Bimshaw, The Pirate
By A. Hyatt Verrill
Illustrated by Walt Louderback
From The American Boy magazine, March 1919. Digitized by Doug Frizzle April 2010
Part 5 of 6
SOON OUR AWAITED GUESTS came, two in the stern sheets of their longboat, which was manned by five sailors, and at once we led them to the cabin of our ship.
Presently, Brand stepped within the cabin as agreed, and, as the two strangers turned and glanced up at his arrival, the two whalemen and myself jerked pistols forth and placed them at the heads of our surprised guests. Ere they could rise or utter a cry, our men, hidden close at hand, had seized and bound them fast, and loudly we laughed at their struggles and their anger.
"Now, mates," quoth I, "we'll ha' the truth out o' ye. Who be ye an' why ha' ye a man shackled in yon ship? Out wi' the tale or ye go back aboard your ship wi' scuttled brain boxes."
At this he who claimed to be the mate grew purple with rage and cursed most horribly, but the bo's'n, a weasel-faced rascal, whimpered and begged for mercy, swearing he would tell all did we but spare his life.
The other turned upon him in a fury and threatened death and torture did he breathe a word, but his threats were of less avail than our cocked pistols and his tongue was soon silenced by a bit of sailcloth lashed fast across his face with a turn of rope yarn. Then the bo's'n told us how the ship, a slaver bound to the colonies, had been seized and the slaves sold in Cuba and how the officers, save the mate, had been butchered, the mate being saved and compelled to navigate the vessel by threat of torture, and how the mutineers planned to turn pirates and scour the Spanish Main.
"A brave lot o' pirates ye'd be," I cried when he had done; "a fine brave lot i' very truth wi' a chained mate to navigate ye, an' yonder crew o' Wapping's gutter sweeping's for a crew. Faith, ye should be thankin' us for a-savin' ye from a worse end did we blow out your brains now, for a gibbet or the yardarm stares ye in the face an' ye fail to do our bidding. List ye well now, for gain ye fail 'twill go hard wi' ye. This dog," I kicked the gagged and bound villain who had led the mutiny, "this dog, I say, stops on this brig as hostage. But ye," I booted the bo's'n, "as ye told the truth, go back free to your ship an' when ye reach there tell your men the game's up an' to set the mate free and send him safe to us. An' mind ye, rat, no treachery. Do ye aught o' harm to yon shackled man an' this dog we hold as hostage will dance to our yardarm wi'out tongue to scream nor ears to hear. An', mark me well, an' your's sail away, there lies a sloop-o'-war wi' a company o' marines aboard; an' we see not your signal that ye surrender—a white flag at your maintop—an' see not the mate set free an' unharmed aboard this brig within the hour, then forth we sail an' bring the King's men wi' us. Do ye as we bid an' ye'll win pardon for the part ye've played, but fail an', by the bones o' Drake, ye'll swing i' chains i' Nassau within the fortnight."
Trembling with fear, the rascal promised, and, disarming him, we cast him free and saw him tumble into his boat and depart.
'Twere an even chance he'd do as we bid and save us sacrificing good lives to take his ship, for the fear of death was in him; but I misdoubted it and held other cards yet to play, did he prove false. Well we knew he dared not harm the captive mate, for without him the ship was helpless, and naught would be gained while the life of the hostage would be lost. Also well we knew the ship could not sail out of the crooked passage to the sea without a pilot, and we feared not that the mutineers would attack us, even though our numbers were less and we carried no guns. Well too we knew no ship-o'-war was near; but they knew it not, and much I trusted to mine lie and the threat of a King's ship to bring the ruffians to our terms. How well my plans fell out I will now relate.
ANXIOUSLY we waited, but no signal came from the ship whose masts and yards rose clear above the bit of land and no boat bearing the freed mate came in view. The hour passed and then the Nancy's anchors were hove up and, spreading sail, we started forth as we had promised. As we cleared the point and came in view of the ship, all was bustle aboard her, and her men ran about bringing the guns to bear upon the larboard side, by which they thought we'd pass. But the whalers had mine orders and our plans had been well laid, and, just as we approached to near gun's range, the helm was put over, the yards were smartly swung, and, turning on her heels, the Nancy bore off and slipped quickly past the ship to starboard. Ere the surprised and outwitted mutineers could shift their guns across the deck we were safe beyond their reach and had naught to fear.
Quickly we bore out of the harbour, and, turning westward, slipped out of sight and beyond the land. Scarce half a league we sailed ere we lay to and waited motionless till two hours had passed. Then, hoisting the British ensign to our masthead and trimming sail, we headed back towards the harbour, while about our rails gathered the rough and ready whalemen, each and every one decked with scarlet cloth about his shoulders to counterfeit the red coats of the King's marines.
Into the channel we sailed and straight for the ship we steered, but no sooner did the mutineers glimpse the red-clad men upon our decks and the banner at our masthead, than in a panic they threw down their arms, deserted guns, and, terror-stricken, hastened to seek refuge on the shore. Hurriedly they strove to lower their boat, but many waited not for this and leaping into the sea swam to the beach, and when we gained the ship and swarmed onto her decks, no living soul was left aboard, save the bound mate within the cabin.
Him we quickly released and then, springing to the bow gun, I trained it on the boat just as it reached the beach and sent a charge of grapeshot crashing through it. Wildly the wretches screamed for mercy and waved white rags in token of surrender, while those who had swam ashore lay helpless and exhausted upon the sands of the beach.
Arming ourselves with cutlasses and pistols and joined by the crew of the other brig, we pulled ashore and soon herded the frightened mutineers together, bound them fast, and like trussed fowls slung them up by tackles to our decks and stowed them safely below hatches. All save six were prisoners—they having been killed by the shot from the gun—the ship was in our hands and the mate was freed and not one drop of whalers' blood had been spilt and not a blow struck.
Wonderfully grateful was the rescued mate and he vowed there were no truer, braver-hearted sailors in the world than whalers, and I smiled grimly to myself to think how he would gape in wonder did he but know the one who planned and carried out the rescue was none other than Bimshaw, the pirate.
NOW THAT the mutineers were prisoners and the ship was delivered over to her mate, 'twas decided to man her with whalers from the two brigs and, in company with her, sail forth to Nassau, where the prisoners could be given unto the authorities and where also a crew for the ship could be secured.
Thus we set forth and without adventure sailed safely into the harbour of New Providence.
And then, when our story had been told and the trial of the mutineers was held, right well were we rewarded, and a goodly sum was paid to us for capturing the pirates, as well as for the salving of the ship.
But here in Nassau we learned that many had escaped at Nevis and my heart sank, for I felt that I was still a fugitive, that nowhere was I safe, that where'er I went I might be brought to book for my past deeds, and that any time I might meet one from Nevis who would recognize and denounce me.
Of this I spoke to Brand, and, truth to tell, he was much in the same way as myself, but being a lad of education and brains he had already thought of a way to end our troubles and forever put danger from our paths.
"Aye, Captain," said he, when I had spoken my mind, "I have thought much about our future. An' you are willing to put your life in my hands and trust to me, I feel sure we may once more leave the sea and settle down in peace with safety forever-more."
I shook my head doubtfully. "Nay, lad," I replied, " 'tis once a pirate, ever a pirate. I ha' striven to live peaceful and honest-like and do no man harm, but 'tis no use. My past still lives, and at any time I may be seen and denounced as Bimshaw. There be none I can trust, save ye, and I mind not to be hung in chains or cast again in cell beneath the earth. Belike 'tis but my just reward, for I ha' sent many a poor soul to death; but life's sweet yet, and though I fear not death yet I mind to die a free man. I'm no' fond o' the life of a whaler, but I see naught else save piratin', and that I ha' done wi' forever. 'Tis you I be a-thinkin' on, lad. Through me ye've come to a sorry pass, an' I grieve to think ye be lost to friends and liberty by a-bidin' along o' me."
Brand listened quietly until I'd done, and then, smiling in the winning way I loved so well, he came and placed his hands upon my shoulders.
"Nay, Captain," he said, " 'tis not the reward due you, to be hounded for deeds not of your own choosing. For what you've done you've paid full and more, and you've no need to fear either hangman or prison henceforth. List to me, Captain, and blame me not harshly if I have done wrong. To-day I saw His Excellency the Governor and throwing myself upon his mercy told our tale and pled for full pardons for us both. He is a gentleman and honorable, and pledged himself to secrecy ere I spoke, and well I know the secret will be safe with him in view of what you've done. And when he heard the tale he vowed to do his best to gain the pardons that I sought, and this eve a ship sails forth to England bearing a letter to His Majesty the King and craving a royal pardon for us both and praising your gallant deeds most gloriously."
AS BRAND SPOKE I stood mute, struck dumb at the lad's bravery in confessing all to the governor, for well I knew that had His Excellency seen fit we would by now be languishing within a dungeon. But though he'd dared much, and had betrayed me without my knowledge or consent, yet I could blame him not, for now 'twas done I saw that 'twere better to chance the governor's breaking his pledged word than to live the life of a hunted animal, ever in dread of my fellow-men. And when I heard that the governor had indeed asked a royal pardon for us, my heart lightened amazingly, and such hope as I had not known for many months now filled my breast.
"Lad, lad," I cried, wringing his hand, "I can not find tongue to thank ye for this day's work. And the pardon be granted, ye ha' saved me, boy. Gad! but ye be brave! I’d sooner storm Havana's Morro or face the guns o' a frigate than ha' gone before the governor wi' our tale."
"Nay, Captain," he replied, " 'tis little I have done. Twice have you saved my life, and I were a cur indeed, and an arrant coward to boot, were I not willing to risk so little in return for my life."
Then, as an afterthought and with downcast eyes he added: "But I have yet more to confess. Little bravery I needed, Captain; His Excellency is cousin to my father, and 'twas that led me to see him. 'Twould ill become a governor to have it known one of his blood was in such straits as I. And thus I knew that he would keep a silent tongue, e'en though he asked not the pardon. Nay, Captain, I fear that I be but a sorry coward after all. Had he not been relative of mine, I misdoubt but I'd have gone forth with you and died as an outcast and a criminal."
But I'd have none of this, and swore 'twas a sorry way for Brand to belittle himself, and had the governor been the most peppery old martinet in the Indies he'd have dared all on the chance of saving his blackhearted old pirate friend.
And so, the petition for the pardon on its way, we had perforce to sit idly in Nassau and await the answer. 'Twas with mixed joy and sorrow that we saw the Nancy and the Starlight sail away without us, and from Fitzwilliam Hill watched their dingy sails sink below the horizon to the northward.
Slowly the days and weeks passed by, and then, at last, a great ship sailed into the harbour from England, and our hearts beat hard as we waited for word of what news she brought. But we had not over long to wait. From the governor came messenger with word that His Excellency wished speech with us, and, with mingled hopes and fears, we hurried to his presence. As he rose and greeted us my heart leaped with joy, for in his grave yet smiling face and twinkling eyes I read good news. Within his hand he held a bulky roll, and when, after a few kindly words, he handed first to Brand and then to me the parchments bearing their great red seals, my head swam, and I reeled with the greatness of my joy. No longer was I Bimshaw, no more a pirate to be hunted like a wild beast; no more need I fear to travel or to dwell where'er I chose. Henceforth I was a free man, a faithful subject of His Majesty the King—Geoffrey Greaves. For in my hand I held the royal pardon for "all and sundry acts, crimes and deeds conspired or committed against the King, the law, or the subjects of Great Britain or her colonies overseas."
NOW THAT WE had naught to fear, nothing marred our happiness save the thought of Grommet Legs, and gladly would I have given all—aye, half the years of my life—could brave and steadfast old Ben have but been there with his pardon from the King. But grieving would do naught to bring Grommet Legs to us, even if he still lived; and Brand and I sailed forth to seek new homes among the islands of the Caribbees.
And so, at last, we came to this fair isle, and with the money paid us in Nassau, and that we'd earned as our shares of the oil taken by the Nancy, we bought this plantation I look forth upon as I now write.
But though we bore pardons, yet we minded not to give forth who or what we were until necessity required, for well we knew how men would look askance at those who had been pirates, even though pardon had been granted them. And so till this very hour none know our secret, and none have learned it save Brand's wife, God bless her!
Yet into our peaceful, quiet lives came a serpent, though Brand knew it not, and never until I be dead and gone and he chances on this story of my life will he know of what took place, or how I crushed the reptile ere it struck and spread its venom.
Yet from the evil that threatened us came that which brought greater happiness than I had ever known, for fate plays strange pranks, and wonderful and devious are the ways by which God moves us to His ends. Three years had we lived upon this isle and greatly had we prospered, and among all those who dwelt upon the island we were honored and respected. Not being content to deal only in sugar, rum and molasses—for my blood called ever for the sea—I bought two ships to trade among the islands and to carry our produce and that of others cross the seas.
Seldom did I sail forth in them, however, for ever in my heart there lurked a dread of meeting some mariner who had known me in the past, and yet much pleasure and greater profit did the vessels bring. Thus it came about that in the course of trade Brand sailed forth to England and the colonies of America and visited many lands, for he was a likely lad and had a great head for business and loved to travel and to learn the ways of other men and nations.
'Twas at one such time, while Brand was away upon one of our ships and I was left alone upon the estate, that the serpent of which I spoke crept forth to threaten me.
The day's work was done; from the distant slaves' quarters came the faint sound of music and of singing, and I sat upon the gallery smoking my pipe and gazing forth upon the moonlit sea. And my heart was filled with tender, peaceful thoughts, for that day had I received a letter from the lad and in it I had read that he had wed and to the isle was bringing back his wife. And the thought of gentle woman to brighten up our home—and my joy that Brand had found love and happiness—was tinged with sadness that no longer could I be all to him as in the past. Thus musing, my thoughts went back and. dwelt upon the years agone, and I wondered, had I but found woman to love and cherish, would I have not been led away from the wild, black life I'd led; and then I thought of the Donna Mercedes, and in my soul I knew that 'twas through her lovely face that a change had been wrought in me, and that 'twas she as much as Brand who'd won me from my life of pirating.
Suddenly I heard a soft rustle near, and a shadow fell athwart the patch of moonlight before me, and, turning quickly, I beheld a black figure standing at the top of the stairs.
I LEAPED TO MY FEET with a start, but ere I could utter sound the figure spoke: "Evenin', Cap'n Bimshaw," said the stranger in a low, whining voice which sounded strangely familiar; and, at the words, my heart sank, for here at my very door was one who knew me for what I was, and for the instant I forgot I held pardon from the King.
"Who be ye an' what want ye here?" I demanded. "There be no Captain Bimshaw here; 'tis Geoffrey Greaves ye be a-speakin' to."
The other laughed. "Aye, like as not," he purred, " 'tis as easy to change names as colors, an' it suits ye. Blow me, but ye be snug, and sailin' under easy canvas here, Cap'n."
My fear gave way to anger at the fellow's insolent words and I started towards him, but he stepped nimbly aside, a dirk flashed in his hand, and, as a ray of moonlight fell upon his face, I stopped short and uttered a cry of wonder and surprise. Above the fellow's grinning, ugly mouth were two great holes—'twas the noseless pirate, "Pretty" — the one-time second mate of the Adventure!
"Blood and powder!" he exclaimed. "Lay hand on me, Bimshaw, an' I'll stick ye. So ye knows me now, eh? Scuttle me, but 'tis a rum way ye have o' greetin' a old shipmate."
Dumbfounded with surprise at the rascal thus finding me, I stepped back and grasped my chair for support. "What want ye?" I found tongue to ask at last. "An' 'tis help ye need to take ye hence, 'tis yours an' welcome. Aye, I know ye now—'tis useless denying who I be—but 'tis naught to me an' ye know me; I ha' royal pardon for my misdeeds."
The noseless one laughed sneeringly. "Mayhap, mayhap," he cried. "An' 'tis true 'twill no doubt save ye from the gibbet; but think ye pardon will save ye in the eyes o' your fine friends? Let them as dwells about but know 'tis Bimshaw, the pirate, as is livin' 'mongst 'em an' 'tis little ye'll get save snarls an' curses, I'll warrant, pardon or no pardon—an' ye can lay to that."
Well I knew the truth of the fellow's words, but also I knew 'twould never do to let him know I feared his threats, and so, keeping myself well in hand, I strode towards him.
"Ye fool," I cried, "ye cannot do me harm. Know ye not an' ye try to tell that tale 'twill land ye on the gallows yourself? 'Tis idle to threaten. Even now, an' I minded, I could call my slaves an' ha' ye lugged to prison."
"Softly, Cap'n, softly," whined Pretty. "I no ha' mind to harm ye an' ye be reasonable. 'Tis not much I'm asking, Bimshaw, but first a bit o' grog to wet me scuppers, an' a little friendly talk. What say ye an' we step inside an' ha' a quiet drink an' a chat, where it's snug an' private like—in your cabin, as ye might say, wi' no fo'c's'le swabs about? Faith, I ha' no mind to let others know aught I ha' to say to ye."
FOR A MOMENT I hesitated and then, with a wave of my hand, I agreed. "So be it," I said. "There be no stint o' good rum, and ye be welcome to all ye can guzzle, and that's a-plenty as I know. Come within an' set ye down, and let me know what ye ha' on mind."
We entered the room and, placing rum and glasses on the table, I sat myself down to list to what my strange visitor had to say.
Smacking his lips as he finished a great glass of the liquor, he leaned back in his chair and looked at me narrowly before he spoke.
"Now look ye," he said at last, "here I be on my beam ends in a strange port, and ye a-sailin' full and by wi' a fair wind, so to say, which ain't right or proper, says I. Didn't I sail shipmate wi' ye for many a year; didn't I help ye take many a prize; and when ye was chased by the Dons acrost the Main, who ran ye safe an' all standin' to Rum Cay, I arsk ye? Why me, o' course, ye'll say—ol' Pretty, none less—an' so now here I be arter a whack o' the loot I helped ye win, Cap'n."
The fellow's effrontery maddened me; my hands itched to get at his throat, but he was armed and I was not, and while, even so, I feared not the ruffian, yet I knew full well that, did he escape, I would be no better off, and so, controlling my anger, I asked:
"An' how much want ye? I ha' no loot— what I have be mine through honest work. Ye ha' no call on me—ye ever had a share due ye; but ye were shipmate wi' me as ye say—for old times' sake I'll help ye a bit to send ye on your way."
The fellow laughed scornfully. "Scuttle me," he cried, "but ye be rare kind, Bimshaw. 'Tis no charity I be seekin'. I mind to settle down an' turn gentleman mysel'—'tis 'arf I want, full 'arf o' the loot ye've got, Cap'n, an' no more an' no less, an' ye can lay to that, matey."
"Half of what, ye dog?" I exclaimed. "I tell ye I ha' no loot, I ha' no been piratin' since last I saw your ugly face in St. Barts, and what I took afore lies safe hid, and there I 'twill stop for aught o' me. I'll ha' nought o' money won wi' blood."
He half rose from his chair and leaned towards me, his blear eyes red with anger. "Avast there," he hissed. "I'll thank ye to be no' a-callin' o' names. Ye be no more a cap'n on the quarter-deck. I be as good as ye— yea, better mayhap i' the eyes o' many—for I ne'er did aught save at others' bidding. 'Twas ye that led us to deviltry an' murder. As for the loot, 'tis as I thought. Ye ever was a savin' lad, Bimshaw, a queer fish i' very truth. I mind the ways ye had o' stoppiu' the lads from makin' free wi' the pretty gals as fell our way, and I ne'er seed ye nor Grommet Legs spendin' of a doubloon i' merry-makin'. 'Tis a tidy sum ye've hid, I'll wager. Keel haul me, but 'tis strange to hear ye speak o' honest money. Mind ye the galleon we took off Porto Bello; the plate ships ye won by Oruba; aye, an' the sackin' o' Santa Ysabel? That were a bit o' work to cheer one's heart i' truth; aye, Cap'n, a lootin' as Harry Morgan hisself might be proud on. 'Honest money'—ho, ho! Blood an' powder! I warrant ye go to church o' Sundays now. Mayhap 'twould not make a merry stir did those a-prayin' by ye know 'twas a pirate kneeled amongst 'em. Stab me, but parson an' all would run like rats from sinking ship an' they knew the truth; an'—mark me well—they'll know right soon an' ye no gi' what I'm askin'. Bimshaw a-singin' hymns an' prayin'! By the bones o' Drake, 'tis a fine rich jest. But tell me the spot where the loot be hid an' lend me a ship to gain it an' I'll ne'er trouble ye more—ye can play gentleman or parson as ye like an' none the wiser for all o' me."
I laughed in the fellow's face. "Ye fool," I cried, "think ye I be a rum-befuddled dolt like yourself to gi' ye ship that ye may murder my men an' turn pirate?"
"Nay," he answered, "ye be all aback an' drif'in' to leeward, Cap'n. I'd no mind to go a-piratin'. I no ha' head like yours, and the brethren be hunted like beasts—an honest rover can scarce find safe refuge on the Main to-day. Nay, Bimshaw, 'tis ye that be the fool. Think ye I'd go wi' ship an' men o' yours alone—ye'd likely play me false; ye'll come along o' me until the treasure's found, an' them as serves as crew 'll be men o' my own choosin'."
I HAD NO DOUBT that did I refuse the fellow's demands he would go forth and spread the truth of who I was, and, while I held pardon for my past and was safe from punishment or molestation, yet well I knew that once the tale was told I would be looked upon with hatred and contempt by all my friends and neighbors, and Brand too would suffer. But as the rascal sneered and threatened and opened old sores I thought long healed, I forgot all caution and all else save overpowering rage and loathing for the filthy reptile across the table.
"Ye ill-favored swine," I cried, " 'twould serve ye well did I slit your throat for your insolence. Get ye hence an' back to your kennel ere I call slaves to beat ye forth like the whimpering cur ye be."
At my words the ruffian's lips drew back above his yellow fangs in a savage snarl and, whipping out his dirk, he drove it into the table top before him.
"Sheer off," he roared. "An' it comes to slittin' throats 'tis a game as two can play; and, mark me well, 'tis ye will crawl to me like a whipped cur afore I be done an' ye no mind to do my bidding. By the Jolly Roger! I'll see an' ye can stand the feel o' cold steel a-flayin' ye alive. Mayhap an' I took one o' your eyes ye'd see clearer with tother. Swab me! but 'twould no' improve your looks an' I did a bit o' carvin' o' your nose, ye smug-faced, cantin' ol' murderer!"
But the fool had overreached himself— threats did ever madden me—and, leaping to my feet, I seized my chair and hurled it at him.
Quick as light he dodged, the chair crashed against the wall, and, jerking his dirk trom the table, he uttered a wolf-like growl and sprang at me with uplifted weapon.
With a bound I leaped aside, his blow missed, and the knife sank deep into the wainscoting behind me. Before he could recover, aye, ere he'd jerked his blade free, I had reached my trusty cutlass hanging on the wall, and, with a curse, whirled it above my head and brought it crashing down upon his skull.
With a dull thud, like the staving of a cask, it struck; through bone and brain it clove; the dirk slipped clanging from his grasp, and, like an empty sack, he sank lifeless to the floor.
For a moment I stood looking down upon his corpse in silence, and then, with a great sigh of relief to think that he was forever powerless to harm us, I sheathed the sword.
Now that the noseless one was dead I must needs rid myself of his body, for, were my slaves to see him, 'twould give cause for chatter, and I had no mind that questions might be asked by those in authority did they learn I'd slain a stranger.
So, fetching a piece of canvas, I rolled him in it, made it fast with line and dragged the body forth into the gallery. Then, arming myself with shovel, I shouldered the carcass and, bending under the weight—for he was heavy—I made my way to a bit of waste ground where, safe from prying eyes, I buried the carrion beneath the palm trees.
But though his body was thus safely hid, yet upon my floor there spread the deep red stain of blood, and cunningly upon this I cast ink from out the bottle on my table as if, forsooth, it had been spilt by accident, and, the better to deceive, I messed a trail of it upon the chair and table, leaving the bottle upset.
Then, the night being well spent and sleep not coming to mine eyes, I sat musing on the events of the past, which the noseless pirate's visit had once more brought unto my mind.
TILL NOW I'd sought to forget the wild and bloody days of my pirate life and, while oft in my dreams I lived again the scenes of strife and slaughter in which I'd taken part, yet ever I had busied my waking mind with the present and strove to put such memories from me.
But the pirate's visit had swept me back to days long gone, for out of the past he had come into my peaceful life, only to die like the dog he was by that same blade which had won me fame and fortune 'neath the Jolly Roger.
As a stone cast into clear water stirs up the mud upon the bottom and clouds the whole, so his presence had stirred the long settled love of fighting within me and, as I'd struck him down, the fire of my pirate days had leaped from the spark buried in my soul and my blood had surged hot with the old thrill at feel of swinging blade and deadly peril.
And now 'twas over and done and I was once more calm; yet, strive as I might, I could think of naught save those matters the noseless one had brought to my mind.
Never for many years had I given heed to the treasures I had hid, for in my desire to lead all honest life I'd vowed to have naught of blood-stained wealth to link me with my deeds of piracy. But now, as I mused and pondered on the matter, I thought how foolish I had been.
The loot was worthless where it lay, serving no one; and, even had I wished, 'twould have been hopeless to try to give it back unto those from whom it had been wrested. And if left thus 'twould some time fall to hands who had no claim upon it, or perchance to those to whom it spelled naught but revelry or devilment, while, did I but have it, to some worthy cause it might be put.
Much I wished that Brand were there to talk the matter over and then, as I thought of him, an idea came unto me. What more fitting for a wedding gift than the limpid pearls of Margarita and the flashing gems and golden baubles from many a Spanish treasure ship—a present worthy of a queen? Aye, and the loot of Santa Ysabel—the jewels of Mercedes. I'd vowed they would ne'er serve aught but worthy purpose; could there be aught more worthy than to grace her whom Brand had taken for his bride? I slapped my knee and chuckled at the thought of how Brand would gape and stare, and his lady would flush and cry aloud in wonder at the wealth I'd spread before them. Faith, with my treasure would they be the richest of all among the islands; aye, and I'd put aside a portion for the little ones to come. By the bones of Drake! Come what might, Brand and his would never want, and my black old heart warmed at the thought.
‘Twould be months ere he returned; the crops were harvested and the plantation needed me not; I had ship lying ready to my hand and so, well content with my plans, I got me to my bed to win a few hours' sleep ere setting about my preparations.
When I awoke 'twas well past dawn and, as the sunlight streamed through the jalousies and the birds sang and twittered in the jasmine and hibiscus, I could scarce believe the events of the night were not all some ugly dream. But the splotch of ink upon the floor and the shattered chair were there to prove the truth and well I knew that 'neath the palms lay he who'd sought to ruin all our lives.
ERE NIGHT FELL again the ship was ready, and before a fair wind we stood forth from the harbour towards the setting sun. Strange indeed it seemed to once more tread the quarter-deck and feel the heave of a ship's hull beneath my feet, and my heart felt light and years were lifted from me as the men flew to do my bidding and I scanned the bellying sails and watched the land grow faint astern, while, before our plunging bow, stretched the broad blue Spanish Main.
Onward through the night we sailed, and when dawn broke the little isle of Aves gleamed clear against the sea scarce a league distant. Here in the lee we cast anchor and pulling ashore in the longboat we landed and, as the countless sea birds wheeled and screeched about us, we dug from the resting place a goodly chest of bullion. Then, with this treasure safely stored, we hoisted anchor and trimming sails steered westward for Saona.
But here others had been before us. Naught but an empty hole we found where years agone I'd hid my store of gold, and never a doubloon did we find. The loss troubled me not, however—there was plenty yet hid on many an isle and key—and through the Mona Passage we sailed to Trade Wind Cay, where, in a secret cave, the loot from two great galleons had been buried. Naught had disturbed it and many a bale of silk, many a cask of wine, and many a chest of doubloons and of golden onzas were added to our cargo.
Then, once more hoisting sails unto the breeze, we left the cay behind, and, rounding the cape of Samana, with Hispaniola on our lea, set course for a little isle hard by Gonaives.
Three weeks we'd been at sea and never a pirate sail had lifted above the rim of the sea. Ships we'd seen; some Dutch, some Dons and some with the triple cross of England flying from their mastheads, but never the Jolly Roger with its grinning skull, for Don and Briton were at peace and all had joined to hunt the corsairs from these waters. But now, as we skirted round the isle, we heard the sound of shots, and, ever mindful of danger—for buccaneers still lurked in many a hidden lair—I called my men to quarters and loaded all our guns in readiness for aught that might befall. Then, as we rounded a wooded point and came in view of the roadstead, we saw a strange ship anchored near the shore. Upon her decks were hurrying men, and from their guns and muskets belched fire and smoke; while from the woods upon the isle, and from a longboat on the beach, came answering shots.
Whether those upon the ship beset them upon the shore or those upon the isle attacked the ship, I knew not, and while I greatly longed to help to win the fight for those in the right yet I hesitated, knowing not with which to cast my lot. But I had not long to wait, for no sooner did those upon the ship catch sight of us than a cry arose, a tongue of flame sprang from the vessel's larboard quarter and a round shot tore through our mainsail.
Loudly barked our cannon in reply and though many of our shots fell short and plunged harmlessly within the sea—for my crew were peaceful merchantmen and knew little of gunnery—yet some found their mark and splinters flew and men fell upon the decks. Then over me came the lust of battle once again, and from the poop I dashed, and with mine own hand trained a gun and, squinting along the barrel, brought it to bear upon the gun crew of the enemy and sent a charge of grape amongst them. Naught had I lost of cunning in handling of a gun, and again and again I trained the cannons, rushing like a madman hither and thither, shouting and cursing, and with the wild thrill of old days upon me, while all about screamed and crashed the shot, and splinters flew and rigging snapped.
But little damage did they do us, for they still had those upon the shore to light, and soon their shots grew less and tip their shrouds a man climbed, waving a white rag in token of surrender.
And as we silenced our pieces and drew alongside and boarded her we found her decks in truth a very shambles and strewn with dead, while those few left alive cast down their arms and begged for quarter.
Meantime those upon the isle had put forth and pulled alongside our ship, and, as I turned from the taking of our prisoners, I stood with staring eyes and gaping mouth, speechless with wonder at sight of one who scrambled across our bulwarks and sprang upon the deck.
(To be concluded in the April number of The American Boy.)
Earlier Adventures of Bimshaw
SINCE BIMSHAW became a pirate through a whim of fortune rather than from choice, he has always had a horror of some of the things which his work forces upon him. Therefore when Brand, whom he has rescued from an open boat after a shipwreck, urges him to abandon this life and become a planter, he and his old mate, Grommet Legs, decide to scuttle their ship when all hands are ashore in port and to sail to Nevis, Brand's home town. There the two live happily and contentedly until one day Brand arrives breathlessly to tell them that they have been identified as pirates and that the King's troopers are on their way to arrest them. Aided by Brand they fight off the troopers but are finally overpowered and Bimshaw is knocked unconscious. He comes to to find that he is in a subterranean dungeon, but an earthquake and tidal wave release him from his prison and he finds himself adrift at sea. Here he is rejoined by Brand, while clinging to wreckage; they make there way to a drifting boat and finally are picked up by a whaling vessel. They offer to stay aboard until a cargo is secured, instead of being set ashore at some strange port, and Bimshaw, proving his skill as a navigator, is made mate of the ship. While in a bay to secure fresh water, along with another whaler, a strange ship appears and asks the loan of a pilot to enter the harbor. Bimshaw goes to the ship, but discovers a ship's officer bound and gagged and concludes the ship is in the hands of mutineers. He pleads that the ship draws too much water to go into the harbor, and feigning cordiality asks the commanding mutineer and his mate to dine aboard the whaler. Then he returns to his ship, where the men await the guests with loaded pistols at their belts.