Sea Scamps/Off Luzon
THERE were three of us aboard the schooner, Boles, Brown, and myself—Jordan Knapp, formerly of the Bridgeport Iron Works. Besides, there were three Filipino boys and the Chino cook.
Boles and I had been shipmates on a rather peculiar cruise up the Chinese coast, about six weeks before we bought our schooner, and while this trip had opened my eyes to many of his faults, at the same time I was obliged to admit that he was a man of his word, even if the proposition seemed a little crooked, and, as far as nerve and ingenuity were concerned, he might almost have passed for a New Englander.
We made a nice little haul on this deal, and when we were closing up the affair he suggested the scheme of our buying a little vessel, and trading around the Philippines. As his figures were very convincing, and as he had once been in the island trade, and seemed perfectly familiar with all of the details, I did a thing at which, I calculate, all of my Connecticut ancestors turned in their graves; that is, I put my last cent in an enterprise that I knew practically nothing about.
Just as we were about to clear, I fell foul of little Brown, who did me a good turn when I was in a sort of scrape with the local authorities. He was a nice little chap, although he had about as much business ability as a Chino has Christian charity. Boles liked him, too, and as we needed another white man in the outfit, we finally persuaded him to come along. The funny part of it was that he didn't seem to care two cents about the financial end of it; wouldn't take a share, and absolutely refused to let us pay him any salary. All he seemed to care about was to rig himself out in a tweed coat and a little red cap, get a hold of a long-handled brush, and peck away at a canvas for all the world like a woodpecker at a hollow stump. He would sling on paint of almost every colour he had in his paint locker, and make a perfect mess of it; then, while I might be trying to figure out what he was trying to make, there would suddenly rise out of the paste a great brimming comber, with others following it up, and 'way in the distance a cold, wet sky-line with ugly-looking trade-wind clouds, and perhaps the topsails of a ship behind it.
The trouble was that, the minute a picture began to look like anything, he would quit that one and start another. I often told him that if he would only stick to one until he finished it, he might get a couple of dollars for it from some tourist with money, but it was no use, and I thought that I had never seen such a financial paralytic.
This only goes to show what a dam fool a fellow can make of himself when he gets mixing up in something he knows nothing about. One day I was devilling Brown about a sort of paint mud-pie he was making, but he took it all good-naturedly, and said that it was a "study." I said that was a good name for it, as it took right smart of study to make it out. Then, I suggested that he go up and put some of his loose paint on the forward deckhouse, as it needed a coat, and so on. At last he got up and went below, and I thought that he was mad, and began to feel sorry that I had been so humourous and witty. Pretty soon he came on deck with a newspaper clipping, and handed it to me without a word. It was from some art review, and told how the academy picture of the marine artist, Arthur Brown, had been sold to Mr. Dana Gibbs of New York for eight hundred dollars!
I went right forward when I had read that, and gave the forward deckhouse a good thick coat of fresh green paint. I calculated that it was a good healthful colour for my eyes to rest on every morning when I came on deck.
That should have taught me, but it didn't. About a month later, when we were trading around the Sulu Sea, Brown used to go ashore all by himself and stay all day. Late in the afternoon he'd come aboard clean tuckered out, and lugging a grass bag full of all sorts of weeds and flowers. I talked to him real sharp for hiking around the country all alone that way, and running the risk of getting "boloed," to say nothing of sun and fever, and he seemed sorry, and promised to be more careful in future. When we got back to Manila, I went ashore with him one day, and he hunted up some old Dutch botanist that was stopping at the English Hotel, and sold him one of the weeds for one hundred and fifty dollars! Afterwards he told me that it was an orchid of a very rare variety, an Oncidium, I think he called it, and a kind never before found anywhere but in South America. Of course I wanted to go in for weeds altogether then, but he said that one might hunt for months without finding a really valuable specimen, so I gave it up.
The first cruise we made out of Manila was the most profitable we had, as we got a little corner on hemp down in Samar. We earned all we got, however, and came near coming out 'way behind, to say nothing of Boles getting a bullet through his lungs, and my being compelled to let daylight through a Spanish trader who, for some reason, was disposed to dispute our right to the cargo, although we had paid, and held a receipt for it. But we had no cause to complain of any trip we made, and the one I am going to tell of now paid for the schooner out and out, besides enabling us to render a service to the Stars and Stripes.
We had just got back from a little run down around Mindanao, where we had been to carry out an idea of mine of picking up a cargo of curios—knives, spears, shields, etc.—to sell to the tourists and time-expired soldiers who wanted war relics to take home to their friends. It was almost dark when we came in behind the breakwater, and dropped our hook astern of the great white hospital ship that lay there when she was in port, and always made me homesick, because I used to see her swinging up Long Island Sound when I went ducking out of Bridgeport In the late fall.
Brown and I took the dinghy and one of our boys, and started right in for the Captain of the Ports, leaving Boles to make things snug aboard the schooner. After we had transacted a little business, we went up to the Oriente and had a drink, and played a string or two of pool. It was about midnight when we came back down to our boat, and we had a little argument with a sentry, who seemed to look on us with suspicion, although this was after the seven-o'clock order had been annulled.
We dropped quickly down the river with the current, and struck the cut-off that runs from the Pasig into the basin behind the breakwater. There was a little brig lying just in our course to the schooner, and as we passed quietly under her stem I heard voices talking excitedly in Spanish. Brown was half asleep in the bow, when suddenly he straightened up, and then reached over and gave Emilio, the boy who was rowing, a nudge in the back. He held water, and we listened, almost under the stem of the vessel.
I can make myself fairly well understood in Spanish, but when they throw it at me in lumps, I cant hold it at all. Brown had studied art in Europe, and I don't know where Boles picked up his Spanish, but both of them could chin like natives.
Our boat slipped silently up to the brig, and Brown reached out and held the heel of the brig's rudder, which was out of water, as she was light. The voices pattered steadily along, and I guessed from the way Brown would listen, and then shoot a look at Emilio, that something interesting was in the wind.
We must have hung on there for three-quarters of an hour, and then there came a pause. I saw Brown's hand steal down and slip his revolver out of his pocket; then he silently motioned to Emilio to shove off, which he did quietly enough with the revolver covering the nape of his neck. Brown wouldn't say a word until we were alongside. Then he motioned to Emilio to jump aboard, followed him, and waved him down the fore companionway with his revolver, and then slid the hatch, and bolted it behind him. This done, he walked to the after companionway and called softly to Boles, who came on deck in his pajamas.
"What's up?" he asked, in the quick, aggressive way he had. I don't ever remember having seen Boles sleepy.
"See that little brig over by the mouth of the cut-off?" said Brown. "Well, we've been eavesdropping under her stern for the last hour or so, and I'm on the inside of a very fine filibustering scheme, generously subscribed to by a lot of the merchants right here in Manila."
"Humph!" said Boles—"when is it coming off?"
"It's under way right now. There's a big steam launch left Hong-Kong to-night, loaded up with Mausers, Remington and Mauser cartridges, and the Lord knows what else, and this brig is to meet her 160 miles due east of Vigan, and run the stuff into a bay near Cabugao."
We were silent for a couple of minutes to let the idea soak in.
"When does the brig go out?" I asked.
"She clears to-morrow for some place in the north—I couldn't learn where."
"Was Emilio with you?" asked Boles quickly.
"Yes—just now he's down forward under lock and key."
"Good!"said Boles. "Well, Knapp——"
"Boles," said I, "you are an Englishman, but Brown and I are Americans, and it seems to me that our duty to our country in a case of this sort is imperative. Of course, it is our plain duty to prevent these munitions of war from falling into the hands of the enemies of our flag, but at the same time I see no reason why this cannot be accomplished in a manner profitable to us. We have got the information, and we ought to be the ones to profit by it. I calculate we can handle this thing without any help from anyone, and I claim that if we do "
"Sh-h-h—not so loud!" said Boles, in that aggravating way of his; "no need to get mad about it—no one's contradicting you."
That's always the way with Boles. If you get a good line of argument he gets sort of jealous, and tries to blanket you. It always put me out to be interrupted, but I guess that perhaps I was talking a little loud.
"Now, just shut up till I get through," said I, "and then you can heave on your jaw-tackle for a while. We haven't reported our arrival yet, and the best thing that we can do is to light right out for the neighbourhood of Cubagao, and hang around off there until this hooker turns up with the contraband. Then we'll just waltz in with our little ensign at our peak, and annex it in the name of the United States of America."
"And then?" asked Boles.
"Oh, well," said I; "if we run all the risk in getting the stuff, I calculate we're the ones entitled to it, ain't we?"
"The quartermaster would probably make a different calculation," said Boles, "but we can run it right back to—no, damn it, we can't do that, either—what the devil could we do with it?" He tugged away at his moustache, and scowled at the deck. Suddenly he looked up.
"Suppose we just stow it away, and trade it off little by little?"
I brought my fist down on the hatch with a bang.
"No, by Gosh!—d'ye think I'd let one cartridge fall into these niggers' hands to wipe out the life of one American soldier? I'd scuttle this darn wagon first with all on board."
Boles laughed his hard little laugh.
"Let the eagle scream. No, friend Jordan—that wasn't my idea at all. Why can't we trade it outside of the Philippines—in Polynesia?"
"It goes against my grain," said I, "to put weapons into the hands of savages of any kind."
"It seems to me you fellows are taking a lot for granted," Brown cut in; " don't you suppose a crew in charge of a cargo like that would be a pretty mean gang to handle? There are only three of us, and it's not likely our Filipino crew would give us a lot of help."
"Right O!" said Boles; "we'd need another man or two, and I know right where to get them. But see here. Do you know what that filibuster will be sure to have that's easier to handle than guns, cartridges, and canned goods? No?—well, I'll tell you. Money! Drafts on the Hong-Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, against silver deposited to the credit of Aggie's army, and as good as gold—or half as good. It's a sure thing—if we can only find it. To hell with your Mausers, we'll give them to the mermaids. Now, boys, this schooner will sail three times 'round that double-ender over there, between here and Vigan, and we've got time enough, so to-morrow we'll just clear for Hong-Kong, ship a couple of beachcombing acquaintances, and hang around Cabugao for a few days. Of course, it won't do to let our friends spot us before they transfer the junk. Now, Brown, let's hear every word you overheard. We don't want to get mixed in our dates.'
Brown gave us the whole argument just as he had it down from the dinghy, and it certainly seemed a straight yarn. Being Spaniards, the thing had been discussed fore and aft, thwartships, and from truck to keel, with as many side-lights and vain repetitions as are in the whine of a Baptist elder at a Wednesday-night prayer meeting.
When Brown was finished, I undertook to frame the idea so that we might look at it from its proper business point of view. I had discovered from experience that the other two were very likely to he more or less influenced by the sensational aspect of a scheme that was a little out of the ordinary.
"Well," said I, "the thing stands like this. Here's a vessel that's chartered to meet a filibustering tug at sea, and take on a valuable cargo of supplies and ammunition for Aguinaldo's army. Boles claims that there'll be money, too, but that's all in the air. The chances are that she'll leave here with no more than the ordinary crew aboard her, but it's a dead certainty that she'll ship a whole raft of supercargoes from the filibuster, as they'll want at least two men to watch the paymaster, and two more to watch the men that are watching the paymaster. Now, their long suit is weapons—and darn good ones at that. Looking at it that way, I don't see that we can do anything but report it to the commanding general. As a business proposition there's nothing in it. Suppose we were to get a few beachcombers aboard, and round up the outfit—we don't know that we'1l find any money, and the other stuff is worse than useless to us—might even get us in trouble. Anyway, I'm against any proposition that we have to call in outsiders for. Remember that pirate hunt? I do, because I got a knife stuck through my arm!"
Boles nodded. “Knapp's right. There's nothing in it but acute lead poisoning—if we go at it in that amateurish way. But I've a little plan that I think might answer—only, it's about as safe as taking an after-dinner smoke in a powder magazine. Now I'll net it forth, and if you don't think it's worth while, or if it doesn't strike you that the profit is proportionate to the risk, we'll paddle right over and see what we can get out of it at headquarters."
With that he sprung his plan, and as he went on with it I could feel my throat itch from ear to ear, and little Brown's hair pushed his painting cap right up in the air, but from the way his eyes began to glitter I could see that his good sense was leaving him.
When Boles got through we were silent for a minute. Then he spoke in that cool, aggravating way of his, with never a change to his voice when he should have been down on his knees praying the Lord to vouchsafe him a little horse sense.
"Well, gentlemen," says he, "what's the verdict?"
I poured out a stiff drink of gin, and lit my pipe. While I was slowly blowing out the match, I made up my mind.
"I'm game," said I; "I'm a gol-darned fool—but I'm game."
"It's up to you, Brown," said Boles. "Before you answer I just want to say that my advice to you is not to come in. Knapp and I need the money. You've a nice little independent income, and there's no reason why you should take a long shot like this. If you——"
"Doctor Boles," said Brown, his voice so husky that he could hardly get out the words, "I've sailed with you and Knapp for about five months, now, and I've never stood shy yet, have I? I don't see why—less you th—you're afraid that I may fail you when——"
I saw that he was just on the ragged edge of breakdown, so I gave him a slap on the shoulder that rocked him clean up against the after bulkhead.
"You're all right, Brownie—the doc's going to apologise; let's get under way." I chased him up through the hatch, and a half-hour later we were beating down the bay towards Corregidor. About halfway down we rounded up, let our anchor, and dropped our sails. We took turns standing watch that night, but I don't think that any of us got too much sleep. About ten o'clock the following morning we sighted the brig coming out, and an hour later she passed us where we lay at anchor. The difference between a Filipino coasting brigantine and an island schooner is about five knots an hour in a ten-knot breeze, so we were in no great hurry to get after her, especially as we knew her course and destination, so we did not make sail until she was a mere speck down Corregidor. Then we got under way, and once near of Merivalles Mountain broke out our kites and settled down to overhaul her before sundown.
All that day we stood after her, and it was amazing to see how slowly we gained, in spite of the way we were slipping through the water, but by five o'clock we had them close aboard and to leeward. By that time, of course, they guessed that we had some particular interest in them, and twice they altered their course to make sure. We were very much relieved to see only two white men on her decks, and we felt pretty sure that if there were any more, curiosity would have brought them up. Boles had harangued our sailors, and as they were all Macabebes, and hostile to the Tagallos, we decided to trust them, especially after promising them a magnificent reward if we were successful.
As we drew in on them. Boles took the wheel himself, and as soon as we were within hailing distance, ordered them to heave to, which, rather to our surprise, they did in silence, probably awed by our khaki clothes and blue flannel shirts. There was a bit of a sea on, but we laid her alongside without any trouble, Emilio taking the wheel, and we three standing by with our rifles handy. As we crashed together, Boles and Brown leaped onto her decks, while I stood by the wheel.
In a minute our boys had made us fast and got in our headsails. The two men on the quarter-deck of the little brig watched the whole thing in sullen silence, scowling and muttering to one another. The brig's native crew gathered forward in a little clump, jabbering among themselves. I guessed that they knew nothing about the real object of the expedition, and looked on the whole thing as another instance of American insanity.
Boles stepped up to the captain, his rifle in the crook of his elbow.
"Go aboard the schooner," he said, waving his hand toward me.
"But why?—we are peaceful traders. I can show you my papers."
"I will see them later—just now go!"
An ugly look came into the man's eyes, and for a moment he hesitated. Boles' grip tightened on the stock, and he started to raise the rifle, but the men walked to the gunwale, and, watching their chance, leaped across.
"Watch those chaps," said Boles, and dove down the companionway. A minute later he came on deck. He jumped aboard the schooner, and laid his rifle on the deck beside me. Then he drew his heavy revolver and turned to the captain of the brig.
"I will give you five minutes to get me the papers that you have for the people on the launch which you are going to meet. If you fail to get them in that time, you are a dead man. All of your plans are known, and there is an American gunboat ready to meet the launch as soon as she arrives from Hong-Kong. Now come with me, and remember that your life is at stake."
The Spaniard turned white as a sheet.
"But there are no papers, señor," he gasped. "It was thought better not to have them."
"That is a pity, for now you must die," said Boles; "but I think you lie. If it is true that you have no papers, how are the others to know that you are the ones whom they seek?"
"Ah, señor, the captain of the launch is my old comrade, Juan Gomez, and when we drew near we were to fly a small white flag from our peak."
Boles tugged at his moustache for a moment. Then his face hardened.
I will question you and this other man separately in the cabin, and if what you say does not agree, or if when we meet the gunboat I find that you have been telling lies, you shall both surely die. On the other hand, if you tell the truth, I will promise that you shall go free, and your vessel will not be confiscated."
"Ah, the señor captain is very good. We will tell all that we know, especially now that all is lost,"
They went below, and in about half an hour the captain came on deck again, and the other man went down. In a few minutes he also came up, followed by Boles.
"They tell a straight enough story," he said. "It's just as I thought. They're only chartered for the job. Beyond that they've no interest in the thing. And there w some money coming aboard."
"What 'll we do with them now?" I asked.
"That's the question. It was my idea to keep them with us till we got almost up there, and then cut away their sticks, and turn them loose to get back the best way they could. But that seems rather tough. I believe I'll just order them to keep by us for another twenty-four hours, and then tell them to clear out. That 'll prevent their from flagging the launch by cable, if by any chance she hasn't left Hong-Kong. They'll be only too glad to clear out. They're satisfied that the whole game is up."
"Ain't they any way leary of us?" I asked.
"No—they think that we're just sent out as bait to make extra sure. That idea of the gunboat was an inspiration."
The scheme seemed a good one, so we just acted on it. The men were tickled to death to get out of it so easy, and we gave them a drink in the cabin and sent them back aboard their brig, pleased as could be.
We had to shorten sail so as not to run away from them, and all that night they hung on so close that I thought once or twice they might foul us. The weather kept fair, and on the second day after, as we were getting up near the rendezvous, we hailed them and told them to go back, and that the less they said the less chance there was of their getting in trouble. Two hours later they were hull down to the southwest.
For three days we lay waiting around the place of rendezvous, and I must say that, except for one week when I had the neuralgia from driving the workmen on a high trestle in the winter, it was the most miserable seventy-two hours of my life. Boles didn't seem to mind it, but I was afraid that little Brown was going to have nervous prostration. He never painted a single lick, which was a mighty bad sign.
On the morning of the fourth day I happened to be on deck. Boles and Brown were below playing cribbage. We were dead becalmed, which doesn't often happen in the China Sea, and as I threw my eyes to the westward, suddenly a column of black smoke over the horizon shot straight up into the air. My heart gave a big jump, and then I lit my pipe so as to get myself together before Boles and Brown came on deck. As soon as I was able to raise her hull over the sky-line I jumped up the fore rigging with a binocular and made her out. She was the filibuster all right, and coming as if she'd been delayed on the street and was afraid she might miss her date. Then I called Boles and Brown. Now that the suspense was over and the time for action come, we all took a brace. I ran up our little white rag to the peak, and then we just stood and watched, and all that you could hear was the gurgle of my old brier and the smack in the water when I sucked in a mouthful of nicotine in my excitement.
Up she came, and we saw that she was a launch of perhaps sixty or eighty tons, and all housed in forward with rough, unplaned planks to stand the sea. In the cockpit aft there were half a dozen or so of men, and there was no telling how many more might be down in the cabin.
She ran up almost alongside of us, and not more than fifty feet away, and then the bell rang and her propeller sucked the water back under her stem. A moment later she was lolling idly in the sea, while a dozen binoculars were playing over us from stem to stem, and my skin itched under the scrutiny. Boles calmly picked up a glass and returned the stare. Brown's teeth went through the stem of his old pipe, and it fell on the deck with a crack that made us jump.
A voice in Spanish hailed us from the launch.
"What vessel is that? Where are you bound?"
"This is the schooner Kaiulani of Manila," answered Boles. "Is Captain Juan Gomez aboard that launch?"
A grizzled old Spanish shellback stuck his head out from behind the " buffalo."
"I am Captain Gomez. Who are you?"
"My name is John Rogers. I have a message to you from your friend Captain Velasquez, of the brig Torreador."
All of the men looked at one another. Then a thick voice hailed us in a peremptory sort of way that brought up my dander.
"Who the devil are you anyway?"
Boles answered easily: "We are Englishmen, and we've been trading around the islands. Five days ago we were lying in Manila, and old Velasquez, whom I know pretty well, came off aboard and told me that he thought he was being watched, and offered to turn this job over to me. I was to let him know the next day, but he didn't show up, so we just slipped quietly out, and here we are. We'll run your stuff if you want us to, but you'll have to bid up, as it's a dangerous job. Only yesterday a gunboat passed us close aboard, northward bound; probably Aparri. She may be back any minute."
There was a hurried consultation, then the thick voice called out:
"How much do you want?"
"One thousand pesos," answered Boles.
"You take advantage of our position—we will give you three hundred."
"Take it or leave it," said Boles
There was another pow-wow for a moment. Then the man called out:
"All right—it's a go."
"You darned idiot," I thought to myself; "what trusting kids you must reckon we are to think that we'd ever see that thousand!"
Boles waved his hand to the boys forward.
"Stand by to take a line. Get those fenders over—all right, haul away." We had dropped down our sails when we had first made out the launch.
Five of the men on the launch came aboard at once. One was a Spaniard, two seemed to be mestizos, and of the other two one was a German and the other, I regret to say, had "American" written all over him. One of the mestizos carried a heavy, brass-bound box, and I had hard work to keep from giving Boles a wink when I saw it. But we were all in the devil of a hurry now, as a gunboat was liable to slip up at any moment, and in that case we would all have had a trick at polishing pearl shells in Bilibid for a good while.
Boles took the officers down into the cabin, and soon I heard laughter and the clinking of glasses. It must have been a relief to get off that miserable two-by-six launch and get a chance to turn around.
We rigged a whip from the springstay, and it didn't take long to transfer the junk. There were ten boxes of rifles, and box after box of ammunition— also a lot of American flour and a good supply of American canned beef and beans. In an hour's time we had it all stowed and the hatches down again, and a half-hour later the launch was on her way to Manila, empty and innocent.
The following morning at daybreak we picked up the land: Badoc Island according to Boles' calculations. Our passengers were down below, but awake. Only the German was on deck. Boles said to me:
"Making poor time—eh?" That was the signal.
"She's sort o' logy this morning. Brown," I called.
Brown was up forward. When he heard me he came aft and took the wheel, as white as a sheet. The German noticed it.
"Mein Gott!—vos you sick al——" Then his own face went plaster-coloured and his jaw dropped, for he was looking down the muzzle of the rifle that Boles had hauled from under the dinghy.
It was my turn then, and I must say that I really enjoyed this part of it, and couldn't help rubbing it in a bit. I picked my weapon, a double-barrelled shotgun full of slugs, from under the whaleboat, and walked to the after companionway. I threw the sliding-hatch back with a slam that shook the deck and sat myself down on the top of the ladder, the shotgun under my arm and covering the whole bunch. I knew of course that they were all armed, but I had the drop, and the moral effect of a shotgun is worth a barrel of revolvers.
"Bueno, señors," said I, and I couldn't for the life of me keep a grin off my face. "Savvy—hold up? No savvy? Here, you," I said to the American, "tell these gents. Thr'up yer hands!" I roared with a yell that almost knocked him over, for I had seen one arm drop stealthily down behind him.
His arms went up with a jerk,—luckily for him,—and none too soon. As it was, for a moment I thought that he was going up. The others were scared to death. I called Emilio and sent him down to go through their pockets. He brought an arsenal on deck with him.
"There's an outrigger coming off," sung out Brown all at once.
"Drop your forestaysail," Boles called forward. The iron rings jingled down the stay. "Get in your jib. Leggo your foresheet. Down helm, Brown, chuck her up!—steady—steady—keep her there. Now get that whaleboat over—so."
Then to the German: "Get in that boat—I'll give her to you as a little token of esteem. Up ye come there—into the boat with ye!"
A madder crowd of men than went over the side of that schooner I never in my life have seen.
"Shove off," called Boles down the barrel of his rifle.
"But where will we go," wailed the Spaniard.
"To hell for all I care," said Boles. There's Cubugao right ahead of you—nice place. Hard up. Brown—steady. Adios, señors!"
We looked at one another, then had a handshake all 'round.
"Well, Knapp?" said Boles.
"Well, doc," said I, "the whole thing was so darnation easy that I'm almost afraid that it wasn't honest!"