'Quest For The San Jacinto'
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, the Caribbean Sea. The Pirate Queens attempt to find and capture a Spanish Treasure Galleon.
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.
The San Jacinto, Spanish Treasure Galleon, left Cartagena on the 3rd of the month; by the 5th of the same month it was spoken by a passing brig in the central wastes of the Caribbean Sea heading for Martinique, its stopping-off port before facing the long Atlantic run to Spain. It not arriving at Fort-de-France, Martinique on the appointed day, a series of frigates and galleons were sent in search of it. On the 15th of the same month word publicly circulated around the Caribbean Sea that the treasure galleon had been lost, though because of the generally settled weather across the whole area at that time suspicions and theories as to its fate abounded. On the 20th of this same month a Short Council of the Pirate Brotherhood, comprising 5 Pirate Captains, met in the Public Room of the 'Jolly Carter' Inn, Cayona, Tortuga, to discuss the matter.
"No, Captain Anstruther, from what can be deduced the weather was calm and steady at the time, in that area."
Thus young Thomas Gargieston, newly appointed Secretary to the Brotherhood, the last holder of the title having unexpectedly resigned his commission a few weeks earlier.
"Humph, so, we're thinkin', are we, she didn't sink wi' all on board, includin' her pretty cargo?" Captain Anstruther was a large, powerful baritone man, with decided opinions. "Run aground on a reef somewhere, then?"
"If she didn't sink there, wherever, as a result, why haven't the Frenchies or Spaniards found her yet?" Captain Charles Darlington, middle-aged in thought as well as body, hummed and hawed, as was his invariable wont, over the petty details. "My opinion, she's been taken over by mutineers an' skulked off t'some pre-arranged hidey-hole, where the mutineers are presently, as we speak, dividin' the booty between themselves."
"A possibility, no doubt; but there's a deal o' doubt hangin' over that theory, all the same." Captain Porter Robinson, mid-fifties, and an experienced pirate shook his heavily bearded head. "It would need dam' near the whole crew, includin' a majority o' the officers t'accomplish that; an' I'm not acceptin' it—the Spaniards standin' altogether too much on their sense o' Honour an' gentlemanly dignity, to go for such a course. No, whatever happened was physical in form."
"How d'ye mean?" Captain Henry Kelly, early thirties, tall, thin-faced, handsome, not a generally well-liked pirate, and always and entirely out for his own good above all else. "Thought we'd discounted hurricanes or running on a reef?"
"I'm thinkin' more o' a shattered rudder, or maybe a lost mast." Robinson nodded wisely, as if this explanation was all that was necessary to him at least.
"Well, perhaps; but what d'ye think, Captain Clayton?"
During this lengthy morning meeting, while the other captains had argued amongst themselves over the erudite details of a wealth of ever more obscure or imaginative theories, Joanna Clayton, Captain of the pirate barque Amazon, had kept her silence, mainly. Now, sitting beside her constant companion and lover Sandy Parker, she stirred and spoke up.
"Everyone calls the San Jacinto a galleon, but what was it, actually?"
"Ye knows these dam' Spaniards." Anstruther spoke with the authority and ingrained opinion of his years. "They allus uses those dam' huge ungainly seventy-gun galleons—like something out'ta the ol' Armada."
"Well, not necessarily." Here Captain Kelly, broke in, rubbing his chin. "I asked, some six month since a, er, friend, to make some enquiries on jest this subject—what is a Spanish galleon, or treasure ship, really? Turns out those Armada behemoths, as Anstruther rightly calls 'em, are more or less obsolete. They mostly uses more up-to-date vessels nowadays; more in the line of American or British or French frigates and raters. I believes the San Jacinto was in fact, or still is hopefully, somewheres, what we'd call a second-rate ship o' the line—forty guns or thereabouts, ship-rigged, with the usual gun-decks an' broadsides o' mainly eighteen's an' twenty-fours."
A short silence followed, as everyone digested this interesting news. Obviously, as at least two other of the pirates present were thinking to themselves, it paid to do your homework.
"In that case things are lookin' up, even perhaps rosy." Sandy joined the discussion, her input always being treated with respect by her co-pirates. "We won't need to form a fleet to go after a ship o' that nature. It'd take at least three, maybe four, of our own ships to engage a true Spanish seventy-gun galleon; but any one o' us, or maybe two, could take on a forty-gun ship at a pinch."
"Recallin', too, the fact that Spanish gun trainin' is notoriously awful." Joanna adding fuel to the fire now beginning to burn behind the eyes of all the male contingent around the table. "With luck, good weather, good timing, and the heart to take the fight to 'em, one o' us could take the San Jacinto, I'm thinkin'."
Another pause, this one imbued with the near physical strain on various faces as they thought about what this piece of news might entail for each individually.
"Are ye sayin', Captain Clayton, with the San Jacinto bein' smoked as a ordinary forty-gun rater, we can each of us go out, attempt t'find the dam' vessel, an' engage it ourselves—takin' all profits an' loot in'ta our own hands alone?" Captain Robinson, by his tone, could hardly himself believe such luck. "Well, well."
"Jest that, lads." Joanna nodded as she rose, holding out an assisting hand to her paramour. "So, thanks to Captain Kelly's excellent spy-work, we knows the San Jacinto's within the grasp o' any one o' us. So, I declares here an' now it's open day on said vessel. He, or she, who tracks her t'her lair, captures her, an' grabs the treasure in her hold, can look to themselves alone, an' good luck to 'em, sez I. Time I was leavin' yer, boys; things, er, t'do. 'Bye, all. Come on, Sandy."
"On yer heels, lady, on yer heels."
Three days later the Amazon found itself in the empty heart of the Caribbean. Most people, knowing of the many islands associated with the famous Sea believe you cannot sail a hundred yards in any direction without bumping into one sort of island or another; but the reality is vastly different. For the most part the Caribbean Sea is an empty waste; encircled by islands, yes, with the coast of the Spanish Main to west and south; but the majority of the central ocean, for it is such, is simply open water for hundreds of miles all round the solitary sailor.
In those few days much had taken place on the pirate barque; the crew had been given details of what they were about, and had for the most part whole-heartedly fallen in with Joanna's plans. Joanna herself had given out to Sandy she meant to head for, of all places, the Anegada Passage north of the Leeward Islands; Sandy here violently disagreeing, she seeing no reason to depart from the announced information the San Jacinto had been heading for Martinique and so should be looked for in that direction; Joanna having had to argue her point with some vehemence.
"What ye got'ta remember, lady, is the San Jacinto was in the middle o' the Sea, the last time anyone spoke it."
"It was supposedly headin' fer Martinique." Joanna spelt out her thoughts carefully. "In a perfect world she'd have made Fort-de-France there in two, maybe three, days—"
"—but she didn't; she's lost somewhere amongst the Windward Islands, fer my bettin'."
"That's where everyone's gone wrong, doll." Joanna shook her head, sure of her stance. "Ye ferget the prevailin' winds."
"What about the bloody prevailin' winds, lover?" Sandy, as it were, all at sea on this topic.
"From where she was last seen, if she had suffered some sort of sail or rudder problem, the Jacinto would've been swept nor'-east, somewhere's in the vicinity o' St Maartens." Joanna grinned encouragingly, anxious to have her point accepted. "Making land in that sort'a area, d'ye see?"
"St Maartens?" Sandy utterly unconvinced.
"Or maybe Saba, St Eustatius, St Kitts; that sort'a region."
The ensuing silence, while Sandy thought about it, allowed the creaking voice of the barque to enter the cabin like a living being; the groan of the bulkheads as the weight of the seas eternally pushed against them; the creak of the decks as forces bent and strained them; the louder creaking of the multitudinous ropes, hawsers, sheets, and rigging all across the ship, and that loud dry cracking of canvas as the sails bore the vessel on its way across the whitecaps and deep blue waters of the famous Sea.
"Alright," Sandy still sounding less than impressed by her lover's mental processes. "Let's get this straight; against all sane judgement, an' simply because ye has a hunch, ye're gon'na take us in exactly the opposite direction t'that everyone else out on this treasure hunt is aimin' fer?"
"An' ye're basing this on a conclusion ye've made about the, er, prevalence o' prevailin' winds in that area at that particular time, in the past?"
"—er, ye make it sound like I've lost my mind, dear?"
Another significant pause here, finally bringing Joanna's famous temper to the fore.
"Oh, stow it, doll; d'ye take me fer an idiot—an' don't even think o' answerin' that." Joanna frowned darkly, though with not much obvious effect on her interlocutor. "The San Jacinto came t'grief, of unknown nature, somewhere in the middle o'the Caribbean; she didn't make the Windwards, in any condition, or the Spaniards an' Frenchies'd've found her, or traces of her, by now. Ergo, as the scholars say, because of the winds she made her way northerly, t'the Leewards."
"If she didn't simply sink, an' be dammed t'her—somewhere out in these deep wastes; where even you, lover, will never find her." Sandy being sniffy in response to her lover's attitude.
"She hasn't sunk." Joanna grinned broadly, putting a hand on that of her loved compatriot. "She's sittin' in some bay somewhere's in amongst the Leewards, awaitin' our arrival, that's all."
"God, Pirate Queens, I don't know." Sandy, returning the pressure of her partner's hand ten-fold, gave up the argument with a shrug. "Fine, fine; we do it your way. What's the course, so's I can go on deck an' give Thomson the glad tidings?"
"That's my gal." Joanna rose with a chuckle. "C'mere first, gal, kisses before orders, y'know."
"Oh, pressies, that's nice—mmm."
The Amazon during the next couple of days sailed well south of Hispaniola and Puerto Rico, though still traversing the northern part of the central empty reaches of the Caribbean Sea. A day later, on a breezy but sunlit morning with deep blue water stretching from horizon to horizon, things began to go a little awry for the pirate treasure hunters.
"On deck there, d'ye hear?" The main topmast-top lookout showing he didn't sleep at his station all the time. "Sail on the horizon port quarter, royals high, black flag."
Joanna had her spyglass to her eye in an instant, as she and Sandy stood by the quarterdeck bulwark.
"Can't see anythin', must be too far off yet." Joanna sniffed pensively, frowning over the problem. "Sandy, can ye get up t'the main topmast-top? Take the glass."
"Yeah, I can manage; see ya."
Joanna's question had been necessitated because of the state of her paramour's hands. Some couple of years since Sandy had, through no fault of her own, been standing too close to a keg of gunpowder which had taken it into its head to blow-up unexpectedly. The resulting burns had seriously scarred Sandy's hands; from which time she had worn soft chamois leather gauntlets in public, and had found some difficulty in such activities as scaling the masts—though gradually regaining most of the strength and grip in her hands as time went by.
The main topmast-top was, still, some considerable way aloft, and Sandy took her time, watched anxiously by several more than just her paramour on the quarterdeck—she being a well-liked pirate, as pirates go. Finally she made the safe haven of the relatively wide top, enclosed on either hand by the soaring topmast shrouds. Another couple of minutes studying the point of interest on the far horizon, and she was ready to report; the lookout she had partially superceded having stood to the port side of the top, clutching the shrouds there, giving his superior room to maneouvre.
"Well, Jackson, looks like we're in fer some fine larks, if'n I'm not mistaken." She glanced at the man, dressed in heavy canvas trousers and a blue cotton jersey. "Got yer own spyglass? Yeah, great. Keep a good look-out; things ain't but goin' ter get more interestin'."
Stepping over to the starboard side of the top she grabbed the shrouds there, shifted her booted feet to get a good grip, then leaned out over the top's edge to look down to what seemed the incredibly distant quarterdeck below; or at least that part she could discern between the spreading canvas of the fore-and-aft rigged mizzen.
"Ho, deck there, d'ye hear?" Sandy's voice was a couple of tones deeper than Joanna's, especially when she wanted it to travel effectively. "It's a large barquentine, white canvas on the foremast square-sails, an' grey sails on the fore-an'-aft rigged main an' mizzen. Black pirate flag on the main royal, with a long orange pennant below. It's Captain Henry Kelly's 'Arethusa'."
A couple of minutes later back on the firm, if swaying, terra firma of the quarterdeck Sandy consulted with Joanna.
"What in hell's Kelly doin' out here?" Joanna, from the first, was suspicious. "He ain't got no reason ter be here—he ought'ta be down Martinique way, along with the other losers, tryin' t'find the Jacinto where we know it ain't."
"It's obvious, darlin'." Sandy could still see the trees clearly, even though the forest was in the way. "He's of the same opinion as you on it's whereabouts, an' I'm bettin' findin' you here's jest gon'na strengthen his decision that he was right. We ain't gon'na get rid o' him easy, y'know. Got a plan?"
"Idiot." Joanna took time to punch her sarcastic second-in-command lightly on her shoulder. " 'course I ain't got a plan; we don't really know what in hell Kelly wants yet, does we?"
"There's that, certainly." Sandy expressed her distrust with curled lips and a nasty gleam in her eye. "Bet it ain't jest t'wish us bon voyage, an' may the best pirate win, though."
Half a glass later things began to seriously go downhill.
"Ho, on deck there." The tone of the main topmast-top lookout sounded full of suspicion, even at this distance from the quarterdeck. "Barquentine's hull-up, now—maindeck's been cleared fer action. I can see the lay o' the deck, an' it's fitting's, as clear as day—he's readyin' fer action."
"Oh, f-ck it."
"Beat t'quarters, if ye please."
"Aye, aye, ma'am."
"We gon'na have a fight, ye think?"
"Maybe, Sandy, maybe." Joanna stood, watching the frenetic activity going on all round the two women. "Kelly, as ye well know, ain't t'be trusted, even with his own grandmother, I've no doubt."
"I'm with ye on that, darlin'."
"So we prepares fer the worst, meanin' t'beat the b-st-rd at his own game afore he realises he's been smoked." Joanna bared her teeth in a bloodthirsty snarl. "If'n he's about t'play dirty he'll find I can be dirtier than he any dam' day. Thomson, chain-shot fer the eighteen's, grapeshot fer the first broadside o' the twenty-fours, then roundshot; an' load the port thirty-two with cannister."
"Aye, aye, ma'am."
The Amazon, under Joanna's command, had an unusual gun arrangement; on the maindeck were eighteen pounders, on the lower gundeck, twenty-four pounders, except for the central gun in each broadside which was a single enormous thirty-two. This last only ever being fired on its own, never as part of an inclusive broadside. The point with the thirty-two was its greater range and heavier weight of ball; a single ball, even coming in at long range, could still wreak general havoc on its target. At much closer range, primed with cannister, it could wipe clean half a maindeck with one blast.
"My thinkin's Kelly won't parley, or pretend friendly chat." Sandy, having a suspicious and devious mind herself, could perceive the same in an opponent without trouble. "He'll probably make friendly gestures, till we've allowed him t'get close-in, then blast us with a broadside."
"Jest what I think." Joanna was still intent on the preparations going forward on the maindeck; the various gun-crews hauling their guns back, tightening the binding-ropes, loading with efficiency and speed, and generally showing their expertise from long practice. "Sandy, let's get off the quarterdeck, down on the maindeck. We can stand under the lee of the quarterdeck—give us some protection if the b-st-rd lets rip with grapeshot."
Suiting her words to action the women swiftly slid down the ladder to the maindeck, positioning themselves close in under the shadow of the quarterdeck behind their backs. Standing by the starboard bulwark, they were now as safely positioned as might be, considering what was likely to go down in the next few minutes.
"Why's Kelly so determined to join in action with us?"
"Probably thinks one less pirate is one less way needed to split the treasure."
"But he'll certainly suffer casualties, even if he were to come out successful." Sandy could see both sides of the problem. "Won't that hinder him to excess? I mean, he hasn't found the bloody San Jacinto, yet."
"You've had a penny-worth or two more experience o' him than I." Joanna gave her partner a long stare. "What d'ye think his, umm, mental processes might be, in a situation like the present?"
Sandy gave this question some thought, taking her time. She had, in her hot youth, sailed on one voyage with Henry Kelly, and still suffered the odd nightmare as a result—Kelly often engaging in activities, with prisoners, that would have made the late François L'Olonnais himself blush for shame.
"Kelly ain't a man ye'd like as a dinner-guest, bed-partner, or especially as someone ye meets in the middle o' the night, down a dark alley." Sandy spoke with an underlying iciness. "His first an' foremost thought is always fer himself, an' dam' his crew. His second thought is always, how much is he gon'na make, an' how can he defraud his partners o' their fair shares. His third thought is always, how really nasty can he be t'survivors, prisoners, or anybody else comin' under his control—an', believe me, he can be really nasty; far beyond yer worst nightmares."
"So I believe." Joanna nodded, taking note of her lover's white face and nervous twitching hands, under their gauntlets. "So, yer tellin' me, hit him first, 'cause he's dam' well gon'na hit us whilst we ain't lookin'?"
"Dam' straight, sister."
"Right, that's jest exactly what we does." Joanna nodded again, her mind made up. "One less pirate, especially him, I'm thinkin', won't be much missed by the rest o' the Brotherhood. Let's do it."
"She can sail a mite closer to the wind than we can." Sandy, standing by the maindeck bulwark gazing over the ever-decreasing distance between the two vessels, was enumerating the possible advantages of each. "We've got two gundecks, though; whilst he's only got his maindeck."
"But it's relatively longer than our'n." Joanna knew the technicalities of the ships, too. "Which means he's carryin' a larger number of guns in each broadside, making fer a heavier load o'shot each time he fires."
"Supposedly he ought'ta be a touch snappier in runnin' before the wind, an' carryin' out maneouvres; but I'd like t'see him try, when most o'his crew's taken up with firin' their own guns, or dodgin' the shot from ours." Sandy here, envisaging the likely result, bared her teeth in something only distantly related to a smile. "How about ticklin' his ribs with a broadside o' chainshot? Take out maybe one o' his masts? That'd shake the b-st-rd up."
"Sandy, dear heart, ye has an evil mind."
"Should dam' well hope so, or I'm in the wrong trade, lover."
A couple of minutes later the climax was nearing. Kelly had turned his barquentine slightly into the wind and was sliding up towards the heavier bulkier barque, obviously with the intent of running more or less in tandem, perhaps half a cable or less away. The perfect distance for an innocent vessel to speak another out in the wastes of the ocean; but also the perfect distance if you were a pirate, guns heavily loaded and trained on your victim, jostling for just that exact position where your unexpected broadside would do most damage.
And now it became clear to the crew of the Amazon that the main topmast-top lookout had read the signs correctly. There is something about the crew positioning on a vessel that tells an experienced sailor exactly what the Captain of a vessel is up to at any one particular moment. Now, it was clear to Joanna, Sandy, and everyone else on the barque, that Kelly had indeed cleared for action; his gun-crews serving their guns, the sail-crews at their stations by shrouds or on the fore yardarm, and a general air of settling in for something far from a merely friendly exchange of polite gossip.
"He's gon'na give us another couple o' minutes, so's he can get right in line with us, an' a touch closer." Joanna now the professional fighter, her logical mind ticking like a well-oiled timepiece. "Thomson, when I gives the signal rake his deck with the port twenty-fours', then reload with ball after the grapeshot. Also, send a lad down below t'tell Railles t'fire the starboard thirty-two after that broadside, aimin' towards the stern deck o'the barquentine; then t'reload with ball an' fire again, at his hull forrard near the bows. Got that?"
"Aye, aye, ma'am."
"An' we'll finish with the maindeck eighteens'?" Sandy dancing from foot to foot in her excitement, dearly loving the energy activated in her whole frame by an oncoming battle. "Should take out at least one o' his masts; hopefully the fore, that'll do most damage, an' slow him the worst. If'n he sinks, any thoughts o' aidin' survivors?"
"Nah. We got places t'be, an' little time t'get there."
"That's what I thought, lover." Sandy took this complacently, being an old hand in the piracy lark. "Heigh-ho."
And then the culmination of all this preparation, on both sides, arrived. Thomson, standing by the hatchway to the lower gundeck, glanced at Joanna. She, in her turn, gave the distant barquentine under its spread of grey and white canvas one last searing look, and nodded to her quartermaster. Thomson turned and made a wide hand gesture to someone out of sight below—then the first broadside bellowed out from the Amazon.
As usual all guns did not fire as one, but in a rolling line from stem to stern, with perhaps a second between each gun. This always, somehow, seeming to only increase the billowing white acrid gunpowder smoke and fumes, as a large spreading cloud enveloped the port side of the barque.
"Oh God, I love the smell of gunpowder in the morning." Sandy, ecstatic, raising her arms in the air in blatant glee.
A full broadside of grapeshot, fired from a battery of well-aimed twenty-fours', is something not to be ignored, even if so desired; and over on the barquentine the crew certainly found they could not overlook the incoming waves of seething lead projectiles, as large, or small, as pistol balls; scything through the air in clouds of hundreds, tightly packed together—like a vast swarm of deadly bees. It had been known for a man to be torn literally to shreds when hit full-on by such a broadside, leaving nothing behind but a stain on the deck; this, or something nastily similar if not ten times worse, is what now took place across the long deck of the Arethusa, its bulwarks not being anywhere near as strong or sturdy as its attacker's.
But it was by no means a perfect broadside, because of the rise and fall of the waves the guns had fired more or less on an uproll, allowing most of the barquentine's deck to miss the main blast of grapeshot, which instead played havoc with the fore-and-aft sails of the main and mizzen-masts. There was a short pause, which could in no way be called silent, then another single boom bellowed forth from the lower gundeck as the mighty thirty-two let fly.
Cannister, grapeshot of a larger calibre and more contained and closely packed, is guaranteed to cause wholesale disaster at its impact point. Although only from one gun the cloud of lead balls, on reaching the Arethusa, had spread widely. They hit towards the rear and stern of the long maindeck of the barquentine; this time, because they had been aimed lower, causing more damage than the previous broadside, at least amongst the gun-crews. Bits of the bulwark could be seen ripping apart and flying into the air all along the side of the vessel; a sort of misty cloud rolled along the opposing ship's deck as the cannister shot ripped through everything, human or material, in their way. At one point, beside a shattered length of bulwark, a dark stain needing no explanation could be seen flooding down the ship's tumblehome.
Although there followed an appreciable pause while the thirty-two was reloaded with ball, time seemed to speed past for those concerned; so it was that the second enormous blast as the thirty-two fired again seemed to come hot on the heels of its first discharge. This time, Railles being a master-gunner long run from the British Royal Navy, the huge ball made visible impact close to the barquentine's starboard bow low near the waterline; causing a huge explosion of wooden fragments and a cloud of fine dust as it hit and penetrated the hull, to do untold and unseen damage within.
As all this was going on Joanna had kept a careful eye on both her own sails and Sandy, who was in charge of the ordering of the maindeck and gun-crews of the eighteens'; Joanna now waving her arm to Sandy in the signal for the sail-crew to haul the sails round to close with their battered opponent. At this moment there came a distant roaring blast, quickly followed by a searing high-pitched scream of tortured air as a broadside of grapeshot swept across the Amazon, return fire from their opponent. But it had been fired in haste, without due direction from authorities otherwise engaged if, indeed, still alive to give any such orders. The majority of the hellish clouds of small lead balls tore through the rigging and lower mainsails, doing not too much serious damage. On deck only a handful of crewmen, four at most, fell to the deck screaming in agony—those who still could do so.
"Sandy? Right, we're close enough now; fire the eighteens', give 'em a taste o' chain-shot—that should wake 'em up."
Taking the command of her Captain at her word Sandy raised her arm, held it high for all the gun-crew captains along the side of the maindeck to see, then swiftly dropped it to her side. Immediately all the port eighteen's fired, so close together they sounded like one continuous blast. Again the deck was enveloped in thick rolling clouds of gunpowder smoke with its characteristic throat-catching smell. Then this swept to starboard to reveal, across the intervening waves, the result of the broadside.
Chain-shot, two cannonballs connected by a short length of loose but strongly interlinked iron chain, have the propensity to cut anything, or anyone, they meet in flight completely in two—not a sight to linger on, when observed at close quarters whilst under other heavy incoming fire yourself. Being strongly linked, and containing great impetus, chain-shot can also tear great chunks out of a lower mainmast as if it were made of cheese; always supposing it didn't simply cut right through the entire thickness of the mast, bringing it down on deck or overboard like a mighty oak falling in a forest.
When the smoke of the latest broadside had cleared enough Joanna and Sandy could finally observe the results of their unexpected attack on Henry Kelly's Arethusa; and it was highly encouraging. Great swathes of the barquentine's port bulwark, from bow to stern, had been battered into fragments, or were missing entirely. At least two of its complement of twenty-fours had been dismounted; and, greatest victory of all, the square-rigged foremast had fallen to port, partly over the foredeck but mostly overboard, its broken lower mast still sticking up in the air caught amongst the twisted rigging, its torn end towering over the foredeck still; the whole disaster now making a strewn field of wreckage, broken upper masts and yardarms, torn sections of sails, and a mish-mash of assorted rigging and broken shrouds. The vessel had come to a complete halt, obviously seriously damaged.
Sandy walked across to her paramour with a light step and a wide grin.
"Looks like ye've done fer her, an' no mistake." She almost dancing in delight as she regarded the distant mayhem. "The foremast over the side; what a g-dd-m mess; the bulwarks shot t'sh-t; wounded an' dead in bloody swathes; beautiful, jest beautiful."
Joanna returned her partner's glance with a raised eyebrow, but without other reply; then fell to taking command of the situation, after the fight.
"Well, that's done fer Kelly, if'n he's still in the land o' the livin'."
"Ha, anyway, we seem t'have weathered the fight without too many wounded." Joanna looking up and down her ship's maindeck, taking note of everything. "No real damage to rigging or masts; few wounded; no dead, I'm thinkin'; yeah, we did well."
Sandy, too, had been observing the scene of battle.
"Hey, look. Is she sinkin'?" She shaded her brow with a raised gauntleted hand. "Seems a trifle lower by the bow than she ought'ta be. An' is she listin' t'port a mite, think ye?"
Joanna took time to gaze over the sparkling whitecaps before replying.
"Ye're right, lady, she's goin' down. Dammed if I can imagine why, though. We only fired grape, chain, an' cannister. Oh, yeah, the thirty-two's ball; must congratulate Railles, he's a fine gunner."
"It's the foremast overboard that's done fer her." Sandy had deduced the underlying fault. "The heavy wreckage's still attached t'the bows, by the remains o' the lower mast an' the rigging shrouds, haulin' the ship over a trifle; an' some o' their lower ports are open, anyway, lettin' the sea in. That, along with the hole caused by the thirty-two's all that was needed."
"Always knew Kelly was a fool at heart." Joanna now herself fully understanding what had ocurred. "He must'a had those ports ready open, with gangs o' boarders below decks waitin' to swarm quickly through 'em an' up our tumblehome; overwhelming us before we knew what'd hit us. Bloody idiot, he's jest done fer himself, is all. Yeah, see, she's surely goin' down, an' no mistake?"
The bows of the shattered Arethusa were now so deep in the water the bulwark was almost at sea level; the whole deck canting to starboard in an awful manner. In another instant those on the Amazon could hear distant cries, amidst the horrible tearing of wooden equipment as the remaining main and mizzen-masts broke-up under the strain. Then the stern rose a few feet out of the water, showing the line of the rudder, before the whole ship lay down on its beam-ends, maindeck vertical, like a vast long wooden wall. There was a burst of bubbling white water, an eerily sustained groaning scream as of the death cries of a vast roaring Kraken, and it was gone, leaving only a wide undulating field of broken wreckage behind.
"So, there we are." Sandy observed the tragic scene with all the humanity and sadness of a seasoned pirate—which wasn't a great deal. "What about survivors?"
"F-ck 'em." Joanna, also being too hardened and experienced a hand in the pirating line to hold much, if any, sorrow for her victims. "They chose o' their own free will t'follow bloody Kelly; let 'em follow him t'Davy Jones', too. Thomson?"
"Haul us round, headin' two degrees t'port; we got a date with St Maartens I don't wan'na miss."
"Aye, aye, ma'am."
Another day's sailing through calm seas and fine weather, with stiff but steady breezes, eventually found the Amazon lying off the southern coast of St Maartens; she having made landfall, at least by sight of the topmast lookouts, that morning. But all was not as the pirates hoped; standing well back in the offing, so the Amazon was hardly visible from the coast, Joanna took stock of her destination from the main royal crosstrees, Sandy crouching precariously by her side.
"Two Dutch frigates." The tone in Joanna's voice said it all. "Anchored jest off the long sandy beach. Simpson's Bay, I believe it's called. Seems t'be nuthin' but sand fer miles in each direction. The frigates look like thirty-two's; an' she's there, right enough—I can see the San Jacinto clear as day; she's beached, like a bloody whale, right up on the wide shelving sand. Tide must be out, I reckon, I can see her copper sheathing an' keel, though she's sittin' upright. Masts alright, sails hauled up, no visible sign o' damage. She's bein' guarded by the Dutch Navy, dammit. Here, take a look."
Sandy inched round carefully, making sure of her footing as she made herself more comfortable, there being no room to spare on the royal crosstrees. After a long examination of the far distant coastline she lowered the spyglass and glanced at her partner with a gloomy frown.
"Here, y'can have the spyglass back, lady." Sandy shook her head sadly. "Have another look at those big groups o' people on either side of the Jacinto, further up the beach near the tree-line. See the rows of tents? They're a bloody regiment o' Dutch soldiers, or I'm a Chinaman. If y'harboured any thought o' a frontal attack, or an attack o' any bloody sort, we'd be fightin' the Dutch Army, as well as the bloody Dutch Navy. Is it true, about the Dutch Navy's gunnery?"
"They can hit a blackbird at three hundred yards with a single twenty-four pound shot, so I've heard; or take yer thumb off with an eighteen-pounder ball at two hundred yards, if so minded." It was Joanna's turn to sound melancholic. "Ye're right, lover; we attack that set-up an' we'll be sunk fer sure, or be overwhelmed by the scores o' soldiers there if we makes a beach landin'. They've got the legs on us, an' no mistake."
As usual Sandy came up with the only question of moment in the present position.
"So, what about a plan, dear heart?"
Joanna viewed the distant prospect through the lens of her spyglass for some further seconds before lowering it again to regard her partner.
"There ain't no plan; at least, fer takin' our attack any further forrard." She shook her head, baring her teeth in a silent snarl. "No future in tryin' t'storm that bloody military outpost on the beach; they're too well organised fer that t'have any hope o' success. The only plan is, we can go home, with our tails between our legs."
"Pretty much, yeah."
As a Homeward-bounder the Amazon left a lot to be desired; the crew being morose to the point of arguments, fallings-out, and general discontent; for Joanna and Sandy it meant spending the larger part of their day in attempting to dissipate or at least hold this general air of disappointment in check.
On the second day of their return journey towards Tortuga their luck, however, changed—though they didn't recognise this at first.
"Ho, deck there, sail on the port bow." The fore-topmast top lookout earning his midday mug of grog. "Royals high, flyin' a black flag; think it's a fair-sized brigantine. Wait, on deck there,—there's—there's—yeah, it's flyin' a short yellow pennant on the fore-royal."
"Who's that, again?"
"—er, lem'me think." Joanna frowned over the problem, as the women stood on the quarterdeck. "Nah, can't recall, dammit. Ho, Thomson?"
"Black flag, medium-sized brigantine; yellow fore-pennant—who's that?"
"—aah, that'd be—yeah, that's Captain Killaird Mathews, ma'am. Pal o' Henry Kelly, dam' him, so's I've heard."
"Is that so?" Sandy turned an enquiring eye on her paramour. "Well, well, d'ye think there's any profit t'be had in speakin' the moron?"
"Won't delay us overmuch, I suppose." Joanna nodded, accepting her partner's suggestion. "Thomson, lay us on a tack t'intercept the brigantine, an' roll out the eighteen's, jest t'be safe, as it were."
"Aye, aye, ma'am."
An hour later the two ships lay within quarter of a cable of each other, the Amazon having come up and circled the smaller brigantine to now sail along on its port beam well within hailing distance.
Captain Mathews, though obviously having noted Joanna's warlike preparations, had affected not to have noticed.
"Fine seeing ye here, Captain Clayton, ma'am." Mathews being famously treacly by nature, bellowing through a long horn. "Hopes yer having a fine time o' it, by an' large. Tell me, have ye spoke the Arethusa recently? I'm on a v'yage to intercept Captain Kelly in a day or two."
The fact that, like every other pirate across the whole extent of the Caribbean Sea, Mathews knew full-well what Joanna was up to, was let pass unregarded. It was the fact that Mathews had business with Kelly that took Joanna's interest.
"If ye hove-to, an' come across in yer jolly-boat, Captain Mathews, perhaps we can have a crack over a glass o' rum?" Joanna searching for an opening to interrogate the man, for whatever secrets he held dealing with Henry Kelly's recent activities.
Ten minutes later Joanna, accompanied by Sandy, sat alongside Captain Mathews in her large airy stern cabin at the long oak table, rum and biscuits on silver platters before their guest.
"Some long time since we last met fer a chat, I'm thinkin'?"
"Can't recall as we've ever met, Captain Mathews." Joanna pouring him a hefty goblet of dark rum. "But there's always a first time, as the orange-seller maid said t'the King, eh?"
"Ha-ha." Captain Mathews tittered, amused by this satirical remark. "It's a wide Sea, the Caribby; I was supposin' ye were somewhat further south, headin' fer Martinique fer, er, fer purposes o' yer own, ma'am?"
"Oh, Sandy an' I gets about, Captain." Joanna smiling with no warmth whatever. "An' you? In the middle o' nowhere here, seemingly, goin' who knows where, eh?"
Here Mathews, unsuccessfully nibbling a hard sea-biscuit the while, stared at Joanna through narrowed suspicious eyes,.
"Well, I wouldn't exactly say that, ma'am." He considered the matter some more, abandoning his biscuit meanwhile as a lost cause, clearly wondering how open he should be in present company. "I had a meeting with our friend Captain Henry Kelly, afore we both set out on our present v'yages. He an' I bein', as it were, close chums, to a degree, anyways."
Joanna and Sandy remained silent, letting the loose-tongued pirate speak in his own time.
"He'd recently, as ye'll both know full well, had a good v'yage out by the Caymans." Mathews simpered nastily, he being as sadistic by nature as his acknowledged friend. "As pretty a run o' cutters, caravels, an' schooners, as ye could wish; along with one merchantman, loaded with the year's takings from a large plantation. I havin' some slight involvement in this latter we jest, a few weeks since, planted the takings in the ground fer future reference, d'ye see?"
"As who doesn't, Captain Mathews?" Sandy, at her most unctuous; smelling a tidy profit from leagues away.
Joanna, having watched her guest with all the focus of a hungry salamander born fresh from the fire, took up the conversation.
"An' here's ye sailin' after yer friend to—?"
Again Mathews paused, running a dirty finger round the rim of his silver goblet as he considered the subject; but, being by nature a boastful bully, he couldn't keep his tongue in check, even over such a private secret matter. The impulse to boast in front of these two famous pirates being too much for his weak nature.
"Thirty thousand pieces-o'-eight, ladies." He grinned savagely, and horrifyingly—his teeth being what they were. "In addition t'the other takin's from the various small vessels met with earlier, an' sunk afterwards; say, another twenty thousand pieces-o'-eight. Kelly also told me o' his idea that the San Jacinto was floatin' around somewhere's round St Maartens' way, an' that if I was t'run up this-aways myself, I could have as pretty a finger in the pie as desired, if'n I arrived in time t'lend Kelly a hand. So, here I am, aimin' fer St Maartens'. I hear's ye, yersel's, were on that lay? Changed yer minds, did yer?"
As Mathews had been relaying this gossip, much to the interest of both women, Sandy had risen to ostensibly bring another bottle of rum from the side cupboard near the far bulkhead. This necessitating her walking round behind Mathews' back; he oblivious of his danger. But here, having heard quite enough, she sprang her trap after a glance of confirmation between her and Joanna.
"Nah, but we spoke with Kelly on our way back, Mathews—and sunk the dam' b-st-rd, with all hands."
Mathews took several seconds to digest the import of these words, then realisation of his position seeped into his twisted mind.
"Ye what?" He roared with unrestrained fury, glancing at his hosts as he made a motion to jump to his feet.
But Sandy was ready; whipping a long-bladed dagger from her waist-belt she stepped up behind the rather overweight man before he could get out of his chair, presenting the sharp edge of the weapon's blade, held firmly in a chamois gauntleted hand, to his unprotected throat.
"One move, ye b-st-rd, an' I'll slit yer gizzard like a turkey's, dam' yer."
The silence which now pervaded the cabin reeked of hardly restrained fury and devilishness, Mathews being by nature a man who dearly loved to have undefended victims at his own mercy—of which moral decency he never showed anyone an iota's portion. Now, the boot on the other foot with a vengeance, he was so filled with almost maniacal fury as still not to realise the actual level of his personal danger.
"Ha, ye coupl'a hellbent b-tches." He now losing all control of his feelings, turning red in the face with hatred. "An' what be yer present lay, eh? If'n ye think ye can squeeze the position o' Captain Kelly's, an' my, treasure out'ta me, then think agin', ye b-tches. What're ye gon'na use fer persuasion, eh? Ha-ha."
Sandy glanced at Joanna, who was sitting across the table in her chair regarding her prisoner with a cool detachment; Joanna, in return, now raising her eyes to her lover and giving the slightest of approving nods.
"With this, ladddie."
So speaking Sandy gently turned the edge of her dagger's blade on the smooth skin of Mathews' neck, making him jerk convulsively.
"Sandy's an expert with a knife, Captain Mathews." Joanna spoke in a low controlled tone, as if what she said was of no real import to her, merely a matter unworthy of prolonged comment. "I've seen her do things t'people, with a knife like the one at your throat, that made me run t'the bulwark an' puke, tellin' no lies. If'n I let her loose on yer, right now, I guarantee's ye'll regret it fer the rest o' yer filthy life—supposin' yer survives, at all."
"What we wants ter know, ya useless b-st-rd, is where exactly ye buried this loot from Kelly's rampages." Sandy moved the knife blade along the side of the man's throat again, in a gentle line. "I'm beggin' yer t'tell us straight-out. Otherwise I'll be forced t'show Joanna my skill with edged weapons again—an' I tells yer fer a fact neither you nor Jo will benefit by viewin' such; though I'll have the time o'my life, too true."
Joanna looked at the now sweating man; Mathews looked at Joanna, not being able to see Sandy standing close behind him; Sandy looked from Joanna to her quivering victim; a questioning expression aimed at Joanna vying with a barely visible trembling in her facial muscles boding no good in the immediate future for her victim.
"Dam' yer both t'hell."
Joanna sighed, and nodded quietly to her paramour.
A minute later, outside on the maindeck of the Amazon, the busy crew as one man affected to disregard the awful sustained quavering screams emanating from the direction of the stern cabin.
"That brigantine o' Mathews' didn't put up much of a fight." Sandy, leaning on the bulwark of the quarterdeck later that day, glanced at her partner in piracy. "Two broadsides from our twenty-four's an' down she went."
"Broken-down old tub." Joanna sneered at the recollection. "Would've probably sunk by itself in a matter o' weeks, anyway; we jest hurried it on its way, is all."
"With all hands, y'll recall."
"—'course with all hands." Joana affecting the tone of a disappointed schoolteacher. "What's the profit in leavin' anyone around who also knows the site o' Kelly's treasure; stands t'reason. By the way, that was nasty, what yer did with Mathews, lady. Very nasty, no wonder he sang like a bloody canary hardly before ye'd got started."
"Yeah, sort'a disappointin', all the same—I was jest gettin' my hand in, too." Sandy shrugged nonchalantly. "But, hell, wasn't it fun listenin' t'him scream fer mercy, afterwards, when we tied a thirty-two pound ball to his ankles an' threw him overboard,—ha-ha?"
A short pause ensued, only the normal noises of life on a working pirate vessel catching the ear all round as the crew went about their duties. Then Sandy raised another topic which had points of interest for her.
"Ye know, Jo?—"
Joanna, after waiting a polite length of time, nudged her lover's ribs.
"What, sweetheart? What d' I know?"
"Oh, only that recently we, ourselves ye understand, seem t'have been sinkin', an' generally killin', more pirates than the bloody Royal Navy, or anyone else, come t'that—only sayin'."
"Ha." Joanna laughed, but saw the reality of the question. "Scared we're gon'na get a reputation?"
"Hell, no." Sandy made a rude noise between her lips. "Who cares, as long as we keep rakin' in the pieces-o'-eight, an' golden doubloons, an' whatnot. Say, doll, how many stores o' buried treasure does this make so far, we've been responsible fer?"
"Two, I think. No, three. No, two, I was right the first time—I think, anyways." Joanna gave the subject some more thought. "Say, lover, what if there's a haul somewhere we've forgotten about?"
"Only, I'd want ter know the reason why, dearest; an' I have ways o' makin' people tell me their secrets, as ye saw earlier t'day."
"Oh, I'm quakin' in my boots." Joanna smiled at the woman she loved above all else. "How's about comin' down t'the stern cabin, an' tryin' t'make me remember? Nuthin much'll be happenin' on deck here fer the rest o' the day; an' all this killin's made me tired."
"Har. I'll make yer remember alright, before we're through, love o' my heart; don't ye worry."
"Oh, leave yer dagger behind by the way, doll,—jest sayin'."
The next 'Captain Clayton, Pirate', story will arrive shortly.