Sunday, 6 September 2009

Bimshaw, the Pirate - Part 1, 1918

Bimshaw, the Pirate Part 1, 1918

Bimshaw, the Pirate By A. HYATT VERRILL Part 1 of a serialized story from The American Boy magazine, November 1918.

Digitized by Doug Frizzle, August 2009.

Illustrated by W alt Louderback

BEYOND the rim of the sea the sun was sinking in a blaze of glory and painting the Caribbean with marvelous hues of purple and crimson, while along the beach the waving palms were silhouetted against the lurid sky like inlays of ebony on a sheet of burnished gold. The trade wind fanned our faces, rustled the jasmine that clambered above the portico and filled the air with the heavy fragrance of innumerable blossoms. Over all hung an air of romance, of mystery and the spell of the tropics, and our conversation turned to past days in the islands, of brave and bloody deeds, of pirates and of buccaneers. "Many of those old pirates changed their ways," remarked my host, "settled down and became respected members of the community, and more than one West Indian fortune had its foundation laid in pirates' loot. Indeed, this very place once belonged to a pirate, a man named Greaves; found the story of his life where it had dropped out of sight behind a drawer in an old desk. Would you care to see it?" Rising, we entered the house, and from his safe the planter drew forth a package, yellow with age, riddled by insects and covered with faded but still legible writing. "Here it is." he remarked as he handed me the manuscript. "You're welcome to it. Greaves has no living relatives as far as I know, and it's of no use to me." Eagerly I spread out the sheets, and as I read I seemed transported back two hundred years or more, to the days when the Jolly Roger flew at the mastheads of countless craft, and stately galleons, treasure laden, sailed the Spanish Main. For the story was that of Bimshaw, the pirate, written by himself and, omitting the quaint spelling and phraseology, I will present it in the following pages. CHAPTER I. AS I sit here, looking forth at the peaceful scene and listening to the prattle and laughter of Brand's children, my mind harks back to other days and other scenes which now, to me, seem more like strange dreams or nightmares than events in which I had a part. But upon the wall of my room hangs my trusty cutlass, and I have but to open my battered sea chest to see my pistols and I know—though others know it not—that beneath yon palm tree lies the carcass of that vile dog who thought to drag me again to the old life. What I have been, what I have done, has been through no wish of my own, and I have made what amends I can and, for myself, the past troubles me not at all. And, as I have no kith nor kin, my story might die and be buried with me, and none be the wiser—save Brand, to whom I owe my present lot, and his wife who, like the angel she is, has generously forgiven all. Fate plays strange pranks, and often I laugh to think what would happen were my fellows to learn who I am, I warrant me they would scatter like frightened chicks before a hawk, did they but know the worthy planter, Geofrey Greaves, was none other than Bimshaw, the pirate, even though I have the King's pardon in my chest. Dearly would I love to see their faces, were I to set my true colors, and while, for Brand's sake, I care not to make myself known, yet the humor has seized me to set down the story of my life so that when I have gone, all may read and know who it was that bore the name of Geoffrey Greaves, OF MY EARLY LIFE I know but little, for my father and mother were sent forth from Ireland to be sold as slaves in the Barbados, with many other unfortunates, during the bloody days when Cromwell’s men and the Royalists were slitting one another's throats. Fortunately for my parents, they were both bought by one man, a worthy planter, kindly hearted and with a secret sympathy for their case, and while they bore the marks of slavery upon them in the shape of branded cheeks and slit ears, yet, through my master's goodness, I was spared this barbarous disgrace. In Squire Greaves' service I grew from infancy to youth, and my lot was not hard, for my parents were treated well and my father was made an overseer, while I, as a companion to the squire's son, was taught by Master Greaves' tutors, and spent much of my time in the great house. Thus it came about that in later years, when I sought for a worthy name, I took that of one for whom I had but the kindest feelings and the greatest respect. But evil days came upon the land, pestilence visited the island, and yellow fever swept away many. Among the victims were the squire and his lady—as well as Master Dudley and my parents—and all the squire's possessions, including his slaves, were sold at auction. Then for the first time I felt the lash, for my new master was one Cranston, a dissolute scoundrel, whose greatest pleasure was to make his slaves cringe and suffer, Of my life with him I have no cause to write, and suffice to say that finding my lot unbearable, and knowing full well that to resent the cruelties I suffered would mean the pillory or the gibbet, I determined to run away. I was a sturdy, well-grown lad, and much of my labor was dragging the puncheons of rum and molasses from my master's warehouse to the lighters at the quay, and thus I came to know much of the water front and of shipping, and I determined to steal forth at night, swim to some vessel about to sail for distant ports, and hide myself on board until the land was far astern. There were many ships constantly at anchor in the roadstead, and well I knew that I must make sure to reach one which was outward bound to other lands for, did I by misadventure hide myself upon some craft which had but just arrived, or which by chance was sailing to neighboring colonies, my plight would he a sorry one. Hence I bided my time, watching the shipping and picking up chance news of the bayside from loitering seamen, until opportunity favored me and I learned that the ship Sea Venture was lying off Hastings and would sail next daybreak for New Amsterdam. I was greatly pleased at this, for among the Dutch I would be reasonably safe and, knowing the name of the ship, I could make no mistake. AT MIDNIGHT I crept forth from the kennel that served to house me, and in the shelter of the canes made my way to the highroad. I reached the beach in safety and, crouching in the shadows of the palm trees and sea grape thickets, peered forth at the twinkling lights that marked the vessels riding to their moorings in Carlisle Bay. There was no moon, but against the sky I could see the masts and rigging of the ships and at a space from the others, one which I took to be the ship which I sought. Wading far out through the warm water and braving the dangers of sharks, I swam toward the dark mass which marked my goal. I was a strong swimmer and I feared not that I would he able to reach the ship, but the way was much longer than I had thought and, though I knew it not at the time, a strong current was setting me to the southward. As I lifted my head above water from time to time and gazed ahead, the ship seemed no nearer than from the shore and, the land having become lost to view in the darkness, I became confused and knew not if I was keeping a true course or had turned about. Fears now assailed me that I might not reach the vessel, for I was greatly exhausted, and ever and anon was compelled to turn upon my back and float to ease my weary muscles. Even if I perished in the sea, even if I were devoured by a hungry shark, my fate would be better than to suffer longer in slavery ashore, so I had no mind to turn back and, truth to tell, I could not have done so had I wished, for now nothing but black sea and blacker sky could I see save the far distant lights of Bridgetown and the vessels in the harbor. Then, as again I floated upon the sea, my ears caught the sound of creaking blocks, and, turning quickly, I saw the dark shape of a ship looming near at hand. Great indeed was my joy at finding refuge so close, and so spent was I by my long swim that, without stopping to learn if it were indeed the craft I sought, I pulled my weary body into the fore chains and, cautiously raising my head above the bulwarks, peered along the deck. Then for the first time I realized that the vessel was under sail, for so light was the breeze that she seemed not to move, and only by her canvas being spread and by the helmsman, whose form I could dimly see, did I know that the ship was not at anchor. At the bottom of the foremast a man was huddled, but he was snoring lustily and, no other sailor being in sight, I clambored over the rail and crouched in the shadow, peering about for some spot in which to hide. Near the bow was some object loosely covered with a piece of canvas, and creeping under this I threw myself upon the deck, and, exhausted, fell at once asleep. HOW LONG I SLEPT I know not, for I was awakened by a thunderous sound and sat up, rubbing my eyes and at a loss to know where I was. Again the crash and roar deafened my ears and shook the ship, to be followed by shouts and cries and, somewhat dazed, I lifted the canvas and crawled forth. A blinding flash lit up the blackness of the night as the report of guns thundered out, and by their glare I saw half-naked men swarming upon the decks with pistols and cutlasses in belts, gaudy kerchiefs on their heads, and hairy faces fierce with passion. At the sight I shook with fear, for instantly I knew this was no peaceful merchant ship, but a pirate craft. But ere I could gather my scattered wits together a hand seized me by the shoulder, a cutlass was thrust in my hand and a voice in my ear roared: "Avast lad! Stand not gaping like a booby. See ye not the prize is ours? Up and at 'em an' show your mettle." Before the fellow had ceased speaking or I, befuddled, could grasp the meaning of his words, the ship grated alongside another vessel and, scarce knowing what I did, I hurried after him, cutlass in hand and the next instant was swallowed up in a struggling, cursing, fighting mass of men. Frightened, dazed, my eyes smarting with the smoke of burning powder, my heart pounding with excitement, I struggled with the rest, shouting as lustily as any and striving to keep close at the heels of the only form I knew, he who had placed the cutlass in my grasp. Now we were at the ship's rail; all about us naked steel gleamed in the flash of pistol shots and I saw men fall beneath blows of sword and pike. A ruffian lunged at me, I screamed aloud as the cutlass pierced my shoulder and at the prick of steel my brain went mad, my blood boiled and a lust to kill surged through me. With a savage blow I cut down my enemy ere he could strike again. As he fell I tore the sword from his grasp and slashing, thrusting blindly to right and left, I gained the bulwarks and leaped upon the deck of the other ship. All about were knots of men, fighting like fiends; the planks were slippery with blood; dead and dying men strewed the decks, and close at hand, his back against the mast and with one arm hanging helpless at his side, stood the one I knew. Before him stood a burly seaman with a handspike uplifted ready to strike, and with a yell I sprang at him, thrusting with one cutlass, slashing with the other. I felt the soft impact as my blade met his flesh; I caught sight of the swiftly falling bar, a thousand lights danced before my eyes, I felt myself sinking into utter darkness and knew no more. CHAPTER II. I OPENED MY EYES to find myself lying upon a rude couch in a dimly lit room. Close above my head were huge timbers, the air was stifling and my head throbbed with pain. From near at hand came crashing blows as of someone striving to stave in the wall, and the room seemed to shake and to dance about to the blows. At first I thought it but due to my broken head, and then the events of the night came back to me and I knew full well I was upon a ship at sea, but whether upon the pirate ship or the vessel whereon I had been struck down, I knew not. I strove to rise, but barely did I sit up in my bed than I was seized with terrible nausea and fell back weak and sick. Never had I been at sea before, and I knew nothing of the illness which landsmen suffer, and I was beset with fears that I was sick unto death and would come to my end in this black hole. Moreover, I was greatly terrified, for I was pitched and tossed about upon my pallet; my ears were assailed with groaning, creaking noises, and with each thunderous blow upon the walls my heart ceased to beat, for now I was firmly convinced that the ship which bore me was either wrecked upon a rock or was beset by a storm and would soon founder. But though I trembled with fear at the thought of being drowned like a rat in this way, yet was my illness greater than my fear, and each time I strove to rise and escape, I fell back, unable to move. Then, at last, my stomach emptied itself and I was greatly relieved, and lying back I gave myself up to whatever fate might have in store for me. Thus was I resting, and caring little whether or not the ship lived through the tempest, when a door was opened and a figure entered bearing a smoking lant horn. As I blinked in the light my visitor roared out a boisterous laugh and cried: "Ahoy lad, so Davy Jones is not to have ye yet, eh! Truth, 'tis a hard skull must be hid 'neath that tow-thatch o' yours. The blow would 'a' staved a puncheon, my hearty. An' ye ran him through neatly, lad, there's no denying. But 'twas a close shave for ye, mate, an' a closer one for me. Thank ye kindly lad, an' here's my hand on it." Thus speaking the fellow thrust out a huge, hairy list and wrung my hand, and now I knew why his hearty voice and one arm hanging in a sling that the man was he whom I had followed in the fight and whom I had found facing the fellow with the handspike which had struck me down. But I was too sick and weak to speak, and though I tried to smile yet it must have been but a sorry attempt, for my visitor exclaimed: "Sick, eh? Cheer up lad, 'tis but the illness of the sea an' will pass off soon. A nip o' rum an' a bite o' biscuit will help. An' ye come on deck the salt air will blow the sickness off, I warrant ye." So saying he started towards the door, but the dread of loneliness overcame me, for his presence was comforting indeed, and I made shift to speak, imploring him not to leave and vowing 'twould be impossible for me to swallow anything or to go forth to the deck while the storm raged so furiously. At this the pirate guffawed tremendously. "Storm!" he cried aloud. "There's no storm, lad. True the girl is dancing a bit, but every stitch o' canvas is set and 'tis a lively breeze, an' lucky for us 'tis so. Aye lad, come on deck an' ye'll see a rare sight. Two o' the King's ships a-chasing us and trying to reach close enough to heave a solid shot into our stern. But a stern chase's a long chase, lad, an' we've heels, lad, heels to lead the King's men a merry chase." I WAS VASTLY AMAZED at his bold statement I that there was no storm; but, though relieved in my mind at this, yet the fact that we were being chased by the King's ships filled me with dread. Well I knew that did they gain us there would be short shift for the pirates and that I, found amongst them, would share their fate or, failing this, if I declared myself, I would be taken back to slavery in the Barbados. Indeed so greatly was I terrified at these thoughts that I seized the sleeve of the man and strove to gain my feet. As I did so the boom of a gun roared out above our heads, and the sound and terror drove all illness from me. Forgetful of my throbbing head and weakness, I sprang from the bed and rushed after the pirate who had already gained the door. Close at his heels I clambored up a short ladder and, half-blinded by the sudden glare of sunlight after the dark hole below, I reached the deck and gazed about, clinging to the rail to steady my uncertain legs. On every side stretched a waste of wild, tumbling blue sea flecked with breaking crests of foam; above my head towered the great pyramids of snowy canvas, straining at rope and spar with the force of the roaring trade wind; and rushing alongside was a mass of churning, creamy froth, which stretched in a vast white river to the horizon astern. As my eye followed down the gleaming wake, I saw the King's ships, two pillars of white with wet black hulls gleaming in the sunshine, bits of brass work glimmering like points of fire here and there, and small mountains of foam about their bows. "Gad! but 'tis a line sight," cried a voice at my elbow and, turning, I found a young fellow standing beside me. But though his face was beardless as my own, his countenance was as villainous as any hoary old buccaneer; but fate had cast me among his kind, and I perforce answered civilly enough: "Aye," I said, "a fine sight truly, but 'twill not be so fine an' they catch us. Did the shot ye fired touch them?"' "Nay," replied the pirate with an oath. "But the captain bides his time, and ye watch well an' methinks ye'll see the next shot wing the sojers. Aye, bully, you'll not have long to wait. Mark ye, they're making-ready now. Ah! 'tis Long Jack hisself's aiming the piece. A doubloon to a sixpence he'll hit." Looking in the direction he indicated, I saw a little group of men about the long cannon near the stern, and, bending over it and glancing along its top, was my friend of the wounded arm. Even as I looked the ship swerved suddenly, the sails roared like thunder as they spilt the wind, and with a blinding flash the gun roared forth. Before the smoke had rolled away the ship was back on her course, tearing onward through the waves, and a mighty shout went up from the pirates clustered on the decks. Far astern were the King's two ships, but only one now towered up above the sea in all its beauty; the other was a crippled tangle of spars and rigging, drifting helplessly upon the waves. The pirate's shot had done its work. WE WERE now safe for a time, for the other ship gave up the chase and stood by to aid her companion, and Long Jack, as I now knew him to be called, came stalking forward as he caught sight of me. "An' how like ye that, lad?" he shouted. "Mayhap 'twill teach 'em a lesson. What think ye, mate?" "A fine shot," I answered and then, the excitement having gone from me, I slipped weakly down upon the heaving deck. "Here, ye rat," cried Long Jack to the squint-eyed young pirate who stood near. "Fetch a pannikin o' rum an' a biscuit for the lad, he's clean swooned off." But in this Jack was wrong, for I had not swooned, and ill as I was I all but smiled as I noted the manner the fellow took to his heels at my friend's orders. In a moment he was back, bearing a cup of rum and the biscuit; and a sip of the liquor and a few mouthfuls of the bread revived me greatly. By now, the chase being over and danger passed, a goodly group of men had gathered hard by, gazing at me curiously and passing rude jokes at the ragged and sick figure I cut. '"Aye, 'tis the lad saved Jack t'night past," said one. "Aye, a likely cockerel he be," exclaimed another. "An' how happen the clod be aboard, an' who be he?" asked a third. "Ha' lost yer eyes?" guffawed the first speaker. "Can ye no see 'tis a bimshaw lad—mind ye not we had 'Bados close aboard,—an' he has no wings, 'tis like he swam." That is what they called the native of the Barbados—bimshaw. "Bimshaw or no, he's a brave lad an' welcome to the Adventure," interrupted a burly, bow-legged fellow who pushed his way through the rough lot. "An' ye can stand on those pins o' yourn ye're wanted aft," he announced, addressing me. "The cap'n wants a word wi' ye." Much of my weakness having fled, I shambled to my feet, but I reeled at the motion of the ship, and had it not been for Long Jack I would have lurched head over heels adown the deck. A loud laugh arose from the men at my unsteady gait, but Long Jack turned on them fiercely and cried out: "Belay it, bullies. 'Tis he laughs best laughs last; an' the lad gains his sea legs 'twill serve ye well to keep your tongues stowed in your cheeks belike. 'Twould teach ye manners an' ye had a knock on your skulls like as served the lad here." A murmur of approval went up at Jack's speech. "Aye, Jack's right," exclaimed one. " 'Tis a rum way to greet a stranger; he's one o' us lads—a Brother o' the Main." JACK and the bow-legged pirate who had brought the captain's message, and who I found later was the mate, were now leading me aft, and as I came to the poop ladder and Jack left me, he whispered: "Bear up lad an' keep a taut bowlin' an' a civil tongue. ‘Twill be no ill news a-comin' to ye, I’ll warrant me. Ye've mastheaded your colors, an' that's enough for Jerry Hawkins, lad." The next moment I was clamboring up the stairs, the bow-legged mate supporting me from behind and gaining the upper deck, he led me to the stern and shoved me to the doorway. At this instant the stern of the ship lifted to a great sea and I lurched forward, plunged like a round shot through the door and fell sprawling in the center of a cabin. At the crash of my fall, a man sprang from the table and, ripping out a startled oath, leveled a pistol at my head. My heart ceased to beat for an instant and I thought my end had come, but the next moment the pistol was tossed aside, and the man burst into a roar of laughter and sank upon a chair, holding his sides with merriment. "Gad! but ye frightened me," he exclaimed between his laughs. "Faith, I knew not 'twere boarders or mutineers a-burstin' in. An' 'tis but the bimshaw lad! By the name o' Morgan, an' this be your manner o' visiting, ye should send a boat's crew to note your coming. Did Long Jack fire ye from the gun, or was it old Grommet Legs kicked ye?" The captain's good humor did much to reassure me, and, still dazed, I made shift to struggle to my feet, and, touching my forehead, stood like a dolt not knowing what to say. "An' ha' lost your tongue, lad?" cried the captain, fixing me with his piercing gray eyes. "Mayhap the clout ye gained drove it down your gullet; speak up, lad. How came ye on the Adventure; what drove ye here, an' how be ye called?" At this I related my story, begging forgiveness for having boarded his ship, and in much confusion asking pardon for the rude manner in which I'd entered his cabin. The captain sat silent, tapping the table with his finger tips, biting the ends of his long mustachio and thinking deeply. He was a strange figure, gaunt and yellow skinned, with tawny hair and mustache, keen gray eyes and a monstrous hook nose that reminded me of the beaks of the carrion crows that swarm about the 'Bados. He was richly clad in velvet waistcoat, satin coat and silken small clothes, but his long, scrawny shanks were bare and his feet were thrust into great yellow shoes bearing immense silver buckles. He wore no shirt nor singlet, his hairy chest was naked to the scarlet sash about his middle, and across his breast stretched a huge, livid scar. A heavy cutlass hung at his hip, the butts of two pistols stuck from his sash and the jeweled hilt of a dirk gleamed against the deep blue of his waistcoat. All this I saw, but I noted it little at the time for his eyes pierced me through, and I waited, trembling, for what he might say. Greatly I feared he would set me ashore or cast me adrift, for even the miserable slaves had heard tales of the cruelty of the pirates, and Hawkins' name was famed above all but Morgan for his bloodthirsty devilishness. At last he spoke: "I hear well o' ye, lad," he said, and strangely soft and gentle was his voice, like the purring of a woman's tongue, as he went on. "An' ye'd been found stowed away 'twould 'a' gone ill wi' ye; 'twas lucky we struck a prize an' ye showed your mettle. Long Jack has begged ye and I owe him a boon, an' Jerry Hawkins pays his debts, mind ye, be they good or ill. Moreover, such lads as ye are welcome; and ye choose to bide beneath the Jolly Roger, ye may. 'Tis a rough, hard life an' not for weaklings. There's blood to be shed, lad, an' lives a-plenty to be taken an' women's screams will ring in your ears more times than ye have hairs in your head—but 'tis also a merry life while it lasts, an' loot's a-plenty. You've blood on your hands a'ready, an' ye share in the booty ye helped win, gi'en ye sign articles wi' us. An' ye say nay I'll set ye ashore against one o' the islands, or mayhap overhaul a sloop an' bid them take ye. 'Tis uncommon kind o' me to do so—an' ye hadn't saved Jack, 'twould 'a' been sign or the yardarm. My code's a life for a life; so what's to be, lad?" There was little choice for me to make. To be set ashore meant slavery, and I had risked too much to face that again; but on the other hand to sign on the ship meant that I must murder, pillage and destroy. But that already I had done—I could hang no more for many than for one life—and I owed a grudge 'gainst all the world and my mind was quickly made. Touching my forehead I told the pirate captain I would join. "Bravely said, lad," he exclaimed, and so saying, drew forth a sheet of parchment and a quill. Then, drawing his dirk, he bade me hold forth' my hand, and ere I knew what he was about, he drove the keen point of the blade into my wrist. I WINCED AT THE PAIN, but, clenching my teeth, stifled the cry that rose to my lips, for well I knew that any sign of weak heart would meet with scant sympathy and, truth to tell, my long term under the lash had taught me to suffer much in silence. Dipping the quill in the blood that flowed from my wound, the pirate bade me make my mark amid many others. This accomplished, he seized the quill, and after a moment's hesitation, writ some words against the cross that I had made. "An' ye had no name afore ye have one now," he exclaimed. "Bimshaw ye are, an' Bimshaw ye'll be to all Brethren o' the Main. Come ye now forth, that the lads may drink the health o' their new shipmate." I had stood so long that now my legs had somewhat humored themselves to the motion of the deck, and my illness had well nigh all but left me. So, by clinging to the rails and rigging, I made shift to follow after Captain Hawkins and found him standing at the edge of the poop giving orders to the bow-legged mate. "Grommet Legs," as the man was called, was stout and vastly broad, with a scrubby gray beard and a gray thatch, and with a face so red, so rough, and so filled with cracks and corners, that it 'minded me only of an oven brick. Below the poop stood the crew, as villainous a crowd of cutthroats as ever trod a deck, and as I stumbled down the ladder they set up a lusty howl of welcome. Two men now appeared from below decks with a puncheon of rum, and this being broached and pannikins passed round, the captain raised his on high and cried: "Drink to your new shipmate, men, the lad who saved Long Jack—a brave lad an' I mistake not. Here's to many a prize, rich booty and pretty ladies. Three cheers for Bimshaw, the pirate." CHAPTER III. THUS IT CAME ABOUT that I, a 'Bados slave, through no choice of my own and by a whim of fate, became Bimshaw, the pirate, and signed in my own blood beneath the Jolly Roger. Already had I shed human blood and killed a man, but it troubled me not at all, for the fellow would have gladly run me through, had I not cut him down, and, moreover, he was striving his best to kill another, and a friend of mine, when happily I came upon the scene. Even had he been unarmed and making shift to escape I doubt not I should have killed him with right good will, for long had I been hardened to cruelties and sufferings, and to find myself no longer under the lash made me beside myself, and the pent up wrongs of my past life burst forth to revenge on any who crossed my path. Towards Long Jack I had a great liking, and in truth my life belonged to him, for he it was who besought the captain to take me, telling of the way in which I'd saved his life. But though I was virtually his to order about, he treated me with kindness, and the mate, who was a great crony of Jack, did likewise. Some of the crew, among them the squint-eyed lad, were jealous of my coming, for they saw thereby a lessening of their share of booty, and for many days my life upon the Adventure was but one quarrel after another. 'Twas here the hard life I'd led, the many blows, and my toughened skin stood me in good stead, for I minded not the bruises or blows, and what I lacked in skill I made up for in hard muscle and mad fury when aroused. Soon those who would have beset and baited me nursed broken heads and blackened eyes and sought no more to test my temper. Indeed, they liked me all the better for the mood in which I flung at them and held no malice in their hearts for the blows I dealt, save that same squint-eyed rat of whom I have already spoken. At first methought that the captain would flog me, or worse, for fisticuffing with his men, but soon I knew that he cared not what befell among the men, an' they kept to the waist and fo'c's'le and were ready to board and slay when called upon. Oft he would stand upon the poop, his long bare shanks stretched far apart and his arms crossed on his hairy chest, and watch us as we fought. In faith, at times he even cheered one or the other of the fighters, and laid a doubloon or two upon the outcome with old Grommet Legs. But all this is of little moment, and has nought to do with my life upon the Adventure, save that by help of Jack and the mate I learned the ropes and rigging, was taught how to steer, and passed many an hour making knots and splices or squinting along the guns Jack loved so well, as he told me how to load and aim and fire. SOON AFTER I SIGNED ON I learned we were headed for Hispaniola, for Captain Hawkins, having crippled a King's ship, dared not hunt his prey amongst the English Islands, and word had been passed that the French fleet was hard by, anchored in the harbor of Fort de France. Thus both the French and English were to be left for the present. And as the Dutch Islands were free from our raiding, being favored spots wherein the pirates could lie at peace and refit, there was nothing left but to seek our prey further westward in the waters about Cuba and Hispaniola. All this I heard from Jack as we sped northward over the blue sea and he told me also that perchance we might sight prizes on the way, for, if the captain bore to the west when well past the islands of Antigua and Barbuda, and cruised near to Santa Cruz, we might sight sails bound through the Anagada passage or from Porto Rico to Spain. Twice we sighted land, once the lofty peaks of Dominique and again the Soufriere on Guadeloupe, but we stood well off from land and saw no sails. On the seventh day the men began to murmur and to grumble, for they had naught to do else and never were they content save when murder and robbery were to be done. But their mutterings had not gone far when the lookout sighted a sail and we bore towards it. We overhauled it fast and soon we saw 'twas a small brig bound to the westward, but she showed no colors, though Jack and Grommet Legs swore 'twas a Frenchman from the cut of her canvas. In two hours we had come within gunshot and Jack sent a ball skipping after her while the mate hoisted the Jolly Roger to our masthead. At this the brig-backed her sails and lay to, apparently knowing escape was hopeless—as indeed it was—and thinking mayhap mercy would be shown her if she offered no resistance. All our men were armed, and, rum having been served, though not in quantity enough to befuddle their brains, they stood about with naked cutlasses in hands, impatient to slay and rob. The guns were shotted and ready, but we wished not to waste our ammunition and all saw such easy victory—for the stranger seemed helpless as a lamb before wolves—that to board her at point of pistol was the order. Soon we were close aboard, grappling irons were gotten ready, and we could see the men upon the brig running hither and thither, like chicks frightened by a hawk. A minute more and we would be upon her and then—fire belched from her bulwarks and smoke rolled up in clouds as "her hidden guns were run out and she poured ball after ball into us scarce pistol shot away. THE SURPRISE was complete, for none upon our ship had dreamed that the seeming easy prize was an armed vessel until her guns roared forth. Our spars and rigging came tumbling about our ears, and through the pall of smoke we saw the British ensign flutter courageously to her masthead. Instantly all was confusion aboard the Adventure. There was the splintering of wood and timbers; yards, ropes and sails crashed down from above, and dead and wounded men were strewn about the decks. I had taken up my stand hard by the mainmast, and, a round shot striking close by my head, the blow all but knocked me over. My head whirled and I staggered like a drunken man and as I did so I caught a glimpse of Jack running towards the great gun upon the bow. Even as I saw him his head and shoulders vanished, the air was filled with a shower of red, and the mangled body plunged forward in a pool of blood. I uttered a yell of fury and of horror and, scarce knowing what I did, dashed forwards, leaping over wreckage and dead men as I ran. Stopping not to see if Jack still lived—as indeed I knew full well he could not with half his body gone—1 seized the match that lay beside him where it had dropped from out his hand and gained the gun. 'Twas primed and ready and, as luck would have it, it pointed at the brig, for our crippled rigging had caused us to broach to and we had swung about until our bow was toward her stem. Squinting along the gun I saw the gunners on the brig hurrying to reload their cannon, and, scarce waiting to sight, I touched the spluttering match to the vent. With a roar like thunder the double-shotted charge belched out, the jar knocking me fairly from my feet, but even as I fell I saw through the flame and smoke that my shot had gone true. The big gun upon the brig leaped in the air and the men about it were blown like chaff to right and left and then, with a fearful crash, my head struck against the gun carriage and ships, men, and turmoil were swept from my brain. FAINT, and seeming far away, the sound of voices came to my ears. "A good shot i' truth," said one. "Aye, Jack could not do better,'' answered another. "Be the lad mortal hurt, think ye?'' I opened my eyes to find old Grommet Legs beside me, while hard by stood others of the crew. Lying upon my back upon the deck my eyes saw naught else save the lofty masts with the great shot-torn sails. There was no sound of battle raging, and wonderingly I turned my head and glanced about, my heart going white at what I saw. Ragged, gaping wounds rent the stout bulwarks, great splinters, bits of sails and a litter of ropes covered the decks, and the white planks were dark with great crimson patches of blood, while about the shattered mainmast was a group of wounded, moaning men. "Faith, be ye still living!" exclaimed the mate as my eyes opened. "1 might 'a' knowed no knock upon t' pate could 'a' hurted ye." "Aye, alive and whole," I answered; "a bit of a crack upon my crown as I tumbled down—naught else. But how goes the fight? Where be the brig?" As I spoke I sat upright and turned about, expecting to see the other ship close aboard. Instead I saw her far astern, a mass of tangled sails and spars upon her decks, and all her yards and rigging in a mess. "T’ fight's done an' over," replied Grommet Legs, "a sorry brush for we a' that. Thanks to ye, lad, we're safe away. Ye loosed the piece i' the nick o' time—never seed me a gun aimed truer. Ye blew her guns to bits and killed the gunners, t' shot raked her fore and aft, aye, cut the mainmast as true as wi’ a axe. An' whilst they ran about old Hawkins cut loose and wi' a fluke o' wind got clear away and out o' gunshot afore the sojers gave a mind to fire a gun. But hist, lad; the cap'n comes to see ye." I rose upon my feet at these words and in time to salute the captain, who strode towards me, his clothes torn and blood-spattered, his shanks scratched and barked, and his feet as bare as those of any man's upon the ship. "An' ye keep the course ye've set, ye'll soon be cap'n o' your own ship, Bimshaw," he cried out as he reached me and clapped me on the shoulder. "An' I thought your kind were all o' your breed, I'd sack the 'Bados and loose the slaves to make me pirates. I wot not if chance or skill guided the shot ye loosed, and I care less. Were't not for it we'd all be feeding sharks or dancing at the yardarm now." Having delivered himself of this gracious speech, the captain stood, regarding me thoughtfully for a moment, and then, addressing the men asked: "What say ye, lads, an' Bimshaw steps into Long Jack's shoes? We lost our best gunner — can ye name one more fit to take his place?" A shout of approval went up from the men, only the squint-eyed lad and his crony keeping mute. "Ye mind 'tis the men's choice," said Hawkins, turning to me and adding, in a low tone, as to himself, and shaking his head slowly meanwhile: "Ten days aboard an' a master gunner. By the bones o' Drake, a sweet an' promising lad surely. Where will he be, come ten years from now?" For me, I could scarce realize the honor paid me by Captain Hawkins coming to the deck and addressing a mere lad thus, and scarce more could my dull wits grasp that no longer was I but a raw landlubber, but an officer of the pirate ship Adventure. But joyful as I should be at such fortune falling to my lot, my heart misgave me as with the mate and the crew I ministered to the broken men lying about the mast, many of whom were wounded most fearful with mortal hurts, and whose groans and curses were most terrible to hear. To them also spoke the captain, for though a bloody and cruel lot where others were concerned, or booty was to be gotten, yet Hawkins and his men were ever kind to their fellow corsairs. No surgeon had we on the ship, but Grommet Legs and the carpenter did what they could to bind up the men's wounds, and even made shift to lop off an arm or a leg when 'twas too shattered to save. Full half our crew had fallen at that first storm of shots from the brig, and, before night came, four men had gone to their last port and had been tossed over the side with never a word of service to help their blackened souls. Crippled as we were, our thoughts were more to the saving of our own skins than to the salvation of dead men's souls, or pity for their fate, and we battled and labored like demons, striving to fashion jury masts and rigging, that we might sail on the wind at some speed. For, as it was, we would fall an easy prey to any corvette or ship-o'-war that hove in sight—or, for that matter, any armed merchantman —for our shattered masts and torn sails served but to carry us slowly before the wind, and to ware ship or go about we could not. Short-handed as we were, 'twas most difficult indeed to make repairs, but by midnight we had so far made good our wreckage that the ship was hauled to the northward. 'Twas hopeless now to cruise for prizes, or even to set a course for Hispaniola; first must we seek a friendly spot wherein to relit and secure more bands to man the ship. Thus 'twas we headed up between the Virgins for St. Johns and, running safely through the passage and leaving St. Thomas to larboard, came to Coral Bay. IN THE HARBOR lay many a sail—buccaneers and pirates, some twenty in all—but mostly small; vultures that preyed on little coasting sloops and sacked small villages. Of them all we were the largest ship, and scarce had our anchor dropped than the brethren swarmed aboard to hear our tale, for by our patched and battered look they well knew some fight of moment had been fought. To serve under Hawkins was every man's ambition, and the captain was hard put to select the few he desired, so eagerly did all clamour to gain his favor and join his ship. The men being finally signed on, yards and riggings were sent down, the ship was lightered of her fittings, gear and supplies, and, floating high and light, was towed to the careenage and hove down. Three weeks we spent at St. Johns ere we were ready for the sea, and in that time I saw much of the wild life led by the Brethren' of the Main. I'd thought them rough and villainous on shipboard, but afloat they knew full well that prizes could not be taken nor booty won by men befuddled with rum and, though they drank prodigiously and caroused and skylarked, yet Hawkins and the mate saw to it that none became helpless with liquor. But ashore, in this stronghold of the pirates, no such fears bound them about, and Hawkins and Grommet Legs wotted not how they spent the nights so be it they could turn to and work full lustily in the day—and cut not one anothers' throats nor burned the town. That they might not do this, sentries were posted here and there about the town, and no man was given leave ashore with arms upon him. Our men still had their shares of the booty from our first prize, and, so long as gold and silver jingled in their pockets, they were mad to spend it. From dark 'til dawn the ill-lit town echoed to wild shouts, ribald songs and curses, and drinking places and gambling houses did a right merry business. In faith 'twas wild enough, and drunken men strewed the streets, and quarrels raged on every side and broken noses and cracked pates there were in plenty. But though the men fought and fisticuffed among themselves and cared not for God or devil, yet they looted no shops nor took that which was not paid for. Neither did they abuse or insult the citizens, and this I deemed strange indeed until I learned that such was the pirates' law. Bad as they might be, and I, who for so long was one of them, have little of good to speak of those whose lot I shared, yet ever they paid their debts and hurt neither the persons nor the proprieties of those who gave them shelter. And this was most wise, for they must needs have ports wherein to purchase food and supplies, and safe harbors wherein to careen and relit their ships. So, in exchange for such accommodations, the pirates molested not the people or the craft of friendly ports, and did a pirate break this rule and take aught without paying full value, he was deemed a traitor and a dog. And, happened it that in their cups the corsairs insulted or molested the worthy islanders, the citizens had but to make report of the matter to the captains and short shrift was given the offenders. Many a time have I seen a man swinging from the yardarm for having sought to steal a kiss from the pretty daughter of a planter, and many a drunken wretch has had his tongue cut out for curses or insults hurled at some peaceful worthy citizen of a friendly isle. AT FIRST I had no stomach for such wild debaucheries as the brethren led ashore. Not that I was any saint, nor that I cared a whit for what was good or bad. A red-leg slave has little thought of such matters, and though in early life I had been well taught and reared by Squire Greaves, and on Sundays went to church, yet I saw not that I gained aught by such things or fared better for my Christian belief than did the black idolaters who suffered beside me under the lash of Cranston. But, while I had been hard driven, yet as a slave I had never known the luxury of liquor, and thus my brain reeled and my gizzard revolted at the fiery rum, and I found little pleasure enough in wasting good gold and silver for the sake of rolling under a table or in the gutter, and awaking with splitting head and burning throat for the day's labors. And in this I had a staunch friend in the mate, for old Grommet Legs—hoary old pirate that he was— was a man of uncommon sense and wisdom, and, as he expressed it, "liking me as pitch likes the pot," he was ever with me and told me much of his life. Me alone the men would have scoffed at and bullied 'til I went their way, but they knew the mate for what he was, and none dared do aught to cross him or to say him nay, and so we were left in peace and went where and as we wished and spent our money and our time as we saw fit. He was a strange man, was the mate, and through more than a score of years at pirating—for he told me as a lad he'd served with Morgan—a goodly hoard he had saved and hidden away, to be used, so he told me, to purchase a plantation in the islands whereon he could dwell in peace when too old to rove the seas. At last all was accomplished; our ship was made fit for sea, our supplies were stowed, and, having gathered together our crew, sails were hoisted and, with the Jolly Roger flying bravely from our masthead, we sailed forth from Coral Bay and squared away before the tradewind to the westward to hunt for prey among the Spanish Isles. CHAPTER IV. THERE WERE good pickings to be had about the Spanish Isles, for many plate ships put in at Cuba, Porto Rico, and Hispaniola, on the way eastward from new to old Spain. Thus, leaving the Virgins astern, we passed to northward of St. Thomas and soon sighted the mountains of Porto Rico, beyond. Keeping so far at sea that none upon the shore could see us, we crept along, ever maintaining a lookout for a sail, until, one morn, the cry went up that a ship was sighted and all bustled about preparing for the chase. Soon we saw her from the decks, a speck of white no larger than a sea gull's wing against the blue sea, and Grommet Legs avowed her to be a large ship headed athwart our course. Her captain must have thought to reach the shelter of the Morro ere we could come within reach, for, as we drew closer, he shifted not his helm but held on, hoisting all sail and striving to gain the port. Now she was in plain view and a stately ship she was in truth, a great galleon deep-laden from the mines of Darien and Mexico, with golden cornices and scrolls about her poop and bows, a great cross painted on her foresail, and flags and pennants streaming from her mastheads, while, from her staff, fluttered the red and yellow banner of Castile. Many times the size of the Adventure was the galleon, and her sails towered far upwards against the sky, but she was ill built for speed, and plunged and wallowed through the waves like a clumsy grampus. Like a keen-winged falcon we swept towards her, our guns shotted and primed, our crew armed to the teeth, and grappling hooks ready for boarding. But it was to be a close race, for already were we under the lee of the land, the wind was gusty, and oft the galleon's high sails filled and drove her onward whilst ours flapped but idly against the masts. Each minute we drew closer and each minute both ships approached nearer to the gray walls and parapets of Morro and San Christobal above the harbour entrance to San Juan. For aught we knew, a Spanish frigate might be hidden within the port, and Hawkins took grave risks in running close, but he was ever a brave and reckless man, and with such a rich prize almost within his grasp he dared both the guns of the citadel and the chances of a ship-o'-war coming forth. Upon the galleon all was confusion and fright, for she carried many passengers homeward bound, among them women and children. The poor souls shrieked and cried, while high on the gilded, painted poop a group of black-robed priests prayed for deliverance from the pirates so close at hand. She carried but two small carronades, and, as we drew near, the sailors bravely ran these out and fired on us, but the shots fell short and at the captain's command I trained my long bow gun and fired. THE BALL STRUCK fair and true and with the crash of a falling tree the mainmast came tumbling down, with all its sails and rigging, and in its passage carrying the yards and rigging of the other masts. At this a puff of smoke burst from the forts above the town and shots came plunging all about, but we minded these not and in another moment had grappled with the galleon. Then hell seemed to spit forth its demons, as over the bulwarks swarmed our cutthroat crew. With daggers in teeth and cutlasses and pistols in hand they sprang upon the galleon's decks, cutting, lunging and shooting as they went. Truth to tell the Spaniards made stout resistance, but even a cornered rat will fight, and well they knew that death would be their portion and that a lunge from a cutlass, or a pistol ball, was quicker and less to be dreaded than to walk the plank. No quarter was asked or given, and, heeding not the few of their fellows who fell to the Spaniards' blows, the pirates rushed hither and thither, slitting the throats of the wounded and mad with the lust to kill. Soon the little handful of Spaniards still alive were driven to the stern and on the high poop sought refuge amid the priests and made a last stand to prolong their lives and kill such pirates as they might. Being too close to use the guns I had sprung aboard with the others, and, while I scarce realized it at the time, I was soon cutting down the Spaniards and was as maddened by bloodshed as any of my fellows. That I had no quarrel with them never entered my brain, and that I was but murdering them to rob them of their riches troubled me none at all, and even when our men swarmed up the stairs to the poop to slaughter those gathered there I crowded forward in the mob, crazy to be the first to reach the upper deck. But from their vantage spot they fired down upon us with their pistols and held the narrow stairways with drawn cutlasses, and many a pirate fell ere he had gained the top. Then, finding the cost too heavy for his liking, Hawkins called off his men from the assault, and as the noise of fighting ceased we heard the screams and wails of frightened women from the cabins. At the sound a shout went up from the pirates to batter down the doors, seize the women and drag them forth, and, by torturing them, compel the Spaniards to surrender. But as our men rushed with pikes and axes to do this the Spaniards, from above, poured down upon us molten lead and burning oil and once more we were forced back. Then Hawkins grew furious with rage, and, swearing great oaths, ordered the men to return aboard the Adventure and cast loose and, drawing off to pistol-shot distance, to pour a shower of cannon shot into the cabins and upon the group of men and priests upon the poop. Mad as I was with bloodshed and caring little as I did for the lives of the Spaniards, my stomach turned at thought of the helpless women to be blown to bits by round shots within their cabins, although I knew full well such a fate was far more merciful than were they taken prisoners by the pirates. But I knew that to refuse, aye, even to hesitate, meant death to me or worse, and that even did I not fire the shots others would do the work right gladly, and, as we drew apart, I trained the gun full upon the ornate cabin that rose castle-like at the galleon's stern. But the shot that meant an awful death to the score and more of poor souls upon the doomed ship was never fired. Suddenly the stern of the Spaniard seemed to rise in air, the decks and sides split wide asunder, a sheet of flame shot upward to the masthead, our ship rolled and careened to the deafening explosion and as splinters, bodies and wreckage fell upon our decks the galleon plunged beneath the sea. The Spaniards had blown up their magazine. Even as I write about such matters I shudder at the thought that I took part in them, and oft I feel that truly at the time I must have been distraught and knew not what I did. Perchance the wrongs that I had suffered had dulled my brain and driven pity from my soul, but, be that as it may, I thought little enough of slaughtering those whom chance laid athwart my course, though truth to tell I ever felt my heart rebel at the sufferings of women. This near brought about my undoing, as I shall relate, but I am getting off my course and must put about and log events as they took place. SO MADDENED were the men by the loss of the galleon, that they noted not that the tide had set them close in shore, but now the guns of Morro and Canuelo had our range and shot slashed through our rigging and plunged about our hull. Our plight being perilous, the boats were gotten out—the wind having failed—and by dint of hard pulling the Adventure was towed beyond reach of the guns. But we left not without sending compliments in return and, from our long gun, I aimed shot after shot at the Citadel and saw the balls knocking the masonry about the Dons' ears, though I misdoubt much damage was done, for the Morro was wondrous thick-walled and well nigh impregnable, as Hawkins well knew. Then, as we crawled away from land, we caught the breeze and, heading westward, steered our course for Hispaniola with hopes for better fortune to be met. (To be continued in the December number of THE AMERICAN BOY)

No comments:

Blog Archive

Countries we have visited

About Me

My photo

As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.