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Famous Montville Seafarer met Strange Character in His Whaling Days

smiley Met New Bedford Man.

[...] Rastus cared little to relate the dangers he had seen when death stared him in the face but there was no question about his stand on those occasions. "It's all in the voyage, and you've got to take your chances with whatever comes up." To relate the laughable incidents pleased him immensely and the humorous side of life broke into his reserve. While he was in the Delia Chase, and was cruising near the Falklands, he dropped anchor near Port Stanley and went ashore to buy some provisions. He was met on the wharf by a man in the uniform of an American consul who shook him by the hand and bade him welcome. "I see," said the consul, "that your ship hails from New Bedford, the town where I was born and bred, but whose shore I have not seen for 30 years and shall never again see, but nevertheless I am always glad to see her ships and her sailors. It rather gives me a home-sick feeling, though, and it takes a day or two to wear off."

Rastus looked at the man before him and tried to take his measure. The consul was tall, of athletic frame, who looked as though he would be able to hold his own with the next man if occasion required. His hair and beard were lightly streaked with grey. His dark grey eyes had a merry twinkle, his face wore a smile that did not soon fade. There was an air about him that signified strong self-possession and on the whole he impressed Captain Rastus most favorably. "What have you got in New Bedford that you've made up your mind to keep away from her shores?" queried Rastus, but the consul would not tell him and turned away from the subject. "Thunderin' guns, but you're ruther a queer duck. Away for nigh 30 years and no intention of going back to civilization ag'in seems a kind of a crazy idea for a man of your makeup. What the devil's the matter with you, anyway?" The consul laughed at the frank speech of Rastus, though he had no intention to enlighten him further.

They walked around the island for a long time agreeably entertaining each other with subjects of conversation that amounted to an interchange of news only with not a single reference to New Bedford. The consul took him into a large store, which contained everything from a bull rake to an anchor and told him that the place and all it contained belonged to him. "Well, I'll be blowed," exclaimed Rastus, "but you must be some pumpkins. What else have you got together?" The consul quietly showed him a steamer tied up at a wharf, which belonged to himself and which, he said, plied between Port Stanley and the mainland of South America every once in so often. Rastus, who was naturally averse to an expression of praise, queried, "Who runs that tub?" "Sometimes I do," answered the consul, "and again my first mate takes my place. Don't you think she's a hardy sort of a tub?" Rastus looked the vessel over and reckoned she'd do in a pinch. "Gosh darn your tripe, you must own half of the Falklands," exclaimed Rastus. The consul laughed at the bluntness of the visitor. Then Rastus was shown a small hut made of cobble-stones which was the consul's first home. "I've got another" he said, "on one of the lower islands, and if you're going to be in port for a day or two I'll take you down there to dinner." The Yankee skipper thanked him and accepted the invitation. "Yes," continued the consul, "I built both my houses of cobbles and I designed and constructed them myself." Rastus looked at the cobblestone hut again and intimated that it would make a good dog-house and there was nothing original in the design. "Wait till you see my mansion," returned the consul, "and when you do you may be able to give me a little credit."

Consul Revealed His Name.

The consul was invited to pay a visit to the Delia Chase the next evening and he accepted. After a long talk about whaling and sealing the visit came to a close and the consul went ashore for the night. After he had gone Rastus remarked to his mate that the consul was a "drefful queer duck. You know he has never given me his name, but he is coming to get me in the morning as he wants me to take dinner in his mansion and I'll be darned if I don't find out what his name is." The consul, true to his promise, was alongside the next morning and took away the captain of the Delia Chase in a fine sailboat. When Rastus saw the mansion with its columns and towers on the top of a high hill and examined the whole exterior, he exclaimed: "How do I know but you're the Count of Monte Cristo? What's your name? How in thunderation do you expect me to go to dinner and meet your wife without knowing what to call her?" The spontaneous outburst please the consul greatly, as he knew that his countryman was giving vent to his natural way of expression. "My name is Smiley, and before you leave I will give you my reasons for withholding it and will also tell you why I have no desire to return to the home of my boyhood. Come, now, let's go inside and get some dinner. My wife was formerly an American actress whom I married in Montevideo several years ago. She will be glad to see you, knowing that you come from America."

Captain Rastus found Mrs. Smiley a handsome woman of middle age, who received him in a most cheerful and charming manner and while the captain duly appreciated his welcome and used homely but sincere language, he felt, as he afterwards said, that he "was a little bit out of sorts as just what to say and do." The hostess, after expressing her delight in seeing one of her own countrymen away down at the foot of the world, would have him conduct himself just as he would aboard ship for there were no hard and fast rules of drawing-room or table etiquette that were binding in the Smiley household. The servants were spoken to in the Spanish tongue, as they could talk no English. Smiley told the captain that he could rattle off Spanish as fast as he could talk. Rastus never saw so great a variety of good things on a table in his life. Dish after dish of dessert was passed until he was forced to call a halt and he allowed that he ate like a grizzly bear. All through the meal time Mrs. Smiley asked questions about America. She had been trying for years to go there with her husband and live somewhere on its sacred soil. But he would not go and she sighed more than once to think she might not see here native land again.

Gives Family History.

"I'd like to take both on you in my schooner," said Rastus, "but people living a mansion like this wouldn't enjoy quarters that we have on the Delia Chase." On the way back Consul Smiley gave a part of his personal history to Rastus. His family were among the well-to-do in New Bedford and were respected. From early boyhood he had an early craving for the sea and at 17 obtained the consent of his parents to go on a whaling voyage to the South Atlantic. The captain of the ship was a New Bedford man and was well spoken of. After the ship was a few days out he found the captain was not the agreeable man that he thought him to be. He scolded the sailors for standing around when there was nothing to do and was angry in not finding work to keep them busy. He became abusive and personal and because one sailor told him he would tolerate no tyranny the captain struck him on the shoulder with a marlinspike that paralyzed his right arm for a long time. "Young as I was," said Smiley, "I objected to his brutal action and told him I would hit him with the first thing that I could lay my hands on if I ever saw him abuse a sailor again." He became more enraged than ever a t what I said and made a lunge at me. I dodged and tripped him up and he fell heavily to the deck. The first and second mates rushed up and seizing me placed me in irons, where i was kept five days on bread and water.

Swam Ashore in Falklands.

"After I was released the captain kept picking on me daily, but I stood it, as I did not want to be put in irons again. I made up my mind to desert the ship when we got in sight of land and one day overhearing the captain say to the mate that we were nearing the Falklands, I watched for the land. Late in the afternoon I saw a lot of islands ahead of us and when I thought I was within swimming distance I dropped quietly off the stern of the ship and struck out. No one saw me, not even a few of the sailors who knew my intentions. After swimming what seemed to me a long time, I found that I was mistaken about the distance, for the shore seemed afar off. I felt my strength failing and knowing my case to be one of sink or swim, I mustered up all the stamina I could and reached the shore after dark. I tried to stand on my feet but could not and in my weakness I dropped on the sand and crawled up beyond high water mark and fell asleep. The sun was high when I awakened and I set out in search of something to eat and got a good meal from a hospitable family who lived nearby. I did not know if civilized people lived on the island and supposed if there was I might not be able to speak their tongue. Well, you know the rest."

"I want to say a few words concerning my reason for not going to my old home in new Bedford. As you perhaps know there is always suspicion at home if a man goes away and makes money that his riches were obtained in an unworthy manner and especially if he goes to sea and makes his home on some far away island, as I have done, they will charge him with profiting by piracy. That is the way that people have spoken of me in New Bedford and I am not going back there with affidavits as to my honesty. Smiley the pirate of the Falklands, is the way that I am referred to in some coast cities of the United States but, so help me God, I never wronged any man and made my money in a lawful way. I will make one exception, however, in the case of a Yankee captain who came to Port Stanley many years ago. I played a trick on him which cost him the price of a couple of anchors and I never felt that I lowered my status as a man for doing it. I will tell you how it came about.

Played Trick on Yankee.

"The Yankee captain and I were talking on the wharf and from the way he went on I thought that he must have taken a still horn of red rum. He asked me if I ever heard of a Yankee pirate whose den was on some island in the South Atlantic ocean and I answered him by saying there were pirates in these seas, but I could not call them by name. He continued by saying that he was told to look after his rigging and anchors if he made any stops: that the cussed Pirate Smiley would take anything that wasn't nailed down, and concluded by saying that the devilish cuss would get a rifle ball in his carcass if he fooled around his ship in the night time.

"I made up my mind to fool that Yankee captain for traducing my character. He invited me to take supper with him the next evening on his ship and I accepted, provided I could bring my mate also, which was agreed. I saw my mate and told him my plan. I was to take three bottles of red rum and get the captain and mate drunk, and he must take five bottles of the same and fix the crew up. My deck hands were to follow with a boat two hours after the departure of the mate and myself and take away the anchors and put them in a room connected with my store. Everything went through as planned. The anchors were painted and the next afternoon the Yankee skipper was over to my store looking for a pair. He was madder than a hornet and admitted that some pirates had just stolen two of his. 'I am just as sure that Smiley and his gang took those anchors as I am that I stand here. Now you're here as consul and you ought to write to Washington and get the revenue cutters and a ram to come down in this region and smoke that infernal pirate out. Darn him! I wish I could lay my hands on him; I'd hang him on the gaff as quick as you could say Jack Robinson.' I told him to call around next day and I would fish up a couple of anchors for him. He came around, paid me for the anchors, which he said were about the same size as his'n, and lugged them off."

Rastus never saw Consul Smiley afterward, but through other sailors he heard of his death and that his estate figured up more than $100,000. Rastus believed that Smiley earned his fortune by leading in enterprises where others hesitated and that he was more sinned against than sinning.

R. B. Wall

Source: "The Evening Day" (New London, CT), 30 April 1921
Illustration: "Where the Wateree Was". Harper's New Monthly Magazine, April 1865
Clipped: 9-VII-2013
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