The Last of the
Closet by Edward Everett Hale
FROM THE INGHAM PAPERS.
[The Florida, Anglo-Rebel pirate, after inflicting horrible
injuries on the commerce of America and the good name of
was cut out by Captain Collins, from the bay of Bahia, by one
those fortunate mistakes in international law which endear
men to the nations in whose interest they are committed. When
arrived here the government was obliged to disavow the act.
question then was, as we had her by mistake, what we should do
her. At that moment the National Sailors' Fair was in full
Boston, and I offered my suggestion in answer in the following
article, which was published November 19, 1864, in the
Whistle, a little paper issued at the fair.
The government did not take the suggestion. Very unfortunately,
before the Florida was got ready for sea, she was accidentally
in a collision with a tug off Fort Monroe, and the heirs of
Confederate government or the English bond-holders must look
for her, if the Brazilian government will give them
For the benefit of the New York Observer I will state that a
despatch sent round the world in a spiral direction westward
times, would not really arrive at its destination four years
it started. It is only a joke which suggests it.]
LETTER FROM CAPTAIN INGHAM, IN COMMAND OF THE FLORIDA.
[Received four years in advance of the mail by a lightning
which has gained that time by running round the world 1,200
in a spiral direction westward on its way from Brazil to our
publication-office. Mrs. Ingham's address not being known, the
letter is printed for her information.]
BAHAI, BRAZIL, April 1, 1868.
MY DEAR WIFE:We are here at last, thank fortune; and I shall
surrender the old pirate to-day to the officers of government. We have
been saluted, are to be fêted, and perhaps I shall be made a Knight
Commander of the Golden Goose. I never was so glad as when I saw the
lights on the San Esperitu head-land, which makes the south point of
this Bahia or bay.
You will not have received my No. 28 from Loando, and may have
missed 26 and 24, which I gave to outward bound whalemen. I
always doubted whether you got 1, 7, 9, and 11. And for me I have no
word of you since you waved your handkerchief from the window in
Springfield Street on the morning of the 1st of June, 1865, nearly four
years. My dear child, you will not know me.
Let me then repeat, very briefly, the outline of this strange
cruise; and when the letters come, you can fill in the blanks.
The government had determined that the Florida must be returned to
the neutral harbor whence she came. They had put her in complete
repair, and six months of diplomacy had made the proper apologies to
the Brazilian government. Meanwhile Collins, who had captured her by
mistake, had, by another mistake, been made an admiral, and was
commanding a squadron; and to insure her safe and respectful delivery,
I, who had been waiting service, was unshelved, and, as you know,
bidden to take command.
She was in apple-pie order. The engines had been cleaned up; and I
thought we could make a quick thing of it. I was a little dashed when I
found the crew was small; but I have been glad enough since that we had
no more mouths. No one but myself knew our destination. The men thought
we were to take despatches to the Gulf squadron.
You remember I had had only verbal orders to take command, and after
we got outside the bay I opened my sealed despatches. The gist of them
was in these words:
You will understand that the honor of this government is pledged
for the safe delivery of the Florida to the government of
Brazil. You will therefore hazard nothing to gain speed. The quantity
of your coal has been adjusted with the view to give your vessel her
best trim, and the supply is not large. You will husband it with
care,taking every precaution to arrive in Bahia safely with
your charge, in such time as your best discretion may suggest to
Your best discretion was underscored.
I called Prendergast, and showed him the letter. Then we called the
engineer and asked about the coal. He had not been into the bunkers,
but went and returned with his face white, through the black grime, to
report not four days' consumption. By some cursed accident, he said,
the bunkers had been filled with barrels of salt-pork and flour!
On this, I ordered a light and went below. There had been some fatal
misunderstanding somewhere. The vessel was fitted out as for an arctic
voyage. Everywhere hard-bread, flour, pork, beef, vinegar, sour-krout;
but, clearly enough, not, at the very best, five days of coal!
And I was to get to Brazil with this old pirate transformed into a
provision ship, at my best discretion.
Prendergast, said I, we will take it easy. Were you ever in
Took flour there in '55, and lay waiting for India-rubber from July
to October. Lost six men by yellow-jack.
Prendergast was from the merchant marine. I had known him since we
were children. Ethan, said I, in my best discretion it would be bad
to arrive there before the end of October. Where would you go?
I cannot say he took the responsibility. He would not take it. You
know, my dear, of course, that it was I who suggested Upernavik. From
the days of the old marbled paper Northern Regions,through the quarto
Ross and Parry and Back and the nephew Ross and Kane and McClure and
McClintock, you know, my dear, what my one passion has been,to see
those floes and icebergs for myself. Surely you forgive me, or at least
excuse me. Do not you? Here was this fast steamer under me. I ought not
to be in Bahia before October 25. It was June 1. Of course we went to
I will not say I regret it now. Yet I will say that on that
decision, cautiously made, though it was on my discretion, all our
subsequent misfortunes hang. The Danes were kind to us,the Governor
especially, though I had to carry the poor fellow bad news about the
Duchies and the Danish war, which was all fresh then. He got up a dance
for us, I remember, and there I wrote No. 1 to you. I could not of
course helpwhen we left himrunning her up a few degrees to the
north, just to see whether there is or is not that passage between
Igloolik and Prince Rupert's Headland (and by the way there is).
After we passed Igloolik, there was such splendid weather, that I just
used up a little coal to drive her along the coast of King William's
Land; and there, as we waited for a little duck-shooting on the edge of
a floe one day, as our luck ordered, a party of natives came on board,
and we treated them with hard-tack crumbs and whale-oil. They fell to
dancing, and we to laughing,they danced more and we laughed more,
till the oldest woman tumbled in her bear-skin bloomers, and came with
a smash right on the little cast-iron frame by the wheel, which
screened binnacle and compass. My dear child, there was such a hullalu
and such a mess together as I remember now. We had to apologize; the
doctor set her head as well as he could. We gave them gingerbread from
the cabin, to console them, and got them off without a fight. But the
next morning when I cast off from the floe, it proved the beggars had
stolen the compass card, needle and all.
My dear Mary, there was not another bit of magnetized iron in the
ship. The government had been very shy of providing instruments of any
kind for Confederate cruisers. Poor Ethan had traded off two compasses
only the day before for whalebone spears and skin breeches, neither of
which knew the north star from the ace of spades. And this thing proved
of more importance than you will think; it really made me feel that the
stuff in the books and the sermons about the mariners' needle was not
As you shall see, if I ever get through. (Since I began, I have seen
the Consul,and heard the glorious news from home,and am to be
presented to the port authorities to-morrow.) It was the most open
summer, Mary, ever known there. If I had not had to be here in October,
I would have driven right through Lancaster Sound, by Baring's Island,
and come out into the Pacific. But here was the honor of the country,
and we merely stole back through the Straits. It was well enough
there,all daylight, you know. But after we passed Cape Farewell, we
worked her into such fogs, child, as you never saw out of Hyde Park.
Did not I long for that compass-card! We sailed, and we sailed, and we
sailed. For thirty-seven days I did not get an observation, nor speak a
ship! October! It was October before we were warm. At noon we used to
sail where we thought it was lightest. At night I used to keep two men
up for a lookout, lash the wheel, and let her drift like a Dutchman.
One way as good as another. Mary, when I saw the sun at last, enough to
get any kind of observation, we were wellnigh three hundred miles
northeast of Iceland! Talk of fogs to me!
Well, I set her south again, but how long can you know if you are
sailing south, in those places where the northeast winds and Scotch
mists come from! Thank Heaven, we got south, or we should have frozen
to death. We got into November, and we got into December. We were as
far south as 37° 29'; and were in 31° 17' west on New Year's Day, 1866,
when the second officer wished me a happy new year, congratulated me on
the fine weather, said we should get a good observation, and asked me
for the new nautical almanac! You know they are only calculated for
five years. We had two Greenwich ones on board, and they ran out
December 31, 1865. But the government had been as stingy in almanacs as
in coal and compasses. They did not mean to keep the Confederacy in
That was the beginning of our troubles. I had to take the old
almanac, with Prendergast, and we figured like Cocker, and always kept
ahead with a month's tables. But somehow,I feel sure we were
right,but something was wrong; and after a few weeks the lunars used
to come out in the most beastly way, and we always proved to be on the
top of the Andes or in the Marquesas Islands, or anywhere but in the
Atlantic Ocean. Well then, by good luck, we spoke the Winged Batavian;
could not speak a word of Dutch, nor he a word of English; but he let
Ethan copy his tables, and so we ran for St. Sacrament. I posted 8, 9,
and 10 there; I gave the Dutchman 7, which I hope you got, but fear.
Well, this story is running long; but at St. Sacrament we started
again, but, as ill-luck would have it, without a clean bill of health.
At that time I could have run into Bahia with coalof which I had
bought somein a week. But there was fever on shore,and bad,and I
knew we must make pratique when we came into the outer harbor here; so,
rather than do that, we stretched down the coast, and met that cyclone
I wrote you about, and had to put into Loando. Understand, this was the
first time we went into Loando. I have learned that wretched hole well
enough since. And it was as we were running out of Loando, that, in
reversing the engine too suddenly, lest we should smash up an old
Portuguese woman's bum-boat, that the slides or supports of the
piston-rod just shot out of the grooves they run in on the top, came
cleverly down on the outside of the carriage, gave that odious
g-r-r-r, which I can hear now, and then, dump,down came
the whole weight of the walking-beam, bent rod and carriages all into
three figure 8's, and there we were! I had as lief run the boat with a
clothes-wringer as with that engine, any day, from then to now.
Well, we tinkered, and the Portuguese dock-yard people tinkered. We
took out this, and they took out that. It was growing sickly, and I got
frightened, and finally I shipped the propeller and took it on board,
and started under such canvas as we had left,not much after the
cyclone,for the North and the South together had rather rotted the
Then,as I wrote you in No. 11,it was too late to get to Bahia
before that summer's sickly season, and I stretched off to cooler
regions again, in my best discretion. That was the time when we had
the fever so horribly on board; and but for Wilder the surgeon, and the
Falkland Islands, we should be dead, every man of us, now. But we
touched in Queen's Bay just in time. The Governor (who is his own only
subject) was very cordial and jolly and kind. We all went ashore, and
pitched tents, and ate ducks and penguins till the men grew strong. I
scraped her, nearly down to the bends, for the grass floated by our
side like a mermaid's hair as we sailed, and the once swift Florida
would not make four knots an hour on the wind;and this was the ship I
was to get into Bahia in good order, at my best discretion!
Meanwhile none of these people had any news from America. The last
paper at the Falkland Islands was a London Times of 1864, abusing the
Yankees. As for the Portuguese, they were like the people Logan saw at
Vicksburg. They don't know anything good! said he; they don't know
anything at all! It was really more for news than for water I put into
Sta. Lucia,and a pretty mess I made of it there. We looked so like
pirates (as at bottom the old tub is), that they took all of us who
landed to the guard-house. None of us could speak Sta. Lucia, whatever
that tongue may be, nor understand it. And it was not till Ethan fired
a shell from the 100-pound Parrott over the town that they let us go. I
hope the dogs sent you my letters. I suppose there was another
infringement of neutrality. But if the Brazilian government sends this
ship to Sta. Lucia, I shall not command her, that's all!
Well! what happened at Loando the second time, Valencia, and Puntos
Pimos, and Nueva Salamanca, and Loando this last time, you know and
will know, and why we loitered so. At last, thank fortune, here we are.
Actually, Mary, this ship logged on the average only thirty-two knots a
day for the last week before we got her into port.
Now think of the ingratitude of men! I have brought her in here,
according to my best discretion, and do you believe, these hidalgos,
or dons, or señores, or whatever they are, had forgotten she existed.
And when I showed them to her, they said in good Portugal that I was a
liar. Fortunately the Consul is our old friend Kingsley. He was
delighted to see me; thought I was at the bottom of the sea. From him
we learned that the Confederacy was blown sky-high long ago. And from
all I can learn, I may have the Florida back again for my own private
yacht or peculium, unless she goes to Sta. Lucia.
Not I, my friends! Scrape her, and mend her, and give her to the
marines,and tell them her story; but do not intrust her again to my
own Polly's own