C H A P T E R V I
Mutiny – Attempt at robbery and murder – Four against one – Two go down before a rifle – Order restoredJULY 23rd, 1887, brings me to a sudden and shocking point in the history of the voyage that I fain would forget, but that will not be possible. Between the hours of 11 and 12 p.m. of this day I was called instantly to defend my life and all that is dear to a man.
The bark, anchored alone in the harbour of Antonina, was hid from the town in the darkness of a night that might well have covered the blackest of tragedies. My pirates thought their opportunity had surely come to capture the Aquidneck, and this they undertook to do. The ringleader of the gang was a burly scoundrel, whose boast was that he had "licked" both the mate and second mate of the last vessel he had sailed in, and had "busted the captain in the jaw" when they landed in Rio, where the vessel was bound, and where, of course, the captain had discharged him. It was there the villain shipped with me, in lieu of one of the Rosario gang who had been kindly taken in charge by the guard at Ilha Grande and brought to Rio to be tried before the American consul for insubordination. Said he, one day when I urged him to make haste and help save the topsails in a squall, "Oh, I'm no soft-horn to be hurried!" It was the time the bark lost her topgallantmast and was cast on her beam-ends on the voyage to Antonina, already told; it was, in fact, no time for loafing, and this braggart at a decisive word hurried aloft with the rest to do his duty. What I said to him was meant for earnest, and it cowed him. It is only natural to think that he held a grudge against me forever after, and waited only for his opportunity; knowing, too, that I was the owner of the bark, and supposed to have money. He was heard to say in a rum-mill a day or two before the attack that he would find the money and his life, too. His chum and bosom friend had come pretty straight from Palermo penitentiary at Buenos Aires when he shipped with me at Rosario.
It was no secret on board the bark that he had served two years for robbing, and cutting a ranchman's throat from ear to ear. These records, which each seemed to glory in, were verified in both cases.
I met the captain afterwards who had been "busted in the jaw" – Captain Roberts, of Baltimore, a quiet gentleman, with no evil in his heart for any one, and a man, like myself, well along in years.
Two of the gang, old Rosario hands, had served for the lesser offence of robbery alone – they brought up in the rear! The other two of my foremast hands – one a very respectable Hollander, the other a little Japanese sailor, a bright, young chap – had been robbed and beaten by the four ruffians, and then threatened so that they deserted to the forest instead of bringing a complaint of the matter to me, for fear, as the Jap expressed it afterwards, when there was no longer any danger, – for fear the "la-la-long mans [thieves] would makee killo mi!"
The ringleader bully had made unusual efforts to create a row when I came on board early in the evening; however, as he had evidently been drinking, I passed it off as best I could for the natural consequence of rum, and ordered him forward; instead of doing as he was bid, when I turned to hand my wife to the cabin he followed me threateningly to the break of the poop. What struck me most, however, was the conduct of his chum, who was sober, but in a very unusual, high, gleeful mood. It was knock-off time when I came along to where he was seizing off the mizzen topgallant backstay, the last of the work of refitting the late pampeiro damage; and the mate being elsewhere engaged, I gave the usual order to quit work. "Knock off," I said to the man, "and put away your tools. The bark's rigging looks well," I added, "and if to-morrow turns out fine, all will be finished"; whereupon the fellow laughed impertinently in my face, repeating my words, "All will be finished!" under his breath, adding, "before tomorrow!" This was the first insult offered by the "Bloodthirsty Tommy," who had committed murder only a short time before; but I had been watched by the fellow, with a cat-like eye at every turn.
The full significance of his words on this occasion came up to me only next morning, when I saw him lying on the deck with a murderous weapon in his hand! I was not expecting a cowardly, night attack, nevertheless I kept my gun loaded. I went to sleep this night as usual, forgetting the unpleasant episode as soon as my head touched the pillow; but my wife, with finer instincts, kept awake. It was well for us all that she did so. Near midnight, my wife, who had heard the first footstep on the poop-deck, quietly wakened me, saying, "We must get up, and look out for ourselves! Something is going wrong on deck; the boat tackle has been let go with a great deal of noise, and – O! don't go that way on deck. I heard some one on the cabin steps, and heard whispering in the forward entry."
"You must have been dreaming," I said.
"No, indeed!" said she; "I have not been asleep yet; don't go on deck by the forward companionway; they are waiting there, I am sure, for I heard the creaking of the loose step in the entry."
If my wife has not been dreaming, thought I, there can be no possible doubt of a plot.
Nothing justifies a visit on the poop-deck after working-hours, except a call to relieve sickness, or for some other emergency, and then secrecy or stealth is non-permissible.
It may be here explained to persons not familiar with ships, that the sailors' quarters are in the forward part of the ship where they (the sailors) are supposed to be found after working-hours, in port, coming never abaft the mainmast; hence the term "before the mast."
My first impulse was to step on deck in the usual way, but the earnest entreaties of my wife awoke me to a danger that should be investigated with caution. Arming myself, therefore, with a stout carbine repeater, with eight ball cartridges in the magazine, I stepped on deck abaft instead of forward, where evidently I had been expected. I stood rubbing my eyes for a moment, inuring them to the intense darkness, when a coarse voice roared down the forward companionway to me to come on deck. "Why don't ye come on deck like a man, and order yer men forid? " was the salute that I got, and was the first that I heard with my own ears, and it was enough. To tell the whole story in a word, I knew that I had to face a mutiny.
I could do no less than say: "Go forward there!"
"Yer there, are ye?" said the spokesman, as with an oath he bounded toward me, cursing as he came.
Again I ordered him forward, saying, "I am armed, – if you come here I will shoot!" But I forbore to do so instantly, thinking to club him to the deck instead, for my carbine was a heavy one. I dealt him a blow as he came near, sufficient, I thought, to fell an ox; but it had, apparently, no effect, and instantly he was inside of my guard. Then grasping me by the throat, he tried to force me over the taffrail, and cried, exultingly, as he felt me give way under his brute strength, "Now, you damn fool, shoot!" at the same time drawing his knife to strike.
I could not speak, or even breathe, but my carbine spoke for me, and the ruffian fell with the knife in his hand which had been raised against me! Resolution had proved more than a match for brute force, for I then knew that not only my own life but also the lives of others depended on me at this moment. Nothing daunted, the rest came on, like hungry wolves. Again I cried, "Go forward!" But thinking, maybe, that my rifle was a single shooter, or that I could not load it so quickly, the order was disregarded.
"What if I don't go forward?" was "Bloody Tommy's" threatening question, adding, as he sprang toward me, "I've got this for you!" but fell instantly as he raised his hand; and there on the deck was ended his misadventure! and like the other he fell with the deadly knife in his hand. I was now all right. The dread of cold steel had left me when I freed myself from the first would-be assassin, and I only wondered how many more would persist in trying to take my life. But recollecting there were only two mutineers left, and that I had still six shots in the magazine of my rifle, and one already in the chamber, I stood ready with the hammer raised, and my finger on the trigger, confident that I would not be put down.
There was no further need of extreme measures, however, for order was now restored, though two of the assailants had skulked away in the dark. How it was that I regained my advantage, after once losing it, I hardly know; but this I am certain of, that being down I was not to be spared. Then desperation took the place of fear, and I felt more than a match for all that could come against me. I had no other than serene feelings, however, and had no wish to pursue the two pirates that fled.
Immediately after the second shot was fired, and I found myself once more master of my bark, the remaining two came aft again, at my bidding this time, and in an orderly manner, it may be believed.
It is idle to say what I would or would not have given to have the calamity averted, or, in other words, to have had a crew of sailors, instead of a gang of cut-throats.
However, when the climax came, I had but one course to pursue; this I resolutely followed. A man will defend himself and his family to the last, for life is sweet, after all.
It was significant, the court thought afterwards, that while my son had not had time to dress, they all had on their boots except the one who fell last, and he was in his socks, with no boots on. It was he who had waited for me as I have already said, on the cabin steps that I usually passed up and down on, but this time avoided. Circumstantial evidence came up in abundance to make the case perfectly clear to the authorities. There are few who will care to hear more about a subject so abhorrent to all, and I care less to write about it. I would not have said this much, but for the enterprise of a rising department clerk, who, seeing the importance of telling to the world what he knew, and seeing also some small emolument in the matter, was I believe prompted to augment the consular dispatches, thus obliging me to fight the battle over. However, not to be severe on the poor clerk, I will only add that no indignities were offered me by the authorities through all the strict investigation that followed the tragedy.
The trial being for justice and not for my money the case was soon finished.
I sincerely hope that I may never again encounter such as those who came from the jails to bring harm and sorrow in their wake.
The work of loading was finished soon after the calamity to my bark, and a Spanish sailing-master was engaged to take her to Montevideo; my son Victor going as flag captain.
I piloted the Aquidneck out of the harbour, and left her clear of the buoy, looking as neat and trim as sailor could wish to see. All the damage done by the late pampeiro had been repaired, new topgallant-masts rigged, and all made ataunto. I saw my handsome bark well clear of the dangers of the harbour limits, then in sorrow I left her and paddled back to the town, for I was on parole to appear, as I have said, for trial! That was the word; I can find no other name for it – let it stand!