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- The Belted Seas - 4/29 -
cash into my pocket, that I shouldn't have said was natural to him without further reasons. But supposing he'd been there before, he surely put more back in the end than he ever took out. On the other hand, if I'd had the money in Colon I might have gone back to the Windwards and to the triangle of three trees, with Sadler, Irish, and Stevey Todd, and so back to Greenough and Madge Pemberton, and been a hotel-keeper maybe, which is a good trade in Greenough. Craney was ambitious and enterprising. He had, as you might say, soaring ideas, and he'd been a valuable man to Clyde for the complicated schemes he was always setting up. He was a medium-sized man, with light hair and eyebrows, and a yellowish face, and a frame lean, though sinewy, and had only one good eye, the other pale like a fish's. His business eye always looked like it was boring a hole in some ingenious idea. As an arguer on the _Hebe Maitland_ his style was airy and gorgeous, contrary to the style of Stevey Todd, who was a cautious arguer, and gingerly.
Craney was about forty years old at the time of the _Hebe Maitland's_ loss, and Sadler about the same.
There were four of us then, left at Colon, after Craney and Abe had gone. Pretty soon we were badly off. We couldn't seem to get berths, and not much to eat. One day I up and says:
"I'm going across the Isthmus. Who else?" and Sadler says, "One of 'em's me," and we all went, footing thirty miles the first day, and slept among the rocks on a hillside.
The fourth day we went down the watershed to the town of Panama. There we found a ship ready in port that was short of hands, and shipped on her to go round the Horn. She was named the _Helen Mar_.
* * * * *
Captain Buckingham paused to fill his pipe again, and Stevey Todd said:
"'Intent to deceive and deception pursuant,' was my words, and I never give in," and Uncle Abimelech piped up to a crazy tune:
"You can arguy here and arguy there, But them that dangles in the air They surely was mistook somewhere, They ain't got good foundations."
"Aye," said Captain Buckingham thoughtfully. "It was so. I heard Sadler tune that to his banjo the night we got to Colon. Abe's got that kind of a memory, which is loose but gluey. It was so. Sadler meant old man Clyde."
THE HOTEL HELEN MAR. THE NARRATIVE CONTINUED.
Most ships trading round the Horn to the West Coast in those days would take a charter on the Gulf Stream to clean them well, on account of carrying guano. The _Helen Mar_ carried no guano, and charged freightage accordingly for being clean. Drygoods she'd brought out from New York, linens, cottons, tinware, shoes, and an outfit of furniture for a Chilian millionaire's house, including a half-dozen baby carriages, and a consignment of silk stockings and patent medicines. Now she was going back, expecting to pick up a cargo of rubber and cocoa and what not, along the West Coast. Captain Goodwin was master, and it happened he was short of hands, including his cook. He hired Stevey Todd for cook, and shipped the rest of us willing enough. It was in October as I recollect it, and sometime in November when we came to lie in the harbour of the city of Portate.
Portate is about seven hundred miles below the equator, and has a harbour at the mouth of a river called the Jiron, and even in those days it was an important place, as being at the end of a pass over the Cordilleras. There's a railroad up the pass now, and I hear the city has trolleys and electric lights, but at that time it hadn't much excitement except internal rumblings and explosions, meaning it had politics and volcanoes. Most of the ships that came to anchor there belonged to one company called the "British-American Transport Company," which took most of the rubber and cocoa bark, that came over the pass on mules--trains of mules with bells on their collars. But the _Helen Mar_ had a consignment promised her. The pack mules were due by agreement a week before, so they naturally wouldn't come for a week after. "Manana" is a word said to mean "tomorrow," but if you took it to mean "next month" you'd have a better sight on the intentions of it. That's the way of it in South America with all but the politics and the climate. The politics and the climate are like this; when they're quiet, they're asleep; and when they're not, politics are revolutions and guns, and the climate is letting off stray volcanoes and shaking up earthquakes.
But it was pleasant to be in the harbour of Portate. Everything there seemed lazy. You could lie on a bunch of sail cloth, and see the city, the sand, and the bluffs, and the valley of the Jiron up to the nearer Andes. You could look up the level river to some low hills, but what happened to the Jiron there you couldn't tell from the _Helen Mar_. Beyond were six peaks of the Andes, and four of them were white, and two blue-black in the distance, with little white caps of smoke over them. The biggest of the black ones was named "Sarasara," which was a nasty volcano, so a little old boatman told us.
"Si, senor! Oh, la Sarasara!"
His name was Cuco, and he sold us bananas and mangoes, and was drowned afterwards. The Sarasara was a gay bird. The mule drivers called her "The Wicked Grandmother."
It came on the 23d of November. Captain Goodwin and all the crew were gone ashore, excepting Stevey Todd and me left aboard. Sadler and Irish had been ashore several days without showing up, for I remember telling Captain Goodwin that Sadler wouldn't desert, not being a quitter, at which he didn't seem any more than satisfied. I was feeling injured too, thinking Sadler was likely to be having more happiness than he deserved, maybe setting up a centre of insurrection in Portate, and leaving me out of it. Cuco come out in his boat, putting it under the ship's side, and crying up to us to buy his mangoes.
Stevey Todd came out of the galley to tell him his mangoes were no good, so as to get up an argument, and Cuco laughed.
"Si, senor," he says, "look! Ver' good." Then he nodded towards the shore:
"La Sarasara! Oh, la Sarasara!" laughing and holding up his mangoes.
The smoke-cap over the Sarasara was blacker than usual and uncommon big it looked to me. Just then it seemed to be going up and spreading out. Stevey Todd looked over the side, and gave a grunt, and he says, "Something's a-suckin' the water out of the harbour."
Then I felt the _Helen Mar_ tugging at her anchor, and the water was going by her like a mill race, and Cuco was gone, and on shore people were running away from the wharves and the river toward the upper town.
I saw the trees swaying, though there was no wind, and a building fell down near the water.
Then Stevey Todd whirled around and flung up his hands.
"Oh!" he says; "Oh! Oh!"
I never saw a scareder cook, for he dropped on the deck, and clapped his legs around a capstan and screamed, "Lord! Lord!"
For the whole Pacific Ocean appeared to be heaving out its chest and coming on, eighty feet high. I tied myself around another capstan, and I says, "Good-night, Tommy!"
The tidal wave broke into surf an eighth of a mile out, and came on us in a tumble of foam, hissing and roaring like a loose menagerie, and down she comes on the _Helen Mar_, and up goes the _Helen Mar_ climbing through the foam. Me, I hung on to the capstan.
The next thing I knew we were shooting past the upper town, up the valley of the Jiron, and there wasn't any lower town to be seen. We were bound for the Andes. The crest of the wave was a few rods ahead, and the air was full of spray. I saw the Sarasara too, having a nice time spitting things out of her mouth, and it looked to me like she waggled her head with the fun she was having. But the _Helen Mar_ was having no fun, nor me, nor Stevey Todd.
It was four miles the _Helen Mar_ went in a few minutes, going slower toward the end. By-and-by she hit bottom, and keeled over against a bunch of old fruit trees on the bank of the river, and lay still, or only swayed a little, the water swashing in her hold. Right ahead were the foothills of the Cordilleras, and the gorge where the Jiron came down, and where the mule path came down beside the river. The big wave went up to the foot of the hills, and now it came back peaceful. Then it was quiet everywhere, except for the sobbing of the ebb among the tree trunks, and afterward lower down in the bed of the river. The ground rose to the foothills there, and the channel of the river lay deep below, with a sandy bank maybe twenty feet high on either side, and on the bank above the river lay the _Helen Mar_, propped up by the fruit trees.
By dusk there was no water except in the river, and some pools, but there were heaps of wreckage. Stevey Todd and I got down and looked things over. Down the valley we saw pieces of the town of Portate lying along, and beyond we saw the Pacific. And Stevey Todd wiped his face on his sleeves, and he says, "Maybe that's ridiculous, and maybe it ain't" he says, "but I'd argue it."
We swabbed off the decks of the _Helen Mar_, and scuttled the bottom of her to let the water out. Then the next day we went down to Portate. There were a sad lot of people drowned, including Captain Goodwin and most of the crew. Sadler and Irish we didn't find, and some others, and there was a man named Pickett who wasn't drowned. He went south to Lima by-and-by.
Afterwards we did up the ship's papers, and the cash and bills in the Captain's chest, thinking them proper to go to the ship's owners. And Stevey Todd says:
"A wreck's a wreck. That river ain't three foot deep. How'd they float her out of this? You say, for I ain't made up my mind," he
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