Loading in the environs of Barbara Bay, Cape Horn, I was surprised, with two companions, by the Patagonians, and made prisoner. I had the pain of witnessing from the cliffs the departure of the whaler on board of which I had entered at Havre as harpooner.
It was with a deep pang of grief, and eyes bathed in tears, I saw the white sails of my ship disappear on the horizon, and the sea become solitary once more.
I little suspected that the vessel I then saw for the last time was doomed to some terrible fate. Nothing was ever heard of her again.
Two hours later, stripped of our clothes and tied by the wrists to the tails of Patagonian horses, we were carried off into the interior of the country.
The Patagonians, with regard to whom travellers relate so many fables, are neither so gigantic nor so evil as generally represented.
They are sturdily independent. The least yoke galls them, and rather than submit to the will of a chief, they rush off into exile, and submit to the most terrible privations.
We were not ill-used by our captors, but I was at length alone. One of my companions went raving mad, the other committed suicide. I was kept alive, I believe, by the spirit of hope.
I was twenty years of age, and had a constitution of iron, as well as a buoyancy of spirits, a boldness and firmness, which saved me from myself, by permitting me to look upon my position in its true light. Cruel as it was, it was far from being desperate.
My first care was, by invariable complaisance, to secure the goodwill of the savages, in which I succeeded pretty well, more easily, indeed, than I should have dared to hope.
However, when in the evening after a whole day's journey in the interminable steppes of Patagonia, I threw myself, overcome with fatigue, before the bivouac fire, while the savages laughed and sang among themselves, I often felt my heart on the point of bursting by reason of the efforts I made to suppress my sighs.
How many times have I felt my courage fail! How many times has the thought of suicide burst upon my mind! But, always at the most critical moment, the hope of deliverance arose to put new life into my heart; my sufferings were calmed little by little, my frame ceased to be agitated, and I slept, murmuring in a gentle voice one of those national refrains which are, for the exile, a sweet and far-off echo of the absent country.