Friday, 30 April 2010

Bimshaw, The Pirate (part 3 of 6)


By A. Hyatt Verrill

From The American Boy magazine, January 1919. Digitized by Doug Frizzle April 2010.


LONG THE MEN had been at sea and now they clamored for shore leave to spend their riches, and so, laden with the loot of Margarita, we set our course for Jamaica and, the weather being fair, in safety entered the harbour of Port Royal.

Here foregathered all the daring and reckless spirits of the Spanish Main, and in the bay there rode a great fleet of vessels scarce one of which flew not, at her mast, the black flag with its grinning skull.

Three weeks we stopped at Port Royal, and wildly the pirates flung their gold away in revelry, and, truth to tell, temptation in plenty was spread before them. Aye, were it not for Grommet Legs, I fear me mine own booty would have gone the road of all the rest. But the mate had seen much of this "richest and wickedest city in the world," and had no mind to waste the gold he'd gained at such a cost.

"Nay, Bimshaw," he'd say, for twixt ourselves he never called me captain, "'tis but a passing pleasure. Look ye to the years when ye be too old to go a-piratin'. Many a one's died like a stranded flsh on a beach, as would 'a' lived i' comfort all his days an' he saved the booty he won. An' ye take the word o' an old han', lad, ye'll hide your money safe an' ready to your wantin' of it when ye need it most."

"Aye, an' be kilt mayhap afore I be ready to spend it," I answered. "Faith, Ben, from what I see 'tis a short life an' why not make it a right merry one?"

"Ye can he merry enough on a wee bit o' what ye have," replied the mate. "An' ye mind to throw it away 'tis your own, Bimshaw, an' it's no' for me to be a-givin' advice to my cap'n. But no gold o' ol' Grommet Legs goes to Port Royal pockets, an' ye can lay to that. Nay, I mind a bit o' an islan' nigh, an' there I be a-goin' for to put mine, snug an' handy when I needs it." Thus it came about that while the men were ashore at night the mate and I had the gig lowered and carried our booty in safety to a little hidden cave on a nearby isle.

At last the men's money was gone to the last sixpence, and gladly they came back to the ship, clamoring to be off, so, having found new hands to fill the places of those we'd lost, we up-anchored and sailed away.

'Twas a precious crowd we took on at Port Royal—black, white and yellow—and among them was one so mightily ill favored that even the crew who had little eye for beauty nicknamed him "Pretty" in rude jest. Round backed he was, with great shoulders, broad chest and arms that dangled to his knees like apes'. Broad and ugly too was his face, ill formed by nature and, to make it worse, by some mischance his nose had been sliced clean off and above his wide thick lips were two great holes that minded me of the hawse pipes of a bluff bowed ship.

But a good seaman he was, despite his rum looks, and much he knew of piratin' and likely spots for finding laden ships, and, being a bit of a navigator as well, we made him second mate.

Thus we set forth from Port Royal once more to seek for those we might destroy and, like a hawk searching for its prey, we swept in great circles across the Caribbean Sea.

Then one day we raised a sail and as the Jolly Roger rose to the stranger's masthead we drew near and found her to be the Spitfire and her captain one Colton, a famous pirate known far and wide as Hawkbill.

And truly was he well named, for never had man a nose more hawk-like than his. Monstrous large it was, curved and keen edged like a Saracen's scimitar or the cutwater of a ship, and covered o'er with countless tiny veins that painted it so scarlet that verily it seemed as though 'twould serve for beacon in the dark. And the face which bore it was monstrous ill favored also, scarred and seamed and cut with wrinkles and with pock marks and burned black with sun and wind. Only one eye he had, a baleful, piercing ball of tawny yellow, and as he clambored aboard to pay me visit he minded me of a great vulture with beak still reddened from tearing of its bloody prey. But his one eye was keen and quick to see, and his great nose seemed gifted with rare power to smell out laden ships and likely loot, and few of the brethren bore greater fame than he.

And now, as we sat there in my cabin with good Spanish wine served in goblets of gold before us, he told me a plan he had in mind whereby we both might win great plunder.

'Twas naught less than to attack Concepcion, wherein great riches were stored awaiting the plate fleet from Nombre de Dios which was to carry the treasure unto Spain.

He knew the spot well and vowed that we, who'd captured Margarita, with him who'd served with Morgan in taking many a town, could win the place with scant trouble. 'Twas only meet that we surprise them as held the outer walls, he said, for, once within them, the town was ours; and so, having given heed to his words, I put the vote to the men, and all being for the venture we headed south upon our bold attempt.

THE CITY lay close upon the shore, but the harbour mouth lay a full league towards the westward of the town and close thereby we entered, without resistance, after sundown, and in the darkness put ourselves on land towards the harbour mouth. Here we commenced to march forward about midnight as softly as foot might fall, leaving word with them upon the two ships to give attempt upon the little fort at the entrance to the inner harbour near the town, and to strive to win it as well as to draw the minds of the defenders towards that point, that they might not see what we were attempting by the land.

I knew naught of the place, but Hawkbill vowed the sea wash of the shore was our best and surest road whereby we were likely to go true and not to miss the way, which to us was strange, and being woody and brushy was hard to encompass save near the water's edge.

Then, when we had readied some way, we heard a piece discharged towards the harbour which gave us to understand that Grommet Legs and those upon our ships were acting according to my order. But, as we knew later, his attack was to no purpose, for the fort was strong and the entry narrow and barred with sunken chains, so naught was gained save to draw the defenders from noting our approach.

Now, reaching half a mile behind the town or less, the ground whereon we were grew to be strait, and not over fifty paces wide with the main sea on one hand and the harbour on the other. This strait we found to our wonder to be fortified clean across by a stone wall and a ditch without it with flankings at every part and well armed with guns and culverins. At one spot only was there an opening, as much as might serve for the issuing of horsemen, but even this was barricaded with wine barrels filled with earth end on end by another and some even standing within the sea itself. Likewise two great galleys were moored with bows to shore upon the inner side of this strip of land, and on them were set a dozen large pieces at the least, which bore across the strait and flanked well our approach. Moreover, upon these galleys and on the land were planted three or four hundred musketeers with many men at arms and pikemen behind the wall and barricade.

And as we approached they were in readiness to receive us, having been warned of our coming by Indians posted in the brush, and they spared not shots from either small arms nor cannon. But Hawkbill, knowing the manner of the place and taking advantage of the darkness, led us around by the lowest ground along the sea-washed shore, the tide being somewhat fallen, so that the great portion of the shots passed without harm above our heads.

So hurrying onward and forbearing shooting until we came in arm's length, we reached the wall side. Then with lusty shouts and swinging blades we rushed upon the barricade of barrels, which seemed the likeliest and weakest spot. Down went the butts of earth and pell-mell came swords and pikes together while pistols flashed and volleys were poured into the very faces of the dons. But though they stood before us stoutly, the brethren were better with sword and pike than they and, dishearted that the cannon had not done more ill to us, they gave before us and were driven from the place.

In the taking were lost many men, however, and many more were sore wounded, and with his own hands old Hawkbill slew the Spaniards' ensign bearer who fought so manfully for his life that Hawkbill was grievous hurt and perforce must be sent to his ship. We followed fast after the dons into the town and, giving them no leisure to stop or breathe, we won the market place, albeit they fought right gallantly ere we gained it. Then, finding us masters of this place, they left us and withdrew into the main town.

BUT THOUGH we'd gained this foothold and were left in peace, yet we were in sore straits indeed, and the market proved scarce more than a wicked trap into which the dons had baited us in their retreat.

For when we sought to sally forth and loot and take the town about, we found at every street end a barricade of earthworks with trenches by them. And here the Spaniards had joined with them many Indians who placed hidden in spots of vantage, with bows and arrows harrassed us greatly. At first we gave but little heed to these savage missiles whose force scarce penetrated through our garments, but soon we found them worse by far than steel or bullets, for the arrows were poisoned, and if they did but scratch the skin he who was struck died m his tracks. Also they used pipes of cane from which, by a puff of breath, they drove forth tiny darts bearing the same vile poison and which though they scarce might be felt and sped so swiftly they could not be seen, yet brought strong men to death as quickly as a cannon shot or musket ball.

And so, finding that to pass the barricades were but to sacrifice our men by these devilish devices, we drew together and sought to win back to the ship. Ere we did so we fired the houses round about, but these being built of stone firmly set gave little fuel to the flame in them we searched for loot or treasure, but little did we find save great store of wine, sweet oil, olives and such like provision, with linen and cotton cloth and silks, for hereabout were mostly merchants, and little gold or silver were stored save for the present use of those who did business or dwelt about. There was but little plate or vessels of gold or silver, but some we found, and also some bags of ducats and doubloons as well as household garnitures, very rich and gallant which had cost vast riches, though to us of no value whatsoever. So taking what we desired, we wrecked and hung the furnishings in heaps to feed the flames and leaving the market place we'd won at such cost we fought our way back towards the outer harbour.

But since we'd come, the savages had crept forth behind us and all upon our way had planted small sticks sharply pointed,—the one end set into the earth and the other poisoned, standing forth and leaning in the direction we would come. Upon these many of our men stumbled and were slain, but as we knew only the way by the sea wash, our company missed the greater part of the devilish things most happily.

And so the remnants of our band came to the spot wherein our pinnaces had set us, and heartsore and weary we gained our ships. Then we fell down the harbour, after discharging a few shots at those within the town and burning a priory that stood alone and unguarded near at hand, and, reaching the harbour mouth, anchored to fetch fresh water from a good well that we found upon a little isle. This island being a pleasant place with many sorts of fruits and set orderly in walks and gardens, indeed a tiny park for those who dwell in the town, we waited here several days whilst mending our rigging and our wounded. At last we set forth, having gained naught by our adventure, for our great losses had won but a paltry 5000 ducats, which would scarce pay for shot and powder spent. And so, the men vowing that our ill luck were due to Hawkbill's presence, we parted company and bore away alone.


THE MONTHS grew into years and still we cruised; from Ruatan to Porto Bello and hence to Trinidad we skimmed the coast. Up and down the Caribbees we roamed. To north and south of Cuba, round Hispaniola and back again we sailed, and we combed the seas from Darien to Aves. Many a battle did we have, many a rich prize did we take, many a town we sacked, and far and wide upon the sea and on the islands and the main the fame of Bimshaw grew, and dreaded and feared was I, like as none other save the great Morgan himself.

But not always did we win our prizes without great loss unto ourselves, and many a narrow escape did I have from capture or from death. Sometimes, too, the tables were turned and we, swooping down upon our prey, would be beaten off and would fly with clipped wings for our very lives.

One such time I mind when, after many days of naught save the blue sky and bluer sea, we saw a small vessel, faint as a sea gull's wing, upon the horizon. The sail bore to windward, standing ahead upon our weather bow, and spreading all our sails we gave him chase to fetch him up; but he held his own for long and seemed a most speedy craft. But with the falling of the breeze we gathered him and as we came near out went his flag and pennants, while round about were flung his waist-cloths and top armings. By his flag we knew him for a Spaniard, but never had I seen don so sailor-like prepare for battle. Quickly he furled and slung his main yard, in went his spritsail, and ere we were in gun range he was stripped to short sails and ready to meet us.

Every man was at his place; we dowsed our topsail and hailed him, but with drawn sword he waved us aside and, calling for the King of' Spain, suddenly sprung his luff. 'Twas neatly done; aye, a marvellous smart trick of seamanship. But we also were ready and, firing a broadside, ran a good breadth ahead of him. Thus seeing we had the wind of him, he tacked about and we, following, did the same, keeping our luff and firing as we could. But shot for shot manfully he answered back while small shots screeched and rattled about and splinters flew and men fell upon the decks. Well matched we were in men and guns, and never have I known don fight as did he, for though we had more skill in handling our ship and fired bow pieces and broadsides and, letting fall off the wind, delivered our chase pieces and then, bearing up, gave another broadside fore and aft, yet soon were we in such plight and so shot 'twixt wind and water that we were perforce compelled to bear off beyond gun range.

Then hastily we repaired our worst hurts and, slinging a man over the side, with plugs lapped in tarred oakum and a mallet, we soon stopped the holes through which the sea was pouring.

And then, feeling 'twas lives ill-spent to go again to the attack, we made shift to set sail, and as we went the don, with wondrous courtesy, hoisted and dowsed his ensign in token of salute, and gave us three good lusty cheers.

But such defeat was seldom met and few of those we chased but gave to us with scarce a struggle, for, while I'd won vast fame as a pirate, yet so also had my ways, of treating women and captives spread, and all knew that, save for those killed in battle, none would be harmed at my hands, and 'twas less blood spilt to stand and deliver than to seek to win safety in flight or battle.

And often for months scarce any treasure did we win, for now the brethren swarmed upon the main like flies about a honey pot. Morgan had raided Puerto Principe; scarce a Spanish stronghold but had felt the pirates' hand, and when a plate ship or a galleon sailed, a fleet of armed ships hid her in their midst.

Thus, finding but indifferent fortune in the Spanish Main, I once more sought a bolder stroke and, leaving the islands far behind, sailed onward to the west and south along the coast of Yucatan.

Here were few treasure-laden ships 'tis true, but here were rich towns that none had sacked, and 'twas my plan to swoop upon them as we'd done at Margarita.

OF THEM ALL none promised more than Santa Ysabel, and so upon this fell my choice. The town— if town it could be called, for 'twas scarce more than fortress wherein treasure was stored 'gainst shipment to Spain—was built on a river bank. Well we knew it would be hopeless to sail in boldly with the ship, for the place was well secured against attack with stout walls and great guns, and to pass beneath them up the crooked river spelled destruction. A land attack was our only chance and so, within a little cove amid the trees, we hid the ship and landed on the sandy shore. Cautiously we skirted the forest edge, ever keeping our eyes open for chance stragglers from the town, and stopping to peer ahead through every opening and at every turn.

At last we halted in the wood, for through the thicket we saw the red and yellow flag of Spain fluttering in the breeze above the palms beyond. Between us and the walls stretched open ground a cable's length and more in width, and to cross this and gain the town, ere we were seen and the great gates closed, we well knew to be but a vain thought. So, within the shelter of the jungle, we waited—albeit the men grumbled to be at the dons—and not till night fell did we creep forth, crouching low, keeping to the shadows and moving in silence as we went.

We reached the deep black shadows of the fortress walls and yet no sentry challenged, no alarm was made, and like spirits of the night we slipped around beneath the massive parapets that towered far above our heads, until in time we came upon the gate. Here stood a sentry, but, little thinking enemies so near, he nodded at his post, leaning against the wall and no doubt wrapped in pleasant dreams of far-off Spain. But 'twere an ill dream for him, and, like a cat, the noseless pirate crept on him, knife in hand. There was a leap, a soft thud and like an empty sack the Spaniard sank to the ground without a groan.

Then with a rush we dashed within the gates. A mail-clad guard sprang forward, but ere he could call out or strike a cutlass clove his skull. An arquebus flamed through the darkness and next second a pike pinned the soldier to the earth. From every side poured forth the dons; guns and pistols flashed and roared; pikes, cutlasses and poniards gleamed in the glare of flaring torches; screams, curses, and cries rang upon the air. Right bravely did the Spaniards fight—no craven, rum-soaked merrymakers these—and, though they fell to right and left, others seemed ever to spring up to take their places, and desperate for us became the battle.

But fortune favored us, for while we'd planned to fight and knew what to expect, the dons were taken by surprise and knew not how many came to the attack and no doubt thought a great force, with Morgan himself in command, had fallen on them.

Many a pirate was cut down, many fell pierced by pistol ball and pike, but gradually the dons gave way, and soon were scurrying to hiding places, throwing down weapons as they ran and pleading in terror-stricken tones for quarter. My men were mad with blood and battle, and control them I could not, and though I shouted orders to spare those who surrendered, yet many were hunted down and killed like worthless rats.

Here and there a shot rang out, now and then some cornered soldier was cut down, but save such skirmishes the fight was over and the town was ours. Telling Grommet Legs to gather together the men and hold them in check as best he might, for I feared the crew would befuddle themselves with drink and burn the town, I hurried to the place wherein I minded would be stored the treasure.

NO MAN-AT-ARMS stood guard without the door, no soldier barred my way; all had fled to safety, and unchallenged I stepped within the portal. But the place was not deserted; one man still remained, too brave to flee, too honorable to desert his post, and too proud to come forth and humble himself to ruffianly freebooters. Alone he stood within the throne room, unarmed and erect, haughty and dignified as befitted a grandee of Spain.

Upon the inlaid table by his side rested his jewel-hilted rapier, and as with courtly bow he greeted me, he grasped his sword and held it forth, hilt towards me, in token of surrender. By this and by the richness of his dress I knew him for the governor and with a gesture waved the proffered sword aside, for though he was a don his grave and kingly manner fair filled me with respect.

"Nay, Señor," I said in the clumsy, halting Spanish I had learned, " 'Twould give me shame to take the sword. The town has fallen to our hands 'tis true, but ye have brave men here and right good battle did they give us. We be but pirates, sir; but I be Englishman as well and honor bravery. No doubt we be naught but murderers and ruffians in your eyes, but I seek not bloodshed save to gain mine ends and riches win, and kings do nothing less. Mayhap many an unarmed citizen has fallen this night, and I misdoubt not my men have killed some who threw arms aside and sought to flee or begged for mercy. But this is by no wish of mine; rather, like fire, the men be most difficult to control once the flames of battle be kindled, for I have given orders that no man who yields be either killed or tortured. Perchance unfortunate women have fallen in the fray as well, but do I hear of any man so much as laying hand on woman or child against their will, he dies like the dog he is. I'll have no woman's blood upon my hands, an' I can help it."

The don bowed low. "I thank thee, Señor Captain, for those words," said he. "As for the treasure, I care not that," he snapped his fingers as he spoke, "and for my life I care scarce more. Gold is but passing wealth, ever won by fire and sword, and little it carries save misery and strife; and, as an old campaigner, I have faced death too often now to dread it. 'Twas for my daughter only that I feared, the Donna Mercedes, who even now weeps terror-stricken in the room beyond. Should ill befall me I know not what her fate might be. Greatly is my heart relieved to hear you are a gallant gentleman who wars not—" a piercing-scream cut his words in twain, and the don, bounding to a hidden door, swept the draperies away and sprung into the chamber, while close at his heels I followed with drawn cutlass in my hand. What a scene we beheld!

Kneeling upon the floor crouched a maiden, scarce more than a child, her dark eyes wide with terror, her little hands striving to beat off the brute, who, with drunken leer upon his ugly face and upraised cutlass in his hand, had seized her by the hair.

Scarce had I time to glimpse the scene ere the don, forgetting he was unarmed, thinking not of his own danger, heeding not the gleaming cutlass in the pirate's hand, leaped like a panther on the ruffian. Twas a brave, rash act, and took the pirate unawares and, unhanding the girl, he stepped back with a fierce oath and his blade flashed through the air. But the blow fell not upon the Spaniard. 1 had sprung forward and my cutlass met the other's and sent it spinning from his grasp. "You dog," I cried, as with the point of my blade at his throat I forced him slowly back. "Ye'll ne'er lay hands on woman more. Take that, ye cur," and having reached the door by which he'd come, I drove my weapon through his neck. With a gurgling shriek he clattered dying down the steps, and, sheathing my blood-stained blade, I turned and stopped amazed. The room was empty; maid and don had flown.

But it mattered not, no doubt they'd fled for safety to some private chamber, and 'twas better' so. Cries, curses and shouting filled the air outside and well I knew 'twere time I led my men unto the treasure, and I wanted not further troubles.

Soon Grommet Legs had called the men together— thought of booty drove the lust for blood and liquor from their heads—and lustily they set to work to loot the treasure stored within the vaults.

But my mind gave little heed to booty won, for ever I thought of her whom I had saved, the Donna Mercedes—and ever before me rose the memory of her lovely, fright-filled face. 'Twere a right foolish fancy, well I knew, and never before had thought o' woman thus come into my mind, but, strive as I might to heed it not, I was sore troubled for fear harm had befallen her or her courtly father.

Leaving the mate in charge I wandered through the palace, seeking to find the two and set my mind at ease, but all was deserted and silent, and I found them not. 'Twas wondrous fine—the palace— with carven furnishings of rarest woods, rich silken hangings, and many a picture of long-dead cavaliers, and, in a spacious chamber which I minded would be the maid's, I found a golden casket filled with priceless jewels. 'Twas wondrous treasure, and with greedy hand I seized upon them, and then into my brain came a strange thought— what right had I to take them? They were hers, not mine. Black-hearted pirate that I was, was it not enough that I had brought ruin, destruction and death upon the town that now I must rob the maiden of her trinkets? But then another thought swept over me—if I left them 'twould be but to have them fall to others' hands to be thrown on gaming table or to deck the black wenches of seaport towns. No, rather than that should happen I would take them and, vowing that never would they serve aught save worthy ends, I tucked the jewels safely in my clothes and left the room. By sun-up all the vast treasure was beside the river; the Adventure stood in at our signal, and, ere nightfall, the land was but a hazy cloud astern upon the distant horizon.


THE SHORES of Yucatan had been left behind, the treasure of Santa Ysabel was safe beneath our hatches, and the strongholds of the pirates lay ahead; but on our trail came those who sought to avenge the ruin we had wrought.

Two days we'd sailed when first we sighted them, mere specks of white above the sea's blue rim, and thinking mayhap they might prove prizes, we shortened sail and posed as honest merchantman.

Nearer they came; above the sea, sail after sail rose up ere hulls below came into view, and then, at last, we realized what they were, for rows of grinning cannon pierced their sides—two of Spain's largest warships were following in our wake.

To stand against them was to court death and destruction, and hoisting all sail we sped onward, striving to outdistance our pursuers, who, like fleet hounds, tore after us. But, as all sailors know, a stern chase is a long chase, and granted the wind held true and strong we had little to fear, for we had but to keep beyond reach of their guns 'til a friendly isle was reached where the warships would not dare to follow.

Greatly I feared that the wind might fall, for then indeed we'd be in perilous straits, for the greater canvas of the Spanish ships would carry them onward when our sails would be but idly flapping against the masts. The course we held would bring us to Jamaica and here we would find safe refuge at Port Royal, could we but hold our own until the isle was reached.

When darkness fell the Spaniards had gained nothing, and all through the night the wind held good and yet, when morning dawned, the ships had gained upon us. Slowly were they creeping up, we dared not change our course, for one ship was to starboard, the other to larboard, and there was naught to do save strive to outdistance our enemies as best we might. Twice they loosed shots from their great bow guns to feel their distance, but each time the balls fell short and plunged into the sea astern. The wind held, the Adventure heeled to straining sails and humming rigging, a great rushing wave of foam swept past her rail, and ever on our quarters towered the great pyramids of canvas, gay with fluttering pennons, and below them the lofty black hulls roaring through the sea and with mountains of foam about their plunging bows. Each day they grew closer; 'twas but a matter of hours ere they would fetch within range and cripple us, and anxiously we peered ahead for the island refuge that we sought.

At last the hazy blue mountains of Jamaica loomed above the waves; hourly they grew more distinct, patches of pale green cane gleamed amid the dark forests and we saw the slender thread of surf upon the coast. Ahead was Port Royal and safety, astern were the grim avengers of the dons; the race was all but over and ere nightfall we would be in the harbour.

Then, from the shelter of the land, crept forth a sail and a goodly brig bore towards us, but to it we gave little heed—'twas no doubt buccaneer or friendly craft—until, when close aboard, a puff of smoke sprang from her, and through our foresail crashed a shot.

Cries of surprise and alarm went up; here was an enemy lying in wait to head us off almost within sight of our goal and, shifting our helm and trimming sail, we wheeled about and, doubling like a hunted hare, rushed onward towards the open sea.

And as the strange ship turned to follow, and a broadside roared from her, we saw the British ensign at her stern. Luckily for us the gunners were but indifferent marksmen, and save a splintered bulwark and a broken gallery we suffered little, and ere the guns could be recharged we were beyond their reach.

Then, to our amazement, the British ship joined our pursuers in the chase—a thing unheard of, for Briton and don were deadly enemies. But though we knew it not, peace had been made and all had joined to drive the Jolly Roger from the Spanish Main, and scarce a friendly port was left wherein the brethren could foregather and spend their gold.

But to us upon the Adventure it seemed a wondrous thing to see an English brig-o'-war joining with Spanish frigates in chase of British freebooters, instead of setting on them tooth and nail. We had little time to give it heed, however, or to marvel what the reason might be, for now we had three enemies upon our heels and it behooved us to strain every shroud to win away. 'Twere now scarce more than chance that we could keep our place, for the great rent in the foresail spilt the wind and slacked our speed and to heave to and mend it meant certain capture.

Now, as we cleared the land and headed northward for the Windward Passage, the wind was against us, and thus fortune favored, for on the wind our great lateen sails were better far than the square sails of our foes, and each reach that we made we gained upon the others. But while we gained in this way we lost as well, for when each time we came about to tack we brought our ship broadside to the men-o'-war and offered a fair mark, and all around us sung and splashed the round shots from their guns. Many tore through our rigging and our sails, others buried themselves in our planking, but gradually we drew away and out of range, and but few men were lost by flying splinters. And we answered their shots right well in kind, and saw our balls tear through the rigging of our foes and shatter rails and quarter galleries. To reach Tortuga was our aim, but when Cape St. Nicholas was passed and we strove to bear to the east for the island, the British ship was 'twixt us and the port, and once more we were driven forth to sea.

Now were we indeed hard pressed. To the east hung the armed brig; behind us were the Spaniards; to the west the hostile shores of Cuba; and ahead the treacherous, reef-filled channels of the Bahamas.

To sail through these were a dangerous thing, but 'twas our only hope, and onward we sped with never-slackening pace.

OLD GROMMET LEGS shook his head in doubt. "I fear me 'tis our last cruise i' the Adventure, Cap'n," he said. "I know naught o' the cays yonder; an' we no leave our bones a-bleachin' on Bahama sands 'twill be fair marvellous."

"Aye," I answered, "but rather my bones a-lyin' peaceful like on beach sand than a-danglin' i' chains, Ben. 'Tis a rare chance we be takin', but there's no chance an' we go about wi' three armed ships astern. Mayhap they'll let us be when they see where we be bound.”

The man called "Pretty," the noseless rascal, stood at the helm and now he touched his forehead and spoke: "Beggin' pardon, sir," says he, "an' ye gi' the ship i' my 'ands I'll warrant to take ye safe an' sound atwixt the bars. Many's the time I done it afore, an' many's the time I'm a-hopin' to do it ag'in. There be plenty o' spots as the sojers astern dursen't follow, where we can slip by an' ne'er scrape bottom."

Thus 'twas that, with Pretty guiding the ship, the Adventure sailed safely midst the reefs, and the men-o'-war, fearing to follow through the crooked channels and 'mid the breaking surf, were soon left far behind.

'Twas pretty seamanship in truth, and how the ugly ruffian found his way I know not, for never chart nor compass did he use to guide him, but back and forth steered the ship through narrow guts and past jutting reefs of coral, as though 'twas open water and with beacons showing the course. But I had no mind to be left at any man's mercy and thought 'twas well to know the way myself, and so I watched the compass and the isles we passed, and with the mate to aid me pricked our course and noted well the landmarks on our way. At last, feeling safe from pursuit, we came to anchor in a snug harbour off a palm-crowned island where was water, game and wood, and gladly the wearied men frolicked on the shore and splashed and swam in the clear water on the beach. Upon the islet there was no sign of man, and as Grommet Legs and I strolled about we came upon a little cavern, well hidden in the thickets, and with but one small opening that could most readily be closed so none would know a cave was there. Here we decided to conceal most of our loot, for well we knew the risks we ran of losing all by capture or destruction. Here, too, we knew that the crew could not find way to return, save Pretty, and him we planned to leave upon the ship whilst burying the treasure that he might know naught of the cavern where 'twas hid.

Choosing four men whom we could trust somewhat, we filled the longboat with the chests of gold, also taking the jewels of the Donna Mercedes, and pulled around the cay and set the treasure on the beach. Then, ordering the men to bide behind, we dragged the booty away to the thicket—weary work it was and, placing it within the cavern, sealed it up and came away.

Next dawn we sailed, and through other channels and by devious ways came at last to open sea between Inagua and Caicos. No sail nor ship was seen, and steering eastward we passed along the coast of Hispaniola.

Then one morn a tiny speck was sighted far ahead, and, bearing down upon it, we found it to be a drifting longboat bearing a half-dead man, who feebly waved his arms and strove to shout as we drew near. It may seem passing strange, but though the pirates thought naught of spilling blood and gave no quarter in a fight —aye, made many helpless captives walk the plank or marooned them on desert isles—yet shipwrecked men they would ever save.

Soon the castaway was aboard, and ere Porto Rico loomed above the waves, he had regained his strength and told his tale.

He was scarce more than a lad—the sole survivor of the ship Olive Leaf, from Nevis for Virginia, and was a likely youth to whom I took great fancy. Much he thanked me for saving him and when he found 'twas on a pirate ship he'd fallen, he laughed and vowed 'twas wondrous romantic and exciting.

"Truly I'm born for an adventurer," he declared. "First a shipwreck and then rescued by pirates. Gad! Captain Bimshaw, what wouldn't many a man give to be in my shoes. 'Tis like a printed tale."

BUT SERIOUS he was, too, and much he mourned for the loss of those upon the Olive Leaf, and much he talked with me about his home and his friends upon the island.

Also he begged me tell him of my life and of pirates' ways, and he listened gaping at the yarns old Grommet Legs spun for him.

"And must I become a pirate or walk the plank or be marooned?" he asked, when I had told him how I'd come to join the ship.

"Nay," I replied. "An' we reach English land or friendly port I'll set ye ashore. I'll force none to jine me—'twas no' the same wi' me, lad. I came aboard o' my own will an' beside, ye be a gentleman born an' me naught but a 'Bados slave."

"Thank you, Captain," said Brand. "If ever I can do anything to help you I will most gladly. 'Tis misfortune, not choice, has made you pirate, and, slave or gentleman, 'tis a man's deeds not his birth that makes him. Poor lad! You must have suffered; 'tis damnable to think of Englishmen being slaves under the lash of their countrymen. Were I in your place, Gad! I believe I'd have done worse to even up the score. But 'tis a rough life at best, Captain; why not give it up and live in peace ashore? None need know your past and you've riches in plenty now to buy a plantation and become a gentleman."

"Nay, Brand," said I. 'A pirate I be an' a pirate I must stay, 'til I be too old for the life or die a-fightin'. Look ye at old Grommet Legs here; he's been a pirate twice more years than ye ha' lived, an' he no minds to stop ashore yet."

"And I gainsay that, Bimshaw," exclaimed the mate. "I been a-thinkin' o' that same since I been a-list'nin' to Mr. Brand a-talkin' o' the plantations i' the islan's. Methinks 'twill be me last cruise, Cap'n. I be a-gettin' ol', an' belike I'll ha' few years to enjoy what I've won by wicked murder an' bloodshed. Faith, I'm thinkin' that wi' a bit of a place and a few niggers to do my biddin', and mayhap a puncheon of ol' rum and a bit of a cutter i' the bay, I'll be fair content. Ye may call me a ol' fool, Bimshaw, but I be gettin' tenderhearted i' me ol' age, and a tender-hearted pirate ain't to be thought on."

I stared at the mate in utter amazement. That the tough old pirate had a tender spot in him or cared for aught save goodly fight and plunder seemed impossible, and then, as I looked back upon the years I'd been with him, I minded many a time when he had spared enemies, and how he had stood with me in my orders about the treatment of women. Mayhap, after all, I thought, there's good in all the rough brethren, and only want of kind words or true friendship is wanting to make them worthy men.

Then gradually my thought turned to the old don and his daughter, and to the many cruel deeds I'd done and seen, and over me came a hatred of the life I led.

So, each day as we drew near to Sombrero, I talked with Brand, and, ere St. Barts was reached, I'd made my mind to leave the ship, and, with Grommet Legs, to flee with Brand to Nevis.

‘Twas an easy matter it seemed, as we planned it. In the longboat we'd slip away, and, making the island, Brand would tell of his shipwreck and say that the mate and I were of the Olive Leaf and we, taking new names, would settle there and in peace and plenty forget the lives we'd left.

'Twas ticklish work to get provisions and our store of gold within the boat unseen, for ever the men were about or captains from other ships were visiting aboard, but at last 'twas done and the time came for us to leave. It was a dark night, and on the shore the crew were merrymaking, for with us three aboard all the men were given leave and none were there to see us lower away the boat.

But I had no mind to let my ship fall into the hands of others. She had served me well; she had carried me safely o'er many leagues of sea; through her I'd won from slave boy to pirate captain, from poverty to great wealth; and, while Brand held watch without, Grommet Legs and I went below and scuttled her.

Then, as she settled slowly in the sea, we pulled outward from the harbour and, passing the entrance, stepped our sail and to the sweep of the trade wind sped southward through the night towards Nevis.


''TIS BUT a passing short sail from St. Barts to Nevis—scarce twenty leagues—and little fear we had of trusting to the longboat. But 'tis one matter to cover twenty leagues of sea in a well-found ship, and very different to sail the same in a tiny cockle shell. The trade wind swept the seas in great foam-capped waves, and long ere Statia was reached we were all but drowned and were hard put to it to empty forth the water as fast as it came in. Once under the lee of Statia 'twas not so bad, however, and close ahead rose the great mountains of St. Kitts, with smooth water to leeward. We minded not to land or to be seen by those ashore, however, and so kept well to sea 'til past Basseterre, with Nevis just beyond. Me thought, as I looked upon this isle, that never was there lovelier spot, with the broad fields of waving cane stretching far inland from the breaking surf, the swaying palms along the beaches, the neat, orderly town at the water's edge, and the dark sugar-loaf mountain rising over all.

As our little boat swept in and grated, on the beach and the crowd, gathered about, saw Brand, shouts of welcome and cries of wonder rose, for none knew yet of the fate of the Olive Leaf, and he who had sailed forth in the great ship now returned in a tiny boat with two strange, rough men.

But Brand soon set their minds at rest, telling of the shipwreck and the loss of all save himself and two others—Grommet Legs and myself—and calling us Benjamin and Greaves, and shipmasters, as agreed atwixt ourselves.

'Twas a sweet pretty lie hid in the midst of truth, but 'twas told to save those who had saved him, and it injured no one.

Right welcome were we made by Brand's friends, and naught would do but we must stop with him at his uncle's plantation till such time as we found a place suited to our needs.

'Twas well that Brand had minded to call us shipmasters, for thus none questioned our rough speech and sailors' manners, nor marvelled that we should have heavy chests of gold, and when we gave out that we were tired of the sea and wished to settle down on dry land none thought it strange.

Odd indeed did it seem to be 'mid peaceful Englishmen, and not to feel the heave of the decks or hear the curses of rough men or the noise of battle, for 'twas many years since Grommet Legs or I had been ashore, save for brief spells in pirates' lairs or when sacking towns. Right comforting it was, too, to ride forth across the sunny fields or to drive about the town, to feel no fear of throat being slit or skull cleft ere another sun set, and to hear but kind and gracious words from fellow men, and, as the days and weeks slipped by, I marvelled more and more that I could ever have found pirating to my liking.

Ben and I had bought a bit of land, a snug plantation 'neath the shoulder of the mountain and with a glimpse of the sea and a sandy beach atwixt the trees, and here we settled down to spend our days in ease and comfort. There were black slaves to do our work about the place, plenty of good food to eat, a handy boat for sailing on the bay in the cool of the evening, and Brand and other friends to drop in and have a pleasant chat and a glass of old rum.

Thus a year and more passed, and I could scarce believe we were ever else than respected planters and none suspected our past. And yet our sins were to find us out, and vengeance followed even to this happy, peaceful place.

A ship had anchored within the harbour of Jamestown, and, having to attend some matters dealing with the cargo, we drove into the town and, having done our business, betook ourselves unto a tavern hard by the water front.

'Twas a favorite gathering place for planters and shipping merchants and here also came the captains of the vessels to discuss cargoes, and to drink a bumper or a swizzle with the agents. Sitting ourselves down at a table we ordered our refreshment and glanced about. Many were there we knew, and also many who were strange, and one of these I noted most curiously staring at us. Somehow his face seemed passing familiar to my mind, yet I could not cudgel my brain to remember where or when we had met, and I passed the matter from me and gave him no more heed.

Our thirst being quenched, we went forth from the tavern and to our home and, the day being fair and the afternoon well spent, we sat ourselves upon the shady gallery as was our wont.

Presently to our ears came the sound of galloping hoofs, and, a moment later, Brand came dashing up, his horse foam-flecked and dusty, and, with trouble writ large upon his face, he hurried towards us.

"O, my good friends," he cried as we rose to greet him, " 'tis sorry news I bring. You must flee at once ere 'tis too late! The mate of yonder ship has denounced you for pirates. He swears as how he lost vessel at your hands and has taken oath you are master and mate of the Adventure. Aye, that you are the dreaded Bimshaw himself, and even now a file of King's troops are on their way to seize you both. Flee! I beseech you. Heaven forbid that this fate should fall upon you."

(To be continued in the February number of The American Boy)


BIMSHAW was not born a pirate. Although of British stock, he was a Barbados slave, born of Irish parents sent into slavery at a time of political rebellion in Ireland. Brought up under a kindly master, he was sold, upon the man's death, to a tyrannical one who mistreated the lad so cruelly that he ran away and swam out into the harbor at night to escape as a stowaway on an outward bound vessel. Losing his way in the darkness, the lad was nearly exhausted when at last he managed to climb aboard a slowly moving vessel. That night there was a fight with another ship, a cutlass was thrust into the boy's hand and he took part, eventually saving the life of the man who gave him the cutlass. It was then he learned that he had boarded a pirate vessel, the Adventure. Given an opportunity by the captain to sign up with the crew and not knowing what else to do he accepted.

Then followed a life of pirating until one day the lad turned in fury upon the captain who had taunted him for trying to defend a fair Portuguese prisoner, the victim of the pirates. Instead of punishing him for mutiny a whim seized the captain to challenge him to a duel instead, whereupon they fought with cutlasses until the captain fell. Soon afterward the men acclaimed Bimshaw captain of the ship. With this new authority Bimshaw's first act was to make a rule prohibiting the willful harming or torturing of women and children who fell into their power. But in all other ways they continued the same wild life, even growing so bold as to sack the town of Margarita from which they carried off great booty.

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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.