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The Adventures of Captain Horn by Frank R. Stockton

The Adventures of Captain Horn by Frank R. Stockton

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The subject of the labors of an African Hercules, mythical as these
labors might be, was so interesting to the four men who had been drinking
and smoking in the tavern, that they determined to pursue it as far as
their ignorance of the African's language, and his ignorance of English
and Spanish, would permit. In the first place, they made him sit down
with them, and offered him something to drink. It was not whiskey, but
Inkspot liked it very much, and felt all sorts of good effects from it.
In fact, it gave him a power of expressing himself by gestures and single

words in a manner wonderful. After a time, the men gave him something to
eat, for they imagined he might be hungry, and this also helped him very
much, and his heart went out to these new friends. Then he had a little
more to drink, but only a little, for the horse-dealer and the thin-nosed
man, who superintended the entertainment, were very sagacious, and did
not want him to drink too much.

In the course of an hour, these four men, listening and watching keenly
and earnestly, had become convinced that this black man had been on a
ship which carried bags of gold similar to the rude prism possessed by
the horse-dealer, that he had left that vessel for the purpose of
obtaining refreshments on shore and had not been able to get back to it,
thereby indicating that the vessel had not stopped long at the place
where he had left it, and which place must have been, of course,
Valparaiso. Moreover, they found out to their full satisfaction where
that vessel was going to; for Maka had talked a great deal about Paris,
which he pronounced in English fashion, where Cheditafa and Mok were, and
the negroes had looked forward to this unknown spot as a heavenly port,
and Inkspot could pronounce the word "Paris" almost as plainly as if it
were a drink to which he was accustomed.

But where the vessel was loaded with the gold, they could not find out.
No grimace that Inkspot could make, nor word that he could say, gave them
an idea worth dwelling upon. He said some words which made them believe
that the vessel had cleared from Acapulco, but it was foolish to suppose
that any vessel had been loaded there with bags of gold carried on men's
shoulders. The ship most probably came from California, and had touched
at the Mexican port. And she was now bound for Paris. That was natural
enough. Paris was a very good place to which to take gold. Moreover, she
had probably touched at some South American port, Callao perhaps, and
this was the way the little pieces of gold had been brought into the
country, the Californians probably having changed them for stores.

The words "Cap' 'Or," often repeated by the negro, and always in a
questioning tone, puzzled them very much. They gave up its solution, and
went to work to try to make out the name of the vessel upon which the
bags had been loaded. But here Inkspot could not help them. They could
not make him understand what it was they wanted him to say. At last, the
horse-dealer proposed to the others, who, he said, knew more about such
things than he did, that they should repeat the name of every
sailing-vessel on that coast of which they had ever heard--for Inkspot
had made them understand that his ship had sails, and no steam. This they
did, and presently one of the sailors mentioned the name _Miranda_, which
belonged to a brig he knew of which plied on the coast. At this, Inkspot
sprang to his feet and clapped his hands.

_"Miran'a! Miran'a.'"_ he cried. And then followed the words, "Cap' 'Or!
Cap' 'Or!" in eagerly excited tones.

Suddenly the thin-nosed man, whom the others called Cardatas,
leaned forward.

"Cap'n Horn?" said he.

Inkspot clapped his hands again, and exclaimed:

"Ay, ay! Cap' 'Or! Cap' 'Or!"

He shouted the words so loudly that the barkeeper, at the other end of
the room, called out gruffly that they'd better keep quiet, or they would
have somebody coming in.

"There you have it!" exclaimed Cardatas, in Spanish. "It's Cap'n Horn
that the fool's been trying to say. Cap'n Horn of the brig _Miranda_. We
are getting on finely."

"I have heard of a Cap'n Horn," said one of the sailors. "He's a Yankee
skipper from California. He has sailed from this port, I know."

"And he touched here three days ago, according to the negro," said
Cardatas, addressing the horse-dealer. "What do you say to that, Nunez?
From what we know, I don't think it will be hard to find out more."

Nunez agreed with him, and thought it might pay to find out more. Soon
after this, being informed that it was time to shut up the place, the
four men went out, taking Inkspot with them. They would not neglect this
poor fellow. They would give him a place to sleep, and in the morning he
should have something to eat. It would be very unwise to let him go from
them at present.

The next morning Inkspot strolled about the wharves of Valparaiso, in
company with the two sailors, who never lost sight of him, and he had
rather a pleasant time, for they gave him as much to eat and drink as was
good for him, and made him understand as well as they could that it would
not be long before they would help him to return to the brig _Miranda_
commanded by Captain Horn.

In the meantime, the horse-dealer, Nunez, went to a newspaper office, and
there procured a file of a Mexican paper, for the negro had convinced
them that his vessel had sailed from Acapulco. Turning over the back
numbers week after week, and week after week, Nunez searched in the
maritime news for the information that the _Miranda_ had cleared from a
Mexican port. He had gone back so far that he had begun to consider it
useless to make further search, when suddenly he caught the name
_Miranda_. There it was. The brig _Miranda_ had cleared from Acapulco
September 16, bound for Rio Janeiro in ballast. Nunez counted the months
on his fingers.

"Five months ago!" he said to himself. "That's not this trip, surely.
But I will talk to Cardatas about that." And taking from his pocket a
little note-book in which he recorded his benefactions in the line of
horse trades, he carefully copied the paragraph concerning the _Miranda_.

When Nunez met Cardatas in the afternoon, the latter also had news. He
had discovered that the arrival of the _Miranda_ had not been registered,
but he had been up and down the piers, asking questions, and he had found
a mate of a British steamer, then discharging her cargo, who told him
that the _Miranda_, commanded by Captain Horn, had anchored in the harbor
three days back, during the night, and that early the next morning
Captain Horn had sent him a letter which he wished posted, and that very
soon afterwards the brig had put out to sea. Cardatas wished to know much
more, but the mate, who had had but little conversation with Shirley,
could only tell him that the brig was then bound from Acapulco to Rio
Janeiro in ballast, which he thought rather odd, but all he could add was
that he knew Captain Horn, and he was a good man, and that if he were
sailing in ballast, he supposed he knew what he was about.

Nunez then showed Cardatas the note he had made, and remarked that, of
course, it could not refer to the present voyage of the brig, for it
could not take her five months to come from Acapulco to this port.

"No," said the other, musing, "it oughtn't to, but, on the other hand,
it is not likely she is on her second voyage to Rio, and both times in
ballast. That's all stuff about ballast. No man would be such a fool as
to sail pretty nigh all around this continent in ballast. He could find
some cargo in Mexico that he could sell when he got to port. Besides, if
that black fellow don't lie,--and he don't know enough to lie,--she's
bound for Paris. It's more likely she means to touch at Rio and take
over some cargo. But why, in the devil's name, should she sail from
Acapulco in ballast? It looks to me as if bags of gold might make very
good ballast."

"That's just what I was thinking," said Nunez.

"And what's more," said the other, "I'll bet she brought it down from
California with her when she arrived at Acapulco. I don't believe she
originally cleared from there."

"It looks that way," said Nunez, "but how do you account for such a
long voyage?"

"I've been talking to Sanchez about that _Miranda_," said Cardatas. "He
has heard that she is an old tub, and a poor sailer, and in that case
five months is not such a very slow voyage. I have known of slower
voyages than that."

"And now what are you going to do about it?" asked Nunez.

"The first thing I want to do is to pump that black fellow a
little more."

"A good idea," said Nunez, "and we'll go and do it."

Poor Inkspot was pumped for nearly an hour, but not much was got out of
him. The only feature of his information that was worth anything was the
idea that he managed to convey that ballast, consisting of stones and
bags of sand, had been taken out of the brig and thrown away, and bags of
gold put in their places. Where this transfer had taken place, the negro
could not make his questioners understand, and he was at last remanded to
the care of Sanchez and the other sailor.

"The black fellow can't tell us much," said Cardatas to Nunez, as they
walked away together, "but he has stuck to his story well, and there
can't be any use of his lying about it. And there is another thing. What
made the brig touch here just long enough to leave a letter, and that
after a voyage of five months? That looks as if they were afraid some of
their people would go on shore and talk."

"In that case," said Nunez, "I should say there is something shady about
the business. Perhaps this captain has slipped away from his partners up
there in California, or somebody who has been up to a trick has hired him
to take the gold out of the country. If he does carry treasure, it isn't
a fair and square thing. If it had been fair, the gold would have been
sent in the regular way, by a steamer. It's no crime to send gold from

California to France, or any other place."

"I agree with you," said Cardatas, as he lighted his twenty-seventh

Nunez did not smoke, but he mused as he walked along.

"If she has gold on board," said he, presently, "it must be a good deal."

"Yes," said the other. "They wouldn't take so much trouble for a small
lot. Of course, there can't be enough of it to take the place of all the
ballast, but it must weigh considerable."

Here the two men were joined by an acquaintance, and their special
conversation ceased. That night they met again.

"What are you going to do about this?" asked Nunez. "We can't keep on
supporting that negro."

"What is to be done?" asked the other, his sharp eyes fixed upon his
companion's face.

"Would it pay to go over to Rio and meet that brig when she arrives
there? If we could get on board and have a talk with her captain, he
might be willing to act handsomely when he found out we know something
about him and his ship. And if he won't do that, we might give
information, and have his vessel held until the authorities in California
can be communicated with. Then I should say we ought to make something."

"I don't think much of that plan," said Cardatas. "I don't believe she's
going to touch at Rio. If she's afraid to go into port here, why
shouldn't she be afraid to go into port there? No. It would be stupid for
us to go to Rio and sit down and wait for her."

"Then," answered the other, a little angrily, "what can be done?"

"We can go after her," said Cardatas.

The other sneered. "That would be more stupid than the other," said he.
"She left here four days ago, and we could never catch up with her, even
if we could find such a pin-point of a vessel on the great Pacific."

Cardatas laughed. "You don't know much about navigation," said he, "but
that's not to be expected. With a good sailing-vessel I could go after
her, and overhaul her somewhere in the Straits of Magellan. With such a
cargo, I am sure she would make for the Straits. That Captain Horn is
said to be a good sailor, and the fact that he is in command of such a
tub as the _Miranda_ is a proof that there is something underhand about
his business."

"And if we should overhaul her?" said the other.

"Well," was the reply, "we might take along a dozen good fellows, and as
the _Miranda_ has only three men on board,--I don't count negroes worth
anything,--I don't see why we couldn't induce the captain to talk
reasonably to us. As for a vessel, there's the _Arato_."

"Your vessel?" said the other.

"Yes, I own a small share in her, and she's here in port now, waiting
for a cargo."

"I forget what sort of a craft she is," said Nunez.

"She's a schooner," said the other, "and she can sail two miles to the
_Miranda's_ one in any kind of weather. If I had money enough, I could
get the _Arato_, put a good crew on board, and be at sea and on the wake
of that brig in twenty-four hours."

"And how much money would be needed?" asked the other.

"That remains to be calculated," replied Cardatas. Then the two went to
work to calculate, and spent an hour or two at it.

When they parted, Nunez had not made up his mind that the plan of
Cardatas was a good one, but he told him to go ahead and see what could
be done about getting the _Arato_ and a reliable crew, and that he would
talk further to him about the matter.

That night Nunez took a train for Santiago, and on his arrival there, the
next morning, he went straight to the shop of the jeweller of whom had
been obtained the piece of gold in his possession. Here he made some
cautious inquiries, and found the jeweller very ready to talk about the
piece of gold that Nunez showed him. The jeweller said that he had had
four pieces of the gold in his possession, and that he had bought them in
Lima to use in his business. They had originally come from California,
and were very fine gold. He had been a little curious about it on account
of the shape of the pieces, and had been told that they had been brought
into the country by an American sea-captain, who had seemed to have a
good many of them. The jeweller thought it very likely that these pieces
of gold passed for currency in California, for he had heard that at one
time the people there had had to make their own currency, and that they
often paid for merchandise in so many penny-weights and ounces of gold
instead of using coin. The jeweller was himself very glad to do business
in this way, for he liked the feel of a lump of gold.

After explaining that his reason for making these inquiries was his fear
that the piece of gold he had accepted in trade because he also liked the
feel of lumps of gold, might not be worth what he had given for it, Nunez
thanked the jeweller, left him, and returned to Valparaiso. He went
straight to his friend Cardatas, and said that he would furnish the
capital to fit out the _Arato_ for the projected trip.

It was not in twenty-four hours, but in forty-eight, that the schooner
_Arato_ cleared from Valparaiso for Callao in ballast. She had a good set
of sails, and a crew of ten men besides the captain. She also had on
board a passenger, Nunez by name, and a tall negro, who doubtless could
turn his hand to some sort of work on board, and whom it would have been
very indiscreet to leave behind.

Once outside the harbor, the _Arato_ changed her mind about going to
Callao, and sailed southward.

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