The subject of the labors of an African Hercules, mythical as these labor_ight be, was so interesting to the four men who had been drinking and smokin_n the tavern, that they determined to pursue it as far as their ignorance o_he African's language, and his ignorance of English and Spanish, woul_ermit. In the first place, they made him sit down with them, and offered hi_omething to drink. It was not whiskey, but Inkspot liked it very much, an_elt all sorts of good effects from it. In fact, it gave him a power o_xpressing himself by gestures and single words in a manner wonderful. After _ime, 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 ne_riends. 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 ver_agacious, and did not want him to drink too much.
In the course of an hour, these four men, listening and watching keenly an_arnestly, had become convinced that this black man had been on a ship whic_arried 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 o_hore and had not been able to get back to it, thereby indicating that th_essel had not stopped long at the place where he had left it, and which plac_ust have been, of course, Valparaiso. Moreover, they found out to their ful_atisfaction where that vessel was going to; for Maka had talked a great dea_bout Paris, which he pronounced in English fashion, where Cheditafa and Mo_ere, and the negroes had looked forward to this unknown spot as a heavenl_ort, and Inkspot could pronounce the word "Paris" almost as plainly as if i_ere a drink to which he was accustomed.
But where the vessel was loaded with the gold, they could not find out. N_rimace that Inkspot could make, nor word that he could say, gave them an ide_orth dwelling upon. He said some words which made them believe that th_essel had cleared from Acapulco, but it was foolish to suppose that an_essel had been loaded there with bags of gold carried on men's shoulders. Th_hip 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 ver_ood place to which to take gold. Moreover, she had probably touched at som_outh American port, Callao perhaps, and this was the way the little pieces o_old had been brought into the country, the Californians probably havin_hanged them for stores.
The words "Cap' 'Or," often repeated by the negro, and always in a questionin_one, puzzled them very much. They gave up its solution, and went to work t_ry 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 wha_t was they wanted him to say. At last, the horse-dealer proposed to th_thers, who, he said, knew more about such things than he did, that the_hould repeat the name of every sailing-vessel on that coast of which they ha_ver heard—for Inkspot had made them understand that his ship had sails, an_o steam. This they did, and presently one of the sailors mentioned the nam_Miranda_ , which belonged to a brig he knew of which plied on the coast. A_his, 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 th_oom, called out gruffly that they'd better keep quiet, or they would hav_omebody coming in.
"There you have it!" exclaimed Cardatas, in Spanish. "It's Cap'n Horn that th_ool's been trying to say. Cap'n Horn of the brig _Miranda_. We are gettin_n finely."
"I have heard of a Cap'n Horn," said one of the sailors. "He's a Yanke_kipper 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 afte_his, being informed that it was time to shut up the place, the four men wen_ut, taking Inkspot with them. They would not neglect this poor fellow. The_ould give him a place to sleep, and in the morning he should have somethin_o 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 compan_ith the two sailors, who never lost sight of him, and he had rather _leasant 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 befor_hey would help him to return to the brig _Miranda_ commanded by Captai_orn.
In the meantime, the horse-dealer, Nunez, went to a newspaper office, an_here procured a file of a Mexican paper, for the negro had convinced the_hat his vessel had sailed from Acapulco. Turning over the back numbers wee_fter week, and week after week, Nunez searched in the maritime news for th_nformation that the _Miranda_ had cleared from a Mexican port. He had gon_ack 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_ad 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 _ill 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, h_arefully copied the paragraph concerning the _Miranda_.
When Nunez met Cardatas in the afternoon, the latter also had news. He ha_iscovered that the arrival of the _Miranda_ had not been registered, but h_ad been up and down the piers, asking questions, and he had found a mate of _ritish 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 _etter which he wished posted, and that very soon afterwards the brig had pu_ut to sea. Cardatas wished to know much more, but the mate, who had had bu_ittle conversation with Shirley, could only tell him that the brig was the_ound 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, an_hat 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 tak_er five months to come from Acapulco to this port.
"No," said the other, musing, "it oughtn't to, but, on the other hand, it i_ot 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 prett_igh all around this continent in ballast. He could find some cargo in Mexic_hat he could sell when he got to port. Besides, if that black fellow don'_ie,—and he don't know enough to lie,—she's bound for Paris. It's more likel_he means to touch at Rio and take over some cargo. But why, in the devil'_ame, should she sail from Acapulco in ballast? It looks to me as if bags o_old 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 fro_alifornia with her when she arrived at Acapulco. I don't believe sh_riginally cleared from there."
"It looks that way," said Nunez, "but how do you account for such a lon_oyage?"
"I've been talking to Sanchez about that _Miranda_ ," said Cardatas. "He ha_eard that she is an old tub, and a poor sailer, and in that case five month_s 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 tha_e managed to convey that ballast, consisting of stones and bags of sand, ha_een taken out of the brig and thrown away, and bags of gold put in thei_laces. Where this transfer had taken place, the negro could not make hi_uestioners understand, and he was at last remanded to the care of Sanchez an_he other sailor.
"The black fellow can't tell us much," said Cardatas to Nunez, as they walke_way together, "but he has stuck to his story well, and there can't be any us_f his lying about it. And there is another thing. What made the brig touc_ere just long enough to leave a letter, and that after a voyage of fiv_onths? That looks as if they were afraid some of their people would go o_hore and talk."
"In that case," said Nunez, "I should say there is something shady about th_usiness. Perhaps this captain has slipped away from his partners up there i_alifornia, or somebody who has been up to a trick has hired him to take th_old out of the country. If he does carry treasure, it isn't a fair and squar_hing. 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 an_ther place."
"I agree with you," said Cardatas, as he lighted his twenty-seventh cigarette.
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. O_ourse, there can't be enough of it to take the place of all the ballast, bu_t must weigh considerable."
Here the two men were joined by an acquaintance, and their specia_onversation ceased. That night they met again.
"What are you going to do about this?" asked Nunez. "We can't keep o_upporting that negro."
"What is to be done?" asked the other, his sharp eyes fixed upon hi_ompanion's face.
"Would it pay to go over to Rio and meet that brig when she arrives there? I_e could get on board and have a talk with her captain, he might be willing t_ct handsomely when he found out we know something about him and his ship. An_f he won't do that, we might give information, and have his vessel held unti_he authorities in California can be communicated with. Then I should say w_ught to make something."
"I don't think much of that plan," said Cardatas. "I don't believe she's goin_o touch at Rio. If she's afraid to go into port here, why shouldn't she b_fraid to go into port there? No. It would be stupid for us to go to Rio an_it 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. "Sh_eft here four days ago, and we could never catch up with her, even if w_ould 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'_ot to be expected. With a good sailing-vessel I could go after her, an_verhaul her somewhere in the Straits of Magellan. With such a cargo, I a_ure she would make for the Straits. That Captain Horn is said to be a goo_ailor, and the fact that he is in command of such a tub as the _Miranda_ i_ 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 th_Miranda_ has only three men on board,—I don't count negroes wort_nything,—I don't see why we couldn't induce the captain to talk reasonably t_s. 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 _argo."
"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 th_Miranda's_ one in any kind of weather. If I had money enough, I could ge_he _Arato_ , put a good crew on board, and be at sea and on the wake of tha_rig 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 wor_o calculate, and spent an hour or two at it.
When they parted, Nunez had not made up his mind that the plan of Cardatas wa_ good one, but he told him to go ahead and see what could be done abou_etting the _Arato_ and a reliable crew, and that he would talk further t_im about the matter.
That night Nunez took a train for Santiago, and on his arrival there, the nex_orning, he went straight to the shop of the jeweller of whom had bee_btained the piece of gold in his possession. Here he made some cautiou_nquiries, and found the jeweller very ready to talk about the piece of gol_hat Nunez showed him. The jeweller said that he had had four pieces of th_old in his possession, and that he had bought them in Lima to use in hi_usiness. 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 America_ea-captain, who had seemed to have a good many of them. The jeweller though_t 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 ow_urrency, and that they often paid for merchandise in so many penny-weight_nd ounces of gold instead of using coin. The jeweller was himself very gla_o 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 tha_he piece of gold he had accepted in trade because he also liked the feel o_umps of gold, might not be worth what he had given for it, Nunez thanked th_eweller, left him, and returned to Valparaiso. He went straight to his frien_ardatas, and said that he would furnish the capital to fit out the _Arato_or the projected trip.
It was not in twenty-four hours, but in forty-eight, that the schoone_Arato_ cleared from Valparaiso for Callao in ballast. She had a good set o_ails, and a crew of ten men besides the captain. She also had on board _assenger, Nunez by name, and a tall negro, who doubtless could turn his han_o some sort of work on board, and whom it would have been very indiscreet t_eave behind.
Once outside the harbor, the _Arato_ changed her mind about going to Callao, and sailed southward.