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The Belted Seas By Arthur Colton Characters: 8699

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

Sadler and Irish were gone, but Stevey Todd and I stayed on at Portate, running the Hotel Helen Mar. Three years we ran her altogether, and made money. I had a thought that by-and-by I'd go to the Isthmus, and charter some kind of sloop, and dig out Clyde's canvas bags, and so go back to Greenough sticky with glory. Whether it was laziness or ambition kept me so long at Portate I couldn't say. It was a pleasant life. It's a country where you don't notice time. Yet its politics are lively, and the very land has malaria, as you might say; it has periodic shakes, earthquakes, "tremblors," they call them, or "trembloritos," according to size.

It was early one morning, in the spring of the year '73, that Stevey Todd woke me up, and he says:

"I'm feeling unsteady like. Seems like the Helen Mar wobbled."

"She's took sick," I says, sarcastic, "she's got the toothache."

The only thing I had against Stevey Todd was, he was timid and had bad dreams. He rode a tidal wave every two or three nights, according to account. But it wasn't right to be messing another man's sleep with tidal waves that didn't belong to the other man. I never set any tidal waves on him. I spoke up to Stevey Todd that time, and went on deck, and saw the Sarasara with an umbrella over her head, and I thought, maybe, there had been a little shake, and maybe she was out looking for trouble.

It came on the middle of the morning. The drivers that put up with us that night were gone down the valley with their mules. I heard Stevey Todd whoop down below, and he came on deck and he says, "She's wobbling again!" meaning the Helen Mar. She was swaying to and fro. We got down the ladder and stood off to look at her.

Then the land began twisting like snakes under our feet, and cut figure eights, till I felt like soapsuds, and lay down on my face. Then I sat up, and looked at the Helen Mar, which shook and groaned like a live thing. We heard the trees crack and snap behind her. She seemed to hang a moment as if she hated to go; and over she went with a shriek and crash. The water splashed and the dust went up. Stevey Todd and I ran to the bank, and there lay the Hotel Helen Mar, ridiculous, bottom side up in the Jiron River.

Stevey Todd sat down and cried.

I was disgusted with seeing the hotel standing on her roof-garden and thinking of the mess there was inside her, all come of a tremblorito no bigger than enough to cave in the bank and tip the Helen Mar over, and enough tidal wave to wash the streets of Portate, which needed it. I saw the Sarasara shaking her old umbrella at us, and I was mad. I says to Stevey Todd, "Go on! Run your blamed old hotel standing on your head!" I says, "I'm going to Greenough," and I lit out for Portate, leaving him standing on the bank, with the tears running down his face, like his heart was broken.

When I came to the harbour I found there were two ships in port bound for California, and one by way of Panama. She was named the Jane Allen.

The captain's name was Rickhart, a rough man, and the Jane Allen was an unclean boat, a brigantine, come from bad weather around the Horn. I went aboard to look her over, and didn't like her. I was making up my mind to go and see if the other mightn't be going by Panama too. And then, coming through the forecastle, some one spoke to me from a bunk and he says:

"When'd you drop in, Tommy?" and I stopped, and stared, and pretty soon I made him out. It was Julius R. Craney.

He certainly was sick. He said he had shipped with Rickhart from New York, to go to California and make his fortune, but thought now he wouldn't live so far. He had the scurvy and was low in his mind, and disappointed with fortune. I thought:

"If he took my money at Colon, he hasn't got it now." He was poor enough then. I guessed we'd have to call that off, and I says:

"The Jane Allen it is. I'll go see the Windwards and Greenough."

Craney was a yellow-looking man at that time, and glad enough when I told him I was going to bring him some fruit, and take passage to Panama, and look after him. Then I bargained with Rickhart for a passage for two.

The next day I went back up to the Helen Mar, and found Stevey Todd had a board fence in front of her, and was charging admission, and he had a new advertisement tacked on the fence.


Spectacle!" says Stevey Todd's bill-poster. "The Hotel Helen Mar. On her chimneys, with her cellar in the Air! Built in the United States! Exported to South America! Freighted Inland by a Tidal Wave! Stood on her Head by an Earthquake! Only 10 cents!" And he was up on a box himself encouraging the populace, and he seemed to think he had a good business opening. But I says:

"Stevey," I says, "come off it. We're going to Panama."

He wanted to argue it was an unparallelled show, but I took him by the suspenders and ran him down to Portate, arguing, and the populace went in free, and we went aboard the Jane Allen. He thought the Helen Mar was a better boat upside down than the Jane Allen any side, and he was right there, for the Jane Allen was full of smells and unhealthiness. But Craney was glad to see us.

We hadn't been a week at sea before her cook came down with ship's fever and died in five days, but Craney picked up a bit for the time. Rickhart came straight for Stevey Todd, and handed him his passage money.

"You're no passenger" he says. "You're a cook. You hear me!" Which appeared like a rash statement, that Stevey Todd wasn't one to take off-hand like that without argument, but Rickhart shoved him into the galley before he got his ideas arranged right.

"You're the Jane Allen's cook," says Rickhart, and appeared to be right, though his style of argument wasn't what Clyde had trained us to. Stevey Todd had no proper outfit to meet it. The victuals he had to serve up on the Jane Allen was a worriment to his conscience too, being tainted and bad, and by-and-by I came down too with ship's fever, and Craney got sicker again with scurvy.

There's a long promontory, that the coasters see on the West Coast of South America near the Line, with a square white tower on a bit of high rock at the head of it. The promontory is called Mituas, and the point, Punta Ananias. That may be because some one ran aground sometime on the sand-bar off the end, and thought it deceitful. Some people say the tower was built as an outlook against pirates long ago, but I judge the facts are everybody has forgotten who built it or what he did it for. It's a lighthouse now. If a man doesn't mind a curve in his view and a few pin-head islands, there's nothing particular to interrupt his view half round the world. The Andes make a jagged line on the east, and ten of them are volcanoes. Those snow mountains and two or three ocean currents got together, and arranged it with the equator that one part of the year should be a good deal like another there, and all the months behave respectful, and the Tower of Ananias have a breeze. It's a handsome position with a picked climate.

The scurvy is a disease not so common now, but it used to act as if all the bad salt pork you'd eaten were coming out through the skin, till you looked like a Stilton cheese, and what you wanted was to be fed on vegetables, and put ashore so as to get the bilge-water dried out. Probably that wouldn't be possible, and you'd be sewed up in canvas, and resemble an exclamation point, and be dropped overboard to punctuate the end of the story. Chunk! you goes, and that's the end of you.

Ship's fever is a nautical brand of typhoid, due to bad conditions aboard. The best thing for it is to get out of those conditions. Craney had the scurvy, and I had ship's fever. Sometimes I was out of my head. But when we sighted Punta Ananias, I was clear enough to tell Captain Rickhart he'd have a burial shortly, or put me on shore.

"I've got no fancy for that," he says, and took a look at me. I didn't suppose he'd haul up, but he did. He'd buried two men already down the coast, and the thing must have got on his nerves, for he anchored overnight, and sent Craney and me to the lighthouse in a boat.

"You forfeit your passage money," he says, and told the mate to buy what truck he could, and tell the Dago in the lighthouse he could keep our remains.

Rickhart was a rough man, and his ship was a rotten ship. I never knew a meaner ship, though I've known meaner men than Rickhart on the whole.

Stevey Todd said he was going with us, and there Rickhart disagreed with him again, and his argument was the same as before.

"You ain't," he says, and seemed to prove it, though Stevey Todd claimed he wasn't convinced.

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