'A Choice of Viands'
by Phineas Redux
Summary:— Joanna Clayton is Captain of her own pirate ship the 'Amazon', accompanied by her sweetheart Sandy Parker. Time, 171—and something. Two sails are sighted, on opposite sides of the compass, and Joanna has to make a decision.
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 an enormous amount of swearing in this story; they are pirates, y'know.
"Sail on the horizon, port beam; main royal high." This in a thin reedy hail from the fore t'gallant crosstrees, where seventeen year old Tommy Bairnes, youngest of the pirates, kept an unsteady watch.
"Sail on the horizon, starboard bow; topmast high." This in the deeper tone of a salty old seaman, long turned to piracy; hailing from the relative comfort of the main lower crosstrees.
"Oh sh-t." Sandy Parker, nee Mirabelle Flockington, (The Hon.); daughter, no less, of a British Viscount, leaned on the port bulwark of the Amazon, searching the far horizon with her spy-glass. "Nary a sightin' fer days, then two come along at once."
The Amazon, a tidy middling-sized barque originally out of Nova Scotia, had been under the command of Joanna Clayton, renowned Pirate Queen, for most of the last three years. Always by her side stood her paramour Sandy Parker, herself originally from a higher social class; the aristocracy, to be precise. But now, under an assumed name, the hearty partner of her pirate captain lover.
Having a unique broadside of much power Joanna felt no fear in taking on anything short of a thirty-two gun Royal Navy frigate; of which, thank the Lord, there was only one example presently fouling the clear blue waters of the Caribbean and Spanish Main.
Even as Sandy continued examining the horizon for the distant ship spotted by the young lad at the foremast t'gallant-top Joanna strode out the doorway under the quarterdeck onto the main deck. Glancing at the range of eighteen-pounder cannon, sitting evilly on their carriages, she turned to climb the short ladder to the quarterdeck where Sandy still scrutinised the empty-seeming sea.
"What's up, gal?" Joanna, dressed in knee-high boots, loose canvas trousers, wide leather belt, and white cotton shirt with a red bandana round her open neck, paused by the bulwark at her lover's side. "Heard all the yellin', what's afoot?"
Sandy, dressed similarly to her partner with the addition of a three-cornered hat and soft chamois gauntlets, put her heartmate in the picture with a few words, handing the spyglass across as she did so.
Joanna peered through the single lens, sweeping the horizon from side to side, then snapped the spyglass shut and stuffed its thin barrel into her wide waist-belt.
"Stay here, I'll be back in a trice."
With this parting word Joanna strode to the port bulwark mainmast shrouds, hopped up on the bulwark, grabbing the horizontal ratlines as she turned her back to the waves now running past twenty feet below her, then started scrambling up towards the mainmast crosstrees. Grabbing for a hold on the low outer edge of the crosstrees nest she hauled herself over onto the wide platform, gripping another rope to keep her feet as she stood, swaying with the boat's motion, looking out to sea from this higher vantage-point. Pulling free the spyglass she raised it, one-handed, to her left eye and re-commenced her survey of the wide empty panorama of white-capped waves. Finally, satisfied, she replaced the spyglass in her belt and turned to retracing her steps back to the solidity of the main deck.
"See anythin' of interest?"
"A brig, low on the horizon, port beam." Joanna reclaimed her place by her lover's side. "Too far to make out who she might be, yet. But big enough for a merchantman, certainly."
"And the other?" Sandy raised an enquiring eyebrow.
"That's your baby." Joanna held out the spyglass. "Go to it."
Sandy headed across the main-deck to the starboard mainmast shrouds and ratlines, echoing her partner's recent efforts. But on reaching the mainmast crosstrees, freshly vacated by her Captain, Sandy took a few breaths then turned to grasp the nearby topsail shroud ratlines, continuing her climb to the topsail crosstrees. Eventually installed there, not without a deal of effort, sweat, and sheer athleticism utilising the crosstrees' outward slanted futtock shrouds, she peered through the spyglass lens at the faint details which showed the distant presence of another ship. Then she too retraced her steps back to the deck, hauling up beside Joanna again pretty much out of breath.
"God, what a bloody climb." Sandy gasped quietly, like a fish out of water, for a few seconds. "I must take more exercise."
"And the ship out there, dearest?"
"Gim'me a chance." Sandy wasn't going to being harassed without a fight. "Far as I could see, a brigantine; probably a small trader. If it was my choice I'd go for the portside brig comin' up at a rate of knots out there."
"Would ya now." Joanna paused, thinking about the ins and outs of the decision she would presently have to make. ""Yeah, suppose you're right. Give Thomson the order to have the men haul round and head for the port-beam ship. If he gives the compass another three degrees I fancy we'll run the brig down in, oh, three hours?"
"Aye, ma'am." Sandy shot off like a cannon-ball to the main-deck and the crowd of pirates awaiting their orders. "Let's hope it's bon appetit, as the Frenchies say."
The Amazon had the weather-gage of the smaller brigantine on the starboard bow; but smaller here was the operative word. At best the pirates could only hope for the scarcest of cargoes, and no plate or coins of worth; in short running it down would be a futile task. The brig on the other hand, being far larger, might well turn out to have an interesting cargo. These were the thoughts which ran through Joanna's mind as she watched the distant silhouette on the horizon grow slowly larger as she pursued it across the wide blue sea.
"That's our decision made, dear." Sandy put a hand on her lover's shoulder as they stood on the quarter-deck by the bulwark. "The brigantine's out of it, now."
"Wouldn't have been worth the bother, gal." Joanna was cutting her losses without sentiment. "This here brig, now, wonder what she's carryin'?"
"Gold from Zanzibar, Lapis-lazuli from the Land of Pont, peacocks from Hy-Brazil." Sandy, letting her imagination roam unfettered, was on a roll. "All the treasures of the Ind, piled in heaps of golden doubloons and diamonds and emeralds from the forests of Ceylon. Yeller Chalcedons from—"
"Enough, woman, have ye lost yer wits?" Joanna, however, gave a low grunt which might have passed for a laugh. "Don't know where ye get's yer ideas; from the bottom of a rum jug, mayhap."
"Hey, that ain't nice." Sandy sniffed coldly. "I may like a tipple now an' then, but I knows my limits. What're we gon'na do when we catch this brig, then?"
Joanna didn't need to give this question much thought, the whole scenario having been conducted multiple times previously in the pirate's recent past history.
"God, haven't ya been payin' attention at all, over the last year or so?" Joanna was up for her little joke, smirking at her partner from below the edge of her own wide-brimmed hat which she had retrieved from a nearby locker. "We gives 'em a broadside or two, jest t'wake 'em up; threaten 'em with horrible torture if they doesn't surrender without a fight; we then ransacks the boat, takin' what we want; consignin' whoever's survived t'Davy Jones. All above board an' Bristol fashion."
"Fool." Sandy knowing full well the last item was never going to be on the agenda, Joanna always having had an antipathy to wholesale slaughter as being an unecessary hindrance to the good life. "Better have Thomson ready the guns, I suppose?"
"Go to it, lady, do me proud."
"God, what a woman." Sandy continued muttering low under her breath as she went about her business, leaving her amour snorting with suppressed laughter by the bulwark.
Two hours later the ships had encountered each other; the Amazon with gun-ports open, cannon showing their evil snouts at the ready; the unknown brig sitting at bay, being unable to out-run the faster barque, with no visible sign of any true armament about its deck.
"Looks like a undefended merchant." Sandy eyed the brig, sucking her teeth reflectively the while. "Expect we'll have'ta send a longboat over t'see what the captain's carryin'. Shall I go?"
"Yeah, take a passel o'men, an' at least two pistols fer yerself, darlin'." Joanna was always wary of her lover's safety. "An' remember the rules o'the game, sis, shoot on sight if'n ye have'ta; the questions waitin' till later, if at all."
The journey across the waves was fast and relatively gentle, the sea being calm; Sandy, at the last, clambering up the brig's tumblehome with the lithe speed of youth to stand on the deck barely out of breath.
"Captain Jonathon Commings." The square-set heavy-bodied man stood with legs wide, eyeing Sandy with no love at all. "And you, I takes it, is a dammed whorish pirate? Well, I got nuthin fer ye, so be dammed t'ye, an' get ye back t'yer ship as well's ye may, dam' ye."
Sandy sighed inwardly, this obviously going to be one of those one's.
"Captain Commings, let's get the order of things square between us, right?" Sandy had gone through this before, with other fuming captains. "First, yeah, we are pirates, no surprise there, then. Second, I'll be the judge of what interests us about your cargo. Third, I could shoot you out o'hand; my men here could shoot your crew an' passengers out'ta hand; an', t'top the day off as it were, my captain over there could sink your brig as easy as pie, thus ending a pleasant day fer one an' all. Is any iota of what I've jest recited percolatin' to what you laughingly use as brains, Captain?"
Faced with wholesale defeat Commings grunted, snarled wordlessly, and stood aside.
"Right, men, you know the order o'things, let's get to it."
And Sandy led the boarding party on their examination of their latest capture.
"So, what's the total?"
Joanna sat in their shared rear cabin back on the Amazon, after a busy morning over on the seized brig. Sandy sat by her side, consulting a sheet of paper on which she had been busily entering what the hold of the merchantman had offered up to the pirates.
"Two hundred bales o'wool; uncountable jute bags o'turnips; God, I ain't never seen so many dam' turnips in my life—there must be enough there t'feed the whole dam' world." Sandy having been mightily impressed by the panoramic immensity of this mountain of root vegetables. "Can't think why they're carryin' a dam' cargo of corruptible turnips across the Atlantic t'England. Then there's several tons of various kinds of wood, planks and flat sections. Commings says they're special exotic types, fer the furniture makers back in England."
"Anythin' else, o'worth or interest?"
"Nary a thing, dear; that's it."
"Huh, what's the chances of us turnin' any kind'a profit on what's there?"
"Realistically, none whatever." Sandy shook her head sadly. "There ain't nuthin on that dam' brig that's worth a copper farthing t'us. Even the passengers are jest a motley gang o'nobodies. Hold 'em fer ransom, an' no-one'll show up at the party, lady."
"Yeah, jest that, dear."
A pause ensued, only the creaking of the hull breaking the silence as the women considered their options.
"Commings still up on deck?"
"Yeah, wan'na speak with him?"
"Figure so." Joanna nodded, though without much hope. "He may be holdin' some crumb or other back. Let's see if we can scare him in'ta comin' clean. Bring him down."
On entering the wide airy cabin Commings showed no sign of coming to terms with his change of circumstance; quite the opposite, in fact.
"Dammed women, have ye no shame?" He planted himself four-square, feet wide in his heavy boots, displaying an expression as of a Scottish Protestant minister of the most hard-boiled kind faced with a back-sliding parishioner. "Pirates, ha. By God, I know what I'd do with the whole dam pack o' ye. Hangin's too good fer the likes o' you scum."
"Give it up, fer God's sake, Commings; my ears is achin'; ye've been at that dammed litany fer the last three hours." Sandy scowled with what she hoped was unbridled menace. "Have you no idea of your position here, at all? You're on a pirate ship—a g-dd-m pirate ship. We could throw ye overboard without a second thought. What d'ye think o'that end t'your day, then?"
"Dam' yer both."
"Commings, we may be able t'offer ye a less comprehensive climax to this little drama." Joanna eyed him coldly, with no liking for the loud-mouthed fool. "What we want, ye'll hardly be surprised t'learn, is cash, an' lots of it. Doubloons, moidores, pieces of eight, ducats; God, even Spanish escudos, we don't care—as long as it's dam' bloody coin o'someone's realm. Am I gettin' through t'ye, Captain?"
"Ha-ha." For some reason Commings took this as a mighty joke, laughing loudly. "As to that, ye pair o'dammed reprobates, ye should'a been present a week since at Mr Graham's house in Jamaicy, when he figured out what he was goin' t'do about this here voyage o'mine. Francis, he said, Francis bein', in'course, me; Francis, he said, there's dam' black-hearted pirates out there, on the bonny waves o'the blue Caribby Sea. An' they'll have their ratty eyes full-square on the option o'swipin' my bonny chests o' ready currency o'the realm. An' f-ck me, sez he, if'n I find myself in the mood t'let the dam b-st-rds do so. Here's what we'll do, sez he, you'll take the important profitable cargo on yer brig, whiles I transfers the gold an' silver booty t'the hands o'Captain Herring o'the brigantine Sally Moir. Those dam' pirates'll never bother stopping a dam' piddlin' brigantine, ha-ha. God, what a brilliant man, Mr Graham is. So what about that, ye pair o' she-whelps? Done brown, an' no mistake, eh?"
"The brigantine Sally Moir?" Sandy wanting to get the details clear.
"Jest so; was followin' me, on the starboard tack, up until's ye both decided t'take the bait an' run me down instead o'the brigantine loaded like a Spanish galleon, ha-ha. What a pair o' mindless trollops, ye truly both are."
Another pause ensued; this one, however, more deadly than that previous.
"Jo, I'm in three minds."
"Yeah, my bonny lassie? About what?"
"Whether I should haul out my Barton horse-pistol, loaded with three-ounce ball, an' blow this b-gg-r's back-bone out, clear across the cabin, right here an' now; or, maybe, take him up on deck an' give the lads some relaxin' entertainment by hangin' the b-st-rd from the yardarm; or contrari-wise, an' I likes this best of all, strip him naked, tie a stout cable round his fat waist, drag him up t''the port bulwark, an' g-dd-m keel-haul the useless f-ckin' halfwit."
A day and a half later the pirate barque Amazon finally caught up with the renegade brigantine, Sally Moir. It had been a hard chase, but Joanna's navigation had turned up trumps. The time was early afternoon, the sea was still brightest blue and calm, and on the horizon the topmast of the small brigantine, identifiable from the natty red and yellow flag it bore, had been safely located. Now all that was needed was for the Amazon to beat upwind and straddle across the brigantine's bows.
"Nicely done, dear." Sandy, again accompanying her heartmate by the quarter-deck bulwark, smiled happily. "Great piece o'navigation, couldn't have done better myself."
"Can't say I was sorry t'see the last o'that idiot, Commings." Sandy heaved a sigh of relief at the thought. "Would'a liked to chuck him overboard, but I suppose y'were in the right t'let him go back t'his brig and carry on his voyage."
"Yeah, well, what would we have done with twenty ton of turnips, I asks yer?"
But there was, at this juncture, a nasty interruption from the mainmast topsail crosstrees.
"Sail up, t'leeward o'the brigantine." The thin voice from on high carried clearly to the deck. "Three masts, royals up; main royal showin' the White Ensign."
"Oh f-ckery; the bloody Royal Navy." Sandy straightened with a jerk.
"Must be that dam' thirty-two gun frigate from Jamaica." Joanna curled a snarling lip. "One dam' thing after another. We can't stop an' fight it; it'd sink us in a trice. Thomson, all hands t'the sail; Jennings, haul the wheel round half the compass; we're gettin' the bloody hell out'ta here."
The trouble with HMS Solapur, the frigate in question, as Joanna and Sandy well knew, was that it was a fast sailer, having at least three knots on the Amazon in any weather. Allied to its professionally attended broadside of eighteens' and twenty-fours', and the Amazon had no hope; the pirate's only recourse being to turn tail and run for the horizon, or approaching nightfall, whichever arrived sooner. In the present circumstances it would have to be the former. For the ensuing few minutes the decks of the barque gave every impression of being the site of a panic-driven mob, though this was, in fact, a much-rehearsed drill as everyone sought and found their proper battle-stations.
"Can we out run them?"
"I think so, given luck." Joanna had just returned from the topmast crosstrees with her spyglass. "Can see the topmasts o'the dam' thing clear now; she's gainin', but slowly. I think we'll make it t'nightfall, then we can turn whichever way we choose, an' lose the swines."
"Well, let's hope so." Sandy always being of a slightly more pensive nature than her partner.
An hour later their day went from bad to worse.
"Sail on the horizon, dead ahead." This from the topmast crosstrees lookout again. "Topmast high, White Ensign, agin. Headin' bow-on fer us."
"F-ck. Another frigate?" Sandy was nearly lost for words. "I ain't never seen two bloody frigates t'gether in these waters; it ain't natural."
"We've been taken fer fools." Joanna, on the other hand, had seen the light. "This whole thing's been a bluff."
"Commings an' his bloody turnips." Joanna bared her teeth angrily. "That damnable f-ckin' brigantine, with a so-called treasure on board; an' now this. We've fallen, like idiots, in'ta a trap laid especial for us."
"Thomson, all hands t'the sails; haul up every bloody rag we have—includin' the royal skyscrapers. We're gettin' the f-ck out'ta here."
"Where're we headed?" Sandy asked this perfectly reasonable question, considering the circumstances.
"Away, gal, away's."
Joanna watched the men climbing to the various yardarms, then switched her attention to both the masts of HMS Solapur, now visible on the horizon slightly off their stern flank, and the still as yet unseen frigate coming up dead ahead.
"What's yer plan, Jo?"
"Plan? I ain't got any plan." Joanna growled low. "All we can do is run, an' run as fast as this bloody barque will allow. That second frigate must be one o'the twenty-four gun efforts out'ta Montego Bay. We're dam' near in a pincer-grip between it an' the bloody thirty-two, an' that'll sink us fer sure."
"If we're not captured, an' then hung in chains on Kingston jetty as an example to one an' all."
"As an example of a coupl'a idiots, ye mean." Joanna was disgusted with the whole tendency of the day. "What a f-ckin' mess."
The evening wore on, far too slowly of course for the pirates; but eventually the sky lost its blue intensity until finally dark night enclosed the Amazon in its ebony grip.
"What now?" Sandy gazed at her paramour with a raised brow.
"Jennings, haul round five degrees t'starboard, an' hold her steady on that course for the next bell; then change course five degrees t'starboard agin; got that?"
"Bring the men off the masts, except for the watch on deck; usual watches for the moment."
"Right, let's hope fer the best, Sandy."
The night grew more intensely dark; every noise aboard seeming to ring out with ten times its usual sound; then, halfway through the watch, a call came from the fore topmast-top.
"Deck there, below, light showin' t'sternwards, close t'the horizon, I fancies. Very faint but steady."
"Sh-t an' double b-gg-ry." Joanna had reached the limits of her patience. "Wonder which f-ckin' frigate it is? How in hell'd they keep on our trail? It ain't possible."
"Either that, or most o'the f-ckin' Royal Navy's been sent t'the Caribee especial, t'hunt us down like a bloody fox-hunt in Leicestershire." Sandy here recalling her heady youth as both women leaned on the bulwark, trying to glimpse their pursuer.
"Wouldn't put that past the bloody Governor o' Jamaica."
Sandy remained silent, ruminating on the change in circumstances; then came to a decision.
"Unless? Unless what, lady?" Joanna being, at the moment, open to any elucidation of their situation.
"Maybe it ain't a Navy frigate at all." Sandy turned to her partner, a cautious note sounding in her voice. "Perhaps it's another civilian craft; another merchantman, y'know."
"What makes ye say that?"
"The frigates have both been left well in our wake, by this time." Sandy nodded unseen in the dark as she became more confident of her theory. "An' anyway they wouldn't be comin' up on our stern, not with the changes of course we've made since night fell."
"There's that, surely."
"An' even if it were one or t'other frigate, why'n hell'd they be showin' a light?"
This prudent question gave Joanna food for thought, and she proceeded to do just that.
"Seems likely it ain't, after all, a bloody Naval frigate." Joanna pondered a little more. "But it don't pay t'take chances; not positioned as we are. Best change course agin, an' head further t'starboard."
"God, if this goes on we'll end up, by mornin', in the f-ckin' Windward Islands."
"Har; but, baby, would that be bad? Leavin' as it would, we fondly hope, those f-ckin' frigates galavantin' around somewhere off Puerto Rico?"
"I'm with ye there, Captain Clayton, sir."
"Ha-ha, idiot; but I still loves ye t'bits, more fool I."
Dawn broke calm bright cloudless, and showing a blue sea bereft of all other vessels but the Amazon. Joanna jumped from the bulwark after descending the starboard mainmast shroud-ratlines and crossed to her lover once more.
"Nothing, no sign o'ship or albatros across the whole horizon; I fancy we're clear."
"Jeez, am I glad t'hear that." Sandy sighed deeply, shaking her head in relief. "A social crush with two Royal Navy frigates, I can do without."
The barque's crew returned to more or less their usual daily routine, seeing to the running of the ship in as seaman-like a manner as was consistent with being a bunch of bloodthirsty pirates. Then towards mid-day when Sandy was preparing to take a sighting by sextant, everything went belly-up once more; the fore topmast-top lookout seemingly striving to earn a medal for wholly needless efficiency.
"On deck there, mast on the port beam horizon. Looks like topmast high. No flag."
"That bloody horizon is beginnin' t'annoy me." Sandy placed her sextant down near the mizzen and darted along the deck to the foremast. "Who the f-ck can it be this time?"
At a wordless sign from Joanna Sandy hauled herself onto the bulwark, gripped the foremast shroud ratlines and commenced the climb skywards. Two minutes later she crouched, that being the safest position to adopt even in a calm sea, on the fore royal crosstrees and gazed through her spyglass at the far horizon.
"Where in hell is it? Ah, there ye be, dam' yer. Now, who the hell are ye, at all?" She gazed through the lens with a concentrated force of will, trying to glimpse every detail of the distant object. "Two masts; square, an' fore n'aft rig; another bloody brigantine. Jo will jest love this,—On deck there, a brigantine topsails high, advancing rapidly t'wards us—. Oh f-ck, what's that?"
She had swung her glass to port a trifle, thus bringing into view another section of the horizon line. And cutting above this, like three sticks in a lake, were another set of masts.
"F-ck me, this bit o'the Caribee seems t'be busier than Hyde Park Corner. —Ho, on deck there, another sail, three points t'port on the horizon. Three masts, no fla—no, wait a minute— Oh f-ck. —Deck there, three masts, main showin' the White Ensign—. Jeesus, is there no end to it?"
When Sandy reached the qaurter-deck again Joanna had already ordered the ship to beat to quarters, occasioning a rushing trampling throng as the sailors raced to their battle stations again. Sandy picked her way through this controlled mayhem to haul up by her partner's side, once more out of breath.
"What a f-ckin' day." Sandy wiped her brow, before replacing her three-cornered hat. "A brigantine off our port bow, an' a Navy frigate off our port beam. Well, there ye are."
"An interesting situation."
"Is that all ye have t'offer?" Sandy made a rude noise. "What we needs is a good plan. Ye got a good plan, lady of my heart?"
"I may be workin' on one, yeah." Joanna sniffed sarcastically. "Meanwhile, how about you make yourself useful by returnin' to where you've just come from, an' actin' as my eyes in the sky agin?"
"Go to it, lady, time's a'wastin'."
"Sh-t, what a bloody day."
Back, perched precariously on her lookout post at the very pinnacle of the foremast, Sandy looked over to the horizon once more. By this time the brigantine was barely visible as a sentient object in the world; while the frigate was now almost mainsail high. Given another half glass and it would be hull up; more or less sealing their fate once and for all.
It was at this juncture Sandy, eyeing the distant ship with what could only be called enmity, realised things were even worse than they seemed.
"Which ways the wind blowin? Oh, f-ck; they've got the bloody weather-gage. They can stand-off all day, or swoop down on us whenever they choose."
Another glass later and Sandy had returned to the deck, her presence at the masthead now unnecessary as the frigate was cruising along, hull up, some four leagues to starboard, biding its time.
The morning wore on till it was nearly 11.00am and Sandy was becoming restless.
"Why'n hell don't they jest fall on us, an' finish the job?"
"Of us?" Sandy let out a queer noise, clearly contemptuous of this explanation. "A Royal Navy frigate? They'd attack a dam' first-rate, if they felt it was necessary; we're jest chicken-feed t'them."
"Well, let's say, cautious." Joanna had been pondering the very same question for the length of the last sand-glass. "They stand in awe of our thirty-two pounders, that's what it is."
"Ah, aye; there's certainly that." Sandy leaned over the bulwark to spit overboard, then returned her attention to the matter at hand. "Yeah, doll, I'll give ye that."
These mighty weapons, the thirty-two pounder cannon, one of which featured as the central point on each of the Amazon's lower gun-deck broadsides, had a much greater range and weight of ball than the twenty-fours' of the British frigate. Even though there was only one to each broadside they could still do immense damage to a small ship of the frigate's size; and this at long range, too. So the British Naval Captain, being leery as all get-out, was husbanding his resources till he felt the time was right.
"We've outrun the Naval thirty-two an' that other twenty-four, so this b-t-rd must be the second twenty-four out'ta Jamaicy?"
"Yer thinkin's outstandin' t'day, love."
"But how'd they bloody know we was here, of all places? I don't get it."
"Nuthin t'get, it's simple coincidence." Joanna shrugged, as if dismissing this unhelpful turn of Fate. "Those other ships, yester'n, was an evil well-laid ploy t'catch us unawares; this here's jest a bloody damnable coincidence, like I said."
"Well, yeah, certainly."
"Deck there, that bloody brigantine's comin' up fast." This from the giddy heights of the mainmast topsail crosstrees. "Looks as if she's altered course t'speak with the frigate yonder."
And indeed, while Sandy and Joanna watched as interested spectators, the mysterious brigantine hove up alongside the distant frigate and fell into step with her; the smaller ship's intervening sails cutting off a clear view of the frigate from the deck of the Amazon.
"Now what d'ye suppose this palaver's in aid of?" Joanna leaned comfortably on the bulwark rail, considering this new turn of events. "Come t'tell the Naval Captain what a splendid fella he is, an' can they have front-row seats at our hangings? Or—"
"Or what, lady?"
"Or, perhaps, they bring news the frigate's needed elsewhere?"
"How d'ye reckon that, gal? Escapes me." Sandy accompanying this with a furrowed brow.
"Only guessing." Joanna continued gazing at the ships in the far distance; then, having made a sudden decision, transferred her attention to the Amazon's sails. "Thomson, call the men t'the yardarms; we're gon'na change course an' run fer our lives whilst the frigate's otherwise engaged. Move it, we only have a coupl'a minutes at best. Jennings, prepare t'change course five degrees t'starboard, when the sails take effect. Copperhead—Copperhead, where in dam' are ye?"
"Have the guns run in an' the ports closed—we're gon'na run with all sail set, till our scuttles submerge." Joanna was suddenly a focus of energy, flashing fire from her eyes. "Thomson, have everything tied down that can be tied down; let everything else look to its own courses. Our mainyard-tip'll be cutting the whitecaps fer the next coupl'a hours. Let's go."
The action being suited to the word, the Amazon, formerly running before the breeze like a Lady parading along the Strand, turned her back to the two distant ships and made a fair go of seeming a cutpurse scarpering after a bountiful pick-up. Activity on the Amazon's decks was too confused and energetic for either Joanna or Sandy to keep a close eye on their double Nemesis over the waves; but all this finally bore fruit as they settled down to the long run for freedom.
As forecast, with the strong steady breeze blowing, the Amazon's main-yard tip was at some points within ten feet of the passing waves, while the deck leaned at an angle no sailor aboard had ever experienced or thought possible; the starboard scuttles, indeed, being mostly underwater as the weltering sea's cut along the barque's nearly sunken bulwark. They also had no news from their masthead lookouts for the simple reason they, having chosen to live instead of die, had swung down the ratlines to join their compatriots safely on deck for the nonce.
When the ongoing commotion had stablised enough for Joanna to take cognisance of her further surroundings once more things had, indeed, changed for the better. From the quarter-deck of the barque no sign of the distant ships could be made out, which suited the pirates all round.
"Think we can stay ahead o'the frigate?"
"Yeah, maybe not out-run it wholly, but reach nightfall again well ahead." Joanna nodded happily. "Thank God that dam' brigantine hove up an' got in amongst the frigate's skirts; gave us jest the one chance we needed."
"Say, leddy, in all this hoo-ha I've lost track of our course. Jest where're we gon'na end up if we stays on this present tack?"
"Far as I can tell, keepin' on as we're headed now, I reckon we'll speak Martinique late tomorrow afternoon."
The next morning again broke bright cloudless and sunny; the breeze remaining strong and steady, with no sign of the pursuing frigate from the lookouts' newly reclaimed positions at the various mast crosstrees. Most of the previous night had been spent sleeplessly, with the starboard scuttles spewing water as the barque, raked over at a steep angle no-one aboard could quite believe, sped on its escape course.
"We have the seas t'ourselves, so the lookouts say, dear."
"Not bloody before time." Joanna, standing by the quarter-deck bulwark, grunted unenthusiastically. "This part o'the Caribee lately bein', as it were, busier than a London thoroughfare. Reckon we'll call at Saint-Pierre when we reach Martinique; see which way the land lies, maybe refill our water-barrels an' take on some stores."
"Yeah, even the Royal Navy won't have the brass-neck t'start anything in those Frenchie waters." Sandy nodded complacently. "Could do with a soak in a nice warm bath, myself."
"Why, d'ye think it'd improve ye anyway's?"
"Leddy, you are so walkin' through quicksand; wait'll I get's yer ashore."
But these dreams of unlimited sybaritic pleasures would have to wait yet to be be fulfilled; the mainmast topsail-crosstrees' lookout bravely back at, and clinging desperately to his post, giving voice at this point.
"Sail on the port beam, on the horizon. Can jest see a topsail flag, can't make out which."
"Jeesus, what now?" Joanna stepped into the middle of the deck, gazing skywards at the source of this unwanted news. "What flag—White Ensign? What ship? How far distant?"
"Don't want much, d'ya, sister?"
"Clam it, baby."
"Aye, it's the dam' White Ensign agin. I see's it clear as daylight now, dammit."
"Good God Almighty." Joanna was staggered. "What in hell's goin' on in these parts? Can't we get away from the bloody English, no-wise? Where'n Hell are they all comin' from?"
"Didn't know there were so many f-ckin' British frigates in the Caribbee?" Sandy was no less put out. "That makes, what? Three twenty-fours', if'n that's what it is. As well as the dammed thirty-two. I was right earlier, when I said most o'the British Royal Navy's been sent t'hound us t'our bloody doom."
"Begins t'look like it, I grants yer." Joanna stood non-plussed, scratching her forehead as she sought for some explanation of events. "Well, looks like we're gon'na have'ta change course yet agin. Thom—"
"On deck there, belay that last sighting. It ain't the White Ensign, after all. It's a bloody Frenchie merchant flag; mostly white with what I think are golden lilies in the centre. A brig, by the way's."
"F-ckin' thank God fer f-ckin' that." Sandy almost dropped to her knees, there on the quarter-deck, to give thanks for their deliverance.
"Get a grip o'yourself, gal; what'n hell are ye, a pirate or a pigeon?"
"Hey, no need fer aspersions, lover."
An hour later, their courses converging, the brigantine overhauled the Amazon; and realising instantly their mistake in doing so, lowered their flag and surrendered, hoping for clemency from the pirates. Having been assured by her lookouts that the rest of the Caribbean Sea in that area remained stoutly empty from horizon to horizon Joanna, not without a quiver of her heart, sent the usual longboat packed with a boarding party to carry out the usual arrangements; Sandy at their head armed to the teeth with cutlass and multiple pistols, looking every inch the mad Pirate Queen—and, indeed, feeling such by now.
Some time later she returned, triumphant, to relay her successes to her Captain.
"Well, Jo, you're never gon'na believe this."
"Oh, try me, gal."
"She's loaded with bananas."
"You're f-ckin' jokin'?"
"No, I ain't." Sandy paused to relish her discovery fully. "Packed from stem t'stern with crates o'the fruit in question, nuthin else o'worth."
"When, babe? Here on deck, or later when we're alone?"
"Idiot. Are ye sure?"
"About the bloody bananas? Yeah, there's no doubt o't. Bloody bananas every-bloody-where."
Another sand-glass and the offending brig had been sent on its way, with strict orders from Joanna to cease polluting this fragrant corner of the Caribbee as fast as it found convenient.
"First it's bloody—what was that stuff the first brig carried, agin?"
"Turnips, my love, turnips."
"Oh, aye." Joanna nodded morosely. "An' now bloody bananas. Who in hell wants ter eat bloody bananas all bloody day? Can't think where they'd ever find a market for that amount o'the dam' things."
"So, it's Saint-Pierre, after all, then?"
"Yeah, it is that. An', d'ye know, I think I'll dam' well be joinin' ye in that bath y're contemplatin' when we get's there."
"Be my guest, darlin', be my guest."
Saint-Pierre, when the Amazon hove-to in the bay, was as bright and cheerful, and as bereft of a Royal Navy presence, as could be wished for by any self-respecting pirate. The town lay spread out on gently rising ground, with only the heights of the old volcano Mount Pelée looming in the distance. Joanna anchored the Amazon close in, using the longboats to navigate between ship and shore. The port, being well-acclimatized to such, took no more notice of the pirate ship than if it had merely been another anonymous merchant—this being, perhaps, the most intelligent reaction.
Freed for the moment from the worry of being chased half across the Caribbean by the British, Joanna and Sandy, once the more important chores affecting the revictualing of their ship had been put well in motion, sauntered along the main road of the town towards the market-place.
"So, yer wants a bath, does yer, lady?"
"That is my immediate concern, madam, aye."
"Well, which o'this line o' Inns, Public Houses, an' plain grog-shops, takes my Lady's fancy?"
"Umm, I'm not one fer bein' pernickety." Sandy grinned widely as they strolled along through the crowds, these all showing bright in their colourful dresses; the whole atmosphere invigorating with rich aromas of spices, vegetables, and fruits. "This here place looks invitin'. Shall we see if they rents rooms by the day, or not?"
"Lead the way, darlin', lead the way."
An hour later, in a private room leading off the rear kitchen, both women lay together in a enormously wide tin bath, up to their shoulders in hot water and soap suds, the former brought by a string of laughing French-Martinique female servants.
There is a great deal to be said for bathing together, in a bath just large enough to allow of two bodies without leaving excess room between them. The jolly japes one can get up to, with arms, legs, and especially well-maneouvred feet, is astonishing; the ladies, not being in the least shy, taking full advantage of all these varied options.
However, the best of baths, even to one such as Joanna who rarely partook of such an experience often said to be so deleterious to the health, had to come to an end. Half an hour later, looking rather more like a pair of prunes than anyone present had the gall to tell them, the women stood naked as a couple of Nereids on the bare floor, being washed down with buckets of luke-warm water tipped over their heads by the crowd of female servants, who hadn't had such a gay time in months.
Back in the busy street wearing other, more or less spotless, clothes they had brought with them even Joanna had to admit to a unusual feeling of pleasant freshness and cleanliness.
"I wouldn't like t'do it more'n, say, once a month, mind you." Joanna kept her options safely open, grinning at her paramour. "But I got'ta say ye smell like roses an' honeysuckle, yerself."
Pleased with this unsolicited compliment from her paramour, by no means a common experience, Sandy replied in the only way she found wholly fulfilling—she stopped to give her taller partner a great big kiss on her lips, imbued with all the deep abiding love each woman truly felt for the other.
A short time later, strolling idly along enjoying the crowds of native citizens milling in the streets; the colours, smells, aromas, and general exoticism of this society assaulting their eyes, ears, and nostrils in every direction, the women reached the market-place.
Stalls with tables set before them, tents of all colours of canvas, single tables made of all sorts of pieces of scrap wood, and many women simply sitting on the ground surrounded by baskets of exotic fruit and vegetables laid out on cloths or wide patterned sheets, spread far and wide. The noise was terrific, as was the aroma of all sorts of growing roots, vegetables, nuts, and fruits.
"Oh, look at those; don't they look delicious? Shall I buy a bagfull?"
"Hell, no." Joanna shook her head firmly. "No idea what they are, might be poisonous, if not cooked right. Don't want yer spending the first three days of our next voyage stuck in the port head, do we?"
They moved along, finally passing the vegetables and flowers, of which there were an enormous variety of the most remarkable blooms, and reached those stalls dealing with clothes and materials. Sandy immediately noticed a table covered in the most artful silks.
"Oh, God, Jo, lookee there. Silks from the land of Chin, itself."
Sandy ploughed through the intervening bulk of the crowd like a whirlwind, giving just as little mercy to those she thrust aside.
"Here, Jo, ain't this jest the most beautiful thing ye've ever seen?"
She held up a length of silk of a bright sky-blue, covered in what appeared to be minute silver stars; the whole effect, as the bright sun caught the flow of the material with gorgeous effect, being a marvel to the eye; even Joanna was impressed.
"It certainly shows well against yer skin, Sandy." Joanna smiled broadly, already knowing the answer to her next question. "Wan'na buy some? An' make yerself a dress that'll stun the eyes o' everyone in Port-au-Prince when we gets back t'Hispaniola?"
"I surely does, lady."
"Oh, well, I suppose one has to suffer in order to enjoy the good things in life."
With this double entendre of a remark Joanna pulled her money-pouch out of one of the deep pockets of her longcoat and fell to counting out pieces of eight as if they were her own offspring—this latter stance not fooling a delighted Sandy for a second.
"Oh, that's sweet. Thanks."
Half an hour later the ladies hove up beside the wharf where their longboat awaited them; Sandy in the first freshness of her wind, Joanna gasping somewhat, and sweating a trifle more than a lady ought to be seen in public doing, she being weighed down with six yards of silk material rolled up like a Turkey carpet.
That afternoon, as the worst of the heat was beginning to abate somewhat, a longboat slid alongside the starboard beam of the Amazon and a tall man shouted to be let come aboard. This was such an uncommon request Joanna, accompanied on deck by Sandy, immediately called for a couple of nearby idle piratical bystanders to lend their visitor a hand up the tumblehome. A minute later the man stood on the deck by the side of the women, a curious expression on his craggy features.
"Allow me t'introduce Captain Flanagan, Joanna." Sandy appearing to be in full control of the situation.
"Ye remembers that brig, loaded t'the gunnels with bananas, dear?"
"I does that."
"He's the Captain o' said brig. Seems t'have jest put in'ta Saint-Pierre an hour or so gone." Sandy turned to their visitor, as to an old friend. "What can we do fer ye, Captain?"
"Well, ladies." Flanagan seemed a little uncomfortably out of humour, hardly surprising in the circumstances. "It be like this; ye were kind enough, last time we, ahum, met, t'allow me an' my ship free passage onwards. That bein' so, I feels I owes ye some sort'a reciprocal offer."
"Hardly necessary, I assures ye, Captain." Joanna was still in the dark as to the seaman's possible meaning. "We havin' no need nor necessity fer a boatload o' bananas; either now or ever, t'tell ye the truth."
"Be that as it may, I'm here t'tell ye an hour ago I spoke with an ol' pal o' mine, Captain Henderson o' the brig Nantine."
"Delightful fer ye, I'm sure." Sandy here broke into the conversation, as uncomprehending of Flanagan's intent as her lover. "And this, ah, get-together o' old pals o' your'n embraces us, in what way?"
"Captain Henderson, jest in from Jamaicy, tells me there's two Royal Navy Frigates—one a thirty-two,—sittin' out in open waters, a touch over the horizon north o' north-west, awaitin' yer onward passage when ye leaves this here safe French harbour." Flanagan looked suitably bucked with the effect these words had produced on his now attentive audience. "The twenty-four' stopped him t'speak with him, Henderson, that is; in the nat'ral way o' sich it comin' out what the Navy's intentions were, regardin' ye, ma'am. He an' his thirty-two' mate is awaitin' yer presence out in the wide Caribbee, away from Frenchie waters, where they intends sendin' ye packin' t'Davy Jones without grace nor favour. Thought it only gentlemanly t'let ye hear such, beggin' yer pardons. Well, I must be off about my own business, ladies, bananas not bein' as yet able t'sel theirsel's, eh?"
On Captain Flanagan's departure the women retired to their private rear cabin where they both considered the matter in hand carefully, before coming to the same, mature, conclusion.
Another lengthy period of time passed by, while each contemplated the world at large, and their own apparently rapidly diminishing part therein. Joanna finally taking courage to face the problem squarely.
"F-ckin' Royal Navy, whoever invented the bloody thing ought'ta been hung at one o' his own frigate's yardarms."
"I concurs in that delightfully expressed opinion wholly an' completely."
"Well, Sandy, ol' gal, it looks more'n more as if we have no option left us but t'put 'The Night Plan' in'ta operation. Feel up t'it?"
"Sh-t, I suppose so." Sandy sighed unhappily, well knowing the amount of sheer physical brute effort this would require. "Jeesus, the lads ain't gon'na be happy about it?"
"Jest tell 'em it's either 'The Plan', or swinging at a Navy yardarm tomorrow; those, that is, that haven't sunk with the Amazon." Joanna sniggered, though not happily. "That'll give 'em the right motivation; or I'm not the nastiest, most brutal pirate east of Darien."
"But, yer no—"
"Give it up, gal." Joana snorted disgustedly. "Come on, let's go on deck an' make everyone else aboard this dam' barque as unhappy as we are."
This emergency Plan, as Joanna had carefully explained to her cohort some time since, simply consisted of the Amazon being quietly hauled out of harbour by their own two longboats and two jolly-boats, rope cables from each being wrapped round the barque's bow catheads. This would allow the ship to be hauled, by main force of the longboats' crews' sweat and tears, out into the open sea where they could again set sail and run for the horizon, safely covered by dark night—this whole operation being undertaken somewhere around midnight.
The reason it was thought unsafe at night to hoist sail and exit the harbour in the usual manner was because of the chance of hitting another anchored vessel in so doing. The longboats could safely steer round these obstacles, rather than the Amazon with its powerful impetus crash right into them. Some way out in the empty bay the longboats could be hauled in, the sails set as usual, and the Amazon, unseen from shore or lurking Navy frigates, sail away in whichever direction Joanna thought appropriate.
"In'course, we has t'take our leave o' Saint-Pierre at night, because if we leave it till mornin' the bloody Navy'll see us dead t'rights, an' haul up an' kick our sorry butts. I believe I'm right in that surmise, dear?"
"Every partikler exact an' true, lover. Hey Thomson, call both watches on deck, we're gon'na implement 'The Night Plan' tonight."
"Sh-t, ma'am,—I mean's, aye, ma'am. All hands on deck, d'ye hear?"
In these tropical climes it was only a matter of another hour or so before the awaited darkness fell, like a blanket or curtain on stage at a theatre. Stars sparkled from a cloudless, but happily also moonless, sky; this latter helping to disguise the pirate's activities no end. Within another half-glass the four boats were in the water, cables attached to the catheads of the barque and all was ready. Sandy captained one longboat, while Joanna was in the other; the two jolly-boats, being smaller, were out to each side with their own cables.
It took the crews some little time to start their boats off, the huge weight of the barque at first telling against their efforts; but eventually, with horrible creakings and snappings of the rope cables as they rose in the air taking the enormous strain, things began to move. Ten minutes later the sweating boat-crews met their first obstacle—it also sighting them, with no immense level of mutual respect being shown on either hand.
"—'ere, what the f-ck d'ye think yer up to?" This from a dark high shape, possibly a brigantine, anchored across the longboats' course. A deckhand on the night watch aboard the shadowy ship obviously not pleased to see them.
"F-ck off, an' leave us be." This, soft but snarling, from Thomson in the port jolly-boat. "We ain't doin' yer no 'arm, are we. Put a sock in it."
Thankfully this turned out to be the only obstacle of moment, and within another hour, the whole business taking a great deal of time and enormous effort, they finally arrived out in the relatively less frequented waters of the wide bay. Joanna gave the order to halt rowing, and the process of returning to the barque, unshipping the cables, and hauling the four boats back aboard began.
Another hour, now just after one o' clock in the morning, and the barque set full sail south by east, Curacao bound, well away from the position given them for the two waiting frigates. Finally Joanna felt they had done all reasonably possible, and that they were once again running free and safe.
"Jeesus, think we've made it yet again." She sighed with tiredness, as she and Sandy leaned on the quarter-deck bulwark. "What a bloody couple of days it's been, eh?"
"Too dam' right, lover." Sandy in her turn gave an enormous yawn, putting an arm round her partner's waist, meanwhile. "No shenanigans in bed tonight, lady, if ye please; all's I wants tonight is a long dreamless sleep, an' a beautiful wakin' in the mornin' t'a blue sea crowded from horizon t'horizon with the total absence of any Royal Navy vessel o'any f-ckin' kind."
"Amen t'that, my little lover. Amen t'that. Here, wan'na gim'me a kiss, in lieu o'greater postponed things?"
And Sandy to her credit, feeling this to be a wholly commendable solution to the problem, did just that.
Another 'Captain Clayton, Pirate' story will follow shortly.