The Beginnings of Life at Sea
When he returned to the old man’s quarters,
Diego brought up the subject of sleeping arrangements.
“Ah, Diego, I totally forgot that little triviality,” Bowman
said, leaning back in his chair and rubbing his chin. “You have a bit of choice in the matter of sleeping
arrangements. Most of the
sailors who are assistants to the various craftsmen, like myself, the
carpenter, and so on, sleep below the quarter deck—the next deck under
this one. However, if you
don’t mind hanging your hammock in a corner of this room and storing
it away each day, you may sleep here.
The advantage of sleeping below decks is that you will make
friends with the sailors more quickly, but the advantage of sleeping
with me is a bit more privacy. And to be perfectly honest with you, it would be easier for
me if you were near at hand.”
“Then I will sleep here, Mister Bowman.” For his part, Diego wasn’t sure if he wanted to sleep with so many people in one small place. While he was gregarious by nature, he was still an only child and had grown up used to privacy. Bowman seemed amiable enough and the idea of sharing the room with the older man was definitely not unwelcome to Diego.
“Good. Stow your gear in that corner for now and come here.” Bowman motioned for him to come over to his desk. “See how much of this you can read,” he told Diego. Diego looked at the book that he held. It appeared to be some sort of a manifest, or tally sheet of things bought, sold and delivered. He was used to working with ledgers, as his father kept very detailed records of all transactions at the Rancho de la Vega. He had been doing more of the bookkeeping in recent months.
Diego deciphered much of the writing, even
though it was in flourishing long hand and not printed.
“The ...um, what you carry is . . . cattle hides . . . leather
from San Diego and Mexico,” he struggled with the English words.
Bowman interrupted him. “The word for the goods we carry is cargo, Diego.”
“Thank you, Mister Bowman,” he said, and
then continued. “In
England, the ship was… over…hauled.
Overhauled?” he looked up, puzzled, and asked, “What does the
word ‘overhauled’ mean?”
“This is an older ship, Diego. It needed to have many timbers replaced, especially below decks, under the waterline. Barnacles had to be removed, and the bilge thoroughly cleaned,” he explained and then reverted to Diego’s native tongue when he saw the puzzled look on the Californiano’s face. “I think, Diego, that maybe before this day is over, we need to go over some basic nautical terms. See what else you can decipher of my chicken scratch.”
He flipped some pages in the ledger.
“Last year,” Diego slowly read in English.
Some words he had to try to sound out without knowing their
meanings. “The cargo was
opium from India to China, and pottery and silk and tea from China to
England.” Diego frowned,
and asked in Spanish. “Why
just opium to China? Are
the Chinese that sick, that they need so much?”
Bowman smiled sadly.
“Diego, the opium was for the opium dens, not to help the
Diego pondered Bowman’s words. “So you are saying that the Chinese use opium to feel good,
even when they are not sick or hurt?”
The supercargo nodded an affirmative.
Diego continued. “Like
some people drink too much wine to feel good or forget things.”
Bowman again nodded. “And
the Chinese ask for the opium?
Whole ships full,” he murmured.
He was astonished.
“Actually, Diego, the Emperor of China has tried to stop the import of opium for some time, but the selling of opium is too lucrative for many merchants to discontinue its import. So now, opium is smuggled to China and loaded onto smaller ships that will sneak it into the country. And in return, these smaller ships load their goods, mainly tea these days, onto British ships. There is also other cargo, legitimate cargo, such as cotton cloth, leather and the like, so we often still sail into Canton, but not with opium. But the ultimate argument is profit and opium is profitable.” Bowman continued speaking Spanish to get the idea across, and he noticed that Diego was speaking in his native tongue for this part of the conversation, also, as though he wanted to understand the full impact of Bowman’s explanation.
Diego realized that the opium was more or less
being forced on China, and as more and more people became addicted, more
opium was being brought into the country.
It was a vicious cycle. The
stress of the past few days overcame his usual discretion.
His eyes blazed in fury at the total injustice of the practice
and he jumped to his feet. “This is a travesty, an outrage, dealing
with a country like that,” he declared, his voice rising in
indignation. “Why would
“That is enough,” the supercargo bellowed.
“Sit down and shut up, before you end up over the side.”
Diego sat down, silenced by the vehemence of his teacher.
At that moment, the captain stuck his head into the little room.
Bowman got up and Diego followed his lead.
“Are you having problems with the Spaniard,
Mister Bowman?” he asked coolly.
“Not anymore, Captain,” Bowman replied.
“Just had to let him know who’s the master in here.”
He scowled at Diego, his looks ordering him to keep quiet.
“Good,” Beatty replied. “I sent this one to you because you wanted someone with book learning, but I want you to keep an eye on him. I have a feeling about him, a feeling that he could be dangerous.” The captain left.
Bowman sat down and let out a mighty sigh.
He glared at Diego for a few moments, and then resumed speaking
to him in Spanish. Now,
more than ever, he wanted this young man to understand exactly what he
was saying. “Diego, you
are not stupid, so please try not to act that way.
I really have no wish to lose the best assistant I have ever had
in my thirty plus years at sea.”
He sighed again. “In
my heart, I understand the inequity of what is going on, but there is
nothing that can be done by any one person.
And consider this also; the Spanish were not above taking
advantage of the natives of both of the Americas.
They took their gold and silver, tortured them to make them
reveal their treasures, even if there were none to be had.
Then they forced them to change the way they lived.
Do you think the natives all appreciated that?”
“But the lives of the Indians are better and ....” He thought of some of the Indians in the mountains, who had lived in hiding to escape the influence of the Spanish and the Californianos. And, of course, the exploits of Pizarro and Cortez and the other conquistadores were legendary to everyone of Spanish descent. But, there were huge quantities of gold that had been taken. He shook his head. “All right, I see what you are saying,” he acquiesced, and then added, “And I apologize for my outburst, Mister Bowman, this has all been very stressful for me and I forgot myself.” Diego also felt an apology might mollify the supercargo, with whom he would have to work in close proximity for heaven only knew how long.
“Diego, forgive me for making light of your situation, I know this has to be hard on you, but you will have to be the epitome of discretion,” the old man admonished. “And, by the way, your command of English is better than you give yourself credit for. Why not build on that, and we will take a language lesson tour around the China Star.”
Victoria sat quietly, enjoying the fresh beef
that had been cooked for the evening meal.
She listened to the banter of the captain and the two or three
other officers in the cuddy saloon, or captain’s dining hall, but
mostly she enjoyed the sound of the ship cutting through the waves.
Even though she was told that an East Indiaman mostly ploughed
through the ocean, having been built of longer length and deeper hull
than it needed to make for a totally smooth passage, she was still
soothed by the rocking of the ship over the waves.
Unlike her late husband, she had not been the least bit sick
after the first day away from London.
She looked up and saw Michael Cavanaugh, the first officer,
watching her over the rim of his wine glass.
His eyes were anything but that of an acquaintance.
It was embarrassingly obvious; this man wanted to bed her.
He probably had designs on her money, too.
Not only did she inherit a great deal of wealth from her late
husband, but she was wealthy in her own right.
Cavanaugh, a fairly young man with more primal urges than sense,
had been annoying her since the day after Thomas died. “Mr. Cavanaugh, I am not sure what the custom is where you
came from, but in Billingham widows mourn for several months, not
several days,” she reminded him, none too gently.
“I would appreciate it if you would remember that.”
The young man colored slightly and then turned
away, returning back to the conversation between the ship’s officers.
“How are the new men working out, Captain?”
“Stubborn lot, all of them,” Beatty replied
grated on him as well. He
was the grandson of one of the heads of the shipping firm, and as such
thought he was captain material. The
young man had learned much during the voyage, but Beatty still thought
him arrogant, and his flirtatious designs on the young widow annoyed him
greatly. He knew that
the young squire only wanted to marry into more wealth and to satisfy
his sexual urges.
“Perhaps stubborn isn’t the correct term.
Maybe most of their problem is that they don’t understand
English and the fact that they have been cut off from everything with
which they are familiar,” Victoria pointed out.
She turned to her five-year-old daughter, who was sitting next to
her and handed her a small plate of sweetmeats.
Thankfully, the little girl took more after her mother than her
father. The child had only
been sick a few times on the voyage.
In fact there had been times during storms that Victoria had
simply tied her to the chair that was secured to the deck.
The girl had sung songs and clapped her hands with glee as items
slid this way and that across the table in the cuddy saloon.
She had squealed with laughter when people slid this way and that
across the floor. Martha
Ann also had sea legs that rivaled those of the sailors.
Most of Victoria’s time was taken in keeping the child out of
places on the ship that she shouldn’t be.
Some of the sailors were charming with Martha and treated her
like one of their own children, but some she didn’t trust.
Beatty shot an irritated look at the woman.
“Learning the language would be helpful, but all of those
people are idle and devious. They
will have to be watched constantly. And may I remind you that they are criminals,” he quickly
responded. “Even this
afternoon, I had to check on the one that I assigned to Mr. Bowman. He came close to earning himself a flogging.”
“Oh?” Cavanaugh prompted.
“He was cursing and shouting at the
supercargo,” Beatty answered.
Victoria was surprised, wondering what in the
world Mister Bowman could have said to agitate the Spaniard. Shortly thereafter, she gathered Martha Ann and went into
their cabin for the night, while the men had their nightcap and lit
The next morning, when Alejandro woke up,
he wondered for a brief moment why he was at the inn, then the horrible
truth of the day before crashed in on him.
Quickly, he got out of bed, dressed and then washed his face.
He had to find Diego! Most
likely the kidnappers had knocked him unconscious, otherwise his son
would have struggled and there would have been evidence of such a
struggle. Diego would never
have allowed himself to be taken easily.
When he opened the door, Alejandro saw Bernardo
curled up in a chair. The mozo
blinked and rubbed his eyes. The
hacendado felt guilt at having forgotten the faithful servant. He sighed, “Have you been here all night?” he asked
softly. Bernardo nodded. Alejandro smiled slightly, seeing the intense loyalty that
Diego had seen in him while in Spain.
He motioned for the mozo to come into the room with him.
“You clean up while I order us some quick breakfast, Bernardo.
Then we will go out and find Diego.”
He paused. “And we
will find him.”
Bernardo signed, ‘Or he will find a way to
escape and return home.’ Alejandro
nodded and left the room.
Within ten minutes the two men were mounted and
on their way to the stables. Alejandro
shook his head when he studied the front of the stable. The soil had
been so churned up as to make it impossible to find any clues.
But the kidnappers wouldn’t take their prisoner that way, but
out the back, where they would be less likely to be seen. Peering out the back window, Alejandro saw numerous tracks,
enough for about five or six men, he reckoned.
He and Bernardo followed the tracks beyond the large corral next
to the stable and along a row of trees and bushes until they came to a
place where the footprints joined the tracks of a cart.
“It is as I thought,” Alejandro said in
triumph. “Go for our
horses, Bernardo.” Soon
they were cantering out of the pueblo, slowing down or stopping
periodically when the tracks became hard to see in the rocky soil.
The horsemen and their cart traveled to the east and then veered
more southwest. Toward Mexico? Alejandro wondered.
Occasionally the trail went through rocky areas and Alejandro
chafed at the time it took them to cast about for more tracks.
There were not many trails that were wide enough to carts and the
two men managed to find the tracks again.
As they continued following the tracks, Alejandro was dismayed to
find that their quarry had not been far from where he had searched the
night before. He wondered
just how close he had been to his son. Once Sergeant Garcia and a few lancers joined them, but
mainly they searched alone.
By early afternoon, Alejandro was forced to stop
and allow the horses to rest and get a drink.
He chafed at the delay, though, and paced.
Bernardo caught his attention.
‘You need to rest, too.’
“I need to find Diego,” retorted Alejandro.
Hope shined in the mozo’s eyes.
‘Surely he will find a way to get away from these men and
Alejandro’s features softened and he sat down
in the shade of a small tree. “I
know. I realized that if
there is any way possible, Diego will escape from these bandits.” The old man paused and sighed.
“But I cannot help but think that he might also need help.”
Bernardo nodded, suspecting that Don Alejandro was right.