Concerning Doubloon Spit
| Robert Wallace, the father of
Evelyn, was not one of the forty-niners, but he had come to California by way of the
Isthmus not very many years later. Always of an adventurous turn, it was on his
fourteenth birthday that he ran away from his home in Baltimore to become a stowaway on
board a south-bound vessel.
It was a day of privations, and the boy endured more than his share of them without complaint. Somehow he got along, knocking about one one point to another, now at the gold diggings, now on the San Francisco wharfs, and again as a deck hand on the coasters that plied from port to port.
When he was eighteen, but well grown for his age, he fell in with an old salt named Nat Quinn Quinn was an old man, close to seventy, a survival of a type of sailor which even then had all but passed away.
The sea and the wind had given Quinn a face of wrinkled leather. It was his custom to wear rings in his ears, to carry a murderous dirk, and to wrap around his bald head a red bandanna after the fashion of the buccaneers of old.
He was a surly old ruffian, quick to take offense, and absolutely fearless. When the old fellow was in drink it was a much as one's life was worth to cross his whim.
Nat Quinn was second mate of the Porto Rico when young Wallace shipped before the mast at San Francisco for a cruise to Lima. The crew ere probably rough specimens, but there can be no doubt that Quinn hazed them mercilessly.
Soon the whole forecastle was simmering with talk about revenge. Off Guayaquil one night three of the crew found him alone on the deck and rushed him overboard. The old man was no swimmer. No doubt this would have been the end of him if young Wallace, hearing his cry for help, had not dived from the rail and kept him afloat until a boat reached them.
From that night Nat Quinn took a great fancy to the young man and often hinted that he was going to make his fortune. He told of hidden treasure, but never definitely; spoke of a great fortune to be had for the lifting, and promised Wallace that he should go halves.
No doubt he trusted the boy, but the habit of secrecy had grown too strong easily to be broken. Several times he approached the subject, but usually sheered off before he had gone far. Of shrugs and winks he offered plenty, enough to keep the youngster tantalized almost beyond endurance. Nor was it possible to force his confidence, for he was of a surly, taciturn disposition, given to brooding suspicions.
But at last the story came out. Quinn had been in his early days a seaman on board the ship Mary Ann of Bristol, which in the year 1817 was wrecked off the coast of Peru and cast upon the rocks. Most of the crew were saved, including the captain, one Thomas Rogers, the first mate, "Bully" Evans, and the boatswain, Pablo Lobardi, a quarrelsome fellow with whom Quinn had had a difficulty.
The rescued seamen were treated with the greatest kindness of the simple-hearted natives. To Cerro Blanco, the nearest town, they were taken and given work. Most of them found employment in the rich mines of the neighborhood, pending the arrival of some ship to take them back to Europe.
Lobardi was the only one of the crew who could talk Spanish, so that in his capacity of interpreter he acquired much influence with the men. It was he that hatched the vile plot to rob the mines, loot the rich churches and the banks of Cerro Blanco, and make their escape on the ship which put in twice a year to carry the gold to Lima.
It looked a desperate enough adventure, this plan to seize an armed transport and escape with a great treasure, but these ruffians were the very men to carry through such an attempt. In its apparent hopelessness lay one prime factor of success, for none could expect a score of unarmed men to try so forlorn a hope. The transport carried twice as many soldiers, and these could call upon the town for aid in case of need.
Everything went as well for the rascally buccaneers as they could desire. As the treasure wagons from the mines filed through a narrow gorge the sailors fell upon them. By means of three stolen rifles they drove away the guard. In their wild flight for safety the men who composed this body flung away their weapons in panic.
Bully Evans, captain in fact though not in name, now had eleven rifles and three pistols to distribute among his men. Leaving an escort with the gold, he pushed to Cerro blanco with the main body of robbers. At the outskirts of the town he again divided his forces. One party hastened to the banks and another looted the cathedral. Within an hour the town had been stripped clean of its gold and jewels and the scoundrels had again joined forces at the wharves. Only the need of absolute silence save the town from a carnival of fire and murder.
It was by this time in the small hours of a dark, moonless night. The pirates loaded the treasure into boats and pulled quietly for the Santa Theresa, a transport which lay like a black hulk in the harbor.
The first boat was challenged by a sentinel on board, but Lobardi gave the countersign which they had forced from the leader of the treasure convoy.
"Muy bien," answered the sentry, and he at once moved way to call the captain of the marines.
As that officer came sleepily to the deck a half dozen figures swarmed over the side of the ship. He gave a cry, the last he ever uttered. A knife hurtling through the dark was buried to the hilt in his throat. Simultaneously one of the men on guard let out his death shriek and the other fled down the hatchway to the quarters of the men.
The first rush of the troopers to the deck was met by a volley that mowed them down. Before they could recover, the pirates were upon them with cutlasses. Taken by surprise, hemmed in by the narrow hatchway, the soldiers made a poor defense. Some were pursued and cut down, others escaped by swimming to the wharves. Those who surrendered were flung into a boat and ordered ashore.
Captain Rogers worked the brig out of the harbor and set her nose to the north. There was need of haste, for the ship's consort was expected in a day or two. That there would be a pursuit nobody doubted.
Now occurred a state of affairs to be accounted the most strange were it not the most natural in the world. While the plot had been fomenting, and during its execution, these scurvy fellows had been of one mind, amenable to discipline, and entirely loyal to each other.
The thing had been in the wind a month, yet not one of them had breathed a word in betrayal. But no sooner had they won success than dissensions broke out. They were jealous of their officers, suspicious of each other.
Men whispered together in corners, and others scowled at them in distrust. They grew unruly, were soon ripe for mutiny.
To make matters worse, the wines and liquors aboard were made too free. It was not long before the cutthroats were in a debauch that threatened to last as long as the rum. Fights grew frequent. Within a week one man was buried and another lay in his bunk cut to ribbons.
At this juncture Rogers, Evans, and Lobardi put their heads together and quietly dumped overboard the liquor supply. Captain Rogers was the ablest seaman among the officer, and he it was that worked the brig. But Bully Evans was the real leader of the pirates. He was a big man, of tremendous vitality and strength, and he ruled like a czar, hazing his men into submission by sheer brutality.
One specimen of his methods must serve to illustrate a week of battle, every hour filled with disorder. The brig Truxillo, consort of the Santa Theresa, had appeared in the offing one morning and hung on in chase with all sail set. All day and night the two ships raced, the one to excape, the other to capture the pirates.
Next morning there came up a heavy fog. Orders were given to about ship. Nothing could have amazed the crew more, and mutiny was instantly in the air. The malcontents whispered together and sent forward a committee of three to voice their refusal to comply with the order.
Before a dozen words had been spoken Evans stepped forward and flung the spokesman from the quarterdeck. While the other two hesitated he was upon them, had cracked their heads together, and hammered them down the steps to the waist.
From his belt he shipped two pistols and leveled them at the grumblers.
"Avast, you lubbers!: he bellowed. "By the powers, I'll learn you to play horse with Bully Evans! Pipe up your complaint or foot it, you flabby seacooks what call yourselves gentlemen of fortune! Stow my quid, but I'll send some of you to feed the fishes if you try to make the f'c'sle rule the quarterdeck. Come, pipe up!"
They did not say much of what was in their minds, for he took the words out of their mouths, berating them for meddlesome fools and explaining how their sole chance of escaping was to slip past the Truxillo in the fog and shake off the pursuit. All this he roared with the foulest of accompanying oaths, treating the crew like dogs so effectively that they turned tail and gave up without a blow.
On the morning of the third day after this the Santa Theresa poked her nose into San Miguel Gulf on the southern coast of Panama. The captain took her across the gulf into Darien Harbor, then followed the southern branch practically to the head of the bay, at which point he anchored.
Tired of being confined aboard the ship, the crew were eager to get ashore. This suited the plans of Evans. As soon as the long boat had gone with the shore party he packed the treasure in boxes and lowered them into a boat. Late in the afternoon the tired sailors returned to the ship.
Evans ordered the boatswain to pipe al hands on deck. To the assembled crew he made a speech, pointing out the need of getting the treasure to some safer place than board a ship which might any day fall into the hands of the enemy. He intended, he said, to take three men with him and bury the chests on the sand spit within sight of them all.
But at this proposal the men broke into flat rebellion. Not one of them was willing to trust the gold out of his reach. Things in fact had come to such a pass that, though there was plenty for all, each was plotting how he might increase his share by robbing his neighbor.
Evans had made his preparations. The officers, Lobardi, Quinn, and two other sailors who sided with the chief villains wee grouped together, all of them heavily armed. In the struggle that followed the victory lay with the organized party. The mutineers were defeated and disarmed.
Evans selected Quinn, Lobardi, and a sailor named Wall to go with him ashore to bury the gold. Those on board watched the boat pull away with the gold that had cost so many lives. To the fury and amazement of all of them the boat rounded a point of land and disappeared from sight.
Evans had broken his agreement to bury the treasure in the sight of all. Even Captain Rogers joined in the imprecations of the men. He ordered the long boat lowered for a pursuit, but hardly had this started when a shot plumped into the water in front of it.
Unobserved in the excitement, the Truxillo had slipped into the bay. Its second shot fell short, its third wide, but the fourth caught the boat amidship and crumpled it as the top of a spoon does an empty eggshell. Of the eight men aboard two were killed outright and the rest thrown into the sea. One of thema man named Bucks, as we were to learn in a most surprising wayclung to the wreckage and succeeded in reaching shore. The rest were drowned or fell a prey to sharks.
The long boat disposed of, the Truxillo turned her guns upon the Santa Theresa. Those left on board made a desperate defense,but the captain, seeing that escape was impossible, chose to blow up the ship rather than be hanged as a pirate from the yard arm.
Meanwhile, the boat with the treasure, which had rounded the point before the Truxillo had appeared, had been beached on the spit and the chests dragged ashore. Evans was burying the boxes when the first shot of the Truxillo fell upon his ears. Naturally he concluded that it was from the Santa Theresa as a warning of what he might expect.
Bully Evans showed his yellow teeth in a grin.
"Compliments of the old man," he said, no whit disturbed at his double treachery.
But at the sound of the final explosion the desperadoes looked at each other.
They ran to the nearest hill and saw the destruction of their companions.
The Portuguese boatswain was the first to recover.
"There ess now fewer to share," he said with a shrug of his shoulders.
Evans looked at Quinn and gave a signal. The double murder was done with knives. Where there had been four, now only two remained.
Evans and Quinn finished burying the treasure and removed all trace of their work. A map was drawn by Quinn, sowing the exact location of the cache. The murderers slipped back to their boat and, under cover of darkness, crept up the harbor till they came to the mouth of a large river. Up this they pulled and disappeared into the interior. Neither of them was aware that Bucks had seen the treacherous killing and the disposal of the treasure.
Six weeks later a living skeleton crawled out of the fever-laden swamps of Panama and staggered down to a little village on the gulf of Uraba. The man was Nat Quinn. He had followed the Rio Tuyra, zigzagged across the isthmus, and reached the northern coast.
Somewhere in the dark tangle of forest behind him, where daylight never penetrates the thick tropical growth, lay the body of bully Evans. It was lying face down in the underbrush, a little round hole in the back of the head. Quinn's treachery had anticipated that of the mate.
As the survivor lurched down to the settlement his voice rose in a high cackle of delirious song. These were the words of his chant:
|It's bully boys, ho! and a deck splashed
The devil is paid, quo' he, quo' e,
A knife in the back and a mate swift sped!
Heave yo ho! and away with me.