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W. H. Macy

Inquirer and Mirror (Nantucket)
Vol. 51, No. 8 (Aug 20, 1870)
p. 1

A Cloudy Night at the Cape Verdes.


      We had been on shore all the afternoon at St. Vincent, our motherly old ship, the Cadmus, lying off and on outside. Captain Weston had been button-holed every minute since he landed by a swarm of garrulous officials, and led supinely here and there, without seeming to accomplish any business. Any one of his sable advisers, it seemed to me, might have taken a diploma at the Circumlocution Office, in the science of "how not to do it."

      At first, we subordinates had no fault to find with this state of things, inasmuch as it gave us the more time to cruise on a roving commission, to luxuriate on bananas and oranges, and to study human nature among the Ethiopian-Portuguese specimens around us. But even of tropical fruits one gets enough after a time, as well as of a people who, like Chinese or Esquimaux, appear to be all cast in one mould – each face but a duplicate of its neighbor.

      It was past sundown when the captain came down to the landing. where we had all mustered ahead of him, and called me aside. I was then boatsteerer of the captain's boat, or, by courtesy, fourth mate, with the newly-acquired handle to my name.

      "Mr. M––," said he, "I shall stay ashore tonight. You may take charge of the boat, and go off to the ship. Tell Mr. Taylor to keep as snug in as is prudent, so as to be ready to run in for the anchorage in the morning. The pilot will go aboard with you. You had better bear a hand and get sight of the ship's lights as early as possible, for the weather looks lowery. Here comes the pilot, now."

      He introduced me to that important person- ago, who outdid the whole Society of Friends in the breadth of his hat brim, and prided himself greatly upon his knowledge of the English language. He was a shade lighter than, or rather was not quite so dark a black as the average of his compatriots, and answered to the blasphemous name of Salvador.

      Band temp come," said he, pointing to the sky as we pushed off.

      "Going to blow, d'ye think?" asked old Hayes at the midship oar, whose Portuguese was about on a par with the pilot's English.

      "Sopler, eh? vent? ?No," was the confident response. "No mooch ventchuve – water."

      "Well, let her shoove, if that's all. We aren't salt or sugar. We'll pull the boat out there, old Broadbrim – you just olier for the light – the ship's light, savey?"

      Si, si – me savey! Pool! Pool 'head!"

      We shot swiftly out through the still waters of the bay, under the impulse of long and regular strokes of the oars, and soon the tossing motion of our light craft announced that we had met the swell of the broad Atlantic. But the darkness had shut down very quickly; the sky had become thick and overcast, and a few ominous drops, beating in my face, were but a forerunner of the heavy tropical shower which I knew must soon follow. In vain I strained my eyes; no light was to be seen.

      "Do you see anything, pilot?" I demanded.

      "No see – nothing! Me tink – we go back."

      "No, it will never do to give up so soon. I shan't put back yet. I know about how the ship ought to bear from us. Pull ahead, boys! we'll soon raise her light."

      But we continued stretching at the oars for some minutes without a sight of the desired signal, while the sky was overspread with a pall of pitchy blackness. We had lost sight of all the town lights after rounding the point, and had then altered their bearings several points by pulling obliquely seaward. I gave the word to cease labor at the oars, and while the rest kept a bright lookout, I got out the lantern and fireworks, and showed our own light on a waif-pole. But there was literally nothing to be seen now in any direction.

      "Me say – go back," said Salvador again, with a scared gesture.

      "Back it is, then!" I cried, growing the boat's head round. "You are pilot, I suppose, and I must follow your lead."

      I had no desire, myself, to venture any farther off shore; but it was something of a salve to my feelings, thus to throw the responsibility of our return movement upon him, as pilot. I shaped a course directly in for the land, which was only to be distinguished by the greater intensity of the darkness where it was rendered opaque. When I could make out the sparkle of the breaker, and hear it rippling over the rocks, I followed it along-shore.

      "Diablo!" exclaimed the pilot, as a gust of wind struck us; but it was over in a moment, and the sea as smooth as before. The flood-gates of heaven were opened, and down poured the rain upon us, as it seemed, in sheets. We were drenched to our skins at the first dash.

      There was no escape from it, and it was quite useless trying to favor ourselves. But, as the weather was very warm, we cared little about it after the soaking. The crew broke into a merry song as they plied their oars, while old Salvador squatted on his hams at my feet and took his drenching like a martyr. Our lantern was useless, as it had failed to elicit any response from the ship, and we soon extinguished it.

      Pulling smartly along shore, I judged we must be not far from the mouth of the bay, and was momentarily expecting to open the lights on shore which would serve as a guide for us, when Salvador extended his right hand, pointing to a single spark of light, as it appeared to me, dimly twinkling in the blackness.

      "My house," he explained, "me live here."

      "Good landing place?" I inquired.

      "Si, ,Senhor. Good place. Boat no broke."

      I headed towards it, and soon perceived that we were entering a small cove or indentation; but as we drew near and the sparkling light became brighter, I could make out that the water dashed smartly against a rocky shelf and raised a foam that splashed ominously out of the gloom. It was evident that Salvador's ideas of a safe place for beaching a shell of half-inch cedar boards differed materially from my own.

      "Hold water!" I cried to the oarsmen. "I won't risk it. We'd better pull another mile or two than to get our boat stove."

      We backed astern just in time to escape being dashed with considerable force upon the rocky shelf. But when we had made a safe offing, I observed that the pilot was no longer at my side.

      "Hillo! Salvador!" I shouted. "Where are you?"

      "Adios!" The sound came to our ears out of the intense darkness, and was followed by a laugh. Nothing could be seen.

      "He wanted to get home to his family tonight," said I. "That's all well enough; but he must think I'm a fool to lay my boat ashore on a rocky bench in the dark."

      We continued our course, the relentless shower, or douche-bath, as one might call it, pouring down upon our heads; and in a short time the lights on shore opened to view, and the course was plain. When we arrived at the place whence we had pushed out, the water was nearly up to the boat's thwarts. We were obliged to bale out part of it before we could haul her up high and dry, and draw the plug in her bottom.

      No one was down at the water-side when we landed. Every one, of course, was under cover, and Captain Weston had long since retired for the night. But a monotonous thrumming of banjo-strings was heard as we charged up to the village, trying, as old Hays expressed it, to "run between the streams."

      Guided by the sound of the banjo, accompanied by human voices in a low, wild chant, we approached a small mud building, of which the door stood open. It was densely packed inside, with a steaming crowd of blacks of both sexes, some of whom were swaying back and forth in a sort of African fandango. I put my head in as the door; but this was as far as I cared to go. The air was a little less pestilential than I should suppose it might have been in the Black Hole at Calcutta. A Farenheit's thermometer, had there been one at hand, might have stood at a hundred and fifty, or little less; while the mingled odor of wet garments, orange peel, perspiration, and villanous aguardiente was asphyxiating to one with ordinarily constructed lungs.

      Conspicuous among the dancers was our friend the pilot, who had thus stolon a march upon us, making a short cut over land. Ha recognized me with a shout, and offered to introduce me to partners, for he seemed to he a kind of master of the ceremonies. But I declined the honor with thanks, and turned away, recalling to mind the poetical description of Pete Williams's ball, as set forth at length in the classic ballad of "Ginger Blue."

      It was too hot and close for us to seek quarters indoors that night. But we found a building with a wide verandah running along the front. This served as a shelter from the everlasting pour-down, which continued till nearly daylight. We squatted together under this shed, telling stories and catching cat-naps, after the fandango had broken up and all the lights were out.

      I confronted, the astonished captain as he issued from the house where he had passed the night, still with three or four satellites in tow.

      "What are you doing here, Mr. M––?" he demanded. "I thought you were snug on hoard."

      "We couldn't see the ship's light, sir, and the pilot thought it best to put back."

      "And where did you all sleep?"

      "We passed the night here under the shed. Didn't sleep much, sir."

      "I should think so," said he, bursting into a laugh. "Well, I suppose, you all want some breakfast, and then we'll push out again. We shan't lose anything by it anyhow: but you ought to have roused me nut when you landed, and I would have found better quarters for you somewhere."

      The weather had cleared up, and the Cadmus was in sight far in the seaboard, but standing in, with a 'long-shore wind. By the captain's orders, a chicken stew was soon in course of preparation, to which we did the highest justice. It belied the stereotyped definition of a "Portugee breakfast," which I had always heard derided as a "d––l of a fuss and nothing to eat."

      While we were eating, I observed the captain start suddenly from the house and hasten down to the boat, his pace being as near to a run as was consistent with the dignity of his station. He seemed to be searching for something under the stern-sheets, but soon returning, with a troubled look, called me aside.

      "Did you take a canvas bag out of the boat?" he asked anxiously.

      "No, sir."

      "Didn't you see one there when you pulled out your lantern-keg to strike a light?"

      "No, sir."

      "Well," said he, "it's no use crying for spilled milk, but I'm fifty dollars out. I had fifty hard dollars in a small bag, and, as it was rather clumsy to lug on my person, I stowed it away before the boat was lowered, close in under the stern, behind the keg. It was a careless trick in me to forget it; but as I had enough about nie fur present wants, 1 never thought of it,since until this moment."

      I, of course, connected the pilot with its disappearance, as I remembered his strange and sudden manner of leaving the boat in the little cove.

      "Salvador is the thief," said I without hesitation; and I proceeded to detail my reasons for this belief.

      "Strong evidence," he acknowledged. "But then it might have been taken out yesterday afternoon while the boat lay here at the pier. It's gone, at any rate, and we might as well hunt for a needle in a hay-stack as try to recover it. It serves me right for my carelessnes."

      Of course all our inquiries were thrown away, for the whole population were as innocent as unborn children. The old pilot invoked the Lady Mother and the whole calendar in support of his earnest assurance that he had never seen so much money in his life, at one time.

      "Man the boat!" sang out the captain, at last. "We only waste time here. Come Salvador! jump in and go off with us."

      It certainly spoke well for the pilot's honesty, or at least for his innocence in this particular case, that he was so ready to accompany us. We had timed our departure well to meet the approaching ship, and were soon aboard.

      "Wear round, Mr. Taylor, and trim for the other tack!" was the first order; and we had hardly time to ask each other what it all meant ere the Cadmus was running seaward under a press of sail.

      Francisco, a boat-steerer belonging to Fayal, was called as interpreter, and directed to inform the astonished pilot that the captain intended taking him to sea, and making him work out the value of the stolen money, unless he confessed and made restoration. The poor man protested as firmly as ever that he had nothing to confess. He moaned and cried, as well he might, at being thus kidnapped, but still disclaimed all knowledge of the missing bag of money, till at last Captain Weston gave in, and put the ship about.

      "Of course," he said, "I couldn't have the heart to tear him away from his home and family; but I was in hopes to have frightened him, so as to force a confession from him. I am pretty-well satisfied, now, that he knows nothing about the fifty dollars, and it may be charged to profit and loss."

      Poor Salvador was made happy, by being put ashore in the ship's boat; and two days later we obtained the supplies we wanted at Port Praya.

      The pilot's innocence was proved, after all; for, several months afterwards, when in the Pacific Ocean, the "standing sheets," of the captain's boat being torn up for repairs, the long lost money was found underneath, between the timbers, having worked down through a space which seemed too narrow to permit of its passage!


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: A Cloudy Night at the Cape Verdes.
Publication: Inquirer and Mirror (Nantucket)
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 51, No. 8 (Aug 20, 1870)
Pages: 1