to pick up their maimed companions, who
were swimming about in every direction, screaming and yelling for
aid. This great success, however, came too late for the salvation of
our devoted people. The canoe party were already on board the
schooner to the number of more than a hundred and fifty, the most of
them having succeeded in scrambling up the chains and over the
boarding-netting even before the matches had been applied to the
larboard guns. Nothing now could withstand their brute rage. Our men
were borne down at once, overwhelmed, trodden under foot, and
absolutely torn to pieces in an instant.

Seeing this, the savages on the rafts got the better of their
fears, and came up in shoals to the plunder. In five minutes the Jane
was a pitiable scene indeed of havoc and tumultuous outrage. The
decks were split open and ripped up; the cordage, sails, and
everything movable on deck demolished as if by magic, while, by dint
of pushing at the stern, towing with the canoes, and hauling at the
sides, as they swam in thousands around the vessel, the wretches
finally forced her on shore (the cable having been slipped), and
delivered her over to the good offices of Too-wit, who, during the
whole of the engagement, had maintained, like a skilful general, his
post of security and reconnaissance among the hills, but, now that
the victory was completed to his satisfaction, condescended to
scamper down with his warriors of the black skin, and become a
partaker in the spoils.

Too-wit's descent left us at liberty to quit our hiding place
and reconnoitre the hill in the vicinity of the chasm. At about fifty
yards from the mouth of it we saw a small spring of water, at which
we slaked the burning thirst that now consumed us. Not far from the
spring we discovered several of the filbert-bushes which I mentioned
before. Upon tasting the nuts we found them palatable, and very
nearly resembling in flavour the common English filbert. We collected
our hats full immediately, deposited them within the ravine, and
returned for more. While we were busily employed in gathering these,
a rustling in the bushes alarmed us, and we were upon the point of
stealing back to our covert, when a large black bird of the bittern
species strugglingly and slowly arose above the shrubs. I was so much
startled that I could do nothing, but Peters had sufficient presence
of mind to run up to it before it could make its escape, and seize it
by the neck. Its struggles and screams were tremendous, and we had
thoughts of letting it go, lest the noise should alarm some of the
savages who might be still lurking in the neighbourhood. A stab with
a bowie knife, however, at length brought it to the ground, and we
dragged it into the ravine, congratulating ourselves that, at all
events, we had thus obtained a supply of food enough to last us for a
week.

We now went out again to look about us, and ventured a
considerable distance down the southern declivity of the hill, but
met with nothing else which could serve us for food. We therefore
collected a quantity of dry wood and returned, seeing one or two
large parties of the natives on their way to the village, laden with
the plunder of the vessel, and who, we were apprehensive, might
discover us in passing beneath the hill.

Our next care was to render our place of concealment as secure
as possible, and with this object, we arranged some brushwood over
the aperture which I have before spoken of as the one through which
we saw the patch of blue sky, on reaching the platform from the
interior of the chasm. We left only a very small opening just wide
enough to admit of our seeing the, bay, without the risk of being
discovered from below. Having done this, we congratulated ourselves
upon the security of the position; for we were now completely
excluded from observation, as long as we chose to remain within the
ravine itself, and not venture out upon the hill, We could perceive
no traces of the savages having ever been within this hollow; but,
indeed, when we came to reflect upon the probability that the fissure
through which we attained it had been only just now created by the
fall of the cliff opposite, and that no other way of attaining it
could be perceived, we were not so much rejoiced at the thought of
being secure from molestation as fearful lest there should be
absolutely no means left us for descent. We resolved to explore the
summit of the hill thoroughly, when a good opportunity should offer.
In the meantime we watched the motions of the savages through our
loophole.

They had already made a complete wreck of the vessel, and were
now preparing to set her on fire. In a little while we saw the smoke
ascending in huge volumes from her main hatchway, and, shortly
afterward, a dense mass of flame burst up from the forecastle. The
rigging, masts and what remained of the sails caught immediately, and
the fire spread rapidly along the decks. Still a great many of the
savages retained their stations about her, hammering with large
stones, axes, and cannon balls at the bolts and other iron and copper
work. On the beach, and in canoes and rafts, there were not less,
altogether, in the immediate vicinity of the schooner, than ten
thousand natives, besides the shoals of them who, laden with booty,
were making their way inland and over to the neighbouring islands. We
now anticipated a catastrophe, and were not disappointed. First of
all there came a smart shock (which we felt as distinctly where we
were as if we had been slightly galvanized), but unattended with any
visible signs of an explosion. The savages were evidently startled,
and paused for an instant from their labours and yellings. They were
upon the point of recommencing, when suddenly a mass of smoke puffed
up from the decks, resembling a black and heavy thundercloud- then,
as if from its bowels, arose a tall stream of vivid fire to the
height, apparently, of a quarter of a mile- then there came a sudden
circular expansion of the flame- then the whole atmosphere was
magically crowded, in a single instant, with a wild chaos of wood,
and metal, and human limbs-and, lastly, came the concussion in its
fullest fury, which hurled us impetuously from our feet, while the
hills echoed and re-echoed the tumult, and a dense shower of the
minutest fragments of the ruins tumbled headlong in every direction
around us.

The havoc among the savages far exceeded our utmost expectation,
and they had now, indeed, reaped the full and perfect fruits of their
treachery. Perhaps a thousand perished by the explosion, while at
least an equal number were desperately mangled. The whole surface of
the bay was literally strewn with the struggling and drowning
wretches, and on shore matters were even worse. They seemed utterly
appalled by the suddenness and completeness of their discomfiture,
and made no efforts at assisting one another. At length we observed a
total change in their demeanour. From absolute stupor, they appeared
to be, all at once, aroused to the highest pitch of excitement, and
rushed wildly about, going to and from a certain point on the beach,
with the strangest expressions of mingled horror, rage, and intense
curiosity depicted on their countenances, and shouting, at the top of
their voices, "Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!"

Presently we saw a large body go off into the hills, whence they
returned in a short time, carrying stakes of wood. These they brought
to the station where the crowd was the thickest, which now separated
so as to afford us a view of the object of all this excitement. We
perceived something white lying upon the ground, but could not
immediately make out what it was. At length we saw that it was the
carcass of the strange animal with the scarlet teeth and claws which
the schooner had picked up at sea on the eighteenth of January.
Captain Guy had had the body preserved for the purpose of stuffing
the skin and taking it to England. I remember he had given some
directions about it just before our making the island, and it had
been brought into the cabin and stowed away in one of the lockers. It
had now been thrown on shore by the explosion; but why it had
occasioned so much concern among the savages was more than we could
comprehend. Although they crowded around the carcass at a little
distance, none of them seemed willing to approach it closely.
By-and-by the men with the stakes drove them in a circle around it,
and no sooner was this arrangement completed, than the whole of the
vast assemblage rushed into the interior of the island, with loud
screams of "Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!"

Edgar Allan Poe

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