The Phantom Ship

Chapter Nineteen

Frederick Marryat

IT appeared as if their misfortunes were to cease, after the tragical death of the two commanders. In a few days, the Dort had passed through the Straits of Magellan, and was sailing in the Pacific Ocean with a blue sky and quiet sea. The ship’s company recovered their health and spirits, and the vessel being now well manned, the duty was carried on with cheerfulness.

In about a fortnight, they had gained well up on the Spanish coast, but although they had seen many of the inhabitants on the beach, they had not fallen in with any vessels belonging to the Spaniards. Aware that if he met with a Spanish ship of superior force it would attack him, Philip had made every preparation, and had trained his men to the guns. He had now, with the joint crews of the vessels, a well-manned ship, and the anticipation of prize-money had made his men very eager to fall in with some Spaniard, which they knew that Philip would capture if he could. Light winds and calms detained them for a month on the coast, when Philip determined upon running for the Isle St. Marie, where, though he knew it was in possession of the Spaniards, he yet hoped to be able to procure refreshments for the ship’s Company, either by fair means or by force. The Dort was, by their reckoning, about thirty miles from the island, and having run in until after dark, they had hove to till the next morning. Krantz was on deck; he leant over the side, and as the sails flapped to the masts, he attempted to define the line of the horizon. It was very dark, but as he watched, he thought that he perceived a light for a moment, and which then disappeared. Fixing his eyes on the spot, he soon made out a vessel, hove to, and not two cables’ length distant. He hastened down to apprise Philip and procure a glass. By the time Philip was on deck the vessel had been distinctly made out to be a three-masted xebeque, very low in the water. After a short consultation it was agreed that the boats on the quarter should be lowered down, and manned and armed without noise, and that they should steal gently alongside and surprise her. The men were called up, silence enjoined, and in a few minutes the boat’s crew had possession of the vessel; having boarded her and secured the hatches before the alarm could be given by the few who were on deck. More men were then taken on board by Krantz, who, as agreed upon, lay to under the lee of the Dort until the daylight made its appearance. The hatches were then taken off, and the prisoners sent on board of the Dort. There were sixty people on board,—a large number for a vessel of that description.

On being interrogated, two of the prisoners, who were well-dressed and gentlemanlike persons, stepped forward and stated that the vessel was from St. Mary’s, bound to Lima, with a cargo of flour and passengers; that the crew and captain consisted of twenty-five men, and all the rest who were on board had taken that opportunity of going to Lima. That they themselves were among the passengers, and trusted that the vessel and cargo would be immediately released, as the two nations were not at war.

“Not at war at home, I grant,” replied Philip, “but in these seas, the constant aggressions of your armed ships compel me to retaliate, and I shall therefore make a prize of your vessel and cargo. At the same time, as I have no wish to molest private individuals, I will land all the passengers and crew at St. Mary’s, to which place I am bound in order to obtain refreshments, which now I shall expect will be given cheerfully as your ransom, so as to relieve me from resorting to force.” The prisoners protested strongly against this, but without avail. They then requested leave to ransom the vessel and cargo, offering a larger sum than they both appeared to be worth: but Philip, being short of provisions refused to part with the cargo, and the Spaniards appeared much disappointed at the unsuccessful issue of their request. Finding that nothing would induce him to part with the provisions, they then begged hard to ransom the vessel; and to this, after a consultation with Krantz, Philip gave his assent. The two vessels then made sail, and steered on for the island, then about four leagues distant. Although Philip had not wished to retain the vessel, yet, as they stood in together, her superior speed became so manifest, that he almost repented that he had agreed to ransom her.

At noon, the Dort was anchored in the roads, out of gunshot, and a portion of the passengers allowed to go on shore and make arrangements for the ransom of the remainder, while the prize was hauled alongside, and her cargo hoisted into the ship. Towards evening, three large boats with livestock and vegetables, and the sum agreed upon for the ransom of the xebeque, came alongside; and as soon as one of the boats was cleared, the prisoners were permitted to go on shore in it, with the exception of the Spanish pilot, who, at the suggestion of Krantz, was retained, with a promise of being released directly the Dort was clear of the Spanish seas. A negro slave was also, at his own request, allowed to remain on board, much to the annoyance of the two passengers before mentioned, who claimed the man as their property, and insisted that it was an infraction of the agreement which had been entered into. “You prove my right by your own words,” replied Philip; “I agreed to deliver up all the passengers, but no property; the slave will remain on board.”

Finding their endeavours ineffectual, the Spaniards took a haughty leave. The Dort remained at anchor that night to examine her rigging, and the next morning they discovered that the xebeque had disappeared, having sailed unperceived by them during the night.

As soon as the anchor was up and sail made on the ship, Philip went down to his cabin with Krantz, to consult as to their best course. They were followed by the negro slave, who, shutting the door and looking watchfully round, said that he wished to speak with them. His information was most important, but given rather too late. The vessel which had been ransomed, was a government advice-boat, the fastest sailer the Spaniards possessed. The pretended two passengers were officers of the Spanish navy, and the others were the crew of the vessel. She had been sent down to collect the bullion and take it to Lima, and at the same time to watch for the arrival of the Dutch fleet, intelligence of whose sailing had been some time before received overland. When the Dutch fleet made its appearance, she was to return to Lima with the news, and a Spanish force would be detached against it. They further learnt that some of the supposed casks of flour contained 2,000 gold doubloons each, others bars of silver; this precaution having been taken in case of capture. That the vessel had now sailed for Lima there was no doubt. The reason why the Spaniards were so anxious not to leave the negro on board of the Dort, was, that they knew that he would disclose what he now had done. As for the pilot, he was a man whom the Spaniards knew they could trust, and for that reason they had better be careful of him, or he would lead the Dort into some difficulty.

Philip now repented that he had ransomed the vessel, as he would, in all probability, have to meet and cope with a superior force, before he could make his way clear out of these seas; but there was no help for it. He consulted with Krantz, and it was agreed that they should send for the ship’s company and make them acquainted with these facts; arguing that a knowledge of the valuable capture which they had made, would induce the men to fight well, and stimulate them with the hopes of further success. The ship’s company heard the intelligence with delight, professed themselves ready to meet double their force, and then by the directions of Philip, the casks were brought up on the quarter-deck, opened, and the bullion taken out. The whole, when collected, amounted to about half a million of dollars, as near as they could estimate it, and a distribution of the coined money was made from the capstan the very next day; the bars of metal being reserved until they could be sold, and their value ascertained.

For six weeks Philip worked his vessel up the coast, without falling in with any vessel under sail. Notice had been given by the advice-boat, as it appeared, and every craft large and small, was at anchor under the batteries. They had nearly run up the whole coast, and Philip had determined that the next day he would stretch across to Batavia, when a ship was seen in-shore under a press of sail, running towards Lima. Chase was immediately given, but the water shoaled, and the pilot was asked if they could stand on. He replied in the affirmative, stating that they were now in the shallowest water, and that it was deeper within. The leadsman was ordered into the chains, but at the first heave, the lead-line broke; another was sent for, and the Dort still carried on under a heavy press of sail. Just then, the negro slave went up to Philip, and told him that he had seen the pilot with his knife in the chains, and that he thought he must have cut the lead-line so far through, as to occasion its being carried away, and told Philip not to trust him. The helm was immediately put down; but as the ship went round she touched on the bank, dragged, and was again clear.—“Scoundrel!” cried Philip. “So you cut the lead-line? The negro saw you, and has saved us.”

The Spaniard leaped down from off the gun, and, before he could be prevented, had buried his knife in the heart of the negro. “Maldetto! take that for your pains,” cried he in a fury, grinding his teeth and flourishing his knife.

The negro fell dead. The pilot was seized and disarmed by the crew of the Dort, who were partial to the negro, as it was from his information that they had become rich.

“Let them do with him as they please,” said Krantz to Philip.

“Yes,” replied Philip, “summary justice.”

The crew debated a few minutes, and then lashed the pilot to the negro, and carried him off to the taffrail. There was a heavy plunge, and he disappeared under the eddying waters in the wake of the vessel.

Philip now determined to shape his course for Batavia. He was within a few days’ sail of Lima, and had every reason to believe that vessels had been sent out to intercept him. With a favourable wind he now stood away from the coast, and for three days made a rapid passage. On the fourth, at daylight, two vessels appeared to windward, bearing down upon him. That they were large armed vessels was evident; and the display of Spanish ensigns and pennants, as they rounded to, about a mile to windward, soon showed that they were enemies. They proved to be a frigate of a larger size than the Dort and a corvette of twenty-two guns.

The crew of the Dort showed no alarm at this disparity of force; they clinked their doubloons in their pockets, vowed not to return them to their lawful owners, if they could help it, and flew with alacrity to their guns. The Dutch ensign was displayed in defiance, and the two Spanish vessels again putting their heads towards the Dort, that they might lessen their distance, received some raking shot, which somewhat discomposed them, but they rounded to at a cable’s length, and commenced the action with great spirit, the frigate lying on the beam, and the corvette on the bow of Philip’s vessel. After half an hour’s determined exchange of broadsides, the fore-mast of the Spanish frigate fell, carrying away with it the maintop-mast; and this accident impeded her firing. The Dort immediately made sail, stood on to the corvette, which she crippled with three or four broadsides, then tacked, and fetched alongside of the frigate, whose lee guns were still impeded with the wreck of the foremast. The two vessels now lay head and stern, within ten feet of each other, and the action recommenced to the disadvantage of the Spaniard. In a quarter of an hour the canvass, hanging overside, caught fire from the discharge of the guns, and very soon communicated to the ship, the Dort still pouring in a most destructive broadside, which could not be effectually returned. After every attempt to extinguish the flames, the captain of the Spanish vessel resolved that both vessels should share the same fate. He put his helm up, and running her on to the Dort, grappled with her, and attempted to secure the two vessels together. Then raged the conflict; the Spaniards attempting to pass their grappling-chains so as to prevent the escape of their enemy, and the Dutch endeavouring to frustrate their attempt. The chains and sides of hot vessels were crowded with men fighting desperately; those struck down falling between the two vessels, which the wreck of the foremast still prevented from coming into actual collision. During this conflict, Philip and Krantz were not idle. By squaring the after-yards, and putting all sail on forward they contrived that the Dort should pay off before the wind with her antagonist, and by this manoeuvre they cleared themselves of the smoke which so incommoded them; and having good way on the two vessels, they then rounded to so as to get on the other tack, and bring the Spaniard to leeward. This gave them a manifest advantage and soon terminated the conflict. The smoke and flames were beat back on the Spanish vessel—the fire which had communicated to the Dort was extinguished—the Spaniards were no longer able to prosecute their endeavours to fasten the two vessels together, and retreated to within the bulwarks of their own vessel; and after great exertions, the Dort was disengaged, and forged ahead of her opponent, who was soon enveloped in a sheet of flame. The corvette remained a few cables’ length to windward, occasionally firing a gun. Philip poured in a broadside, and she hauled down her colours. The action might now be considered at an end, and the object was to save the crew of the burning frigate. The boats of the Dort were hoisted out, but only two of them would swim. One of them was immediately despatched to the corvette, with orders for her to send all her boats to the assistance of the frigate, which was done, and the major part of the surviving crew were saved. For two hours the guns of the frigate, as they were heated by the flames, discharged themselves; and then, the fire having communicated to the magazine she blew up, and the remainder of her hull sank slowly and disappeared. Among the prisoners, in the uniform of the Spanish service, Philip perceived the two pretended passengers; this proving the correctness of the negro’s statement. The two men-of-war had been sent out of Lima on purpose to intercept him, anticipating, with such a preponderating force, an easy victory. After some consultation with Krantz, Philip agreed, that as the corvette was in such a crippled state, and the nations were not actually at war, it would be advisable to release her with all the prisoners. This was done, and the Dort again made sail for Batavia, and anchored in the roads three weeks after the combat had taken the place. He found the remainder of the fleet, which had been despatched before them, and had arrived there some weeks, had taken in their cargoes, and were ready to sail for Holland. Philip wrote his despatches in which he communicated to the Directors the events of the voyage; and then went on shore, to reside at the house of the merchant who had formerly received him, until the Dort could be freighted for her voyage home.

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