C H A P T E R I I I
Salvage of a cargo of wine – Sailors happy – Cholera in the Argentine – Death in the land – Dutch Harry – Pete the Greek – Noted crimps – Boat lost – Sail for Ilha Grande – Expelled from the port – Serious hardships
FROM Buenos Aires, we proceeded up the river Plate, near the confluence of the Parana and Paraguay, to salve a cargo of wine from the stranded brig Neovo San Pascual, from Marseilles.
The current of the great river at that point runs constantly seaward, becoming almost a sea of itself. and a dangerous one to navigate; hence the loss of the San Pascual, and many others before her.
If, like the "Ancient Mariner," we had, any of us, cried, "water, water all around, and not a drop to drink," we forgot it now, in this bountiful stream. Wine, too, we had without stint. The insurance agent, to leave no excuse for tampering with the cargo, rolled out a cask of the best, and, like a true Hans Breitmann, "knocked out der bung." Then, too, cases were broken in the handling, the contents of which drenched their clothes from top to toe, as the sailors carried them away on their heads.
The diversity of a sailor's life – ah me! The experience of Dana and his shipmates, for instance, on a sunburnt coast, carrying dry hides on their heads, if not a worse one, may be in store for us, we cried, now fairly swimming in luxuries – water and wine alike free. Although our present good luck may be followed by times less cheerful, we preferred to count this, we said, as compensation for past misfortunes, marking well that "it never rains but it pours."
The cargo of wine in due course was landed at Rosario with but small loss, the crew, except in one case, remaining sober enough to help navigate even the difficult Parana. But one old sinner, the case I speak of, an old Labrador fisherman, became a useless, drunken swab, in spite of all we could do. I say "we" for most of the crew were on my side, in favour of a fair deal and "regular supplies."
The hold was barred and locked, and every place we could think of, for a time, was searched; still Dan kept terribly drunk. At last his mattress was turned out, and from it rolled a dozen or more bottles of the best liquor. Then there was a row, but all on the part of Dan, who swore blue vengeance on the man, if he could but find him out, who had stowed that grog in his bunk, "trying to get" him "into trouble"; some of those "young fellows would rue it yet!"
The cargo of wine being discharged, I chartered to load alfalfa, packed in bales, for Rio. Many deaths had occurred about this time, with appalling suddenness; we soon learned that cholera was staring us all in the face, and that it was fast spreading through the country, filling towns and cities with sickness and death.
Approaching more frightfully near, it carried our pilot over the bar; his wife was a widow the day after he brought our bark to the loading berth. And the young man who commenced to deliver us the cargo was himself measured the day after. His ship had come in!
Many stout men, and many, many women and children succumbed to the scourge; yet it was our high privilege to come through the dark cloud without losing a loved one, while thousands were cast down with bereavements and grief. At one time it appeared that we were in the centre of the cloud which zig-zagged its ugly body, serpent-like, through districts, poisoning all that it touched, and leaving death in its wake. This was indeed cholera in its most terrible form!
One poor fellow sat at the Widow Lacinas' hotel, bewildered. "Forty-eight hours ago," said he, "I sat at my own hearth, with wife and three children by my side. Now I am alone in the world! Even my poor house, such as it was, is pulled down." This man, I say, had troubles; surely was his "house pulled down"!
There was no escaping the poison or keeping it off, except by disinfectants, and by keeping the system regular, for it soon spread over all the land and the air was full of it. Remedies sold so high that many must have perished without the test of medicinal aid to cure their disease. A cry went up against unprincipled druggists who were over-charging for their drugs, but nothing more was done to check their greed. Camphor sold as high as four dollars a pound, and the druggist with a few hundred drops of laudanum and as much chlorodyne could travel through Europe afterward on the profits of his sales.
It was at Rosario, and at this time, that we buried our young friend, Captain Speck, well loved of young and old. His friends did not ask whether it was cholera or not that he died of, but performed the last act of friendship as became men of heart and feeling. The minister could not come that day, but Captain Speck's little friend, Garfield, said: "The flags were set for the angels to come and take the Captain to Heaven !" Need more be said?
And the flags blew out all day.
Then it became us to erect a memorial slab, and, hardest of all, to write to the widow and orphans. This was done in a homely way, but with sympathetic, aching hearts away off there in Santa Fé.
Our time at Rosario, after this, was spent in gloomy days that dragged into weeks and months, and our thoughts often wandered from there to a happy past. We preferred to dwell away from there and in other climes, if only in thought. There was, however, one happy soul among us – the child whose face was a sunbeam in all kinds of weather and at all times happy in his ignorance of the evils that fall to the lot of man.
Our sailing-day from Rosario finally came; and, with a feeling as of casting off fetters, the lines were let go, and the bark hauled out into the stream, with a full cargo on board; but, instead of sailing for Rio, as per charter, she was ordered by the Brazilian consul to Ilha Grande (Great Island), the quarantine station of Brazil, some sixty-two miles west of Rio, there to be disinfected and to discharge her cargo in quarantine.
A new crew was shipped and put aboard, but while I was getting my papers, about noon, they stole one of the ship's boats and scurried off down the river as fast, no doubt, as they could go. I have not seen them or my boat since. They all deserted, – every mother's son of them! taking, beside the boat, a month's advance pay from a Mr. Dutch Harry, a sailor boarding-master, who had stolen my inward crew that he might, as he boasted afterward, "ship new hands in their places." In view of the fact that this vilest of crimps was the loser of the money, I could almost forgive the "galoots" for the theft of my boat. (The ship is usually responsible for advance wages twenty-four hours after she has sailed, providing, too, that the sailors proceed to sea in her.) Seeing, moreover, that they were of that stripe, unworthy the name of sailor, my vessel was the better without them, by at least what it cost to be rid of them, namely, the price of my boat.
However, I will take back what I said about Dutch Harry being the "vilest crimp." There came one to Rosario worse than he, one "Pete the Greek," who cut off the ears of a rival boarding-master at the Boca, threw them into the river, then, making his escape to Rosario, some 180 miles away, established himself in the business in opposition to the Dutchman, whom he "shanghaied" soon after, then "reigned peacefully in his stead."
A captain who, like myself, had suffered from the depredations of this noted gentry, told me, in great glee, that he saw Harry on a bone-laden Italian bark outward bound, – "even then nearly out of the river." The last seen of him by my friend, the captain, was "among the branches," with a rope around his neck – they hanged him, maybe – I don't know what else the rope was for, or who deserved more to be hanged. The captain screamed with delight: – "he'll get bone soup, at least, for a while, instead of Santa Fé good muttonchops at our expense."
My second crew was furnished by Mr. Pete, before referred to, and on the seventeenth of December we set sail from that country of revolutions. Things soon dropped into working order, and I found reason to be pleased with the change of crew. We glided smoothly along down the river, thence wishing never again to see Rosario under the distressing circumstances through which she had just passed.
On the following day, while slipping along before a light, rippling breeze, a dog was espied out in the current, struggling in the whirlpools, which were rather strong, apparently unable to extricate himself, and was greatly exhausted. Coming up with him our main tops'1 was laid to the mast, and as we ranged by the poor thing, a sailor, plunging over the side in a bowline, bent a rope on to doggy, another one hauled him carefully on board, and the rescue was made. He proved to be a fine young retriever, and his intelligent signs of thankfulness for his escape from drowning were scarcely less eloquent of gratitude than human spoken language.
This pleasant incident happening on a Friday, suggested, of course, the name we should give him. His new master, to be sure, was Garfield, who at once said, "I guess they won't know me when I get home, with my new suit – and a dog!" The two romped the decks thenceforth, early and late. It was good to see them romp, while "Friday" "barkit wi' joy."
Our pets were becoming numerous now, and all seemed happy till a stowaway cat one day killed poor little "Pete," our canary. For ten years or more we had listened to the notes of this wee bird, in many countries and climes. Sweetest of sweet singers, it was buried in the great Atlantic at last. A strange cat, a careless steward, and its tiny life was ended – and the tragedy told. This was indeed a great loss to us all, and was mourned over, – almost as the loss of a child.
A book that has been read at sea has a near claim on our friendship, and is a thing one is loth to part with, or change, even for a better book. But the well-tried friend of many voyages is oh! so hard to part with at sea. A resting-place in the solemn sea of sameness – in the trackless ocean, marked only by imaginary lines and circles – is a cheerless spot to look to; yet how many have treasures there !
Returning to the voyage and journal: Our pilot proved ~i, and we narrowly escaped shipwreck in consequence at Martin Garcia Bar, a bad spot in the river Plate. A small schooner captain, observing that we needlessly followed in his track, and being anything but a sailor in principle, wantonly meditated mischief to us. While I was confidently trusting to my pilot, and he (the pilot) trusting to the schooner, one that could go over banks where we would strike, what did the scamp do but shave close to a dangerous spot, my pilot following faithfully in his wake. Then, jumping upon the taffrail of his craft, as we came abreast the shoal, he yelled, like a Comanche, to my pilot to: "Port the helm!" and what does my mutton-headed jackass do but port hard over! The bark, of course, brought up immediately on the ground, as the other had planned, seeing which his whole pirate crew – they could have been little less than pirates – joined in roars of laughter, but sailed on, doing us no other harm.
By our utmost exertions the bark was gotten off, not a moment too soon, however, for by the time we kedged her into deep water a pampeiro was upon us. She rode out the gale safe at anchor, thanks to an active crew. Our water tanks and casks were then refilled, having been emptied to lighten the bark from her perilous position.
Next evening the storm went down, and by mutual consent our mud-pilot left, taking passage in a passing river-craft, with his pay and our best advice, which was to ship in a dredging-machine, where his capabilities would be appreciated.
Then, "paddling our own canoe," without further accident we reached the light-ship, passing it on Christmas Day. Clearing thence, before night, English Bank and all other dangers of the land, we set our course for Ilha Grande, the wind being fair. Then a sigh of relief was breathed by all on board. If ever "old briny" was welcomed, it was on that Christmas Day.
Nothing further of interest occurred on the voyage to Brazil, except the death of the little bird already spoken of, which loss deeply affected us all.
We arrived at Ilha Grande, our destination, on the 7th day of January, 1887, and came to anchor in nine fathoms of water, at about noon, within musket-range of the guard-ship, and within speaking distance of several vessels riding quarantine, with more or less communication going on among them all, through flags. Several ships, chafing under the restraint of quarantine, were "firing signals" at the guard-ship. One Scandinavian, I remember, asked if he might be permitted to communicate by cable with his owners in Christiana. The guard gave him, as the Irishman said, "an evasive answer," so the cablegram, I suppose, laid over. Another wanted police assistance; a third wished to know if he could get fresh provisions – ten milreis' ($5) worth (he was a German) – naming a dozen or more articles that he wished for, "and the balance in onions!" Altogether, the young fellows on the guardship were having, one might say, a signal practice.
On the next day, January 8th, the officers of the port came alongside in a steam-launch, and ordered us to leave, saying the port had been closed that morning. "But we have made the voyage," I said. "No matter," said the guard, "leave at once you must, or the guardship will fire into you." This, I submit, was harsh and arbitrary treatment. A thunderbolt from a clear sky could not have surprised us more or worked us much greater harm – to be ruined in business or struck by lightning, being equally bad!
Then pointing something like a gun, Dom Pedro said, said he, "Vaya Homem" (hence, begone), "Or you'll give us cholera." So back we had to go, all the way to Rosario, with that load of hay – and trouble. But on our arrival there we found things better than they were when we sailed. The cholera had ceased – it was on the wane when we sailed from Rosario, and there was hardly a case of the dread disease in the whole country east of Cordova when we returned. That was indeed, a comfort, but it left our hardship the same, and led, consequently, to the total loss of the vessel after dragging us through harrowing trials and losses. as will be seen by subsequent events.