When the other man told his tale, Maka agreed with him that it would be far better to die of thirst than to go on any farther to look for water, and, turning, he ran back, followed by the other, and they never stopped to speak to each other until they had rounded the great bluff, and were making their way along the beach toward the camp. Then his fellow-African told Maka a great deal more, and Maka told everything to the captain.
The substance of the tale was this: A mile farther up the bay than Maka had gone, there was a little stream that ran down the ravine. About a quarter of a mile up this stream there was a spot where, it appeared from the account, there must be a little level ground suitable for habitations. Here were five or six huts, almost entirely surrounded by rocks, and in these lived a dozen of the most dreadful men in the whole world. This Maka assured the captain, his eyes wet with tears as he spoke. It must truly be so, because the other African had told him things which proved it.
A little farther up the stream, on the other side of the ravine, there was a cave, a very small one, and so high up in the face of the rock that it could only be reached by a ladder. In this lived five black men, members of the company of slaves who had gone from Guiana to the isthmus, and who had been brought down there about a year before by two wicked men, who had promised them well-paid work in a lovely country. They had, however, been made actual slaves in this barren and doleful place, and had since worked for the cruel men who had beguiled them into a captivity worse than the slavery to which they had been originally destined.
Eight of them had come down from the isthmus, but, at various times since, three of them had been killed by accident, or shot while trying to run away. The hardships of these poor fellows were very great, and Maka’s voice shook as he spoke of them. They were kept in the cave all the time, except when they were wanted for some sort of work, when a ladder was put up by the side of the rock, and such as were required were called to come down. Without a ladder no one could get in or out of the cave. One man who had tried to slip down at night fell and broke his neck.
The Africans were employed in cooking and other rough domestic or menial services, and sometimes all of them were taken down to the shore of the bay, where they saw small vessels, and they were employed in carrying goods from one of these to another, and were also obliged to carry provisions and heavy kegs up the ravine to the houses of the wicked men. The one whom he had brought with him, Maka said, had that day escaped from his captors. One of the Rackbirds, whom in some way the negro had offended, had sworn to kill him before night, and feeling sure that this threat would be carried out, the poor fellow had determined to run away, no matter what the consequences. He had chosen the way by the ocean, in order that he might jump in and drown himself if he found that he was likely to be overtaken, but apparently his escape had not yet been discovered.