'Escape From Cailles Bay'
by Phineas Redux
Summary:— Joanna Clayton is Captain of her own pirate ship the 'Amazon', with her sweetheart Sandy Parker. Time, 171—and something. Place, Caribbean Sea. Trapped by naval forces in a small tight bay on the Spanish Main, Joanna thinks of a method of escape.
Note:— Cailles Bay is fictional.
Disclaimer:— All characters are copyright ©2018 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 some swearing in this story; they are pitiless pirates, y'know.
"What a g-dd-m f-ck-up."
Sandy Parker, pirate companion and lover of the even meaner Joanna Clayton, was in a foul temper, as well she might be, considering their position.
The barque Amazon, crew one hundred and twenty-three, Captain the said Joanna Clayton, lay in Cailles Bay, somewhere along the Honduran coast of the Spanish Main. Held in durance vile by the simple fact there was an English thirty-two gun frigate sitting off-shore, just beyond the mouth of the tight little bay, waiting for their attempted escape, when the Amazon would be sunk for certain. So Sandy was not feeling in the best of moods, she liking her ease and comfort.
"Lem'me think." Joanna had joined her at the port quarter-deck bulwark, taking time off to catch her breath after a busy morning. "We've just succeeded in hauling the bows o'the Amazon round, t'face the bay mouth; that's something in our favour, at least."
"Yeah, there's that." Sandy agreed, showing little enthusiasm nonetheless.
"Ye might sound a little happier about it, gal." Joanna sniffed austerely. "There's plenty o'time fer us t'think o'some way out'ta this little difficulty, yet."
"Glad ye reason so, I'm sure." Sandy expressed a certain lack of belief in her companion's words, meant to cheer her up.
"We've been in sharper places before, mind." Joanna sounded full of determination, which began to affect her doubting companion.
"Yeah, humph." Sandy rose to her full height, of five foot seven inches. "So, what's this brilliant plan, then; I'm gaspin' t'hear it."
"Well, look around ye, what d'ye see?"
Wrinkling her brow in thought Sandy took her companion at her word and cast a glance at the scene spreading out about the ship.
"Look around, ye say?" Sandy glanced from side to side, taking in the view. "Uumph, if it's a position on the chart ye're after we're presently anchored in Cailles Bay, Honduras. The small town o' Cailles itself is at the far end o' said bay, which is only around some half mile deep, from narrow mouth to the wharves o' the town."
"Very accurate, dear." Joanna seemed satisfied so far. "Continue, if ye pleases."
"Ha, The small town is, indeed, a small town; there not bein' much to it at all." Sandy gave her companion an interested look. "The bay's big enough fer a few large size ships t'anchor, but hardly any do; 'cause there's no reason ever t'call in at Cailles, it having dam' all in the way o' serious merchandise t'offer, s'far as I kin tell."
"That's fine, dear; anythin' else?"
"The population are mainly natives, plus a sprinkling o' Spanish an' Americans." Sandy began to waver, her small stock of interest in the place rapidly diminishing. "Jo, what're ye gettin' at?"
Joanna, having had her fun, decided to come clean with the straight down the middle of the road classic Pirate plan she had worked out just before rising that morning.
"I was sort'a thinkin', doll, we grab one or two important citizens o' this huddle o' shacks that calls itself a town," Joanna warmed to her theme, grinning slightly. "Then pulls t'gether this haphazard committee of locals, dragooned fer the purpose in fear o' bein' skinned alive if they refuses, an' sends them out in a cutter or rowin' boat t'that dam' frigate crouched in the offing."
Sandy by now saw the general trend of her heartmate's thinking, and didn't like it one bit.
"F-ck me, Jo, are ye joking, or what?" Sandy raised an arm from the bulwark to thump Joanna's ribs, with some force. "Have ye lost ye're mind? Go on, tell me the worst."
"It's quite clear, ain't it?" Joanna attempted to frown in incomprehension. "We tells this committee t'allow from us that if the frigate Captain doesn't up anchor an' f-ck off over the horizon sharpish, we'll put the town to the sword, slaughter the inhabitants down t'the last toddlin' baby, set fire t'the town remnants, an' dance happily on the embers. Quite straightforward; the Captain o' the frigate can have no doubt about what we're suggestin'. He won't have any choice but t'make himself scarce. Brilliant plan. Wha'd'yer think o' it, doll?"
Sandy didn't hesitate over this simple question, shaking her brunette head in mystification.
"I thinks ye've lost yer mind, dearest, not that there was ever much o' it t'start with, mind ye. But what there was has certainly shipped out fer pastures new."
"Oh, come on. It's a great plan. What else could that dam' English frigate Captain do, I asks ye?"
"Well, lem'me tell ye, sister." Sandy was up for this request with the best. "First-off he's an English Royal Navy captain, under orders from his personal Admiral, and the Lords of the Admiralty in London. He'll follow those orders as if they was religious texts handed down from Time immemorial, takin' no note o' any minor hindrance in his way the whiles. That means yer plan o' showin' him how bad an' nasty a Pirate ye can really be when ye puts yer mind to it will fall on deaf ears. He'll watch yer do everything ye threatened, then grab ye anyway, at the end; and, instead o' merely hangin' ye outright at his handy yardarm, he'll probably have ye keel-hauled first, jest t'show ye who's really boss in these parts, now. Any o'this gettin' through t'ye, dear?"
There was a quiet pause, while Joanna reviewed her plan.
"Yep, that about covers it, dear heart."
A short while later, the morning just reaching its height, the sun blazing down from a bare blue sky with all the furious determination it usually showed in these climes, a small cutter could be observed putting off from the town's main wharf and heading over the short white-capped waves out into the bay in the Amazon's direction.
"On deck there, cutter from the town, headin' our way." The foremast crosstrees lookout showing everyone how sharp he was. "Two degrees off the stern quarter."
"F-ckin' idiot." This from an unimpressed Sandy, raising her head from her stance on the quarter-deck to pinpoint the source of her ire high on the mast. "Who the f-ck does he think he is? Ye'd think he was givin' news of a Spanish galleon jest hoving in'ta view on the far horizon."
"Jest keepin' his hand in, is all." Joanna, turning to watch the approaching boat, was much calmer in temperament. "We'll soon find out what's in the wind, they're makin' fast at the port tumblehome, now. Thomson, hand our visitors up here t'us, if ye will."
Two minutes later three men stood on the quarter-deck in front of the female pirates; each looking less than happy; as well they might, not knowing what their reception might turn out to be.
"Don Ramirez de Consodores, at your service, ma'am." The tall thin dark-haired man, of middle-age, concerned himself primarily with Joanna, as having the greater authoritative presence; Sandy simply standing to one side, looking mean under her battered wide-brimmed hat. "I and my friends have come out to welcome you to the magnificent town of Cailles, and request to know what your, ah, wishes may be, that we may help and provide such friends with our greatest service, before you leave us once more."
There was so much clear emphasis on this last point that even Sandy got the man's drift; up anchor and head out as quick as you like, and make it dam' snappy, if you please. Sandy strove to appear even meaner.
"We only sailed in yester'n evening, Don Ramirez." Joanna tried soft soap, at least as a first measure. "Hoping t'fill our water casks, buy some provisions, then go about our business. Ye have nuthin' t'fear from us."
At this news the three men brightened considerably, but then Joanna came out with an addendum that wiped the smiles straight off their faces once more.
"That is, except fer one thing."
"That being, what, if I may ask, ma'am?" Don Ramirez suddenly taking on the aspect of a goat in the forest abruptly suspecting it isn't alone.
"Out there, just off the mouth o'your perfectly beautiful bay, lies an English thirty-two gun frigate." Joanna, seeing no reason to keep the position secret, gave freely of her heart-stopping news. "So ye see it may be a while before we decides t'actually leave your tidy little bay, all things bein' as they be. Ye wouldn't consider, jest as a hypothetical possibility, goin' out there in yer nice little cutter, an' explainin' t'the frigate Captain that we might wreak havoc an' destruction on Cailles if he don't go away like a gentleman?"
Don Ramirez considered this proposition as if it had any merit, then raised a pair of thick dark eyebrows in an expression which couldn't be mistaken.
"An English Navy Captain, ma'am?" He shook his head sadly, being a man of the world. "I suspect he will simply stand-off, let you do whatever you want; then, finally, when you do run for it, capture and-or sink ye, as a matter o' course. The township and citizens of Cailles not figuring in his calculations whatever."
Joanna glanced over at Sandy, who simply shrugged back with downcast mouth.
"Yeah, that's what we sort'a came t'the conclusion would be his working plan." Joanna heaved a sigh, things not brightening for her at all. "Any other ships arrive an' anchor in the outer bay here, very much? Just tryin' t'get an idea of how busy your port generally is, Don Ramirez."
"Cailles, I'm afraid, doesn't have much of a merchant base, or trading market." Don Ramirez looked suitably depressed at the state of his community. "Just jungle, cows, maize, and a little fishing. Of course, there is the wood trade."
Sandy, hitherto unamused, perked up immediately.
"An' what would that consist of, if'n I may ask?"
"In the nearby forest there are all sorts of valuable trees." Don Ramirez spoke knowledgeably; having himself, of course, a finger deep in the lucrative pie. "Teak and mahogany, and rosewood, and ebony, as well as others. Several ships from a trading company in Cuba come regularly to take on their cargoes. One is due within a couple of days, as it happens."
Sandy and Joanna gazed into each others eyes, lost in thought. And various and several suppositions sprang up, fully formed, in each pirate's mind as they did so.
"Well, well, that is interesting, Don Ramirez." Joanna nodded amiably to her guests, a proto-plan already forming in her mind. "It's been kind of you to voyage out to inform me of your conditions, and tell me so much about your community. Have no fear that we here, on the Amazon, will soon be on our way, with no damage to your beautiful little town. Goodbye, gentlemen."
A little later in the morning the two women had retired to their shared rear cabin, to discuss plots, plans, and stratagems. Sandy was fired with enthusiasm.
"When this merchantman hoves in'ta sight, tomorrow, we takes it over sharpish, transfers some o' our crew an' maybe a coupl'a twenty-fours'; then sails out t'gether, an' catches the dam' English frigate in a pincer movement." She rapped the table-top with her gloved knuckles for emphasis, grinning broadly. "A bit o' a fight, no doubt, but bound t'win in the end; especially if we can get close enough t'board him from both sides at once."
"Worth considerin', surely." Joanna nodded, composedly, she having her own ideas. "But I was thinkin' o' something more—umm, more in keepin' with the merchantman itself."
"Like what, lover?" Sandy, frowning slightly, not seeing the point at all. "It's a cargo ship, lookin' t'fill its hold with wood. Where's the interest in that?"
"Wood burns, don't it?" Joanna smiled at her partner, as she broached her brainwave. "Ships can be set alight, too, can't they? An' a ship alight, with a cargo of raw wood? Well, it's jest by nature bound t'burn like a bloody forest-fire, ain't it?"
"Oh-ah." Sandy let this suggestion percolate, before realising what it was her beloved was on about. "Oh, I get it, a fireship. My God."
Joanna, happy with the result her plan had achieved, leaned forward to uncork a bottle of rum, half-filling two goblets before passing one over the table to her partner.
"Jest so, dear." She nodded wisely, as of a philosopher or Muse. "We takes the merchantman out in our wake, hauled by cable. At the appropriate moment—"
"—when the frigate starts t'chase us."
"—yeah, quit interruptin',—we sets off the onboard charges an' looses it by cuttin' the cable; the fireship runs down on the frigate, which is too close to take avoidin' action; an' we sail off happily as the frigate turns in'ta a Roman Candle in our wake."
Sandy took a gulp of rum, astonished by the sagacity of her loved mate, looking at her with wide-open eyes full of wonder.
"How d'ye do it, my love?" She shook her head, at a loss. "I means, be so bloody brilliant? God, I loves yer t'bits."
"Oh, it's jest experience, dear." Joanna found herself almost blushing with embarrassment; before recalling she hadn't blushed since she was seventeen.
A gentle satisfied silence enveloped the large cabin, lit by the stern windows; one of which was open, letting in the soft sea-breeze smelling of salt, spices from the nearby forest ashore, and all the multitudinous aromas of a fighting ship ready for action—oiled metal, tarred ropes and cables; that indescribable smell of wet canvas; and the over-bearing all-enveloping scent of massed Humanity in close proximity to itself and its neighbours, but ever leagues away from anything resembling a bath or soap. In short, the scent of a Pirate Ship, ready to set its cap at anyone or anything.
"I've never arranged fer a fireship afore, dear." Sandy, pondering deeply on this sad omission from her education.
"Well, neither have I, t'tell the truth." Joanna dismissed this irrelevant detail with the contempt it deserved. "But what can there be to it, I asks yer? Some nicely placed barrels o'tar an' oil down in the hold, amongst all that newly chopped wood still filled with fresh flammable sap; some well-soaked sheets an' sails above deck,; whale-oil bein' the thing, there, darlin'. A few feet o'fuse, fast-actin' fer preference; somebody at our taffrail with strong arms an' a sharp axe t'cut the cable, an' the world's yer oyster, Sandy."
"Something t'aim fer, I'll allow." Sandy hummed and hawed a trifle, having reservations, nonetheless. "But first, as ye well knows, dear, if'n ye wants yer omelet ye first has t'break the egg."
There was a deafening silence while Joanna contemplated this arcane remark.
"And jest what the f-ck does that mean, dearest?"
"Fer one, when the merchantman hoves in sight in this here bay, he'll be empty." Sandy warmed to her theme, of pouring cold water on what had seemed a bright flame, in more ways than one. "He comes here t'load up with wood. We'll have to await his convenience whiles he does jest that. How long'll that take him? Days? Weeks? Months?"
"Fair point, lassie." Joanna, in her turn, took a contemplative pull at her rum goblet, considering this item. "Well, we can drag Don Ramirez back aboard this afternoon, an' see what he has t'say about that. Him having influence, maybe we can get him t'speed things along."
"Better be careful." Sandy's suspicious nature coming to the fore. "If he has the slightest inkling of what we intends doin' with his precious cargo o'wood he'll find a way t'put a stop to it sharpish."
Joanna replaced her goblet on the table, leaned her elbows on the scarred wood, and stared at her paramour unseeingly, as she thought about the whole unfolding catastrophe, and the doubtful nature of Spanish Dons in particular.
"Needs careful thought, lover, dam' careful thought. Gim'me a few minutes, will ya?"
"Oke's, darlin'; as the Yankee's say."
"It's OK, darlin'."
"I know, that's what I jest said."
"No, It's O-K, darlin'; not what ye jest said."
"But I jest said it was OK, dearest."
"No, ye didn't." Joanna's expression took on the tone of a schoolteacher chastising a pupil. "OK is not Oke's; in fact, there ain't no such term, take my word fer it."
This said in such an innocent, simple, quiet manner Joanna instantly looked up at her partner and life-long lover with a suspicious eye.
"You, lady, have jest been pullin' my leg, haven't ye?"
No answer from the brunette on the other side of the table who, apparently, was finding something of the utmost interest deep in her goblet.
"Ye couldn't act more guilty if'n ye'd admitted it." Joanna considered the alternatives. "So, the question now is, what does a nasty, vicious, cold Pirate Queen do when one o'her minions gets out'ta hand? Bears serious thought, don't ye think; you on the other side o'the table there, lady?"
"Minion? Minion?" Sandy was up for this gentle cut and thrust, being a past mistress of this sort of thing. "I'll give ye minion. Come round the table an' say it t'my face, darlin'. No? Oh well, ye gives me no alternative but t'navigate this here obstacle an' commit condign punishment on ye in person. No, don't try'n outflank me, dear; I'll catch ye, don't worry."
What happened some seconds later, in a flurry of sprawling limbs, cast aside clothes, rippling laughter, and loving caresses, is too personal to be publicly transcribed in a mere wholesome biographical essay such as the present.
The afternoon, hardly as yet a degree or so into its running, saw the cutter again heaving-off from the town's wharf and heading once more for the anchored Amazon out in the bay, complete with a now bemused Don Ramirez answering Captain Clayton's request for another interview.
"Welcome, Don Ramirez." Joanna met him at the door to her cabin, Sandy by her side. "Come in an' take a pew at the table if ye'll do me the honour. I've prepared a slight refreshment, if you would be so kind as to join us. Jest roast chicken, vegetables, an' a wine an' meat sauce, the particular secret o'my cook. A good cook, as cooks go, an' ye well knows how quickly some cooks go, these days, Don Ramirez."
Having no idea of what his hostess was talking about Don Ramirez merely smiled diplomatically and sat down, gazing astounded at the wonderful exhibition of silverware spread across the table. There were silver plates of various sizes, weighty looking silver goblets and tankards, silver forks, knives, and spoons, and wine jugs of crystal and silver filled with a variety of coloured liquids. As the trio sat a band of servants—actually deep-dyed pirates all, moonlighting for the occasion—came in, heaping all sorts of viands and steaming dishes, again of solid silver, before the astonished guest. Joanna had not spent the last three years busily laying waste to villages, towns, churches, and ships of all types and sizes, without amassing a very nice amount of kitchenware, thank you: now being, obviously, the right moment to spread oneself munificently and show away without restraint—so Joanna had.
"Will ye take wine, sir?" Sandy, displaying her most refined English aristocratic manners—she having been, in her past life, a true aristocrat herself.
A delicate pale yellow wine was dispensed by a servant-pirate, who had actually washed and shaved for the occasion. Others, equally unrecognisable in clean white canvas trousers and blue shirts, with red and white bandanas around their necks, served the first course with astonishing competence and the banquet had begun.
"A very fine Madeira, ma'am." Don Ramirez knowing his wines like an expert.
"Oh, jest somethin' I filch—er, that is, I bought it in Jamaica; glad ye likes it."
The roast chicken, awash with a special thick sauce of a spicy nature invented by the unseen, but clearly genius, cook requiring particular comment.
"Mmm, this, er, chicken is truly delightful, my congratulations, ma'am."
Joanna, too, had been having her reservations about the main course.
"Not sure, sir, that it ain't, in fact, some kind'a forest-pig; but delicious all the same."
"I'll have a second helping, as far as that goes, Jo." Sandy, bent over her plate, eating assiduously, as if stocking up for a coming famine.
"Ye'll do no such thing, dear." Joanna at her most determined, mistress of the occasion. "There's a sweet, roly-poly rum n'plum duff with raisins, yet t'come. Ye'll need room fer that."
"Oh," Sandy looked up with joy in her eyes. "is that the one we had a month ago, dear? The one where ye swamps it wholesale in rum an' sets light t'it? God, can't wait; maybe I'll forgo the chicken, after all."
As in the course of all things here down below, however, everything, no matter how beautiful, has to reach its conclusion and come to an end; so it was with the present banquet. Just under an hour and a half later the three sat back replete in every pore; five bottles of wine having been destroyed entire, and now with cups of coffee and little silver dishes of mixed nuts by their elbows the diners comfortably reviewed their late repast.
"God, that's what I calls fillin' yer belly, an' no bloody mistake." Sandy, filled as full as was humanly possible. "Oops, sorry, Don Ramirez, pardon my manners."
"Not all all, ma'am." Don Ramirez' own manners being fully up to the occasion. "Such a delightful repast deserves unmitigated applause. May I thank you, Captain Clayton, for such a delicious meal. Very fine indeed."
Working on the principle that striking while the iron was hot was always a good idea, Joanna sat back, chewing a cashew, and launched out into the main reason for this gathering.
"Don Ramirez, ye were talking earlier t'day about a ship expected in harbour from Cuba. To take on a cargo of wood from the interior, is that not so?"
Immediately on his guard, Don Ramirez contemplated his hostess through narrowed eyes.
"That is so, ma'am." He shrugging in such an off-handed way both Sandy and Joanna instantly gave him more attention, too. "It arrives tomorrow. It will take two to three days to load; the cargo being already laid out in warehouses on the far side of the town, and only needing to be transported here when required."
"Two t'three days, ye say?" Sandy musing on the subject and time-frame with a thoughtful brow.
"Just so, ma'am."
"Is that the average time the ship generally takes t'turn itself about, if I may ask?"
"—er, turn itself about, ma'am?" The phrase proving too much for the Don's grasp of English.
"From when she first anchors in the bay, loads her cargo, an' then departs," Sandy spelt it out. "how long a period usually passes?"
"Ah, I see." Don Ramirez nodded, clear in his mind about the question once again. "Well, it differs on each appearance, mind you; there being no set time it must take, you understand." He ate a nut ruminatingly. "On the whole, in general, I should say from two to three days. The cargo awaiting him at the present moment is mainly of light woods, easier to transport you know, so the whole business shouldn't take more than two days this time."
"Really? How interesting." Sandy, well experienced in small talk at social crushes in her former life as a true-blue Lady of Quality back in London in her youth—mostly ill-spent—had no problem in making this sound like real curiosity. "Your town is rather busier than you at first made it seem, apparently, Don Ramirez?"
"Oh, the arrival and departure of a few merchantmen over the course of several months does not, I assure you, amount to much in the long run, ladies."
Seeing an opening Joanna took it in sprightly manner.
"Nevertheless, Don Ramirez, we are mighty interested in the whole concept o' loading wood from the forest onto the ship." She smiled broadly at the Spaniard, hoping it didn't appear to her guest as cunning an expression of her inner feelings as she felt it might. "I've always had a hankering to become a merchant, myself; along with Sandy, here. We'd be glad t'take a tour o'the merchantman; when he's loaded his cargo, o'course; not meanin' t'get in the way aforehand, as it were."
Here she cocked an eye at Don Ramirez, as much as asking for the invitation outright in so many words. He, full well understanding her expectant pause, considered the matter, found no reason—sadly for him—to refuse, and acquiesced like a hero and a gentleman.
"It would be my pleasure, ladies." He smiled at his hostesses, not quite sure what their ultimate desires might be, but assured within his own mind that, being pirates, they must have some underhanded devious ploy lurking in the shadows. "I shall give myself the honour of arriving two days from now, when Captain McKellar has loaded his brig, to show you over the ship. I am sure the Captain will be delighted to be your host, as you have so excellently been mine this afternoon."
A few more high-sounding nonentities and nothings having been politely exchanged, in the way of compliments, Don Ramirez was escorted to the ship's side and ritually seen back into his cutter for the return trip to the town's wharf.
"An' goodbye t'him, till we next needs the ol' so—"
"—Hey, no need t'get personal, Sandy." Joanna gripping her paramour's shoulder as they stood on the main-deck watching the boat disappear shorewards. "He's given us some very interesting facts t'digest, along with that gorgeous plum-duff. An' some things fer us t'think on over the coming coupl'a days. We got a plan t'refine, y'know."
"Oh well, let's get to it, dear." Sandy swung round, heading for the door under the quarter-deck leading back towards their rear cabin. "We can maybe polish off the remains o' that duff, while's thinkin'. Plum duff's good fer the thinkin' processes, y'know, dear heart."
"No it ain't." Joanna wasn't having any. "Ye're just a glutton is all; come on, admit it."
What Sandy here said in reply the modern editors of this manuscript still think too salty, hot, unrestrained, and downright ill-tempered to soil the ears of even today's delicate youth.
The days, as such things have a habit of doing, eventually passed in their own good time, leaving Joanna and Sandy washed up on their quarterdeck once again, awaiting the arrival of Don Ramirez' pet cutter to transport them across the intervening clear water of the bay to the merchantman, which had indeed berthed the morning after the famous plum-duff banquet. Joanna had then stood in precisely the same spot as she now commanded, watching the expert way in which the unseen Captain manoeuvred his large brig before finally anchoring three cables or so away from the Amazon. Sandy, meanwhile, being confined to that short interval between her bunk in the rear cabin and the forrard port head; she being internally indisposed.
"Too much plum duff." Joanna, at her most imperious.
"**'f8! F/** ." From Sandy, on her way to view the dancing whitecaps from the nearside port bow yet again.
The crew, as she pursued her hasty way along the main deck, made a point of not noticing her passing; she having earlier laid out a hulking specimen on his beam ends with a swift left hook as payment for an unwisely loud titter at her predicament. But, having done her duty in the port head—toilet, to the uninitiated—she finally made her return to the quarter-deck half a glass later, and some pounds lighter, or so she felt.
"Here he comes." Sandy, once more a force to be reckoned with in piratical circles as she hove up beside her amour once again.
"I had noticed." Joanna, quelling any further movement towards open arrogance.
"Deck there, small boat on the port quarter, comin' out from the town wharf." From the fore topsail crosstrees lookout, who had just noticed.
"Tompkins'll jest have'ta be replaced, y'know." Sandy made an extremely rude noise, not fit for polite company. "He's about as blind as a dam' bat. Who the f-ck ordered him t'the fore-crosstrees?"
The journey from the Amazon to the merchant brig, in Don Ramirez' cutter, took no great amount of time; and shortly Joanna and Sandy found themselves on the main-deck of the merchantman being introduced to the Captain.
"Captain Gerald McKellar, of the brig Rosemount." Don Ramirez, in his element, making the introductions. "Captain Joanna Clayton, of the barque Amazon. Sandy Parker, her, er, lieutenant"
The look the Scotsman gave the two women standing in front of him as much as proclaimed aloud that if they did not know him he, on the other hand, dam' well knew who they were.
"Harumph, weel, ye'll be fer lookin' ower my ship, I'm thinkin'?" Spoken with no deep conviction of tone.
"It'd be of the greatest interest to us, Captain McKellar." Joanna at her most smarmy.
What followed was an all-inclusive tour of the length, breadth, and depth of the brig. It becoming immediately apparent Captain McKellar was obviously a man who dealt in absolute authority and adherence to the rules of shipping. No spot of dirt was visible on the almost religiously holy-stoned white decks. Everything in the way of tack was in its appointed position and neatly placed. Below decks nothing was out of place, and there was no clutter underfoot. Finally, in a sparkling, almost painfully, clean stern cabin which would have done a Royal Navy Admiral proud, McKellar treated his guests to a glass of grog, mixed personally by him from ingredients to hand on the large walnut table.
"A fine ship, Captain McKellar."
"Aye, Captain Clayton." McKellar couldn't keep the satisfied tone from his reply. "I'm thinkin' ye'll go far t'find a better. I does my duty, an' I does my best; hopin' they both comes t'the same nat'ral outcome."
"We won't keep you from your duties any longer, Captain." Joanna giving Sandy a significant look. "You'll be preparin' t'leave the bay as quick as might be, now y've gotten your cargo aboard?"
"Chust that, ma'am." McKellar nodded, obviously impatient to turn these words into actions. "Weel, goodbye t'ye. Hoskins, see the ladies, an' Don Ramirez here, ower the side. Goodbye."
"What d'ye think o'that then, darlin'?"
Back in the stern cabin of the Amazon the women were considering their options.
"Looks t'me as if the plan we've worked out'll go perfectly." Joanna nodded happily, liking things to go smoothly. "Everybody know what they have t'do, an' when?"
"Yeah, should do after the hours we spent explainin' the whole dam' thing t'the crew last night." Sandy spoke with growling disgust. "I only had one hour's sleep afterwards, y'realise?"
"I'm sheddin' tears, I'm sure." Joanna shook her head dismissively. "Right, we quietly drop our anchors an' fall down on the Rosemount jest after midnight tonight. Longboats out, with cables t'haul us close in. We boards the brig, disposes of the opposition, then takes about two more hours transferring the barrels of oil an' tar."
"We coats the sheets, rigging, an' lower sails in bucket-loads o'whale-oil, also splashing it about the deck wholesale." Sandy grinned, preparing to enjoy her coming night adventure. "Railles will set some small powder charges here an' there below decks, as well as leading the fast fuzees, from the various flash-points, along the cable we uses t'haul the brig out t'sea behind us in our wake; then he'll put a light to the fuzee on our quarterdeck when ye gives the order, we wait till the ship lights up, drop the cable, an' sits back t'watch the show."
Satisfied with the details the women set-to spending the rest of the day making sure the crew, especially those with important duties, knew exactly how when and where they were to carry these out.
"Roll on midnight."
"Yeah, should be fun." Sandy, smiling with an evil low-down cunning and barely contained joy for the coming darkness; she being, at heart, an innocent little girl who dearly loved a jolly jape.
Midnight, on the Spanish Main. Darkness of such depth it would be impenetrable if not for the stars above. Stars which, unlike in northern climes, lit the whole firmament from horizon to horizon; a pale grey light washing over everything, giving weak shadow, indicating objects in a flat dull manner; and covering everywhere with silvery-grey tones of varying depth and quality. No moon, increasing the blackness all round infinitely, and so working for the pirates; who were now slogging away hard.
The Amazon had slipped its cables, in order not to alert those on the Rosemount, easily within hearing distance, by the harsh rattle of chains consequent on trying to raise the anchors by windlass. Two longboats, attached by thin cables to the barque's catheads, towed the ship across the intervening waves towards the unsuspecting merchantman, while on the barque's decks the crew went about their duties in a subdued silent but tense manner. All their needed equipment was to hand, weapons had been distributed, but with harsh orders not to use them, especially the firearms, without direct orders from either Joanna or Sandy.
The longboats, with expert crews, dragged the Amazon close up to the port side of the merchantman; men waiting on the Amazon's main deck cast grappling irons across the victim's bulwarks, other seamen then helping in this manner to haul the ships together. Meanwhile the longboats' crew had gone into boarding mode, jumping up the merchantman's tumblehome like monkeys to slip over the bulwarks and apprehend the night watch aboard. Quickly backed-up by the rest of the barque's crew, there were some dull thuds, a couple of groans, one relatively quiet scream, quickly cut-off into a dying gurgle (don't ask how), and the brig had fallen to the pirates.
Finally alerted, as if by some supernatural or interior misgiving, Captain McKellar made his appearance on the main-deck, coming out the door under the quarter-deck from the direction of his cabin. Whereat Joanna dealt swiftly with the situation. Knowing full well, from experience, the best and quickest method of subduing established authority, and so overawing the opposition, was to impose your own quickly, overwhelmingly, and mercilessly—overcoming resistance before it even had a chance to be born—she stepped up to the large man, clearly just about to bellow for an explanation, and hit him over the head with the butt of her horse-pistol, stepping to one side with elegant grace as he fell in a heap at her feet.
"Charming." Sandy appeared at her side, glancing down at the crumpled form with little interest. "That puts paid t'unwanted criticism fer the time bein'. Right lads, lets get these barrels aboard. You, Featherstonehaugh [pronounced Fanshaw], knock out the bungs an' start sloshin' the oil everywhere."
"Yeah, bloody everywhere." Sandy nodded, grinning widely. "Deck, masts, ropes, sheets, rigging, what o' that ye can reach without climbin', anyway; in short, every-dam'-where."
For the next hour all was busy on the merchantman, as the pirates began turning the vessel from an innocuous cargo-ship into one of the most feared weapons of naval warfare yet known—a fireship.
Joanna had taken over Captain McKellar's stern cabin for her headquarters, Sandy and she taking incoming reports as each step of the intricate plan took its course.
"Upper deck, masts, an' all accessible rigging splashed wi' whale-oil, ma'am. An' piles o' oil-soaked oakum thrown everywhere on deck, ma'am."
"Nice, keep it up. Can't have too much o' that." Sandy, urging her men to ever greater efforts. "If there's still any place surface or object anywhere on the ship not yet slick wi' oil, then make it so, Dearing."
"Mr Thomson reports the casks o' oil are in place in the hold, amongst the wood cargo, ma'am."
"Excellent, tell him t'carry on, through the rest o'the ship."
"Railles sez as how the main charges on the foredeck, an' main hold, are all set, ma'am."
"Right, fuzees in place an' run up t'the towing cable?" Joanna always wanting the important points taken care of.
"Aye, ma'am, all in place."
"Towing cable run through the Amazon's taffrail an' tied-off on the Rosemount's bow catheads, ma'am."
"Right, everything's ready, at last." Joanna walked, with Sandy at her side, back onto the main-deck. "Thomson, transfer the Rosemount's crew, an' Captain McKellar, t'the Amazon. Quick now, time's awastin'. Let me know instantly we're ready to start the tow."
A few minutes later the quartermaster returned to the women to report the conclusion of the crew transfer.
"Alright, everybody off this boat now." Joanna gave her orders crisply, looking all round as Sandy and she made their way to the bulwark where a longboat was waiting to take them back aboard the Amazon. "This seems t'be it, lady; we've done all we can here."
"Yep, seems like it." Sandy nodded, scrambling down the ship's tumblehome into the longboat with practiced ease. "All we need now is a lit match."
"Ha, come on, back t'the Amazon. Now's the time fer action." Joanna smiled with tight lips and frowning merciless brow. "That bloody frigate out there don't know what kind'a a shock it's in fer, an' no mistake."
The Amazon, under Joanna's practiced oversight, slid through the relatively narrow entrance to the bay and felt the first ocean swells running under her keel. The longboats had been taken aboard again, the towing-cable ran tautly from the taffrail, disappearing into the dark to finally reach the now abandoned merchantman, tied-off on its forrard catheads. From the cable, wrapped in tarred cloth to stop water penetration for the short period needed, the fuzee ran across the Rosemount's deck, splitting into several separate tongues as it spread across the ship, and down into its bowels, reaching towards the unseen barrels of oil and tar, as well as the various powder kegs placed by the Amazon's gunner.
On the Amazon Joanna stared through her spyglass, straining through the dark night to gain first sight of the distant British frigate.
"Nah, jest bloody darkness." Joanna shrugged, standing at Sandy's side by the starboard quarterdeck bulwark. "Can't see a dam' thing yet, even with this cloudless sky an' all these stars. Jest not enough light."
"That's in our favour, still." Sandy could see the good points of the situation. "We can't see them, they can't see us."
"There's that." Joanna considered the matter some more. "Thomson, can ye see t'steer, well enough?"
"Goin' by the binnacle compass, ma'am." Thomson, a tall Englishman, stood easy by the double-wheel watching the two men assigned to spin them at a moment's notice. "Deep water, an' no reefs nor shallows. By your compass settings, ma'am, we should be headed north o' west of the dam' frigate, as we lie right now."
"Good, keep this course, for the time bein'." Joanna put down her spyglass and turned to Sandy. "The men know what t'do when the Rosemount goes up, an' we let it fall-away?"
"Yeah," Sandy nodded, knowing the details of the plan to a nicety. "all hands to action stations, guns manned and the starboard broadside run-out ready. The sails looked-to, an' men on the yardarms t'change sail when or if required. We're ready, gal."
"Deck there, sail half a league nor'east; comin' up fast on the starboard beam." This from an exceptionally far-sighted lookout perched on the mainmast topsail crosstrees; there being no need to continue secrecy he shouting clearly and sharply.
Immediately a shuffling could be heard all across the maindeck as the crowded pirates eased their knee-joints and arms, ready for the coming fray, if such was eventually required.
"One degree t'port, Thomson." Joanna taking control of the Amazon's heading.
Sandy had taken the spyglass and now reported.
"I see it." She spoke with an edge of repressed excitement. "Jest comin' out'ta the darkness t'starboard. God, she's far bloody closer than I expected, maybe only a couple o' cables-length."
"Must'a closed-in during the night, hoping t'stop us makin' a quiet escape." Joanna nodded, not yet worried by unfolding events. "The longer he thinks his little gambit has worked fer him the better; it'll bring him all the closer, which is jest what's required."
A few minutes later Sandy again lowered the spyglass to ask a question of her lover, by her side.
"Since we straightened our course, a while ago, the Rosemount's now lying right in our wake." She glanced across at her partner. "Reckon the British frigate Captain'll suspect anything when he figures out we're towing the merchantman, an' start t'wonder why?"
"Let him; he's left it too late, already." Joanna had been peering intently across the intervening sea to the distant silhouette, which could now be seen from the deck by the naked eye. "We're in jest the right position, now. Railles, where are ye? Oh, there, right. It's time, go to it."
Railles stooped over a bucket by his feet on the quarterdeck, there was a flash as his tinder lit, then a steady flickering light as he rose with a long length of fuse spluttering in his right hand. Walking across to the taffrail he bent to the rope cable tied round the bulwark belaying pins in their rack, touched it gently to an exposed piece of the inner fuzee entwined around the rope, then stood back as everyone on the quarterdeck saw the flashing sparks as the long fuzee took the flame and burned steadily along its length, quickly disappearing into the dark, high above the barque's wake, heading for its destination.
"Be ready, Thomson, with that bloody axe when she lights up." Joanna had taken note of all the possible outcomes of their unfolding actions. "Don't want the fire returning along the cable before we can ditch it; or not cutting it at all, an' bein' dragged across t'broach-to against the bloody burning wreck."
"Aye, ma'am." Thomson standing by the rail, axe over his shoulder, ready to act in an instant; he knowing full-well the dangers as well as his Captain.
"The frigate's comin' up fast." Sandy had kept her attention squarely on the pursuing ship. "Jest off the starboard bow o'the Rosemount, but maybe half a cable behind."
"Jest what we want." Joanna smiled grimly, though unseen. "When she falls-off she'll slip right down on top o' the frigate before they can so much as blow their dam' noses."
Another anxious space of time ran by, apparently dragging its heels deliberately; everyone on board now straining their eyes for the first sight of flame on the merchantman still coasting along in their wake, hauled by the still intact towing-cable.
"There she goes." An anonymous cry from somewhere on the maindeck; then it became evident to one and all that the first part of Joanna's plan had been successful. Flames, at first merely low sparks, lit up the foredeck of the merchantman; then, with what seemed incredible speed, raced across the maindeck and up into the rigging, outlining the masts in an eerie red glow. Suddenly, from somewhere in the interior of the ship, an enormous sheet of flame roared out from the cargo-hatch, shooting up to reach the mainmast topsail crosstrees before settling to a slightly lower height where it continued to burn steadily. As the pirates watched entranced there came a further dull but still unseen explosion, then a further sheet of roaring flames lit the night sky as the cargo of raw wood took light and began to burn fiercely. Within seconds the whole body of the merchantman, from stem to stern, seemed one single raging inferno.
"Jeesus," Sandy had seen something terrifying. "I can see the flames returning along the bloody cable. It's racing like a madman—cut the bloody thing—cut it—now, fer God's sake."
Without waiting for Joanna's order Thomson, like everyone else aboard the Amazon till now mesmerised by the sight of the horrifying inferno which had once been a ship, stepped to the taffrail, swung his axe, once, twice, thrice, and the cable parted with a twang, snapping back into the darkness of the barque's wake, disappearing in an instant.
"Haul the main topsail round, head nor-west." Joanna was suddenly all Captain again; looking to the safety of her vessel before all else. "Bend those sheets taut, let's get out'ta here. Railles, have the guns run-in. Sandy, what's the frigate doin'?"
Sandy had raised her spyglass to her eye once more, and was enjoying a close-up view of the now not so distant frigate, clearly visible in the spreading light from the roaring inferno which was the former Rosemount, now bearing down perilously close to the warship.
"They're haulin' off, turnin' t'starboard—no, they ain't—they've missed stays, I can see the foresail flapping uselessly; they're motionless in the water." She glued her eye to the lens as if it would increase the magnification of the image. "The Rosemount's comin' across her bows right now—that's it, can't make anything else out—the Rosemount's cut-off my view; Jeesus, what a blinding light. She must be almost on the frigate, I should think. Can't believe the frigate's got enough sea-room t'manoeuvre out o' the thing's way."
"Everyone t'their sailin'-stations." Joanna knew the most important aspect now was to take full advantage of present circumstances, before anything untoward occurred to turn the situation against them. "Thomson, get the reefs off the mainsail; I want it catchin' the wind fully, the quicker we make some distance away from here the better. Any sight o' the frigate, Sandy?"
"Nah, jest the glow from the fireship, burnin' like as if Satan himself was warmin' his hooves by it."
"Huumph. Looks as if we may well get away without a fight, after all." Joanna gazed along the maindeck, watching with a gimlet eye all the activity going forward as her pirate crew saw to the efficient running of the ship. "Anyway, now we have the heels of the frigate, if nothin' else. We'll change course in half a glass, that'll put him off; if he's still on our tail an' managed t'evade gettin' his balls toasted entire, that is."
"What a bloody fire." Sandy stood gazing over the taffrail, still entranced by the distant conflagration. "We must be all of two leagues off now, yet it's still clearly visible. Those flames must be all of two hundred feet high. Why ain't it bloody sinkin', already?"
"The frame o'the brig'll be sound an' strong." Joanna glanced back to glimpse the inferno, like a star fallen to the ocean's surface. "Take some burnin' through, even with fire an' flames that strong. Maybe another half-hour yet; then she'll go."
"God, it's scary."
"Yeah, ain't it." Joanna reached across to put a protective arm on her lover's shoulder. "Nasty things, fireships."
"Christ, ye ain't wrong there, lady."
The dawn found Joanna and Sandy sitting at the table in their stern cabin, going over the events of the past night. All was calm, the weather being sunny with a strong but steady breeze, and the Amazon was now scores of miles distant from the late disaster encompassing the unfortunate frigate.
"Well, it seems we've lost the b-gg-r."
"Yep, he couldn't follow our course in the dark." Joanna acknowledged the truth of her paramour's statement. "Always supposing he was in any condition, less than havin' been fried t'a crisp alive, t'do so."
"Pity we couldn't hang around long enough t'see what the outcome was."
"Ye can't have everything in life, Sandy, dear." Joanna smiled contentedly. "At the very least we gave the frigate Captain a pretty good idea he ain't up against innocent amateurs, but salty experienced professionals. Make him think twice, if'n he's survived that is, about tryin' that lyin'-in-wait lark again."
"Oh well," Sandy kept her gaze on the table-top, though a quirky smile might have been noticed on the corners of her lips, by anyone interested enough to look—and there was one such present. "that gives me the chance t'make my decision, then."
"Decision, dear?" Joanna gazing with a knowing grin at the woman she loved before all else in the world. "What may that be, if I may enquire?"
Sandy twiddled a silver fork which had somehow escaped from the late banquet of several days ago, pretending to an innocence both knew to be entirely illusory.
"Whether t'fall into bed an' sleep fer a week, you're appetites notwithstandin'; or t'call fer the cook t'bring the remains o'that gorgeous plum-duff up from his galley, so's I can pig out on it like a good 'un. Decisions, decisions. Can ye help at all, lover?"
It took Joanna all of a second and a half to answer her partner's difficulty.
"T'hell with the plum-duff. The bed's there in the corner; an' were ye never told by yer ol' governess it's impolite t'sleep alone? Fact, madam, plain fact."
"Hmm, who can I invite, then, to join me in my slumbers?" Sandy gave a perfect impression of looking around a packed ballroom. "Oh, Joanna? Well, milady, will ye do me the honour o' accompanyin' me t'this soft feather-bed an' whilin' away the hours in pleasant discourse, quiet contemplation, or—whatever?"
"Whatever, sounds jest the thing, darlin'." Joanna rounded the table in an instant, gathering the lighter Sandy into her arms, kissing her passionately at the same time, an accomplishment she had honed to a fine art. "Here's the bed, here's you, an' here's me. This side; or the other, against the ship's frame, lover?"
"You're the Captain, dear; your decision."
Another 'Captain Clayton, Pirate', story will follow shortly.