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W. H. Macy

Inquirer and Mirror (Nantucket)
Vol. 55, No. 41 (April 10, 1875)

Jerked over a Wall.


      Our mate in the Caspian, Mr. Barclay, used to tell the following adventure. I have sometimes thought that he possessed a talent for embellishing, and I do not, therefore, vouch for its truth. But I have been careful to "nothing extenuate, nor aught set down in malice;" and the reader gets it as cheap as I did.

      When I was on my first voyage in the Uncas, I got infected, like many other young fellows, with the desire to run away and try my luck elsewhere. I could not let well enough alone, though I belonged to a good ship and was well treated. And I listened to the seductive stories of Tom Babson, an English adventurer who had led a harum-scarum life, knocking about in the Pacific, and in the various ports on the Spanish Main, till I convinced myself that we were a much-abused ship's company, and that any change would be for the better.

      While lying at the port of Payta, we got acquainted on shore, with some seamen, belonging to a ten gun brig, called the Tres Amigos. She was fitting out to go and fight somebody – I never knew exactly who, for those South American Republics were always in a row – I think they hardly knew themselves what it was all about. But there was change and adventure in it, at any rate; and Tom and I laid a plan to desert from the Uncas, and get a couple of doubloons advance by enlisting in the cruiser.

      At various times during our stay, we contrived to smuggle nearly all our clothes on shore, and left them with a shark called Scotch Jock, who kept a little pulperia, and the last liberty-day that we were to have, we left the ship in the morning, not intending to return to her. We went to the rendezvous where they shipped men for the brig, and found, much to our disappointment, that the wages were not so large as had been represented, and that only one doubloon would be advanced us instead of two.

      I began to realize that all that glittered in a beach-comber's story was not gold; but we had gone so far that we disliked to turn back; and we should hardly be able to get our clothes back from Jock, for his object was to have us desert and spend our advance money in his drunkery. So Tom Babson proposed that we should not ship immediately to the Peruvian man-of-war, but hide away until the Uncas had gone to sea, and then take our chance for something better. We could, at all events, take up with the offer at the rendezvous, as a last resort.

      There was no occasion for us to hide away before nightfall, for our liberty lasted until sundown; so we were cruising about, hail-fellow-well-met with other seamen through the day. I took good care to keep sober; but my comrade drank so freely, that he was stretched out in Scotch Jock's back sanctum before the day's leave was up, quite oblivious of everything. Of course, he was no companion for me, and indeed, I was getting disgusted with him and his plan. When the boat came in for the liberty-men at sunset, I dodged out of sight, where I could reconnoitre, and saw one after another of my shipmates go down and take their places in her. I felt lonely enough to set my sober second thought to work; and the result was, I determined to stick by the Uncas, and let Tom Babson go his own reckless road. Had he kept sober, and been with me at that moment to use his influence, I might have seen things in a very different light,

      The boat was in the very act of pushing off, when, obeying the voice of this better angel, I ran shouting down to the pier. The officer waited for me, and as I jumped in said:

      "All on hand but Tom Babson. Where is he? Does anybody know?"

      I alone knew; but though I had repented my own foolishness, I had no idea of turning informer. So Tom was left behind, and the next morning a new hand was shipped in his stead. Of course, when we got to sea, I was obliged to go to the captain to draw more clothing from the slop-chest; but I never told the whole story, and he only reprimanded me as a foolish, improvident fellow, for having sold all my traps in port and drunk up the money.

      I was better contented on board, now that I had not Tom's influence at work to make me otherwise. We were very lucky in taking whales, and, in a year afterwards we anchored in Tumbez, with a full ship, and, after taking in our water, went up to Payta to enjoy our liberty and refit for the passage home. I had almost ceased to think about Tom, and had no thought of finding him there, more than in any other part of the world; knowing his life to be that of a mere adventurer, "here to-day and gone to-morrow."

      But one day while strolling about I passed what I took to be a prison or guard-house, where a sentry was pacing back and forth, when I heard my name called from a loop-hole. I stopped in astonishment and stared at a face pressed up against the opening, which I did not at once recognize

      "Who is it, that knows me?" I asked.

      "Don't you remember your comrade, Tom Babson?"

      I walked up to the loop to push my hand in, but the sentinel interposed – a little insignificant-looking Cholo, as the mongrels, half-Spanish, half-Indian, are called, on this coast. I took bis measure at a glance; a few Spanish words whispered, and more yet, a few silver reales displayed to his avaricious gaze, and the coast was clear. He even hinted to me that if I would pass round to another pigeon hole on the opposite side, I could talk with the prisoner without being observed, and he himself would not be compromised with his superior officer. I was not slow to take the hint; and after a shake of the hand, in which I could feel half that he had to say, Tom told me his sad story, peeping through the little loop like a post-office clerk.

      He had, it seemed, waited and searched in vain for me after he got over his revel, until he was satisfied that I must have gone to sea in the ship; when he took charge of the two stocks of clothing, which were transferred to Scotch Jock's hands for liquor and board. A few days were sufficient to wear out his welcome there. Better game were to be plucked, and, as usual in such cases, it was, "Get up, Jack, and let John sit down." He was forced, after all, to ship in the Tres Amigos, and the landlord got the lion's share of the advance doubloon.

      Tom was soon convinced that the Peruvian naval service was not what it had been cracked up to be; and he, as well as several other American adventurers, were heartily sick of their bargain, and determined to back out of it at the first opportunity.

      So having been sent inshore on some sort of spy service under the command of a young middy, they took charge of the boat themselves, put the officer on the beach, and started down the coast to leeward. But not daring to show themselves at any town on the main, they managed to get a small stock of provisions at au out-of-the-way place, and headed off for the Galapagos Islands.

      After many strange adventures and dreadful sufferings, they landed there; and, as might be expected, they soon became scattered, and joined different ships. Tom had been in half a dozen vessels during a year's time, and, feeling quite safe, had come ashore in Payta, a few days before, from a coasting craft in which he was employed. He had hardly landed when he was recognized by one of the officers of the man-of-war. He was arrested, and tried by a hasty court-martial, where the little middy himself was brought forward, and, glad enough of this chance for revenge, swore to Tom's identity.

      He was, at once, found guilty et having mutinied, deposed his superior officer, laid violent hands upon him, and turned him ashore in a hostile territory. All this was true, of course; but until then, Tom had hardly realized tho enormity of his offence, which had seemed to him a mere sailor's freak. He was sentenced to death!

      "Next Monday," said he, "I am to be led out at sunrise, stood up in the corner there at the angle of the wall, and shot by a platoon of these Cholo scarecrows. God have mercy on me! for I have had none upon myself, and have found none at the hands of my judges!

      You may imagine how I congratulated myself that I had been so suddenly led to think better of our mad scheme, and to return to my duty on board the Uncas. But what could I say to comfort my misguided shipmate? In three days, for it was then Friday morning, he would be put to death; there was no hope of pardon or reprieve.

      But the second mate, after hearing my story, entered into the thing heart and soul. It was too bad to see an old shipmate made a target of, in that manner, he said, by a crowd of human monkeys like those Cholo sogers; and by a little management of a few dollars used in bribes, he thought we might save Tom from his fate and run him off the beach. He went ashore with me the same evening, and we managed another interview with the prisoner at his pigeon-hole, and cheered him up with a hope of deliverance, giving him some idea, too, of our plan of effecting it, that he might be prepared to act in cooperation.

      We smuggled a coil of rope ashore on Sunday, and concealed it in a pile of rubbish, convenient to the place where it was to be used. We were stirring early on the morning appointed for the execution, and landed with a picked crew before daylight. No particular notice was taken of our movements, as we were supposed to have been impelled by a natural curiosity to see the man shot, and we mingled with the other spectators without suspicion, keeping always near each other, however, and ready to communicate by signals previously agreed upon.

      We saw Tom Led forward from the guardhouse by a file of the soldiers, and marched across the yard to the place of execution. Here he stood up like a man who had nerved himself to meet his death without flinching, and as he braced himself against the mud wall in the corner, his calmness extorted admiration from his jailors. We could hear what was said, for we had now rallied our whole force at the same angle of the wall, on the outside, where we were making our preparations entirely unobserved, the attention. of the spectators being engrossed by what was going forward inside.

      Sunrise was the time fixed for the execution to take place, but with a refinement of cruelty worthy of Peruvians, he had been brought out and led to his post an hour before that time. This circumstance, however, was favorable for our project, as it was now just on the gray of the morning, between daybreak and full daylight. The officer and his file of men withdrew to the other side of the yard, after having set poor Tom up for a target, as one might say. The firing party had not yet come on the ground, and now was our time.

      The wall at the angle where the condemned man stood was about nine feet high, so that his guards had no fear of his being able to climb it, when they fell back and left him there; but they little dreamed what was going on the other side of it. We were able to communicate in low tones through a chink or crack, and Tom, watching a favorable opportunity, gave the word in a whisper, "Now!"

      At the signal, the rope, with a bowline-knot of suitable size ready tied at the end, was tossed silently over the wall. In the dusky morning twilight, this operation could not be seen by the soldier or by the spectators who had gathered at the opposite side of the enclosure. Tom, whose hands had been left free, in deference to his own request, and in sheer admiration of his supposed courage to meet his fate like a hero, slipped the bowline down over his body, and placing himself as in a "boatswain's chair," gave the next signal by a slight jerk.

      Our whole souls, as may be supposed, were in the muscles of our arms, and his slight jerk was responded to by one which lifted him into the air as if he had been a child. His hands grasped the top of the wall, and, quicker than a flash, it seemed, he was over and dropped among us, his shipmates.

      "Carambo!" was the exclamation from the guards, as they caught a glimpse of his form against the sky, going over the wall. Stupid half-breeds as they were, they rushed to the spot to assure themselves that he was really gone – and then rushed back again. But meanwhile, the word had spread among the lookers-on, and many were ahead of the soldiers in the pursuit. As they had considerable of a circuit to make before they could even see the scene of our late operations, we had time for a good start and made the most of it. We made straight for our boat, which we had taken care to have all ready for a start on the instant, the oars oven being "peaked" in the rowlocks, and a boy left in her to keep her off from the landing-place. He did his duty, like all the rest; and each man dropping upon his own thwart as he arrived, a vigorous shove sent her well under headway, before the howling crowd of pursurers reached the water side.

      "Give way, lads!" said the second mate wild with excitement.

      "The old man will have to give me up again, if you take me aboard," said the condemned man.

      "Not he! The foretopsail is loosed now and he got his clearance papers last night. We'll be under way for home before these Cholos get their eyes fairly open!"

      The firing platoon at this moment turned a corner, coming at double-quick. They rushed, all out of breath, down the pier, and brought their muskets to a "ready' at the order of a little bewhiskered officer whose voice, jerking out Spanish oaths, seemed the most formidable part of him.

      But we had already a safe offing, and their bullets rattled harmlessly in the water, on either side of us; that is, all that rattled at all, for not more than half their muskets would go off at the first pull of the trigger. Several other spattering shots followed, but equally impotent as the first ones, for we had not lost a stroke in our pulling, and the ash sticks were doing their best in the nervous grasp of trained whalemen.

      The Uncas was already casting her head seaward when we shot alongside; and as the head yards were braced full, she gathered rapid headway. Never was canvas handled quicker in making sail than it was that morning by us. Two or three boats were seen to push out in pursuit; but they might as well have saved their labor, and given up the chase as soon as the rising sun showed at what a rate we were leaving them astern.

      "That was the nearest that ever I came to running away from a ship," said Mr. Barclay, in conclusion, "for you may be sure, the lesson was not lost upon me. I think Tom Babson always gave the whole Spanish Main a wide berth afterwards. He wouldn't even venture round this side of the Horn again, but shipped for an Indian Ocean voyage as soon as we arrived home."


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: Jerked over a Wall.
Publication: Inquirer and Mirror (Nantucket)
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 55, No. 41 (April 10, 1875)
Pages: 1