In the Sargasso Sea / A Novel

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IN THE SARGASSO SEA

A Novel

BY

THOMAS A. JANVIER

AUTHOR OF
“THE UNCLE OF AN ANGEL”
“THE AZTEC TREASURE-HOUSE”
“STORIES OF OLD NEW SPAIN” ETC.

* * * * *

1898

TO

C.A.J.

CONTENTS

I. I PAY FOR MY PASSAGE TO LOANGO
II. HOW I BOARDED THE BRIG GOLDEN HIND
III. I HAVE A SCARE, AND GET OVER IT
IV. CAPTAIN LUKE MAKES ME AN OFFER
V. I GIVE CAPTAIN LUKE MY ANSWER
VI. I TIE UP MY BROKEN HEAD, AND TRY TO ATTRACT ATTENTION
VII. I ENCOUNTER A GOOD DOCTOR AND A VIOLENT GALE
VIII. THE HURST CASTLE IS DONE FOR
IX. ON THE EDGE OF THE SARGASSO SEA
X. I TAKE A CHEERFUL VIEW OF A BAD SITUATION
XI. MY GOOD SPIRITS ARE WRUNG OUT OF ME
XII. I HAVE A FEVER AND SEE VISIONS
XIII. I HEAR A STRANGE CRY IN THE NIGHT
XIV. OF MY MEETING WITH A MURDERED MAN
XV. I HAVE SOME TALK WITH A MURDERER
XVI. I RID MYSELF OF TWO DEAD MEN
XVII. HOW I WALKED MYSELF INTO A MAZE
XVIII. I FIND THE KEY TO A SEA MYSTERY
XIX. OF A GOOD PLAN THAT WENT WRONG WITH ME
XX. HOW I SPENT A NIGHT WEARILY
XXI. MY THIRST IS QUENCHED, AND I FIND A COMPASS
XXII. I GET SOME FOOD IN ME, AND FORM A CRAZY PLAN
XXIII. HOW I STARTED ON A JOURNEY DUE NORTH
XXIV. OF WHAT I FOUND ABOARD A SPANISH GALLEON
XXV. I AM THE MASTER OF A GREAT TREASURE
XXVI. OF A STRANGE SIGHT THAT I SAW IN THE NIGHT-TIME
XXVII. I SET MYSELF TO A HEAVY TASK
XXVIII. HOW I RUBBED SHOULDERS WITH DESPAIR
XXIX. I GET INTO A SEA CHARNEL-HOUSE
XXX. I COME TO THE WALL OF MY SEA-PRISON
XXXI. HOW HOPE DIED OUT OF MY HEART
XXXII. I FALL IN WITH A FELLOW-PRISONER
XXXIII. I MAKE A GLAD DISCOVERY
XXXIV. I END A GOOD JOB WELL, AND GET A SET-BACK
XXXV. I AM READY FOR A FRESH HAZARD OF FORTUNE
XXXVI. HOW MY CAT PROMISED ME GOOD LUCK
XXXVII. HOW MY CAT STILL FURTHER CHEERED ME
XXXVIII. HOW I FOUGHT MY WAY THROUGH THE SARGASSO WEED
XXXIX. WHY MY CAT CALLED OUT TO ME

IN THE SARGASSO SEA

I

I PAY FOR MY PASSAGE TO LOANGO

Captain Luke Chilton counted over the five-dollar notes with a greater
care than I thought was necessary, considering that there were only
ten of them; and cautiously examined each separate one, as though he
feared that I might be trying to pay for my passage in bad money. His
show of distrust set my back up, and I came near to damning him right
out for his impudence—until I reflected that a West Coast trader must
pretty well divide his time between cheating people and seeing to it
that he isn’t cheated, and so held my tongue.

Having satisfied himself that the tale was correct and that the notes
were genuine, he brought out from the inside pocket of his long-tailed
shore-going coat a big canvas pocket-book, into which he stowed them
lengthwise; and from the glimpse I had of it I fancied that until my
money got there it was about bare. As he put away the pocket-book, he
said, and pleasantly enough:

“You see, Mr. Stetworth, it’s this way: fifty dollars is dirt cheap
for a cast across from New York to the Coast, and that’s a fact; but
you say that it’s an object with you to get your passage low, and I
say that even at that price I can make money out of you. The Golden
Hind
has got to call at Loango, anyhow; there’s a spare room in her
cabin that’ll be empty if you don’t fill it; and while you’re a big
man and look to be rather extra hearty, I reckon you won’t eat more’n
about twenty dollars’ worth of victuals—counting ’em at cost—on the
whole run. But the main thing is that I want all the spot cash I can
get a-holt of before I start. Fifty dollars’ worth of trade laid in
now means five hundred dollars for me when I get back here in New York
with what I’ve turned it over for on the Coast. So, you see, if you’re
suited, I’m suited too. Shake! And now we’ll have another drink. This
time it’s on me.”

We shook, and Captain Luke gave me an honest enough grip, just as he
had spoken in an honest enough tone. I knew, of course, that in a
general way he must be a good deal of a rascal—he couldn’t well be a
West Coast trader and be anything else; but then his rascality in
general didn’t matter much so long as his dealings with me were
square. He called the waiter and ordered arrack again—it was the
most wholesome drink in the world, he said—and we touched glasses,
and so brought our deal to an end.

That a cheap passage to Loango was an object to me, as Captain Luke
had said, was quite true. It was a very important object. After I got
across, of course, and my pay from the palm-oil people began, I would
be all right; but until I could touch my salary I had to sail mighty
close to the wind. For pretty much all of my capital consisted of my
headful of knowledge of the theory and practice of mechanical
engineering which had brought me out first of my class at the Stevens
Institute—and in that way had got me the offer from the palm-oil
people—and because of which I thought that there wasn’t anybody quite
my equal anywhere as a mechanical engineer. And that was only natural,
I suppose, since my passing first had swelled my head a bit, and I was
only three-and-twenty, and more or less of a promiscuously green
young fool.

As I looked over Captain Luke’s shoulder, while we supped our arrack
together—out through the window across the rush and bustle of South
Street—and saw a trim steamer of the Maracaibo line lying at her
dock, I could not but be sorry that my voyage to Africa would be made
under sails. But, on the other hand, I comforted myself by thinking
that if the Golden Hind were half the clipper her captain made her
out to be I should not lose much time—taking into account the
roundabout way I should have to go if I went under steam. And I
comforted myself still more by thinking what a lot of money I had
saved by coming on this chance for a cheap cast across; and I blessed
my lucky stars for putting into my head the notion of cruising along
South Street that October morning and asking every sailor-like man I
met if he knew of a craft bound for the West Coast—and especially for
having run me up against Captain Luke Chilton before my cruise had
lasted an hour.

The captain looked at his glass so sorrowfully when it was empty that
I begged him to have it filled again, and he did. But he took down his
arrack this time at a single gulp, and then got up briskly and said
that he must be off.

“We don’t sail till to-morrow afternoon, on the half flood, Mr.
Stetworth,” he said, “so you’ll have lots of time to get your traps
aboard if you’ll take a boat off from the Battery about noon. I
wouldn’t come earlier than that, if I were you. Things are bound to be
in a mess aboard the brig to-morrow, and the less you have of it the
better. We lie well down the anchorage, you know, only a little this
side of Robbin’s Reef. Your boatmen will know the place, and they’ll
find the brig for you if you’ll tell ’em where to look for her and
that she’s painted green. Well, so long.” And then Captain Luke shook
hands with me again, and so was off into the South Street crowd.

I hurried away too. My general outfit was bought and packed; but the
things lying around my lodgings had to be got together, and I had to
buy a few articles in the way of sea-stock for my voyage in a sailing
vessel that I should not have needed had I gone by the regular steam
lines. So I got some lunch inside of me, and after that I took a
cab—a bit of extravagance that my hurry justified—and bustled about
from shop to shop and got what I needed inside of an hour; and then I
told the man to drive me to my lodgings up-town.

It was while I was driving up Broadway—the first quiet moment for
thinking that had come to me since I had met Captain Luke on South
Street, and we had gone into the saloon together to settle about the
passage he had offered me—that all of a sudden the thought struck me
that perhaps I had made the biggest kind of a fool of myself; and it
struck so hard that for a minute or two I fairly was dizzy and faint.

What earthly proof had I, beyond Captain Luke’s bare word for it, that
there was such a brig as the Golden Hind? What proof had I
even—beyond the general look of him and his canvas pocket-book—that
Captain Luke was a sailor? And what proof had I, supposing that there
was such a brig and that he was a sailor, that the two had anything
to do with each other? I simply had accepted for truth all that he
told me, and on the strength of his mere assertion that he was a
ship-master and was about to sail for the West African coast I had
paid him my fifty dollars—and had taken by way of receipt for it no
more than a clinking of our glasses and a shake of his hand. I said
just now that I was only twenty-three years old, and more or less of a
promiscuously green young fool. I suppose that I might as well have
left that out. There are some things that tell themselves.

For three or four blocks, as I drove along, I was in such a rage with
myself that I could not think clearly. Then I began to cool a little,
and to hope that I had gone off the handle too suddenly and too far.
After all, there were some chances in my favor the other way. Captain
Chilton, I remembered, had told me that he was about to sail for West
Coast ports before I asked him for a passage; and had mentioned, also,
whereabouts on the anchorage the Golden Hind was lying. Had he made
these statements after he knew what I wanted there would have been
some reason for doubting them; but being made on general principles,
without knowledge of what I was after, it seemed to me that they very
well might be true. And if they were true, why then there was no great
cause for my sudden fit of alarm. However, I was so rattled by my
fright, and still so uncertain as to how things were coming out for
me, that the thought of waiting until the next afternoon to know
certainly whether I had or had not been cheated was more than I could
bear. The only way that I could see to settle the matter was to go
right away down to the anchorage, and so satisfy myself that the
Golden Hind was a real brig and really was lying there; and it
occurred to me that I might kill two birds with one stone, and also
have a reason to give for a visit which otherwise might seem
unreasonable, if I were to take down my luggage and put it aboard that
very afternoon.

II

HOW I BOARDED THE BRIG GOLDEN HIND

Having come to this conclusion, I acted on it. I kept the cab at the
door while I finished my packing with a rush, and then piled my
luggage on it and in it—and what with my two trunks, and my kit of
fine tools, and all my bundles, this made tight stowing—and then away
I went down-town again as fast as the man could drive with such
a load.

We got to the Battery in a little more than an hour, and there I
transshipped my cargo to a pair-oared boat and started away for the
anchorage. The boatmen comforted me a good deal at the outset by
saying that they thought they knew just where the Golden Hind was
lying, as they were pretty sure they had seen her only that morning
while going down the harbor with another fare; and before we were much
more than past Bedloe’s Island—having pulled well over to get out of
the channel and the danger of being run down by one of the swarm of
passing craft—they made my mind quite easy by actually pointing her
out to me. But almost in the same moment I was startled again by one
of them saying to me: “I don’t believe you’ve much time to spare,
captain. There’s a lighter just shoved off from her, and she’s gettin’
her tops’ls loose. I guess she means to slide out on this tide. That
tug seems to be headin’ for her now.”

The men laid to their oars at this, and it was a good thing—or a bad
thing, some people might think—that they did; for had we lost five
minutes on our pull down from the Battery I never should have got
aboard of the Golden Hind at all. As it was, the anchor was a-peak,
and the lines of the tug made fast, by the time that we rounded under
her counter; and the decks were so full of the bustle of starting that
it was only a chance that anybody heard our hail. But somebody did
hear it, and a man—it was the mate, as I found out afterwards—came
to the side.

“Hold on, captain,” one of the boatmen sang out, “here’s your
passenger!”

“Go to hell!” the mate answered, and turned inboard again.

But just then I caught sight of Captain Chilton, coming aft to stand
by the wheel, and called out to him by name. He turned in a hurry—and
with a look of being scared, I fancied—but it seemed to me a good
half-minute before he answered me. In this time the men had shoved the
boat alongside and had made fast to the main-chains; and just then
the tug began to puff and snort, and the towline lifted, and the brig
slowly began to gather way. I could not understand what they were up
to; but the boatmen, who were quick fellows, took the matter into
their own hands, and began to pass in my boxes over the gunwale—the
brig lying very low in the water—as we moved along. This brought the
mate to the side again, with a rattle of curses and orders to stand
off. And then Captain Chilton came along himself—having finished
whatever he had been doing in the way of thinking—and gave matters a
more reasonable turn.

“It’s all right, George,” he said to the mate. “This gentleman is a
friend of mine who’s going out with us” (the mate gave him a queer
look at that), “and he’s got here just in time.” And then he turned to
me and added: “I’d given you up, Mr. Stetworth, and that’s a
fact—concluding that the man I sent to your lodgings hadn’t found
you. We had to sail this afternoon, you see, all in a hurry; and the
only thing I could do was to rush a man after you to bring you down.
He seems to have overhauled you in time, even if it was a close
call—so all’s well.”

While he was talking the boatmen were passing aboard my boxes and
bundles, while the brig went ahead slowly; and when they all were
shipped, and I had paid the men, he gave me his hand in a friendly way
and helped me up the side. What to make of it all I could not tell.
Captain Luke told a straight enough story, and the fact that his
messenger had not got to me before I started did not prove that he
lied. Moreover, he went on to say that if I had not got down to the
brig he had meant to leave my fifty dollars with the palm-oil people
at Loango, and that sounded square enough too. At any rate, if he were
lying to me I had no way of proving it against him, and he was
entitled to the benefit of the doubt; and so, when he had finished
explaining matters—which was short work, as he had the brig to look
after—I did not see my way to refusing his suggestion that we should
call it all right and shake hands.

For the next three hours or so—until we were clear of the Hook and
had sea-room and the tug had cast us off—I was left to my own
devices: except that a couple of men were detailed to carry to my
state-room what I needed there, while the rest of my boxes were stowed
below. Indeed, nobody had time to spare me a single word—the captain
standing by the wheel in charge of the brig, and the two mates having
their hands full in driving forward the work of finishing the lading,
so that the hatches might be on and things in some sort of order
before the crew should be needed to make sail.

The decks everywhere were littered with the stuff put aboard from the
lighter that left the brig just before I reached her, and the huddle
and confusion showed that the transfer must have been made in a
tearing hurry. Many of the boxes gave no hint of what was inside of
them; but a good deal of the stuff—as the pigs of lead and cans of
powder, the many five-gallon kegs of spirits, the boxes of fixed
ammunition, the cases of arms, and so on—evidently was regular West
Coast “trade.” And all of it was jumbled together just as it had been
tumbled aboard.

I was surprised by our starting with the brig in such a mess—until it
occurred to me that the captain had no choice in the matter if he
wanted to save the tide. Very likely the tide did enter into his
calculations; but I was led to believe a little later—and all the
more because of his scared look when I hailed him from the boat—that
he had run into some tangle on shore that made him want to get away in
a hurry before the law-officers should bring him up with a round turn.

What put this notion into my head was a matter that occurred when we
were down almost to the Hook, and its conclusion came when we were
fairly outside and the tug had cast us off; otherwise my boxes and I
assuredly would have gone back on the tug to New York—and I with a
flea in my ear, as the saying is, stinging me to more prudence in my
dealings with chance-met mariners and their offers of cheap passages
on strange craft.

When we were nearly across the lower bay, the nose of a steamer
showed in the Narrows; and as she swung out from the land I saw that
she flew the revenue flag. Captain Luke, standing aft by the wheel, no
doubt made her out before I did; for all of a sudden he let drive a
volley of curses at the mates to hurry their stowing below of the
stuff with which our decks were cluttered. At first I did not
associate the appearance of the cutter with this outbreak; but as she
came rattling down the bay in our wake I could not but notice his
uneasiness as he kept turning to look at her and then turning forward
again to swear at the slowness of the men. But she was a long way
astern at first, and by the time that she got close up to us we were
fairly outside the Hook and the tug had cast us off—which made a
delay in the stowing, as the men had to be called away from it to set
enough sail to give us steerage way.

Captain Luke barely gave them time to make fast the sheets before he

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