Thursday, 20 May 2010

Bimshaw, The Pirate (part 6 of 6)

BIMSHAW, THE PIRATE

By A. HYATT VERRILL

ILLUSTRATED BY WALT LOUDERBACK

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

CHAPTER XIII (Continued) – Part 6 of 6

GROMMET LEGS!" I shouted, as I caught sight of him who sprang upon our deck, and, dashing forward, grasped his hand.

For a moment he peered at me narrowly beneath his bushy brows. "Aye, an' who be ye?" he asked, and then, as it dawned upon him, cried, "By glory! 'Tis the dead come back; 'tis Bim—"

"Hist," I warned him in a whisper, "speak not that name." And in a louder voice I cried, "Aye, 'tis me —Geoffrey Greaves, old shipmate. By the bones o' Drake! 'Tis wondrous tale ye must ha' to tell, Ben."

"Gad! but it does me ol' eyes good to look ye in the face," he roared. "How be ye, lad, and where be the boy, Brand? Sink me! but it seems but yesterday since I saw ye carted off amongst the dead i' Nevis; and after all these years to find ye a-comin' i' the nick o' time to help win my ship and treasure from these bloody mutineers."

As we talked I'd led him aft into my cabin, for I had no mind that the gaping men who stood about should hear our talk, or chance word let slip, which might tell them what we'd been ill times long past. Then, safe within the cabin, I told to Ben my tale, relating all that had occurred from that time when, struck down by the Redcoat's pistol ball, I'd last seen Grommet Legs, until I'd come unto the harbour.

To all this he listed, now and then uttering a word of wonder or surprise, and when I'd ended he ex­claimed:

" 'Tis wondrous, lad—aye, passing wondrous—an' to think o' ye an’ Brand a-bein' freed by yon earthquake! Aye, 'twas a miracle—naught else. And ye a-gettin' o' King's pardons, and most of all a-turnin' up here all standin' i' the nick o' time to run afoul o' your ol' ship­mate. By glory, lad! 'Tis the hand o' Providence as guided ye, naught else, and ye can lay to that. An' now I'll spin my yarn—'tis strange enough, but naught 'long-side o' yourn.

"When the Redcoats bore us down, Brand and me, they lugged us off to town, as ye know, but as we went my mind was ever busy a-thinkin' o' means to win free, and many a hint I gave to him as had me in tow of treasure I'd hid. I could easy see his mouth a-waterin' o'er the thought of it, an' when they clapped me under hatches i' the prison I heard him a-whisperin' to the turnkey. Ye were a bit inexperienced, lad, an' had no chance aside, for ye was cast i' the well afore ye'd gained thought or speech. But I was a wise ol' fox, lad, an' knew the power o' gold and I misdoubted they'd do me harm, an' they thought by parleyin' they'd gain the treasure as I'd hid.

" AN' SO it fell out; they threated an' blustered for a bit, but I laughed i' their faces an' held my tongue. The more they talked the more I knew they'd do naught—they'd ha' no chance to put their fists i' loot o' mine an' they did me harm, and torture'd help 'em not, for wi'out me at the helm they was all aback and e'en if they drew the names o' the spots by rack or fire they'd no be sure of finding o' the loot. So arter a bit they hoisted flag o' truce and began a-trying to make terms with me.

"For a bit we backed an' filled, a-strivin' to get to wind'ard o' one another, for I swore I'd no gi' hint o' where the loot lay an' they no gave safe conduct for Brand as well as me. Faith! an' I'd ha' made terms for ye as well, Bimshaw, but wi' me own eyes I'd seed ye cast i' cart among the dead an' they swore ye was a'ready buried—which was mortal truth, save ye was buried alive i'stead o' dead—an' deep grieved I was to think on it. At last they came to terms an' all was ready for a-signin' o' the papers, when along comes the earth­quake an' carried away all standin', and sends 'em to Davy Jones like a ship what's struck 'twixt wind and water. An' where was I, ye ask; why. a-settin' on a bench i' the prison yard a-eatin' o' good grub wi' a mug o' ale alongside, an' whilst others was a-prayin' an' a-screechin' as walls tumbled 'bout their ears, I grabs up my bench an' sets a course for high land. 'Twas a rum feelin', lad—a monstrous rum feelin'—to be a-footin' it over ground as rose an' fell like waves o' the sea, and more 'an once was I hove down on my beam ends. An' then, with a rush an' a roar, comes the sea and catches of me in the stern like a jolly boat i' heavy surf. But wi' my fine bench to hold me up I floated atop o' the crest and was dropped down safe an' sound, but a-blowin' like a grampus, athwart a palm tree. Then a-droppin' o' the bench, for 'twas no time to be a-settin' down to rest, I bore off up the hill and afore next wave came a-roarin' in I was high an' dry i' a snug berth i' the cane. 'Twas monstrous dark and naught could I see o' town or sea, and then comes the thunder an' the hurricane, an', a-crawlin' on hands an' knees, I made to loo'ard under bare poles and come to anchor i' a bit o' cave i' the bluff. When day broke never a sight o' town could I see, naught was left, an' all the shore was deep wi' wreckage an' bodies. Here an' there was livin' folk a-searchin' for friends or kin, or a-ravin' an' a-screechin' at the fate as had befell 'em. But I had naught to grieve for—I was free —an' none gave me heed or thought i' their trouble, an', thinkin' only to escape from off the island, I made my way by path an' by cane field to our place. 'Twas but a blackened ruin and my heart misgave me as I thought o' the happy days we'd had there, an' now none but me left. The cutter was safe, though driven aground by the storm, an' gatherin' a load o' fruit an' yams an' a-fillin' a jug wi' water, I piled 'em in the boat, and arter a bit o' trouble shoved her off an' set sail.

'"Twas St. Croix I made for, and, gainin' the islan' safe, I told u' the ruin o' Jamestown an' found berth as bosun aboard a ship bound for New England. For years I sailed the seas i' merchantmen, a-workin' up to mate an' a-savin' o' my money, until six months agone when we ran afoul o' pirates off the Barbary Coast. By the Jolly Roger! 'twas a sweet fight, but the black­amoors were naught like the Brethren, lad, an' we won the day an' took their ship to boot—though many a one we lost and our standin' riggin' was a wreck. Our cap'n was among the slain and wi' my share o' prize money, and what I'd saved, I bought a interest i' the ship and took my place as master.

"And so, wi' a stout ship to command and a-tradin' through the islan's, I set my mind on a-gatherin' o' the loot I'd buried here and there i' days long gone, for I'd had enough o' piratin'; an' swore I'd leave the sea an' live in peace an' honesty the rest o' my days.

"The loot as I'd hid i' Beata an' Tortuga I put safe aboard an' then sailed for here, but the men were a pack o' ruffians an' cutthroats, and thinkin' to ha' the treasure to theysel's they mutinied an' sought to murder me an' those as stood by me. But we beat 'em off, an', takin' to their boat, they gained the ship an' trained the guns upon us, and all the rest ye know."

AND NOW we'd heard one another's yarns, we talked of future plans, and hard I strove to have him come with me and dwell together with us at our home. But he would have naught of this, and shook his head to all my pleas.

"Nay," said he, "ye an' Brand ha' pardons, but I ha' none. Long ha' I lived i' dread o' comin' to a pirate's end, and I ha' no mind to dwell where there be laws or hangmen, lad. Naught would gladden me more—ye know that well—but I ha' other plans i' mind. Wi' the wealth I ha' I'm a-settin' course to a bit o' land where none lives, Swan Island, 'tis called, a sunny spot wi' palms an' white beaches as no nation owns. An' there I mind to make my home an' live an' die i' peace. Wi' a crew o' blacks to work the soil, and a trim bit o' craft to sail forth when I list, I'll be mine own king, law, and master. But I'll sail along o' ye, Bimshaw, till the last o' the treasure's safe under hatches, and right glad I'll be to welcome ye and Brand and his lady to my little kingdom, an' ye mind to make sail an' visit me."

Thus finding him firm, for Grommet Legs was not one to yield, once his mind was made, I let him have his way and promised we would visit him ere long. Then, having set the captives ashore to be marooned, and having placed some of my crew upon Ben's ship to take their places, we sailed forth together from the bay.

To every isle and cay whereon we'd hid ill-gotten gains in days of old, we cruised, and marvelous was the treasure that we garnered. Doubloons and pistoles, louis d'or and pieces of eight; bullion from many a mine of gold and silver; trinkets and gewgaws; sacks of uncut emeralds; bundles of richest silks and bales of velvet; flashing gems and jewel-encrusted arms of rich hidalgos, and pearls that shone like prisoned moon­light—aye, a treasure worthy the ransom of a king.

And so, at last, together we came unto the Bahamas, and glad indeed was I that I had borne in mind the way the noseless one had steered the Adventure, when flee­ing before the Dons, through the treacherous channels.

But even though I'd noted well the course and land­falls, yet I had not the chart on which I'd marked it, and slowly and with great care we picked our way between the reefs and shoals towards that isle whereon we'd hid the last of all our plunder, the loot from Santa Ysabel.

And as we anchored in the little bay and once again I looked upon the palm-fringed beach, the years were swept away and in my mind I seemed once more to stand beneath the Jolly Roger a pirate captain, flushed with late victories—for naught had changed; each rock and tree I recognized, and 'neath the shadow of the palms I saw the ruined hut wherein my crew had lived when on the isle.

No hand had found the hidden cave; within it our treasures were untouched, and as I looked again upon the jewels of the Donna Mercedes my heart sickened at thought of wrongs I'd done, while through my dark thoughts came a light of joy that I had saved her and her courtly father. And much I wondered would that act, in her eyes, in part redeem my past, and from my lips went forth a silent prayer that it was so.

Also was I glad that the pretty baubles had fallen not to other hands, that never would they be bartered for debauchery or vice, but would find a fitting resting place with her whom Brand had chosen for his mate.

Perchance old Grommet Legs read what was passing in my mind, as fondly and reverently I lifted the jewels in my hand, or mayhap he'd planned already to send a token unto Brand. Whichever 'twas he roused me from my thoughts by speaking:

"Look ye here, lad," he cried, "I ha' enough an' to spare an' I mind to gi' Brand's lady a bit o' present as well as ye. Take ye these chests o' mine an' gi' 'em to the lad an' his wife from me. Aye, an' my share o' Margarita's pearls as well. Doubloons an' bullion serve me better than such womanly trinkets, and 'twill do my ol' heart good to know she be a-wearin' o' some bit o' mine about her pretty neck. Women be ever fond o' such things, lad, an' I be far too ol' to think o' taking-woman to wife mysel'"—the old fellow chuckled at the thought—"so gi' 'em to her as we both love for sake o' Brand."

"Aye, gladly will I gi' them in your name," I cried, "even though ye be a villainous old pirate who thinks so little o' old friends he'll no come to make their hearts glad by dwelling with 'em." And then, like two beard­less boys, we fell to laughing and joking in the cave, while about us the jewels in their chests flashed back the flare of our torches in a thousand hues.

CHAPTER XIV

WHEN, at last, with all our riches safely stowed, we sailed forth from the cay, our hearts grew heavy with thought of again parting, for though we'd been Godless, black-souled pirates in the past, yet, tough old rascals that we were, our love and friendship were passing great.

For long years had we faced death and peril together, in many a hard-won battle had we fought shoulder to shoulder; through many a storm-tossed sea and lashing hurricane had we stood watch upon the heaving decks of the Adventure, and a score of times and more each had saved the other's life. Through fair wind and foul we'd shared the rough life of the Breth­ren 'neath the Jolly Roger, and, together, we'd left the sea and settled down to dwell in peace in Nevis, and to forget our black deeds.

Not till we'd been hounded by the Redcoats had we parted, since first we'd met under Hawkins' colors, and ever like brothers had we been. And when, on that wild and fearful night, I'd drawn Brand upon my bit of wreckage and had found that Ben was gone, my heart had been sore grieved indeed, to think my rough-and-ready old comrade was no more. Then, when through such strange ways I'd once more found him hale and hearty, joy such as I'd not known for years was mine; and now again we were to part, for Grommet Legs still vowed he'd never dwell where law might reach him, and naught could sway him from his plans. So, to­gether, we sailed southward through the Windward Passage and past Cape Tiburon, and heaving-to in Navassa's Lee we said our last farewells. Then towards the east I steered, and to the south and west his ship bore on, and each upon his after deck we stood, while wider and wider swept the sea between, until, beyond the ocean's rim, the gleaming sails dropped down and out of sight.

But though I'd parted with my old-time shipmate, yet the thought of once more greeting Brand, and her whom he was bringing back to share our home, drove much of my regret from out of my mind.

Moreover, in my heart, I knew full well old Grommet Legs were better off and safer in his lair upon the tiny distant isle than with us upon the plantation, and I'd no doubt he'd be happier as well. Glad was I to think the grizzled old pirate had given up the corsair's life, for he'd plenty of money to spend the rest of his days in peace and was ever too kind-hearted and too true to be tempting the hangman's noose by such villainous ways. But I'm getting off my course, and must 'bout ship and tack, for what passed through my mind is of little moment, and, truth to tell, I can say naught, for it ill becomes me to prate or preach, who, for so many years, was a notorious captain 'neath the black flag.

At last, one morn, the dim and cloud-like loom of land was seen ahead, and hourly it grew and took on form until, by midday, the towering, green-clad mountains and lovely valleys of our home were close aboard.

But I had no mind to enter at the port with all my store of treasure, for well I knew 'twould raise the curiosity of those about and questions would be asked which would be full hard to answer.

And so, the wind being light in the lee of the land and the afternoon waning, we drifted idly along the coast until, night falling, we worked into the cove afore the plantation, and, coming to anchor close to the beach, prepared to land the precious cargo I had brought.

For long we labored in the darkness, the crew rowing the chests and sacks ashore and my slaves carrying them to the vaults beneath the house. Perchance it may seem strange that I feared not my men might betray me, but with my wealth I knew full well I could buy their silence for all time, and none I had whom I knew not or could not trust, or who had not been with me for many years. But most of all I trusted to the power of gold. Long had I dealt with wild and reckless men, and with those of peaceful lives as well, and while some might bite the hand that fed them, yet few are those who think of aught but their own welfare, and so long as my men gained more from me than would befall them did they carry the tale of my loot to others, I dreaded not they would tell aught of my cruise or of what they'd seen thereon.

I'll not gainsay I had misdoubts at times, but there was naught else I could do—lest I followed the villain­ous ways of some and killed them all when they had served my turn. So, paying them well in good gold, and promising that they would never want and that each month would receive a goodly sum, I gave up all doubts and cast worries aside.

Having landed all the treasure, we hoisted anchor, and, with the freshening breeze of dawn, sailed onward to the town. None guessed what vast wealth lay hid beneath the house, and well content was I that it was safely there and ready to Brand's use, for I minded it should be all his, save a good store of golden coin I set aside for such youngsters as might be his in future times.

Then, everything being accomplished, I set myself to await his coming with his bride.

And when at last the ship that bore them came into the port I knew it not, being engaged upon a distant part of the plantation, and so, ere I dreamed that they were near, a coach drew up before the gallery steps and from it Brand leaped down.

Filled with joy, I hurried down the steps, but ere I reached him a dainty lass stepped forth beside him.

AT SIGHT OF HER my heart seemed to stand still, my tongue was robbed of speech, and my knees trembled weakly 'neath my weight, for the lovely lady whose hand rested on Brand's arm was Mercedes !

Aye, 'twas she beyond a doubt, though wondrous beautiful she'd grown during the years that had passed by since last I saw her. Those eyes, which once I'd seen so filled with mortal terror of the ruffian standing over her, were now soft and glorious with love, and those sweet lips, from which had come that piteous cry for mercy, now parted in a smile of happiness and joy.

For a space I stood there, wide-eyed and gaping like the dolt I was, and then upon my muddled brain it dawned that though I knew her, yet she knew me not, and, gathering my wits together, I greeted Brand and Mercedes in such words as I could find tongue to utter. But if I was wonderstruck at sight of Mercedes, 'twas naught to that wonder which was soon to fill her, when, within the house, I brought forth and laid my wedding gifts before her.

With little cries of pleasure and delight she lifted the lustrous pearls of Margarita; her eyes gleamed and her breath came short through parted lips as she saw the myriad colored fires shot forth from diamonds, emer­alds, and rubies, and, like a child, she clapped her hands and laughed, as from their resting place she drew trinket after trinket of dull, yellow gold ablaze with gems.

One chest yet remained, a rough case in which I'd placed the casket I'd found in Santa Ysabel, and this Brand opened for her.

A single glance she took within, and then her face went white, her eyes grew wide, and with a strange, half startled cry she turned and gazed with puzzled, searching look into my face. "Where, oh, Uncle Geof­frey, where—" she cried, and then her eyes lighted with sudden knowledge, and, ere I knew what she was about, she flung herself upon me and pressed a kiss upon my leathery old cheeks.

"Now I know," she cried in her pretty foreign way, as, half sobbing, half laughing, she clung to me. "You are the dear, good SeƱor who saved me from that dreadful pirate at Santa Ysabel. Oh, I'm so glad, so happy, yes. My thoughts have been of you so many times, and who you were, and if I'd ever see you more I wondered, and now—now, I find you my own Uncle Geoffrey."

'Twas wondrous reward for the little I had done, and happy was my heart to think that all unwittingly I'd given joy to her to whom I owed so much.

There's little more to write. To Mercedes I frankly told my past, sparing not to bare my villainy, but she, dear little lady, forgave me my black days of wicked­ness, and vowed I was no pirate, but a gallant gentle-man, at which I roared with laughter. And then from her own lips I heard the story of how she and her courtly father had flown from Santa Ysabel until the pirates left. How the Viceroy, accusing him of cow­ardice, had sent him forth to Spain in chains (and my blood boiled hot within me as I heard, for if ever brave man drew breath, 'twas the old Don).

And then, continuing her tale, she told me how, beset by storm, the ship had driven north; how, fearing 'twas foundering, the cowardly crew had taken to the boats and left her and her father to their fate, and how, at last, sturdy, kind-hearted men had seen the drifting vessel from the shore and, going forth through the perilous surf, had rescued the two and brought them safe ashore.

There, finding those amid whom they had been cast more kindly than those of their own race, they settled down and in Virginia had prospered and had dwelt in peace and happiness. At last the old Don, dying, had left Mercedes mistress of a fair estate, but heartsick, sad, and lonely, until Brand found her and brought her love and happiness anew.

MANY YEARS have passed since Brand brought Mercedes into our home and never since has aught come out of the past to haunt us or to mar our lives.

And, looking back, I know how wonderful are the ways of God, and through what strange and crooked channels must one cruise when fate is at the helm. Thus, from my villainy has come good; from sack and slaughter has come love and joy and, from my ill-gotten gold, has come charity and help to the unfortunate. Black-hearted pirate have I been—mayhap naught I have done or may ever do will wipe the bloodstains from my hands and soul—but to Brand and Mercedes my past matters not; to their youngsters, who clamber o'er my knees and beg for yarns, I be naught save a wrinkled, gray-headed playfellow, and, when the time comes and I set sail for my last port, I'll fear me not to pass that bar beyond which none may see.

THE END

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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.