Under the Chilian Flag A Tale of War between Chili and Peru
By Harry Collingwood There was a state of war between Chili and Peru in the 1870s. It was all to do with a desert area that lay between Chili, Peru and Bolivia. At first this desert was not particularly claimed by any of these countries, but when it was discovered that it held rich reserves of nitrates, the three of them fell out.
Two young Englishmen, with sea-going experience, were aboard a British vessel trading in nitrates and other ores. The captain was a very disagreeable character, and they determined to leave him, and sign up with the Chilian authorities for employment in the Chilian Navy, which was short of officers. They were taken on, and the rest of the book details some of the adventures they had, and the trials and tribulations they endured.
This is a very exciting and enjoyable book. There are a few Spanish words, and of course the ships have Spanish names, but you soon get used to that. I fully recommend it, especially if you can make it into an audiobook. NH. UNDER THE CHILIAN FLAG A TALE OF WAR BETWEEN CHILI AND PERU
BY HARRY COLLINGWOOD
WHAT HAPPENED ON THE PERICLES.
"You, Thompson, go down and send the second mate up to me. Tell him to leave whatever he is doing and to come up here at once. I want to speak to him," growled Captain Fisher of the steamer Pericles, turning, with a menacing expression, to the grizzled old quartermaster who stood beside him on the bridge.
Thompson, as though only too glad of an excuse to leave the neighbourhood of his skipper, grunted out an assent, and, swinging round on his heel, shambled away down the ladder leading from the bridge to the spar-deck, and departed on his errand.
The Pericles was an iron single-screw steamer of two thousand tons or thereabout. She was employed in the carriage of nitrates, silver ore, hides, etcetera, between Chilian ports and Liverpool. She was owned by a company, which also possessed two similar vessels employed in the same trade. Captain Fisher, her skipper, had a considerable number of shares in this company, a circumstance which accounted in no small measure for the fact of his being the skipper of the Pericles; for a man less fit to have the control of other men it would have been exceedingly difficult to find.
Fisher was a man of enormous stature and splendid physique, but his features, which would otherwise have been considered handsome, were marred by a ferocious expression, due to his chronic condition of ill- humour. He was constantly "hazing" his men, and was never at a loss for an excuse for irritating them in every possible way. In this pleasing occupation he was ably seconded by his first mate, an American, named Silas Hoover. Between the pair of them they had contrived, during the course of the several voyages which they had performed together, to render their men thoroughly dissatisfied almost to the verge of mutiny; and there is little doubt that long before this the crew would have given open and forcible expression to their feelings had it not been for the efforts of the second mate, a young fellow of eighteen years of age, named James Douglas. This was the individual for whom Fisher had just sent. He had conceived a most virulent hatred for him, in consequence, probably, of the fact that Douglas was the only officer in the ship for whom the men would work willingly and for whom they showed any real respect. The lad had been left an orphan at an early age, and as he showed even from he first a predilection for a seafaring life, he had been sent by his uncle at the age of fourteen as an apprentice on board a sailing ship, and during the four following years he had gradually worked his way upward until now he was second mate of the Pericles.
Up to the time when he joined that ship he had had no cause to regret his choice of a profession; but the six or seven months which he had spent under Fisher had proved so thoroughly unpleasant that he had made up his mind he would leave the ship at the first port at which she called. This resolve was echoed by his own particular chum, Terence O'Meara, third engineer of the same ship, who had likewise found life on board the Pericles anything but to his liking. The steamer was, at the time when this story opens, on her way to Valparaiso, the principal seaport of Chili; and, as she was now in the very centre of the South Atlantic, Douglas hoped to escape from his tormentor in about a month's time. As a matter of fact, Douglas and his friend were just talking the matter over when the grizzled old quartermaster popped his head into Douglas's cabin with the remark, "Skipper wants to see you, sir, on the bridge. He told me particularly to say that he wanted you to come immediately; and he do seem to be in a rare bad mood this morning, so I shouldn't keep him waiting, sir, if I were you."
"All right, Thompson, all right," answered Douglas. "I'll be there in a moment." Then, turning to Terry O'Meara, he remarked: "I wonder what fault he will have to find this morning. I'll wager that he only wants to see me in order to blow me up about something, confound him! Well, Terry, old boy, I'll see you again when you come off duty in the evening. Trot along to my cabin at about ten o'clock, as usual. Good- bye for the time being."
With a wave of his hand, Douglas slipped out of the cabin and hurried along the alleyway, anxious to avoid keeping Fisher waiting any longer than was absolutely necessary. In a few seconds he reached the foot of the bridge ladder, and, running quickly up it, found the captain impatiently pacing up and down, evidently in the very worst of bad tempers.
"You wish to see me, sir," said Douglas respectfully.
The skipper glared at him for a moment and then burst out with, "Yes, you lazy young scoundrel, I do; and a precious long time you've been coming, too. I suppose you thought that, being off duty, you could skulk in your cabin and do nothing. I expect you were hatching some mischief with that other bright spark, your friend O'Meara. But let me tell you, sir, I will have no idlers on board my ship. Just remember that; and don't let me see you talking quite so much to that young scamp O'Meara. But that's not what I wanted to see you about. Why have you not carried out my instructions as to that paint-work which I told you to see about? I gave you my orders three days ago, and there is no sign as yet of the work being commenced. What do you mean by such conduct, sir? What possible excuse can you have for not—"
"Pardon me, sir," interrupted Douglas. "I fear you are making a mistake, or that you have been misinformed. I did put the paint-work in hand directly you told me; and the work was nearly completed when we ran into that heavy sea yesterday. You know that we shipped it solid over our bows, and the paint being still wet was, of course, nearly all washed off. I set the men to work, however, to clean things up again, and they have restarted the job this morning. You can see them at work now."
"Yes, of course I can," roared Fisher; "and I wanted to know why you had not seen fit to start the job until just now. However, you have given me an excuse, and I suppose I must accept it; but if you had carried out my orders with a little more promptitude the paint would have been dry before we ran into that breeze. You can go now, sir, and take care that I do not have cause to reprimand you again. I am getting sick of your laziness, incapacity, and insubordination."
Douglas turned on his heel and left the skipper without any more ado, but his cheeks burned with indignation at the injustice of it all. He had carried out his orders to the letter directly they had been given him, and it was certainly not his fault that the work had to be done over again. Neither was he lazy nor insubordinate; while, far from being incapable, he had earned the good-will of every skipper with whom he had sailed, with the solitary exception of this one. He returned to his cabin and lay down to think things over, with the result that he went on duty a few hours later more than ever resolved to make this his last voyage under Captain Fisher. True, he would be compelled to desert and would consequently lose his certificate, and probably have some difficulty in getting another ship; but even that would be better than the life he was living at present, which, he felt, was not fit for a dog.
The days slipped slowly away, however, in spite of all the discomfort and annoyance; and Douglas at length began to look upon his quarrels with the skipper as unavoidable, and to treat them as a matter of course. The Pericles rounded Cape Horn, steamed up the Chilian coast, and on January 7, 1879, dropped her anchor in Valparaiso harbour. The long and dreary voyage was at an end at last! Douglas and Terry O'Meara had long before this completed all their plans for an early escape; and the two lads were now standing just by the break of the poop, looking across the blue water towards the fair city, aptly named the "Valley of Paradise."
This was not the first time that the boys had been there, and both knew the place fairly well; but this morning they seemed to notice some indefinable change in the appearance of the city, and tried to discover in what it consisted.
Presently Douglas started up with the remark: "I know what it is, Terry, old boy; there's some tremendous excitement or other ashore there. If you will take a squint through this glass you will see that the shops are all shut, and that a good many of the streets are barricaded. Up there at the back of the town there is a body of Chilian soldiers busily throwing up earthworks or constructing a fort of some kind. Take my word for it, lad, there's a revolution in progress there, or something akin to it. What luck, Terry! We shall be able to get right into the thick of it; and I shall be much mistaken if we don't find plenty of employment ready for us when we get ashore. But what on earth's all this? This looks as though something more serious than a mere revolution were in progress!"
Douglas's exclamation of astonishment had been drawn from him by the sight of a squadron of warships which had just put in their appearance round the point, and which were slowly steaming in column of line ahead, and were evidently making their way toward the warship anchorage in the roads. There were five of them altogether, two large and three small ships, all flying the Chilian ensign. By means of the glass the lads made out that the first two craft were the Almirante Cochrane and the Blanco Encalada, both battleships. Then came the corvettes O'Higgins and Chacabuco; and, lastly, the sloop Esmeralda. Presently they all slowed up and anchored; and as they did so there came the sound of tumultuous cheering from the city, to which the ships replied by dipping their ensigns.
"As you say, Jim, this is no revolution," answered Terry. "War has probably broken out between Chili and some other country—I wonder which. Peru, I expect. And it seems to me, my lad, that we have just arrived in the very nick of time. Here is the chance of our lives, and we shall be foolish if we don't make the most of it."
"What do you mean?" replied Jim; "I don't quite follow—"
"Why, simply this," answered Terry. "We want to get away from this steamer, don't we? And in the usual course of events we might have some difficulty in finding another; but here is our opportunity ready made for us. Chili is apparently at war with some other country; and the thing for us to do is to get ashore and enlist in the Chilian navy. They are sure to want all the men they can lay hands on. We have had plenty of experience; and you may be certain that no awkward questions will be asked. They will accept us, and be more than glad to get us; thus, you see, we shall have employment immediately, instead of having to wait, perhaps, several months for it. We are indeed in luck's way! The only question is, How are we to get ashore? for I don't suppose the 'old man' will grant any leave, under the circumstances. We will try him first, however, and if he refuses we shall have to think of some other means of getting away from the ship. Let us go to your cabin and talk the matter over; this is a business which we had better decide as soon as possible."
He slipped his arm through Douglas's and the pair went off to the latter's cabin, where they spent the whole afternoon in making plans, with the result that, by the evening, they had perfected all their arrangements. They applied to the captain for leave in the usual way, but, as they had anticipated, it was refused, so they had to look about for some means of getting away from the ship without being observed, and they managed it very simply, thus.
The next morning a boat laden with fruit came out to the Pericles, in the hope that her crew would purchase some, as the ship had been ordered by the authorities to remain at her moorings until further notice, in consequence of the wharfage being required for military purposes. Jim and Terry thereupon got into conversation with the man in charge of the boat, and made arrangements with him to come off that same night in a small skiff and take them ashore.
It required both time and money to induce the fellow to fall in with the scheme, but he at last consented; and he proved as good as his word, for at nine o'clock that evening he quietly dropped alongside, gave the pre- arranged signal, and a few minutes later both the young men, with all their belongings, were being pulled ashore to seek their fortune in a new land and under another flag. They little knew, when they stepped ashore at the Custom House quay, what adventures were in store for them, what trials they would be called upon to undergo, what perils they would pass through; but even if they could have foreseen them all it is very doubtful whether they would have hesitated. They paid the man, and, chartering a conveyance, drove away to the nearest hotel, where they put up for the remainder of the night, fully determined that the following morning should see their project put into execution, and that the evening should find them duly enrolled as officers in the Chilian navy.
JIM ENTERS THE CHILIAN NAVY.
Although the two lads went to bed early, intending to get a good night's rest so that they might be up and doing betimes the next morning, they soon found that sleep was well-nigh out of the question, by reason of the uproar that never ceased the whole night through. The mercurial Chilians were wrought up to a pitch of the highest excitement and enthusiasm, and bands of them persisted in marching through the streets, shouting vivas at the top of their voices and singing war-songs. It appeared that the inhabitants of Valparaiso had been dreading an attack on that city by the Peruvian fleet, although war had not as yet been actually declared; and the activity which Terry and Jim had observed on the heights behind the city was due to the fact that the soldiers and citizens had been busily engaged in throwing up earthworks and other defences in order to repel the expected attack. But the timely arrival of part of the Chilian fleet, under Admiral Rebolledo Williams, had put an end to their anxiety, and they were now testifying to the relief they felt in the manner usually adopted by Southern nations.
After lying in bed for some two or three hours, endeavouring unsuccessfully to get to sleep, the two lads rose and looked out of their window at the scenes that were being enacted in the streets below them, and when they had been thus employed for a quarter of an hour they no longer felt any desire for sleep. Huge bonfires had been lighted wherever there was room to place them, and processions of men and women marched to and fro, carrying torches, and singing their national songs with astonishing verve and enthusiasm. Groups of people collected round the bonfires, and danced until the early hours of the morning, when they gradually broke up and dispersed to their homes. It was broad daylight before the last of the revellers had disappeared; and the two lads, recognising the futility of now attempting to secure any repose, dressed themselves and went out on a tour through the city which should occupy them until the time arrived for the public offices to open, when they would be able to set about their business.
The two lads had not proceeded very far on their way when they perceived, some distance ahead of them, a small crowd of people clustering round a building, and they crossed the road to see what the disturbance was about. They soon perceived that the building was a gunsmith's shop, and that the excitement was due to the fact that the people outside were bent on securing arms and ammunition for themselves, as a protection against the marauders who were wont to infest the town upon the slightest excuse, and who were now, under cover of the excitement caused by the impending war, committing all sorts of atrocities, which the authorities were very much too busy with other matters to put a stop to.
"Look here, Douglas," exclaimed Terry, clutching his companion's sleeve, "it seems to me that we ought to follow the example of these people. Everybody in this place appears to go about armed, and we had better do the same, in case we should happen to get into some sort of trouble. It shows what a state the city must be in, when the only place open the whole night through happens to be a gun-shop! How much money did you bring out with you, Jim? Enough to purchase a couple of revolvers and some ammunition?"
Douglas hurriedly searched his pockets, and the two lads found that their joint possessions amounted to about fifty pesos (they had exchanged their English money at the hotel for Chilian currency). Acting upon Terry's advice, Jim now stepped into the shop and purchased two revolvers and a packet of ammunition for them, paying about forty pesos of their money for the weapons. Once outside the shop, the two lads slipped round a corner, loaded the pistols, and slipped them into their hip-pockets. Having done this, they started out once more on their tour of exploration, feeling much more secure than they had previously done.
It was by this time about seven o'clock in the morning; and as the Government Offices would not be open until nine or ten o'clock they had still fully two hours to fill up before they could present themselves for enlistment in the Chilian service. Therefore, feeling somewhat hungry, they strolled up and down the streets, on the look-out for some cafe or eating-house where they might refresh the inner man; and, after about a quarter of an hour's search, they found a place in a side-street which promised to afford what they required. As they were about to enter, Douglas seized his friend's arm and remarked—
"I say, Terry, I don't know how it strikes you, but this looks to me to be a very curious sort of place, and the surroundings do not appear precisely what you might call select. Don't you think we had better go on a little farther and see whether we cannot find a more respectable- looking place?"
Terry cast his eyes over the cafe, and up and down the street in which it was situated. Unlike the rest of the town, everything in this district seemed to be comparatively quiet, and there were very few people about, so he shook off his companion's restraining hand and exclaimed—
"Oh, I don't know, Jim; I think this place looks right enough, and it is quiet, and that is more than you can say for the other parts of the town. I think we shall be quite safe in risking it; let us go inside and see what the proprietor can give us to eat, for, to tell you the truth, I am most ravenously hungry."
"All right," replied Douglas; "if you don't mind, I am sure I don't; we ought to be able to take care of ourselves, with the little toys which we have in our pockets. Come on, then; let's go inside."
The two lads thereupon walked in through the door, and immediately found themselves in a large room which was filled with little marble-topped tables, each made to accommodate four persons, while a high counter, on which were coffee-urns, trays of cakes, flasks of spirits, etcetera, ran down the whole length of the apartment. Early as was the hour, the place was very far from being empty; indeed, the lads found, upon looking round, that nearly every table was occupied, with the exception of one nearly in the middle of the room, and a second standing in a somewhat dark corner, close to a door which apparently communicated with the back premises.
"The place seems pretty full, doesn't it, Terry?" queried Jim, taking a comprehensive look round. "I should scarcely have expected that there would have been so many folk about at such an early hour. These people must have been up all night. Shall we take that table over in the corner, there? It is out of the way, and I don't feel very much inclined to take the one in the middle of the room, to be stared at by everybody in the place. What do you propose to have for breakfast? There doesn't seem to be a very wide selection, but perhaps they may be able to supply us with something eatable."
"Well," answered O'Meara, "for myself, I should like some fried eggs, if we could get them. I see they have coffee on tap in these big urns yonder. What say you?"
Douglas agreed that he too could relish a few eggs; and the two lads stepped up to the counter and inquired in their best Spanish, which they had picked up during the course of frequent visits to South American ports, whether they could be supplied with the required comestibles.
To their astonishment, the proprietor did not at once reply, but, after staring hard at them for a few seconds, slipped quickly off into the back part of the shop, where they heard him speaking volubly in Spanish to some unseen person or persons. The lads could not, at that distance, understand all that he said, but Jim fancied that he caught the words espias and atacar. He naturally did not connect them in any way with his friend or himself, however; and when the proprietor returned in a minute or two, Jim renewed his request. This time the fellow was all smiles and bows, and he assured the senores that their order would be most promptly attended to. The boys therefore seated themselves at the table which they had selected, and waited for the food to be brought to them, examining meanwhile the motley collection of people in the building. There seemed to be men present of every shade of colour under the sun, from the pink-skinned representative of some northern country, down to the blackest negro; and their costumes were as varied as they were picturesque. But what gave the lads a momentary qualm of uneasiness was the fact that every person in the place had suddenly become very quiet, whereas, when the boys entered, the cafe fairly hummed with conversation; and they also noticed that nearly every pair of eyes was directed toward themselves, while the expressions on the men's faces were, to put it very mildly, decidedly hostile.
Presently Douglas remarked to his chum: "I say, Terry, old boy, it appears almost as though these fellows did not quite approve of our presence here; I wonder what's wrong? The Chilians have always been very friendly disposed toward us British, so I suppose it is this anticipated war which has upset their equilibrium a bit. All the same, I wish the landlord would bring along our meal, so that we might finish it and get out; I don't like the look of things here at all."
"Neither do I," replied Terry; "but if there should be a row, remember that we must not get separated, whatever we do; and don't use your pistol until you are absolutely compelled to do so. Should you, however, be obliged to shoot, you must shoot to kill; for when once we open fire we shall have all our work cut out to get away alive. Ah, here comes our breakfast at last; so let us get on with it as quickly as possible, and take no notice of the menacing looks of this crowd. If they see that we don't appear to notice anything wrong they may quiet down a bit."
"Right you are," replied Douglas; and he began his meal with a very excellent appetite despite the uncongenial surroundings. The two boys carried out their programme of not appearing to notice the forbidding glances which everywhere met them whenever they raised their eyes from their plates; but presently their ears caught the sound of angry whispers, then low mutterings, until in a few minutes furious voices plainly directed against themselves were heard from every corner of the room. One man jumped upon a chair and began to harangue the crowd, speaking in some South American patois which the boys did not understand, and pointing toward them with angry gestures, while several other rough-looking characters had risen to their feet and were gradually edging down toward the corner where Jim and Terry were seated.
"Jim," exclaimed Terry, suddenly glancing up, "there is no doubt that these unwashed scoundrels very strongly object to our presence here, for some reason or other; I don't much like the idea of running away, but since we are outnumbered by about ten to one I really think that discretion will prove the better part of valour in the present case. Let us pay our score at once, and get out—if we can," he added under his breath.
The lads rose to their feet and walked, as unconcernedly as they could, toward the counter, upon which Terry rapped with a coin, to attract the landlord's attention. But that gentleman had, for some reason or other, vanished, and, rap as they might, no one put in an appearance; while all the time the crowd continued steadily to close in on them, with angry looks and threatening gestures.
"Come away, Terry," whispered Douglas; "we must not stand on ceremony any longer. We shall have to make a bolt for it, or we shall not get out at all; put your pistol in a side-pocket, so that you can get at it easily, and then come along."
Under cover of one of the tables the lads shifted their revolvers from one pocket to the other, and then began to walk toward the door; but no sooner had they started than, with a hoarse growl of rage, a score of men, drawing daggers and knives from various portions of their clothing, dashed at the boys, upsetting chairs and tables as they came, and evidently bent upon taking their lives, if possible.
As a matter of fact it was only the obstructive presence of the numerous tables and chairs that saved the two lads from that first wild rush. With all the agility of youth they sprang back to the corner where they had taken their meal, put their backs against the wall for safety's sake, and drawing their pistols, presented them at the crowd of furious men, Terry inquiring, at the same time, in the best Spanish he could muster, the meaning of this murderous assault.
Seeing the muzzles of the deadly revolvers pointed at them, their assailants paused for a few seconds, while one of the men—a gigantic Chilian with a blanket poncho over his shoulders—took it upon himself to answer the lad's inquiry.
"Why are we going to kill you, you dogs?" he roared. "Why?—because you are a brace of Peruvian spies. Caramba! we know very well why you have come here; but neither of you shall leave this place alive. We have a quick way with people of your stamp in this country."
"But," exclaimed Douglas, at the top of his voice, "you are all making a mistake; we are no Peruvian spies, but a couple of British sailors, who have left our ship, the Pericles, in order to enlist in the Chilian navy, and fight against the Peruvians, not for them. We are merely waiting for the offices to open, in order to proceed there and give in our names as candidates for service."
The only reply to this statement was a volley of oaths and mocking laughter, interspersed with the words "liar," "traitors," and "Kill the Inca dogs"; while, recovering from their momentary alarm at the sight of the pistols, the crowd again began to surge forward toward the two lads. The situation was becoming exceedingly critical; therefore, again raising his revolver, Douglas pointed it straight at the foremost man and shouted, "One step farther and I fire!"
The fellow hesitated for the fraction of a second, then his hand shot forward swiftly as a flash of lightning, and the knife which it had held, missing Jim's ear by a hair's-breadth, stuck quivering in the panelling behind him.
With a growl of rage Douglas pulled the trigger of his pistol, firing twice in quick succession, while, close beside him, Terry's revolver also spoke out, and so close were their foremost assailants that every bullet took effect, four men plunging heavily forward to the ground, almost within arm's length of the two boys. This circumstance, so far from intimidating the Chilians, seemed but to stimulate their rage, and knives began to flash through the air like so many silver flying-fish, thrown, too, with such force that had one of them but hit its mark it would have closed the recipient's earthly career on the spot.
"By the Lord Harry!" ejaculated Terry, firing rapidly into the thick of the crowd, "this is getting rather too warm to be pleasant; we shall have fired away all the cartridges in our pistols presently, and they will certainly give us no time to reload. What is to be our next move, Jim?"
Douglas, however, had already been glancing hastily about him, in the endeavour to discover some pathway of escape, and, even as Terry spoke, his eyes lighted upon the door close to which they had been sitting while they were taking their breakfast.
"Edge along toward the right a little, Terry," he exclaimed; "our only hope of escape is through that door. God grant that it may not be locked!"
Meanwhile O'Meara, availing himself of a momentary pause on the part of their assailants, had contrived to insert a few fresh cartridges in his pistol, and, firing several more shots right into the "brown," began to edge his way along to the door, in which manoeuvre he was quickly followed by Douglas. Then, shooting out his left hand behind him, he felt for the knob, and turned it, knowing that their lives depended upon whether it was fastened or otherwise. To his inexpressible relief, the handle turned, and the door opened under his touch, while, luckily for the two lads, it opened away from instead of toward them.
Emptying the remaining barrels of their revolvers, the boys at once slipped through, and pushed the door close behind them, just as a further volley of knives came hurtling through the air, to stick quivering in the panelling, while, with a hoarse roar of rage, the Chilians surged forward bent on preventing the escape of the supposed spies. But by the greatest good luck there happened to be a lock and a couple of bolts on the farther side of the door, and these the two lads slipped home in a trice, interposing between themselves and their bloodthirsty foes a barrier which they hoped would gain them a few minutes' grace.
Once on the right side of the door, they hurriedly reloaded their pistols, and looked round for an exit from the apartment, while the air resounded with the sound of the blows which thundered upon the frail woodwork behind them. Clearly the door would not stand more than a minute or so, and it was necessary to hasten if they were to escape after all. But, look as they might, there seemed to be no means of egress, until Terry suddenly shouted, "That door will be down in a second, Jim. We must get behind this tier of casks; they will afford us a certain amount of shelter, at any rate."
In a moment the boys had slipped behind the stack of barrels, and there, right in front of them, was the door for which they had been searching.
"Come along, Terry," exclaimed Douglas; "this way for your life!" And like a flash they darted through the door, finding themselves in a dimly lighted passage, which looked as though it led into the back premises of the cafe. Just as they entered the passage they heard a crashing and splintering of wood, followed by shouts of rage, and they knew that the frail barrier between themselves and their pursuers was destroyed.
Down the passage they ran at top speed, round a sharp corner at the bottom, and then emerged into a large patio or courtyard. A rapid glance round revealed no exit from the place; and already they could hear their enemies rushing down the passage behind them.
"Quick! Quick!" whispered Jim, "we must hide somewhere or we are lost," And he cast his eyes round for some place which would suit their purpose.
"This way!" he cried to his companion, dashing across the court towards a large corn-bin. "This is our only chance!"
Like a flash the two lads raised the lid, clambered inside, and let the covering down just as the first Chilian emerged into the patio. They heard their pursuers separate and search the whole yard, calling to one another at intervals to inquire whether anything had been heard or seen of the fugitives; but, for some reason or other, it seemed to occur to none of them to glance inside the corn-bin; the reason probably being that it stood before them so prominently that they never dreamed that any one could have thought of hiding there.
Suddenly there was a shout from the far corner of the patio, and a voice cried, "This way, children! I have found the door through which the spies have fled!"
There was a quick trampling of feet, more savage cries, and then silence. The Chilians had evidently gone off on a false scent; and now, if ever, was the moment for Jim and Terry to effect their escape. Listening intently for a few seconds, Douglas raised the lid of their hiding-place an inch or so and peered out through the opening thus formed. There was no one in sight, but they could hear the savage shouts of the Chilians in the distance as they searched hither and thither for their prey.
"Now, Terry," whispered Jim, "now is our time. Out you get quickly, my hearty; we must make a rush for the passage, through it into the shop, and so out into the street; it is our only hope. Are you quite ready? Yes? Then here goes!" And flinging back the cover, the two friends clambered out, rushed across the patio, up the passage, through the wrecked door, and into the shop. To their great relief, the place was absolutely empty. After a short halt, therefore, to rearrange and brush their clothing, which had become somewhat disordered, they strolled casually out of the cafe into the street.
By this time there were many more people about, and mingling with the throng the two boys soon lost sight of the cafe, and with rapid steps made the best of their way down toward the harbour, near which were situated the Government Offices. These were now open, and entering one which bore a plate with the words "Oficina por empleo en la marina" inscribed thereon, they found themselves in the presence of Senor Don Guzman Cartador, the Director of the Navy, to whom they made known their desire to enter the Chilian service. This gentleman listened courteously to them, examined them shortly upon their capabilities, and finally gave them a letter of introduction to Admiral Rebolledo Williams, of the battleship Blanco Encalada, to whom he recommended them to apply, saying at the same time that he had little doubt they would be successful in obtaining commissions, as Admiral Williams was very short of efficient officers just then.
Armed with this official's introduction the two lads presented themselves aboard the warship about mid-day, and were fortunate enough to find Admiral Williams not only disengaged, but also in a particularly good humour. He at once granted them an interview; asked them several questions, as the Naval Director had done; and finally accepted their services, much to the gratification of the two lads. He gave Douglas a commission as second lieutenant on board the flagship, and O'Meara a post as second engineer aboard the same vessel. He then sent them ashore to have their commissions signed by Captain Morales, and to procure the necessary uniforms and outfit, and instructed them to report themselves on board the Blanco Encalada on the 7th of February, since he, the Admiral, expected orders to sail on or about that date.
The boys left Senor Williams with many expressions of gratitude, and went ashore to provide themselves with uniform and the necessary kit, an order for the supply of which had been given them by Williams himself. The tailor promised to have everything ready by the 6th, and for a wonder he was as good as his word. On the morning of the 7th, therefore, the two lads in full uniform, and with their belongings in the boat with them, were rowed off to the Blanco Encalada, and by mid- day they found themselves duly installed as officers in the Chilian service.
THE OCCUPATION OF ANTOFAGASTA.
The month of February in the latitude of Valparaiso corresponds approximately to the month of August in the northern hemisphere, and it was a beautiful, sunny, and very hot morning when, on the 7th of that month, the Chilian fleet, consisting of the Blanco Encalada flagship, the Almirante Cochrane battleship, the corvettes O'Higgins and Chacabuco, with the sloop Esmeralda, steamed out of harbour, on its way to Antofagasta, the principal seaport of Bolivia.
It may not be amiss to state here briefly the causes of the war that was then impending between the allied republics of Bolivia and Peru and the republic of Chili.
The desert of Atacama, on the borders of Chili and Bolivia, had been for many years without an acknowledged owner. Chili claimed it, so also did Bolivia; but it was not considered by either claimant to be of much importance, and it was certainly not regarded as worth fighting for, until it was discovered that it was rich in nitrates and other mineral wealth. In 1866 the two republics, being allied in war against Spain, fixed by treaty the 24th parallel of south latitude as the future boundary between them; and Bolivia agreed that Chilian citizens who were already landowners in the region between 23 deg. and 24 deg. south should be allowed to mine and to export the produce without tax or other hindrance. To facilitate this arrangement, Chili was permitted to maintain a representative in the Custom House at Antofagasta. The nitrate business of those days was chiefly in the hands of a Company, the heads of which were the British house of Gibbs, a Chilian named Edwards, and the Chilian Government. On February 23, 1878, Bolivia saw fit to impose a tax of 10 centavos (41/2 pence) per quintal (152 pounds) on all nitrates. Chili remonstrated; but Bolivia insisted, and declared, in addition, that the tax was meant to be retrospective, and that unless all dues were paid before February 14, 1879, the nitrates in the hands of the exporters would be seized and sold by auction. As the day which had been fixed for the seizure drew near, a Chilian squadron, under Rear-Admiral Rebolledo Williams, was got ready for the purpose of seizing Antofagasta itself. It was this fleet which, on the morning of February 7, 1879, steamed out from Valparaiso, with Jim and Terry, as Chilian officers, on board the Blanco Encalada, the flagship of the squadron.
As the fleet weighed anchor and stood out to sea the bells pealed from every steeple in the town, while the guns in the hastily improvised fortifications above the town thundered out a farewell salute to the ships which were going to vindicate the honour of Chili, and the action of which was tantamount to a declaration of war. As each warship rounded the point she returned the salute with all her starboard broadside guns, while the ensigns at the mizzen-gaff were dipped thrice in jubilant farewell.
Although war had not as yet actually been declared against Peru, the Chilian Government had very strong reason to suspect the existence of a secret treaty between that country and Bolivia; and as Peru was the possessor of a navy of considerable strength it behoved Admiral Williams to be exceedingly careful that he did not run into any ambush of Peruvian ships; a very sharp look-out was therefore kept incessantly during the six days which the fleet took to steam from Valparaiso to Antofagasta. There was no Bolivian navy, if we except a few steam- launches and old spar-torpedo-boats; there was nothing, therefore, to fear in that direction; but, as the Chilians had not as yet had time to advance their forces overland up the coast, a contingent of five hundred regulars was put on board the ships to effect the occupation of Antofagasta; two hundred and fifty being put on board at Valparaiso, while Admiral Williams had been instructed to call in at Caldera Bay, in order to embark the remainder.
Steaming at the rate of the slowest ship in his squadron—the sloop Esmeralda, which was incapable of a speed of more than four or five knots—the Admiral arrived in Caldera Bay on the evening of the 9th of February; and as it was too late to think of embarking the troops that night, he anchored his ships, in column of line ahead, at a distance of about half a mile from the shore, and on a course which stretched across the bay from the signal station to the little village of Calderillo.
Nothing had thus far been seen of the Peruvian squadron, and as Bolivia had, as stated above, no navy worthy of the name, and the fleet was, moreover, still in Chilian waters, Admiral Williams did not consider it necessary to establish a patrol of picket-boats on watch round the ships, as he certainly would have done had he been lying before a hostile port. It was this oversight, coupled with the fact that Williams regarded the Bolivian sea strength as beneath his notice, that very nearly led to a frightful disaster for the Chilians at the very outset of the war.
On this particular night Douglas was, as it happened, the officer of the watch, and Terry, who was off duty, was sharing the vigil with his friend, walking to and fro upon the Blanco Encalada's quarter-deck and listening to the sounds which were wafted across the water both from the town of Caldera and from the neighbouring ships, all of which were brilliantly lighted up. There was a sailor's "sing-song" in progress aboard the corvette Chacabuco, the second ship away from the Blanco Encalada, and both lads listened with amusement to the rollicking sounds which proceeded from that direction. There was no moon, but the sky was spangled with brilliant stars, which shed a faint, silvery lustre over the sea and the distant summits of the Andes, enwrapping everything in a soft luminous haze which could scarcely be dignified with the name of light.
The two lads paced to and fro, eagerly longing for the time when Douglas should be relieved from duty, for both were very tired; but Terry did not feel inclined to leave his friend to continue his watch by himself. As the time passed on, the lights of the squadron disappeared, one by one, until at length the only lights which showed were the riding lights, two of which were suspended on every ship, one at the bow and one at the stern. The sounds on board the ships had died away completely, and it was only occasionally that the shouts of a party of revellers were heard from the shore.
It was shortly after one o'clock in the morning when Terry, who was still keeping his friend company, walked to the ship's rail and stood there in a listening attitude; then he raised his voice slightly and called Douglas to his side.
"Listen carefully for a moment, old fellow," he said; "cannot you hear something away out there on our port bow?"
Jim listened, and presently his strained senses caught a faint sound like the throbbing of a tiny engine somewhere away in the darkness.
"Yes," he whispered, "I certainly can hear something. To me it sounds as though there is a small steam-launch somewhere out there; but I certainly cannot see anything of her. What can a launch possibly be doing out there, at this time of the morning?"
"Well," replied his chum, "if this were not a Chilian port I should be inclined to suspect something in the nature of a night-attack; but under the circumstances I don't quite see from what quarter such an attack could come. The Peruvian fleet can hardly have come upon us unawares, for we should surely have seen some sign of them; they would hardly steam without showing any lights at all. Besides, this sound—which is certainly nearing us, by the way—seems to me more like— Hallo! did you see that, Douglas? By Jove, it strikes me that there is something more in this than meets the eye."
"Yes," answered Jim, "I distinctly caught sight of a flicker of flame. It appeared to me as though somebody had struck a match for some purpose or other, and had hurriedly extinguished it. I wonder what is happening, away over there. There is certainly something going on that is not quite as it should be, I am convinced."
During this brief interchange of remarks the noise of the churning little propeller had been drawing nearer; and, after listening intently for a few seconds longer, Douglas whispered hurriedly to his chum, "Slip below quickly, Terry, and bring me up my night-glass; I believe there is something radically wrong about this business."
In a moment O'Meara was back on deck, bearing the telescope, which Douglas hastily snatched from him and brought to bear on the spot from whence the sound proceeded. He had been glancing through it for only about half a minute when he turned excitedly to Terry and gasped out, "Rouse the ship, man—and quickly, too; there is a launch approaching, and she carries a spar-torpedo; she is making straight for us, and evidently means to torpedo the flagship!"
Like a flash Terry disappeared to rouse the crew, while Douglas continued to watch the approach of the launch, in a perfect agony of apprehension. The little craft was very close indeed now, and, steaming at the rate of some nine knots, she would be alongside the Blanco Encalada in a couple of minutes; and once alongside the battleship, nothing could save the latter from destruction.
But anxiety lent wings to Terry's feet, and in a few seconds the men made their appearance on deck, in all stages of undress, for they fully appreciated the dangers of the situation and had not waited to clothe themselves. Their officers also had dashed up from below, and hurried words of command flew from one quarter of the ship to another. Admiral Williams himself rushed up from below, upon the alarm being given, and he now instructed the ship's bugler to sound the alarm, and to sound it with all his strength, while at the same time a blank charge was fired as a warning to the other ships to be on the alert. Immediately afterward a bugle was heard shrilling from the Almirante Cochrane, and this was taken up by every ship in the squadron, for the whole fleet was now thoroughly alarmed and on the alert.
For a few moments a state nearly approaching to panic reigned aboard the flagship; but the men were quickly at their quarters, and every gun in the ship was promptly trained upon the position indicated by Douglas. It was too dark to enable the gunners to aim with precision, but the sound guided them to some extent, and suddenly a perfect volcano of machine-gun fire broke out on board the Blanco Encalada, followed by a hoarse scream of agony from the torpedo-launch. An iron bucket was partly filled with paraffin and this was lighted as a flare, throwing a lurid glare over the sea and disclosing plainly to view a couple of rapidly approaching launches, each of which carried a spar over her bows, from which a torpedo was suspended, the launches heading directly for the Blanco Encalada. But upon the nearest launch the effect of the flagship's fire was terrible. The helmsman had been cut nearly to pieces by the hail of bullets, and he now hung dead over the tiller of the little steamer, which was consequently yawing wildly about. The remainder of her crew were in the well abaft the boiler, some lying huddled up on the floor, while others hung loosely, like half-empty sacks, over the launch's bulwarks, their arms trailing in the water. Indeed it appeared as though the Blanco Encalada, by a lucky fluke, had concentrated her whole fire upon that one devoted craft. For a moment it appeared as though the little steamer, with her crew of dead, would still effect her purpose, for the torpedo was still intact at the end of its spar, and the launch was heading straight for the battleship; but just at the last moment the corpse of the helmsman was jerked from the tiller by the motion of the sea, and the launch's head immediately fell off a point or two. She rushed past the Blanco Encalada's bows, missing them by no more than a few feet, and a few minutes later a deafening report from the shore told those on board the flagship that the torpedo-launch had rushed at full speed upon the rocks, thus exploding her torpedo and blowing herself to pieces.
The second launch, which had been steaming about a hundred yards astern of her consort, had miraculously escaped that whirlwind of shot, and now, seeing the fate of her consort, she described a wide circle, and headed away to the north-west, out of the bay, at full speed. In a few minutes she would be beyond the circle of light thrown by the flagship's brazier of fire, and would be in safety; but she was not to escape so easily. The Blanco Encalada's gunners carefully laid their machine- guns on the craft, and opened a furious fire upon her. The rattle of the Nordenfeldts sounded like a continuous roar of thunder, and the stream of fire from their muzzles itself illuminated the darkness of the night with a fitful glare.
The gunners got the range almost immediately, and those on board the flagship could see that the water was lashed into foam round the launch by the pelting rain of missiles. There was no escape from that iron hail, not even for those desperate members of the crew who dived overboard, for the men of the Blanco made a target of every face that appeared upon the surface of the water.
Then the end came, suddenly and dreadfully. A bullet must have passed in advance of the launch and struck the torpedo itself, for the onlookers saw a dazzling burst of whitish-blue flame, which was followed by a deafening, stunning explosion, and the launch seemed to disappear, as if by magic, in a tornado of flame, for not even a fragment of her appeared on the water afterwards. The roar of the machine-guns at once ceased, and every man on board the ship wiped away the cold sweat of fear which had burst out on his forehead at the prospect of being torpedoed; for there is no arm in the naval service so dreaded by the sailor.
Tranquillity was now gradually restored, and half an hour later peace once more reigned; but not a single man in the whole squadron could bring himself to go below again until day dawned. On every ship huge fires were lighted, and boats were sent to patrol the fleet in order to prevent a repetition of the occurrence; but it was not until daylight revealed a sea empty of craft save those of the Chilians that the fearful strain of suspense was relaxed.
Admiral Williams personally thanked Douglas and O'Meara for their quick action, which had undoubtedly saved the flagship, and very probably some of the other vessels of the squadron. He also questioned the lads closely, in order to ascertain whether they had heard or seen anything which would furnish a clue to the nationality of the occupants of the launches, but they could tell him nothing; and the Admiral was at length driven to the conclusion that his assailants must have come down the coast from Antofagasta, and must have consisted of a couple of the ancient torpedo-launches which the Bolivians were known to possess, but which Williams had left out of his calculations as being too unimportant to be taken into consideration. How dearly this oversight might have cost him has already been seen.
The following, or rather, the same morning, the ships' boats were lowered, and, assisted by flat-bottomed craft from the shore, began the work of embarking the remainder of the troops. It continued during the whole morning, and by mid-day the balance of the military contingent was distributed among the ships, which then got up their anchors and turned their bows to the northward once more, still under easy steam for the benefit of the old and rotten Esmeralda, two of whose boilers were so eaten away by rust as to be useless. A particularly keen look-out for hostile ships was kept, in view of the alarming incident in Caldera Bay, but nothing of a suspicious character was sighted, and on the evening of the 13th of February the fleet anchored before the town of Antofagasta, the principal seaport of Bolivia, lying in a half-circle at a distance of about a mile and a half from the shore.
The obnoxious tax was to come into force on the following day, if Bolivia adhered to her original resolution; and Admiral Williams had orders that, should such prove to be the case, he was to seize the Custom House, invest the town, and in the event of resistance being offered, to bombard it. Chili did not intend to submit tamely to the high-handed action of Bolivia, which constituted a serious and intolerable infraction of treaty.
Immediately the squadron came to an anchor, therefore, every gun was trained upon the town, in readiness for action, should such become necessary; and early on the following morning Admiral Williams had his gig piped away, and, accompanied by his flag-captain, he was pulled ashore to ascertain the intentions of the Bolivian authorities, and to warn all the Chilian inhabitants of the place that it would be bombarded should the President of the Republic not prove amenable to reason, so that they might leave the town, with their belongings, before his ships opened fire.
The Admiral was ashore until about three o'clock in the afternoon; and when he returned to the Blanco Encalada it soon became known that the Bolivians had refused to relinquish their demands, and that therefore Antofagasta was to be invested. He believed, however, that it would not be necessary to bombard the town, as he thought it was hardly likely that the inhabitants would be so unwise as to offer armed resistance to the landing of the Chilian troops. The soldiers were therefore to be landed at once under cover of the guns of the squadron, while a naval force, composed of men from the Blanco Encalada and the Almirante Cochrane, were at the same time instructed to land at the northern part of the seaport and seize the Custom House.
The Chilian troops, under Colonel Sotomayor, were therefore put into boats belonging to the warships, which were then taken in tow by the small steam craft and conveyed to the wharves at the south end of the town, their landing being unopposed, except for a few stray shots which were fired from the cover of some closed shops, and which a few volleys from the soldiers promptly checked. Then the ships' boats being once more available, the task of seizing the Custom House was proceeded with; and it was anticipated that here, if anywhere, a determined resistance would be made. A council of captains was called on board the Blanco Encalada, and a plan of campaign resolved upon. It was decided that Captain Latorre, of the Almirante Cochrane, should lead the naval detachment, which was to be drawn from all the ships of the squadron, in proportion to the complement of their crews; and Douglas was the officer selected to take charge of the party from the Blanco Encalada, much to his delight, the selection being probably due to a desire on Admiral Williams's part to recompense the lad in some measure for the promptitude and coolness which he had displayed in saving the flagship in Caldera Bay.
Jim joyously took leave of his friend Terry—who, as he belonged to the engine-room staff, could not expect to be sent on shore expeditions— adjusted the sword at his side, ran down the side-ladder, and took his seat in the stern-sheets of the steam-launch which, with a whaleboat which it was to tow, carried the detachment of men from the Blanco Encalada. The boats of the other vessels were by this time ready; and, headed by the launch of the Almirante Cochrane, carrying Captain Latorre, the leader of the expedition, the little flotilla swept away from the ships toward the north end of the town, vociferously cheered as they went by the remainder of the squadron.
The distance to the Custom House was about two miles; and by the time that they had covered half of it, it was seen that a considerable amount of activity was being manifested ashore; in fact it looked as though here, at any rate, the Bolivians had fully determined to offer resistance.
Jim remarked on the circumstance to Lieutenant Alcerrerez, who was sitting next to him; and while he was speaking, Captain Latorre hailed the boats to slow up and come alongside, in order to receive further instructions. These were soon given, and were to the effect that the launches of the flagship and of the Almirante Cochrane were to be the leading boats in a formation of double column of line ahead, in which order they were to attack. This matter having been arranged, all went ahead again at full speed, while the men eased the cutlasses in their sheaths and inspected the cartridges in their rifles, in readiness for the anticipated encounter.
Suddenly, when the boats were within a couple of hundred yards of the mole leading down from the Custom House, a blaze of fire leapt from the loopholed walls of the buildings, and bullets flew round the little flotilla in a perfect hailstorm. The Chilian ensign in the stern of Douglas's launch was literally ripped from its staff, proving that, had the Bolivians but depressed their rifle muzzles a trifle more, every man in the steamer's well would have been hit by the leaden shower. Lieutenant Alcerrerez, who was sitting next to Douglas, emitted a curious little cough, turned half round, and fell forward over the lad's knees, while several men in the launch sprang convulsively to their feet, only to drop down again in a limp, motionless heap, or to fall over the low gunwales in the violence of their death-struggles. Jim shuddered as he thought of the fate of poor Lieutenant Alcerrerez, but he pulled himself together and laid the poor shot-pierced body gently down on the boat's floor grating, thereby saving his own life; for even as he stooped, another shower of rifle-bullets hurtled into the launch, killing several more men, and piercing the boat herself in six places below the water-line, so that she began to take in water at an alarming rate.
Some of the other craft had, however, come off still worse than the Blanco Encalada's launch; for the casualties were even heavier in the Almirante Cochrane's boats, while a shot had pierced the boiler of the launch belonging to the O'Higgins, which immediately blew up with disastrous results, killing and wounding nearly the whole of her crew.
The flotilla was by this time, however, within the shelter of the mole; and a minute later the boats rushed alongside at full speed, Jim leaping ashore at the same time as Captain Latorre, who, sword in hand, formed his men quickly up, shouting, "Forward, my children; you have your comrades to avenge!" And away raced the boat's crew along the pier toward the Custom House, receiving, as they did so, another terrible volley from the defenders. The Chilians' blood was up, however, and they did not even pause to succour their wounded, but dashed forward, holding their fire in reserve, and with their bayonets fixed.
Before the Bolivians could fire again, the Chilians had reached the building, and were thus protected from the fire of its occupants, as the loopholes were too small to allow of their rifles being depressed to any great extent.
"Bring that bag of powder here!" roared Latorre at the top of his voice as two men came up staggering under its weight. The petard was promptly laid against the door; a train was led close alongside the wall to the corner of the house, round which the seamen also sheltered themselves; a match was put to it; there was a loud report and a stunning concussion, followed by the sound of rending timber; and the landing party dashed forward again, round the angle of the building, and in through the breach formed by the explosion. As they entered the house there was a shout of execration and defiance from the floor above, and the defenders began to swarm down the stairs to repulse their enemies.
But, hampered as they were by lack of room to move freely, they could do nothing. They had foolishly left no force on the ground-floor, but had all gone to the first storey, in order to be the better able to fire on their foes; and this oversight now cost them very dear. The Bolivians got jammed into an inextricable mass, in their efforts to descend the stairs at the same time; and, while thus helpless, they were mercilessly cut down and bayoneted by the infuriated Chilians.
In a few minutes the bloody work was over; the corpses on the stairs were pulled away, and the assailants rushed upstairs to complete their work. But the Bolivians had now no stomach for further fight, and they threw down their arms, crying for mercy. Captain Latorre therefore had them all disarmed and bound securely, after which he went up on to the roof of the building and hauled down the Bolivian flag, hoisting the Chilian ensign in its place. He then signalled to Admiral Williams: "Custom House taken, with loss of nineteen killed and twenty-three wounded."
Antofagasta was in the hands of the Chilians!
THE CHILIANS BOMBARD IQUIQUE.
Shortly after the occupation of Antofagasta, a Chilian force under Colonel Sotomayor—who was in command of the troops landed from the squadron—advanced to Caracoles, to protect the mines there; and on March 23, 1879, defeated at Calama a body of Bolivians under Dr Ladislas Cabrera, who was compelled to retire, with a loss of twenty killed and wounded, and thirty prisoners. The losses of the Chilians numbered only twelve.
Peru thereupon made certain precautionary preparations, and sent envoys to both Chili and Bolivia; although, as a matter of fact, she had already mobilised her navy, and was quite prepared to take the offensive at any moment. Indeed it was perfectly well known in Chilian official circles that the Peruvian fleet was actually at this time at sea, seeking, if possible, to deal her opponent a crippling blow even before war had been formally declared.
Chili thereupon demanded the reasons for her preparations, as indeed she was fully entitled to do, and required that they should cease. Then, receiving no satisfactory reply, she announced her knowledge of a secret treaty, dated the 6th of February 1873, between Bolivia and Peru, and at once declared war against the latter as well as the former.
Immediately following this, Chili increased her navy by repurchasing the corvette Abtao—a sister ship to the famous Alabama of American Civil War times—built in 1864, of 1050 tons displacement, 300 horse- power, and with a nominal sea-speed of 6 knots. This ship was armed with three 150-pounder muzzle-loading guns and three 30-pounder muzzle- loaders; and she played almost as important a part in the war between Chili and Peru as did the Alabama in the American Civil War.
Chili also bought from the Pacific Steam Navigation Company the screw steamer Amazonas, for use as a transport; and by chartering the Rimac, Itata, Lamar, Loa, and Limari from the Chilian Steam Navigation Company, and the Mathias Cousino and other steamers from the Cousino estate, she strengthened the effectiveness of her fleet to a very great extent. All the upper spars of these craft were sent ashore, and their lower yards, where they were retained to serve as derricks, were cock-billed. The head-booms were unrigged, and all but the standing bowsprits of the wooden vessels were landed.
The senior Peruvian naval officer afloat was at this time Captain Don Miguel Grau, a native of Piura, and a man of about forty-five years of age. He is spoken of as "an officer of the highest capacity and bravery, remarkably quiet and unassuming, and an excellent seaman. His people worshipped him, and all who knew him honoured him." In 1868 he had been given command of the Huascar, an ironclad monitor of 1130 tons displacement, 1200 horse-power, and with a nominal sea-speed of 11 knots. She was armed with two 10-inch 21-ton muzzle-loading guns (both in the same turret), two 40-pounder muzzle-loaders, one 12-pounder muzzle-loader, and one Gatling gun. This ship distinguished herself more than any other of the Peruvian fleet; and in her subsequent bloody battle with the Chilian warships, Blanco Encalada and Almirante Cochrane, in which her gallant commander lost his life, she behaved herself with such gallantry that her name will go down to history as one of the epoch-making ships of the world.
From 1873 to 1879 Admiral Grau was a member of the Peruvian Congress for Paita, but on the outbreak of the war he successfully applied to be reinstated in his former command of the Huascar. By him the Peruvian squadron was arranged as follows: The first division, under Admiral Grau himself, consisted of the Huascar; Independencia, armoured frigate; and the Oroya, a paddle-transport of 1597 tons. The second division was placed under the orders of Captain Carillo, and consisted of the monitors Manco Capac and Atahualpa, bought from the United States, each of 2100 tons; and the Chalaco, a transport of 1000 tons displacement. The third division, under Captain Garcia y Garcia, comprised the Union, a wooden corvette of 1150 tons, and a very famous ship; the Pilcomayo, gunboat; and the Limena, a paddle-transport.
Such was the Peruvian navy at the commencement of the war; and the whole fleet, in three divisions, as above, was under the command of Admiral Grau.
The port of Antofagasta having been occupied by Chilian troops, the squadron under Admiral Williams left the place and commenced a patrol of the coast, with a view to enforcing a blockade. On the 5th of April the fleet appeared off Iquique, in Peru, and the admiral announced that a blockade of that port would begin on the 15th of April following, thus allowing ten days for the Chilian inhabitants of the place to leave and carry with them all their belongings.
Up to this time no naval action had been fought at sea; and it was, even yet, a moot point whether Peru would not "climb down," and back out of her alliance with Bolivia. But, all unknown to the Chilians, the Peruvian warships Union and Pilcomayo were cruising up and down the coast for the purpose of snapping up any small Chilian craft that they might happen to sight, and to do as much damage to the Chilians as they possibly could.
Now, it happened that, shortly after the Chilian squadron had invested Antofagasta, the small corvette Magellanes arrived at Valparaiso, having returned from police duty in Tierra del Fuego. She was thereupon immediately ordered by the Chilian authorities to proceed northward and join Admiral Williams's fleet. But on her way, while off the mouth of the river Loa, she fell in with the Peruvian ships Union and Pilcomayo, with which she fought a running action for over two hours, when, owing to her superior speed, she effected her escape. The carnage on both sides was terrible, and the Union, although much the larger ship, was so seriously damaged that she was obliged to return to Callao, the principal seaport of Peru, in order to be drydocked and repaired. The Magellanes then fell in with the main Chilian squadron, off Iquique, and made her report of the occurrence.
It was at first intended that Iquique should merely be bombarded; but to render the attendant conditions as stringent as possible, Admiral Williams strictly forbade the condensation of fresh water on shore, a prohibition that would naturally cause very great inconvenience to the inhabitants, since fresh water, either from springs, wells, or streams, was almost unobtainable in the town. On several occasions, however, smoke was observed to be rising from the spot where the condensing apparatus was located, indicating an apparent disposition on the part of the inhabitants to disregard the prohibition; and this so incensed the Chilian admiral that he determined to send Douglas on shore with a message to the effect that if the offence were persisted in, he would be compelled to bombard.
The steam-launch was accordingly lowered away from the Blanco Encalada, and manned; and presently Jim, in full uniform, took his seat in the stern-sheets of the craft, which immediately steamed away to carry the admiral's protest and message to the Intendente of Iquique.
In about half an hour the launch ran alongside the quay at Iquique, and Jim sprang ashore, declining the offer of the coxswain to accompany him and show him the way to the intendente's quarters.
Jim, whose knowledge of Spanish was by this time nearly perfect, made inquiries at the pier for the office of the intendente, and a man, in a uniform with which the lad was not acquainted, immediately offered to conduct him thither. Jim, suspecting no treachery, unhesitatingly accepted this individual's services, and the pair, entering into an animated conversation, left the pier and turned their steps townward.
For some distance their way led along a sandy road, paved here and there with cobblestones, and fronted by buildings which seemed to be hotels or inns of the cheaper kind, probably intended for the accommodation of seamen from foreign ships which used the port. They followed this road, which ran along the sea-front, for about a mile and a half; and Jim was just about to pass some comment on the distance when his guide turned to the right and plunged into a narrow and gloomy side-street, the appearance of which filled Douglas with aversion, although at that time no suspicion of treachery entered his mind. He soon noticed, however, that his guide, whose name, it transpired, was Manuel Lopes, was taking him up one narrow street and down another in a most extraordinary fashion, and that they seemed to be getting into a particularly low quarter of the town.
Jim had just made up his mind to question Lopes as to whether he was quite sure of the way, when the latter stopped before a large white- painted building with green shutters, and led his companion in through a high and wide archway into a kind of courtyard, the like of which is nearly always to be found in large houses in both Old and New Spain.
"This looks as though it might be the residence of some official or other," mused Jim; "but what an extraordinary quarter of the town the governor seems to have selected for his dwelling! However, I suppose he knows his own business best, and—"
"Will you be pleased to follow me, senor?" here broke in the guide Lopes, bowing in an obsequious manner, and leading the way across the patio to where a heavy door gave entrance into a part of the building which overlooked the courtyard.
Jim tucked his sword under his arm and followed the fellow into a room which seemed, to him coming out of the brilliant sunlight, to be shrouded in darkness.
"Have the goodness to take a chair, senor," smiled Lopes, pushing one of those articles forward for Jim, "while I go and ascertain whether His Excellency will see you."
Jim accepted the proffered chair but, somewhat nettled by a certain curious change in the man's voice, remarked: "But, senor, I have come ashore expressly to see the intendente; and see him I must; my orders are imperative!"
"Oh, I assure you there will be no difficulty whatever on that score," replied Lopes. "Kindly excuse me for a few minutes while I announce your arrival."
Jim bowed; and his guide walked quickly out of the room, slamming the heavy door somewhat sharply behind him. Douglas heard him pause for a few seconds, and then step sharply across the stone-flagged patio, from the other side of which he fancied he heard the sound of a low laugh and some words spoken in an undertone. But he paid no particular attention to the matter and, in order to pass the time, rose from his seat and began to move round the room. The apartment was so extremely dark, however, that he presently walked over to the window, in order to pull aside the curtains which he supposed, were excluding the light.
Greatly to his surprise, however, he found that there were no curtains before the window, but that the gloom was caused by the fact that a kind of iron shutter was securely fastened across the outside. This was indeed a curious sort of waiting room, and—
A sudden thought flashed across Jim's mind, and he darted quickly to the door and turned the handle, pulling it toward him as he did so.
It was as he had surmised; the door had been locked or bolted on the outside; and he knew now why Lopes had paused those few seconds before crossing the patio. Jim was a prisoner, and he had walked into the trap with his eyes open. Oh! what a fool he had been! He might have known that a person of importance such as the intendente of Iquique would not have had his residence among the slums of the city. But what on earth, he wondered, had been their object in making a prisoner of him? How came it about that he had been expected, and that a man had been posted at the pier, ready to receive him and lead him into this ambush?
Then he suddenly remembered the dispatches he carried from the Admiral; and he realised that a person on shore with a telescope could have seen him put off from the flagship, and have observed his progress the whole way from her to the quay. What, too, more natural than that the Peruvians should be anxious to get a Chilian officer into their hands, especially a flag-officer, who would be almost certain to have a very considerable knowledge of the Chilian admiral's plans? There were many ways by which that information could be extracted by unscrupulous and desperate men, and Jim shuddered as he realised the danger in which he stood. The first thing that he now did was to take the dispatches from his inner breast pocket, and secrete them, as well as he could under the circumstances, next his skin, resolving at the same time that he would give up his life rather than part with them, or disclose to the Peruvians any of the admiral's plans.
The only weapon which Jim had brought ashore was, of course, his dress sword; but he resolved that he would make some use of that before they should place him in any closer confinement, or lay hands on his papers.
The next thing to be done was to examine the room, to see whether any means of escape presented itself; and in the first place he scrutinised the window which was secured with the iron shutters outside. But a very few seconds sufficed to show him that there was no possibility of getting out by that way, and he looked round for a second door to the apartment. The walls were, however, lined with massive bookshelves, and there was no trace of any door save that by which he had entered. Strangely enough, there was not even so much as a fireplace to the room; and after half an hour's careful search Douglas was reluctantly compelled to acknowledge that he was helpless to do anything further at present, and that he would have to await developments before taking any action.
He therefore made himself as comfortable as possible in an easy-chair, keeping his ears open at the same time, so that he might have due warning of the approach of an enemy. The house was so silent that, so far as any sound was concerned, it might have been uninhabited. Douglas had been waiting for half an hour, when he discovered that he was becoming exceedingly drowsy, and that the air of the room seemed not only to be unaccountably close but also to have a rather queer new odour in it. Jim yawned portentously several times, and at length moved over to the window to try whether the air would be any fresher there, for he put down its oppressiveness to the fact that there was no chimney in the room. But, so far as he could ascertain, the window seemed to be hermetically sealed; and upon inspection he found that the glass in it was so abnormally thick that to break it would be practically an impossibility.
Douglas now began to find that his breathing was becoming distinctly difficult and, seized with a vague sense of new danger, he ran to the door and hammered vigorously upon it, shouting at the same time for some one to come and release him. But his blows and shouts only echoed emptily round the patio, and not a soul put in an appearance. He felt as though all the strength were going out of his limbs, and he presently staggered to a sofa, upon which he flung himself, powerless to stand upon his feet any longer. Strange visions began to float before him, and curious fancies flitted through his brain, which felt as though some one had bound an iron strap round it and was gradually increasing the pressure until it seemed as though his head must split asunder.
How much longer would it be, he wondered dully, before the coxswain in charge of the Blanco Encalada's steam-launch became anxious about his long absence, and instituted inquiries, or returned to the flagship with the news? Admiral Williams was certainly not the man to allow to pass unchallenged such a gross violation of International Law as the seizure and imprisonment of a properly accredited envoy; but then, the people who had been guilty of this outrage had doubtless acted unofficially, and the intendente would consequently deny all knowledge of the business. Surely, though—
But by this time Jim's thoughts had become more and more confused, and his brain was refusing to act coherently. Flashes of lurid light passed before his eyes, and the horrible feeling of suffocation became ever more and more acute. Finally, with what he fancied was a shout for assistance, but it was, in reality, only a weak whisper, Jim lost consciousness altogether, and rolled from his couch on to the floor, where he lay like a log, breathing stertorously.
Almost at the same moment a section of the book-case surrounding the room moved inward, apparently of its own volition, and two men, one of whom was the man Lopes, crept cautiously into the apartment. Hastily seizing Jim's inanimate body by the arms and legs, they dragged him out of the room, carried him down a long narrow passage and, opening the door of another room, took him inside and placed him on a bed which it contained.
"What a time the youngster took to go off, Manuel!" said the second fellow, addressing Lopes while he industriously searched Jim's pockets. "I hope we have not given him an overdose, and killed him; for I expect the information that we shall extract from him will be worth a great deal more than that contained in the papers which he is sure to carry. By the way, I wonder where they can be? They are certainly not in his pockets. You are certain you have not made a mistake, amigo mio, and got hold of the wrong man?"
"Carrajo! no," exclaimed Lopes testily. "This is the fellow, without doubt; I watched him all the way from the ship. Here, lend me your knife, and I will rip up his clothes; he is certain to have suspected treachery after I locked him in, and will have secreted the documents somewhere. Ah! here they are. Now, read them out to me, Carlos, while I try to bring the hijo round."
There was silence for a few minutes, broken only by the rustle of paper; then, with an oath, the man called Carlos dashed the packet down, saying, in a voice hoarse with excitement and rage: "Carramba, Lopes you are a fool! you have made a mistake somewhere. This is not the man at all! I suspected as much when I saw that it was only a boy that you had captured. These papers are simply a notification from the admiral of the Chilians that the condensation of water is to cease! While we have been wasting time here the other fellow will have come ashore and returned again, with the papers still in his possession! Oh! Lopes, you are a mule, cabeza de porco! All our trouble has been in vain."
"Softly, softly, my friend," replied Manuel. "Even if we have, as you say, secured the wrong messenger, all our trouble will not have been useless. You may have observed, caro mio, that this is a flag- officer, and he will be certain to have knowledge of a great many of Rebolledo Williams's plans. Very well; when he recovers we will take measures to induce him—ha! ha!—to tell us all he knows. After the attention of an hour or so which we will give him, and with the assistance of certain little instruments which we possess, we will get out of him all the information he has. It is wonderful," he went on musingly, "how communicative a man will become—under certain circumstances."
The man Carlos looked at his fellow-scoundrel for a few moments, and then broke out into a hoarse chuckle.
"All right, querido; I understand," he laughed. "We will remove him, however, for the present, to less comfortable quarters, as he seems to be on the point of recovery. Lift up his feet, mi amigo, while I take his arms as before." Suiting the action to the word, the two men seized Jim's body and carried it away down another passage, until they came to a flight of stone stairs, down which they went into the very bowels of the earth, as it seemed. Presently they encountered a massive stone door which, on being opened, disclosed a damp and unspeakably filthy cell. Into this they tossed the unfortunate officer, and, without caring, apparently, whether they broke every bone in his body or not, kicked him unmercifully into the centre of the dungeon, and then turned and left him.
Although the two scoundrels had been under the impression that Jim Douglas was on the point of recovery from unconsciousness when they thus callously tossed him into the cell, they were mistaken; for they found, upon revisiting him several hours later, that he was still in a state of insensibility. The two rascals then became not a little alarmed for the success of their scheme, and they at once did all in their power to revive their victim, with the result that, late that same evening, he recovered his senses, although he was much too dazed to answer the questions which they tried to put to him. The men therefore gave up their attempt for that night, and left Jim in peace, handing him a little bread and water, and promising themselves that they would return early the next morning.
Douglas recovered his faculties soon after Carlos and Lopes had left him, and while eating his frugal meal tried to unravel the mystery of his capture, and to calculate how long it would probably be before Admiral Williams should take any steps to find him. He was, however, still very dull and heavy, and presently dropped into a deep sleep, from which he was awakened, just as dawn was breaking, by the entrance of his captors. They immediately began to interrogate him about the number of men in the fleet, the condition of the ships, the number of their guns, and, above all, as to the plans which Admiral Williams had formed for the forthcoming attack on Peruvian ports.
Jim, of course, firmly refused to give them any information whatever upon the matters in question, but loudly denounced the way in which he had been treated, and demanded to be set at liberty immediately. Carlos and his accomplice merely laughed, and Lopes remarked: "So you refuse to tell us anything, do you, my young cockerel? Well, we shall see, we shall see. I will wager that you change your mind within the next half- hour; what say you, Carlos, eh? Now, once more will you tell me what—"
"No!" roared Douglas, in a fit of exasperation, "I will tell you nothing! and you may do what you please, I will still keep silent. My captain will know how to avenge me if you offer me any injury."
"Hark how loudly it crows, Manuel," laughed Carlos, showing all his teeth. "However, I think we had better not waste any more time; bring in the playthings, Lopes, my brave."
The latter went out of the cell, and presently returned, carrying an iron brazier filled with glowing charcoal, and bearing under his left arm a cloth which, when unrolled, disclosed to Jim's horrified gaze a glittering array of instruments, the suggestiveness of the shapes of which left little doubt as to what was their ghastly use. The poor lad turned sick and faint, and the sweat began to pour off him at the mere sight of those fearful appliances. Still, he did not falter, and he swore to himself that not all their tortures should make a traitor of him.
"Now, Carlos!" exclaimed Lopes, throwing himself upon Jim, who struggled vainly to free himself from the clutches of the two powerful men who held him. In a few moments he was bound hand and foot, and Carlos removed the naval sword which they had not, as yet, taken from the young Chilian officer. Douglas was then flung on his back, and both arms and legs were lashed securely to iron rings cemented into the floor of the cell. This done, with a sardonic laugh, the two men stood upright and looked at the recumbent form of their prisoner. Then Carlos stepped across the dungeon and, chuckling all the while, thrust several of the steel instruments of torture in among the glowing charcoal of the brazier.
Half-fainting, and with every nerve and sense strained to its utmost, Jim suddenly fancied that he heard a faint sound, coming apparently from a great distance. It sounded, to his fevered imagination, almost like a bugle call, but it was so exceedingly faint that he thought his ears must have deceived him. He looked at the two rascals above him, but they were talking, and had evidently heard nothing. Carlos drew out from the brazier a long, curved piece of steel, but it was not yet red- hot and he replaced it, with a malevolent glance at Douglas.
Then suddenly there rang out, high, clear, and quite unmistakable, the sound of a trumpet; and it was blown at no very great distance away, either! Jim recognised it immediately; it was the alarm, and he felt that some crisis was at hand.
"Carrajo!" exclaimed the man Lopes, turning a pale face to his confederate, "what does that mean? Run up above, man, quickly, and find out. Surely it cannot be that—" He broke off, as a dull boom rumbled through the stagnant air and made the very stone cell quiver. "Quick, Carlos; quick, man, and see what is the matter."
Without further bidding Carlos opened the door and sprang up the stairs, just as an appalling crash was heard, apparently quite close at hand, even if not in the very building itself. Then there was another rending explosion, and another, not quite so close at hand this time. Lopes, quivering with fear, glanced at Douglas, and then at the open door, as though meditating flight, and he had evidently just made up his mind to decamp when Carlos came plunging down the stone steps.
"Amigo mio!" he gasped hoarsely, "something has gone terribly wrong somewhere, for the Chilian squadron is bombarding Iquique; and what is more, all the shells are falling in this quarter. The streets are full of dead, and a man I saw flying past just now says that a body of marines is already on shore, and coming this way. We must fly at once, or we shall be too late! Can it be that this is in return for our having seized this youngster? Come along, my friend, quickly; and it would be well to give the boy a tap on the head and thus spare his countrymen the trouble of carrying him away, if they find him. But, come quickly man, or we are both lost. Those cursed shells are beginning to fall in this direction again!"