Bibliographic Information

The Plough Boy Journals

The Journals and Associated Documents

The Plough Boy Anthology

19th Century American Whaling

Bonin Islands

Pitcairn's Island

Dictionaries & Glossaries

Ashley's Glossary of
Whaling Terms

Dana's Dictionary of
Sea Terms


W. H. Macy

Ballou's Monthly Magazine
Vol. XLVII, No. 5 (May 1878)
pp. 452-457.

452 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.



      We had been very successful in the old "Phaeton," on the "off-shore" and Archer grounds, but when, deeply laden with sperm oil, we crowded sail upon her, bound to Valparaiso, we were obliged to keep the pumps going all the way into port. Here a survey was called upon her, and the united wisdom of three practical men decided that her time-worn and battered frame was unseaworthy for the long voyage round Cape Horn.

      So there was nothing better to be done than to sell both ship and cargo for the benefit of all concerned; and this we were able to do to good advantage. The oil brought a good price; and, after it had all been discharged and sent ashore, the ship, as she lay at her anchor, was sold separately.

      We were all discharged, and paid off in gold, and my earnings, as chief mate of the ship, amounted to a handsome sum. This was paid over to me by the captain, in the counting-room of Messrs. Nye & Co., who were acting as his business agents. Mr. Gifford, the second mate, was present, and was paid off at the same time. As the captain was counting down the gold pieces to us, he said, –

      "I have sold the old 'Phaeton' better than I expected, and she brought a good round sum for a condemned ship. But the old Chileno who has bought her knows what he is about; and, if he employs her down on the lee coast, in moderate weather and trade winds, there's some years of wear and tear left in the old barque yet, though she is hardly fit to encounter Cape Horn. He is going to send a gang on board tomorrow to take charge of her; but I suppose you and Mr. Gifford will want to take your traps ashore tonight, as all the rest are leaving."

      "I'm not in a hurry," I answered. "I would as soon sleep on board tonight as not. What do you say, Mr. Gifford? I guess you and I can take care of the old 'Phaeton' one more night, can't we?"

      "Oh, yes," said the second officer. "I am quite willing, for I don't care about moving my traps ashore until morning. I guess she won't run away with us before daylight."

      "But what'll you do with all this money? You want to leave it here locked up in the safe, don't you?" – inquired a clerk who was standing at a desk near us.

      "No, sir,"said I. "I'll take it with me, and put it into my own chest. Wherever we go, our property goes with us, – eh, Mr. Gifford?"

      "Certainly," answered my shipmate. "We'll take good care of it, too, I reckon."

      The clerk stared in astonishment, and well he might, for it was, as I can now understand much better than I then could, a very foolish course of proceeding on our part. It was not at all prudent or business-like, but it was seaman-like, and that was all we cared for. As for Captain Manchester, he did not seem at all surprised at our decision, and would probably have done the some thing himself when a younger man.

      We had between us about three thousand dollars, my own bag being much the heavier of the two. As we came out of the counting-room, we passed a quiet-looking Chileno, with a peculiar limp in his gait, who was carrying a bundle of some sort of merchandise across the main room of the store, but took no special notice of him aside from the fact of his lameness. He was, no doubt, a porter or laborer employed about the promises.

      We had no reason to suppose that this fellow understood a word of English, and I did not, as the narrators of such incidents generally do, observe his dull eyes to glisten as they lighted upon the little bags containing the gold ounces. We had but a few steps to go to the pier where our boat was waiting to row us off to the old "Phaeton." The few men of her old crew still on duty were in high spirits, for they were all to be discharged and paid off that very afternoon. As soon as we got on board, I gave the word that all were released from further duty, and might consider their voyage at an end. Shore boats were ready and waiting for their passengers, and, as Jack's inven-

In a Tight Place. 453

tory of movables at the end of a long cruise is not very extensive, the second mate and I, with our precious little bags, were soon left in quiet possession. The "Phaeton" lay well out in the bay, having only her best bower anchor down in full thirty fathoms of water, but the second anchor was ready for letting go in case it should be needed, which was not at all likely. The Bay of Valparaiso, although of too great depth for convenience in anchoring and getting under way, is safe enough except in case of a northerly gale blowing in; of which at that moment there was no danger. It was not so strange, after all, that two young and resolute seamen should feel themselves a competent garrison for an almost empty ship lying in a snug harbor. As to the chance of being attacked for purposes of robbery because we had the money with us, I believe we had scarcely given the subject a thought; but we intended to stand watch, and watch as became honest seamen with a ship under their charge.

      We got our supper, and, setting a black bottle on the table between us, lighted our pipes, and prepared for a quiet evening's chat, – perhaps the last that we should ever enjoy together as shipmates. There seemed to be a sort of fellowship in the very presence of that black bottle, whether it contained anything or not. I drank very little myself, and had no fears of my companion in that respect, knowing him to be even more abstemious than myself. After a single glass apiece, our conversation turned upon future intentions and prospects, as the next day was to see us turned adrift in a foreign port. I had made up my mind to get a passage home in the first vessel that I could find bound to any American port, but Mr. Gifford thought of shipping in another whaler, having already been offered a chief mate's berth, and trying his luck on another cruise in the Pacific.

      "But what are you going to do with all your money?"I asked.

      "Send it home, – or at any rate the greater part of it. I suppose you'll take charge of it, won't you? Put it right in with yours, and make one job of it."

      He was perfectly serious in the matter, and I presume the honest young fellow would not have thought of even taking a receipt from me. But I was a little older than he, and had just a trifle more worldly wisdom.

      "I don't think I should want to risk taking your money, or my own either. in its present shape," said I. "These bags are too handy for a thief; and, as I should go on board a strange vessel, there's no knowing who my shipmates might be. I suppose there is a way of doing it, by putting the money into the hands of Nye & Co., or somebody else in their line of life, and taking a little piece of paper that will make anybody else pay it to you when you get home."

      "Yes: but what if I am not going home?" put in the second mate, with the air of one who feels himself pretty sharp in money matters. "I may not get home for some years, if at all."

      "Well, I suppose you can have that bit of paper written so as to have the money paid to your brother, or some other friend at home. It's what they call a draft or a check or something of the sort, but I confess I don't know much more about that kind of business than you do; though I mean to inquire into it after I get ashore, and then decide what I had better do with all this money."

      "Take it along with you," said Mr. Gifford dogmatically, "and mine too, just as 't is, all in gold ounces. I don't know much about those pieces of paper, whatever they may be called, and I haven't any faith in 'em. Now that young fellow in the store there today acted as if he thought we were green to take this money off here with us. But I feel a good deal safer to have the yellow bags here where I can put my hand on 'em, than to have any piece of paper with Nye & Co.'s flourishing signature at the bottom of it. Now don't you?"

      I did not at once answer his question, for I had been thinking, and had my doubts. After a rather long pause, I said, pursuing the subject now running in my thoughts, –

      "Mr. Gifford, suppose anybody should attack us here tonight to get this money from us, what should we do?"

      "Do! Why, fight for it, of course. But who would be likely to rob us out here in the harbor?"

      "Why, some one who saw us receive this gold, or had seen us bringing the bags down to the boat," I replied, "or even some of our own shipmates who left us today. Not that I suspect any one in particular. But suppose a number of men should come, –

454 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

enough to be more than a match for us two, – what then?"

      "Fight,"he answered, as coolly and unconcernedly as if he had said "eat" instead. "But with this old ship under us, light and high out of water, we have the advantage of a dozen men in a boat, unless we let 'em take us by surprise, and board us in the dark; which I don't think either you or I will do. But I reckon there isn't more than one chance in a thousand of anybody coming off here tonight to board and rob an empty ship."

      "Well, I hope there isn't," I answered doubtfully. "But it will be well enough to keep a sharp look-out."

      "Of course," said Gifford: "that's a good seaman's rule always and everywhere. We shall set the watch at ten o'clock, and until that time we shall both be stirring. Now I think of it, it was this evening at eight o'clock that I promised to meet Captain Dayton on board the 'Adelaide,' and I suppose I must go. As she lies further in shore, I'll take the small boat and scull across to her. I shall be back before nine; and, if I should close a bargain with Captain Dayton, I can take my chest and traps right aboard in the morning without landing them-on shore."

      I had no objections to offer. It was quite important that he should be prompt at the time appointed, for upon this might depend his getting a very desirable situation as chief mate of the "Adelaide." Besides, I thought just as he did, that there was no great need of vigilance at this early hour: after ten o'clock, I meant that we should not both be caught napping at the same time. As the bell on board the British man-of-war had already struck "seven-bells," or half-past seven o'clock, we went on deck, and my active young shipmate, hauling up the small boat which had been towing astern, jumped into her, and sculled away into the darkness.

      I walked the deck for a few minutes after he had gone, and went forward to look out over the bows. The night was calm and still, but quite dark, and, as the old ship headed southward toward the town, a number of lights on the shore were visible. But all was silent as the grave after Mr. Gifford's little boat had gone out of hearing distance, and I turned aft again, with a feeling like that of Selkirk, – "monarch of all I surveyed."

      I went below again, took a book from my chest, and tried to read, but could not fix my mind upon the subject. A feeling of sadness stole over me as I thought of bidding a final farewell to the old "Phaeton;" glancing around the old familiar cabin in which I had lived for nearly three years, every object now half-obscured in the dim light of the little "petticoat" oil-lamp which stood on the table, my thoughts wandered away into a revery, from which I was roused by they sound of one stroke on the man-of-war's bell, marking half-past eight o'clock. I arose, and went up into the open air again. There was no change in the weather save that it seemed a little darker than before, and all was silent as a tomb. It was rather soon to look for my comrade's return, and, after a careful survey in every direction, I went below again, but could not read. I walked back and forth in the confined space, which afforded room for only a few steps, and, as the minutes passed, I grew nervous and fidgety. What could have kept the second mate so long?

      Two bells! It was indeed nine o'clock, and no sound of the returning boat! I went on deck once more, and, as I stepped out of the companion-way, I saw in the gloom a human form move near the mainmast, and disappear in range of the mast, as if dodging from view. The first thought was that my partner had come on board; but why should he be so silent about it?

      My vision now pierced the darkness better than at first, and I saw another figure move into view from behind the mast. That step! There could be no other like it, for the limp was peculiar. Like a flash of lightning, I understood the whole situation. It was the quiet porter whom I had seen at work in Nye & Co.'s store, and he was not alone! I descended the cabin stairs with a single leap, rushed into the after-cabin, and locked the door on the inside. With a single puff, I strangled the light, leaving the place in total darkness. By that time, my assailants were coming down the cabin stairs, having thrown off all concealment, and, thundering away at the cabin door, demanded admittance. I gathered from the steps and voices that there were three in number, and were all barefoot, which accounted for their having moved so silently above deck. But they all talked freely enough now, and in a loud tone, as if they

In a Tight Place. 455

meant to carry their point by intimidation. I was but an indifferent Spanish scholar, but I understood their threats, – that if they were not let in, they would break their way in, and cut my throat. My wits never seemed to move so quickly as at that moment, yet I must say that I was not driven to my wits' ends. Indeed, I seemed, after a minute had elapsed, to feel a fierce delight in the situation, and determined to sell my life as dearly as possible. As for the money, I swore in my heart that they should never have it, whether I came through dead or alive, for I would drop it thirty fathoms deep to the bottom of the bay. So I tossed the two bags of gold upon the upper transom, close by the stern window, which was open. I now bethought me of a ruse which I hoped might operate in my favor. I sang out gruffly, "Mr. Gifford!" and then, putting my head inside a state-room door, I answered myself in the lazy voice of one just awakening. The kicks and blows on the door desisted for a moment, as the Chilenos listened to my ventriloquial dialogue, and then I gathered from their words that they understood there were two of us.

      "I knew all the time that there were two," said a voice which I called that of the lame porter. Of course he knew it.

      "Why didn't you tell us so?" inquired the other voice angrily.

      If I had, you would have been afraid to come," was the answer.

      By their speech, I judged that they were all well charged with aquardiente; but two of them were much cooled in their courage by having ascertained, as they supposed, that there were two of us inside the cabin. They now retired a little, to consult upon the plan of attack, which gave me a breathing spell, and time to make my arrangements with more deliberation.

      I had an old-fashioned single-barreled pistol in my chest which was loaded and capped (revolvers were not so common in those days as now), but I found that I had no ammunition to reload it, so I must trust to it as it was, though the charge had been in it several days. There was nothing else in the bare cabin that could be used as a weapon, unless it were the chairs in which I had sat. I determined to climb up in the upper transom, close by the stern window, and there await the attack, defending myself as best I could. If too hard pressed, I would, as a last resort, drop the bags of money into the sea, and dive after them myself, taking my chance by swimming. though it was quite a long distance to reach any other vessel.

      I heard the robbers overhead reconnoitring, but the only cabin skylight in this old ship was a stout little batch of plank, suited to heavy weather, with a couple of little deck-lights of thick glass set into it, and the whole securely fastened underneath. They soon abandoned that avenue of attack. and, having apparently fortified their courage with more liquor, returned to the original plan. The cabin door was very strong. and had thus far withstood all their pushing and kicking; but they now found and brought down a couple of hand-spikes to be used as rams, and my heart sank within me as I heard the first blow delivered against the door, for I perceived that it must soon yield to this manner of attack, if it were continued.

      I must defend myself and the bags as long as I could, but I could only get a single shot with the pistol, and then trust to circumstances. But where, oh! where was Mr. Gifford?

      Suddenly a bright idea occurred to me, which I hastened to carry out, for the handspike blows were weakening the door, and the crisis was close at hand.

      The run-scuttle of the old "Phaeton" was of large size, and was right in the middle of the cabin floor, under the table. In an instant I had pushed the table off to the port side, lifted the scuttle by the ring, leaving the hatchway open. I thought of jumping down there. taking the money with me, and so making my way into the hold; but at that instant I remembered that we had, only a short time before, built a strong bulk-head across, just abaft the mizzen-main, to prevent the crew from getting at the rum and tobacco which had been stored in the run. The place was a cul de sac, and I should be brought to bay in a still tighter place than the upper cabin.

      I had another new idea, which seemed like an inspiration. I jerked the coarse brown cloth from the table, and, stooping, laid it carefully over the scuttle, completely covering the hole, and overlapping far enough to hold itself in place. Here was a trap which might perhaps catch the foremost of the assailants, – especially as they were not seamen, and would not be upon the look-out for the hole under their feet.

456 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

      Crash! The door was on the point of giving way, and I leaped upon the upper transom, pulling the bags of god close to my side, and cocked my pistol, with an inward prayer that it might not miss fire.

      Where I was, I was confined to a crouching attitude, in fact almost lying down.

      Another blow of the battering-rams, and the cabin door burst wide open. The handspikes fell to the floor, and those silent but deadly weapons, the long, bright cuchillos, flashed even in the darkness.

      A momentary pause, until my figure was seen against the aperture of the stern window, and, with a drunken yell, two of the Chilenos rushed at me, so impetuously that the foremost, stepping upon the table-cloth, vanished into the abyss below.

      The ball from my pistol, fired with steady aim, told upon the second one, who fell headlong down the scuttle upon his partner; but the third, who was the lame porter himself, now satisfied that I was the sole garrison of the place, leaped across the corner of the hatchway, and reached for me with his long knife. I drew back toward the window by foreshortening my legs, and then, straightening again, let drive both feet at his head. In making that manouvre, I received one severe cut in the leg; but my assailant was thrown backward off the transom, half rose to his feet to receive a stunning blow from the butt of my empty pistol, staggered, and fell into the iron grasp of the second mate, who, without ceremony, pitched him, neck and crop, down into the run upon his groaning comrades.

      "Strike a light, quick, Mr. Gifford!" I cried. "I 'm cut with that infernal cuchilllo, but I don't know how bad it is."

      "Ay, ay!" answered my young shipmate. "Let's get the hatch on first." And, seizing the ring of the scuttle, he clapped it into its place, pulled the table upon it, and then threw his own hundred and eighty pounds avoirdupois upon the table.

      "Now let 's see "em get out of that trap!" said he, as he fumbled with the petticoat lamp. "Two of 'em, aren't there?"

      "There's three!" I answered. "Bear a hand with the light."

      "Three! the devil there is! And all stowed under the hatches? But never mind, you can spin the yarn while I'm dressing your cut."

      "It isn't anything dangerous," I said, for by this time the light of the lamp was shining upon it, and I felt assured that I had escaped more cheaply than could have been expected.

      "Oh, no," assented Mr. Gifford, "it's nothing dangerous; but 'tis bad enough though. Here, lie down on your side, and. take one of my suspenders for a strap, and this empty pistol 'for a toggil, or rather a beaver, and make a tourniquet. Luckily we've got the medicine-chest here, – almost the only thing that was not sold separately, but goes with the ship, – plenty of needles, and stickum plaster. I'll fix you out in short order. The bags are all safe, aren't they?"

      "Oh, yes!" said I. "They never should have had 'em. I'd have dropped 'em out of that window first. But what shall we do with these cut-throats? It isn't pleasant to have 'em yelling and groaning here all night."

      "No: but there'll be more help here directly," returned Mr. Gifford. "I passed under the stern of the 'Unicorn,' that arrived here today, and Tom Manchester, the mate, who is an old shipmate of mine, hailed me. I couldn't make any stop then to gam with him; but he's going to man his boat, and come aboard here directly. I believe I can hear his oars now, but these savages under us make such a cussed noise! Here, sit up! rest your weight on the table now, but keep the strap on, and the bleeding will stop directly."

      He ran on deck to hail the coming boat, and in a minute returned with Manchester and his boat's crew from the "Unicorn," who were soon made acquainted with the main facts.

      We lost no time in communicating with the authorities on shore, and a strong force of vigilantes were at once sent to take our prisoners in charge.

      The run was opened, and they were all dragged out, when the victim of my pistol was found to be already dead, the ball having entered his neck and pierced the jugular vein. The first assailant was also mortally injured, his spine being broken, either by his own fall or the fall of the others upon him. Our lame friend, Pedro, as the policeman called him, – for all the men were known as old offenders, – although somewhat bruised and battered, had not received any dangerous wound.

      The courts in Chili were more summary in dealing justice than ours are, and we had

A Mistake, and no Mistake. 457

a chance within a few days to give our evidence, and to see Pedro, the only survivor of the three desperadoes, sent away under guard to join the chain-gang.

      I secured a passage for home on the same day that Mr. Gifford sailed as first officer of the "Adelaide," but we had both profited by experience, and found a way to send home our money without carrying bags of gold to sea with us. We have often, in later years, talked over our own foolishness in thus carrying gold on board in broad daylight, and then suffering a band of robbers to drift silently under our bows and take us by surprise; and surely neither of us can forget that last night spent on board our old condemned ship "Phaeton" in Valparaiso Bay.


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: In a Tight Place.
Publication: Ballou's Monthly Magazine.
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 47, No. 5 (May 1878)
Pages: 452-457