“There’s one thing certain,” said my uncle, Naboth Perkins, banging his
fist on the table for emphasis. “If we don’t manage get a cargo in ten
days we’ll up anchor an’ quit this bloomin’ island.”
My father the skipper, leaning back in his easy-chair with his legs—one
of them cork—stretched upon the table and his pipe in his mouth, nodded
assent as he replied:
“Here it is five weeks since we finished unloadin’ that machinery,” went
on Uncle Naboth, “an’ since then the _Seagull’s_ been floatin’ like a
swan in the waters o’ Port Phillip an’ lettin’ the barnacles nip her.
There ain’t a shipper in Melbourne as’ll give us an ounce o’ cargo; an’
why? Jest because we’re American an’ float the Stars an’ Stripes—that’s
why. There’s a deep-seated conspiracy agin American shipping in
Australia, an’ what little truck they’ve got to send to America goes in
British ships or it don’t go at all.”
Again Captain Steele nodded.
“S’pose we try Adelaide,” suggested big Ned Britton, our first mate.
“That’s jest as bad,” declared Uncle Naboth. “It’s an off season, they
say; but the fact is, Australia sends mighty little to the United
States, an’ those that ship anything prefer English bottoms to ours.
Everything’s been contracted for months ahead, and the only chance the
_Seagull_ has of going home freighted is to grab some emergency
deal—where time counts—an’ load an’ skip before any Britisher comes into
“Well?” said my father, inquiringly.
“Well, that’s what we’ve been waitin’ for, an’ I’m gettin’ desprit tired
o’ the job. So now I’ll give these folks jest ten days to rustle up a
cargo for us, an’ if they don’t do it, away we goes in ballast.”
I laughed at his earnestness.
“Why, Uncle Naboth, it won’t hurt us to go home without freight,” said
I. “In fact, we’ll make better time, and for my part I see no use in
waiting ten days longer for such a ghostly chance.”
“Don’t be foolish, Sam,” returned my uncle, impatiently. “Boys never
have any business instincts, anyhow. It’s our business to carry cargoes,
so to make the long voyage back home light-waisted is a howlin’
shame—that’s what it is!”
“We were paid so much for the cargo we brought that we can well afford
to run home in ballast,” I remarked.
“There you go—jest like a boy. You’ve got a fat bank account, Sam
Steele; an’ so hev I; an’ so’s the Cap’n, your father. An’ we three own
the _Seagull_ an’ can do as we blame please with her. But business is
business, as Shylock says to the lawyers. We’re runnin’ this schooner to
make money—not one way, but both ways—an’ our business is to see that
every league she travels counts in dollars an’ cents. Nice merchantmen
we’d be to float off home in ballast, jest ’cause we got a big lump fer
bringin’ a load of farm machinery here; wouldn’t we, now?”
“Oh, I don’t object to your trying for a cargo, Uncle Naboth. That’s
your part of the business, and if any man could make a contract you can
do so; but I see no use in getting annoyed or worried in case we find it
impossible to secure a consignment of freight.”
Uncle Naboth smiled grimly.
“I ain’t worried, Sam,” he said more mildly. “I’m only tellin’ you an’
the Cap’n what my sentiments is.”
We were seated in our pleasant sitting-room at the Radley Arms, one of
the cosiest inns I ever stopped at. It was a place much patronized by
mariners of the better class and Mrs. Wimp, our landlady, was certainly
a wonderful cook. Joe Herring, my chum and a lad who, although only
about my own age, served as second mate of the _Seagull_, had aroused my
uncle to speech by remarking that as far as he was concerned he wouldn’t
mind boarding all winter at the Radley Arms. But Joe was a silent
fellow, as was my father Captain Steele, and having evoked the above
tirade he said nothing further. Uncle Naboth had a perfect right to
issue his ultimatum concerning our freight, being supercargo and part
owner, and as our recent voyages had been fairly prosperous and we were
already amply paid for our present trip to Australia we were all in a
mood to take things philosophically.
I think Ned Britton, the mate, was the most uneasy of our party, but
that was because he disliked the land and was only comfortable when
afloat. Ned even now lived on shipboard and kept everything taut and in
running order, while my father, Uncle Naboth and I had rooms at Mrs.
Wimp’s admirable inn. I am free to confess that I like a bit of land
loafing now and then, while poor Ned is never happy unless he knows the
water is sliding under the keel.
Joe and I had ransacked sleepy old Melbourne pretty well by this time
and had enjoyed every day of the five weeks we had been ashore. There
wasn’t a great deal of excitement in town, but we managed to have a good
time and to keep amused. Our little group had sat in silent meditation
for a few moments following my uncle’s last remark, when Mrs. Wimp stuck
her head in the door and said:
“’Ow’d yer loike to see a gent as wants to see yer?”
We looked at one another inquiringly.
“Who is it?” demanded Uncle Naboth.
“’E didn’t say.”
“Didn’t say what, Mrs. Wimp?”
“Didn’t say ’oo ’e were.”
“Did he say who he wanted to see?”
“Then never mind. Tell him to call again, Mrs. Wimp,” I ventured to say,
amused at the landlady’s noncommittal manner.
“No, no!” exclaimed my uncle. “It may be somethin’ about a cargo. Who
did he ask for, Mrs. Wimp?”
“’E jus’ dropped in an’ said: ‘Is the _Seagull_ people stoppin’ ’ere?’
‘They is,’ says I. ‘Then I wants to see ’em,’ says ’e. So I comes up to
see if it’s agreeable.”
“It is, Mrs. Wimp,” asserted Uncle Naboth. “Be kind enough to show the
Thereat Mrs. Wimp withdrew her head and closed the door. My father
filled his pipe anew and relighted it. Joe looked thoughtfully out of
the window into the alley below. I turned over a newspaper that lay upon
the table, while Ned and my uncle indulged in a few remarks about the
repairs recently made to the ship’s engines. Not one of us realized that
the next few minutes were destined to alter the trend of all our lives.
Then came the visitor. He silently opened the door, closed it swiftly
behind him and stood with his back to it shrewdly eyeing us each one in
The man’s stature was quite short and he was of slight build. His hair,
coarse in texture, sprinkled with gray and cropped close, stood straight
up on his forehead like a scrubbing brush. His eyes were black and
piercing in expression; his nose rather too fat; his chin square and
firm; his face long and lean, and his skin of the dusky olive hue
peculiar to natives of southern climes. His apparel was magnificent. The
velvet coat had gold buttons; he sported a loud checked vest of purple
and orange, and his cravat was a broad bow of soft white ribbon with
gold fringe at the edges.
At once I began speculating whether he was a vaudeville actor or a
circus barker; but either idea was dispelled when I noticed his
diamonds. These were enormous, and had a luster that defied imitation.
His shirt buttons were diamonds as big around as my little finger nail;
he had another monster in the center of his bow tie and his fingers
fairly glittered with gems of the same character. Every link of a huge
watch guard was set with diamonds, and his cuff buttons were evidently
worth a small fortune.
The appearance of this small but gorgeous individual in our dingy
sitting-room produced an incongruous effect. The air was fogged with
tobacco smoke; my father still lazily rested his legs across the
table-top; the rest of us lounged in unconventional attitudes. However,
being Americans we were more astonished than impressed by the vision
that burst upon us and did not rise nor alter our positions in any way.
“Which it is the gentleman who the ship _Seagull_ owns?” demanded the
stranger, mixing his English in his agitation, although he spoke it very
clearly for a foreigner.
Uncle Naboth became our spokesman.
“There are three owners,” said he.
“Ah! where they are?”
“All in this room,” replied my uncle.
“Excellent!” exclaimed our visitor, evidently pleased. He glanced around
him, drew a chair to the table and sat down. My father moved his wooden
leg a bit to give the stranger more room.
“What is price?” he inquired, looking at Mr. Perkins, whom he faced.
“Price for what, sir?”
“Ship,” said the man.
“Oh, you want to buy the ship?” gasped my uncle, fairly staggered by the
“If you please, if you like; if it is rais—rais—raison—_a_—ble.”
Uncle Naboth stared at him. My father coolly filled his pipe again. The
man’s quick eye caught Joe and I exchanging smiling glances, and he
“At what price you hold your ship?” he persisted, turning again to my
“My dear sir,” was the perplexed reply, “we’ve never figured on selling
the _Seagull_. We built it to keep—to have for our own use. We’re
seamen, and it’s our home. If you’d ask us offhand what we’d sell our
ears for, we’d know just as well what to answer.”
The man nodded, looking thoughtful.
“What the ship cost?” he asked.
“Something over two hundred thousand dollars.”
“United State America dollars?”
Our visitor drew an envelope from his pocket; laid it on the table and
scribbled some figures upon the back.
“Ver’ well,” he said, presently; “I take him at two hunder thousan’
“It is bargain. What your terms?”
“Cash!” snapped Uncle Naboth, laughing at the man’s obstinacy.
The diamond-bedecked man leaned his elbow on the table and his head on
his hand in a reflective pose. Then he straightened up and nodded his
“Why not?” he exclaimed. “Of course it must the cash be. You will know,
sir, that a gentleman does not carry two hunder’ thousan’ dollar about
his person, and although I have had more than that sum on deposit in
Bank of Melbourne, it have been expend in recent purchases. However,
nevertheless, in spite of, I may say, I have ample fund in Bogota. I
will make you draft on my bank there, and you may sail with me in my
ship and collect the money in gold when we arrive. That is cash payment,
Señor; is not?”
“Bogota!” remarked my uncle, by this time thoroughly bewildered. “That
is a long way off.”
“Merely across Pacific,” said the other easily. “There is direct route
to it through the South Seas.”
My father nodded in confirmation of this statement. He knew his charts
“Sir,” said Uncle Naboth, sitting up and heaving a deep sigh, “I have
not the honor of knowing who the blazes you are.”
The stranger cast a stealthy glance around the room. Then he leaned
forward and said in a low voice:
“I am Jiminez.”
This impressive statement failed to enlighten my uncle.
“Jiminez who?” he inquired.
For an instant the man seemed offended. Then he smiled condescendingly.
“To be sure!” he replied. “You are of United State and have no interest
in South American affairs. It is natural you have ignorance regarding
our politics. In Bogota the name of De Jiminez stands for reform; and
reform stands for—” He hesitated.
“What?” asked my uncle.
“That’s only nat’ral,” observed Mr. Perkins complacently. “I hear
revolutions are your reg’lar diet down in South America. If there didn’t
happen to be a revolution on tap your people wouldn’t know what to do
Señor de Jiminez frowned at this.
“We will not politic discuss, if you please,” he rejoined stiffly. “We
will discuss ship.”
“We don’t want to sell,” said my uncle positively.
De Jiminez looked at him speculatively.
“I tell you with frankness, I must have ship,” said he.
“I will tell you that—but in more privacy,” with a wave of his hand
toward our interested group.
“Oh, these are all _Seagull_ men,” announced Uncle Naboth. “I’ll
introduce you, Mr. Yim—Him—Jim—”
“Jiminez.” He pronounced it “He-ma-noth” now, in Spanish fashion.
“This is Captain Steele, our skipper and part owner,” continued my
uncle. “This young man is Sam Steele, his son, and also part owner. Sam
is purser and assistant supercargo of the _Seagull_. I’m supercargo, the
third owner, and uncle to Sam an’ brother-in-law to the Cap’n. Is that
all clear to you?”
De Jiminez bowed.
“Here is Ned Britton, our first mate; and also Joe Herring, our second
mate. Both are trusted comrades and always know as much as we know. So
what you say, stranger, is as private before these people as if you
spoke to but one of us. Therefore, fire ahead.”
The man considered a moment; then he said slowly:
“You must know there are spies upon me here in Melbourne, as there are
everywhere, whichever I go; so I cannot too careful be. You ask me why I
want ship. I answer: to carry supplies of war to Colombia—arms and
ammunition for the Cause—all of which I have successful purchase here in
“Oh; you’re going to start something, are you?” inquired Uncle Naboth.
“It is already start, sir,” was the dignified response. “I am to
complete the revolution. As you do not understan’ ver’ well, I will the
explanation make that my country is rule by a bad president—a
dictator—an autocrat! We call ourselves republic, Señor Americaine; but
see! we are not now a republic; we are under despotism. My belove people
are all slave to tyrant, who heeds no law but his own evil desire. Is it
not my duty to break his power—to free my country?”
“Perhaps,” answered Mr. Perkins, his calmness in sharp contrast to the
other’s agitation. “But I can’t see as it’s any of _our_
bread-and-butter. It’s your country, sir, but you must remember it’s not
ours; and to tell you the cold fact, we don’t propose to sell the
At this Señor de Jiminez looked a bit worried. But the little Spaniard
was game, and did not give up easily.
“I must have ship!” he asserted. “I am rich—have much money entrusted to
me for the Cause—my estate is ver’ large. The best families of Colombia
are all with me; now and always, whatever I do. See, Señor; it was my
ancestor who discover South America! who discover the River Orinoco! who
was first governor of my country under the Queen of Spain! Yes, yes. I
am descend direct from the great navigator Gonzalo Quesada de Jiminez,
of whom you read in history.”
“I congratulate you,” said Uncle Naboth dryly.
“I have here in Melbourne congregate the means to carry on the war,
which is now languish for want of arms and ammunition. It is all ready
to send to Bogota. Therefore, you see, I must really have ship.”
“But why buy one?” asked my uncle. “Why not send your stuff as freight?”
“Impossible!” exclaimed the other. “You are United State. Well, United
State forbid any merchant ship to carry arms to friendly state for
starting revolution. If I hire you to do so I get you in trouble, and
myself in trouble. I want no quarrel with United State, for when I am
myself President of Colombia I must stand well with other powers. So it
is same with every nation. I cannot hire a ship. I must buy one and take
This frank and friendly explanation led me to regard the flashy little
man more kindly than before. I had been busy thinking, knowing that
Uncle Naboth had set his heart on making some money on the return
voyage. So, during the pause that followed the speech of Señor de
Jiminez, I turned the matter over in my mind and said:
“Tell me, sir, what you propose doing with the ship after you get to
Colombia with it?”
He stared at me a moment.
“It is of little use then,” said he, “unless I could put some cannon on
board and use him for gunboat.”
“Have you ever been aboard the _Seagull_?” I continued.
He shook his head.
“I have inquire about every ship now in Port Phillip,” he said. “Not one
is available but yours that is big enough to carry my cargo—all others
are owned in foreign lands and cannot be bought. But I see your ship,
and it look like a good ship; I inquire and am told by my friends here
it is famous for speed and safety.”
“It is all that,” agreed my uncle heartily.
“We have a couple of guns on board already,” I continued; “for sometimes
we sail in seas where it is necessary for us to protect ourselves. But
as a matter of fact the _Seagull_ would make a poor gunboat, because she
has no protective armor. So it seems all you could use her for would be
to carry your revolutionary supplies to Colombia and land them
“That is all that I require!” he said quickly, giving me a keen look.
“Sam,” said my uncle, “you’re goin’ to make a durn fool of yourself; I
kin see it in your eye!”
By this time all eyes were upon my face, and realizing that I was about
to suggest a bold undertaking I was a little embarrassed how to
“For our part, sir,” said I, addressing Señor de Jiminez and keeping my
gaze averted from the others, “it is our intention to sail for America
presently, and we would like to carry a good paying cargo with us. So it
strikes me we ought to find a way to get together. Have you spent all
your funds here in purchases, or have you some left?”
He figured on the envelope again—eagerly now, for his quick brain had
already grasped my forthcoming proposition.
“I have still in bank here equal to nine thousan’ dollar United State
money,” said he.
“Very well,” I rejoined. “Now suppose you purchase from us the _Seagull_
for two hundred thousand dollars, and pay down nine thousand in cash,
agreeing to resell the ship to us as soon as we are free of the cargo
for the sum of one hundred and ninety-one thousand dollars, accepting
your own draft, which you are to give us, in full payment. In that way
the thing might be arranged.”
He had brightened up wonderfully during my speech and was about to reply
when Uncle Naboth, who had been shaking his head discontentedly, broke
“No, Sam, it won’t do. It ain’t enough by half. Your scheme is jest a
makeshift an’ I kin see where we might get into a peck o’ trouble aidin’
an’ abettin’ a rebellion agin a friendly country. Moreover, you don’t
take into account the fact that we’ve got to operate the ship across the
South Seas, an’ the salaries an’ wages fer such a long voyage amounts to
I have respect for Uncle Naboth’s judgment, so was rather crestfallen at
his disapproval. But Señor de Jiminez, who was alert to every phase of
the argument, said quickly:
“It is true. Nine thousan’ dollar is too much for an ordinary voyage,
and too little for such voyage as I propose. I will pay fifteen thousan’
“You haven’t the cash,” remarked my uncle, “and revolutions are
Jiminez took time to muse over the problem, evidently considering his
dilemma from every viewpoint. Then he began to shed his diamonds. He
took out his jeweled cuff buttons, his studs, pin and watch guard, and
laid them on the table.
“Here,” said he, “are twenty thousan’ dollar worth of jewels—the finest
and purest diamonds in all the world. I offer them as security. You take
my nine thousan’ dollar in gold, and my personal note for six thousan’,
which I pay as soon as in Colombia we land. If I do not, you keep the
diamonds, which bring you much more in your own country. You see,
gentlemen, I trust you. You are honest, but you make a hard bargain—hard
for the man who must use you in spite of difficulty. But I have no
complaint. I am in emergency; I must pay liberally to accomplish my
great purpose. So then, what is result? Do I purchase the ship as Señor
Sam Steele he describe?”
Uncle Naboth hesitated and looked at my father, who had listened with
his usual composure to all this but said not a word. Now he removed his
pipe, cleared his throat and said:
“I’m agree’ble. Colombia ain’t so blame much out’n our way, Naboth. An’
the pay’s lib’ral enough.”
“What do you think, Ned?” asked my uncle.
“The Cap’n’s said it,” answered the mate, briefly.
Joe started and looked around at being thus appealed to. He was only a
boy; but Uncle Naboth knew from experience that Joe never spoke without
thinking and that his thoughts were fairly logical ones.
“The deal looks all right on the face of it, sir,” said he. “But before
you sign a contract I’d know something more of this gentleman and his
prospects of landing his arms in safety, so we can get away from
Colombia without a fight. Let Sam find out all he can about this
revolution and its justice, and get posted thoroughly. Then, if it still
seems a safe proposition, go ahead, for the terms are fair enough.”
“Of course,” answered Uncle Naboth, “we don’t mean to jump before we
look. Other things bein’ equal an’ satisfaction guaranteed, I’ll say to
you, Mr. Jim—Yim—Jiminez, that I b’lieve we can strike a bargain.”
The little man’s face had seemed careworn as he listened intently to
this exchange of ideas. Evidently he was desperately anxious to get the
_Seagull_ to deliver his contraband goods. But he offered no objection
to Joe’s cautious suggestion. Instead he turned to me, after a little
thought, and said:
“Time is with me very precious. I must get to Bogota as soon as
possible—to the patriots awaiting me. So to satisfy your doubts I will
quickly try. It is my request, Señor Sam, that you accompany me to my
hotel, and the evening spend in my society—you and your friend Señor
Joe. Then to-morrow morning we will sign the papers and begin to load at
once the ship. Do you then accept my hospitality?”
I turned to Uncle Naboth.
“Do you think you can trust Joe and me?” I asked.
“Guess so,” he responded. “Your jedgment’s as good as mine in this deal,
which is a gamble anyway you put it. Go with Mr. Jiminez, if you like,
and find out all he’ll let you. Mostly about him, though; nobody knows
anything about a revolution.”
“Very well, Uncle,” I answered. Then I turned to the Colombian. “Sir,”
said I, “we cordially accept your invitation. You seem fair and just in
your dealings and for the present, at least, I’m glad to have formed
your acquaintance. Keep your diamonds until we ask for the security. As
you sail in our company you may as well wear them until circumstances
require us to demand them of you.”
He bowed and restored the gems to their former places. Then he rose and
took his hat.
“You will return with me to my apartments?”
“If you desire it,” said I.
“Then, Señors, I am at your service.”
Joe quietly left his seat, saying: “I’ll be ready in a jiffy, Sam,” and
started for his room—a room we shared together. After a moment’s
hesitation I followed him.
“What are you going to do?” I asked.
“Slick up a bit and pack my toothbrush. Didn’t you hear De Jiminez speak
of his ‘apartments’ at the hotel? And we’re to stay all night it seems.”
“True enough,” I exclaimed. “We must look decent, old man,” and I
quickly changed my clothing and threw into a small grip such articles as
I thought might be needed. Joe was ready before me, and I saw him
quietly slip a revolver into his hip pocket; so I did the same, smiling
at the incongruity of going armed to make a semisocial visit.
We found Señor de Jiminez slightly impatient when we returned to the
sitting-room, so we merely said good-bye to our friends and followed him
out to the street. The Radley Arms was situated in a retired and very
quiet district, and our exit seemed entirely unobserved except by our
curious landlady. A sleepy beggar was sitting on the corner, and before
him the Colombian paused and said in a calm tone:
“What will your report be, then? That I have visited the Radley Arms?
Well, let me give you help. I had friends there—these young
gentlemen—who are returning with me to my hotel. You will find us there
this evening and until morning. Will such information assist you, my
The beggar grinned and replied:
“You’re a rare one, De Jiminez. But don’t blame me; I’m only earnin’ my
“I know,” said the other, gravely. “You do the dirty work for my
countryman, the chief spy. But I do not care; you are both powerless to
injure me, or to interfere with my plans.”
Then he walked on, and a short distance down the street hailed a cab
that was rolling by. We three entered the vehicle and were driven
directly into the busiest section of the city.
“The driver of this cab,” remarked De Jiminez, “is also a spy; and if
you could behind us see you would find the beggar riding with us.”
“They seem to keep good track of you, Señor,” said Joe.
“I do not mind,” answered the man. “If my arrangement with you succeeds
I shall be able to get away from here before my enemies can interfere.”
It was already growing late in the day and the streets were lighted as
we entered the main thoroughfares. Our host seemed lost in thought and
few remarks were exchanged between us during the long ride.
Finally we drew up before an imposing looking edifice which I quickly
recognized as the Hotel Markham, quite the swellest public house in all
Melbourne. It cost one a lot to stop at such a place I well knew, but
reflected that Señor de Jiminez, if important enough to conduct a
revolution, might be expected to live in decent style—especially if the
“patriots” paid his expenses.
I suppose it would be becomingly modest to admit right here that Joe and
I were rather young to be sent on such an errand. Perhaps Señor de
Jiminez recognized this fact even more fully than we did. But in justice
to ourselves I must add that we were boys of more than ordinary
experience, our adventures on many voyages having taught us to think
quickly, act coolly and carefully consider every motive presented to us.
Predisposed as I was in favor of this queer Colombian, who interested me
because he was playing a desperate game and had the nerve to play it
well, I had no intention of deceiving myself or allowing him to deceive
me in regard to his standing and responsibility. It was my business to
find out all I could about the man, and I fully intended to keep my eyes
and ears wide open.
The first thing I noticed as we entered the hotel was the respectful
deference paid our conductor by the servants, who seemed eager to wait
upon him. The manager came from his little booth with a smile and bow
for Señor de Jiminez and promptly assigned Joe and me to a large room
which he said was connected with the “suite” of our host. De Jiminez
himself conducted us to this room, a very luxurious chamber, and then
excused himself, saying:
“You will wish to prepare for dinner and I must the same do also. When
you are ready, be kind to come into my apartments, Number 18, which is
the first door at your left. Have you necessaries in everything?”
We assured him we were amply provided for and he left us with a
courteous bow. There wasn’t much for us to do, except to wash and brush
ourselves and examine the rich furnishings of the place. Neither Joe nor
I was an utter stranger to luxurious living, although our ordinary
quarters were commonplace enough and our mode of life extremely simple.
We have seen palaces of great magnificence, and therefore the handsome
room assigned us did not impress us as much as it interested us.
We whiled away half or three-quarters of an hour in order not to crowd
our host too closely, and then we knocked at the door of room Number 18.