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

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Chapter X.

We Wake to Find Warship Near and Boat Filled with Police Approaching.

Somebody else slumbered on board the Chapman that night besides the men below. Morpheus evidently got a strangle-hold on our vigilant sentinel, from what followed. I was wakened by a shake and a startled cry from the lookout. I sprang hastily to the deck.

It was broad daylight. A couple of hundred yards away I looked into the trained guns of the U. S. warship Cyane. Several boatloads of officers and marines were just starting from her in our direction. A hasty look also revealed a tugboat making for us from the waterfront, filled with San Francisco cops, headed by I. W. Lees.

Of course, even had we been prepared, resistance would have meant suicide, for the gunners of the Cyane stood waiting orders to blow us out of the water. I rushed down to the cabin, jerked Rubery and Greathouse from their bunks and after a brief word of explanation we proceeded to destroy as many incriminating papers as possible. We made a hasty bonfire on the cabin floor, burned a number of documents that might not have looked well if read in open court, tore into little bits and scattered the fragments of other documents that resisted a quick fire and made a clean-up in general. Smoke was steaming up the when the naval officers and policemen swarmed on board. Someone yelled, "They've fired the powder magazine." This made a diversion and gained a little more time. Nevertheless, out of the destruction, Captain Lees gathered together the scraps and by piecing them together and guessing at the missing parts, collected some evidence that was produced against us in court later on.

Greathouse, Rubery, Libby and myself went on deck and surrendered. We admitted nothing, contenting ourselves with saying that we alone were responsible for the ship and everything on board. They did not show the least surprise as they searched the ship and opened boxes containing our "knocked down" cannon and stands of firearms. They saw vast quantities of powder, shells and ammunition of all kinds exposed with as much indifference as if they held a copy of the ship's manifest, which, in fact, they did have in their possession, through the treachery of Law. If anything further were needed to complete the knowledge that he had betrayed us, it was furnished by an unguarded remark of Captain Lees.

Our twenty fighting men, very much down on their luck, were found in a foreward compartment. On our solemn declaration that they were employed only for service in Mexico none were prosecuted and finally all were discharged with a "look out" in the future admonition from the officer in charge.

Some effort was made to sweat the four, of us. We were cordially invited to step up like men and make a clean breast. All these courtesies were politely declined. We only asked to be advised what we were charged with, and the answer was sufficiently illuminating, "Why, piracy, of course." We were rather carelessly searched, so far as our persons were concerned. I was allowed to retain a small penknife, but one rather important thing was overlooked. In those days everyone carried a derringer, which looked like a sort of toy pistol, but was really one of the most deadly close-range emergency weapons ever invented by the evil genius of man. Each person had a pet place for keeping his derringer secreted, but handy. For myself, I carried one in a specially prepared pocket inside of the right cuff of my coat. Just a practiced twitch, and I could have it in my hand ready for use in an instant. This, as I said, in some way escaped the notice of my searchers, so though I was a prisoner, I remained fairly well armed.

All day long the wires around the world were telling of the great Chapman piracy project, happily nipped in the bud by the efficiency of Uncle Sam's government. One of the facts that gave it a peculiar interest was because John Bright's nephew was a participant. The story did not lose anything by age or travel. I had once a book of newspaper clippings relating to the Chapman affair and a dispassionate reading of the more lurid descriptions would have satisfied anyone that Greathouse, Rubery and myself were the most bloodthirsty pirates who ever cut a throat or scuttled a ship.

We were taken to Alcatraz and later to the old Broadway jail. Greathouse was released after a few days of confinement on bail furnished by his relative, Mr. Lloyd Tevis. Among the pleasant incidents of our confinement were visits from Lieutenant Tompkins and Quartermaster Judson. Our late enemies became our best friends, brought us all kinds of necessaries and refreshments, including newspapers, periodicals and books, and in every way sought to cheer us up and make our confinement less burdensome. Rubery, for his part, returned to Lieutenant Tompkins his letter of retraction, which the latter seemed very glad to receive, for in those days no man of honor cared to have documents of that kind floating around loose. Such incidents of goodwill between men engaged on opposing sides in the Civil War prove to my mind that there was no fundamental line of cleavage, no real antagonism, in fact, between the North and South, and if there had been some power to steady the masses, instead of lashing them to fury, there never would have been a war.

As for Law, he had actually gone with us in good faith up to a certain point, then had a case of cold feet. It occurred to his sordid mind that a handsome sum of money could be obtained from the Government without any risk at all, by betraying his associates. He made a cold-blooded, mercenary bargain with the authorities through which he realized a small fortune, disclosed all our plans, and our steps had actually been dogged by detectives for days.

But the first day at Alcatraz I nearly landed Law. I was locked in a lath and plaster room. I had not been there long before someone began tapping on the wall. After several repetitions, thinking it might he Rubery, I asked, "Who is there?" The acoustics were admirable. A voice replied, "That you, Harpending? This is Law. I am under arrest. I want to tell you all about the awful mishap that prevented me from being with you on the Chapman last night."

The voice of the wretch drove me to absolute madness. I knew he wanted to draw me into admissions, probably had two or three witnesses with him in the room. I simply thirsted for his blood. As before mentioned, the searchers on the Chapman had overlooked a small penknife and a derringer concealed on my person. My first impulse was to take a chance shot at him through the plaster, but I thought of something better instantly. With my penknife I easily bored an opening in the wall.

"Law," I said, "there is something I want you to hear very distinctly and I don't want to speak loud. Put your ear to this hole I have made through the wall"

If he had ever put his ear to that hole he would certainly have heard something very distinctly and much louder than I intimated. Also, perhaps, this story would not have been written. But if such a fellow can have a good angel she was not napping that day. Law did not put his ear to the hole and a few minutes later I heard the door close behind him as he left the room.

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