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The Voyages of the Waved Albatross
Author's note: This is only the first two chapters of a longer book, which I am in the process of making, if you like these, perhaps I can start submitting one chapter every month for the magazine. IMSTEEL PS. The picture on the cover is not the picture I wanted, but the website won't let me pick my own, and so I had to use it in order to give you my lines.
Brown as a dead leaf that the wind has swept away from its tree, the sailor stood on the brink of a long jetty of toothy cliffs at one end of a small cove that was bounded on the other side by a similar jut of cliffs. Towards the bottom of the crags it became smoother and flatter, finally ending at the gray beach of the cove, where small toadstool houses speckled the otherwise smooth shore. At the yawning mouth of the cove, ships were moored at their berths, mostly brigantines and other large ships of trade. A few others were sailing out of the small bay, maybe on their way to the colonies of the Caribbean, which was finally safe now that the war was over. The stranger surveyed the particulars of the cove with his sparkling sea-blue eyes; only slightly graying hair whipped around the brim of a tri-corner hat. His heavyset jaw was held like a man who is used to shouting and giving orders, and his eyes certainly confirmed this characteristic. He wore an odd assortment of clothing: from a mismatched green scarf, gray fearnought jacket and white linen undershirt, to red breeches and flamboyant sash. Stuck in this baldric was a flintlock pistol, and beside it, a heavy cutlass polished to mirror perfection. A tattered sea-chart was stuffed under one arm, and under another he clutched a brass spyglass, which he now held to his right eye in order to scan the houses down below. It was a languid town: squat gray stone houses with thatched roofs, dense timber doors with rusty iron knockers, plain square glass windows that looked out on austere cobblestone streets. This is a perfect little cove, he said to himself - little known and virtually isolated from any major sea-lanes. With this thought, the sailor tucked both the sea-chart and the spyglass into his sash and started shambling down the path that descended the cliffs. He walked in that peculiar swaying, staggering way that long-time sailors do, being so accustomed to the constant pitching of a ship. As he went, he took a hard leather flask out of a large pouch that was strapped to his belt and took a gulp of rum. From that point down, at intervals, he took a swig or two out of the flask. When he reached the bottom, he placed it regretfully back into his pouch, finding that it was empty. Then, with a quiet look of abhorrence directed at the tarred body of a pirate swinging rigidly from a post in the foamy soup near the cliff, he started off at an idle pace in the direction of the dockyards on the opposite side of the harbor. Seventeen milky gulls sidled along the wrinkles of the waves that were leftover from the iron-hard breakers farther out that finally smashed and flattened like gray glass on the lackluster shore.
The sailor, as he walked, examined the buildings on his left, in the same way that a naturalist observes grasshoppers that he has trapped in a jar, masterfully and keenly, confident that he is the dominant mind of the moment. When he met a pedestrian coming from the docks he would greet them with an almost irritated grunt and a dismissing wave of his hand. If they had the audacity to reply, he would turn his stormy eyes upon them and growl with annoyance. It had been midmorning when he had begun. It was midday when he arrived at the dockyards. The first man to address him he immediately engaged in a convoluted conversation which centered on the traffic of the bay.
“Recently settled is this place,” the man told him. “Only those with no place to go come here, except for the few trading vessels that pull in here sometimes.”
“How long has that fort been there?” The sailor asked, pointing a leathery finger at the stone naval fort that stood at the wall of the cliff, near the docks.
“That’s about the curfew of me knowledge.” The man shook his dusty head that was so full of dandruff that gray particles detached themselves from it and stifled the air.
“Right then.” The sailor turned his back on the man and started to walk away.
“And what’s your name, sir?”
Suddenly he spun around and caught the man by the collar. “Only those free of worry dare ask me that,” he hissed, “And I can assure you, mister, that you are not at all free of the shadow of fear.” He released the man and headed off in the direction of the fort, garnering shocked glances from the sailors working on the docks.
The next place that he stopped was the naval fort. He paced from here to there, keeping his face turned purposefully away from the prison of stone while his eyes darted intently over every detail. The fringes of his hair stood up with a nervous energy, and he kept clasping and unclasping his stringy hands, which were sweating and twitching fervently. He stopped mid-step when he noticed a naval soldier watching him several yards away, who, taking this unwelcome opportunity, approached him, nonetheless, with a dubious smile printed on his face.
“Ahoy there, fellow!” He addressed him.
“Ahoy, yerself,” the sailor managed to dribble out.
“May I be permitted to ask you what you’re doing around here?” The question was scrolled out as amiably as possible, but still held the bitter aftertaste of suspicion.
“For the sake of interest and curiosity came I over here.”
“And your business in the cove?”
“New World, mate. It’s 1721 in case ye be ignorant, and it should be a hard man to shirk the idea of a new life on a new and wealthy land.”
“What is your profession, may I beg to ask?”
“Much the same work as ye be doing, only on, I suppose ye could say, the other end of the spectrum.”
“I am attempting to be friendly, and yet you continue to evade my questions!” There was just a hint of annoyance in the man’s voice that made the sailor wince slightly.
“Excuse me ambiguous nature. Old habits, etc.”
“If a pardon is to be begged, it is to be on my part. I was, I confess, a bit suspicious of you sir.”
“Must be a hard, senior watch that assumes ill intentions from a man at the first.” The sailor couldn’t help but smile mischievously, but the soldier didn’t notice.
“On the contrary, we are all fresh out of society. It is necessary in such a sleepy little place as this, for we have the vigor as not to grow as bored as the older infantrymen.”
“But surely you have more experienced superiors here to guide ye?”
“Not at the present, no, but they are sending over several shiploads of experienced soldiers from London to help guard the fort.”
“Why the severe measures?”
“For protection against pirates, for they have now grown bold, despite the destruction of their base. But that will soon be remedied.”
“Aye, good. Now, if it would not offend you, I will go and seek lodging for meself.”
“Not at all. Goodbye.” The soldier saluted politely as the sailor turned to walk away.
“And congratulations on your promotion tomorrow!”
“Wait! How could you know that I am being promoted tomorrow?”
“Very simple if you pay attention to everything as I do.” He winked at him with twinkling eyes. “You are dressed like an ordinary soldier, and yet you seemed to have the authority and audacity to ask me my business here.” It was a mild threat, and the soldier didn’t notice in the slightest.
“What about the date, sir?”
“Found that out by the slip of paper in your left sleeve that has had the button undone, thereby revealing the words, ‘tomorrow,’ and the time, ‘1:00 PM;’ so there is my explanation on the date I mentioned.”
“Wonderful, sir!” The soldier slapped himself on the knee with amazement. “You must be very vigilant!”
“I try to be.” These were the last parting words of the sailor to the soldier before he turned and went off towards the town with crisp speed in his stride.
The sun of early evening found him lounging amongst a group of barrels and crates in the small middle section of the town that housed the hawkers and peddlers, who being visited so seldom by customers, would immediately jump out like a rapacious cat on a ball of string, yearning to sell even a scrap of their wares at a price that even the most dull and foolish buyer would scoff at.
In both of the sailor’s hands was a brown bottle of spirits, both opened, one already half-empty. Every few minutes, a deep whistle would issue from his mouth, startling those around him into dropping anything they carried, or jumping with surprise. And he would smile roguishly, his teeth like yellowed parchment behind his sun-scarred lips. His black tri-corner hat lay beside him. His equally black, only slightly graying hair he constantly pushed back from his eyes.
Finishing one of his bottles, he went and bought another, still clutching the full one in his left hand. Sitting down again, he opened this new bottle with his teeth and then drank deeply, finishing the draught with an over-contented sigh. A bass whistle followed, which had by then become commonplace in the market. He was already half-drunk, and now, a bottle later, he was certainly past rationality. He stared blearily into the space, not seeing anything around him. The scene was quite drab anyway: a long row of open-air stores lined up on a busy cobblestone street. Behind them, gray buildings served as dwellings for the people of both sexes that owned the shops. A few carts carrying loads of goods were set up as temporary stands for the peddlers that owned them, and a mob of shoppers crowded round them. An almost mechanical drone of voices rose and fell consistently, never stopping, or even hesitating, as if that very sound was the life of the people, and they could not bear to let it break. Obliviously, yet ardently, they clung to the pointless nonsense spewing from their mouths. What is it they prattle on about? He wondered. He lapsed off into thought again: why were these simple people, at once so similar, yet so different than himself? The men and women of this cove had come across the ocean and left their home and their people for the new world, but had they left behind everything? Tens of thousands had left behind their belongings, houses, jobs, and family, but had they left behind their lives? His presence in the town was like a splotch of red in a gray painting, or a hint of the sea far inland. Why, he thought. Why? These people were hardened farmers, blacksmiths, sailors, brave and adventurous; so why were they so much different than him? And as he had these thoughts, somewhere in another part of his mind he reminisced on the cool touch of Spanish doubloons running through his fingers.
Stirring in his thoughts, the sailor laughed for no apparent reason. Two children that had been playing near the barrels on which he sat were ushered nervously away by their mother. As they turned, the sailor pulled from his sash the ebony barrel of a pistol, which he leveled casually at the woman. Predictably, she gasped, and held her hands out in front of her pointlessly, doubling half over as if struck.
“Tell ‘em to stay, woman,” he ordered gently, a groggy smile on his face. “Go on!” The woman looked with round eyes at the pistol, hesitating uncertainly. The sailor’s face hardened and his fist came down on a barrel. “Tell them!” he bellowed stormily. “And don’t worry, woman, I ain’t going to hurt ‘em any!” His voice softened abruptly. “Now let the dear kiddies come over here and continue their game!” The lady whispered quietly to her children, and they turned back and reluctantly resumed stick-sword battle. The sailor sat indifferently, the pistol on his leg, his hand resting easily on it. He looked curtly around and saw that almost all the shoppers that had been in the market previously, were gone, and only a few of the bravest ones remained. He smiled to himself mischievously, and then took another long drink from his bottle. He turned to watch the two children fighting with their useless weapons. He then smirked grimly as the older of the two boys knocked the younger ones stick out of his hand, put his own sword to his throat.
“That wouldn’t be how they’d do it really,” the sailor said. The children looked at him curiously, but before he could continue, the manager of one of the stores approached him with fiery eyes. He stopped a foot away from him.
“I have been tolerant enough,” the man boiled. “You have scared away all my customers with your unruly behavior! You must leave now!”
“And if I don’t?” The concealed knife in the sailor’s words made the man take a step back.
“I will…” Suddenly, the sailor leaped to his feet, and grabbed the man by the lapel, unsheathed his cutlass and pointed it at his gut.
“You will do nothing, you hear?” He glanced at the two boys. “You want to see what someone would do to the loser in a real sword duel?” Just as he drew back his cutlass, a cast-iron pot was slammed over his head, and he crumpled weakly to the ground.
Dawn was growing, gray and cold in the heavens when the sailor regained consciousness. A hammer was beating inside his skull and his hands shook feverishly. The sky was weeping torrents, sheets so thick that nothing could be seen after the eyes had traveled six yards. The alley in which the sailor lay was dank and deluged by the locks of water that rolled lazily down the roofs of the houses on either side, then fell, in seemless perpetuity, to the ground. The offset tone of a violin crept through the pin-needle spaces between the raindrops, barely making it past to meet the ears of he who remained lying in the backstreet.
A foghorn sneeze echoed out of the sailor’s mouth, searing his brain. Grunting, he pulled himself up via the wall, dragging his muddy hat off the ground and balancing it on his head. Planting a hand firmly on the right-hand wall, he inched forward, his feet sliding in the mud, leaving a track that looked inhuman. With clouded mind and awkward body, he staggered, almost on all fours, towards the first door that met his eyes. A neat sign next to the door read ‘Cropper.’ He raised his fist weakly and banged on it as hard as he could, afterwards falling to the ground, unconscious. A well-groomed man in a sharp brown suit opened the door, and then, although against his better judgment, without giving a second thought to the strange sight on his doorstep, he dragged the sailor to his guestroom and heaved him up onto the bed (an arduous task, considering how large the sailor was). The reluctant Samaritan put his new tenant’s things into a drawer beside the bed, attended to his head, forced some water between his lips, and then retired to his room.
Later, he came down to find that the sailor was not in his bed, but standing like a stone at the window, staring down at the street.
“Morning, sir,” he muttered into his jacket. A hoarse cough escaped him, sending shivers through the room. “Where be me things?”
“In the drawer beside the bed,” the host said after a pause. The sailor leaped to the drawer and took out his belongings, checking them as if to make sure that they hadn’t been meddled with, while eyeing his rescuer skeptically.
“Profession?” The notes of the word were half threatening, half enquiring, but all-around ill-willed.
“I am a…a doctor,” Cropper stammered, taken aback by his patient’s behavior. “But really, sir you should not be out of bed; your body needs rest. You’ve got a bit of a cold.”
“Educated, I presume?” the sailor persisted, ignoring the doctor’s statement.
“Well, yes, of course.”
“Ye can read and write? Know yer grammar?” The sailor’s eyes were now slightly tinted with amusement and delight.
“Yes.” Dr. Cropper was astounded by the eccentricity of the questions. The sailor stood and paced the room with his hands clasped behind his back, suddenly oblivious to the doctor standing in the doorway.
“Devil take me,” he was murmuring to himself. “Coincidence, or fate…oh, not even the wisest can say. But I’m starting to feel that there is some outside power on these seas, predetermining the destinies of we who cannot but walk down the road and meet our fates, only deciding whether we meet it with a smile on our faces or a scream boiling in our chests.”
The onlooker stood there and gaped at him from the threshold.
“George,” Dr. Cropper’s wife said from the kitchen situated through the door to the left. “I didn’t know you had a new patient.” The doctor didn’t answer; he just stood silently in the doorway, looking at the sailor, who paced back and forth across the floor. Dr. Cropper’s wife, Rebecca, touched her husband on the back, and he came abruptly to his senses.
“Sir, you really must rest if you wish to recover quickly!” The sailor stopped short, turning his raging eyes on him.
“Me name is Mark Bones.”
“Then, Mr. Bones, as your doctor…”
“I have not engaged you,” the sick man interrupted.
“I have appointed myself because of your condition. Consider it a deed of goodwill towards one who needs it.” The sailor scowled with annoyance at his words. “And so, I must insist that you return to your bed. You’ll catch pneumonia if you don’t rest and recover.”
“For your sake,” he said after contemplating a bit, “not that it matters to me.” He muttered after the doctor had left.
The latter, once out the slim door of his patient’s room, called his ten year-old son down from his room, and said to him, “Ben, I need you to be our new patient’s nurse. Bring him anything he needs and come to me or your mother if you need help with something.” The boy nodded and went to peek through the guestroom door at the sailor, who had lain begrudgingly back down in his bed. And thus began his stay at Dr. George Cropper’s house. He had asked the doctor for a quill pen, which he employed much of the time scribbling in the ragged sea-chart that he always kept beside him on the bed. He often called on Ben to sit beside his cot and tell him about the cove, scrawling briskly on the brown paper any significant detail that Ben did not have the wit to pay thought to. His mood changed continually; one minute speaking soft words to everyone who came in, the next bellowing horrible insults to anyone within hearing of his deep voice. The doctor eventually forbade his son to go into his patient’s room, but still felt that it was his responsibility to see that Bones recovered from his illness.
When the black dankness of night dampened the landscape with chilly fingers clutching at the throat of the world, Bones’ fiery temper became dormant, and he went into a hazy trance, staring into the oak wall across from his bed, his mouth moving slightly sometimes, forming cryptic words from the innermost depths of his soul, which appeared to be manifesting themselves in his mind for a brief moment in time. Occasionally, he would sing loud and long to himself, failing entirely to hit high notes and pitching his voice as far as he could until it cracked.
“I’ll tell ye the story of Pierre le Grand, a fighting buccaneer!
He commanded a crew of roving men with gold rings in their ears!
He sailed out from Tortuga, and out to sea he did run,
He made for the passage of Cuba, where a Spanish Galleon,
Had fallen behind the Spanish fleet and laden with gold she was,
Rashly he decided to take her, and he did this because,
He had sailed all day and up to noon without capturing a prize,
And what he did next Exquemelin saw before his very eyes!”
This rather poorly written and even more poorly performed tune was an extremely unpleasant experience for the doctor and his family. But it paled in comparison to what happened on the fourth night of Bones’ stay. Bones had fallen into a light sleep, and Mrs. Cropper had decided to tidy the room up a bit (the patient had thrown scrap paper borrowed from Dr. Cropper to every corner of the room). When she came to the drawer at the bedside, and stooped to fish a bit of paper from under it, a startled cry left her trembling on the floor, with the sailor sitting like a birch tree in his cot, a look of horror masking his face.
“Step away from me things woman!” he boomed, tempestuously. “Or by the devil I’ll…I’ll!” Mrs. Cropper couldn’t move, the cold vice of shock turning her limbs to wood. Seeing the paper still cradled in her arms, and the now clean chamber, Bones slumped into the pillows, and the fire in his eyes lessened. “Excuse me, lass; scared the spirit right out of me, ye did. Now you listen here now, you keep out of me things, and I won’t make a peep when you come in here.”
Finding her strength, Mrs. Cropper stood and fled from the room, leaving the sailor lying in bed.
“George, you must make him leave!” she nearly wailed to her husband.
“No! He is ill! When he is fit enough to leave, he shall be gone. I promise you!” the doctor said firmly.
“I shan’t go into his room again!”
“You will not have too. I will take care of him, and all you have to do is tend to Ben and the rest of the house.” Mrs. Cropper tossed her hair back contemptuously and stepped out the door.
Around midnight, another incident saw Dr. Cropper summoned down to Bones’ quarters. A cry of horror awoke him from a sound sleep. He found the sailor sitting wide eyed in bed, his face pale against the dark panels behind him.
“Jack!” he moaned, finding a high tone in his voice to play with. “Jack! Jack! No! He is dead! I saw him die! But I’ve seen him now before me just as plain as day! He said he would not die! I’ve seen him!”
“Seen who?” the doctor asked wearily. Bones stared blankly at him as if recovering his senses.
“Not a soul,” he said after a pause, though it sounded more like a self-asked question. “Just a dream.” Doubt sheened his words. “Just a dream.” He sunk down into the pillows but did not sleep. He stared at the ceiling as if it might fall on him, hardly hearing the steps of Dr. Cropper going back up to his room. Visions haunted him that night; visions of a shadowy vessel sailing deviously through a misty sea in the black recesses of his brain. A sword flashed before his mind’s eye, and a rope coiled itself up into the mast of a great ship. No sleep found him throughout the darkness, and dawn discovered him with sunken, bloodshot eyes and hands like quaking glaciers. The doctor felt so sorry for him he allowed a bottle of grog to be given, which Bones drained with a burning eagerness, afterwards coughing up pale phlegm into his hands.
Two days later, only a trace of Bones’ cough remained, and the doctor approached that morning with an air of a man who has endured much and is about to remove himself from all discomfort. His movements were like that of a bird in search of a worm. A nervous energy seemed to bubble within him, but was suppressed clumsily, just before it boiled over.
“Mr. Bones,” he began, after taking a necessary pause, obviously not wanting to seem too hasty. “I have fulfilled my duty to you; seen you through the cold and tended to the horrid knot on your head that I found you with outside my door. So now, if it is not too much trouble” (he could not keep the heady tinge of sarcasm out of his voice) “I would ask you to leave and seek lodging for yourself, unless you are inclined to leave the cove of course.” Bones had hitherto been silent and apparently impassive, but when the doctor had finished his short dialog, he burst out in laughter that sounded like wooden boards clacking together. This lasted for a ridiculously long time, and when it finally ended in concealed chuckles, Dr. Cropper was quite annoyed. It sounded as if the sailor were mocking him.
“You, my good friend,” said Bones, “are the epitome of reserve, and I must warn you, no hidden emotion will ever escape me, sensitive as I am to such things.” Another fit of laughter followed these strange words, lending them an even more insulting aura. By the end of this, Dr. Cropper was very irritated, trying to work out whether or not Bones was mocking him, or just jesting, which put him even more out of sorts.
“Why do you mock me, sir?” He said with comical timidity.
“I would never! The very thought of mocking a true man of the Empire, a servant to the king, an Englishman, is a violation of my nature! How could you even entertain the idea that I…I who possess the utmost respect for you, would wish to make a fool of you?” The speech was so innocently spoken that even a man of a hard disposition would have believed it.
“Please forgive me, I had gotten a bit irked by your former words, and against my better judgment retaliated with a sharp tongue.”
“No, quite alright, Doc. Quite alright.” Bones’ eyes were laughing with pleasure. “I’ll get me things together this very moment, and leave ye to the serenity that ye deserve.” He went on talking as he tied his sash around his waist and stuffed his things into it. “I hope you realize of course that it will be utterly impossible fer me to completely leave ye until you yerself leave. So I will always be around, most likely to your great joy.” He was now out the door, and on the front porch of the house, the doctor close behind him, wondering in great distress what Bones meant. The latter, turning around to say a last farewell to Dr. Cropper, suddenly started, and gave an almost devilish leer that sent a twinge of ice up the doctor’s spine.
“Well, Doc!” he said heartily, pointing at the window on the right side of the door. “Looks like you haven’t quite gotten rid of me yet!” Dr. Cropper glanced at the sign that was on the window which read, ‘Room for Rent,’ and then back at the sailor expectantly.
“I’ll pay you three shillings a week to rent your room. What say you?”
“I…I-ah…” the doctor uttered a long broken chain of confused words, ending with a dull “um.”
“The first three paid in advance.” And he dropped three shillings into Dr. Cropper’s hand. “I’ll be back at nightfall.” Turning on his heel, he swayed down the street towards the beach, looking as if the slightest breeze might blow him off balance and send him falling to the ground.
“Two tankards of rum, mate!” he boomed to the bartender of the Roving Man’s Tavern, slapping a coin onto the counter. Once two mugs full of the brown drink were in his hands, he shambled outside and sat on a bench commanding a view of the beach and of the main-street of the town. He whistled loudly sometimes, after taking several long draughts from the beaker in his right hand. When he finished the one, he went and bought a third, though he still clutched one full tankard in his left hand. The morning wore off into midday; Bones slouched low on the stool, his stormy eyes turning away anyone who came near with a hurricane glare. A curd of cheese sat curling in the sun, looking like a large, sickly, yellow wood-shaving. The sand before the beach was a pleasant white that merged halfway into a gloomy gray. Silver-trimmed waves served as the hem on the royal garment of the beach, the high cliffs on either side, its crown. In the background, the two blue plains eyed each other, one with unbroken serenity, the other with ever-changing rage. The sea. The sky. Two conflicting emotions inside one great body.
Bones had been in reflection for some time, and now appeared to be agitated, standing and pacing, his hands behind his back, a torrent of curses spilling from his mouth. His eyes had become an inferno of swirling mist and battling waves. His jaw was hanging by its hinges as he swore.
“Damn the eyes on the addle-brained drivelswigger who had the last watch!” he cried. “The bastard had it coming to him, whatever ill fate befell him!” The curses he bellowed besides this are too horrible to be put down on paper, but to be sure everyone around him was stunned with their mouths agape by the time the fit cooled and he swaggered down to the beach, after returning one empty mug, and the second, which was still brimming. At the dockyards he addressed many a sailor in a fine, cheery manner, supported with a good-natured grin and a charming expression plastered to the corners of his face. As previously, whomever he spoke to found themselves confronted with a very intricate conversation that subtly led back to the details of the cove.
The sun had just touched the horizon, sending sparks of golden light rippling across the sea. When he returned to the town, he first stopped by the local tavern. He came to the doctor’s house well after nightfall, staggering and swaying far worse than usual, the empty bottle in his right hand probably accountable for that. A tremendous rumble shook the house when he slammed his fist against the heavy door.
“Doc!” he cried. “Doc!” But the doctor was late in coming to the door. When, finally, he unlatched it and let Bones in, he was in a stormy rage. He ended up bloodying his knuckles on the doorframe when his wild swing missed his host. Cradling his hand, the sailor entered the room. He crossed the floor shakily, and sat down on the sofa.
“Arr…” he mumbled. “Blast me…devil take me. Ashamed I am. I’m worse than Jacob, Carlo even, and them two is especially inclined to drink.”
Dr. Cropper came near with a timid step, only to find his arm in the vice-like grip of Bones.
“Please forgive me mate…” Here he seemed to wander into memories of his past. “Old Jack, not that black hearted villain, Jack Barker I mean…we two would sit at the bow, playing poker and talking. Arr…bless ye, bless ye. Tis not all silver and gold…tis not all silver and gold though…” His eyes followed the seams in the walls, coming to rest on the corner by the door to his room. His eyes fluttered, hung open a moment, then closed. His hands slacked on the doctor’s arm. Once he was snoring soundly, Dr. Cropper covered him up and retired to his room. One thought continued to run through his head: What will come of this?
The next day, Dr. Cropper came down and found a cluttered mess in the kitchen, the cabinets nigh emptied, and right in the middle of it all lay Bones’ tri-corner hat, sitting there on the table like it was waiting for breakfast in the sailor’s place. The doctor went and picked it up, only to find a slip of paper beneath it. It was a scrap of Bones’ sea-chart. He opened it carefully, and stared at the black smudge in the dead center. Below it in a spidery and illiterate hand read: ‘When the sun touches the horizon, the Jamaican’s dog shall lead ye.’
“Oh!” the doctor cried. “Won’t he just leave me alone?” And he tossed the paper into the fire.
The rest of the morning was spent cleaning up the kitchen and the guestroom, which was also in a terrible state. Dr. Cropper left Bones’ hat on the dresser in his room, thinking that he might sell it later. At midday, the doctor was called to the home of a couple that lived on the opposite side of the cove from where they lived. After he had gathered his tools together (not many at all, just a few bottles of crude disinfectants, some tweezers, and some knives and drugs), he kissed his wife goodbye and went on his way, finding it hard not to keep an eye out for Jamaicans with dogs. The town was divided in half by one wide road that went all the way through it, other smaller streets branching out from it, and so to get through to the other side, one would first have to go across this road. Many street-vendors had set up shop here, trying their best to entangle anyone who came their way in an over-rated speech concerning their merchandise. The doctor crossed street cautiously, stepping out of the way of a passing cart, from behind which stepped Dutchman, dressed in common seamanlike fashion: a doublet made of black canvas, white canvas breeches, and a Monmouth cap to top it off. He had a plump, squashed face, small hazel eyes, and a wide, smiling mouth, above which was a bulldog nose, though not quite as upturned. His hair was curly, and colored a dark reddish-brown.
“Ahoy, sir!” He said cheerfully, raising a hand in greeting. The hand seemed terribly boney considering his pudgy face.
Dr. Cropper jumped with surprise at the man’s slang so similar to Bones’. All he managed to say in reply was, “Oh! Hullo!”
“I’m Geert Visser, and I must say, it really is good to see ye!” The man bobbed his head up and down like a turkey as he said this. “We will see ye tonight won’t we?”
“Oh, you’ve completely forgotten haven’t you? Well not to worry, we shall see to it that you don’t have any unnecessary distractions. Say, where are you headed at this moment?”
“Well, never mind, I’ll see you tonight shall I? Goodbye!” And off he went; pushing past the doctor with not the slightest bit of courtesy, indeed, the man’s shoulder was hard as it hit Dr. Croppers, causing him to put a hand up to it and clutch it with pain. He stared after the Dutchman as he walked energetically down the street, whistling a sailor’s tune merrily. The doctor turned in bewilderment and continued on his way, oblivious to the two oddly dressed sailors following him a good distance away.
At length, he came to the other side of the town, and approached the couple’s home, noticing to men slip silently behind the house. There was the creak of a door, and then nothing. Dr. Cropper lifted the knocker, but the door opened suddenly, and there stood a woman, looking very flustered.
“Hello,” she said, looking back into the house nervously. “What do you want?”
“You called on me this morning, you husband is ill I believe?”
“Oh no!” She cried with agitation, “No, no! You’ve come to the wrong house! My husband is feeling quite well, in fact, I’m not even married! Oh! Goodbye!” And the woman slammed the door closed hastily.
“I never in my life!” Wondering what in the world was going on, the doctor returned to his house, thinking over his whole encounter with Bones and the Dutchman.
“Ahoy, ‘der!” Said a strange voice. Withdrawing from his thoughts, Dr. Cropper saw, sitting beside his door, a Jamaican and a big black and white, furry dog. The Jamaican’s face was as black as pitch, he had shady eyes with ivory whites framed against it. He had a wide nose, long at the tip, underneath was a wide mouth with thick brown lips, and yellow teeth grinned back at the doctor. Bound about his head was a light red, almost pink bandanna, holding back long, matted brown dreadlocks bleached by the sun. They looked like ragged ropes dangling from his head. He was dressed in a red button-less waistcoat, hanging on his thin body like a rag. Canvas pantaloons covered his legs down to slightly below his knees, and his feet were shoeless. His muscular, bare torso was glistening with sweat, and Dr. Cropper wondered how long he had been sitting there.
“Weelcome home, sa!” The Jamaican said, pronouncing the e’s long, and lingering on the o’s for a moment.
“What are you doing here?” The doctor asked with as much politeness as he could muster.
“Weeting far you.”
Dr. Cropper stepped back and looked his visitor up and down. “Did Bones send you?”
“Are you a friend of his?”
“Ya cood sey ‘dat.” The Jamaican inclined his head, eyes sparkling.
“What are you doing here?”
“‘When ‘da sun tooches ‘da horizon, ‘Ole Captain here will lead ye.’”
Dr. Cropper had had quite enough, and so he hurried up the steps, stepped inside and locked the door behind him. Wearily he climbed the stairs to his room and threw himself onto the bed.
“Oh!” He groaned. “Oh my! What am I to do? Well drat the lot of them! Whatever vile business Mr. Bones is up to, why should I get mixed up in it?” He sat up and stared across at his dresser, freezing. Bones’ hat was gone. He didn’t really know why he was afraid, but he was; terribly afraid. He stood up and grabbed a broom from the closet, brandishing it above his head comically. He opened the door and slowly inched down the stairs. Every time the wood creaked beneath him he would freeze, and then, after a moment, continued stepping down stair after stair.
He reached the living-room, and searched all of the three downstairs rooms (guestroom, kitchen and dining room), but Bones was nowhere to be found.
“Rebecca must have put it away,” he thought. “Where is Rebecca anyway? Rebecca? Ben? Rebecca!” He looked outside for them, researched all the rooms, but he could not find them. “Wait a tick! She was going to go shopping for a few things to replace those that Bones stole; maybe she took the hat to sell it. Maybe.” The doctor dropped onto the sofa and watched the clock. It was 5:00 PM. He forgot about all the calls he was supposed to make. It was 7:45 when he came to his senses. “She should not have been gone this long!” He exclaimed. “And Bones is responsible for her and Ben’s disappearance! That Jamaican knows something he does!” He rushed outside into the dark night and pulled the Jamaican off the street in his frenzy and held him by the collar of his waistcoat. “Where are my wife and son? Where are they?!” He cried.
The Jamaican just grinned and gestured with a broad sweep of his hand at his big black and white dog, which had run ahead into the street and was looking back over its shoulder at the doctor, its short floppy ears perked up. Dr. Cropper released the Jamaican and hurried after the dog, which always stayed just within sight.
It led him through the town, down alleyways and through across streets, all the way to the very cliffs that Bones had shambled down that morning to make his bizarre appearance in the cove. The dog led him panting up the rough path to the top of the cliffs, and then along a narrow ridge looking down to the right on a great cliff that went vertically down to the battling surf that was the end of the vast ocean.
It was pitch black when, ahead, Dr. Cropper saw the flickering of torches and of a blazing fire. A camp had been set up on the top of a little bay, made of logs from the forest a while to the right of the crags.
The doctor broke into a run, stopping at the first post of the camp. It was basically just a circle of logs stuck into the ground, with a tarp of white canvas tied to the tops, and then staked outward at a sideways angle to the ground, making a great tent. The center of the circle was clear, and it was there that a bonfire had been set up. Gathered around it was a hoard of swarthy seaman, dressed in odd, flamboyant costumes, much like those of Bones. The doctor gasped when he noticed, on the far side of the circle under the tarp, his wife and son tied to one of the poles! Disregarding caution, Dr. Cropper rushed into the firelight, only to be grabbed roughly by two large ruffians, who dragged him through the throng of seaman, and dropped him on his face right beside a pair of large leather boots. The doctor lifted his head, looking straight into the stormy blue eyes of Bones.
“Ahoy there, Dr. Cropper. Thought you’d never come we did!” He said cheerfully, pulling the doctor off the ground by the collar of his shirt. “Let his family go, mates!” A man that Dr. Cropper recognized as Geert Visser trotted over to his wife and son and untied them.
They both ran to the doctor and embraced him, seeking protection in his arms, though he himself sought protection in their embrace.
“Oh! Touched I am. Touched! But, we have work to do.” Bones beckoned to a few of the men around the fire, and said to them. “Alright, get us some stools that we may sit on, and make a place for this lovely family to sleep for the night.” The men hustled off in all directions, bringing round wooden stools, which they placed in a semi-circle near the fire. Bones seated himself across from the Croppers, and looked them in the eye, one by one, until he came to rest on Ben, sitting in his mother’s lap. He smiled at the boy with tenderness that Dr. Cropper had never seen before, outmatching all of Bones’ previous moods, angry, sad, or detached. “Now listen here, lad,” he said. “Ye be frightened, I can see that plain as day. Not to worry, me boy. Not to worry. All I want is for your father to help us in our time of great trial. All I want. None of us, ya see, can write proper like; maybe a little bit, but not at all enough to imprint ourselves in the only way we can: in the written word. That’s how all the great people of the world have been preserved, in Histories great books and tales. For to be remembered is the greatest thing ye can ask for. That be where your father comes to our aid.
“Doc. You will help us to be remembered.” He turned his gaze onto Dr. Cropper, who cringed under his stormy eyes. “I will tell ye my story, and through it…” He gestured to the throng around them. “Our story.”
“That is what you brought me here for?” Dr. Cropper could not understand anything that was being said.
“Aye. Now get to sleep, we start early tomorrow morning.” Bones got up from his stool and forced the Croppers up, leading them under the tent to where a bed of sheets and blankets had been made for them, heated with a box of coals from the fire. Casually, he compelled them to lie down at the point of his pistol, and then left, leaving a tall, muscular Irishman to guard them.
The family slept terribly that night; they felt like they were prisoners condemned to death, at least Dr. Cropper and his wife did. They could hear, all through the darkness, people shouting and running, coupled with the odd night-noises that were unfamiliar to the townspeople. There was no moon, no stars, not a comforting light in the sky that could give any reassurance to the terribly frightened family. The canvas above them seemed to come closer and closer to them, trying to suffocate them. The roar of the ocean on the cliffs did not make it any more bearable.
The Dr.’s face was sheened with sweat when morning came, accompanied by a loud voice shouting: “Geet up, mates!” Following this, the smiling face of the Jamaican was staring down into the doctor’s eyes. “Tis’ time fer ye to heelp us, mate!” He said. The doctor pulled himself out of bed and followed the Jamaican to the fire, where a table had been set up with many sheets of paper, a container of ink, and a quill-pen. Bones sat next to it on a stool.
“We supplied these fer ye,” he said, gesturing for him to sit down. He then proceeded to direct Dr. Cropper to write down just what he told him, but to make it, “with the correct grammar and the sort.” And so, in the month of June, 1721, Dr. George Cropper took up his pen to record the astounding tale of Marc Bones.
“In the month of July, three years ago, I stood on the paradise island of New Providence, at the mouth of the bay of Nassau, on a tall stand of rock looking out on the sparkling blue sea. Gulls filled the air, sometimes alighting on the beach and diving into the water. The wind was thick with salty sea-spray, stinging my eyes mercilessly. The blue sky, painted with frothing clouds, seemed to mirror the Bahamian sea that yawned up at me from the swirling abyss. I listened to the distinct crash of the white waters upon the ragged rock with misery in my heart, terrible wretchedness in the midst of my people’s flare of greatness.
“I am a pirate. That must be made very clear. In my teens, I had been a deckhand aboard the Seeker of Fortune, a single-masted sloop that cruised between Hispaniola and Tortuga, and along the Windward Passage. That was back in 1698. When the War of Spanish Succession started (officially) in 1701, my crew enlisted to become privateers for England. The adventure in our spirits raged brighter than ever before, eager to win England the New World. Ship after Spanish ship we sank, howling at the top of our lungs vicious war-chants at those Spanish-dogs. I was three-and-twenty years old when England made peace with Spain, and cast us ruthlessly into the streets, barking that they had no further use for us. Most of my crew settled down on plantations in the Caribbean, while I stayed in Port Royal Jamaica, my young heart yearning for more excitement. It was in 1714 that I heard a rumor, nay, a declaration, that the pirates Thomas Barrow and Benjamin Hornigold, had taken for themselves the island of New Providence, and had set it up as the first pirate republic. I signed aboard a schooner bound for the Bahamas, and by some miracle that chance had the whim to bring about, the crew rebelled against their officers, and all at once I was thrown back into the midst of pirates. That was the day I met Jack Barker, a dark-haired man of about my age, steely-eyed and serious, a wizard with a gun, (any sort), and terribly obstinate when it came to all moral matters. He believed in justice and lawfulness, one of the many reasons he joined with the Brothers of the Coast, because he believed that the navy, and anything under the command of England was tyrannical and oppressive, sharing the opinion of most any pirate on the high-seas.
When we reached New Providence, I stayed with the schooner, plundering the trade-routes of merchantmen heading to and from the Caribbean. However, in the spring of 1717, my luck ran out. I lost nearly every possession of mine at the gambling dens; I even sold my position as quartermaster aboard the schooner to satisfy a debt. I spent my days drinking up what was left of my money, though much of it was donated to me by Jack Barker. And now, I was deep in debt to several pirates of New Providence, and they were out for blood. And so this fall…this swirling inferno of wind-battered waves, appeared as a white-washed angel to my eyes. I had thought about killing myself many times in recent months, I had even contemplated different methods of suicide: the hempen-rope, the sword, oh no! This seemed a more fitting demise for me. I had lived by the sea, and I was surely to die by the sea. Letting the mad instinct for self-preservation sap from my limbs and mind, I took a leaden step towards the abyss before me, feeling, in a paradoxical way, that this death was to give me life. But, coward that I was, turned, if a bit hesitantly, away from the cliff. Pointless loathing emanated from me, but I knew not what it was I hated, England, myself, I didn’t really care; I needed to turn my sorrow and disappointment on something.
“On my way back to the port of Nassau, I ran into my old friend, Jack Barker, who was, it appeared, on his way to his inn called the Lucky Ace.
“‘Ahoy there, Marc!’ He greeted me, with a wave of his hand. ‘I’ve been looking everywhere for you I have!’ It was funny listening to him talk; he mixed perfect grammar with the illiterate drivel that most pirates substitute for speech. Coupled with his clear, ringing voice that sounded like a hammer beating on steel, it made me grin every time I heard it. Except now. Grunting, I pushed passed him and shuffled through the crowded streets of New Providence. It was not as cheery as it had been in past years, the result of the impending arrival of His Majesties Navy, which was heading to the Bahamas in all haste.
To the left of me, drunk, boisterous men laughed at gambling-tables, eyeing greedily the women that walked past, while they spent everything they had on extravagant bets that may or may not reenter their pockets. An auction for stolen goods was going on at a storefront, displaying spices from the Sea of Gibraltar, perfumes from France, and other commodities of the kind. The pirates of New Providence had become prideful and arrogant, confident that the Crown of England could do nothing against their last and greatest stronghold.
I turned with a dismal sigh and stepped into the Lucky Ace Inn, which was situated facing the waterfront, with a good view of the harbor.
Plopping myself into a chair, I glared blearily around the spacious room, noting without much caring that a few pirates of distinction were there, including the former governor of New Providence, Benjamin Hornigold, who had been contemplating his retirement for a while. Beside him sat his good friend, Charles Vane, dressed in his finest land-clothes, though I can remember nothing of them, I was too groggy to really give credit to them.
Slapping his fist on the table, Vane called Jack over from the counter, and by the time he had ordered his pleasure, my eyes had drifted around the room. It was a nice barroom, with a high ceiling, wide expanse, with low roundtables placed at regular intervals throughout. The wood it was made from had taken on a sort of stone gray hue, except around the tables and in some places of the walls, where spilled drink had darkened it to a soggy black. My attention was drawn slowly back to Vane and Hornigold as they conversed loudly at their table.
“‘By all we live and breathe for, what the hell are you talking about?’ Vane was saying, his wide jaw hanging slack as he spoke.
“‘You know, well as I that I have no more cause to stay On the Account, I’ve been looking for a way to escape the gallows and retire,’ Hornigold said flatly, twisting a diamond ring on his third-finger.
“‘Cause it sounded to me like you was thinking about surrendering to the Navy, but of course I knew, Ole Hornigold wouldn’t even think it, never! Heh, heh!’
“Hornigold shifted slightly in his chair, positioning himself, I thought, so that he was facing the door, and then directed his eyes at Vane. ‘Charles, we’ve been mates fer years now, and I’ve no cause to hide anything from ye. But, if the king offers a pardon, I’ll damn well take it.’
Vane started, scraggly hair framing his face for a moment before settling back down. The tall butterfly-winged hat he wore nearly fell off as he leaned back in his chair against the wall. His eyes sparkled dangerously as he opened his mouth to speak. ‘Now, Hornigold, my friend. In the adolescence of our success, ye begin to talk like a mutineer and a betrayer.’
“‘We will not be able to hold New Providence! Any that stay here and fight will die!’
“‘We may and we may not, but that would sure be a glorious thing. To die. But ye can be sure of one thing, governor: I will fight.’
“‘Please, Charles! Do not embrace calamity and sorrow! No one can win against the Crown of England!’
“‘Then I shall die trying, you smooth-tongued traitor! You bastard!’
“‘Vane…’ The friendly note in Hornigold’s voice was gone, replaced with mock-pity and boiling anger. ‘You will die by the sword, even as you have lived by it.’ Without warning, the former governor of New Providence hurled himself at Charles Vane, sending the chairs flying and the table upturned. Standing quickly, me, Jack, and several other men rushed over to separate the two. I found myself holding a snarling Benjamin Hornigold by the shoulders, with Jack and another man helping Charles Vane to his feet. He looked scornfully at his friend while he pushed his fallen hat back into place.
“‘Throw this thrice cursed dog into the street, and may he come here no more!’ He barked. None too gently, me and another pirate dragged Hornigold to the door and threw him roughly into the dirt. I couldn’t help but pity the poor man, I remembered him as being strong, confident, and prideful of his position amongst his brethren.
Wearily I turned from him and went back inside, where Charles Vane was meticulously brushing himself off.
“‘What do you think, Mr. Bones?’ He said as I approached. ‘Did I do the right thing?’
“‘If the Custom of the Coast* is the rules of piracy, then, yes ye did.’ I swayed slightly on my wobbly legs. ‘Though I’d say that he’s acquired enough gold to leave, according to the Code.’
“‘But if he would accept a pardon from the Crown, then there is no telling what he would do. A man who has lost the will to fight is as a snake in the hands of many men, and ye never know who, or when it’ll strike.’
“‘Maybe ye should go down to the harbor, get some fresh air, ye don’t look so good.’
I nodded and lurched out the door and into the street. The harbor of Nassau was formed by the island itself, and a long, thin strip of land that ran beside it, forming a perfect bay that allowed our shallow-draft ships to enter, but was inaccessible to large warships. It was protected by a small fort at the mouth of the harbor, where we always had several men posted. The water sparkled like a great aqua-blue gem, transparent all the way to the bottom, where veins of black rock and coral groped across the pure white sand. The blue sky above, with its beaches of cloud, hid whatever was behind it selfishly, until nightfall when it revealed the twinkling gems set within its vast expanse.
The sun shone gently down on me, making everything around me stand out in stunning relief. My mind was mostly cleared of drink when I reached the beach. And what a beautiful sight met my eyes.
A sloop had pulled into Nassau harbor, one of the ships that were highly favored by pirates. She was made of sturdy oak, had only one mast, the mainmast, which was fore-and-aft-rigged, meaning that it had a course, or mainsail, coming off of the mainmast aft, two topsails, which is a square sail facing the forecastle, on the top of the mast. In the front coming off of the mainmast, (which was positioned farther up toward the bow than most ships), was the staysail, the jib, and the jib-topsail, or flying jib, which would not have been there had it not been for the lengthened bowsprit, (which is a strip of timber protruding from the bow). Those three sails were triangular in shape, attached to both the mast, and the bowsprit by lanyards. She was small, and shaped like a dagger, and as dangerous as one too. She had no raised poop-deck or quarterdeck, they would make maneuvering onboard difficult, and so the deck from fore to aft was flat. Maybe what drew me to her was the likeness she had to the ship of my boyhood, the Seeker of Fortune.
As I admired her lines, a spark went off in the loaded cannon deep within my soul. My mind cleared completely, and I felt an uncontrollable desire, excitement, and power flare in my heart. Unable to remain still, I ran to have a look at what her crew was doing. I heard the loud voice of the boatswain (bosun) giving orders at the top of the gangplank that ran down from the sloop to land, while many other men rolled barrels and hauled crates down the bridge and to carts waiting on shore.
“‘Up on your end, Chauncy!’ I heard someone shout. I turned and beheld two men struggling to lift a crate onto a cart. One man was on the wagon, while the other held the bottom end of the box from the ground. The man on the buggy was tall, with plump, squashed features nicely rounded, with curly, red-brown hair covered by a Monmouth-cap. His body matched accordingly, except for his hands, which were long and boney. The second man on the ground was shorter, with an angular body-build, large, twinkling eyes set in a long face. He had a bushy brown mustache and sideburns, and he was prematurely losing most of his hair. I hurried over and flung my hands under the crate.
“‘Thank ye, mate!’ Shouted the man beside me. ‘Now, heave!’ With a tremendous effort, we lifted the chest onto the cart, leaving me panting for breath. The shorter man wiped the sheen of sweat from his brow, and glanced sidelong at me. ‘We could use a pair of strong arms like yours aboard the Albatross.’
“‘That’s her name is it?’ Said I, gesturing to the sloop.
“‘Aye, the Waved Albatross.’ From the wagon jumped the tall man, who introduced himself as Geert Visser. The short man was called Alden Chauncy. ‘He’s the best coxswain there is, ain’t ye, Geert?’ He grinned.
“‘Yer praise of me is ill founded,’ Geert said, scuffing the ground with a foot. ‘Anyway, we need to get to the market; the captain hopes to sell the cargo by noon.’
“‘Aye, Mr. Visser!’ Chauncy vaulted onto the cart and inclined his head towards me. ‘What ship do ye belong to?’
“‘None on the water at the moment,’ I said with a frown.
“‘Well, as I said before, we could use an able-bodied man like yerself onboard. What’s your name mate?’
“With a friendly nod, Chauncy whipped the reins of the carthorse, and he and Geert Visser cantered off towards the town of Nassau. I stayed in the harbor, looking with longing at the Waved Albatross.
“Morning wore on into noon, and another ship arrived in the bay, a schooner called the Harbinger, whose captain, Rem Blanc, was always the bearer of some kind of momentous news, good or ill, none could ever tell. He stepped off the ship into a crowd of curious cutthroats, all of them interested in news of the fleet headed to New Providence. Edging my way through the swarm, I got close enough to hear the burly man speaking in his rough, loud voice.
“‘They’re less than a day behind us,’ he said tensely. ‘Many, many warships…and a few cutters, brigs, and other smaller vessels that can get into the port. They be led by a man named Rodgers, Woodes Rodgers. He’s to be the new governor of New Providence.’ Many angry and defiant shouts accompanied this remark, my voice added to the din. The noise died down after Captain Blanc left to help oversee the Harbinger’s cargo being taken to the town.
“I returned to the Lucky Ace late that night, pondering Chauncey’s vague offer for me to join the crew of the Waved Albatross. I felt a stirring of restlessness in my gut and a flutter of excitement in my heart, a longing that drew my mind back to the Albatross again and again during the night. The low, austere ceiling above me seemed to grow larger, and press in ominously on me, striving to suffocate the life out of me.
“I went out into the streets early, at around five in the morning. The sun had yet to appear on the watery horizon, but a gray glow lightened the landscape with dusky fingers that foretold its coming. A mist had risen from the streets that were wet with glistening dew, winking up at me in the dawn. The sky was white and colorless, lending the world a feeling of freshness, and of rebirth. Before going out I had strapped my pouch to my belt, and now I took out the hard-leather flask that I carried everywhere, and took a deep draught of rum.
At the edge of the harbor, I stopped and paced before the sea, drinking sometimes from my bottle, while taking in my surroundings admiringly. The tip of the sun protruded from the horizon’s never-ending line, as if beyond the bowl of the skyline was a rising sea of light, and it was beginning to spill over the rim into the world. Florescent tendrils radiated from the bright arc of the sun, seeming to hold back, and beckon me to follow them up into the vault of the sky. My eyes slowly roamed over the glistening sea, feeling drawn by the powerful attraction of the rising waves. They stopped, hovering over a group of sails just below the horizon, like a flock white gulls soaring over the ocean.
Frantically I rushed back through the town, shouting as I went: ‘The fleet is here! Ready yourselves, His Majesties Navy is here!’ Windows were opened, and men and women alike rushed into the street and down to the harbor, pulling out their spyglasses and scanning the sea for the sails of the fleet. The Siege of New Providence had begun.
“The fleet arrived at midday, weighing anchor just outside the bay. After receiving permission to enter, two men in a longboat rowed into the harbor and met with the foremost pirates of Nassau. After a few minutes, they rowed back, and a messenger was sent across Nassau to inform everyone of this: the King of England was offering a pardon to any pirate willing to give up his way of life and settle down. Murmurs of disquiet rippled through New Providence, and they weren’t as defiant as I would like to have said.
“‘They dare offer a pardon!’ Jack roared from behind the counter of the Lucky Ace barroom. ‘I shall cut my eyes out before I accept a pardon from those greedy, fickle dogs!’ I was the only one in the room besides him, he had had to order everyone out; all of the patrons were at the point of blows on account of the opposition that had broken out amongst the sailors of Nassau.
“‘What do ye propose we do, Jack?’ I said from a chair positioned beside him.
“‘I be for making a barricade in the town, and rebelling against them!’
“‘Has yer mind been addled? We couldn’t hold this port for a week! I wish I could say otherwise, but that is not the solution!’
“‘You’re talking like Benjamin Hornigold!’
“‘Do not ye think for an instant that I would let my resolve against England falter because of this! To hell with them! I will stand with ye as I always have: silent and steadfast. But we will die if we stay here. Let us continue to rebel against the Crown while we are alive, eh?’ This seemed to pacify Jack a bit, though he still remained convinced that we should stay in Nassau.
“It was then that Chauncy burst into the room. His scant hair was wild, and his hazel eyes burned with untamed excitement. ‘Avast and belay there!’ He said, panting. ‘Been looking everywhere for you I have! Heard ye lived here, so I came right over. Almost every pirate in New Providence has decided to take the pardon, and Woodes Rodgers is moving in to crush the scant bit of resistance he has to deal with. If you want to join us in our escape, we’re leaving now; the Waved Albatross we moored at the point of Paradise Island,’ (which is the strip of land forming Nassau Harbor), ‘Hidden from sight by a shallow inlet.’
“Confused thoughts filled my head, and I did not know what I should do. I knew that I had to leave, but I could not bring my decision into action. ‘Be it one way or the other, wait for me a while by the jollyboats.’ To put it simply, I may or may not come, but I have not yet decided, so wait for me. Chauncy pulled at his mustache, pondering my statement.
“‘We shall wait ten minutes, no more,’ he said finally. With a nod to Jack, he stepped out the door. I stared at my hands resting on the table, trying to decide what course I should take. I knew what I must do, but I did not know where my decision would take me, much like navigating.
“‘So ye will leave me now?’ Jack said from the counter. ‘When I need you most, you will leave?’ I looked up into his steely eyes, hardening my face into a stormy countenance.
“‘No. I wish for ye to go with me as well!’ Jack stared at me, dumbfounded. ‘And I do not care if I have to force ye out at pistol-point!’
“Instead of rejecting my words with a sneer and angry retort, as I thought he might, Jack’s eyes welled with tears, which he wiped away quickly, setting his face in a fierce snarl. ‘Aye. I will come with you my friend! And we will give those English bastards a fight to remember!’ His enthusiasm assured me that the way to go was indeed, with the Waved Albatross. Standing, I went and got my flintlock pistol, cutlass, and a few other items of mine that had escaped the pot of the gambling den. Placing my tri-corner hat with its flamboyant red feather lining the brim, (it was not the one I wear nowadays) on my head, I swaggered downstairs to find Jack packing his sea-chest full of his belongings. When he finished, I slapped him on the shoulder good-naturedly, and, with the chest hefted over Jack’s shoulder, we left the Lucky Ace Inn and made our way around the town, down to the beach where Chauncy and a few others were readying two jollyboats for departure. I was happy to see Geert among them, for I had taken a liking to him already.
“When Chauncy saw me, he grinned with satisfaction, and two of the other men handed him a few coins.
“‘Well met, Mr. Bones!’ he said with a wink. ‘These three mates is Benjamin Salt, Milan Lange, and “Windy” Yeboah, the carpenter’s mate.’ He noticed Jack finally, and looked to me questioningly.
“‘This be Jack Barker, he’s comin’ along with me.’
“‘Welcome, Mr. Barker! Happy to have an extra hand! Now show a leg, mates! Let’s shove off!’ Chauncy leaped into the jollyboat and we all eagerly followed his example. I manned an oar alongside Benjamin Salt, with Jack and Geert Visser in front of us. Chauncy and Yeboah handled the tiller, while Milan Lange stood at the bow, ready to warn us of any impending danger.
“The Navy had positioned themselves on either end of Paradise Island, but to give you a good idea of the predicament we were in, I shall have to give a better description of the island: New Providence itself has two pointed ends, one facing east, the other, west. Just north of the island is Paradise Island, which is thin, and it points the same two ways. In between New Providence and Paradise Island is the bay of Nassau. The Navy had berthed their ships at either end of Paradise Island, making it impossible for anyone to leave the harbor. They probably had watchmen watching the space in between the two pieces of land, ready to shoot and kill anyone trying to cross to Paradise Island. But we had to get across one way or another, even if it was at risk to our own lives. We were traversing over the middle of the bay to avoid as much as possible the prying eyes of the enemy, planning to travel on foot to the east end of the island after landing. A salty breeze was blowing gently from the west, tousling our hair with invisible fingers, while above us; seagulls swooped low, gawking at our progress with curious eyes.
“‘Have ye spotted any watchmen or enemy ships?’ Chauncy said quietly from the helm.
“‘Nay…not a soul,’ answered the thin, swarthy Dutchman.
“‘That, certainly, is odd,’ Geert observed in front of me. ‘You would have thought a cannonade should have been fired at us by now.’
“‘Aye, it’s as silent as a booby-trapped treasure-vault,’ said I through gritted teeth. The shore was closer now, not a mile distant. Unsettled by the quiet, I began to paddle faster, my oar splashing noisily in the water.
“‘Belay there!’ Chauncy whispered. ‘Row slower, absolute silence!’ With an effort, I made my arms settle, and the racket died down. The passage to land went by so excruciatingly slow, that it felt to me as if an entire day had passed, though in reality it took us only about thirty minutes to come close to the small island. It was then that a shot rang out, and a bullet pierced the side of the jollyboat beside me, but doing no real harm. Another shot reported, followed by a bloodcurdling scream.
“‘Row faster, lads!’ Lange bellowed. The tempo of our strokes quickened, and we raced toward land as fast as we dared. As soon as the hull touched sand, Lange jumped from the boat and tied it fast to one of the many juts of honeycombed rock on the pure-white beach. I primed and loaded my pistol, and the others did the same after me.
“‘Follow me, mates.’ Chauncy started off at a brisk pace to the right, keeping just within the fringe of trees at the edge of the beach. Our nerves were as raw as a skinned knee, ourselves inclined to jump at the slightest crunch of leaves, or the lightest rustle of wind in the trees. The dappled pattern of sunlight slanting through the trees painted our faces with green, transparent tattoos that made us appear fierce. Our teeth were bared in grotesque, maniacal grins, and our eyes were wild with fear. Our anxiety heightened when we found the lifeless body of a Navy Marine, his red coat stained even redder with blood from the pistol-shot wound in the back of his neck.
“‘Did a pirate shoot him?’ I wondered aloud.
“‘Nay, there be no pirates on this island at the moment except for our boys on the Waved Albatross, and they all agreed to stay with the ship until we arrived.’ Chauncy relieved the man of his weapons and distributed them amongst us all. I ended up with his musket, (which was still warm from recent use), Mr. Salt got his pistol, and Jack ended up with a naval short-sword.
“‘We be close.’ Chauncy took the lead once more, guiding us a bit deeper into the forest. When the sun was only inches from the horizon, Chauncy stopped and dove to the ground at the foot of a shallow hill. Instinctively I followed suit, as did Salt, Lange, Yeboah, and Jack. The moist, black earth smelled fresh and alive, invigorating me in a strange way.
“‘What is it?’ I whispered.
“Instead of answering, Chauncy crawled up the hill and pushed the branches aside, letting us view the beach as it curved back into a smooth line after finishing around a peninsula, like a white scimitar. On the beach were two groups of men, one group colored in the blue and red-coats of the Navy, and the other in the mismatched, scruffy garb of the buccaneers of the Caribbean and the Bahamas, the latter company looking like a congregation of colorful tropical birds gathered to the scene of a monumental disturbance.
“They appeared to be arguing with each other, though it was hard to tell from that far away. Now what could they possibly be up too? I wondered. The man in the lead of the pirates, (as they appeared to be), was a strong-armed man of middling height, with a long red beard that he had tucked into his belt, which held up brown canvas pantaloons that were cut short at the knees. Covering his torso was a short-sleeve, white linen shirt, and a long black waistcoat. On his head was a tri-corner hat similar to the one I now wore. They had raised their voices now so that we could hear the words they spoke.
“‘Tis’ our duty,’ said the man at the lead of the Navy. ‘And we shall not disrupt it to satisfy the wishes of a covetous cutthroat.’
“What the red-bearded man answered was imperceptible, as he said it under his voice. But it obviously did not please the Navy Commander, and he drew his sword, pointing it at the red-bearded man.
“‘We will do as we are commanded!’ He bellowed. ‘I knew that Rodgers had made a mistake when he offered employment to you lily-livered bastards!’
“‘Traitors!’ Jack whispered. We watched as the pirates disembarked from the Navy and rowed off in a jollyboat that they had run aground on the beach. The Navy Captain issued a few brief commands, and the group scattered, no doubt searching for us, or the inlet where the Waved Albatross was hiding. As soon as we were sure that they were well away, we got up, and, in a low crouch, crept to the beach where once they had stood. I didn’t bring up the conversation we had just overheard, nor did they.
“The shore appeared safe enough, nothing stirred to imply of any danger, and so we rose to our full height and walked freely across the sandy beach.
“That was when the shot rang out, if memory serves true. It hit Benjamin Salt full in the chest, and he fell to the ground in a bloody heap. Turning quickly, I saw four Marines emerge from the trees, muskets in their hands and swords at their hips. Their scarlet attire was blood red in the last rays of the sun.
“‘Run like the fires of hell are at yer back!’ I cried, coming about and running down the beach with my comrades beside me.
“‘They must have been left to mind the beach!’ said Jack, drawing the sword he had recently acquired. I nodded, and pushed myself to the limit of my strength, running faster than I ever have in my life. A bullet hit the ground a foot to my left, spraying sand into the air. At least now they could not use their muskets, as they would take too long to reload. I dared to glance backwards, and saw that the Marines were just within a stones’ toss away from us, and gaining ground, inch by inch. They had drawn their swords, and had them brandished over their heads, while they called loudly for reinforcements. Chauncy was in front of us now, leading us towards our destination.
“After rounding a corner, we came to a tall hill of white rock, which jutted out into the ocean, blocking our path. On top of it was growing many twisted trees that had taken root on the barren rock, their roots stretched out across it and then flowing over the edge to the ground where we stood.
“‘Swim?’ I asked frantically, looking out to the sea.
“‘Nay, climb.’ Chauncy grabbed one of the thick roots and began to scale precipice as fast as his arms would allow. I followed as quickly as I could, Jack, Geert, and the other two men behind me. Another shot reported, and a chip of stone flew off of the rock-face above me. More Marines had joined the original four that were chasing us. Up above me, Chauncy pulled himself onto the top of the bluff, and reached down to pull me up. Turning, I lowered my hand down to Jack, and pulled him up beside me. Jack did the same for Milan Lange, and Lange for Yeboah. Chauncy led us across a stretch of the rock, where it ended at an enclosed inlet that probably couldn’t be found unless you already knew where it was.
“It was empty.
“‘Plague and fire!’ Chauncy bellowed. ‘Damn their eyes! They was supposed to wait here for us!’ A bullet hit the tree next to him, and I turned my head, seeing that several of the Marines had made it to the top, one of them holding a still-smoking pistol brandished in his hand.
“Not knowing what else to do, I took off to starboard, or right, and everyone else followed me, seeing no other exit. I didn’t really know where I was running; all I could think to do was get away from our pursuers. We were skirting the edge of the trees now, heading more or less eastward, towards the Point of Paradise Island.
“A high hill was before us, and at the top we could just see the fort the pirates of New Providence used to guard that end of the island. We’ll be trapped if we go up there, I thought, turning aside. More red-coated Marines had sprung up on either side of us, so there was no alternative but to climb to the top of the hill. As I veered to do so, Jack and Milan Lange raised their pistols and fired at the red-coats behind us, only one of their bullets meeting their mark. They then turned to lope up the hill with the rest of us.
“The fort was built out of rock slabs held together by mortar, and was basically a tall tower, with two platforms extending off of it in the middle, and the top. There were magazines of gunpowder, cannonballs, and an old canon up at the top platform. It was into this place that we had been driven. The Marines were closing in on either side, and Chauncy had ordered us all into the tower, to the top floor. I went first, grabbing a bag of gunpowder from the storeroom at the bottom and then taking the steps that wound up to the first platform two at a time. It was very dark, but there was torches every so often, giving the sandy-colored rock a pleasant ruddy glow. I heard the sound of metal clashing against metal down behind me, and then a door open in front. The Navy Marine came upon me before I even had time to draw my cutlass, kicking the gunpowder from by hands, and stabbing me once in the shoulder. Frenziedly I drew my cutlass and swung at my attacker, clipping him in the elbow.
“Because of the enclosed space, my opponent could not maneuver his sword very well, while my cutlass was perfectly suited to fighting in close-quarters.
“Trapping the man’s sword against the wall with my cutlass, I curled my hand into a fist and brought it down on his jaw, sending him crumpling to the ground at my feet, unconscious. Leaping over my fallen adversary, I engaged two more men who had followed the former down the stairs. One of them was killed by a bullet from Chauncy, the other I fenced with up the stairs, pushing him back to the first platform. Cutlasses are not meant for fencing with an enemy, but I could not get past the Marine’s sword to deal him a fatal blow. Behind me, I could hear Jack dueling with the Marines following us, shouting every insult he could think of at them.
“I had reached the first platform, and with a final slash, I forced the Marine through the door, myself following a moment after. The man had lost his balance when he stepped off the stairs, and I made him pay for it dearly. Knocking his awkward sword aside, I jumped up and kicked him backwards, sending him tumbling over the balustrade that wound around the platform, and down to the sea below, (because the fort was stationed at the very tip of a small-ish cliff that plunged to the battering ocean). Then, without a backwards glance, I began to climb the second flight of stairs to the top platform. It went uneventful until I reached the oak door that separated me from my destination.
“It was locked. I took my pistol and aimed it at where I knew the lock was on the door, and fired. The door opened immediately, and as I stepped through the entryway, there was a shot, and I clutched my leg as a burning pain ran up it. The terrible sensation of being shot is like someone took a red-hot stick of metal and pressed it to your flesh, pushing it as hard as he could. Tearing myself away from the overwhelming abyss of pain, I took my cutlass and killed the first Marine where he stood, and then watched as the second fell to the ground, killed by Milan Lange’s blade.
“‘How many men be on our trail?’ I asked as I bound my leg with a strip that I tore from my shirt.
“‘A dozen at least,’ he replied. ‘Mr. Visser! Come help me move this cannon in front of the door!’ As the two Dutchmen hurried to move the 8-pounder, I primed and loaded my pistol, afterwards shoving it into my belt.
“‘Plague and lice!’ Geert swore. ‘The blasted cannon is bolted down! We’d need a-’
“‘Ahoy there!’ A voice shouted. Turning around and looking down on the sea, Chauncy gave a cry of surprise. The Waved Albatross was headed towards us, carrying every yard of canvas and getting a nice cross-wind to push her along at around 10 knots! At the helm was a man around my age, perhaps a little older, with a short, wispy beard that was the same color as his greasy yellow hair that was bound to his head by a fluttering green bandana. It was he, I suppose, who had shouted.
“The crew was out on the yardarm of the topgallant and down below, tending to the rigging and sails as she maneuvered next to the fort, minding the great rocks that jutted out of the sea like the jaws of a hungry sea-beast.
“They weren’t going to make it in time; I could hear the soldiers coming up the stairs. An idea struck me suddenly, and I called Jack over to help me roll a large barrel of gunpowder to the door. I then took the fuse from the cannon and stuffed it into the small hole in the barrel, leaving one end hanging free. I shot the bullet out of my pistol, and then cocked it and held it near the fuse.
“‘Open the door, Chauncy!’ I cried. Once it was open, I pulled the trigger, and a spark leapt from the flint striking the steel, which lit the fuse immediately. ‘Let ‘er go!’ I and Jack pushed the barrel down the stairs as fast as we could, and we could hear the Marines, when it reached them, exclaim: ‘What in the world is that?’ And then the explosion went off. It was larger than I anticipated, and the blast reached us before we could react.
“I found myself, suddenly, hurdling through the air over the sea, my head pointing downward, and my feet to the sky. Head over heels I went, until I was stomach down, the yawning gulf before me. No longer did I feel that this death would give me life, and a scream built in my throat, until it erupted, coming to a crescendo as my head came down, and I was once again in my former position. The terrible feeling of weightlessness overwhelmed me, and I closed my eyes tightly, waiting for the splash that would mark the end of my life.
“Instead, I landed on something soft, and it was lowered quickly just as I hit it. I sat up, and saw that I lay in a sheet of canvas, a spare sail by the looks of it.
“I was aboard the Waved Albatross. The crew had held up a sheet of canvas for me to fall in, and just in time too! The man who had been at the helm was standing in front of me, grinning at me not with his mouth, but with his sparkling green-blue eyes. He was dressed in brown breeches, a long yellow sash, and a white-linen long-sleeve shirt, topped with a crimson waistcoat with brass buttons, which were all undone. A lengthy strip of blood-red silk cloth with silver tassels on the ends came over one shoulder, fell sideways across his chest, went under the other arm, came around again and then was tucked into his sash, leaving a foot of it hanging loose. As previously described, he had a short yellow beard, golden hair, and a green bandana.
“‘Ahoy, mate!’ He said cheerfully, with a thick English accent. His voice had an odd, high note in it, as if he were about to break out singing. ‘Bonsoir, Monsieur! Lucky fer you, the Waved Albatross is nimble on the wind, and shallow on the draft.’
“‘And you are?’ I asked, still a bit dazed by the fall.
“‘Javed Hunt,’ he replied, as if that summed up his whole personality, and position.
“I raised an eyebrow enquiringly.
“‘I’m the captain…not much of one, but a captain I am.’
“‘Aye, I have met yer quartermaster, Mr. Chauncy.’
“‘Splendid fellow, isn’t he? Here he comes now I believe, you had better move.’
“Without even looking up, I rolled off of the canvas, just before Chauncy landed heavily on it. Glancing upward, I saw Jack leap from the fort, and fall through the air, only to land on the spare sail with a grunt. Windy Yeboah came next, followed by Milan Lange and Geert Visser.
“‘Mr. Visser!’ Captain Hunt cried. ‘Man the tiller and set a course east nor’-east! Mind the rocks! Close-haul those sails ye idlers! Chauncy! The deck be yours! Bamidele! Take charge of the men aloft!’
“I had been forgotten as the captain issued commands to the swarming crew, so I leaped over the bulwark, and climbed the ratlines into the sails. Trying not to get in the way of the men climbing through the sails, I made my way to the topgallant, where I planted one foot on a halyard, and another on the yardarm, allowing me a grand view of the west side of Paradise Island as the Waved Albatross came about. I lifted a hand and pressed it to my sailor’s jacket, feeling the bulge in the hidden pocket that I had had sewn into the inner lining. Reaching into my jacket, I pulled out a shiny brass spyglass, the only other possession of mine besides my cutlass, pistol, compass, and dagger that I had not gambled away. I ran my first two fingers reverently over the faded initials: MB, that were scratched on the ring of the lens. This was the one thing that I treasured of my few possessions, but also one that I hardly dared to touch. Lifting the glass to my eye, I looked towards where I knew the rest of His Majesties Navy was moored. Something very interesting was going on at the harbors’ mouth. Jack had climbed out beside me, and I glanced at him over my shoulder, my eyes gleaming.
“‘Take a look, mate,’ said I.
“‘May I borrow your glass?’
“I pressed it to my chest protectively. ‘No, ye have one yerself.’ Scowling, Jack looked out in the direction I indicated. It was then that it struck me. ‘You had to leave yer sea-chest behind when we climbed the stone-hill!’ How could I have been so thoughtless! I said to myself.
“‘Aye, I wasn’t able to take anything that I had in the chest…there wasn’t enough time. But enough of this, tis far better to enjoy what I now have than groan about what has been left behind.’ Jack clapped me on the shoulder, grinning. ‘Now what is it ye wanted me to see?’
“‘At the mouth of the harbor…’ I began, putting the spyglass back to my eye. ‘A small French sloop is sailing out towards the fleet, though I can’t see anyone at her helm, or in the rigging. She’s drawing near them now…she be right in their midst. Good God!’ I didn’t need to describe any further. The sloop exploded in an inferno of splinters and flames, destroying many of the ships around her, and wounding the rest.
“Milan Lange had joined us on the topgallant, and handed Jack a spare spyglass.
“There was a clear path through the fleet, and the whole Navy was in confusion. Another sloop appeared around the corner of Paradise Island, carrying every sail she could, and bearing the black flag of a pirate. She sailed quickly through the convoy, and out into the open sea. Through my spyglass, who should I see at the bow of the sloop? Charles Vane himself, grinning like a satisfied dog.
“‘All onboard the Albatross were cheering now as the Navy spotted us, and sent out two brigantines from amongst them, while two more pursued Vane. Now I don’t know, but knowing Vane, that sloop was probably stuffed to the gills with all the treasure of New Providence that could be fit aboard.
“But besides our escape, this was a sad day: That was the end of New Providence as a pirate stronghold.”
“Ever since we had left New Providence, we had been pursued by the two brigantines, which stayed either on, or below the horizon. They weren’t as fast as we were, but fast, all the same.
“When he got the chance, the captain read to me and Jack the Articles of the ship, and had us sign them alongside all of the other crew-member’s names. Each pirate ship had its own variation of these rules, but they were all, generally, similar. They showed how much of a prize one could expect, described the rules aboard the ship, and what one could expect to receive if those rules were broken. They also showed the compensation for injuries received during a voyage. Most pirate Articles correspond with an old code that the Brothers of the Coast used, and the Waved Albatross’s Articles derived from these.
“After I and Jack had signed the paper, we were each assigned to one of the Ship’s Watches, each under the command of one of the captain’s officers. These Watches were mainly for the regular crew, and the duties of each Watch included tending to the sails and rigging, keeping a lookout, and steering the sloop, (the term ‘ship,’ is only applied to large, two or three-masted vessels, and originally, the word ‘sloop’ was used only to describe the rig of the sails on a ship. Nowadays, it is the name for the type of ship as the one we sailed, small, with only one mast, that is fore-and-aft rigged). I was assigned to the Watch under the command of a man named Elijah Nathaniel, who, that day, had the morning watch. Jack was put in the Watch of a Turk named Cengiz Yilmaz, who was also the head gunner.
“At the time, we were at one bell in the morning watch, heading east-southeast, going around 12 knots with our topgallant raised. We had been getting a nice crosswind from the north, and with our sheets close-hauled, we were nearly going 13 knots, a rare feat for a sloop. The only problem with the wind at the moment was that if we were to turn and fight, our enemies would have the weather gage, and therefore the advantage in a battle.
“I was up in the rigging, keeping a lookout while most of the crew slept below. The brigantines were no longer visible, they usually could not exceed 7 knots, and even with this wind they would not make it past nine.
“The water below was a dull gray color, capped with white pinnacles of foam that would rise for a brief moment as an irregular mountain, and then sink into the trough between two others. The deck of the Waved Albatross was deserted, except for a few of the men on watch holystoning the deck, and the current helmsman Caspar Wiggers, another Dutchman who was in some way related to Geert Visser.
“The sun was just beginning to appear over the horizon, and from below deck, the sailing-master, Laban Teague, burst out, carrying a small round object called an astrolabe, which was used at sea to find our position north-south of the equator. Behind him came another man, probably a slave, who carried a large leather-bound book and a quill-pen and ink.
“Teague took the astrolabe and held it aloft, made a few measurements, and jotted them down in the book. The two then retired back into the bowls of the sloop.
“This was one of the most important…maybe the most important thing we had to do each day and each night. Find our latitude using the astrolabe in the morning and at noon, and then again at night. But one thing that we could not put off for anything was the keeping of the Ship’s Log. The purpose of this log was so that we could guess at our longitude, (position east-west of the equator), which was impossible to find except by a process called Dead Reckoning. Even this crude technique could only help us estimate our longitude, and without a fair amount of luck, you could end up leagues off your destination, but it was better than nothing. It consisted of writing in the Ship’s Log each day: in what direction we were going, how fast we had gone in that direction; how far we had gone in that direction, and what our latitude was. It was a tedious and tiring procedure, but it was worth it.
“I heard stirring beside me, and I turned to see a Jamaican reclining in a sling in the ratlines. His eyes, that seemed unbelievably white against his dark skin, sparkled with laughter. His expression bespoke a carefree, easy-going disposition, and he had a mystical, mysterious atmosphere about him. The two most prominent features of his face were his glittering eyes, and his wide, yet sharp, nose. His matted, sandy-colored dreadlocks fell around his dark face as he inclined his head towards me, a wide grin spreading across his face; his teeth were yellow, but looked pearly white against the overall blackness. Why I hadn’t noticed him sooner, I had no clue, there had been no warning, no sound, to signal his approach and arrival. It was as if he had blown onto the ship with the wind…or that he was the wind itself, hanging about the sails and rigging, making itself known when it chose.
“‘Ahoy, da, Sa,’ he said smoothly, in a humid, Jamaican accent.
“‘Ahoy,’ said I, looking him up and down. ‘May I beg to ask who ye are? I am Marc Bones.’
“‘The titles we all wear mean nothin’, but it seems as though indolence has made our titles vital to us.’ Before I could ask what he meant, he went on. ‘But if ye must know…I be Carlo Kian. Weelcome aboard da Waved Albatross, Mista Bones.’
“‘Thank ye. She’s a beaut she is, fell in love with her the first time I saw her.’
“‘Aye…tis’ da magic of ships it is. Was da seme with me. Love her like she is family, and she might as weell be family.’ As he said this, the Jamaican drew from his pocket a silver coin, which he started to pass from finger to finger along the top of his hand. When it reach his little-finger he would somehow pass it back the way it had come, and he proceeded to do this, faster and faster, until I could no longer see the coin. And then, suddenly, he stopped with a flourish, and the coin was gone. I hadn’t realized that I was staring until he began to turn out all his pockets, showed me his hands, opened his mouth to show that he had nothing there, and took off his bandana so that I knew that he had nothing hidden in it. He kept his arms slightly bent throughout this inspection; I suppose to add to the mysterious aura that had grown thicker about him. He then passed his hands around each other, not touching any part of his body, or any article of clothing. He flourished his hand again, and there was the coin, between his thumb and forefinger! Trying to understand what he had done, I gaped at him with an open mouth. I don’t know why he began to laugh, but he did: a pleasant laugh that matched his deep Jamaican accent.
“‘I have…neva…had an audience as responsive as you, Bones! Ha, ha!’ He said through chuckles. ‘You should have seen your face!’
“When his laughter subsided, we began to talk. I found he was witty, clever, and extremely ambiguous, always speaking in confusing riddles, or saying only part of what he meant, and hiding the rest.
“When my watch ended, I met Carlo’s dog, Captain, and the ship’s carpenter, Karlheinz Berg, a tall, reserved German, always engaged in making sure that the ship would stay afloat, even if his vigilance was not needed. His mate, Windy Yeboah, was opposite, rather detached, and thoughtful, but talented in carpentry.
“The captain, Javed Hunt, was constantly with the sailing-master, studying the charts, and the ship’s log. When he was not, he helped the current officer of the watch direct the men, though he always seemed to make sure never to give a direct order, addressing them in a manner such as this: ‘Ye might do well to join that man aloft; he appears to be having trouble.’
“The day wore on, and on the horizon in front of us, Hispaniola and Cuba came into sight, and our destination: the Windward Passage, the space between the two islands. We had to get there by evening; otherwise, the winds would back, and blow outward from the Caribbean, and not into it.
“Dark clouds lurched into the sky like wounded beasts, growling at we who tottered at the brink of every wave, and then plunged down into the trough below, only to be swept up, once again. The water, like a great cat frightened by the angry storm-clouds, stood on end, tossing our tiny sloop like a toy, but the Waved Albatross, true to her name, still glided gracefully off of every wave, mastering the sea but for a while longer, lingering still, on the crest of every wave. Her sails were reefed now, for a sloop carried more sail than a normal ship in contrast with her size, and the violent wind would rip them apart given the chance. The captain stood at the helm with Geert Visser, I, Alden Chauncy, and a few other men of the watch.
“‘The wind is starting to back!’ Geert said, struggling to keep the flailing sloop on course. ‘We shall not make it to the Windward Passage by dark!’
“‘Furl the topgallant, and unfurl the mainsail and jibs to full extent, Bamidele!’ He shouted to the bos’un on the main-deck.
“‘Captain!’ I exclaimed. ‘The wind is too strong, it’ll rip these sails to pieces it will!’
“‘I think the wind is still high enough to risk it, Mr. Bones. Teague! Take the noon reading if ye please!’
“‘Is that really important at the moment?’ Asked the swarthy sailing-master over the wind. ‘The islands are close, we know where we are!’
“‘Never the less, it cannot be shirked! Carry on, Mr. Teague! And get me a chip-log in the water!’ The ‘chip-log,’ is a piece of wood with a length of rope with knots at regular intervals attached, and to judge our speed, we would throw it into the water at the bow, and count off how many knots went out from the sloop in a certain amount of time. It is from this that we get the term, ‘knots,’ for speed.
“I supervised the logging, and conveyed to the captain that we were traveling now at nine knots.
“At this speed, we reached the Windward Passage just as the wind was backing so hard that we could no longer have more than the jib and the staysail down without being pushed back out beyond the two islands. We were about seven leagues off of Cuba when the captain gave the order to douse all sails. We were at three bells in the first watch, and the moon and stars did not shine that night. I, as I stood at the bowsprit, could not distinguish the sky from the sea where the two met on the horizon. Onboard the Waved Albatross, the men were quiet, speaking in whispers as tense as a bowstring. They huddled together at the bulwarks, staring back over the water to where, if you listened, you could just hear the mournful toll of a Ships’ Bell. The brigantines were closing in, for they were better suited than a sloop for running against the wind; heavier were they, and carried not so much sail in contrast to their size.
“‘Have the men dye the sails black with whatever we have left, Bamidele!’ Hunt whispered. As everyone scurried up the mast to carry out his order, he turned to me. ‘Douse the lamps, Sir. Pass the word for silence.’ Using my thumb and forefinger, I extinguished each lamp, fore and aft. Their wicks sputtered and coughed as my fingers closed around their throats. And then the whisper for silence floated through the air on deck like a wisp smoke from a pistol shot. The still movement of my voice to the men quieted them instantly, imposing silence upon them in the urgency of the whisper. The only sound heard, and it was a faint one, was of the men aloft dying the sails black with anything they could find that would not damage the canvas. The rest of us, at Chauncy’s order, began to prepare for battle. In the darkness, for the captain would not allow any light to be lit, I fumbled dimly in the weapons-locker below-deck, muffling the sword-sheaths, as they would make noise when the sword was drawn. The rest of the men made ready the cannons, and at the moment, I wished that I was with them. Because the man who had been chosen to help me, was a Portuguese named Mauricio, who was called Gab by the crew, his ever gushing mouth accountable for that sobriquet. Sometimes I wondered how he found words enough to continue talking, for it seemed as if he found every term he could to lengthen every sentence. He had been a slave to a rich sugar-farmer on Cuba, who had had him learn English to perfection, though perhaps he would not have been quite so annoying if he hadn’t. He was given to great redundancy, supporting my earlier point of his verbosity.
“‘Our illicit endeavors should not have incited such a violent and vehement reaction from the malevolent and spiteful Crown of England!’ He said quite loudly. Though he did sound ridiculous, he spoke smoothly, rolling each word off his tongue as if he had tasted it in his mouth before slowly allowing it past his lips.
“‘Belay there!’ I snapped. ‘Focus on yer work, less ye wish to die prematurely in life! As to yer puerile statement, I should not venture to think that England would conform to our wishes, so tis’ no use griping about it in a self-flattering manner, Gab!’ That shut him up right quick; however I could still hear him muttering something about verbal chastisement.
“The whispered call for all hands to stations brought me up out of the weapons-locker and to the mainmast, where all the crew who could be spared had gathered. The captain sat on the boom, his legs dangling freely over the deck. I took my place beside Jack and Milan Lange, who were up towards the bow.
“‘Alright, lads,’ he said in his strange voice, ‘with a fair bit of skill, and no small amount of luck, we may just pull this off. I know from me experience, that there be not a measly, or cowardly heart amongst ye, but prepare yourselves all the same. If this trick proves a failure, then we shall have to fling ourselves into the bloody sea of a battle, and if it should come to that, then we will be up against two vessels twice our size, with twice our numbers.’ His face became stern. ‘Gun captains, ready your men, and have your cannons set for battle. If it does come to a fight, we shall have the advantage of the first blow. Bamidele, keep the men aloft at the mainsail, topgallant, staysail, and jibs, ready to hove short and cast off gaskets when I give the word. Keep the deck clear, and step to it chearly or I’ll have your hides. If we fight, gun-crews, aim for their mainmast and hull, and we may yet escape anyway.’ There was long lull, and I could hear the men breathing heavily with excitement. ‘Well what are ye waiting for? Get to it, handsomely now!’ The crew scattered to obey his orders, and I found myself as the sponger for one of the larboard cannons, with a man named Fredrik Garn as my gun captain. A powder-monkey handed Garn a cartridge, which he rammed to the breech with the rammer. I fitted round-shot into the sabot-block, and placed it in the bore for Garn to ram home. Garn took the priming-wire and inserted it into the vent, withdrawing it afterwards. Finally, we ran our gun forward, ready to fire should the command be given. The same procedure went on around us, until both the starboard, and the larboard battery was ready for action. Utter and complete silence settled like black smoke over the sloop, the kind of silence that comes when a pistol is leveled at a target, and is waiting to be fired. The toll of a Ships’ Bell was heard once more, closer, though it was hard to tell in the deadening darkness. Cold sweat ran down the men’s faces, every drop sounding like a multitude of splashes from a great waterfall as they hit the deck. Coupled with the raspy breathing from every man, the noise was like that of thunderstorm.
“The padded steps of Captain reverberated in the night air, and the big gray dog appeared from some dismal corner of the ship to lounge beside the dark barrels of the cannons, a lazy grin sagging on his long face. The southerly wind whispered to the furled sails above our heads, as if it was telling them to hearken to its gentle pull, and follow it northward in great speed. A pure note resonated from somewhere in the gloom, sending its haunting voice floating over the peaceful water like a pale melody from ages passed trying to stay in the air for a moment more.
“The waves softly rocked the Waved Albatross like a child’s cradle, crooning as it did so in a rippling voice. Rising, and falling. Rising, and falling. It lulled the crew into a trancelike-state, sagging at their posts, eyes dimly aware of their surroundings. My face was against the cool metal of my cannon, the sponge lay forgotten in my hand.
“‘Three points off the stern, starboard side!’ The call came, and it was as if cold water had been splashed in my face. I stood, hunched over the gun, and the men in the rigging and on the yardarms stirred.
“The second call came shortly after, and it was said so quietly that I wondered if I had really heard it. ‘Four points off the stern, larboard side!’
“Blood beaded like a red gem on my chapped lips as I bit them with tension, the greatest tension that I had ever known. I tilted my head astern, and saw a nimbus of orange light approaching, and slowly, I was able to make out the pointed shape of a bow, and then the rest of the ship emerged from the shadows. Her sails were double-reefed, and she was making sluggish progress down the Windward Passage. I craned my neck and saw the second brigantine, which was already almost level with the Waved Albatross, being slightly ahead of the other. They were on either side of us, and moving at an excruciatingly slow pace. I became so still that my arms cramped as they gripped the bulwark and the sponge. I could see the watchmen up in the rigging of the brigantines, frozen like gargoyles, staring out over the water to try and spot our vessel. They were abreast of us now, and I could have spit and hit the one in front of me. My gun-crew aimed the cannon at the brigantines’ mainmast, ready to fire if need be. My heart sounded like a drum pounding vigorously, and I was surprised that the two ships had not heard me. I was as tense as a coiled spring, and I was beginning to fear that my nerve would not hold. The brigantines were moving so slowly, that they were nearly not moving at all. They seemed to hover right beside the Waved Albatross, not stirring an inch, and I was ready to burst. The steady clapping of the waves against both our, and the brigantines’ sides was unbearably irritating in this moment of trial, and I shifted my position, feeling like I could jump at that instant over the gap that separated us to the brigantines’ deck.
“Their stern was parallel with our amidships, and it was then that I could bear it no longer. I reached down carefully and pulled the loaded pistol from my belt, aiming it at the sailor standing on the brigantines’ poop-deck. I don’t know how it happened, but as I reached for the trigger, the gun slipped, and as I fumbled to grab it again, it tumbled into the water with a loud splash. All eyes turned to me, and I looked up at the brigantine. The watchman turned and scanned the water around us. I closed my eyes, resigning myself to the inevitable.
“Minutes passed. No call was heard, no alarm was raised. The dark quiet remained unbroken even for the pounding of my own heart. And then, a call came, but it was not the one that I expected. It was the call to hove short and cast off gaskets, followed by the sharp bark to loose canvas and sheet-home. I opened my eyes, and found the atmosphere of the sloop as one of silent jubilation, and my heart immediately joined in with elation as we came about and, with our black-dyed sails, disappeared with the wind into the shadows.”