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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 89, 20 April 1880
THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
The town of Panama, on the shores of the broad Pacific, has been the scene of many sanguinary brawls and riots. In one of these, which happened nearly thirty years ago, when such occurences were more frequent than at present, a middle-aged man, apparently an American, received a stab in the chest from the bayonet of one of the soldiers called in to quell the disturbance. The wounded man was carried to the military hospital, where ho shortly after breathed his last.
It was observed lhat during his dying moments he was constantly attended by an old seafaring man, a species of ‘‘Ancient Mariner,” of a tall gaunt figure, and with a hard-looking, weather-beaten visage, who watched by his bedside with the most jealous attention. The old man stated that the patient whose life was fast ebbing away was his son, but beyond this refused to give any information whatever. Up to the last he remained at his post, and with the exception of a Scotch doctor who was in attendance, allowed no one to communicate with the dying man. The old man shortly after disappeared from the city, and the little interest awakened by the incident soon subsided. Two years elapsed from the happening of the above event, when one evening, just before dusk, Doctor M‘Dougall, the Scotch surgeon before referred to, was summoned to attend a patient supposed to be in the last stage of delirium tremens. Threading his way through the irregular pebbly streets, the doctor arrived at the entrance of a small house standing close to the shore, and overlooking the picturesque fortifications which surround the ancient city. Exchanging a word with a swarthy individual of the Spanish-American race, smoking under the verandah, he ascended to the first floor, and found himself by the couch of the sick man. The little light which shone in through the open window sufficed to reveal to him the guant form and strongly-marked features of the old seaman whom he had met by the bedside of his dying son at the hospital. His face, wasted and haggard, was now flushed with feverish excitement, and his bloodshot eyes rolled wildly around. Recognising the doctor at once, the old seaman raised himself almost into a sitting posture, and in a low, husky voice asked his visitor if he remembered him. On receiving an answer in the affiramative, he continued—- “ I have sent for you—not to save my life, that I know is impossible, thanks to drink and this accursed climate—but because you were kind to that poor murdered lad some time ago ; you recollect, no doubt. Well, he was not my son after all, though I said he was, and I liked him as much as if he had been, and maybe more. Since he died everything has gone wrong with me ; and now, besides yourself, I’ve not a friend left in the world. You see this 1 ” said he, bending over the, side of his couch, and pointing towards a corner of the room where stood a sea-chest bound with iron plates and fastened by a padlock. “Hush! they will hear us,” he excitedly exclaimed. “ Lock the door—bar it ; not a living soul but yourself must hear.” Though regarding this merely as a fresh outburst of delirium, the doctor did as desired. “ Now,” said the old man, as he thrust into his visitor’s hand a revolver capped and apparently loaded, ‘ 1 if they
try to come in, shoot them—shoot them dead on the spot. One, two, three, four, five lives,” he added, counting the chambers of the weapon, while a gleam of savage satisfaction lighted up his countenance. “Years ago 1 belonged to a band of queer characters -who first got together in California—then the right place to look for all sorts of vagabonds. We picked up a living in various places, sometimes honestly, as the world calls it, and sometimes not so much so. Well, after awhile even San Francisco got too hot to hold us, so we clubbed together and bought a small schooner, and, hearing of the revolutionary war in Mexico, we ran down the coast and supplied the insurgents with
arms and ammunition. Sometimes our fellows took part in a skirmish on shore, either on one side or the other, and in fact, we joined in any scheme that promised to be profitable. Most ef our time was spent between Panama and the coast of Mexico in this sort of way ; and after a couple of years or so we had got together a considerable sum of money. “ There were six of us at this time,
rovghish-lcoking fellows most of us, and nearly all belonging to different nations. There had been eight altogether, but one had had a bowie-knife put into him in Sacramento City, and another was finished by Santa Anna’s bullets. “ One fine morning, when we were lying off the town of San Bias, two of our men who had been on shore came off with the news that a sxnall trading vessel was expected down the coast with over a million of dollars, belonging to one of the large Mexican houses, to be shipped on board an English frigate at anchor near us for conveyance to Panama. We at once determined to intercept the coaster, and immediately got under weigh. There was not a moment to he lost—any instant might bring her under cover of the frigate’s guns, and thus slip through our fingers. The breeze that morning was unfortunately light, and we had scarcely left the man-of-war hull down, when we perceived the trader coining along the coast under easy sail.
“Our plans were soon ended. We knew that [these vessels, not going more than a few miles off the coast, were rarely armed, and carried at the most three or four men. Wo hauled our wind, and beat up towards her; and, to avoid suspicion, made short tacks, so as to be able to run across her bows and board her when least expected. Our men were tolerably well provided with weapons, and we made up our minds that there would be no serious resistance. Nearer ■and nearer the two vessels approached each other, our schooner trailing a large net astern, to throw the crew of the other off their guard. At the right moment our helm was put down ; we sprang on board, and in a minute or so were in possession of the vessel and everything belonging to her.” “And the men in charge?” said the doctor, for the first time interrupting the old pirate, as it now seemed he was. The latter turned ghastly pale before the steady look of his companion, and then, recovering himself, he clenched his fists, and with eyes starting from their sockets, glared around him like a wounded tiger. ‘ ‘ ’Tis false —ay, false ! ” he shouted, throwing his arms about him in the wildest manner. “ Who was it said that I murdered them —ah, murdered them? ’Tis false, I say again ! ” He sank back exhausted; the large drops of perspiration clung to his brow, and for some time a dead silence prevailed. At length the old seaman roused himself and proceed, though with much less selfpossession than before. “ How we took the coaster, and what we did with the crew, is nothing to anybody now; but anyhow, the end of it was that when we came to break open the boxes in the hold and count out the money, we found ourselves the owners of nearly a million and a half of Mexican dollars in gold and silver. “ This was the boldest of all our adventures, and we all felt the danger of staying any longer on this part of the coast, or even of remaining together after this. We immediately determined to stand out to sea, take the earliest opportunity of dividing the treasure, and then separate for ever.
“ When not many miles from Acapulco, v, e ran short of water, and ran into that port for a supply. Short as our stay was, we remained long enough for one of our men to be attacked with yellow fever. In a few hours he died, and we, fearing after this to stop in the place, hastily landed the body on the strip of beach outside the harbour, and at once put to sea.
“ From the moment of our seizing that infernal coaster misfortune hung over us. Before we had lost sight of the coast of Mexico the trade winds failed us, and for days we lay sweltering under the hot sun in a dead calm. To make matters worse, two more of our hands took the fever, and died in a few hours. We were now in a state of the utmost consternation. What was to be done ? To stay in the ship seemed certain death ; our numbers were reduced to three, and those so enfeebled as to be equally likely to fall a prey to the pestilence. To land with such an amount of money would assuredly lead to our detection. We had now all our booty to divide amongst three of us, but what on earth were we to do with it I
“ Whilst making up our minds, we found by dead reckoning that we were only a few days’ sail from the Cocos Islands off the Bay of Panama. We knew the islands very well, and we knew, too, that they were uninhabited, and within easy distance from Panama itself. We agreed to break open three cases at once, each holding two thousand dollars, divide them equally, and then bury the rest on the largest island of the group. “On our arrival, having satisfied ourselves by a careful search that there was no human being there we ran the schooner as close in shore as possible, and commenced landing the money a task which, with our reduced numbei’s, took us several days to get through. During the whole of this time we were in perpetual terror Jest our movements should be observed by some of the passing vessels. We worked away cheerfully, and at last succeeded in burying all the boxes of dollars in a corner of the largest island, carefully marking the position of the spot by compass beai’ings. This done, we removed from the schooner everything worth saving, scuttled her, and taking the boat, landed not many miles from the town. Here we separated, after agreeing upon a day on which to return to the island and remove the rest of the treasure, each swearing to observe the strictest secrecy and good faith in the matter. “ Tlxe seizure of the coaster had, as we expected, x’eached Panama, and large rewards were offered fox’ the capture of those concerned in the deed. This showed me that it would be unsafe to remain longer than could be helped. Accordingly, I lost no time in taking a passage in a merchant vessel sailing for San Francisco. A few days after reaching that port I came across one of my former companions, whom I had parted from on landing from the schooner. Well, from that time to the day you saw him die here in the hospital we were never separated. “ At San Francisco, what with drinking and gambling, we soon ran through our money, and had only just enough to take us down to Panama again by the time appointed. “ We had not long returned before wo learned that a man answering the description of the third member of our party had left in a canoe with three or fourof the natives some days before—as he said, on a fishing expedition to the Cocos Islands ; and that the canoe, with the bodies of two of the negroes, had been washed ashore during a gale of wind the following day. “ I can’t say that either of ns was very sorry to hear of the news ; it was clear that our old shipmate was bent on being beforehand in getting at the spoils, contrary to our sworn agreement. We had the satisfaction of knowing that we two were now the sole owners of the money, and set to work at once to arrange a plan for getting it all into our possession. Everything was settled, and we should have started with half a dozen picked men, when that poor fellow received that accursed stab which put an end to him.” (to be continued.)
THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 89, 20 April 1880
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