THE bark Esperanza with all canvas spread was sailing the China Sea, when a violent storm overtook her. The event was so rapid that it gave no time to be foreseen, and the captain, who was an old sea-dog, as sailors are called who have become inured to dangers, did not foresee that the breeze of an instant ago would change so soon into a violent hurricane. The rudder was broken by the force of the waves, and the ship was driven by the cyclone without means of defence—the crew and the bark were lost.
All believed their last moment had come, since without doubt the boat would go to pieces on the rocks which could be seen at a short distance, when the captain gave a shout which calmed the anxiety of all hearts.
"The Island of Brilliants!" he exclaimed, and instantly all appeared in order to contemplate it.
"Good," said a sailor. "That may be the Island of Brilliants, but if striking against it breaks my head, I don’t care whether it is against a stone worth twopence or against a diamond worth ten millions."
"You are right," answered the captain, "but the storm has abated a little, and it remains for us to launch the boats and approach the coast in them."
This was done. A few minutes afterwards all the sailors save one embarked in the boats and went to the island, which was visible not far off.
In the bark there remained an Aragonese passenger called Antonio, who had set his heart on getting to Manila, and who said he would continue on the ship even if he arrived alone at the capital of the Magallanico archipelago.
"But," said they to him, "don’t be mad. Don’t you see that you will certainly perish?"
"That we shall see; for I am going to Manila even if I have to swim there."
And there was no means of convincing him; therefore they left him to his fate. The boats separated from the ship and went off to the Island of Brilliants.
The captain, meanwhile, said to his shipwrecked companions:
"The island is inhabited by ill-tempered dwarfs who kill those who cause them inconvenience, and, on the other hand, to those who appear amiable they grant whatever they are asked. So, gentlemen, I recommend moderation."
This they promised him, and in a little while the boats touched dry land.
They disembarked, running the boats aground so that the surf should not break them up, and penetrated into the island.
They had gone scarcely a mile when they saw some little white houses of brick, white as snow, and of a singular shape. They looked like jars turned upside down. All the houses had very small windows and a small door.
"This must be," said the captain, "the dwarfs’ city. Be very careful now, because this is a dangerous moment."
"But where are the brilliants?" asked a sailor.
"They are on that mountain which begins at the side of the town. It is quite inaccessible except by a narrow path whose entrance is carefully and strongly defended by the dwarfs."
At this moment a kind of bugle sounded and an arrow appeared from each little window. They had given the alarm and the dwarfs hastened to the defence.
The captain tied a handkerchief to the end of a stick, and with this improvised flag made signals that his intentions were pacific.
Then a committee of dwarfs came out to talk matters over with them, making themselves understood by signs, and at last agreed to let the shipwrecked men enter the town, but blindfolded.
They submitted to this condition, and immediately were surrounded by a good number of guards, who manacled them and presently imprisoned them in some very small cells, so small that the new-comers were obliged to cower down almost all day because they touched the roof with their heads.
On the following day they were taken into the presence of the chief of the dwarfs, who was the youngest of all, but who must have been the most learned, because, after having asked them in several languages what their nationality was, spoke to them in Spanish as follows:
"What brought you to this island? Do you not know that he who comes to it never returns? Perhaps the desire for wealth has moved you? If so, you were much mistaken, because the riches which exist here are for us. So that now you know what your fate must be—either to die or to be our slaves."
And at this a crowd of dwarfs approached the surprised sailors, and without giving them time to defend themselves, tied them up and led them back again to their prisons.
All this while the bark Esperanza was going along abandoned to the mercy of the elements, and our Aragonese, fearing nothing, sat tranquilly in the bows, saying to the ship:
"I must go to Manila; so now you know what to do."
The wind and the waves were driving the ship forward, until one morning, the tempest now being over, Antonio found himself in a sort of natural harbour where the ship ran on to the sand.
"Well, this must be Manila!" he exclaimed, and throwing himself over the side into the water, he reached dry land in two strides, not without having previously taken, as a measure of precaution, a revolver, a gun, a cutlass, and a pouch full of cartridges.
"They won’t throw me out of Manila for want of arms!" he said, and going on and on, our good Antonio with his gun on his shoulder commenced to look for people to ask the way to the capital of the archipelago, now lost to the Spaniards.
After several hours’ walk he met two dwarfs who, seated on the ground, were playing marbles with some stones whose brilliance was dazzling.
The Aragonese approached the players and bade them good afternoon; the dwarfs raised their heads and looked at him contemptuously and continued to play.
"Look here, I said ’Good afternoon’ to you," shouted the Aragonese, "and in my country when an insult is offered one knows what happens."
The dwarfs turned to look at him without having understood, and then Antonio, with two superb punches, knocked the presumptuous dwarfs to the ground. One remained stunned and could not move himself; but the other began to run away, uttering cries, and disappeared.
The Aragonese brought round the dwarf and detained him.
For several days they went about the mountain, and during this time Antonio succeeded in learning a few phrases of the strange language which the dwarf spoke, and the latter learned several others in Spanish, with which they came to understand each other perfectly. The two friends related their respective histories to one another. That of the dwarf was short; he was called Fu-fei, and he was a captain of the Cuirassiers of the Guard; and as they had no real horses they rode some made of cane so prettily that they attracted attention. He narrated, moreover, that some days before, some giants who had arrived then were made prisoners, and were to be killed or made slaves. As soon as he gave these details of the prisoners Antonio cried, "These are my people. I will not go to Manila until they are out of trouble."
"While you are here," said Fu-fei, "don’t run any risks; because my companions never go up the mountains, as it makes them tired, and they are under the care of the doctor who prevents them from tiring themselves; but if you go down to the plain they will attack you, and they are more than three thousand."
"I don’t care; I shall know how to defend myself."
"Then let me recommend you to do one thing. When you begin to fight I will signal to you which is the company of archers who use poisoned arrows. Shoot at them, and you can laugh at the rest."
And so it was. At the moment when he went down the mountain, Antonio found himself attacked by the outposts of the dwarfs’ army. Fu-fei pointed out the company of the terrible arrows, and the Aragonese destroyed it by shots from his gun and blows with his cutlass.
"There is our king!" cried Fu-fei, pointing to a little dwarf who was scarcely sixteen inches in height.
"Then I will talk things over with your king immediately."
And, gently taking hold of him by the neck so as not to hurt him, he put the king in his pocket. Arriving at an oak-tree which would be about two yards high, and sitting down in the shade, he took the king out of his pocket and said:
"Where are the prisoners? Either give them back to me or this is the moment when you lose your position, your crown, and your life."
The dwarf king answered in Spanish that he would give the prisoners up and whatever they might wish in exchange for his liberty! And so our hero with his two dwarfs under his arm walked on to Dwarftown, as the town was called. Once inside he put the king on the ground in order to recover all his dignity, and the monarch ordered the Spanish prisoners to be set free.
When the latter recognised their liberator, they did not know what to do to show their gratitude.
"Don’t you know how?" asked Antonio. "Well, take me to Manila, for I am in a hurry."
"But," answered the captain, "would you go away from this island without carrying off any diamonds?"
"Where are they?" asked the Aragonese.
"There, on the top of that mountain," they said to him.
"Good gracious! Just now I was in the midst of them and didn’t notice. The truth is," he added, "that what I wanted was something to eat, and for half a pound of roasted meat I would have given all the diamonds of the earth."
Finally they all went to the mountain, gathered the diamonds in handfuls, and when they could carry no more, they went back towards the spot where the bark was ashore, and there after several months’ work they succeeded in fixing a new rudder and some masts, which although small were sufficient to make the boat go. They put out to sea and at last arrived at Manila, to the great satisfaction of the Aragonese, who exclaimed:
"Did I not tell you that the ship would bring me to Manila?"
The dwarf Fu-fei had not wished to part with his friend and accompanied him everywhere, exciting attention by his long beard and tiny stature. The poor fellow was obliged to go about the streets singing, so that people should avoid treading on him.
They all soon returned to Spain, where they sold their diamonds and bought fine farms, founding an agricultural colony, in which they all lived together like brothers.