the Spaniard was brought to him, Supercargo George Bowman took one look
at the man’s pallid face and shoved a bucket across the floor to him.
The young man gratefully took it, sank to his knees, and was
promptly and thoroughly sick. Bowman
sincerely hoped that he didn’t have someone on his hands who would be
hanging over the rail the whole trip.
When the sickness had seemingly passed, the Spaniard tried to
stand up but was unable to. Confusion
crossed his features before he sank back to his knees and then collapsed
onto the floor, unconscious.
“What the…?” Bowman asked, jumping up from his chair and
rushing to the young man’s side.
isn’t sick, is he?” asked Henry, the young sailor who had brought
the prisoner in. There was
fear in the sailor’s eyes and he backed a step away from the fallen
would seem obvious that he is,” Bowman said.
“But with what?”
Bowman, what is wrong?”
men looked up from the prostrate Spaniard to see a slender woman
standing in the doorway. The
woman’s little girl stood behind her skirts, peeping at the scene
before her. “They brought
me one of the new sailors and he simply collapsed on the floor,”
Bowman explained to Victoria Meachem.
a word to her daughter to wait outside in the hall, Victoria walked in
the cabin, gently pushing Henry out of the way.
She checked the unconscious man, feeling his forehead, and then
checking his breathing and heartbeat.
“There seems to be nothing that indicates illness.”
She noticed the bucket. “Was
ma’am, he was. But there
didn’t seem to be anything in his stomach,” Bowman replied, pointing
to the almost empty bucket.
leaned back, pondering. She
had dealt for weeks with her husband’s illness, first the seasickness
and then the wasting disease that she could only attribute to the food
and his delicate stomach. Reaching
down she felt the Spaniard’s stomach and was answered with a groan as
he slowly started regaining consciousness.
“I can’t be sure, Mister Bowman, but I am guessing that it
has been a while since he has eaten,” she said as the man’s eyes
opened and slowly focused on her. “How
long has it been since you ate?” she asked him, hoping he could
Henry’s help he sat up, leaning against the cabin’s doorframe.
The Spaniard looked puzzled for a moment, then comprehension
dawned. “Eat?” he
asked, making signs of consuming a meal.
brow furrowed in thought. “I
do not know.” He paused.
“It is two days from Los Angeles to San Diego.
Then a day . . . and then here.”
He looked back into her eyes.
“I . . . they….” He
made signs that Victoria took to mean that he had been poisoned or
drugged. She assumed the
latter. “I think three
days,” he said more decisively. He
tried to pull himself off the floor.
Henry grabbed his arm and helped him to a chair.
Putting his head in his hands, the Spaniard just groaned.
Victoria now recognized this man as the prisoner that the watch
had said was dangerous. This
was the same man who had saved his comrade from death.
For some reason, Victoria didn’t see any danger in him.
Bowman said to the young sailor. “Go
down to the galley and get this man something to eat and drink,” he
explained. “And tell
Billy that I don’t care a rat’s hind end whether he’s fixing for
the captain’s table right now or not.
I can’t deal with a man who’s sick, and all he needs is
something to eat to settle his stomach.”
He muttered a few healthy invocations about the treatment of
wait,” Victoria ordered. “I
don’t think this man’s stomach can handle a normal breakfast just
yet. Have Billy make some
kind of broth from that beef the captain bought in San Diego.
Bread will work nicely and some of the fresh wine, watered
down.” Henry glanced at
Bowman and then left the room when the older man nodded.
think that he’ll be all right now, Mister Bowman,” Victoria said
softly. “We will go and
take our own breakfasts in the cuddy saloon now.
But call for me if he gets sick again.”
you, madam. I appreciate
the help,” Bowman answered, nodding.
When she left the tiny cabin, he turned back to the sick man,
only vaguely wondering what Mrs. Meachem had been doing on this level,
when the cuddy saloon and her own cabin were on the deck above.
he began. “Those Californianos
are unable to take care of their own?
They have to starve their own prisoners before selling them?”
His voice shook with indignation.
Spaniard looked up and started to explain a little of the circumstances
of the past few days, but suddenly realized that Bowman had spoken to
him in Spanish. His eyes
widened in surprise and he was speechless.
man,” the cargo master chuckled.
“There is no need to gape at me as though I suddenly had grown
another head. My
pronunciation is probably atrocious, but I did not spend two years as a
prisoner of the Spanish without learning some of the language.”
young Californiano struck him as being intelligent, but he hoped
this man also had some learning under his belt.
He had yet to see his request to Capt. Beatty come to fruition.
For the past year, every time the China
Star docked and took on new hands, Bowman requested to have as an
apprentice any man who could read and write.
rose stiffly, feeling his joints creaking, and walked back to his little
desk. The young man laid
his head against the cabin wall and closed his eyes.
Bowman could see him swallowing, trying to control the heavings
of a deprived stomach. “Take
deep breaths. Maybe that
will help until your meal comes.”
The Californiano did not verbally acknowledge his
suggestion, but Bowman saw his chest rise and fall in a more deliberate
In a short while, the sailor brought in some bread, cheese and a mug of beef broth. “Mister Bowman, I managed to get a mug of the soup that Mrs. Meachem requested, but you should have heard Billy cursing and dancing in the galley. Said he wasn’t going to send special food and wine, too, so I just settled for the soup,” Henry reported. He handed it to the young man, who took the mug gratefully.
the sailor had left, Diego slowly sipped the broth. It was barely warm, had no spices or vegetables with it, only
a little salt, but it was like heavenly manna to his palate.
The lurching of his stomach settled to something easily
“Drink it slowly at first. Let your stomach get used to it,” the Englishman
admonished, studying him carefully.
While he slowly drank the broth, taking a bite of the crusty
bread every few swallows, he discreetly studied the Englishman, who had
gone back to working on his books.
An older man, perhaps close to his father’s age; he didn’t
seem to have the same harshness as the others on board this ship that he
had met thus far. The man
had gray hair, with mutton chop whiskers that extended down his jaw
line, stopping short of becoming a beard.
His eyes were blue gray and his cheeks were ruddy, an indication
of years of exposure to sun and sea.
He was stocky, but not fat.
The appearance would almost make one think that this was a jovial
individual, but Diego knew that appearances could be deceiving.
the broth and not feeling any ill effects, he continued to eat the
bread, then he nibbled on the cheese.
While cheese was practically an unknown commodity in southern
California, owing to the fact that cows were not kept for milking, Diego
had developed a taste for cheeses while in Spain.
This sample would not rank with any of them, but the hungry did
not pick and choose. And he
was hungry. The old man
looked up and cleared his throat.
we will begin at the beginning,” he said.
“What is your name?” Diego
told him, just as he had the captain.
“All right then, Diego de la Vega, what crime landed you in
jail and ultimately on the China
the crime of being a de la Vega.”
Diego answered simply.
The man motioned for him to continue.
“There is a revolutionary group from Mexico that has begun a
spree of terror against those landowners who profess loyalty to the King
of Spain. I can only
suppose they do this in order to cause dissension and secure the support
of the peons of California to their cause.
And as long as Spain owns California, we will be royalists, my
father and I. They thought
that by kidnapping me, they would channel my father’s activities into
finding me, and I suppose they may be correct in that assumption.”
He had learned much of Jorge’s agenda when the revolutionary
had bragged about his accomplishments as he was taking Diego to the jail
in the Presidio de San Diego.
vindictive,” the officer murmured.
“So, you are the son of a wealthy hacendado,
eh,” he said. “I
suppose that you are able to read and write Spanish quite well, then.”
nodded. “I spent three years at the university in Madrid.
I also know French and German, not fluently, but enough to
man beamed a self-satisfied smile. “I have died and gone to heaven.
I finally get someone who is intelligent and educated.”
He looked at Diego with hope.
“And you speak and understand English.”
He sighed and leaned back in his chair.
very much,” Diego answered in English before reverting back to
Spanish. “I learned the
basics from a fellow passenger on my ship to Spain.
I also had an instructor at the university whose mother was
English, but we only conversed in that language privately, and that was
very seldom. I read it better than I speak it.
I have a few books of English literature back at home.
Even though they are considered illegal, I have enjoyed them,”
he explained. “I am sure
that my pronunciations are extremely bad, also.
I have had very little opportunity to speak English to anyone in
Los Angeles. With
England and Spain not very amiable at the moment, learning English
openly at the university, or speaking it in the pueblo might have
been dangerous, to say the least,” he added with a smile.
old man smiled again. “I
do believe in miracles!” he exclaimed.
“This whole sordid adventure is misfortune for you, but you
have been sent by a kind deity to me.”
He explained, “As you can see, I’m getting a little old for
this kind of life and sometimes I get low and can’t keep the books as
well as I should. By the
way, my name is George Bowman. I
am the supercargo, and whatever other position for which a literate man
is needed. I will be your patrón
for the duration of this trip.
The other person you have to answer to is Capt. Beatty, and I
might warn you, if you have not already found out, he is not fond of
Spaniards. He only bought
the indentures of you men because we were shorthanded, and needed more
sailors to properly run the ship across the Pacific to Singapore.”
He paused a moment before continuing.
“So I would concentrate on learning the King’s English as
soon as possible.”
felt it to his advantage to learn English as well, if for no other
reason than to get along better with the captain.
And somehow, deep in his heart, the young man felt it would help
him escape his indenture. “I
also wish to become fluent in your language.
I think that will happen sooner if we speak less Spanish.”
are a very open minded Spaniard, Diego.
No offense, but that has been unusual among most of the Spanish
since the days of the Armada and more recently, since the defeat at
Trafalgar,” he commended the caballero.
We will only use Spanish at the beginning so that I know you
understand the meaning of a word or phrase.
The next thing is to get you properly attired.
My assistant is not going to wear rags such as those.”
looked down at his clothing, the rough woven trousers and tunic that
Jorge had dressed him in sometime during that drug-befogged trip to San
Diego. He scratched where
the cloth itched the worst.
are you feeling now, Diego?” Bowman asked.
better,” Diego answered truthfully.
“But is there something to drink?
I still feel thirsty.”
pointed to a mug on his desk. “If
you have no qualms about sharing, you may finish my ale.” He watched carefully as Diego slowly got up and made his way
to the supercargo’s desk. The
young man staggered a bit, but whether that was due to the motion of the
ship or his sickness, Bowman couldn’t tell.
“Do you feel up to a trip to the purser to get your issue of
clothing?” Bowman asked.
I believe so,” Diego answered, finishing up the drink and looking
regretfully at the bottom of the mug.
laughed. “There will be a
barrel of drinking water outside the purser’s cabin.
When we have just left a port, water is more plentiful.
When we’ve been to sea for a while, the only extra water is
that which collects in the rain barrels.
“And Diego,” he added, “be aware that you are not on a
higher strata of society here. Even
though I am your commanding officer, with Captain Beatty commanding both
of us, you are a new sailor and among the lowest of the low.”
Beatty paused for a moment and gazed at Diego thoughtfully.
“While I do understand your circumstances, as long as you are
on board the China Star and under the terms of your indenture,
you will have to act with great deference to almost everyone-- officers,
passengers and, at first, even the senior sailors.”
remembered his days as a passenger to and from Spain. “Ah, I make way for almost anyone I meet, in other
except in times when doing so would interfere with the safe operation of
the ship,” Bowman answered. “And
you use the words ‘sir’ or ‘madam’ when addressing officers or
passengers, unless you call them by their title and last name.
Much, I am assuming, as others did for you back in California.”
pondered and remembered that he had treated Bowman pretty much as an
equal since he had recovered from his sickness.
“My apologies, Mister Bowman.”
nodded. “None needed,
Diego. I just want you to begin your life on this ship with as much
advantage as you can get.”
He called a sailor, who took Diego to the purser whose cabin was
on the same level as his own. The
corridor was narrow and the ceiling was low enough for him to have to
stoop slightly to avoid hitting his head.
Diego could see that space was at a premium.
Several cabins held hammocks or hanging cots, with only the
barest bits of space left over for storage of chests and chairs.
He began to appreciate the room in the supercargo’s cabin,
cramped though it was, but he couldn’t help but wonder where he’d be
sleeping at night.
purser was a thin, almost gaunt man, about a head shorter than he was.
His dark brown hair was slightly gray at the temples and his
steel-blue eyes glanced up at him before looking back down at the
clothing that was laid out on the narrow table in front of him.
Items lined the walls, hung from hooks, or were neatly stacked on
the floor. A hammock
stretched from two hooks in one corner and a cabinet was attached to the
wall next to a porthole. Diego
wondered how the man managed to make his way to his hammock.
He continued to stand waiting, unsure whether to say anything or
not. Turning to ask the
sailor who had accompanied him, Diego saw that the other man had left.
He was on his own. “Sir,”
purser muttered and continued to sort the clothing. Diego waited for a little longer.
Mister Bowman . . . um, sent me,” he said haltingly.
purser finally looked up and stared at him, his piercing eyes seeming to
measure him. “I suppose
he wants me to fit you out with a sea packet?”
He muttered some more.
out?” Diego asked, bewildered. The
purser had talked out of the side of his mouth, punctuating the question
by spitting into a container at his feet.
“Mister Bowman sent me for . . . clothes. He does not like….” Diego finished his sentence by
pointing to his rough woven shirt.
the purser’s face cracked into a tobacco stained smile.
“S’pose not, my lad. S’pose
not. That is pretty rough
cloth.” He looked Diego
up and down again and motioned for him to come closer.
Diego complied and the man began pulling items off of piles on
the floor. Soon there was a
stack sitting on the table in front of him.
guarantee the fit,” he said, spitting into the container again.
“What do they feed you back there in California to get you so
tall?” he asked.
sure how to answer that question, even though he thought he understood
it, Diego just smiled, shrugged and said, “I do not know, sir.”
the end, Diego was fitted with light colored blue trousers and a cotton
shirt, that, while not as comfortable as the button up calzoneros he was used to, were certainly better than the
prisoner’s clothes he had been wearing.
Neither article of clothing was new and he assumed that when
sailors died, the purser confiscated the dead men’s clothes. However, they appeared clean.
He pulled at the material of the shirt he had just put on.
At least they do not itch.
Diego was also issued some low-cut buckle shoes, a belt, a scarf,
a hammock, and a blanket.
lad, ye’ll need another pair of trousers and a shirt,” the purser
said, putting the articles of clothing on top of the small pile that
Diego already had.
you,” Diego said. The
officer spat and then motioned to him to return to the supercargo. As he was leaving the purser’s cabin Diego banged his head
against the door beam. “By
the Saints,” he shouted in pain.
The Briton laughed heartily at him.
There was also laughter from the narrow corridor.
Apparently this was a common occurrence. Diego laughed along with him, not hearing any derision in the
the purser chuckled. “You’re
too tall to be a sailor. You’ll
knock your brains out before we get to the Sandwich Islands.”
Diego thought he got the general idea of what the man was saying. “You might be right,” he said as he left, remembering to duck this time.