Adventures in Peru, Chapter 2

The Italian’s Wife

A Tropical Island, Part 6

When I adjourned on the island there were only nine families in residence all told. They were of various nationalities. Two were Chilian, one Portuguese, one German, one Spanish, one French, one Italian, one English, and one Swiss of German extraction—the last being the family of de Rodht, the Governor.

The Italian had been banished for life from Chile. The Chilians had long suspected him of smuggling, and of receiving stolen goods. So they set a trap for him, and he fell into it. Some of the Angamos men were ordered to induce him to purchase of them some new ship’s stores—mattresses and so forth. They found him nothing loth. The same night police were sent to arrest him. When they arrived at the Italian’s residence, he was enjoying his dinner in a room which commanded a view of the path the emissaries of the law had to traverse. He told his wife to admit no one. The police, however, insisted on seeing him; so he retired to his bedroom and locked himself in. The police followed him and demanded admittance. This he refused to grant. When the Government men purposed to break down the door, he threatened to shoot the first man who crossed the threshold. Having reason to believe he would be as good as his word, the police resorted to a device they had put into operation on similar occasions. They bored holes in the bottom of the door, and set light to a concoction of sulphur, red pepper, cotton wool, etc. The fumes they contrived to introduce into the Italian’s room. So effectual did this artifice prove that the Italian was soon glad to open the door. His arrest and trial followed, as a matter of course. The charge preferred against him was proved up to the hilt. When sentenced, he was given the option of being deported to Juan Fernandez, in lieu of serving twenty years’ imprisonment. Like a sensible man he chose the island.

The culprit was not devoid of good feeling, for he told his wife he couldn’t expect her to stick to a beggar-man; so the best thing she could do would be to apply for a divorce, and marry some other man better calculated to bring happiness into her life. His spouse was a most beautiful woman, and a wonderful musician. Moreover, her age was twenty-seven years less than her husband’s. Hence she would have experienced little difficulty in finding a suitable partner. But—who can gauge the strength of a woman’s love?—this noble girl would have none of it. “What!” she cried. “Forsake you now you are down and out? Never! I took you for good or bad, for richer or poorer. Where you go, I will go.” So it came to pass that when the Italian was sent to Juan Fernandez, he did not go alone; his faithful wife accompanied him. She willingly turned her back on all the attractions of society for the sake of the man she loved.

As may be imagined, the houses in which the majority of these nine families lived were quite unpretentious. Most of them were constructed of native-grown timber and corrugated iron imported from the mainland, but those belonging to Arrendondo, De Rodht, Correros, and myself were very nicely built.

Fishing, catching lobster, extracting shark oil, and fish curing were the only industries pursued by the inhabitants. Fonck exploited lobsters, and I dried fish. I tried to extract oil from cod, but failed. Unlike the Newfoundland and Norwegian varieties, its liver contained none. Shite, Fonck’s manager, and I used to open our stores every Saturday from 10 o’clock till 1 p.m., allowing all who required provisions to have them on tick. Owing to an old law permitting the sale of liquor only in those districts where there are resident police, none was allowed to be sold on Juan Fernandez. As there were no doctors, so there could be no frail women. Male offenders against public morality were punished by five years’ imprisonment on the mainland. Females got a similar stretch in the House of Correction.

My own views as regards alcohol are these. It is a thing sent for our use, it is of incalculable value in tropical countries, but its abuse is to be deprecated. I felt that a certain amount of alcohol was an absolute necessity for the male residents at least, so I had no compunction in giving such of my customers as I judged would make proper use of it, a small quantity from time to time.

Adventures in Peru, Chapter 2

A Tempting Offer

A Tropical Island, Part 5

There is plenty of provender for cattle on Juan Fernandez—any amount of grass and wild oats, also excellent tobacco which has a nice nutty flavour all its own.

The temperature is very equable. De Rodht showed me his book, in which he had set down particulars for sixteen years, of readings taken daily at 8 a.m., 9 p.m., and noon. From this I learnt the average temperature at 8 a.m. was 62 degrees, and at noon 72 degrees.

According to tradition five ship-loads of treasure lie buried somewhere near French Bay. Only a very small portion has ever been discovered. This was found by a Dane, who lighted on enough “red stuff” to keep him in luxury till the end of his days. He bought a nice three-masted auxiliary yacht with part of the proceeds, and gave the man who put him on the right track a lot of provisions and £2000. I came across this other man one day, in fact, I did him a service—I cured him of his rheumatism. In return he disclosed to me the exact spot where the big hoard lies concealed. Owing to a family disagreement he had kept it secret from his sons.

I lost no time in waiting about, but at once commenced making preparations for the fray. I fitted up my two donkeys with a kind of pannier for the conveyance of the necessary tools and cargo, and made up my mind to take Fisher with me and camp out near the spot indicated, so that I could explore the locality thoroughly at my leisure. Unfortunately, just as I had completed my arrangements, Mariano Penny sent a note by the Chilian transport Angamos, the purport of which was, that as Zavala was giving up his horses, the writer would like to know what remuneration I would require to take his place. Thinking I might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb, I replied “£100 a month,” and then dismissed the matter from my mind, never expecting to hear about it again. My surmise was wrong, however, for ten days later Penny’s schooner hove in sight with another letter for me. Like the first it was written by his wife. It ran thus: “Mariano says if you will come at once, leaving the day after you receive this, he is willing to pay you £80 a month, plus 50 per cent. on all prizes the horses win. In addition he will give you £200 a year to look for old mines for him and Minchin, during December, January, and February. If you don’t care to do the prospecting, then you will have to go somewhere where there is snow and ice so that you can keep yourself fit for the next racing season, as Mariano doesn’t want any sick man messing about with his horses. As regards entering horses, you can enter them wherever and whenever you like; but you must clearly understand, that if any horse, so entered, fails to get into the first three, Samuel Navarette, Mariano’s secretary, has strict orders to deduct £10 from your salary, each time it occurs, unless the jockey is proved to have been at fault, or something has happened in the race to prejudice the horse’s chance. This, of course, doesn’t apply to any animal entered at Mariano’s special request, or Minchin’s. Any horse outside his own that you may train with his approval, you will receive £10 a month for, plus 25 per cent., or £5 a month and 50 per cent.”

On the face of it, the job looked a good one; but one requiring very careful handling. I determined to accept it, and at the same time, made up my mind to be most circumspect.

Adventures in Peru, Chapter 2

Banished by the Kaiser

A Tropical Island, Part 4

Whilst I was engaged on breaking up the wreck, Kuhn busied himself making arrangements about his lobster project. He chartered the Pachuco. For this he had to pay £2000 a year—a large sum to risk certainly; but he thought he could make that, and a bit more, by loading up from the mainland with passengers for Juan Fernandez. He reckoned that there were many folk who would jump at the chance of getting the trip, with four days thrown in on the island, for £40 a head.

When he told me what he had done, I said, “Old man, you’ll lose your money, if you don’t watch it. You’ll get passengers only in the summer months, and if, as is most probable, some of them find their tummies are not proof against the tumble and the tossing of the sea, they will put others off going. Then as regards the lobsters, a tank is essential for their safe conveyance; the Pachuco has none. How are you going to get over that?”

“You stand on me,” he replied. “I’ve studied the subject thoroughly, and know all there is to be known about it. You are A1 at training horses and keeping their legs in order, but lobsters——!!!”

The air with which this harangue was delivered was indescribably funny.

At his invitation I accompanied him on his first trip, “just to learn how things are done,” as he put it. If I took advantage of the opportunity to do a little business in the fern line, who shall blame me? One can’t make money standing around! Our cargo consisted of 1200 lobsters and 400 tree ferns. The shell-fish were distributed in large open crates so that they might be easily sprayed with sea-water from time to time. Our voyage only occupied three days, but when we reached Valparaiso all the lobsters had kicked the bucket, except one.

After this experience, Kuhn took my tip, and approached the owners of the Pachuco about a tank. They expressed themselves very amiably over the matter, and said so long as the insurance company didn’t object, they were quite agreeable to his putting one in. Unluckily, the insurance people wouldn’t hear of it. They handed out a flat refusal. Poor old Kuhn! My prediction concerning the passengers was justified up to the hilt. The first batch, which included my good friend, Count von Koningsmarck, were sick all the way. The baron was so poorly that he could enjoy only one day goat-shooting with me, instead of the couple he had looked forward to.

I had the laugh over Kuhn, for I made £250 out of my ferns, whereas his lobster venture turned out disastrously; after dropping £4000 in twelve months, he abandoned it altogether.

Von Koningsmarck was captain in the Prussian Guards, and personal A.D.C. to the Kaiser. He gave me once an instance of Wilhelm’s arrogance that is illuminating. One evening, after dinner, K. ventured to question a statement his Imperial master had made about some subject that was being discussed—music, I believe. The Kaiser was greatly incensed. “Count Koningsmarck,” he thundered, “you will leave Germany this day week. Consider yourself banished until I give you permission to return.” K. bowed and left the palace. Within a week he was on his way to Chile. To save his face, it was given out that he had been lent to the Chilian Government as a cavalry instructor.

K. had a private income of £25,000 a year, so was able to do himself pretty well. Colmo, the champion chaser, belonged to him, and he trained and rode the horse himself. In the saddle he adopted Tod Sloan’s style. He was the only man I have known who exploited the forward seat successfully over a country. Five years or so after he arrived in Chile, K. came to me, and said, “What do you think? The Kaiser has written and asked me to return and let bygones be bygones.” I forget what comment I made; but, anyhow, K. couldn’t resist the reference to the friendship that formerly existed between them. So he went back to Germany. In the Great War Koningsmarck bore himself bravely; but, alas! met the fate allotted to many flying-men: his machine crashed through some structural defect, and he was picked up dead.

Adventures in Peru, Chapter 2

Faithful Czar

A Tropical Island, Part 3

Amongst the men with whom I had intimate business relations on the principal island, was an old fellow named Bruno. Like Arrendondo, he had been a whaler, and relinquished his calling for a similar reason. Bruno was brought up in the Argentine, and there learnt to throw the lasso with the dexterity that is only found among the natives and Gauchos. The latter are a most singular race. They consider it almost degrading to set foot on the ground. Hence their lower limbs are very ill-developed, and inclined to bandyness. Gauchos live in the saddle. They will scour the rolling plains from morn to eve, without showing any signs of fatigue. Out of the saddle, they may be numbered amongst the most indolent of men. They don’t trouble to raise any vegetables or grain crops, and rarely think of milking their cows. Beef is their staple food. Between them and the Indians of the Pampas, a deadly hostility existed in former days. Weird and terrible tales are still told of the merciless deeds enacted. To-day a better feeling is manifest, but even so there is not much love lost on either side.

Undoubtedly the most skilled amateur lasso thrower of my acquaintance is Mr. Cunninghame Graham. Only the top-of-the-ladder men can take down his number. In a duel with the plainsman’s weapon, the average cowboy would stand a poor chance with him. He sits his horse like a centaur, and that is a great asset in lasso-throwing.

Bruno used to charge £2 apiece for lassoing the island horses, and half that amount for catching donkeys. I got him to capture all the animals I wanted, including Fisher’s moke. I shall never forget what occurred when poor Waldimar essayed to ride this bundle of mischief. Up went his heels as high as a kite! He was jolly glad when I decided to relegate the jackass to cargo work! I found my two donkeys very useful in that capacity.

Goats afforded most excellent sport. There were, I should say, 3000 or 4000 of them. Every person over sixteen years of age was entitled to one per week, free. Those under sixteen had to make half a carcass suffice. The goats had all to be shot. No one was allowed to run them down with dogs, and only the Billies were shootable. Arrendondo and his boys did very well out of these pretty animals. Twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays, they used to stalk them, charging 2s. for each carcass they obtained. I usually accompanied them on these expeditions, and enjoyed myself immensely.

One way and another I had plenty of gunning. When I wasn’t after goats I took a turn with the blue Rocks. My big Ulm dog, Czar, always looked forward to these jaunts, and took his place in my flat-bottomed boat with an air of importance that was most amusing.

Czar was a fine old boy. He retrieved beautifully. Harry Crangle, in his day the fastest sprinter in England, gave him to me, under circumstances that are worth relating. His uncle, John Madden, owned a big estate midway between Valparaiso and Santiago. To replenish his stock, obtain bulls, rams, and so forth, he periodically visited the Old Country. Frequently these visits coincided with Harry’s appearance on the running track, and then, if his nephew felt fit and well, the old man used to put the stuff down to some order. When, however, Harry didn’t seem up to the mark, then Uncle John let him run loose. Altogether, Madden made a pot of money out of Crangle. But, unlike some avunculars, he was not ungrateful. For after awhile he sent for Harry, and told him he would see him right if he would join him in the New World. He was, moreover, as good as his word, for when the Pacific Steam Navigation Co. fixed up their quinquennial contract for live and dead meat, the old boy used his influence to secure it for his nephew. The backing he gave him—2000 cattle worth £10 apiece—doubtless affected the result. No better fellow could have got the job; for Harry was a white man all through, and a first-class sport.

Czar was originally his yard dog. He gave £50 for him. No watchman was required on the premises, as the following incident will show. One morning Crangle’s head butcher went to the yard to see about twenty-two carcasses that had been deposited there against the departure of the home boat. When he entered the store-house, he saw a sight that made his eyes bulge. On the floor lay a man, dreadfully mauled about the arm and wrist. Alongside him was faithful Czar. The dog was absolutely quiet, but kept one paw on the man’s chest, as if to intimate that he was standing no nonsense. A rope depended from one of the carcasses, so the tableau explained itself.

Crangle’s butcher soon communicated with his master and the police. The thief’s arm was found to be in so bad a way as to necessitate his removal to the hospital. While there, the man confessed to Harry, telling him, in the presence of Col. Sarratea (Chief of Police at Vina del Mar) and the doctor, just what had occurred.

“There were three of us in it,” he said. “We got a ladder and climbed the 20-foot wall that encircles the yard. Then I was let down on a rope. My job was to fix up one of the quarters hanging in the open shed so that my mates could haul it up, and me afterwards. I got down all right, and then I became aware of the dog. He looked a very good-tempered, kind sort, but, to make matters doubly sure, I offered him a mutton bone that we had ‘readied.’ He wasn’t having any, however; so I got on with my job. The dog watched my proceedings in a kind of uninterested manner, and even let me handle the meat, without showing any sign of excitement. But directly I fastened the rope round one of the legs, he sprang on me, and bore me to the floor. Life is sweet, so I drew my long sheath knife to defend myself. But I didn’t have an earthly chance of using it, for the dog seized my arm, and crushed it between his powerful teeth, until the weapon dropped from my grasp. Then he lay down beside me, with his paw on my chest, till the butcher found me next morning.”

From data supplied by the man, we calculated the faithful animal had kept him prisoner 6½ hours!

A fortnight in hospital put the man in fairly straight condition, and then he was placed in the dock. The judge who tried him insisted that Czar should be brought into court. He made much of him, and said if it had been possible he would certainly have awarded him a gold medal, and a handsome douceur. The injured man gave the names of his two accomplices, in consideration of which he got let off with three years’ hard labour, whereas they each had to do five.

This experience quite put the wind up Mrs. Crangle and her mother, Mrs. Baynham. They couldn’t bear to be reminded of how near Czar had come to killing a man. So Harry passed him on to me, and I found him most valuable.

Adventures in Peru, Chapter 2

The Lazy Man’s Paradise

A Tropical Island, Part 2

Juan Fernandez came to be so well favoured with fruits of all sorts, through a regulation that was in force many, many years ago. This enjoined that every warship that visited the island to replenish its stores, should leave some acknowledgment in the shape of a sow in farrow, a goat in kid, a she ass in foal, some poultry, and so on. The skipper was also supposed to have some fruit trees planted for the benefit of wayfarers in general. This instruction was very well observed, hence the quantities of peach trees, cherry trees, quinces, and so forth, one meets with on Juan Fernandez nowadays.

When I was there, wild horses were pretty plentiful. They were of a quality that rather surprised me, until I came to know many of them were sired by a magnificent specimen of the pure Koklani strain. This beautiful creature was twenty-two years old, yet seemed full of vigour. He much reminded me of my grandfather’s dear old Saladin, the pride of Porthgwydden. Both were lovely specimens of the pure white Arab.

These animals all belonged to the Government of Chile, likewise the wild asses and cattle. Anyone who cared to pay the Governor of the island £2 a head, could take his pick of the horses. Donkeys were so plentiful that every resident was permitted to have one gratis. I took advantage of this privilege and had two, one for myself and one for Fisher. I also invested in six horses. Three I left on the island, the other trio I shipped to the mainland on the Adriatico. Their fate I have already recorded.

The Governor of Juan Fernandez at the time was Alfred von de Rodht, an Austrian of Swiss extraction. Von de Rodht was a charming fellow, a man of noble presence, and clever withal. He was great at languages, but his pet hobby was geology. In the Franco-Prussian War, De Rodht was wounded in the knee, so at the cessation of hostilities his father sent him over to Valparaiso to recuperate. Six weeks was supposed to be the extent of his tether, but Baron Alfred seemed inclined to extend it indefinitely, hence his father wrote to a friend, and inquired what was detaining his son. Then the fat was in the fire. It appears De Rodht had fallen head over heels in love with a very beautiful woman, who was noted as an exponent of the Quaker dance. Unfortunately she was a married woman, and the husband, a Chilian sergeant-major, was in hospital with an injured leg. Directly old von de Rodht learnt how the land lay, he ordered Baron Alfred to return home at once. The parental summons being disregarded, he next called a meeting of the Rodht family at which Count Alfred was solemnly disinherited, and his brother Charles chosen to fill his place.

Alfred thus lost his patrimony, but he received £16,000 cash, and an annuity of £200. With the cash he rented the three islands from Chile, i.e. Juan Fernandez, Santa Clara, and Mas-a-fuera, bought three decent sized ships, and engaged a hundred peons. When his father’s agents learnt what he had done, they told him he had acted foolishly, and that it would cost a lot of money to feed a hundred men. They offered him 8 per cent. interest on his capital, and suggested he should be content to farm the islands. A staff of four to six men on each, they deemed sufficient for that purpose.

Count Alfred disregarded their advice, and so far from drawing in his horns, added to his entourage, until he had altogether 118 men working for him. In the upshot he went broke. So the Government stepped in and commandeered some of his cattle for arrears of rent. Finally they made him Governor of the islands, at a salary of £50 per annum, plus £40 for acting as Postmaster-General. With this addition to his annuity, Count Alfred managed to knock along all right. He was offered several tempting jobs from time to time—one at Valparaiso carried with it a screw of £40 a month—but he refused to entertain any of them. “Why should I go to the mainland,” he said, “where everything is comparatively dear, when I can live in the lazy man’s paradise for next to nothing, and do just as I please?”

Adventures in Peru, Chapter 2

Treasure of the Cocos

A Tropical Island, Part 1

My henchman, old Waldimar Fisher, had travelled about in his time, more than a bit. Among the places he had visited were the Cocos Islands, two thousand miles off Nicaragua. Having regard to the tales I had heard about these haunts of old-time “skull-and-cross-bone” men, I was greatly interested in what he himself had to say in connection with them.

It has long been rumoured there is treasure buried there. Several people have had a shot at finding it, amongst others, Admiral Palliser. This gallant gentleman and some of his colleagues fitted out an expedition and put in six weeks, so Fisher said, hunting for the hidden riches. However they found nothing worth writing home about. Fisher himself made more than one attempt. Five years after his first venture he received a note from a sick man located at Coquimbo hospital, asking him to call on him. When Fisher got there, he found the man was one whom he had befriended when he was in good circumstances. To save Lazarus from the consequences of utter despair, Fisher had made him steward on his own boat. Feeling he was now at the point of death, the poor fellow said he wished to make Fisher some return for his kindly deed. It appeared that a few years previously he had been associated with a number of adventurers who purposed to discover the Cocos treasure. They chartered a small schooner, and actually started on their voyage of discovery. To their intense disgust, they encountered such abominable weather that they were obliged to return to port and relinquish their project for the time being. Somehow and somewhere on the journey this man sneaked the chart they banked on, to show them the location of the treasure. When the loss was discovered, there was, of course, an unholy row. A vigorous search was instituted, but Fisher’s friend had hidden the document so snugly that nothing came of it. I understood he secreted it in his trunk, but knowing a bit about the keen-witted men who frequent these seas, I should beg leave to doubt that, unless maybe the box was furnished with a false bottom. Even so——! But there, it doesn’t signify where the man hid his prize. The only thing that really matters is, he got away with it all right. He said he had always intended to let Fisher into the secret, so that they two could go and have a try on their own. Now there was no possibility of their ever doing that, he had decided to give the chart to Fisher, making only this proviso, viz. when Fisher was ready to go to Cocos, he was to tell the real owner of the chart so that he might participate, if he chose.

After the ex-steward had been dead and buried a little while, Waldimar approached some of his Valparaiso friends discreetly, but could find no one willing to put up the pieces, hence he had to let the matter lie in abeyance. Subsequently he happened upon very hard times and had to postpone it indefinitely.

His undoing came about in this wise. When he decided to retire from the whaling industry, he sold his share in the undertaking for £7000. Added to what he had banked, he now commanded a capital of £11,000. So he thought he would launch out a bit. Accordingly he bought a property at English Hill, Valparaiso, for £2000, and spent a similar sum on improving it. Then he went half-shares with a fellow in a big coal business. That absorbed another £4000. Fisher hoped to make big money out of this enterprise. But alas, and alack! His partner had a brain wave; drew £7000 to go to Europe and buy an extra large collier with passenger accommodation, and—never returned. Fisher struggled along for a little while under this smashing blow, but soon went broke.

I first hit up against him when on my way to see the author of that remarkably clever book, A Merry Banker in the Far East. During the hour or so I had to wait before seeing him, I occupied myself in strolling up and down the wharf at Valparaiso. While thus engaged, I was accosted by an old sailorman, whose beard was turning grey. He told a piteous tale, and said he had no grub and was pretty nigh famished. Something about him impressed me favourably, so I gave him a third-class ticket to Vina del Mar on my train, and directed him to my stables. Before we started I saw to the requirements of his inner man.

He turned up at my establishment in due course, and I then allotted him a bunk in what I called the dosser’s room. This I had had constructed out of two of the loose boxes. The bunks were nicely fitted up with straw mattresses and bolsters and feather pillows, etc., and were well supplied with horse rugs as coverlets. I directed the cook to give him three meals per day with the lads, and then told the old man what I expected in return, viz. I should look to him to keep the yard and appurtenances quite clean and tidy. So long as he satisfied me in that connection, he could make the stables his home till something better turned up. Waldimar observed his part of the contract so entirely to my satisfaction, that when I went to Juan Fernandez I took him with me. There he proved himself so trustworthy that I left him in charge of my belongings when I sought new surroundings in connection with training operations.

After Phyllis and his men took their departure, Waldimar made me a present of the information contained in his Cocos chart, stipulating that if I ever went in search of the treasure, I should take him with me.

The last expedition in search of this treasure was led by Lord Fitzwilliam. Admiral Palliser and several others sailed with him on a boat, formerly a Donald Currie liner, the Harlech Castle, I believe. When they reached their objective, they thoroughly explored the island, and found only one inhabitant. This man, a German, had lived on Cocos sixteen years, and had tried his best to locate the treasure, without the least success. Fitzwilliam was unlucky. Soon after commencing operations, some of his party got hurt while blasting rocks. This nasty accident led to the premature abandonment of the quest. I told our mutual friend, Major Coleman, that next time his lordship made the attempt, he had better take me with him, and see whether Waldimar’s chart could put us wise.

And now I suppose it is too late, that is if one can believe the newspapers. According to them Cocos has disappeared beneath the waves, one result of recent volcanic action. Still the papers are not always to be depended upon, as witness the report they gave credence to, anent Juan Fernandez. That emanated from a skipper who had lost his bearings. He failed to locate the island, so concluded it had subsided like Cocos is supposed to have done!