As war clouds gather in the United States, threatening to divide that nation, a gold rush in Canada brings three men together while at the same time tearing them apart. In turn, they face the hazards and cruelty of sealing off Alaska, violent storms at sea, dangerous cutthroats, early ranching, and the hardships and horrors of the Civil War.
The story takes place sailing the West Coast of America, ranching in California, across Panama, up the East Coast of America, the Civil War in Virginia and the hazards of a post Civil War journey by stagecoach across the United States.
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By Bill Ratcliffe
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Bill Ratcliffe
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA Business Venture, SAN FRANCISCO.
All that remained of the day was a setting sun and cloud puffs hovering above the rippling waters of San Francisco Bay. Below, the recently arrived Hannah Devida, an iron-hulled sailing vessel of three masts lay at anchor. Inside her main-cabin, Darcy and Jack sat patiently awaiting Joseph's reply. The smell of cigar smoke filled the room. On a worn, well-polished, mahogany table, three whiskey glasses settled in little swirls.
Again, the end of Joseph's cigar glowed momentarily; he exhaled a small puff of smoke.
"The rest of that load you have on board, Darcy, that you just brought back from the Sandwich Islands." Joseph paused, in order to speak he held the cigar off to one side between stubby fingers. "What did you say, five ton of sugar?"
"Aye, five ton of sugar, three ton rice," Darcy thought for a moment, "about two ton of sandalwood as well as some other odds and ends. But enough of that for now, Father, it's been a long eight months at sea, it's time to take in the sights."
Joseph leaned back in his chair studying the tall blue-eyed man with dark-wavy hair lounging across the table. He was proud of his son, at twenty-eight, already an accomplished sea captain; although, he often thought there were times when Darcy was a little too self-indulgent.
"Stay clear of the Barbary Coast, Darcy, you here? They just pulled another body out of the bay last night. One more botched shanghaiing by the crimps and their ilk. Besides, while you've been gone they struck gold up in the British Colonies, and we should have been in on it." Once again, in order to speak, Joseph held the cigar off to the side.
"Here's what I'm thinkin'. Miners got to get a permit at Fort Victoria before they can do any diggin'. A lot of 'em are pickin' up a grubstake in the Fort and headin' out in any kind of boat they can get for the Fraser River. There's money to be made there, just like here in '49, and, it aint in the gold fields. That's fools' thinkin'. It's in shipping, supplies and passenger fares. We live in a time of opportunity, gentlemen; so, let us not squander it."
"I've heard the waters up north are treacherous and not well charted Joseph." Jack spoke for the first time. The end of Joseph's cigar glowed again; he exhaled a small puff of smoke, ignoring Jack's remark.
"Here's what I think. Darcy, you take on as many passengers as you can see fit and head for Fort Victoria with the load you have on board. It should fetch a much better price up there. I want you to hang around there and find out what kind of cargo you can bring back on your return trip, maybe fur. Also, look over the land, there is probably opportunity in that direction."
"Land?" Darcy queried, "What would we want with land up there Father?"
"Land, lad, is what it's all about, money may make you rich, but land is what makes you wealthy and powerful. Land gives you substance." Joseph stood up and began to pace around the cabin, chin on chest, arms folded across his portly waist.
"Jack," and Joseph turned to his solemn partner, a balding, gaunt-faced man. "Yuh remember how it was in Frisco in '48- 49 Jack, when the news came they struck gold? Remember us desertin' that old brig The Ocean Rover. Everyone and his dog headed for the gold fields. You and me Jack, we had to hi-tail it with no sugar and not much more than a pail full of flour and some tea. And, do you remember the prices things cost us?" Jack's eyebrows went up and he nodded in agreement, "Aye, one egg, one dollar, worth it though Joseph, we wouldn't have what we have today if it hadn't been for that lucky strike up past Sutter's Mill. Luckily, we were some of the first ones up there. A lot of 'em starved."
"We'll need another ship. We can afford it." Joseph continued, "Steamers are too costly. They say, though, that fore and aft sailing vessels are selling for a good price around New England. The demand for steam vessels is startin' to put the builders of sailing ships out of work. Jack! How would you like to go to the East Coast and buy us another boat?"
Jack looked up "That would take nearly a year, Joseph. What with travelin' around the Horn and all, the gold rush could be over."
"Well Jack, why not take that new railway they put across the Panama a couple of years ago. They say it cuts two months off going 'round the Horn."
"Don't forget, Joseph, they also say it's risky. There's a lot of desperados and cut-throats travelin' that route these days, not to mention the yellow fever."
"Nonsense, times have never been so peaceful. I didn't know you was gettin' soft Jack."
"I aint soft, Joseph, you damn well know that. 'Course I'll go."
A few days after posting signs advertising passage to the gold fields the Hannah Devida, loaded down with sixty three eager fortune hunters at fifteen dollars a head, unfurled her sails and catching a light breeze and an outgoing tide was on her way to Fort Victoria. Darcy Devida, her twenty eight year old master, setting her course.
The old bark sailed out of San Francisco Bay on a southerly breeze. All canvas from the top royals to the bottom course sails drawing nicely on a close reach. After clearing the entrance to San Francisco, Darcy called to his mate, "Mr. Boyle, be ready to ease the starb'd braces. Have the helmsman take her off the wind and set a new course of northwest then haul in and trim up."
Mr. Boyle was quick to reply, "Aye sir." In quick time, three seamen gathered by each mast. At the mate's command, they loosened the long ropes attached to the yardarms and the bottoms of the sails. Slowly the ship came around; the sails fluttered briefly before being trimmed and adjusted to the new course, and then billowed out again.
The ship proceeded more slowly on its new course for Fort Victoria. Running parallel to the coastline soon caused the vessel to roll heavily in the offshore swell. The rails began to gather nauseous patrons heaving up their dinner. The cook, who welcomed a brief respite from having to feed over six-dozen odd souls that evening, viewed this with delight; however, his good fortune was short lived as the stench of vomit began to filter through the ship. Equally unpleasant, a seaman strolled over and solemnly declared, "I wouldn't take it personal cookie, them land lubbers got weak stomachs and just aint used to yer cookin'. As for me, I thought it was your best meal this week." The grinning sailor sauntered aft followed by the cook's vacant glare. "Deck ape!" he muttered in retaliation.
By the third day out appetites had recovered, and the galley deckhouse forward of the main mast was the scene of long line ups of men three times a day: Breakfast; a thin gruel, one hard boiled egg, and a cup of tea, lunch; bread, cheese, and a cup of tea, supper; soup, hardtack, and tea. There was little room for any variety on a crowded ship with limited galley space.
The men gradually formed into groups and engaged in conversation, gold mining the principle topic. Some played games or read books they had brought with them. Many were glad to help man the ship just to find a release from the monotony. On the morning of the fourteenth day out, Darcy stepped out of his cabin, breathed in the fresh sea air and noted a change in the wind direction. It had veered around to the east. He looked up to see the long streaked clouds known as mare's tails stretching across the sky. The mate approached, "We had to trim sails in the night sir. But we are still maintaining our course, North-North West."
Darcy steadied himself as the ship rose on the crest of a wave and then gently fell into an oncoming trough.
"Very good Mr. Boyle, the sky looks like we might be in for a blow. What is our speed?"
"The morning watch reported seven knots, sir, and we are still doing about the same."
"Well, Mr. Boyle, that is very good indeed for such a heavily laden ship. Keep a sharp eye on the wind strength; if it starts to increase, I want the royals furled. There may be a front moving in. And, Mr. Boyle, remind me in good time to take a noon site, I wouldn't want to miss Vancouver Island."
"Aye, Sir," replied Boyle, already on his way to alert the watch.
Just before midday, master and mate came out on deck and began the noon site ritual, Darcy with a sextant, Mr. Boyle with a pocket watch and writing pad. After several minutes of sighting and marking off the times, then going back in to calculate the position, Darcy straightened up from the table and said, "Well, we are about forty six degrees, fifteen minutes north and one hundred twenty three degrees, twenty three minutes west. That puts us about off the mouth of the Columbia River. We have a run of about a hundred and forty some-odd miles to go until we reach the Strait of Juan de Fuca."
In the office of the D and D Shipping Company, after the Hannah Devida sailed, Joseph went to a locked cupboard and brought out a small leather valise with the initials, "M.D." embossed on the side. He opened the valise to display a number of medical instruments held in place by leather thongs. Then he released a small hidden catch to reveal a false bottom. "Jack you'll be needin' gold to buy a ship as it may well be that no ship builder will accept a stranger's credit. I'm puttin' ten small leather pouches of gold under the bottom here."
Jack had seen the phony valise many times before and was busy cleaning and loading an 1850's colt revolver to place inside it. "You know, Joseph, I have relatives I would like to see back in the old country. Once I have a vessel under construction I would like to take a trip to the British Isles." Jack spun the well-oiled cylinder then carefully put the loaded gun in the valise and closed the hasp, "When I come back, she should be ready to sail for Frisco."
"Umm, well now, who would oversee her as she was being built?"
"Oh, I could hire a mate, which I would need anyway, and he could look after that part while I was gone."
"Use good judgment then Jack. Make sure she is well underway before you leave for England."
"Aye Joseph, I'll be leaving in the morning then, and I'm off. Say good bye to Hannah for me, see you in a few months." Jack grasped the valise and headed out the door.
The next morning Jack was outward bound for Panama on a smaller two-masted brigantine. The trip was long and monotonous; it included a number of stops for freight and passengers along the way. The ship contained a few old newspapers. Jack read and reread editorials on the unrest within his nation. One edition reported a debate between Illinois Senator, Stephen A. Douglas and a little known lawyer named Abraham Lincoln. The debate centered on the slavery question and the Senator's Kansas-Nebraska Act, which left the question of owning slaves in those two states up to their legislatures. Jack shrugged, replaced the pile of old newspapers and settled into the routine of the southward bound vessel.
They were at sea for twenty-one days. The temperature rose as they steamed south. Heat became the biggest concern second only to the abysmal lack of variety in the food. Jack was happy, indeed, when they entered Panama Bay; the bay, however, was shallow and busy, it was too difficult to bring the brigantine alongside and the ship had to anchor out. Passengers were being rowed ashore in the ship's boats. People waited with their belongings in a lineup on deck. Jack held onto the valise marked, M.D. very firmly with his left hand. The other hand absently fingered the watch chain fastened to his vest and followed it across to a pocket on the other side. He withdrew a handsome gold watch and opened the case. He had been waiting three hours and seventeen minutes. He was now one of only two passengers left to go ashore. The other, a big man of unkempt appearance, carrying only a small bag of clothing watched carefully as Jack replaced the watch. The big man easily swung down the ladder and got into the small boat. Jack had to hand a carpetbag he carried full of clothes down to a seaman; but he held onto the valise marked M.D. as he got in. Jack was careful not to belie the bag's appearance; although, it looked quite light it was actually quite heavy.
The four seamen pushed the lifeboat's bow away from the ship and began rowing for shore. They quickly covered the watery expanse and the boat's stem rammed the soft embankment. Jack and the other passenger soon stood on the shore. In front of them, a well-trodden pathway through the jungle led to the railway station. Jack picked up his bag in one hand and with the valise in the other set out for the train. The stranger followed. Jack had just entered the overhanging foliage when he heard a metallic click and a sharp command, "Stand where yeh be, or y'ur a dead man sure." Jack turned slowly, his heart pounding, he faced a pistol cocked and pointing at him.
"Don't-don't shoot." Jack stammered, his eyes widening, his mouth half open. He dropped the carpetbag and lowered the valise to the ground. "Look, I'll give you anything you want." His hand trembled. "Take this watch." Jack fumbled to undo the 'T' at the end of the chain from his vest buttonhole. The stranger grabbed the watch and eyed it with some satisfaction. Jack fell to his knees on the ground, "Open the lid, you'll never see a more valuable watch, and I have more in this valise. Look! I'll show you." As Jack was opening the valise, the stranger awkwardly tried to open the watch while holding the big revolver in the other hand.
Jack's hand plunged into the valise groping for the handle of the old colt. The gun's muzzle protruded and in the same instant a blast and a streak of smoke led to a hole spreading blood alongside the stranger's nose. The big man's mouth fell open, his legs crumpled, and he pitched forward onto the jungle path. The sudden jolt from his falling body caused his gun to discharge harmlessly into the undergrowth. Jack looked down at the man, then quietly replaced the spent cartridge from his own gun and carefully put the big colt back in its valise. He stood up and with one foot gently pushed on the prostrate body until it rolled over. Reaching down, he carefully extracted the watch from the dead man's hand then calmly picked up his bags and once again walked toward the station.
Jack paid the twenty-five dollar fee for his ticket to Aspinwall on the Atlantic side, an exorbitant fee for a train ride of only forty-eight miles, he remarked to the ticket agent. The train was soon on its way, railway ties becoming a blur as it rattled through the jungle on its northern route to the Atlantic. The train crossed the isthmus in three hours and Jack booked lodgings on the Atlantic side. The local story that there was a dead laborer for every tie in the railroad was of little concern to Jack.
The next day, in Aspinwall (later to be called Colon), on the Atlantic side of Panama, a rumor was going around that an American from one of the passenger ships had apparently committed suicide shortly after arriving on the Pacific side, and they were looking for the American that had accompanied him ashore.
Jack hastily booked passage on the next packet heading for New York. The first day out, as the steamer churned its way north through the Caribbean, one of the other passengers, a short man, immaculately dressed in a light suit and wearing a broad brimmed white hat, approached Jack as he stood alongside the rail. "Well! Ah must say this breeze is surely a welcome relief from the humidity of the Panama." The fellow said.
"Aye, and the mosquitoes, I feel a bit like a pot roast after a banquet." Jack replied.
"Yes, Ah know what y'all mean." Laughed the other man, "Are you a docto' then? Ah saw you carryin' a medical bag."
"No," smiled Jack, "That's a present for my son; he's a doctor, lives in Boston. No, I'm a ship's Captain."
"Oh, Ah see, too bad, it was kind of comfo'tin' to think we had a docto' on board in case of an accident."
"Well, you're much better off without my skills I can assure you; and, what calling do you follow, may I ask?"
"Ah am a cotton plantuh from Carolina and pleased to make yoh acquaintance suh." The two chatted on as the little steamer churned north toward the islands ahead.
A young lad dressed in a white uniform approached, "I beg your pardon gentlemen, but would you be Mr. Sutton and Captain Davis?"
"Ah am Mr. Sutton."
"And I am Captain Davis."
"The Captain has asked me to enquire if you would like to dine with him this evening?"
"Ah would be delighted, please thank the Captain fo' me."
"Yes, it would be my pleasure." Replied Jack.
"Thank you gentlemen, dinner will be at 8 pm."
Excerpted from Liz by Bill Ratcliffe Copyright © 2010 by Bill Ratcliffe. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsChapter 1 A Business Venture, SAN FRANCISCO 1859....................1
Chapter 2 Fort Victoria....................13
Chapter 3 The Sea Rover, Fitting Out a Schooner....................23
Chapter 4 Liz....................33
Chapter 5 Winter '59-60'-THE WALDORFS....................43
Chapter 6 Fort Victoria-Fitting Out a Sealer....................53
Chapter 7 The Pribilofs....................73
Chapter 8 Pregnant?....................83
Chapter 9 St. Paul's....................89
Chapter 10 Marriages....................93
Chapter 11 A New Arrival....................99
Chapter 12 California, May 1861....................109
Chapter 13 Ranching, 1861....................121
Chapter 14 The Poker Game....................125
Chapter 15 The California 100 and the Grey Ghost....................141
Chapter 16 The Elephant....................157
Chapter 17 Liz and Vikki....................165
Chapter 18 Cedar Creek....................179
Chapter 19 Appomattox....................191
Chapter 20 The Aftermath....................201
Chapter 21 Overland to California....................209
Chapter 22 Old Flames....................227
Chapter 23 A Beginning....................235