'The San Miguel Treasure'
by Phineas Redux
Summary:— Joanna Clayton is Captain of her own pirate ship the 'Amazon', accompanied by her sweetheart Sandy Parker, late The Honourable Mirabelle Flockington, as was; daughter, no less, of a British Viscount. Time, 171—and something; Place, the Caribbean Sea and fabled Spanish Main itself. Objectives, Gold; Plunder; Rampaging; Generally having fun. Joanna has just plundered a Spanish church and is now wondering what to do with her loot.
Disclaimer:— All characters are copyright ©2017 to the author. All characters in this story are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons living or dead, as well as being purely coincidental would also be absolutely mind-blowing.
Caution:— There is quite a lot of swearing in this story; they are pitiless pirates, y'know.
The barque Amazon lay at rest well out in the Caribbean Sea, off the coast generally known as the Spanish Main. The fact that a black flag, genteely decorated with a large white skull, hung idly at her mainmast would probably have given the game away to any passing observer as to her trade. On the ship's quarterdeck at the moment Joanna Clayton, proud Captain of all she surveyed, glanced at her partner and lover the gorgeous Sandy Parker, nee The Honorable Mirabelle Flockington, as was.
"Finished your inventory yet, doll?"
"Yep, got it all here." Sandy, attired like her partner in leather trousers and a longcoat of richest wool inlaid with fancy silver-work, waved a piece of parchment roughly scrawled over with what she fondly called her handwriting. "Want me to spiel it all out?"
"Yeah, go ahead; give me a chance t'reckon how the shares'll divide up."
"Well, first, there's a dam' sight more gold than I expected." Sandy drew her breath in between set teeth, making a hissing sound. "That dam' church was a bloody treasure-house."
"I know, I was there."
"Anyway," Sandy ignored this sarcasm. "I've counted seventeen plates made of solid gold. By plates I mean platters wide enough fer you to stretch your arms wide to reach each side; dam' near needs two people t'pick one up."
"Nice. Please continue, I likes what you're sayin'."
"Then there's various candelabra." Sandy snorted imperiously. "You know churches, an' gold an' silver candelabra; all over the dam' place? We even found a triple waist-high set lying unused in the cellar."
"The cellars of a church are called crypts." Joanna grinned as she revealed the width of her education. "An' being so, they're generally full of piles of coffins—coffins that're in use, as it were."
"Oh, there were some o'those lying about, yeah." Sandy scratched her chin as she recalled this uninteresting detail. "Didn't seem like anyone had been paying much attention to 'em; covered in dust an' dirt, they were. Anyway, the treasure—there are a wide variety of wine goblets—God, those priests certainly must'a liked knocking back the rum; I've counted twenty-three goblets, or other vessels of differing sizes, all solid silver; they'll do nicely."
"Yeah. What else?"
"Strange objects I don't know the use of." Sandy tipped the edge of her three-cornered hat back. "One o'the priests said they were altar furniture, whatever that means; seemed quite determined I leave the bloody stuff where it was; got quite vocal about it, in the end."
"Did ya have t'hit him over the head with one o'those gold candelabra?" Joanna pretended to be shocked. "I saw ya do it, remember?"
"He was beginnin' t'bore me." Sandy gave this explanation with a total lack of interest in the matter. "There are also a large number of crucifixes; the hand-sized kind. Mostly silver, again. Though there are two of solid gold."
"Seem t'have done themselves proud, in that church."
"Yeah." Sandy bowed over her parchment, ticking points off with a dirty gloved fingertip. "To continue, there were several other objects scattered around the precincts—in those subsidiary rooms, what're they called? Oh yes, chapels; mostly made of solid gold again. Some small apparent busts of God-awful looking men with fancy head-dresses, and other flat pieces of gold with strange designs; all done in the most amateur style, t'my taste; like as if children had made 'em. Can't make 'em out, at all."
"Old native pieces of art."
"Probably Mayan, meb'be Aztec." Joanna shrugged, the topic having no great appeal to her; it being the gold itself, of course, that mattered. "Just native work, of no particular workmanship. We can melt all that stuff down easy as pie; easier t'transport and sell on then, as well. Anything else?"
Sandy had been saving the best for last; now she grinned broadly at her loved companion.
"Only that glass an' silver coffin, t'the side of the main altar in the central part of the church. That's all."
"Hah." Joanna knew well what her blonde partner was referring to. "The reliquary? Who'd a'thought they'd fasten up a dead woman's bones in a glass-sided coffin, with a frame made of solid silver, an' put the bloody thing on show?"
"The priest in charge, just before Barleymow blew his head off with his pistol, said they was the revered remains of a Saint."
"Hogwash, saints' my arse." Joanna had little, bordering on no, religious feelings, exemplified in the career she had chosen. "Just some poor old woman the priests had decided to take advantage of, to keep their native followers in check. Fools. Barleymow's too quick off the mark with his bloody pistols, anyway. That priest might have told us about any hidden treasure he'd squirreled away before we got there, if'n we'd been able t'work him over a little, given the chance. Barleymow'll have t'go, y'know; gettin' t'be a liability."
"Well, I had the boys tip the bones on the stone floor, an' break up the glass sides an' tear the silver coffin-frame apart." Sandy smiled, delighted with the haul. "Came to a nice overall pile of silver, in the end; well worth the effort."
There was a slight breeze blowing over the blue sea, giving a coolness which was pleasant to the face. Down on the main deck the pirate crew were occupied in going about their normal daily business, while their leaders talked on the deck above and to their rear.
"Yeah, bucketloads of the stuff." Sandy consulted her records again. "Maybe finally come to more than the gold an' silver. We found, as ya know Jo, strong-boxes in the Abbot's study, and others in that small room down that dark corridor in the bowels o'the church; behind that bloody thick heavily-locked door you finally had t'use a quarter-tub o'gunpowder t'open."
"Reckon that's why the bloody church fell down entire, just a few minutes after we abandoned the dam' place." Joanna considered the memory dispassionately. "No dam' loss t'anyone, least of all those poor dam' natives. Maybe they'll be left in peace t'find their own religion now. How much?"
"Umm, it was a mixture of all sorts." Sandy pondered over the lines of figures she had used in her calculations. "If I added it all up correctly, there might be a grand total of somewhere close to, oh, fifty thousand pieces of eight."
"Stap me." Joanna gave over watching the men at work, and reverted to looking at her lover. "That'll do nicely. Cutting this stuff up in'ta shares is always a pernickety lay, mind you; y'know how they all complain one's got more silver plate than another—but coins o'the realm, they like those."
"Well, they've got plenty t'choose from." Sandy searched up and down her lines of figures again. "About ten thousand gold moidores; five thousand gold ducats; seven thousand silver pieces of eight; and eight thousand gold doubloons."
"Jaysuus, where in hell'd they get all that?" Joanna was impressed. "Surely not from the dam' natives?"
"Dun'no." Sandy wasn't interested in such mundane matters. "But there they were—are. Now they're entirely ours. A nice day's work,eh?"
"I should say so." Joanna nodded, putting an arm round Sandy's waist and drawing her close. "The men'll be pleased; at least they will be in around another three months or so."
Sandy recognised her partner's unspoken language, from long experience.
"You're gon'na bury the loot somewhere?" She had the whole scenario laid out at her fingertips; not that anyone ever saw these digits, she having scarred her hands badly in a gunpowder explosion and as a result now always wearing soft chamois gauntlets. "That'll dampen the lads' enthusiasm a trifle."
"Not if we share out the coins; quarter of the total, at least." Joanna had it all planned out. "That'll keep them in check for the few months till we can return, after whatever furore takes place has died down."
"Yeah, suppose so." Sandy regarded the woman she loved most in all the world from bright brown eyes. "Picked yer spot yet, ducks, t'bury the treasure?"
"Oh, I got a nice little island in view, that'll do nicely, thank you, dear."
"It ain't Dead Man's Chest, by any means."
"Nah, that place's too well known now." Joanna curled a fair lip in disdain. "Everybody an' their cook knows how t'get there."
The Amazon, after a voyage of two days, had fetched up off the coast of a low-lying island heavily covered in palms, with what seemed rising ground towards its central parts.
"How big is it?"
"Oh, maybe seven miles square." Joanna shrugged nonchalantly. "Just big enough fer our needs, but not so's it'll draw attention t'itself, from any passing ship."
"And you intend burying—how much of our worldly goods on it?"
"Hmm, most o'the plate, fer starters." Joanna had it all worked out. "That'll need melting down, as will all those native gold objects we took from the church; no good to us otherwise. That'll all take time an' effort; we'll need t'wait till the authorities have given up the chase before we get down t'that sort'a thing. And, perhaps, half the coins as well; jest t'be on the safe side. Meanwhile we could be doin' something else useful—"
"Like chasing merchant vessels an' adding that nice little bonus t'our pensions that really matters, eh?"
"Just so, gal, just so."
An hour later two longboats had started relaying the majority of the loot from the Spanish church from ship to shore. On a wide long sandy beach the pirates hauled the various bags, boxes and loose items onto the higher ground by the lines of palms, ready for transportation further inland. Although heavy and cumbersome the treasure wasn't large enough that the many pirates, under the command of Joanna and Sandy, wouldn't be able to complete the burying and concealment of the loot before nightfall; allowing them to sail off well satisfied with their efforts.
Whilst standing under the shade of a palm at the top of the beach, supervising the arrival of another boatload of silver and gold, Sandy brought up a topic of interest to the two women.
"I know we're burying this stuff here so's we can return later to get the full benefit o't." Sandy gazed with a proprietorial eye at the rapidly enlarging piles of loot all round. "But, as ye can easily see, all the other crew know where we are, too. How d'we stop some o'them sliding off one dark night after we return t'Tortuga, whipping a cutter or something similar from somewhere, an' sailing back here t'swipe the loot from under our noses? Me, as ye well know, not trusting one single b-st-rd on the Amazon."
"Ye'd be a fool if ye did, lady." Joanna sniggered as she wiped her perspiring face with a red-spotted neckerchief. "They all bein' old sun-bleached pirates, an' all."
"I've made some preliminary moves towards that possibility, gal." Joanna nodded with satisfaction. "Previous ye'll have heard me swapping the latitude an' longitude o'this picnic spot with the quartermaster, on the deck afore all an' sundry?"
"Yeah, so what?"
"Only they wasn't the true ones." Joanna laughed with an underlying evil growl which betrayed her natural character. "I had Thomson in the cabin, some time back, an' figured out the true co-ordinates in private with him. Apart from you an' me, gal, Thomson's the only man-jack o'this crew o'swashbucklers who really knows the settin' o'this island."
"Ah, I see. Very nicely done, if I may say so."
"Thanks, it weren't nuthin'."
Sandy though, never trusting a man as far as she could pick up and throw the evil-smelling reprobate, still had reservations.
"An' how d'ye intend to stop Thomson's mouth? Jest askin'."
"Ah, my pretty, that's easy—a double share."
"Oh, ah, never thought o'that." Sandy nodded, delighted with the simplicity of the answer. "Yep, that should keep him quiet. God, Jo, there's more'n jest outward beauty t'you, an' no mistake."
Joanna smirked happily, then gave the only answer to this compliment that was amply satisfactory—she leaned over and planted a gentle kiss on Sandy's cheek.
"Mmm, thanks, lady; jest what I needed. Hey you, over there, pick that f-ckin' g-dd-m crate up, an' be bloody quick about it, ya soddin' ape."
Another few hours of back-breaking effort on the part of the pirates and the treasure had arrived deep in the encroaching forest, somewhere near the centre of the island on rising ground. Joanna took a glance round, appraising the situation.
"Yep, this seems a fair spot. Barleymow, take five men and start digging—over there."
"We jest goin'ta dump everything in'ta a pit, or what?"
"Yeah, seems the easiest, an' quickest, scheme, Sandy." Joanna watched the preparations going forward, then turned to her inamorata with a grin. "Two, three, hours, an' we can head back t'the ship an' all the comforts of home."
"Can't wait, leddy." Sandy smirked from under her three-cornered hat. "Think I'll strip off an' dive in the briny, from a private nook, when we get back t'the beach; nuthin' like a swim in the sea t'cool ye down. I—"
An interruption occurred at this point in the shape of a thin raggedly dressed pirate racing into view over the crest of the bare ridge just a few hundred yards above the group of perspiring pirates. He ran up to the two women, gasping for breath.
"Get yer breath, fer God's sake." Joanna grasped the youth by his shoulders. "What? Ye seen somethin'? Where?"
He gestured back over his shoulder to the ridge crest.
"Thomson put me on guard duty." He was rapidly regaining his breath. "From up there y'can see clear across the island, t'the far shore. There's another boat, a two-decker, anchored in a shallow bay, over there. Couldn't make out the flag, don't have a spyglass."
"Sh-t, b-gg-ry, an' dam'nation." Joanna stood straight, absorbing this shocking news. "Who the f-ck can they be? Did ye see how many were manning the bloody thing?"
"Too far, ma'am." The boy gasped again. "But it looks—official."
"What? Navy?" Sandy eyed the youth anxiously.
"Maybe, ma'am." He shrugged his shoulders. "Couldn't see uniforms; but there were two longboats drifting near the ship; seemed t'be somethin' military about the set-up—maybe militia, if not Navy, ma'am."
There was a silence as the women considered this awful news, but Joanna was never one to be sidetracked by unexpected events.
"Thomson, keep everyone digging here; me an' Sandy'll go up there an' take a gander. Got a spyglass, good. Come on, Sandy, let's see what the f-ck's goin' on."
From the crest the women had a wide panoramic view of the whole other side of the island. A gentle slope, covered in forest, swept down to an undulating coastline cut by numerous narrow bays. In one of these a two-decker three-masted ship lay comfortably at anchor, while two longboats ran between it and the sandy shore. It was far enough distant that Joanna's spyglass came in useful.
"Right, lem'me see, ah, right, got it." She screwed the eyepiece tight to her brow and took time to sweep the whole location. "Sandy?"
"Yeah, how's it look?"
"It's a two-decker, but not Navy; the sails are in an awful condition, dirty as hell an' look twenty year old." She continued her appraisal of the likely enemy. "An' the deck's cluttered from stem t'stern with all sorts'a junk. So, not Navy, thank God. Not militia, neither, I'm thinkin'. I can see the crew more or less now, an' there ain't any sort'a discipline in view."
"Yer sayin' it's another bloody pirate, is what yer sayin', lover?"
"Looks thataway. G-dd-m it."
Joanna slid down the side of the ridge crest, out of view from the other side; then passed the spyglass to her partner.
"Here, take a sightin' yerself. Tell me what ye think."
Lying in the long grass, which helped to hide her, Sandy took her time peering through the lens of the spyglass, sweeping the whole area round the distant vessel. Then she slid back out of view of the unknown visitors.
"Don't look like pirates after all, t'my eye."
"What makes ye say so?"
"Jest the general ways they carry theirselves." Sandy scratched her chin reflectively. "There is a certain amount o'discipline goin' on, I fancy. Not much, I grant you, but some. There's a tall man on the quarter-deck who may be their Captain, an' what looks like a fancy-dressed lady beside him. I think it might be a merchant ship."
Being what she was, and life being what it was, the next suggestion which popped into Joanna's mind was wholly automatic.
"Merchant, eh?" She gave Sandy a contemplative look. "How many of a crew did ye say it might have?"
"I didn't, but if you push me I suppose maybe thirty, possibly forty."
"We've got, what, seventy-five?" An unfocussed expression came over Joanna as she considered the matter. "If they are jest merchants, we could take 'em, no trouble."
"Yeah, I suppose." Sandy was more doubtful. "But where'd that get us? I fancy they've just stopped-off to refill their water-casks. Doesn't look the kind of merchantman that'd have anything o'worth aboard, neither; too run down an' tattty round the edges. An' if we attacked, mind, we'd be sure t'lose some o'our men jest in the natural course o'events. You know how these stragglin' fights get messy dam' easy. An' where'd that leave us? More wounded than we need right now, an' a captured cargo of tat, probably. Not t'talk about the time an' effort we'd have t'put in consignin' any prisoners t'Davy Jones?"
"Not worth the hassle, is what y're tellin' me, lover?"
"Jest that, baby." Sandy nodded, as she lay beside the taller woman. "Put a look-out on them, t'watch what they get up to, an' otherwise jest let 'em be, till they leave."
Joanna gave it some thought, as the flies and other insects buzzed round their heads; then she came to a decision.
"Yeah, suppose y'have the rights o'the matter, gal. Fine, we'll do it your way; come on, let's get back down t'the lads an' see how they're gettin' along. The quicker that loot's underground the quicker I'll be happy."
When evening came the majority of the loot had disappeared into the deep rectangular pit dug by the pirates. Another few minutes and the remainder had itself vanished from sight, the surface dirt being kicked into place and scuffed flat by innumerable boots. Half an hour afterwards, with nearby loose bracken and weeds scattered over the site, no-one would have thought there was a treasure buried there at all.
"A very nice job, lads, very nicely done." Joanna complimented her crew with a broad grin. "Now, let's get out'ta here, back t'the Amazon. Sandy, hail the look-out up on the ridge; we got'ta move, sharpish."
The band of exhausted man moved down the easy incline, heading back to the beach where their longboats awaited them; Joanna and Sandy bringing up the rear.
"What'd the look-out say about that dam' ship?"
"All's still quiet, he reports." Sandy shrugged as they moved along through the high grass and clumps of thicker undergrowth. "The longboats are back beside the ship, an' he saw lights aboard. Looks like they're settling down fer the night; maybe mean to head out in the mornin'."
"There is one question I got, Jo?"
"Which is, darlin'?"
"How're we gon'na mark the way t'the treasure-pit?" Sandy had this important point well to the fore of her mind. "I mean, what's the sense in burying a huge treasure if we come back an' can't find the stuff agin fer love or money, not if it were ever so?"
"There's that, dear, there's certainly that."
"I got a plan."
"Oh God, well don't keep it t'yerself; tell me, lady, I wan'na know, jest fer the peace o'my mind."
Joanna helped her heartmate through a particularly rough patch of thick bushes, then laughed quietly as they came closer to the men going on downhill.
"What we need is a sign-post in the grass, pointin' the way; an' what we got is exactly that." Joanna paused in her stride, looking ahead to the rearmost men. "Hey, Barleymow. Come back here, I got a job fer ye."
Barleymow, a big thickset man of uneven temper and great physical strength, but lacking any kind of pleasant endearing nature, stopped and headed back to the women; though clearly with a bad grace.
"Yeah, what is it, ma'am?" His voice, like his personality, was deep and rough. "I wants ter get t'my supper quick-like."
As he came up Joanna quietly raised her arm, gesturing back the way they had come, towards the now invisible treasure-pit. Barleymow, thinking she wished him to head on in that direction, moved forward till he was some two or three yards further up the trail past the women, broad back to his Captain.
"What is't, Captain?" He spoke over his shoulder, obviously not happy at being held from his supper bacon and beans, not to mention the deep flagon of grog he was set on. "Are we leavin' somethin' behind?"
"Oh, only this, laddie."
Without turning a hair Joanna pulled a flintlock pistol from the wide belt encircling her waist, aimed it at shoulder height at her target, and fired. There was a cloud of acrid gunpowder smoke from the flash and discharge, then the women saw the impact send up a cloud of dust as the ball hit him. Barleymow gave a grunt, sighed loudly and fell to his knees; his arms worked, as if he were trying to grasp something invisible; then, very slowly, he pitched forward on his face to lie motionless in the grass.
"An' why, if I may ask, did ye do that?"
"He was beginnin' t'annoy me."
"Oh, well, that's alright then." Sandy nodded, as if this explanation was all that was required, then turned to face the band of pirates who had witnessed the incident. "Stand easy, boys. Nobody liked the crabbit ol' b-st-rd, anyway; an' now we have as pretty a sign-post to the treasure as we could wish. Come on, move along, supper's awaitin'."
The crew had settled down comfortably on regaining the safety of the Amazon. The loss of Barleymow not affecting anyone to any great extent; he being, as had been said, utterly worthless and of no concern to anyone aboard. Within half a glass they were sitting at their suppers, singing shanties and telling each other stories of the highly unlikely things they were going to do when they received their full shares in three months or so.
In the wide airy rear cabin Joanna and Sandy were sitting round the table taking their private meal in comfort.
"About that thing with Barleymow."
"Yeah, what?" Joanna was digging into her plate of beans and bacon with all the enthusiasm of an innocent heart.
"Dropping him lengthways in the grass like that, as a signpost." Sandy paused with a frown of concentration, knife in the air, as she considered the matter. "Can't but think it's been done before by someone, jest can't put my finger on it, though."
"Well, don't let it worry ya, dear." Joanna was wholly at ease with her little humourous ploy. "It's doin' its duty, ain't it? Be a nice little indicator, when we all's return, which is the whole point o'the thing, eh?"
"Yeah, no arguing there, lover." Sandy returned to her food, reassured. "God, can we never have anything else fer supper but bloody bacon 'n beans? I'm beginnin' t'feel sick at the very mention o'the bloody things."
"Ye know full well our late cook Connaughty bought it at that dam' Spanish church." Joanna was concentrating on her plate, bacon and beans being to her as caviar and ambrosia. "May take some time t'replace the fool. Y'know how difficult it is these days t'find a really good sea-cook?"
"Yeah, oh well."
The next morning all hell broke loose at an early hour.
Bang, Bang, Bang.
In their cabin Joanna put her head over the top of the blanket covering herself and Sandy.
"What the Hell d'ye want? Give over, ye'll knock the bloody door down. It's hardly bloody daylight. What is it?"
"Ship out t'sea, ma'am, cuttin' off our escape." The man's voice trembled with excitement through the thick door. "It's that dam' merchantman from the other side o'the island, and it's main-deck gunports is open an' gapin', ma'am. 'bout half a league out, ma'am, right across our weather-gage."
"Sh-t an' bloody b-gg-ry."
Joanna leapt onto the deck as naked as the day she was born; her lover struggling to consciousness a little more slowly.
"What the f-ck's goin' on, dear? It ain't bloody day, yet."
"Problems, bloody problems." Joanna was struggling into her leather breeches and casting around for her shirt. "Where in hell are my boots—oh, thanks, gal. Hurry up an' get dressed, yerself; that g-dd-m merchant has decided t'go into the Navy lark—he's sittin' out t'sea, apparently, cuttin' off our weather-gage, an' waitin' fer us t'come out an' face his broadside. It's all been a dam' sham on his part, it seems."
"Yeah, right. Is that my longcoat, or yours?"
On deck things looked no whit better than they had been reported. The first mother-of-pearl tinge in the sky heralding the approaching dawn having also revealed to a startled lookout at the mainmast crosstrees the silhouette of the merchantman lying further out in the bay, solidly astride the pirates' escape route.
"Well, quite clearly they know what we are, an' probably what we're up to." Joanna studied the distant ship through her spyglass, teeth clenched in anger. "Should'a realised yester'n it was too good t'be true they was just passin' by all innocent like. Ye was wrong, lassie."
"Yeah, well, we can't all be right all the time." Sandy snarled softly by her lover's side.
"Some times would be good."
"Give it a rest, big gal." Sandy was in no mood for joking. "So what's the plan? I takin' it fer granted ye does have sich a thing at yer disposal."
Joanna, satisfied with all the information her observation of their enemy had provided, lowered the spyglass; considering her beautiful partner through narrowed eyes.
"In course, lady." Joanna smiled gently, placing a soft hand on Sandy's shoulder. "Those morons out there think they've come across a pirate ship a'burying of some loot—"
"—the which being exactly correct, if I may point this salient fact out t'yer, lover."
"Quit with the interruptions." Joanna shook her head sadly. "Have people no belief in me at all? What they doesn't appear t'realise is jest who they're up against."
Sandy took time to stroll over to the bulwark and stare over the low waves to the far ship.
"Meanin' they don't know this's the Amazon, an' you're the most bloodthirsty god-forsaken cold-blooded sadistic pirate this side o' the late lamented L'Olonnais?"
"Got it in one, dear." Joanna nodded in agreement. "Either they jest haven't recognised the ol' boat, or they're new t'the region, an' have no idea at all what a bloody mistake they've jest made."
"Mistake?" Sandy was intrigued by her lover's calm in the face of apparent overwhelming adversity. "How's that? That ship out there, fer all it's a merchantman, has a row of eighteen-pounders right now aimed at our dam' guts."
Joanna sprang her answer to this conundrum with all the relish of a master conjuror.
"Eighteen-pounders, yeah. But we have two whackin' great thirty-two pounders, one each side o' the lower gun-deck."
The absolute beauty of this struck Sandy cock-a-hoop.
"Jey-suus, why didn't I think o'that?"
"—'cause I'm the Captain, an' you're jest the Captain's cabin-boy; would that be why?"
"Fool, I'll get yer back fer that quip, jest ye wait." Sandy chortled with glee. "Why, we hardly need t'up anchor an' sail out in'ta the bay. We could jest haul round with the longboats help, an' blast him from here; he's well within range o'the ol' thirty-two's."
Joana, having more than a passing interest in how her ship could be armed, had long ago figured out a strange run of guns no other pirate ship came close to copying. The Amazon, being a two-decker, had on its main deck a row of the usual eighteen-pounders. On its lower gundeck it sported a longer row of twenty-four pounders—except for the central gun-carriage in each of the lower ranks, which was a huge thirty-two pounder. Apart from some necessary safety measures needed when firing such a broadside, this gave her overwhelming fire-power against all but a thirty-two gun Navy frigate.
"We can squelch the b-st-rd before he fully realises his day's gone t'the dogs."
Joanna stood on the main deck, just forward of the after-deck close to the mainmast, keeping a sharp eye on the distant enemy target. She had decided to bring the Amazon out into the bay, to apparently engage the merchantman, for several reasons.
"It'll put him off his guard a trifle." She explained her thinking to Sandy as they stood together at the bulwark. "Make him carry on believing he's still got the weather-gage, as it were. He'll, naturally, hold-off firin' till we get closer t'those short range eighteen's o'his; never suspectin' our thirty-two has over double the range. Are Carter and Davis down there, on the gun-crew?"
"Yep, they're the best gunners we've got." Sandy smiled evilly at the coming entertainment. "An' between 'em it's anybody's guess which loves that thirty-two better. They may well blow the b-gg-r out'ta the water with their first shot."
The same thought had obviously also struck the crew who now, standing in crowds at the bulwarks, were hastily engaged in betting on the outcome between themselves.
"Carter sez they're loaded an' ready, ma'am."
This from a young pirate, hardly older than a regular powder-monkey, popping his head up from the lower-deck hatchway.
Joanna gazed to the masthead and rake of sails the ship now carried in the morning breeze; held the bulwark rail tightly as she gauged the distance and angle to the far ship; then nodded contentedly.
"Angle's right; range's right; Fine, Hawkins, tell Carter, fire at will."
A silence engulphed the ship from stem to stern. Sandy, ever-afterwards, asserted that she could distinctly hear, sitting on the bulwark by her hand, a small weevil, interested spectator of the on-going drama, scratching its arse. Then the thirty-two pounder fired.
The great gun, charged with nearly three times the powder of an eighteen, went-off like the clap of Doom. A vast impenetrable cloud of thick evil-smelling white smoke blasted out across the virgin blue waves, entirely obstructing the view to the enemy ship. The fabric of the Amazon quivered to its very bones, while the ship itself keeled over with the thrust of the explosion before righting itself and wallowing from side to side. It was only after the vessel had somewhat settled, and the horizon regained its more or less even aspect, that Joanna could use her spyglass to estimate the effect of this first shot.
"Their f-ckin' main-mast's gone." Joanna almost screamed this in her joy. "An' there's a whackin' great hole in their main-deck bulwark. Must'a knocked at least two o'their eighteen's off their carriages. Mast's gone over their port side; wreckage everywhere. Rigging all t'hell, too, in'course. Jay-suus, what a shot."
"That mess's coverin' more'n half their broadside." Sandy, whose eyes were even sharper than her lover's, thrust her arm high in the air triumphantly. "We could sail right past 'em, right now, without gettin' hardly a scratch; thumb our noses at the b-st-rds as we go by, hah."
The gun-crew on the lower deck, however, had no intention of calling it a day with their delightful work. Another blast deafened those on the main deck as the second ball whistled towards its disabled target. This time the smoke from the blast, joining with that remaining from the first shot, enveloped the ship in a thick fog-like cloud cutting off all view for the nonce. This gunpowder haze caught the throat, making one unused to such cough and choke for breath; then it too cleared and the far ship appeared in the distance once more.
"I think, I think,—" Joanna eyed the ship intently through her spyglass. "Yes, that one caught it low, as she rolled. There's a great tear in her sheathing, below the waterline."
"Ha-ha." Sandy jumped up and down ecstatically. "If'n they don't actually sink, it'll still take 'em weeks t'fix that. Ha-ha, we're free and easy."
But Carter and his gun-crew, just getting their hands in as it were, now went for their hat-trick. The third blast from the great gun sent the Amazon rocking over on its keel, groaning audibly in every joint, as if hit by a leviathan of the deep, before rolling from side to side again. The resulting cloud of smoke once more choking the jubilant crew.
"God, this smoke's drifting across the whole dam' bay." Joanna peered agitatedly through her spyglass. "There she is—God, most o'her aft-cabin's gone, and the top o'her rudder. Jest an open space, an' wreckage. She's dam' well done for, matey's."
"Hurrah, Yippee." Sandy had taken leave of her senses, turning to grab Joanna's arm and dance an impromptu jig where they stood.
"Hey, Hawkins, tell Carter t'leave off, they've had enough." Joanna, extricating herself from the arms of her overjoyed lover, grinned round at the crew. "Hawkins, be quick about it; I'm worried a fourth shot from that monster Carter's caressing down there'll send us t'the bottom, too."
This brought a bellow of laughter from the crew; it being clearly obvious to these hardened sailors that the distant merchantman, whatever threat it had previously offered, was now a lost cause.
"Thomson, get the men to the sails; I wan'na get out'ta this bay as fast as possible." Joanna took one last look at the distant wreck. "That clown ain't goin' anywhere but Davy Jones' Locker."
"She's goin' down." Sandy had taken control of the spyglass and was studying the victim of the thirty-two with nearly salivating enjoyment. "There she goes, over on her side an' bow down. Bubblin' water everywhere. There's the stern in the air and—aand, she's gone. Strike one merchantman off the register."
"Right boys, let's get down t'sailin' this ship of our'n." Joanna grinned widely, at a good day's work done. "Whoever was on that merchantman ain't a threat t'anyone anymore."
"What about survivors, lover?" Sandy asked this only from casual interest in clearing up all aspects of the incident. "Think I see a few heads wallowing around amongst the floating wreckage over there."
"Huh," Joanna had other, more important, fish to fry. "Let them as swims reach the shore; much good may it do 'em. And them as can't swim is free t'drown at their leisure. Come on, let's get t'hell out'ta here, baby."
"Sure thing, doll, I'm with you."
Later that day the Amazon, under a full set of sail, was once more out in the wastes of the Caribbean Sea, on a compass-bearing which would take them back in the direction of Hispaniola. Joanna and Sandy stood on the after-deck watching the crew go about their duties in fine good spirits after the successful fight with the merchantman.
"Got a bit hairy for a while, buryin' that loot, Jo."
"These things happen." Joanna shrugged non-committally, watching a man scale the rigging to the mainsail yardarm. "Nuthin ever really goes t'plan, y'know. But we buried the stuff, in the end; and got rid o'that dam' merchant or whatever he supposed himself t'be."
"I got an idea on that, lover."
"Well, pipe up, gal; don't keep it t'yerself."
"He was a privateer, is what I think he was."
There was a moment of relative quiet as Joanna absorbed this theory.
"Yeah, y'could be right at that." She thought about it some more. "Yeah, I think ya got the answer, altogether. A dam' privateer, the bane o'any self-respectin' pirate's life. Well, one privateer the less is one less competitor in our line o'business, my beauty."
As the early afternoon slid smoothly forward Sandy, leaning on the after-deck bulwark beside her lover, brought up another subject of interest to her.
"Those survivors who managed t'reach the beach, back on that island?"
"What of 'em?"
"What if they find our loot?"
"What if they do?"
"Well, fer Chr-st's sake, that ain't gon'na be good, is it?"
"Doesn't worry me none." Joanna sniggered quietly. "How many o'them will there be? Ten at most, I'm thinkin'. They'll be too bound up in jest stayin' alive from day to day to take time off t'go huntin' treasure."
"Yeah, there's that, I grant you."
"And they won't have a boat." Joanna considered the technical side of the question. "They'd have t'cut down some trees t'build something like a longboat—and where're they gon'na find the tools t'do that; not even pursuing the matter of sails? Nah, if they find the loot, more by luck than judgement, there ain't the damndest thing they can do but leave it be."
"What if they're picked up by some passing ship?"
"Lady, that island is well off all the trade routes." Joanna shook her head firmly. "It was a stroke of luck I found it originally; and a pure coincidence that dam' privateer fell over it, not knowin' where he was goin'. He had no idea who we were, y'recall, or he wouldn't have considered engaging us in the first place. The nat'ral chances of anyone else findin' the island now have been well an' truly used up, gal. Nah, the loot's safe, don't worry. Worst case, when we return in three months or so there'll jest be a few more skellingtons in the long grass, keepin' ol' Barleymow company, ha-ha."
Evening was approaching once more as Joanna stood in the aft-cabin before a small looking-glass trying to bring some order to her shoulder length and naturally wavy black hair. She had several times thought of cutting it short; but Sandy, outraged, would have none of it. So here she was, doing her best with hairpins and a comb with too many teeth missing. Sandy herself sat at the central table scratching away with a quill on a piece of parchment, attempting to work out the crew-shares for the amount of coins they had kept back from the treasure-pit.
"How's it goin', lady?"
"Don't interrupt me; bloody arithmetic, who the f-ck invented dam' figurin'? He ought'a been shot at birth."
Any further discussion of this difficult topic came to a sudden standstill, however, in the next five seconds timed by the splendid gold half-hunter, the spoils of war, which lay on a chest by the ladies' bed merrily ticking away to itself.
Bang, Bang, Bang.
"God, what now?" Joanna threw her comb on the deck by her booted feet, enraged. "Can't anyone on this dam' ship knock genteely? What? What?"
She drew the door open with a swift jerk, revealing a grizzled pirate; though not grizzled enough not to take a step back at the expression on his Captain's face.
"What the hell d'ye want? I'm bloody busy."
"It's, er, it's, ah umm—"
"Out with it, fer God's sake. I ain't got all day."
"There's a vessel t'gallants up on the starboard beam, ma'am." The pirate pulled himself together. "Thomson sez t'tell ye it looks dam' like a bloody Navy frigate t'him."
"Oh f-ck, an' b-gg-ry."
"G-dd-m, ain't anyone gon'na leave us be, t'day?" Sandy putting her twopence-worth in for good effect, as she threw her quill down in a tantrum.
On deck again, for the umpteenth time that day, the women gazed over the still calm sea to the horizon. The ship in question was now visible to its topmast crosstrees; which meant, of course, it was already far too close for comfort. And there could be no doubt at all that the quartermaster, Thomson, had called it dead to rights.
"The f-ckin' Royal Navy, in person; nary a doubt o't, dammit." Joanna sighed deeply with feeling. "Why can't they leave us be? All I wants is t'be left alone."
"Well, they got other ideas, darlin'." Sandy was casting a defensive eye along the main deck, checking the eighteen-pounders. "Shall we beat to quarters?"
"Yeah, make it so, Thomson."
Thomson put a silver whistle, hanging by a cord round his neck, to his mouth and blew three loud long blasts. Immediately what looked like pandemonium broke out as everyone ran for their action-stations. Everything, as it turned out, was actually well rehearsed and timed to the instant. Within two minutes all the gun-crews were in position, their weapons loaded and waiting to be run out. While those tasked with attending the masts and sails were in their own positions, poised for any order from Joanna. All was ready.
"Thomson, what time is it?"
"Six bells, ma'am, and a quarter."
"Good." Joanna nodded, glancing at the sky and the western horizon. "Night'll fall in the next hour; then we can quietly turn about an' head off at a tangent. He'll never know, in the dark, which way we went. There's what looks t'be a fair evening breeze comin' on; by sun-up we could be thirty bloody leagues off."
"An' him left standin' like a village idiot, dam' him." Sandy was still suffering under a cloud of gloom. "Pity we can't jest haul off an' sink the b-gg-r."
"Not a British Navy frigate, we can't, dear; as ye well know, anyway." Joanna had the common-sense to realise her ship's limits. "It looks like that dam' thirty-two, out'ta Jamaica, by the cut of her topsails. We can't stand against her in a fight."
It was as Joanna had surmised; evening came on as it did in those climes, rapidly. Within the hour they were sailing in utter darkness; there fortunately not being a moon that night. The crew had been tasked with dousing any chance of so much as a flicker of candlelight piercing the gloom around the ship, so everyone was stumbling across the deck, searching for their destinations with curses and blasphemies of a high order. But what Joanna had hoped came to pass; by the time eight bells sounded at midnight it was obvious they had slipped the Navy frigate and were racing along under a fine topsail breeze at a sharp angle to their original course.
"From now on, at every half-hour bell, change course by two degrees, always keepin' a general nor-easterly feelin' t'the compass. Got that?"
"Clear as day, ma'am."
"Right, well, let's see how the night pans out, shall we?" Happy with how things were shaping up Joanna turned to more mundane things. "Hey, lad; yeah, you, go below, find the dam sailor standin' in fer Connaughty the cook, deceased, an' get him t'make a pot o'coffee. Sandy an' I want a mug up here in our hands before the next bell. Go."
The two women retreated to the taffrail of the after-deck, for privacy, leaning on the bulwark watching the phospherescent wake running away from the ship like an lluminated roadway.
"Hope t'God the frigate Captain doesn't see that."
"Nah," Joanna laughed quietly for the first time in hours. "It'll only last a few hundred yards; four cable's-length's tops. Rest easy."
"God, I feel tired as hell." Sandy drew closer to her lover, shoulders touching. "What a dam' day it's been. Makes me wish, now an' then, we'd passed on that dam' Spanish church. That loot's been far more trouble t'us than some local minor wars."
"Yeah, feels that way, don't it." Joanna nodded in the dark, laying a comforting hand on Sandy's gloved wrist. "Give it till around four bells in the morning, an' we can go below an' hit the hay agin. I'm sure as devilled kidneys there'll be no sign o'that dammed Naval frigate when the sun comes up."
"Thank God." Sandy gave a sigh, shuffling even closer to her lover's side. "Well, there's still one thing, darlin' o' my heart."
"Yeah?" Spoken cautiously, Joanna knowing full-well what her partner might be capable of.
"Next time y'get's the urge t'plunder a church on the Spanish Main—"
"Jest change yer mind, lover." Sandy's voice echoed all the experience of maturity. "It'll be better all round, my dear; dam'me if I'm wrong."
To be continued in the next story in the 'Captain Clayton, Pirate', series.