C H A P T E R I V
Ilha Grande decree – Return to Rosario – Waiting opening of the Brazilian ports – Scarcity of sailors – Buccaneers turned pilots – Sail down the river – Arrive at llha Grande the second time – Quarantined and fumigated – Admitted to pratique – Sail for Rio – Again challenged – Rio at last
THIS Ilha Grande decree, really a political movement, brought great hardships on us, notwithstanding that it was merely intended by the Brazilians as retaliation for past offences by their Argentine neighbours; not only for quarantines against Rio fevers, but for a discriminating duty as well on sugar from the empire; a combination of hardships on commerce – more than the sensitive Brazilians could stand – so chafing them that a retaliation fever sprung up reaching more than the heat of febre marello, and they decided to teach their republican cousins a wholesome lesson. However, their wish was to retaliate without causing war, and it was done. In fact, closing ports as they did at the beginning of Argentine's most valuable season of exports to Brazil, and with the plausible excuse, namely fear of pain in the stomach, so filled the Argentines with admiration of their equals in strategy that they on the earliest opportunity proclaimed two public holidays in honour of bright Brazil. So the matter of difference ended, to the delight of all – in fire-crackers and champagne!
To the delight of all except the owner and crew of the Aquidneck. For our bark there was no way but to return where the cargo came from, at a ruinous loss, too, of time and money. We called at the first open port and wired to the owner of the cargo, but got no answer. Thence we sailed to Buenos Aires, where I telegraphed again for instructions. The officers of the guard-ship, upon receiving my report from Brazil, were convulsed with laughter, while I – I confess it – could not see the joke. After waiting two days, this diplomatic reply came from the owner of the cargo: "Act as the case may require." Upon this matter I had several opinions. One person suggested that the case required me to pitch the whole cargo into the sea! This friend, I may mention, was from Boston.
I have ever since regretted, however, that I did not take his advice. There seemed to be no protection for the vessel; the law that a ship must be allowed to live was unheeded; in fact this law was reversed and there were sharpers and beach-combers at every turn ready to take advantage of one's misfortunes or even drive one to despair. I concluded, finally, to shake the lot of them, and proceeding up the Parana, moored again at the berth where, a few weeks before, we had taken in the cargo. Spans and tackle were rigged, and all was made ready to discharge. It was now, "Come on, McCarthy, or McCarthy, come on ! " I didn't care which, I had one right on my side, and I kept that always in view; namely, the right to discharge the cargo where I had first received it; but where the money to buy ballast and pay other charges was to come from I could not discover.
My merchant met me in great concern at my "misfortunes," but "carramba!" (zounds) said he, "my own losses are great." It required very little reasoning to show me that the least expensive course was the safest one for me to adopt, and my merchant offering enough to pay the marketing, I found it wisest not to disturb the cargo, but to lay up instead with it in the vessel and await the reopening of the Brazilian ports. This I did.
My merchant, Don Manuel, is said to be worth millions of pesos. The foundation of his wealth was laid by peddling charcoal, carrying it at first, to his credit be it said, on his back, and he was then a good fellow. Many a hard bargain has he waged since, and is now a "Don," living in a $90,000 house. The Don doesn't peddle charcoal any more.
Moored at Rosario, waiting, waiting; but all of us well in body, and myself finally less agitated in mind. My old friend, Don Manuel, seems better also; he "may yet purge and live clean like a gentleman."
I found upon our return to Rosario that some of the old hands were missing; laid low by the scourge, to make room for others, and some were spared who would have been less lamented. Among all the shipbrokers that I knew at Rosario, and I knew a great many, not one was taken away. They all escaped, being, it was thought, epidemic-proof. There was my broker, Don Christo Christiano – called by Don Manuel "El Sweaga" (the Swede) – whom nothing could strike with penetrative force, except a commission.
At last, April 9th, 1887, news came that the Brazilian ports were open. Cholera had long since disappeared in Santa Fe and Buenos Aires. The Brazilians had established their own beef-drying factories, and could now afford to open their ports to competition. This made a great stir among the ships. Crews were picked up here and there, out of the few brothels that had not been pulled down during the cholera, and out of the streets or from the fields. Some, too, came in from the bush. Mixed among them were many that had been let out of the prisons all over the country, so that the scourge should not be increased by over-crowded jails. Of six who shipped with me, four had been so released from prison, where they had been serving for murder or highway robbery; all this I learned when it was too late. I shall have occasion before long to speak of these again!
Well, we unmoored and dropped down the river a few miles the first day; with this crew, the hardest-looking set that ever put foot on a ship of mine, and with a swarthy Greek pilot that would be taken for a pirate in any part of the world. The second mate, who shipped also at Rosario, was not less ill-visaged, and had, in addition to his natural ugly features, a deep scar across his face, suggestive of a heavy sabre stroke; a mark which, I thought upon further acquaintance, he had probably merited. I could not make myself easy upon the first acquaintance of my new and decidedly ill-featured crew. So, early the first evening I brought the bark to anchor, and made all snug before dark for prudent reasons. Next morning, the Greek, instead of getting the bark underweigh, as I expected him to do, came to me demanding more pay for his services and thinking, maybe, that I could not do without him, demanded, unless I chose to pay considerably in excess of his regular dues, to be put on shore. I took the fellow at his first bounce. He and his grip-sack were landed on the bank there and then, with but little "palaver" over it. It was then said, so I learned after, that "old Só" would drop into the wake of some ship, and save his pilotage; in fact, they didn't know "what else he could do," as the pilots were then all engaged for other vessels.
The money was taken care of all right, and so was the Aquidneck! By daylight of the following morning she was underweigh, and under full sail at the head of a fleet of piloted vessels, and, being the swiftest sailer, easily kept the lead, and was one of the vessels that did not "rompe el banco," as was predicted by all the pilots while they hunched their shoulders above their ears exclaiming, "No practico, no possebla!" This was my second trip down the Parana, it is true, and I had been on other rivers as wonderful as this one, and had, moreover, read Mark Twain's "Life on the Mississippi," which gives no end of information on river currents wind-reefs, sand-reefs, alligator-water, and all that is useful to know about rivers, so that I was confident of my ability; all that had been required was the stirring-up that I got from the impertinent pilot, or buccaneer. whichever is proper to call him – one thing certain, he was no true sailor!
A strong, fair wind on the river, together with the current, in our favour, carried us flying down the channel, while we kept the lead, with the Stars and Stripes waving where they ought always to be seen; namely, on the ship in the van! So the duffers followed us, instead of our following them, and on we came, all clear, with the good wishes of the officers and the crews. Rut the pilots, drawing their shoulders up and repeating the refrain, "No practico, no possebla!" cursed us bitterly, and were in a vile mood, I was told, cursing more than usual, and that is saying a great deal, for all will agree who have heard them that the average "Dago" pilot is the most foul-mouthed thing afloat.
Down the river and past the light-ship we came once more, this time with no halt to make, no backing sails to let a pilot off, nothing at all to stop us; we spread all sail to a favourable breeze, and reached Ilha Grande eight days afterward, beating the whole fleet by two days. Garfield kept strict account of this. He was on deck when we made the land, a dark and foggy night it was! nothing could be seen but the dimmest outline of a headland through the haze. I knew the place, I thought, and Garfield said he could smell land, fog or coal-tar. This, it will be admitted, was reassuring. A school of merry porpoises that gambolled under the bows while we stood confidently in for the land, diving and crossing the bark's course in every direction, also guarded her from danger. I knew that so long as deepsea porpoises kept with us we had nothing to fear of the ground. When the lookout cried, "Porpoises gone," we turned the bark's head offshore, backed the maintops'l, and sent out the "pigeon" (lead). A few grains of sand and one soft, delicate white shell were brought up out of fourteen fathoms of water. We had but to heed these warnings and guides, and our course would be tolerably clear, dense and all as the fog and darkness was.
The lead was kept constantly going as we sailed along in the intense darkness, till the headland of our port was visible through the haze of grey morning. What Garfield had smelled, I may mention, turned out to be coal-tar, a pot of which had been capsized on deck by the leadsman, in the night.
By daylight in the morning, April 29, we had found the inner entrance to Ilha Grande, and sailed into the harbour for the second time with this cargo of hay. It was still very foggy, and all day heavy gusts of wind came down through the gulches in the mountains, laden with fog and rain.
Two days later, the weather cleared up, and our friends began to come in. They found us there all right, anchored close under the highest mountain.
Eight days of sullen gloom and rain at this place; then brimstone, smoke, and fire turned on to us, and we were counted healthy enough to be admitted to pratique in Rio, where we arrived May 11th, putting one more day between ourselves and our friendly competitors, who finally arrived safe, all except one, the British bark Dublin. She was destroyed by fire between the two ports. The crew was rescued by Captain Lunt, and brought safe into Rio next day.
At the fort entrance to the harbour of Rio we were again challenged and brought to, all standing, on the bar; the tide running like a mill race at the time brought the bark aback on her cables with a force, nearly cutting her down.
The Aquidneck it would seem had outsailed the telegram which should have preceded her; it was, nevertheless, my imperative duty to obey the orders of the port authorities which, however, should have been tempered with reason. It was easy for them in the fort to say, "Come to, or we'll sink you," but we in the bark, between two evils, came near being sunk by obeying the order.
Formerly, when a vessel was challenged at this fort, one, two or three shots, if necessary to bring her to, were fired, at a cost to the ship, if she were not American, of fifteen shillings for the first shot, thirty for the second, and sixty for the third; but, for American ships, the sixty-shilling shot was fired first – Americans would always have the best!
After all the difficulties were cleared away, the tardy telegram received, and being again identified by the officers, we weighed anchor for the last time on this voyage, and went into our destined port, the spacious and charming harbour of Rio.