Thursday, 20 May 2010

Bimshaw, The Pirate (part 2 of 6)



Illustrated by Walt Louderbach

The American Boy, December 1918. Digitized by Doug Frizzle, May 2010.


OFF ARECIBO we sighted a sail and soon overhauling it found her to be a felucca inward bound from Santiago de Cuba and of so little value—her cargo being naught but hides, food and live stock—that we wasted no shots upon her, and, to save their miserable lives, her crew gave information of value to our captain.

To him one reported that when at Puerta Plata they had seen a rich plate ship about to sail for Spain and that by now she should be well off the port and would fall an easy prey.

This was good news indeed, were it true, but to make him prove his words, or teach him a lesson did he lie, the captain made the fellow prisoner, to be held until the ship was taken or his tale proved false. At first he was frightened beyond words, and our men taunted him with stories of the cruelties they would wreak on him if he lied, but soon he changed his tune and, boldly declaring he had been a pirate, asked to join our ship.

He was a sweet rascal, the color of mahogany, a half-caste of some sort, and as bloodthirsty (as proved later) as even the heart of Morgan could desire. Bad as our men were, they hated him for a traitor, but he knew the seas about and spoke the Dons' tongue, and so we took him on.

Two days later we stood in to the land of Hispaniola and soon saw the sails of a great ship. At sight of us she turned about and squared away for Puerto Plata and, a stern chase being a long chase, she all but gained the port when a shot from our bow gun brought her mast by the board and we soon ran alongside.

But her passengers had taken to the boats and made escape, as had most of the crew, save a few who found not room in the boats and who fell upon their knees begging us to spare their lives. To these the pirates gave scant heed, cutting them down in sheer joy, and our brown cutthroat from the felucca led in the slaughter of those he had betrayed.

The ship now being at our mercy, much treasure and a vast store of liquors and ammunition was secured, and the prize was then fired in a score of places. As we sailed away the flames and smoke poured upward from her hull, and, long after her masts were lost to our view, the black cloud marked the spot where burned the doomed galleon.

The pirates were in high spirits and their loss of the plate ship off Porto Rico was soon forgotten, and, a puncheon of rum being broached, all celebrated their success and sang and skylarked on the decks.

To recount all our movements and to tell of prizes taken would be irksome and but a repetition and, suffice to say, that in the months that followed we cruised far and wide upon the Spanish Main and took many a ship.

But of one thing I must write, for it was that which brought about the events which made me master of this fair estate to-day and led to the many adventures I met and which I have set myself to relate.

AS FATE HAD IT the first few prizes that we took had naught but men upon them, save the galleon we lost off San Juan and her from whom the passengers escaped at Puerta Plata, and so I knew not the awful things I had yet to see. It happened that after we had taken the great booty from the ship at Puerta Plata, and had spent time at the great pirates' lair at Tortuga, that we sighted a sail and bearing towards her found her to be a Frenchman, homeward bound.

Upon her were many women, and, the men all having been butchered or driven to the sea, the pirates made prisoners of the wives and daughters of the vanquished. Even now I scarce can write of what took place, and in my dreams their screams still ring in my ears and I see their fair faces, white with terror, as they fought and struggled with the demons who tore them shrieking from their cabins.

One poor soul, her husband slain before her eyes and her babe cast writhing into the flames of the burning ship, went mad and, tearing herself free and gouging out the eyes of him who held her, plunged, shrieking like a lost soul, over the side and, did she but know it, found the hungry sharks more merciful than her tormentors.

As, powerless to help, I looked on at such fearful sights and listened to the cries and shrieks that were stifled by blows and curses, my heart grew sick indeed, and I realized why the name of Hawkins was so dreaded and accursed.

To kill my fellow men in open fight, even though 'twas to rob them, I hesitated not at all; but to put them to the torture I would not, even to force the secret of treasure from their lips as was often done. Rather than kill weak and helpless women and babes I would have gone back to slavery in the 'Bados, and yet, here was I, one of a crew that thought no more of slitting the white throat of a maiden than of splitting a fowl, and who gloried and found sport in putting them to unspeakable tortures.

Roughly the poor creatures, who had been reared in every tenderness and luxury, were placed upon a hatchway amid the brutal villains whose hands were still red with the blood of brothers and husbands, and, like bales of clothing, they were sold to the highest bidder. All that I had seen of bloodshed and of villainy was naught to this devilish work and even a life of slavery and the lash seemed better than that I should be a part of such a crowd of fiends. Throughout it all I noticed that old Grommet Legs stood apart from the rest, making as if most busily at work about his duties, and, with my soul torn at the sights I had seen, I sought him out and spoke my mind.

"Aye," he said, when he had heard me, " 'tis a sorry sight, the worst o' piratin'. Never ha' I hurted hair o' their pretty heads or laid hand on 'em 'gainst their will. Mayhap ye and me's known mother or sister, lad, and these chaps ain't; 'tis devils' work, and e'en Morgan hisself's better nor Hawkins when it comes to women, but mark ye, Bimshaw, say ye naught, 'twill serve no good and mayhap do ye harm. I'll take no hand in it myself, and ye have no call neither, and 'twill suit tothers better an' ye don't. But more than that ye cannot do, and ye can lay to that, lad."

"An' I ha' ship o' my own I'll slit the gullet o' any man lays hands on woman," I exclaimed in great heat. "An' ship o' my own, I mean to have," I added.

Grommet Legs shook with his strange, silent laughter. "Belike ye may, lad," he exclaimed. "An' ye do, count on ol' Ben Grommet Legs for mate. Aye, 'twill be right fine to touch me forelock and call ye 'Cap'n Bimshaw.' " At the very thought of it the old fellow again shook with merriment.

Little we either dreamed how soon my braggart words would come true, or how I'd keep the vow I'd uttered in my anger.


THREE YEARS AND MORE had passed since that night on which I swam out through Carlisle Bay and gained freedom on the pirate ship.

I had met with many adventures, had sailed many leagues of the Spanish Main, and had taken part in the capture of many a prize. Many times had I landed upon Saona, Tortuga, Bon Ayre, Levantado, and other pirate strongholds, and full many a time had I walked the streets of Port Royal, St. Martins, St. Johns, St. Barts, Curacao, Statia and other islands wherein the brethren found safe refuge and a jolly welcome.

But through it all never had I taken part in the abuse of women and, strange as if may seem, with the help of old Grommet Legs I'd even won some of the rough crew to my mind.

'Twas passing hard work—aye, harder than the boarding of a prize—for at first only rude jests, loud laughs and taunts greeted me when I spoke of the matter.

"Zounds! but 'tis strange for pirate to turn preacher," guffawed one, with a vile oath.

"Aye, Bimshaw, the parson," quoth another.

"An' he has his way he'd marry we all to th' pretty things, an' be done wi' it," roared a third.

"Wi' black mammies i' the fo'c's'le, an' petticoats a-dryin' i' the riggin'," added his mate.

"An' wha' be they good for now, an' it's no for sport? Faith, they be plenty left whence they come from," declared another.

"Nay," said I, "ye be all wrong, mates. No preacher be I, nor no parson; but I hold that ye ha' naught ag'in' women and babes, an' they be helpless creatures, an' ye ha' no call to harm 'em to gain your ends. E'en brute beasts count it below 'em to mistreat their females."

"Ah, stow it," replied an old pirate. "An' ye be so faint-hearted ye canna' hear a woman screech or see a rope's end laid on their backs, you've no call to be a-piratin'. But step ashore, Bimshaw, an' take the helm o' a meetin' house. Mayhap a Bible's more suited to your hand than yon big gun o' yourn."

Greatly was I tempted to crack the heads of those who thus spoke, but well I knew that did I but keep my temper much more could I gain than by striking blows, and I strove to touch their black hearts by other means.

I have lived long, though I was passing young then, and have seen much of the rough side of men, and still I hold that lowindeed is he who has no love for mother, sister or sweetheart in his soul, and who holds no respect for women. Mayhap a rough and villainous life, hard knocks, or fumes of rum may wipe such thoughts from him for a time, but nevertheless they be there, like sparks under a battened hatch, and only a draught of memories is needed to fan them into flame. So, when I talked and reasoned with the crew of the Adventure, I found many who took my words to heart and who vowed they'd never maltreat women again.

But though some seemed won over, I much misdoubted how well they'd hold to their words when temptation came their way, but I had not long to wait to see.

IT HAPPENED that we took a prize, a goodly ship, and hiding in the cabin was a frightened girl, the bride of the captain of the ship. The men dragged her, screaming, to the decks, and when the loot was safe and the scuttled ship was left astern, a ring of ruffians formed about the captive, passing ribald jokes about her, until her captor, the squint-eyed lad, called out he'd put her up for sale. I stood aloof with Grommet Legs and the few we'd brought to our minds, and my heart boiled with madness as I saw the evil-faced rat tear the silk and lace from the woman's shoulders and with a cruel blow bid her stand up. Unable to speak or understand, for she was Portugese, the poor thing screamed aloud with pain and terror and flung herself on her knees, imploring mercy. But her plight only served to arouse the devil who stood over her, and, seizing a rope, he laid it across her naked back, leaving a blue and bleeding stripe where it fell.

At this I could stand no more, and, bounding through the ring of men, I drove my fist full in the mouth of the weasel-faced dog. With a stifled curse he arose, spitting blood and teeth, and like a cornered rat he sprang at me. But he was no match for me, and again I beat him down with a blow on his evil, crooked eyes. At my first blow a cry of anger had gone up from the men about, but evil and black-hearted as they were they dearly loved a fair fight, and, standing about, they watched us as we battled.

As the squint-eye struck the deck for the third time, and lay bleeding and unable to rise, I heard a murmur and a shuffling of the crowd and, turning about, found the captain close at hand.

"A pretty fight, i' truth," he exclaimed in his soft, purring voice. "A sweet pretty fight an' o'er a pretty face an' fair skin. Tut, tut, Bimshaw, methought ye proof 'gainst woman. An' ye set your heart on the wench can ye no buy her fairly 'ithout layin' your mates athwart your hawse? But she do be fair pretty, an' (that no more heads be cracked o'er her) methinks I'll take her for mine own."

The Irish fighting blood of my forefathers was aroused, I was blind with rage, and Hawkins' sneering words drove all sense from me, and, turning on him fiercely, I cried: "An ye do ye'll ha' to fight for her, cap'n or no cap'n."

A half-smothered cry of wonder and surprise arose from the men; my words were mutiny, naught else, and all expected me to be seized and swung to the yardarm. But I cared not a whit and stood there, glaring about, my fists clenched and murder in my heart.

For an instant thus we stood, the captain black as a thundercloud at my insulting words and staring at me with his fierce eyes, and then he spoke.

"Still the 'Bados cockerel, eh! Know ye not, an' I minded I'd ha' ye keelhauled and flayed alive for those words? An' mayhap 'twould serve ye well; but ye be a good gunner, Bimshaw—aye, passing good—and we can ill spare ye, an' truth to tell, I like your temper. Them be brave words lad, an' I cozzen brave men, so I'll fight ye for the wench."

So saying, he threw off his rich coat, kicked off his silver-buckled shoes and stepped within the ring of men while I, with doubled fists and tense muscles, crouched ready to meet him. Then, as he saw my attitude, he raised his hand: "Nay, Bimshaw," he said, "ye mistake me. I'll no fight wi' fisticuffs, they be weapons fit but for gutter-rats an' drunken brawls. We'll fight wi' pirates' weapons, an', mark me well, Bimshaw," and here he fairly hissed the words, "there'll be no quarter mind ye, 'tis ye or me rules the ship, an' cutlasses will settle which."

His words called me to my senses, and my heart beat fast at thought of what I had brought upon me. Hawkins was noted for his skill with the cutlass; he was far larger and stronger than I, and I felt my minutes were numbered. Even if by chance, by some lucky stroke, I won, I knew the men would fall upon me like hungry wolves; I would be cut down, and nothing would be gained. I had threatened the captain of my ship, I had mutinied, and he, by some grim humor, had selected to punish me thus instead of ordering me flogged or hung.

But I had scant time for such thoughts; two shining blades had been handed the captain, and these he held forth that I might choose my weapon. Hastily I grasped that which came nearer to my hand and stepping back I prepared to sell my life as clearly as I might.

THE NEXT SECOND the blades met and, instantly, I knew how hopeless for me would be this battle, fortunately my back was turned against the sun while Hawkins faced it, and in my mind I fixed a will to keep us thus and never to give way to left or right lest he force me about until, blinded by the light, he had me at his mercy.

The gleaming blades flashed like fire in the slanting rays of the afternoon sun; they slithered and clashed, sparks flew from their keen edges as we lunged and cut and hacked. Back and forth we surged across the heaving decks, first one and then the other giving way, while all about us ringed the fierce, wild faces; hawklike eyes watching each thrust and hairy lips drawn back across yellow fangs like snarling wolves, breaths coming hard and fast with the thrill of the struggle and never a word or sound uttered.

Once the captain had cut me deep across the shoulder; twice had I pricked him with my blade; my heart was jumping, my head throbbed and my arm ached and yet ever I kept on. Hawkins' reach was prodigious, his lank, yellow body seemed all wire and steel, he moved as lightly and as nimble as a cat, and never for an instant did he give me breathing space. But wearied as I was, he, too, I knew was tired. Sweat streamed from his forehead, his hairy chest heaved, and the great scar across his breast grew scarlet with his exertion.

Never had I hoped to stand so long before his onslaught— for always I had deemed myself scarce more than an indifferent master of the sword, and that I had not fallen gave me courage, and, wearily, steadily, I fought. Ever I saw that gaunt, yellow figure before me, and slowly my eyes became drawn and fixed upon the scar above his heart. It fascinated me; strive as I might, I could not take my gaze from off it, and over me came a horrid hatred of it, as though 'twas some loathsome reptile, and like one possessed I drove and pounced and thrust, heeding naught but to sink my blade deep in that mocking scar.

Again and again his cutlass found my flesh, cuts covered shoulders, arms and checks, blood poured over me from a dozen wounds, but I felt them not; madness had gripped me and little I cared what befell, could I but reach that livid target with my sword. But I was losing fast, each stroke I dealt was weaker than the last, each lunge less true, and Hawkins, cool, calculating and alert, felt my failing strength and only waited for weariness to overcome me that he might beat down my guard and run me through.

And then, from beyond the circle of the men, there rose an awful scream, I saw a glimpse of a woman's form as it leaped from the bulwarks, and in a flash I knew that the captive, forgotten in our duel, had loosed her bonds and sought the mercy of the waves.

But Hawkins, back to the woman, could see naught of this, and, at the shriek, he half turned and lowered his blade. 'Twas scarse for the twitch of an eyelid, yet, in that space I sprung, and, lunging with all my failing strength, felt the sword bury itself within his flesh.

As Hawkins staggered back and his cutlass fell ringing to the deck, a stream of blood gushed from the scar upon his breast; true in its center had I plunged my blade.

SCARCE HAD HE FALLEN ere steel gleamed on every side, angry voices, fierce oaths, and awful curses were shouted, and upon me closed the ring of pirates. Now surely my doom was sealed, and my end had come, but ere the foremost reached me, ere a cutlass clove the air, old Grommet Legs leaped to my side, with pistols in his hands.

At sight of him the men hesitated, none cared to be the first to die, and facing them the mate roared out, "Avast! 'Twas a fair fight, mates. Hawkins chose the weapons as ye heard yourselfs; an' Cap'n's dead, he's but hisself to blame. An' ye lay hand on Bimshaw here ye fight wi' me as well, and, mark me, an' ye kill Ben Grommet, who's to take ye into port or gi' ye course to steer? Aye, who's the man among ye can navigate the ship? Not one, I warrant. An' ye think 'tis sweet to hang i' chains or dance to a yardarm, come on ye dogs an' strike—an' that'll be your ends and ye can lay to that."

A sullen growl rose from the hairy throats, but no man stepped forth, and, grudgingly and with many an oath, the cutlasses were sheathed, for well the men knew the truth of what the mate had said. Without a navigator they were lost, prey to the first armed ship that sighted them, and unable to reach a friendly port or even to sail the reef-filled channels in safety.

For a space they drew off, growling among themselves like ravenous dogs, and, taking advantage of this, Grommet Legs backed away, with me beside him, until he gained the ladder to the poop up which we quickly ran, the while his pistols faced the men. But they were in no mood to follow, and, presently, one stepped forth from the crowd and spoke to us as we stood at the break of the deck.

"So be it, Grommet Legs," he said. "Ye speak true when ye say 'twas a fair fight, an' as for the cap'n, why one's good as another says I and my mates here. Hawkins was a rough lot, but he's come to port, an' if in a-doin' it he fouled a craft better nor hisself, why that's no quarrel o' ourn. Ye're a navigator, Ben, an' wi'out ye we be lost, an' we ha' naught ag'in' ye. Will ye be cap'n o' the Adventure we're askin' ye?"

"That I will not," says Grommet Legs. "Too old be I; ye need young blood an' young strength for that, lads. I'll navigate the ship an' gladly—an' ye swear ye bear no ill will to Bimshaw here—but no more will I do. Ye may choose a cap'n as ye will, but ye mark me, ye'll do well to choose the one as showed ye he's a better man nor Hawkins—an' that's Bimshaw. Mind ye what Hawkins said, 'Ye or me rules this ship.'"

I fairly reeled at the suddenness of the mate's bold suggestion, for the captain's word had passed my mind unheeded, and never for a moment had I thought that I would escape alive; and when, all unknowing, the woman who'd brought about the quarrel gave me the chance to win, I was filled with dread at thought of the men.

And yet, here was Grommet Legs calmly telling the crew to choose me, a mere stripling, to fill the place of him whose blood was still red upon my blade and whose body still sprawled as it had fallen on the deck. But Grommet Legs knew well the temper of the pirates; he took the bull by the horns, and the men, without a leader, dazed at the strange turn in their affairs, and, looking to the mate as their only safeguard, grasped at any straw. Mayhap also they looked with respect upon one who had showed himself the captain's better—Grommet Legs had counted, on that or, perchance, they could think of none among their own lot whom they could trust. Be this as it may, the mate's words caught their fancy and, scarcely believing my ears, I heard them shout my name.

"Aye, Bimshaw be the man," cried one.

"He's the lad to lay 'em athwart his hawse," shouted another.

"A pushing lad, but a good one," yelled a third.

"Hawkins met his match; Bimshaw for us," cried a chorus.

Old Grommet Legs looked on, a broad grin overspreading his rough, red face.

"Aye, lads," he cried, “I knowed ye'd see it right. Overboard wi' the corpus men, and we'll drink to the health o' the new cap'n."

As two men lifted Hawkins' limp body and pitched it over the side the mate turned and faced me. His eyes twinkled and his mouth twitched, but he kept a sober face and a steady voice, as, touching his forehead, he asked : "Beggin' your pardon, sir, shall we broach a keg o’ rum, Cap'n Bimshaw?"


STRANGE INDEED did it seem for me to be master within that cabin where first I'd signed in mine own blood upon the Adventure.

Long I sat there, as the past flitted through my mind and I thought on the strange events which had led me, a nameless 'Bados slave, to become the pirate captain of a ruffianly crew. And as I pondered on the ways of fate, which are past all understanding, I smiled to think of the sorry figure I must have cut as I plunged sprawling through the doorway and startled Hawkins at the table. Faith, had he but known what lay in store he'd pistoled the gawky landlubber on the spot. But Hawkins had "gone to port," as the men put it, and little I cared, for, though he'd given me my start as a pirate and had made me gunner of the ship, yet well I knew 'twas not for love or friendship, but merely that he knew none else were better for the place. 'Twas a hard, rough life, as he himself had said, and no place for aught but stout hearts, and 'twas every man for himself, and to my mind 'twere much better that Hawkins be lying at the bottom of the sea than Bimshaw.

Hawkins' things were all about, and these, being of no use to me, save chests of plunder and bales of fine cloth and sundry other loot, I heaved them out for the crew to squabble over and made myself at home. But though 'twas hard to believe that I was captain of the ship, yet such I was, and as such I meant to have a word with the men as to what was in my mind about the women. As fortune had it the bo's'n was one of those who had been won to our minds by Grommet Legs and myself, and calling him and the mate into my cabin I told them of my plan. Both shook their heads and misdoubted if the crew would bide upon the ship, were women to be left unharmed, but I was captain and they would not say me nay and so, stepping to the break of the poop, I told the bo's'n to call the men together that they might hear my words.

"Ye chose me cap'n, lads," I said, when all stood together on the decks below, "an' ye know full well how came it that Hawkins met his death—'twas brought about by vile mistreatment of a woman—an' no more o' that will I ha' upon this ship. Prizes we'll take, and in fightin' blood will be spilt a-plenty; but we ha' naught ag'in' the women or the babes, and them as falls in our hands will have safe conduct. An' we find such aboard a prize, they'll be placed into their longboats wi' men to man 'em, an' food an' water beside, that they may make their way to port or nearest land. And, mark me well,—catch I one o' my men a-layin' hands on woman or child ag'in' their will, an' I'll ha' him run to the yardarm as a warnin'. But I'll no force no man to bide wi' me lest he chooses. Those as cares not to stop, I'll set ashore i' safety i' a friendly port, an' no ill will atwixt us. Ye've heard what I say, lads; think on it an' make your minds, an' let them as is minded to bide by my ways an' cruise wi' me stand to starboard, an' them as doesn't stand to larboard."

For a space the men talked and argued in low tones, but finally their minds were made up and in a crowd they moved across the decks to the starboard rail. Only two stepped forth and slunk to larboard and these were the squint-eyed lad and his crony.

"Thank ye, men," says I. "An' as for them two yonder,"—I jerked my thumb toward Squint Eyes and his friend—"we'll set 'em ashore an' good riddance, an' then off to the Pearl Islands, mates." Turning to Grommet I asked him to set a course for the nearest pirates' lair, which being done, I ordered rum served to the men and then, the wind being light, all sail was set and we headed eastward for Saona.

ALBEIT I was captain of the ship, yet of navigation I knew naught, save what little Grommet Legs had taught me. But this I knew was a matter most easily overcome and I set myself diligently to learn all I might from the mate, for none could say when he might meet his end, and to find myself without one who could navigate would be a grievous and dangerous situation indeed.

Thus, as we sailed onward towards Saona, I spent much of my time striving to master the use of quadrant, chart and compass. But as fate had it Saona was passed by with never a stop, and that which changed our plan all but brought me to my death as well.

It happened that two days after I had been made captain I sat within my cabin at night, poring over charts upon the table and with my back turned to the open door. Suddenly something sung humming through the air, I felt a sharp sting of pain in my side and a dirk buried its point and stood quivering in the table before me. I had missed death by a hair's breadth and, leaping to my feet and seizing my pistols, I dashed to the door. Ere I reached the portal an awful yell rang out through the darkness, something fell heavily to the deck and the next instant I came upon Grommet Legs standing over Squint Eyes. The rat had thought to kill me at my table and when, seeing his knife had missed, he darted away, he'd dashed straight into the arms of the mate who'd run him through. There he lay, writhing about, kicking his long legs, thrashing with his arms and slowly spinning about the blade that held him to the deck, for all the world like some ugly beetle through which a boy had stuck a pin. He was screaming most horribly and all the ship was in an uproar at the sound, and, much as I had cause to hate and distrust him and richly as he merited his fate. I had no mind to see him suffer more and ordered Grommet Legs to put an end to him at once. This done, and his carcass thrown into the sea, greatly did I feel relieved that the ill-favored dog was gone. But now the cry went up that his crony had a hand in the plot, and, like a pack of hounds, the angry crew turned and ran yelping towards the fo'c's'le.

Then, from behind the water casks, two tongues of flame spat forth, and the foremost man plunged head long to the deck. Over his body poured the men behind, and, in an instant, the cowering mutineer was hacked to bits and strewn upon the waves.

And now that these two men had gone, and passing strange it was they mutinied when three days more would put them safe on land, we minded not to make Saona and shifted and bore to the southward.

No sail had we raised since I'd been captain of the ship, but no grumble came from any man aboard, for that which we would undertake promised reward far greater than a score of captured ships.

My plan was this: to sail to Margarita—the Pearl Islands—and sack the town itself as well as any ships that by chance laid within its harbour. 'Twas a hold scheme, but Harry Morgan had done more, and I held myself as good a man as he—and its very boldness promised for success, for never did the Dons dream of pirates snatching riches from their very jaws. Naught knew I of Margarita, save what old Grommet Legs had told me, but his tale was such as to lead me on and stake all upon the plan. Years agone he had been there and he knew the port and all about as well as the deck of his ship, and he also knew that at certain times the store of pearls was waiting to be sent to Spain, and such a time was now at our command.

'Twas a long sail and out of the course of many ships, but at last the two peaks of the island rose above the sea, and standing off we waited until the sun should set and night might hide us as we approached the shore.

'Twas a black night and silently we crept under the land until before us shone the lights of the town behind the palms, like glowworms in the grass. All was revelry and merry making ashore, for in the harbour was the galleon to take the store of pearls to Spain, and close beside her rode her convoy, a Spanish brig-of-war. To attack this ship we had no mind, for, even if we won, lives would be lost and damage done, and crippled, we could not hope to take the town unprepared, nor even make our escape in safety.

And so, for the time, we drew off, striving to form a plan to take both ships and town at one blow and with little loss.

"An' ye ask me," said Grommet Legs, "the Dons aboard the ships will be a-skylarkin' on the shore. Mayhap a guard's been set aboard, but I misdoubt, they be a-keepin' watch. More like they be fair dead wi' drink or sleepin' wi' the music in their ears. An' we send a boat's crew, mayhap the lads may climb aboard an' slit the gullets o' the watch afore they wake,—an' all quiet-like a' that. An' then they've but to spike the guns an' the town be at our mercy."

"A good plan," I replied, "but I've a better. An' the men take the brig let 'em not spike the guns, but turn 'em on the town, an' belike when the Dons find their own ship a-shoutin' of 'em down they'll fair lose the little wit left in their muddled brains. An' whilst they be running, like conies to their holes, we'll land to one side an' take 'em in the rear. Let the lads raise a lanthorn twice for a signal the ship be theirs, an' that they'll no fire on us, we'll burn a barrel o' tar where we land."

The mate stared at me admiringly. "Faith, Cap'n," he cried, "ye ha' a headpiece on your shoulders to be sure. Ye're fair born to be a pirate cap'n, lad. Gad! but we'll see a merry time this night."

'Twas a perilous trick to strive to take the brig and I minded not to order any man to the task, but calling them together told the plan and asked for volunteers. But 'twas such a job as suited their reckless ways, and all clamored for the work and I was sore put to choose only those I wanted.

Silently the boat was lowered and in the darkness pulled away with muffled oars, whilst we reached in close to the headland, and, with boats manned and ready, waited on the signal.

No sound came across the water from the brig, but this we knew promised well, for if the men failed shouts and cries would ring forth, but slitting the throats of drunken men makes scant noise.

Once me thought I heard a smothered cry, but none could say whether or no 'twas the call of a night bird, and little sounds were swallowed up by the noise of merry songs and music from the town.

Then at last, against the blackness where lay the brig, a bright light twinkled for a moment, went out, and flashed again. 'Twas the signal, the brig was ours, and lustily we pulled for land.

SCARCE had we passed two boat lengths when the night was split by scarlet tongues of flame and the hills echoed to the thunder of the guns as from the captured ship our men poured forth a broadside on the helpless town.

From the shore rose screams and cries of mortal terror, from buildings poured forth the crowds of maddened folk, and death, agony and destruction took the place of music, dance and song. Scarce had the roar of the last gun died away ere our keels grated on the beach, and, firing a tar barrel as agreed, and shouting like demons, our wild horde dashed into the town.

'Twas easy work. The Spaniards, roused from the gaming tables and the dancing halls by the crash of cannon and the hurtling shots, thought only of seeking safety, and fled in frenzy here and there. Some few, the sailors from the ships, strove to gain boats and put to sea. perchance to reach their vessels,—but in the glare of burning roofs and blazing tar they were most plainly seen, and well-aimed guns from the brig blew them to bits, and those not killed by ball were finished by the sharks.

From the fort upon the hill the gunners trained their pieces and fired on the captured ship, but their aim was poor, and with the long gun on the bow our men tumbled the fort about the soldiers' ears.

Pistoling those who fled before us, cutting down those who stood their ground or fell within our reach, we dashed through the narrow streets and, better to light our way and thus know friend from foe, we fired the palm-thatched hovels as we passed.

That women fell amid the men at our onslaught cannot be denied, but 'twas not to be avoided, for in the turmoil and the slaughter none could stay the flashing blades and blazing pistols, and all save such as sought safety in the jungle or cowered in hiding places fell. Once, too, I found a lusty fellow striving to tear an infant from a woman's arms, whilst beating her most cruelly, and him I pistoled with mine own hand and set the woman free. Aye, I did more, and calling one whom I could trust, I placed the frightened creature in a good stone house,—and set the man on guard without.

But though it takes full long to write it down, the battle, if 'twere worthy of the name, soon ended, and the town was ours.

Such store of treasure as we found we placed within our boats and, so great was it, that a round score of trips were made ere 'twas loaded on the Adventure under hatches. Much booty also did we take from the ship at anchor, for she had come hither from Cartagena and Puerto Cabello and was laden deep with bars of gold and silver from the mines. Full fifty thousand pounds of loot we took in bullion, beside great quantity of pearls and many stones of worth; in truth a goodly wage for one night's work. Then, having scuttled and fired the ships, we sailed away across a sea that seemed of blood, so reddened was it by the blazing ruin we left astern.

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

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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.