knocked, dread washing over him like a wave.
Beatty had never assigned the punishment that he had promised and
this morning’s events couldn’t have made the captain any happier.
Beatty called out from inside. Diego
opened the door and stepped aside for Mister Bowman to enter first.
Then he walked in and stood before the captain’s small, but
ornate oak desk.
have continued to flout custom and defy my orders,” Beatty began,
glaring at him. Diego stood
quietly and listened. “You
were supposed to keep those Spaniards in line.
You made an unholy spectacle of yourself carousing with the
natives, kissing their women. I
cannot tolerate this. You
are not in California. You
are on my ship and you will obey my rules.
Your punishment will be cancellation of shore leave for the
duration of this stopover. You
will not leave the ship.”
gaped, anger overcame the dread and he prepared himself to argue his
case when he felt Bowman’s hand grip the back of his arm. He said nothing, but his thoughts were churning furiously.
How am I going to mail my father’s letter? I have to get
please,” Bowman began. “Diego
has been an exemplary assistant. He
did his best with the other Spaniards.
They all know English now, and except for those very few, they
have adapted fairly well to life on board ship. Much of that is due to
Diego. And the most important thing, Captain, is that I need him on
shore to assist me in the purchase of the cargo and provisions.
His help will be invaluable.”
did fine before I bought this Spaniard,” Beatty growled, his eyes hard
sir. However, I am often
tired and haven’t made as many profitable transactions at our earlier
ports o’call. If I had
someone with me to help me remember and keep things straight, I am sure
that our profits would be greater,” Bowman continued to explain.
Diego felt gratitude supplanting the anger and he also felt hope
beginning to take root. The
supercargo was trying to appeal to the captain’s sense of greed and
risking his wrath doing so. “We
could look over twice as many sale goods, and make more purchases that
would increase our profits in Singapore and Canton.”
eyes softened only slightly and he pulled at his chin.
The silence grew long and then longer.
“Very well, but there will still be a punishment.
And I will hold you to that promise, Mr. Bowman, of more
purchases.” He glared at
Diego, still stroking his chin. “You cannot go on shore today, but you can go tomorrow, when
you are finished with your shipboard duties.
This morning you will clean the decks; this afternoon, you will
work in the hold, cleaning out the bilge and killing rats. You will work on that until lights out. And before you go ashore tomorrow, you will make sure you
have not only finished all that I have ordered you to do for your
punishment, but also all the duties that Mister Bowman assigns you to
do. Any shirking and the
original punishment stands. Do
sir, Captain Beatty,” Diego said, keeping his face passive and his
voice grateful. Pompous
ass! “Thank you.”
are both dismissed. Make
sure he gets busy immediately, Mister Bowman.”
nodded and they left quickly.
On the way to the quarterdeck, Diego turned to his mentor. Gratitude filled his heart and soul, and he took a deep
breath to keep his voice steady. “Thank
you for helping me, Mister Bowman.”
eyes showed a gratitude that could not be put into words and in them
Bowman saw reflections of his own son.
“Diego, I wasn’t lying.
I do need you on shore. And
you can’t learn the ins and outs of buying and selling cargo if you
are stuck on a ship in the harbor,” the supercargo murmured.
I still thank you. You took
a great risk.”
after dinner, when half of the ship’s contingent had been rowed ashore
by natives eager to earn a little money, Diego began the climb down to
the foulest, dankest and nastiest part of the ship. He and ten other men had the unenviable task of clearing out
the bottom layer of the ship, the layer where water gathered and became
filthy, where rats and other vermin lived and bred.
The water was a cesspool of human filth and vermin excrement.
Barrels were moved up to the deck one at a time, water scooped
out with buckets and crude pumps, and when they were able to do so, rats
killed and dumped overboard. After
a half an hour of working in such nasty conditions, Diego and the others
suddenly found themselves joined by ten California sailors.
thought that this job would be more quickly done if there were more
hands to do it,” José said, his smile bright in the dimness of the
bottom of the ship. “And
we have had some small experience down here.
We have often received these more desirable jobs,” he added,
of the English sailors laughed. “Come
then, my friends. Let
us get this princely job done, because it’ll take us all evening to
get the smell off so we can enjoy the company of the ladies on shore
gazed at José, gratitude filling his heart.
Diego, we heard about the punishments.
It was not your fault about Juan.
And I should have listened to you when you told us not to throw
food overboard,” José said softly in Spanish.
nodded. “But the whipping
laughed softly. “I have
received worse from my father,” he quipped, as he began scooping the
foul water out of the bilge.
next day, Diego worked furiously doing everything Bowman instructed him
to do. As he and the
supercargo oversaw the loading of sandalwood, some of the men grumbled
that the Spaniard was a hard taskmaster.
However, some had already waited a day for their leave and were
almost as anxious to get ashore as he was.
The packet was what spurred Diego on; women and strong drink
motivated most of the other sailors.
By nightfall, all of the sandalwood that Beatty had purchased the
day before from Makealeanu, was safely loaded in the hold.
Diego was astonished at the skill with which the supercargo
directed the loading of the wood, in order for it to take up as little
room as possible. He said
as much to his patrón.
you, Diego,” Bowman said modestly.
“It is something you learn with practice.
And early tomorrow morning we will go on shore and see to that
packet of yours, as well as the purchase of provisions and more
cargo,” he added. “We
should have two days to accomplish our goal, because we will be at
anchor for at least two and a half more days.”
They both stood at the rail, looking at the waves beating gently
against the hull of the ship. They had an almost tranquilizing effect; Diego felt the
tension of the past two day’s work sliding away.
clapped his hand on Diego’s shoulder and said quietly, but with great
feeling, “Diego de la Vega, an old man couldn’t have a better
assistant, friend, or son.” He
paused a moment. “My own
son died young, but you and he would be about the same age if he were
alive. I would count it an
honor if you would let me consider you as a son.
And please don’t think I’m trying to supplant your real
father, I’m not.”
was shocked by the sudden disclosure the supercargo had made.
He knew Bowman had had a family whose members were all dead, he
had talked a great deal about them, but that the old sailor felt that
way about him was something Diego had not realized.
In a way, Diego had looked to Mister Bowman as one would a
father, simply because he had been a child, so to speak, when he came on
board, knowing nothing and having to be taught everything.
Bowman had done that as patiently as a real father could.
He was very grateful to him.
am the one who is honored by you,” Diego said simply, “Because my own father couldn’t have treated or taught me
better than you have.”
evening as Diego was standing just inside the corridor leading to the
captain’s quarters on the roundhouse deck, watching the sun set over
the ocean, he heard Captain Beatty and Mister Bowman conversing in the
Captain’s quarters. As
the door was open, Diego felt no guilt about stepping a little closer.
Bowman, may I remind you that you are responsible for the Spaniard,
including his time on shore? He
will be back on board when we sail, or you will be tried at sea and left
in a British brig in Singapore. Now
I have already made sure the other Spaniards will be back on time, but
this one seems to have a greater incentive to return to California.
I have invested too much into his indenture to lose him at the
first port o’call. Keep
what I have said in mind during your shore leave.
You are dismissed, sir.”
Diego quickly slipped down the stairs and back to their cabin, and was innocently looking over the manifests when Bowman returned. But now the Californiano had another reason to dislike the Captain.
had been up and ready to go on shore since before dawn, feeling a boyish
sort of eagerness that he hadn’t felt for a long time. Bowman grumbled, but was ready not too long after his
assistant. The same native
trader, who had taught Diego how to dive, was waiting along side of the China
Star to take more of the ship’s compliment to the harbor town.
Makealeanu said to Diego, who returned the greeting as he climbed into
the outrigger canoe. He
helped Mr. Bowman and they were soon on their way to shore.
The outrigger seemed to fly over the waves,
skipping lightly, much as the flying fish did.
Diego watched Makealeanu as he dipped his paddle into the water,
seeing the power in the man’s shoulders match that of the waves. The
cool, salty-tanged breeze ruffled his hair and combined with the scent
of foliage coming from the shore. Diego
looked at the land before them and saw, in the distance, mountains,
covered in a variety of shades of green, testaments to the lushness of
this ocean-borne land.
A short time later the canoe ground up on the
shore and stopped. Makealeanu
leaped out and held his hand out for Diego.
The young man began stepping out without taking the proffered
help, but soon changed his mind. The
land seemed to be moving in strange ways and Diego was disconcerted that
he couldn’t seem to be able to walk straight.
He kept anticipating the next rise and fall of the deck.
Then he remembered his embarrassment over his clumsiness when he
had disembarked in Madrid.
also helped the supercargo and soon the pair was slowly making their way
toward the tiny port town a short distance down the beach. Bowman chuckled. “It
will only take a short while to get our land legs back, my friend,” he
know. It happened to me
when I traveled to Spain, but it’s still embarrassing.” Soon the
land acted ‘normally’ and they were passing the warehouses that
lined the beach on the outskirts of the town.
shall ask at the trading post about a Catholic mission,” Bowman
suggested, pointing to a large, ramshackle building.
Its roof was covered with palm fronds and the sides were mostly
open to the breezes that blew from the ocean.
when Diego asked for the nearest Catholic mission, the proprietor stared
at him for a moment and then laughed uproariously.
“You have to be joking,” he said in a very thick British
accent, one that Diego had been told was from an area north of London.
“There are no Papists here.
The closest Catholics are in Mexico, thank goodness.
I would hate to think what the Franciscans would do with these
fine women here. The Congregationalists are bad enough.”
there is one,” Diego said coolly.
“Me. Now, tell me
where I can find a priest or cleric nearby.
A Congregationalist priest is fine.
My time is limited.” The
trader took one look at the irritated man and quickly stammered out
directions to the nearby Congregationalist church and school.
only took a half an hour to walk to the church, which was built of white
clapboard, with perhaps the neatest little white picket fence around it
that Diego had ever seen. He
was more used to seeing walls, not little fences.
Even in Spain, the wrought iron structures were higher and more
imposing, so he assumed that here fences were for aesthetic value and
not to keep something out. The
sound of young voices singing or chanting came to him from a nearby
building and Diego assumed that it must be the school.
they come closer to the church, a young man in dark clothing approached
them. Diego took him to be
the local equivalent of priest. “May
I help you?” the man asked. “I
am Reverend Baxter, assistant to Reverend Davenport,” the cleric
added. He seemed rather young, and very much new at his job.
am Diego de la Vega from the Pueblo de Los Angeles in
California,” he introduced himself before Bowman could say anything. “And this is Supercargo George Bowman from the China
Star,” he added. “I
have a matter of some urgency, which I hope you can help me with.”
was a little perplexed. “You
sound British, but the name is Spanish.”
tends to learn good English, when one has to live on a British ship for
weeks at a time,” Diego said somewhat impatiently.
“I am looking for a cleric to help me.
It is very important.” He
wanted to get this done soon. Bowman
laid his hand on his shoulder to help calm him down.
sorry,” the man said. “We
don’t usually get visits from p . . . Catholics... or Anglicans,” he
nodded towards Bowman. “I
don’t think that we can help you.”
took a deep breath to calm his irritation.
He decided that he would much rather deal with the native people;
they were more direct and less insulting.
However, the man was young, he was American and a cleric and
Diego didn’t want to waste his time in anger.
He chose to ignore what the man had been about to say and direct
his comments to the matter at hand.
“Sir, I am not here on a religious matter anyway, it is a very
personal matter of great importance to me and my family.”
realized his mistake the minute that he had spoken the first syllable.
The Spanish were a very proud people, he had been told, and the
term papist was an affront to most.
“My pardons, sir, ah, I wasn’t trying to be insulting.
I spoke out of ignorance. What
is your problem?” he asked quickly, presumably to turn the subject of
was kidnapped and indentured aboard the China
Star. My father has no
idea of my whereabouts or, for that matter, whether I am alive or dead.
I need to know if, being a cleric, you might be able to have this
sent to California, in order that my father might be reassured.”
paused and thought a moment. He
could hear the anxiety in the young man’s voice and felt a pang of
sorrow for his misfortune. “I
am sorry for your hardship, but I don’t know if we can help you
here,” the Reverend said. “I
have almost no contact with incoming ships.
But let me go ask Reverend Davenport, just to make sure.”
Baxter went into the church, almost sure of the answer, but still
hoping that he might have something that would give hope to this young
sailor. He came out only a
short while later, shaking his head.
“I’m sorry, we can’t help you, but Reverend Davenport did
suggest that if you go down to Half Moon harbor you might find a ship
that could help you,” the young man said.
saw sympathy in the young man’s eyes.
“Thank you for trying anyway.”
spoke up, as much for Diego as to the reverend. “That’s an excellent idea, Reverend. It is a somewhat larger harbor than the one we are anchored
in and there were several ships there when we sailed in. Surely one of them is going to Yerba Buena or San Diego.”
Bowman also thanked the young cleric and turned to go.
In his eagerness, Diego had already started walking down the path
back to the harbor. Bowman
called to his assistant, and Diego stopped and waited for his mentor.
His body seemed taut with impatience and anxiety.
am sorry, Mr. Bowman,” he said, when the supercargo caught up with
him. “Do you think we
will have any luck with the ships in the harbor?” he asked.
They continued on down the little road at a more sedate pace.
won’t know until we try,” Bowman said hopefully. As they went around a bend in the road, a middle-aged woman
was waiting for them.