Home -> James H. Barry Press -> The Great Diamond Hoax - Chapter IX

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Chapter IX.

Plan to Capture Gold Ships Develops, But Trouble Follows Engagement of Villainous-Looking Pilot.

The three of us - Greathouse, Rubery and myself - now worked in unison. My first intention was to outfit in British Columbia, but an agent stationed at Vancouver was unable to find anything fit for our purpose. We negotiated for the purchase of the steamer Otter, owned in Oregon, but on a trial trip she failed to develop a speed much greater than that of a rowboat - not enough either to fight or run away.

While we were fretting over the delay a small deep-water vessel came into port, after a record-breaking voyage from New York. The ship was called plain "Chapman." Historians have seen fit to name it the "J. M. Chapman," for what reason I am not aware. Probably it was a case of what literary folk are pleased to call "poetic license." At any rate, we considered it a serviceable craft, in default of a steam vessel. We purchased the Chapman from her owners at a reasonable price, as it was winter and an outbound cargo was not obtainable at that season of the year.

Our plans might as well be explained fully here. We proposed to sail the Chapman to some islands off the coast of Mexico, transform her into a fighting craft, proceed to Manzanillo, exhibit our letters of marque and my captain's commission in the Confederate navy and then lie in wait for the first Pacific Mail liner that entered the harbor, capture her - peacefully if possible, forcibly if we must. All of this was in line with instructions. Then we proposed to equip the captured liner as a privateer and figured to intercept two more eastbound Pacific Mail steamers before the world knew what was happening, in those days of slow-traveling news. After that we proposed to let events very much take their own course. It was a wild, desperate undertaking at the best, but we were all of an age that takes little stock of risks.

Having our ship, other details followed rapidly enough. We purchased two cannons throwing a 12-pound shot. This was arranged by a Mexican friend of mine, acting through a well-known business firm, which was entirely ignorant of the nature of the transaction. In the same way, we bought shells and solid shot and a large quantity of ammunition. In those days of adventure it was no uncommon matter for corporations or even private persons to purchase armament on a considerable scale, without comment. Often remote investments had to be protected not only with armed men but also with a show of artillery. Our Mexican friend merely had to say that he needed the military supplies to guard a mining property in his own country. As a matter of fact, he never knew what the war material was intended for - just took it for granted that he was doing something in the line of accommodation.

Also we bought a large assortment of small arms, rifles, revolvers and cutlasses. Everything was heavily boxed and marked "machinery." We laid in, also, to avoid suspicion, a small line of general goods of a kind salable in a Mexican port, and an extra supply of provisions.

We engaged an ordinary crew of able seamen and without much difficulty selected twenty picked men - all from the South, of proved and desperate courage. These were to constitute our working force. They were not known to each other, did not even know the nature of the service - further than that it meant fighting and plenty of it - somewhere in Mexico.

All our plans were perfected. It only remained to secure a navigator who could be implicitly trusted. Men of the South did not have much practical experience in seamanship. Several of our confidential friends scoured the town for a suitable person for this all-important post.

Finally a man was brought to me by the name of Wm. Law, guaranteed to be a competent navigator familiar with the Mexican coast and a Southern sympathizer. He was the possessor of a sinister, villainous mug, looked capable of any crime and all in all was the most repulsive reptile in appearance that I ever set eyes on. From the moment I saw him, I was filled with distrust. After a short general conversation I dismissed him and told his vouchers that I could put no faith in such an ill-omened looking character. But time was pressing. No one else showed up and after further guaranties, Greathouse, Rubery and myself saw Law again and frankly gave him a general outline of our plans. He accepted the responsibility with a well feigned eagerness; his tough-looking face seemed lighted with a sort of demoniac exultation. There was still another who shared our confidence to some extent, Libby, the sailing master of the Chapman.

Everything was now ready to launch the enterprise. Our clearance papers were secured from the custom-house with a readiness that might have suggested a suspicion to more alert minds. The "Chapman" was duly certified to sail for Manzanillo with a cargo of machinery and mixed merchandise.

It was on the night of March 14. Greathouse and Law were to be on board at ten o'clock. Rubery and I stationed ourselves in a dark alley behind the old American Exchange Hotel. One by one, our fighting men assembled silently, by prearrangement. The night was dark, the sky overcast. We divided into three squads to avoid attention, slipped through the dimly lighted streets, past roaring saloons and sailor boarding houses and reached an unfrequented part of the water front unnoticed, where the privateer was moored.

Everything thus far had gone so smoothly that Rubery and I were exultant. The wind, too, was propitious. We figured to sail without delay, pass Fort Point in the dark and be beyond the horizon before the morning broke. We scrambled aboard the Chapman. Greathouse was pacing the deck in agitation. Law was not there.

I experienced a shock such as a man receives when a bucket of ice water is emptied on him in his sleep. The suggestion of treachery could not be avoided. We cast loose from the wharf and anchored in the stream. But we were helpless. We could not sail without our navigator. We had nothing to do but wait.

We scanned the bay for an approaching boat, but the dark waters answered not. At two o'clock we turned in for a much needed rest. We left a trusty man as a lookout with orders to waken us at five o'clock if nothing happened before. We still had a lingering hope that Law might appear in season to carry out our plans. And soon, as the hours glided by, the Chapman rocked us to sleep.

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