'On The Mosquito Coast'
by Phineas Redux
Summary:— Joanna Clayton is Captain of her own pirate ship the 'Amazon', accompanied by her sweetheart Sandy Parker. Time, 171—and something; Place, the Caribbean Sea and fabled Spanish Main itself. The Pirate Queen and her consort are searching for treasure buried by another pirate, now dead.
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 Caratasca Lagoon, on the Mosquito Coast of the Spanish Main, was wide, shallow, full of the insects which had supposedly, but erroneously, given this area of coastline its name, and was reviled as the Kingdom of Yellow Jack fever. Lying off the coast and going ashore for extended periods, to dig holes in the ground, was hardly an activity likely to end well for an ill-assorted bunch of pirates, and it hadn't.
It was the second week of the pirate's endeavours, and they were beginning to fall victim to the general malaise in the tainted air of the locality.
Sandy had just returned in a longboat from transporting the latest sick men to the hastily built receiving camp further along the shore, where they could be kept in isolation, thereby stopping the wild spread of the disease.
"Let's hope there ain't any more."
"Depends how long we stays here, don't it, doll?"
"No, it depends on everyone keeping to the routines we figured out at the start." Joanna Clayton, Captain of the pirate barque Amazon, shook her head determinedly. "As long as we keep those smoking fires burnin' during the day an' evenin', t' ward off the dam' mosquitos; an' the men don't drink the local water without first boilin' it, or bathe in it, we'll have a better chance o' escapin' the fever."
"Suppose ye're right." Sandy, Second-in-Command, accepted the truthfulness of her partner's words with a sigh; it having been a long day. "So, what's the latest series of trenches revealed so far?"
"Dam' all, gal." Joanna sighed on her part, as she looked around at the sprawling camp laid out in a clearing amongst the trees, some way from the beach. "Thomson tells me there's been nary a sign of treasure, plate or coin, all day."
"Layin' the men off fer the day, ducks?" Sandy glanced at the low sun. "Gettin' t'be late afternoon; don't think we've more'n another hour o' daylight left."
"Yeah, better give Thomson the call." Joanna wiped her sweating forehead with a wide red handkerchief. "Ye stayin' in the tent t'night?"
"Uh-huh, I'm fed up spendin' night-watches out on the Amazon, with only a skeleton crew. Dam' all t'do." Sandy nodded in agreement with her lover. "Thomson can send a man t'take my place; I'll bed down in your tent, baby, o'course."
"Many thanks, could do with the company."
An hour later it was indeed pitch dark, the twilight being more or less non-existent. The men carried their digging tools back into camp from the excavation area some quarter of a mile distant through the savannah-like terrain, and settled to making their evening meal, and generally relaxing with song , tall tale, and of course, rampant lying of their many romantic conquests over the years. Sandy and Joanna, seeing everything taken in hand, and the men comfortable, retired to their own tent on the outskirts of the widely spaced camp.
"What's the situation, at the moment then, lover?"
The women were sitting on chests, inside their wide long canvas tent, straw beds to one side and a small low table in the centre. Flaps on the entrance giving them privacy when closed and tied off.
"Well, let's take it from the beginnin' shall we."
"Yeah, why not. Clarify the whole dam' mess."
"Yeah, mess; ye ain't wrong there, lady." Joanna gave a snort of disgust. "Where was I?"
"Jest about t'go over the whole affair, from the start." Sandy, sharp as a tack. "By start, I'm supposin' ye means jest after we'd wheedled the position o' the buried treasure out of Killaird Mathews?"
"Wheedle, well, I've never heard it called that, before."
"What ye threaten'd to do t'him with that knife o'your'n that way, was real nasty, gal, real nasty."
"It got results, didn't it? Without even a drop o'blood spilt, forbye."
"But were they the right results, is what we need t'ask ourselves."
"Under duress Mathews told us where he and Kelly had buried their loot." Joanna ran over the known facts. "But I'm thinkin' now, perhaps in his haste t'stop ye usin' that blade o'yours on him, like ye was intimatin' ye wanted to, he was maybe a little lax with exact details."
"As which, dear?"
"As he said it lay in a large hole dug in the red earth half a league inland in a sou-sou-west direction, startin' from that pile o' stones an' boulders they set near the beach." Joanna paused to rub her chin, looking at her paramour across the flickering candle on the table between them. "We found the boulder-pile marker; we set our compass t'the given direction; we paced out half a league, found the red earth, an' started diggin'—t'no end, so far."
"Yeah, that's the lay o' it, as ye say." Sandy nodded. "So, where've we gone astray?"
"We ain't gone astray; I think Mathews did that, bein' in a agitated frame o' mind at the time, as ye'll well admit, darlin'."
The tent was silent for a few seconds, while Sandy mused over this, clearly not liking the direction the conversation was taking.
"I hopes yer not suggestin', dear heart, that jest because I happened t'be ticklin' his ribs with the point o' my knife at the time, he sort'a mis-informed us o' the treasure's hiding-place; out'ta anxiety t'be somewhere's else?"
"Ye got'ta admit, sou-sou-west, takin' a line from a pile o' boulders half a bloody league off, ain't exactly fine navigation, darlin'?" Joanna raised an eyebrow. "Even though we've found an area o' red earth, like he said would be here, still, the pit he dug could be anywhere within—oh, I don't know, maybe three hundred square acres or so around where we is at present."
"Jeesus, if that's so, we'll never bloody find the treasure." Sandy shook her head, pouring out two glasses of dark rum. "Here soak up some o' this, it'll maybe help t'grease our brains. We need new ideas, that's fer sure. We can't stay here fer ever. Most o' the men'll succumb t'the Yellow Jack, if we stay much more than another week."
"He missed a step out."
"Mathews, when ye were in the act o' describin' exactly what ye intended doin' t'him an' he was puttin' up a fine loud opposition t'the same, missed out one o' the steps t'the treasure—he bein' mighty agitated, an' in a hurry t'make yer stop, er, not start, what ye were takin' so much pleasure in anticipatin' doin', lady—jest sayin', no complaints."
"Huh." Sandy took this apology with a curled lip. "Here's me puttin' my long experience in this sort'a thing t'good use—makin' men talk, when they'd so much rather not. I'm good at that, as ye well knows; an' I was successful, wasn't I? He talked, didn't he?"
"But too fast, by half, don't yer see?" Joanna came to the crux of the matter. "He finally broke, as who wouldn't, considerin' what ye were suggestin' doin' t'him; an' he sang like a bird, an' jest about as fast, if'n ye remembers. I think, in his anxiety, he left out, quite without realisin' the fact, some important detail of the directions t'the treasure-pit. That's why we've gone wrong, so far."
"Ah, like—turn left at the first cocao tree, then take two degrees t'port at the pond with the crocodiles?"
"Somethin' along those lines, yeah."
"Well, how d'we figure out what the direction is, we're lackin'? Can't see how we can second guess a dead man, y'know." Sandy shrugged her shoulders, drinking deep from her glass. "But ye got'ta admit, we are in the general right area, all the same."
"Hopefully." Joanna shook her head again. "Perhaps, but we don't know fer sure. Pity we didn't stop t'pick up any survivors when we sank Mathews' ship; would'a been helpful. Or, perhaps, interrogated Mathews with a little, um, more, er, restraint, d'ye see?"
"No, I don't see." Sandy was having none of this soft talk. "When ye goes t'torture information out'ta someone, ye don't go about it with kid gloves—an' I should know, shouldn't I, dear?"
Here Sandy referred to the soft chamois gauntlets she was still wearing. A couple of years previously she had been standing too close to a small keg of gunpowder which, in the way of these things, exploded without reason or warning. The resulting blast had burned her hands severely, accounting for the fact she now wore gauntlets or gloves in public.
"All I'm sayin' is we might'a twisted more accurate information out'ta him if we'd been jest a trifle less, umm, enthusiastic, is all I'm sayin'." Joanna opened her hands wide, in an imploring manner. "D'ye see? Anyways, it's too late now."
Sandy mumbled something unintelligible, took another pull at her rum, and sighed deeply, clearly deploring the fact that some people, whom she wouldn't name, took a less than positive outlook towards certain expert knowledge she was mistress of.
"Let's change the subject." She glanced up at her lover. "Gon'na switch the area we're diggin' in, tomorrow?"
"I suppose it'd be useful, yeah."
"The problem, Sandy, is where d'we look?" Joanna, next morning, was surveying the site of her crew's frenetic efforts to find the lost treasure. "Look at this; pits all over the place, but no results. Not so much as a single piece-o'-eight."
Sandy adjusted her wide-brimmed straw hat, trying to shade her eyes from the burning sun.
"Which suggests we ain't searchin' in the right area, t'begin with." She waved an arm all round. "How far have our digging operations spread so far? Maybe a hundred yards, square? I'd say it ain't here, if asked."
"Begins t'seem that way, I agrees."
"So, where the dam' is it?"
"Come over here, under this tree, fer shade." Joanna sat on an outcropping flat boulder, leaving room for her paramour. "What we need t'do is go over exactly what Mathews said, that time, under duress. Every bloody word, every sentence, every plea fer ye not t'do what ye were takin' so much pleasure in explainin' ye wanted ter do."
"Oh, thanks, blame me, why not."
"I ain't blaming ye, dear; rather complimentin' ye." Joanna gripped her lover's arm gently. "Ye did what we wanted, ye made the dam'med old soak talk like a canary, which is what we wanted. Jest, now we got'ta remember precisely what it was he told us."
Sandy considered the matter, frowning over her memory of the past events.
"Well, t'start with, while I held my daggger t'his gizzard, ye tied his arms to the sides o' his chair." Sandy smiled as the facts came back to her. "Then we asked him politely t'cut us in on the treasure he was now the sole proprietor of, Kelly bein' dead."
"Yeah, clear so far."
"Then, he expressing discontent with our perfectly reasonable request, I goes ter work, with a will—"
"Jeesus, ye can say that again; nasty."
"—stop interruptin'." Sandy was on a roll. "So I rips his white silk shirt open from gizzard t'waist, thus exposin' the field o' operations, an' sets t'work, hoverin' the point o'my knife over his chest.—"
"Sandy, I'd rather ye didn't go in'ta detail about the, er, details; if ye don't mind." Joanna's expression of mild sickness and a certain paleing of her otherwise relatively dark skin tone, she coming from a mixed-race ancestry, showed how strongly her partner's actions at the time had then affected her. "I'd rather not, ye knows, reflect too deeply on that day's activities."
"Humph." Sandy clearly unhappy at this reaction to her expertise in certain areas. "Oh well, if ye insists. So, after I'd gently skittered over his ribs a while with the point o' my dagger, jest t'get my hand in, ye know,—"
"Oh, alright." Sandy sighed, frowned a moment, then continued. "So, eventually, my threats thataway havin' begun t'make its mark on his consciousness—that I was in cold hard fact maybe gon'na skin the b-st-rd alive, from head t'foot,—an' I would'a taken great delight in attemptin' jest that, Jo; he began t'tell us what we wanted t'hear."
Joanna sat gazing at her partner, wondering how much of what she said was youthful bravado, and how much the truth. Finally, she realised she didn't want to know the answer, for fear of it being the wrong one.
"What did he say, doll, what?"
Sandy grinned, partly from recalling her hard work in the affair, and from bringing the precise facts back to the forefront of her memory.
"Don't, don't, ye b-tch—is what he started with—as ye'd only expect, seein' what I was pretendin' ter threaten him with at that moment—ha-ha."
"Sandy, quit gloatin' over past acts o' sadistic horror, an' get t'the bloody point—what did the b-st-rd say?"
Foiled in her attempt to bring the conversation back to the precise detail of her, er, expertise—Sandy scowled, then returned to the point under discussion.
"He said he'd tell us where the treasure was." She frowned over the details, then her forehead cleared. "At which point he gave us the directions, jest as we've since carried 'em out, Jo. Only—"
"—only, now that I recalls, didn't he mutter something about a large fallen tree, halfway through the savannah, with two branches in the air in the form of a big Vee? Look t'them he muttered, an' through 'em, an' take yer course from there—another three hundred yards, maybe, to the flat area in front o' the high rock outcrop."
"When'd he say that?" Joanna was perplexed. "I never heard him say that?"
"He'd already told us about the general directions, the one's we've followed." Sandy smiled, as of an innocent girl out on a quiet Sunday country walk. "Ye'd stepped aside fer some reason; sounded t'me, if truth be told, as if ye were takin' my threats with my knife against his, ha, intimate person, rather too seriously. I wouldn't really of, y'know—well, probably not. Anyways, I was gettin' on with it', sort'a fiddlin' around at that general area o'his person with the sharp edge o'my knife—jest merely playin' with him, ye understands; enjoyin' the practice, ye knows, t'make sure he'd remembered everything we wanted him t'remember. Possibly ye didn't hear, 'cause of yer, er, temporary indisposition. Don't know why ye reacted thataways, dear, there weren't any blood; but a lot o' bare, er, skin that didn't often see the light o'day, an' the likely possibility, at no great distant point, of a heap o' indescribable pain fer him—I'm good at that; Kelly havin' taught me some nifty tricks with a knife, that time I voyaged with him—a sadistic unhinged maniac, certainly, but he did have his good points. Where was I?"
Joanna took a couple of deep breaths, sighed deeply, then got back to basics.
"Fallen tree, branches in the form of a Vee."
"Ah yes." Sandy nodded, quite at ease with her story. "So, rememberin' it all now, I suppose he meant we should look through these Vee branches, an' head in the direction they indicated till we found this high rock outcrop; the treasure bein' in the ground immediately in front of it. Seems reasonable."
"Would'a been a lot more reasonable if'n ye'd remembered all this about three weeks ago, lady,—jest sayin'."
"Ye never asked, did ye; an' I thought ye'd heard the man whimperin', jest as I did—an' discounted his gibberin' fer the agonised coward's ramblin's I took 'em fer." Sandy here paused to grin in an unimaginably sadistic manner, other memories returning as she pondered on her past actions. "I did, ye remember, take a while, after he'd finished tellin' us what we wanted t'know, t'-er, hone my skills a little further; jest fer the practice, ye understands. Nothin happened, in'course; I simply terrifyin' the livin' horrors out'ta him fer a while longer, jest fer the fun o'the thing. Oh, maybe that was after ye'd gone out the cabin onto the quarterdeck, in rather a hurry, thereby missin' all the fun. Y'know, I finally—"
"Sandy, shut up."
"Oh, alright, if that's what yer wants, dear heart." Sandy not a whit put out; indeed, wondering what all the fuss was about, that her lover was putting forth. "So, where do we go from here? T'the tree with the Vee branches, I expects?"
"Yeah." Joanna crouched over a trifle, putting her hands on her belly and making strange movements with her lips; then she rose suddenly to her feet. "Stay here, doll, I jest got'ta visit the heads a while, feel sort'a sick. Back in a moment."
"Hope it ain't the bloody Yellow Jack, dear?"
"Hell, that'd be the perfect end t'a perfect day, wouldn't it. Excuse me, got'ta go."
"Fine, doll, see ye in a while. Bring a chicken wing back with ye, from the kitchen tent, will ye, I'm feelin' kind'a peckish, lover."
It was the afternoon of the next day when the ellusive fallen tree, with two long bare branches sticking into the air in the form of a widespread V, was finally located; it being more than a mile nor-east of the locale where the pirates had set up their first camp and started digging procedures.
"What in hell's the bloody thing doin' here?" Sandy felt righteously angry, having herself trudged through the long grass and thick undergrowth for hours leading her own search party. "F-ckin' miles away from the sou-sou-west area Mathews told us t' dig in."
"The only explanation is what he meant t'tell us, an' what we thought he told us, got, er, lost in translation."
"Ye'd bin threatenin' unimaginable things t'his ribs at the time." Joanna paused to try and filter the memory from her mind, without success. "I can see ye now, hoverin' over him like a hungry vulture while ye menaced him, remember? Anyways, what he told us seems t'have been a load o' complete sh-t."
"Oh, that's jest great." Sandy stood calf-deep in the grass, regarding the tree, the branches rising about thirty feet into the air in the required formation. "Hopes ter God this's the only fallen tree on this dam'd coast with branches like this."
"So, next problem, the rocky outcrop?"
"Yep." Joanna nodded, regaining some of her usual joie-de-vivre. "Buck-up then, gal; shouldn't be difficult, finding a bloody rocky hill, eh?"
But it was.
Four hours later—
"Jee-sus f-ckin' Christ." Sandy had waved goodbye to the last trace of her good humour, and was also sweating like a pig; the stains on her shirt attesting to this—not to mention the, er, aroma she was now giving-off. "F-ck it, the dam' sea-coast o'Bohemia'd be easier to pinpoint. Damn rocky outcrop be dam'd,—there ain't one; the whole area's as flat as a bloody pancake. What the f-ck are we doin' here, Jo? Sweatin' like dogs; gettin' Yeller Jack left right an' centre; an' strainin' our muscles t'breakin' point diggin' useless holes in the bloody ground; an' fer what? Fer bloody nuthin', that's what."
Joanna wiped her brow with a large red handkerchief, breathing deeply, her own activities over the course of the day having been physically demanding, too.
"This rocky outcrop, that Mathews told ye of, jest describe precisely what he said about it—in between his screams fer mercy, that is; ye may leave them out."
"Are we back t' my bloody expertise with a long knife, again?" Sandy still hadn't recovered her generally calm outlook. "What he said was, look t'the tree with the branches in the form of a high Vee. That's what he said."
"An' the rocky outcrop?"
"Well, hold yer reins a while, lem'me think—what did he say?" Sandy considered the matter, rubbing her chin the while. "I'd jest finished a particularly fine line o' suggestions about what I was gon'na carry out on—"
"Sandy, no details, jest words, thank'ee."
"Oh, please yerself; but ye're missin' some fine handiwork in the petrifyin' line, if'n I sez so myself." Sandy made a moue of discontent, wholly lost on her partner. "He said,—I'm paraphrasing, is that the right word?—he was actually whispering in terror, bein' the low-down coward that he was; it was jest after I'd told him exactly what I was premeditatin' doin' ter—"
"Sandy, what did I jest tell ye?"
"Oh sh-t, alright." Sandy submitted to the constraints of her revered lover, but only temporarily. "He whispered,—an' I could hardly make him out, mind ye, he bein' wholly pale an' listless by this time,—t'look t'the Vee tree branches, an' find the rocks, outcrop, outcrop; that's how he said it—repeatin' himself, d'ye see?"
It took Joanna only a second to see the problem with this suggestion.
"Sandy, now don't over-strain yer intellects, gal—I doesn't want yer doin' yerself an injury." Joanna, when angry, could be cutting. "But it occurs t'me, though obviously not t'ye, that the phrases rocky outcrop, an' rocks, outcrop, outcrop, is not mutually analogous."
"An—anal—where're we goin' here, lady?"
"—comparable, lady, comparable." Joanna could now see with painful clarity. "Rocky outcrops, an' rocks, outcrop, are not the same thing, d'ye see?"
Quite sure of her position now, Joanna resorted to the gentlest of instructive lessons.
"Rocky outcrops can be taken, as we've been led adrift t'think, as small hills, made up generally of bare loose rocks." She looked at her partner, frowning slightly. "Follow me so far?"
"Yeah, I get the picture." Sandy was feeling more and more angry; the fact it was at herself only making her all the more angry. "Go on, dam'mit."
"But, contrariwise, rocks, outcrop, outcrop, is obviously referring to a spread, a field, of rocks an' boulders laid out horizontally across a particular area o'ground." Joanna eyed her frowning companion like a basilisk about to strike. "A rocky field, in fact. An', in the course of our activities, how many such places have we walked across t'day, more'n once, t'get somewhere's else?"
Joana's victory was complete; leaving her victim utterly at bay, defeated.
"Yeah, that place, that one place; how far is it?—about half a mile t'the nor-west. The only spread o'bouldery rocky ground amongst all this savannah and tall grass." Joanna nodded, like a wise woman. "We goes there, finds the spot where the rocks an' boulders has been recently disturbed an',—well, lady, what d'we expect t'find there?"
"Sh-t an' buggery."
"Exactly." Joanna allowed herelf a sarcastic leer, feeling she was owed at least that. "Call the men t'gether, an' let's get our butts over there, jest as quick as ye pleases, gal."
The outcrop of boulders, for that was what they were, covered the entire expanse of a wide clearing in the savannah and tall grass. The pirates had traversed this in several directions, several times, during the course of the day as they looked for a hill which, as it turned out, had never existed. Now Joanna set her crew to examining the whole area with the finest of microscopic scrutiny. She had no less than thirty men walking in a line across the width of the field, sidestepping the larger boulders, keeping their eyes fixed on the ground immediately underfoot as they each advanced. And, finally, success crowned her efforts.
A seaman had called out to the quartermaster, Thomson, who had gone to inspect the place indicated. He, in turn, called to Joanna and Sandy, who both ran across in record time.
"George, here, sez t'look'ee here, all round his feet, ma'am."
Joanna turned from left to right, Sandy now by her side, examining the ground. It was of the usual red earth, covered in the ubiquitous boulders; but also, there were marks as of several having been moved in the not too distant past.
"Yeah, see what ye mean." Joanna bent low to touch the side of one round boulder, caressing it gently. "It's been moved sideways a couple of yards, then replaced; the scraping grooves in the earth are still visible."
"An' look over here, Jo." Sandy had been making her own observations. "This big boulder here; it's been manhandled from who knows where, t'here—it was never here originally, look at the lie o'the ground all round it—it's obviously out'ta place."
Joanna stood tall again, grinning from ear to ear.
"Boys, I think we may have hit paydirt at long bloody last; get the shovels an' picks out; get t'shiftin' some o'these dam' heavy rocks, an' let's see what's what. Let's get to it, then."
Three hours later, by the wavering light of multiple torches as the afternoon turned inexorably to darkest night, they had found the edges of a large pit and dug down into the soft disturbed earth within. While Joanna and Sandy stood by the edge at ground level the workers, in shifts of half an hour for speed, had reached nearly six feet in depth before success announced itself with the clang of a seaman's shovel on something metallic. Ten minutes more effort and the top of a large wooden crate, wide thick boards pinned together, had been uncovered.
"Jeez, how big's that, Jo?"
"Seems t'be around eight feet long by four." Joanna leaning over the edge of the pit, hands on knees, gazing into the hole with gleaming eyes. "Thomson, get a coupl'a picks an' break the bloody thing open; no need fer delicacy, at all."
"Aye, aye, ma'am."
Another few anxious minutes and the broken pieces of the lid were cast aside to reveal the contents of the chest. It seemed to be packed full to the former lid, though the contents were still covered by folded sheets of linen and cotton, there seeming to be several individual sacks or packages.
Sandy was by now on tenterhooks, dancing from one booted foot to the other, grinning broadly in an agony of tension.
"Hey, Thomson, slit that red sack open with yer knife, let's see what it's got."
Thomson leant down and did as ordered; to be followed by the tinkling of metal as a horde of golden doubloons fell free round his ankles. There being hundreds, if not, in fact, thousands of the sparkling beauties.
A long exhausted unbelieving pause fell over the crowded seamen as they gazed on the massive treasure, the final success of all their late efforts and struggles.
"Jeesus Christ." Sandy, lost for words, gazing in awestruck happiness at the horde.
"Well, well, that's nice." Joanna, so relieved she was gibbering inanely.
Another hour's digging ensued; the many flickering torches, for by now it was darkest night, giving the scene an uncanny atmosphere. But the end result was worth all the effort; the large crate was cleared, it containing three sacks of coin, mainly pieces of eight, and several other sacks containing loose plate, silver platters candlesticks cups beakers and goblets. There were also some small wooden boxes which, when brutally smashed open, revealed gems of various kinds, necklaces, finger-rings, earpieces, and loose precious stones. Altogether the treasure revealed itself to be of the greatest possible value, far beyond what the pirates had expected.
Later, after some further exploratory digging in the area had shown there were no further buried materials, the pirates set up a temporary camp, taking a late meal and sitting round their several camp-fires discussing the final delightful end to their long difficult and dangerous search.
"What d'ye figure, Jo?"
"At a rough estimate, maybe eighty thousand pieces-o'-eight; that's counting all the other coin, doubloons, moidores, escudos, an' whatnot, altogether."
"Then there's the plate." Joanna, sitting by a small fire beside Sandy, scratched her chin. "Can't really tell what-all it'll come to in the end, depends on silversmith's prices when we sells the stuff. And, o'course, there's the gems."
"Yeah, by God, the sparklin' beauties." Sandy's naturally grasping nature got the better of her at this point. "Nuthin' like a diamond, or set o'rubies, t'make a gal feel wanted, eh?"
"That-all could easily over-match the coin in value." Joanna had been doing some tortuous mental arithmetic. "Yeah, a hundred thousand pieces-o'-eight, easy, I'm thinkin'."
"Well, that makes a tidy sum." Sandy nodded happily, her eyes gleaming green in the firelight. "What, er, what're we gon'na do about shares, lady?"
This last question had been brought about by the enormous value of their rescued treasure—the first thing now springing to mind, as a natural thought, being how could they defray to their crew as much of the discovery as possible in the short term; still keeping discipline without actually causing a mutiny and having their own throats cut for their efforts.
"This ain't the place t'talk, baby." Joanna glanced suspiciously around at the encompassing darkness, with the other widespread pirate campfires circling their own. "Let's wait till we're back on the Amazon. Plenty o' time t'figure that lay out."
"I'm with ye there, lady." Again the natural acquisitiveness of her character overwhelmed Sandy's apparent calm. "Jee-sus, all that bloody money, an' those gorgeous gems. I want's those gems, lady; I got plans fer jewellery I can wear that'll make yer eyes pop, gal. I got places on me, doll, private places, all ready t'hang sparklin' stones an' little dangly pieces o'jewellery that'll make yer gasp in awe an' wonder, my love, jest wait an' see."
"Can't wait, love, can't wait." Joanna slightly bemused, but nonetheless happy her consort was happy.
The final total of sick, after Sandy had counted up, was three men lost to the Yellow Jack, with another twelve surviving with few long term complications. There was no sign of any Navy ships or, more frighteningly, pirate ships in the offing when they brought the Amazon close-in to the coastline to load their ill-found gains; this taking some time, for this amount of loose coin of the several realms they had acquired was found to be heavier and more unhandy to transport than they had expected. But finally all was safely aboard, and Joanna could give orders to abandon this particular part of the Mosquito Coast, with little lasting love being left in its wake.
"Dam'med awful place; like bloody Hell come t'reality." Sandy had strongly held views on this geographical corner of the Spanish Main. "If I nevers sees the bloody place ever again, even that'll be too bloody soon."
A day later, in the vast middle of nowhere surrounded from horizon to horizon only by white-capped blue sea, in the afternoon they met a companion traveller; ie, another pirate. Pirates, by nature, took every chance to further their actions and desires that offered; this meaning that, in fact, pirates were not simply attached to sailing big vessels, like barques or brigs. They took whatever came in their way; some pirates swearing by such small vessels as schooners or cutters; whilst others were happy to sail the seas in brigantines of various sizes, taking small prizes, certainly, but able to take a fair number of such over the course of a voyage and, because their crews were naturally smaller than the larger pirate vessels, they could hope for higher individual shares. It was one of these which presently made itself known to the Amazon's fore topsail-top lookout.
"Ho there, on deck. Sail t'the north. Topsail high, flyin' a yeller-an'-red checked pennant."
"That'll be—aahm, yeah,—might be that's Captain Redvers Connaughty, ma'am."
"A mine o' information, Thomson." Sandy, standing by her lover's side at the quarterdeck bulwark, smiled gently. "Where does he get it all from?"
"From keepin' a sharp eye t'windward at all times, dearie." Joanna laughed in her turn. "He doesn't visit all those grog-shops in Tortuga jest t'wet his whistle, ye understands."
"Ah, he's yer spy; I see's."
"Glad yer does so, dear, makes me happy, I'm sure."
Captain Connaughty's brig, for that was what it turned out to be, showed a primary desire to turn on it's heels and beat a retreat on first sighting the Amazon's royals breaking its horizon. Then, Joanna flying her own blue and white long pennant from her main royal, as well as the Black Flag of the Brotherhood for most effect, he changed his mind and turned to intercept the larger vessel after all.
"Can't be too bloody careful these days, ma'am." His Irish brogue singing merrily on his tongue as the rascal stood on the Amazon's quarterdeck, grinning broadly. "I'll not be so rude as t'ask if ye've had a successful v'yage so far; the look o' yer crew sez all needed in that direction. An', fer my part, I''ll not refuse t'say I've made a handsome profit on this v'yage. So, what brings ye both t'this deserted part o' the Caribby, then?"
"Oh, jest passin' through ter somewhere's else, as happens in the course o' things, Captain Connaughty." Sandy was wily enough to easily field this guarded attempt at gaining information. "Will ye join us below in the stern cabin fer a glass o' rum?"
Captain Connaughty, it turned out, would, by all means.
"What's happenin' in Tortuga, these days?" Joanna looking to find the lie of the land back home, as she sat at the long table in her cabin, rum goblets and silver platters of roast chicken laid out temptingly before her guest. "Take a wing, Captain Connaughty, my cook's a genius with sauces, an' such. Here, lem'me fill yer glass again."
Sandy, sitting by her paramour's side, was already digging in over her own plate with all that energy and appetite usually shown by starving survivors of a disaster who hadn't seen food for several weeks. It always being a mystery to Joanna where she put it all, every bloody day.
"The thick red sauce in that bowl by yer left elbow is gorgeous, Captain, try it." Sandy meanwhile filling her own mouth so full she almost choked, necessitating Joanna slapping her heartily on the back. "Graah, thanks, baby, nearly did fer me that time."
"If'n ye weren' such a glutton ye'd enjoy yer vittles a great deal more, as I've often told yer."
"As ter Tortuga, ma'am." Connaughty, enjoying his meal, nodded affably; unaware he was just about to spring a nasty surprise on the two women. "All's well there, no worries o'any sort, apart from the usual fights an' mishaps in the streets, as makes up the normal run o' the day, d'ye see."
"Glad ter hear it, Captain." Joanna smiled, her mind put at rest that some sort of Naval action might have taken place in her absence.
There was a significant pause, as Sandy and Joanna surveyed their frowning guest.
"What, Captain?" Joanna breaking the silence, with an enquiring tone.
"Only," Connaughty resumed, waving his fork in the air for emphasis. "this mornin', say two watches since, I met a British Royal Navy thirty-six. Well, it came up like Billy-be-dammed, overtakin' me afore I could get my sail rightly in trim t'run before the b-st-rd—which is beginnin' t'be far more common than it used ter be, if'n I may say so. The Captain, thankfully, surmised I was a regular merchantman, this bein' my disguise o' choice in these circumstances"
"The thirty-six's Captain, Captain?" Sandy here easing Connaughty back on course.
"Oh-ah, yeah, surely." It could now be seen Connaughty was still suffering an attack of nervous exhaustion, due to his narrow escape. "All the time he spoke, there bein' nary more'n a coupl'a chain's lengths between his vessel an' mine the while, I was fer feelin' the insidious rawness o' the hemp rope already stretchin' round my neck, ladies; dammed if I didn't."
"The Navy Captain, Captain?" This time Joanna tried to veer Connaughty back into calmer waters.
"What? Oh, yeah, jest so." Connaughty, aware he was very nearly submitting to an attack of the blue devils, took a deep breath and carried on. "So, what it is, is, er, he told me, showing away, as these Navy Captains is addicted t'doing, that he'd got'ten his entire squadron—five or six frigates, he said,—out on maneouvres, spread across the Caribby in a line abreast, though divided by several miles a'tween each. This in order t' catch any pirate abroad in the neighbourhood, d'ye see. Perhaps I'd oughter warned ye about this earlier, mind ye. But there we are, ye knows now."
"F-ck me." From an astonished Joanna.
"F-ck me." From an equally frightened Sandy.
"—er, is that an invitation, ladies? Or are ye both jest, um, makin' a conversational point?" From a bemused Connaughty, looking from one to the other of his hostesses with a raised enquiring eyebrow.
"You're takin' us back t'the bloody Mosquito Coast?" Sandy, in a rage.
After the hurried, very hurried, departure of Captain Connaughty back to his brig, Joanna had wasted no time whatever in ordering the Amazon to go-about; so quickly, in fact, the vessel nearly missed stays in so doing. Now they were already some leagues along their reverse course back to the unwelcome coastline.
"It's the only safe course we can take, dear." Joanna was explaining her decision to her irate companion on the quarterdeck. "If we'd sailed on, all unknowing fer as little as maybe another three or four glasses, we'd have bumped right into one or other o' those dammed Navy frigates scattered wholesale across the bloody Sea. Where'd that get us, I asks yer?"
"Sunk, possibly?" Sandy calming down a trifle and beginning to see sense.
"Dam' straight." Joanna nodded, decisively. "Once he'd caught a glimpse o' our royals that bloody Navy Captain, Tomlinson fer a certainty, wouldn't have stopped fer the King himself, untill he'd laid himself alongside an' boarded us; probably takin' great delight, later, in hangin' us both from our own yardarms."
But Joanna, wholly disturbed from her usual equanimity, wasn't stopping there.
"Pipe to quarters, if ye will."
"Aye, aye, ma'am."
"Expectin' a fight, lover?"
"Not exactly right now, doll, but it pays t'be prepared, y'know."
The Mosquito Coast, on the Amazon's return to the bay it had left so short a while before, was precisely the same as when the pirates had last experienced its delights; full of bad water, clouds of deadly mosquitos—surprisingly, not why the area had gained its name—and lightly scattered over with impenetrable savannah, dangerous animals, snakes and spiders, and equally dangerous natives. No-one was happy.
"G-dd-m it." Sandy, on stepping ashore once again. "Bloody place hasn't changed an iot—dam', I've been bitten, already." She slapped her exposed neck, far past the event, snarling viciously. "G-dd-m hate this f-ckin' place. Are ye actually tellin' me we're gon'na have ter bloody bury the treasure here, again? I can't believe it."
"We ain't got any other choice, when ye thinks about it." Joanna, stepping from the longboat onto the sand beside her unhappy partner. "We can't risk meetin' a Navy frigate with it in our hold, we got'ta hide it somewhere's; an' that somewhere's has t'be here, that's all there's to it, darlin'."
"Not but the frigate Captain won't engage an' sink us, anyway, treasure in our hold, or not." Sandy, being realistic.
"Yeah, I knows that." Joanna wiped her already sweat-covered brow with her large red handkerchief. "But it's safer, all the same, hidden away from pryin' eyes; especially the dam' Navy's, fer the time bein'. We can always return, when things has cooled down, an' dig the bloody stuff up again."
"Again, bein' the appropriate term, lover." Sandy being sarcastic, the opportunity to do so presenting itself so appositely. "The lads is beginnin' t'find this whole jaunt not at all funny, dear; ye realises that, don't'cher?"
"They'll get their just shares in the end." Joanna snarled on her own account, having run out of patience with her surroundings, and most of the people inhabiting said area. "Jest a matter o' usin' yer head, an' plannin' fer the future, that's all."
"Oh, come on, Sandy, show willin' won't yer, fer God's sake."
"Alright, but only 'cause it's you askin', lover."
Two hours later, after the intensive deployment of her compass, attentive dead reckoning, and careful pacing-out of distances, Joanna had selected a new place to bury their treasure—not anywhere near the original burial pit the late unlamented Mathews had used.
"Y'sure ye have the lie o' the land jest right, lady?" Sandy, being a trifle unconvinced by the new position chosen. "We does want t'be able t'find the bloody stuff again, ye understands?"
"Everything is under control." Spoken in a deadly calm voice, Joana now being at the virtual end of her tether. "I have made my calculations, an' can confidently state that Sir Christopher Wren himself would, if so required, express total satisfaction with my preparations and directions."
"Oh, alright." Sandy, perceiving her inamorata was close to blowing her top, and anxious to therefore express nothing other than sweetness and light in every direction. "I'm happy, lover, an' I'm sure everyone else here is too. So, we start diggin' I presume?"
"Yer presumes right, doll. Shall I tell Thomson, or will you?"
"God, Pirate Queens; they're always so,—so Queeny." Sandy nevertheless grinned at her lover, then turned to the hard-pressed quartermaster standing a few yards away, pretending he wasn't listening. "Thomson, shovel an' pick detail—right there. That the place, lover? Jest there, beside that clump of long grass? Yeah?,—only askin', dear; no need t'look at me like that. Fine, Thomson, there she lies, go to it, with a will—or perhaps, the picks an' shovels'll be better. God, only jokin', don't look at me like that, will ye; can't anyone take a joke, t'day?"
The following morning brought even more bad news; while Joanna, Sandy, and a large contingent of the Amazon's crew were ashore, digging holes in the landscape of the Mosquito Coast, she had left the brig in charge of a skeleton crew, some twenty-five all told. As Joanna, Sandy, and the shore detail were sitting by their fires eating a bare breakfast one of these skeleton crew members hove up at the campsite, having come ashore in a small jolly-boat to report.
"What the hell now, Andrews?" Joanna finding her appetite had vanished in front of the sweating, obviously frightened, seaman. "What bloody news?"
Taking a moment to gain his breath, not an easy task in the thick hot sweltering atmosphere of the semi-jungle, he laid out the bones of the disaster.
"Cromley sez t'tell ye, ma'am, he spotted a bloody Navy frigate on the horizon late yesterday afternoon." Andrews took another moment to gasp for breath, then continued. "There weren't anything he could do but put yer emergency plan in action—"
"Oh God, no." Sandy groaning in despair.
"Keep goin', Andrews."
"So he sent me ashore in the jolly-boat, up-anchored, an' set-off south-an'-easterly along the coast; as ye'd previously planned, if found necessary."
"T'that small bay we reconnoitred earlier?"
"Aye, ma'am." Andrews nodding energetically. "He said t'tell ye he thought the bloody frigate hadn't smoked the Amazon; Cromley havin' took down both royals an' t'gallants. He proposed t'bend away t'the south under main'sl an' topsails alone, ma'am. Last thing he said was, he thought he had a fair chance o'evading the dam' swine. I laid up on the beach overnight, ma'am, not wantin' t'get myself lost in this bloody jungle, ma'am."
"Well done, Andrews, take a rest an' get some breakfast." Joanna nodded to Sandy. "Let's take a stroll out across the savannah, doll; got things t'think over."
When they were out of earshot of the crew Sandy took up the meat of the news.
"This means we're gon'na have t'trek through the savannah an' forest, t'get t'that other bloody bay." She frowned at her companion. "How far off's that place, again?"
"Maybe twenty mile, or so." Joanna glanced at her lover, shrugging somewhat hopelessly. "Had t'be that far, at least, t'give enough sea-room fer safety, if'n jest what did happen, happened."
"Yeah." Sandy, however wasn't to be mis-directed from her original view. "So, a long difficult haul through unknown territory, at the mercy of every bloody wild beast who catches our scent; or any poisonous snake or insect that falls out'ta a tree or bush on our heads?"
"Don't be so defeatist, ye sound like a bloody Dutchman." Joanna rounded on her Second-in-command with a dry voice. "From here on we need to keep the men's spirits up. It's gon'na be, what, a week's trek through the forest t'get t'the bay? We've got enough food an' fresh water; we can pack it all in those sacks an' haversacks we brought with us. There's bound t'be fresh water springs here an' there along the route. We ought'a reach the Amazon again in seven days, easy."
"Yeah, alright. I'm with ye, don't worry." Sandy nodded in sympathy with her lover. "From now on I'll be the Harlequin o' the party, no worries. God, dam' Royal Navy, don't they ever bloody give up?"
"Seemingly not, doll." Joanna laughed coldly. "Come on, let's get back t'the boys, an' tell 'em the glad tidings."
There is something disheartening in leaving sick men alone in the jungle, to certainly die in a few hours after being abandoned, through one circumstance or another. This fact of life became clear to the pirate band on the third day of their struggles through the barren savannah and jungle covered landscape along the coast. It was hardly surprising that, eventually, some men would start to show symptoms of the deadly Yellow Jack, and such was the case. On the third day Joanna had to abandon one seaman, too far gone to be able to keep up with the party. On the fourth day another man had to be left behind; on the fifth day, after having to make a long detour inland to avoid an area of coastline which was simply impassable otherwise, two men had to be left. Now long behind schedule, and having found it difficult to reach the coast again, they finally saw open sea on the seventh day, but miles yet away from their destination point. On the eighth day two more seamen succumbed to the invidious fever; until, finally, on the ninth day the party broke free of the encroaching tall grass undergrowth and partial jungle to find the bay where the Amazon lay awaiting them; though two more men had come down with the preliminary symptoms of the disease.
Four hours later, sweating, clothes torn to shreds, gasping for breath with every step taken, and light-headed from lack of food, the party stumbled down onto the sandy beach, where a longboat awaited them. It taking another two hours to get the survivors safely back onto the brig.
Everyone, including Joanna and Sandy, cast glances of mixed gladness and disgust towards the rapidly receding coastline of the Mosquito Coast as the Amazon lay-off on its way out into the clear sweet fresh wastes of the Caribbean Sea.
"What now, baby?"
Two days had gone by, and the Amazon sailed the clean open sea with nothing in sight from horizon to horizon but whitecaps and a single albatros, high in the sky keeping company with the brig.
"We'll keep sailin' almost directly eastwards till we hits the sixty-seventh degree o'longitude; then turn north an' make course for Tortuga, is what." Joanna sighed deeply, as she stood beside her heartmate on the quarterdeck. "An' it'll be a fine day when we makes harbour there, I can tell ye, my love."
"I echoes that remark with feelin', doll." Sandy leant her arms on the bulwark, gazing down to the rushing water sliding by the ship's side. "God, what a month it's been. Who'd have thought comin' in'ta riches beyond the dreams of avarice could turn out so bloody dangerous an' depressin'?"
"Jest the way o' the world, lover." Joanna shrugged, having no real answer. "At least, we knows we has the bloody treasure, fer future reference, anyways. That's something t'warm the cockles o' yer heart o' a cold night, darlin', eh?"
Sandy laughed hollowly, at some memory.
"Y'recalls, Jo, that time, some time since, when ye talked about the number o' hoards we'd put in the ground, all across the islands o' the bloody Caribby?"
"Yeah, such comes back t'my mind. What about it?"
"Ye were sayin' ye'd lost track o' whether it was two or three hoards?" Sandy nodded to herself as she thought about the subject. "Well, this here latest hoard; that we've buried on the Mosquito Coast, makes the fourth, if my calculations is correct, lover."
"Four? Y'sure? Seems a lot o' treasure t'bury round an' about. Can't think it's four, lady?"
"O'course, they're not all treasures t'make Croesus sick with envy, lover." Sandy admitting the realistic details of life. "That San Miguel treasure; now, that is a treasure, lady. But the others, well, they left somethin' t'be desired in the way o'over-reaching riches beyond the dreams of Kings an' Queens."
"But still, treasures, fer all that." Joanna not scruppling to blow her own trumpet. "They bein' quite enough t'retire on an' spend the rest o' yer life orderin' multitudes o'servants an' slaves around like a good 'un, eh?"
"Well, like you I'd rather have the servants than the slaves, dearest; but I takes yer point." Sandy nodded, placing a gentle gloved hand on that of her paramour. "Rich is rich, whichever way ye looks at it in the looking-glass, is what I says."
"With ye there, babe, with ye there."
"Ho there, on deck, sail on the port bow. On the horizon, royals high, can see a long white pennant on the main royal."
"Oh f-ck." Joanna in complete command of the situation. "Thomson, where the f-ck—oh, there ye be, turn the wheel three points t'starboard, all hands t'the yardarms, set t'gallants an' royals; skyscrapers, if ye feels the need. Set all main staysails, an' as many stun'sls as ye may find convenient. Let's get our butts out'ta here, as fast as ye bloody please."
"Aye, aye, ma'am."
"Here we goes again, eh, love o' my life?"
"Seems that way." Joanna bent to kiss her partner on her lips. "Gettin' t'be a bloody habit with us, ain't it?"
"Yeah; say, a lady could do with more'n one kiss, ye knows, dear."
"I'm here t'please." Joanna suiting the word to the action. "Say, lover?"
"That time since, when ye were witterin' on about those jewels in the treasure we've been so industriously diggin' up an' re-buryin'?"
"Yeah, glad ye decided t'bring a fine selection o' them along with us, baby. So, what?"
"Ye said ye had some, er, places on yer, umm, person I'd be astonished t'see ye floutin' said jewels over? Jest, out'ta pure scientific curiosity, ye realises, where would these places be—on yer person, as such, dearest? Not jest yer ears, I'm supposin'?"
So Sandy told her lover.
"Good God, ye doesn't mean it?" Joanna had thought she had left innocence behind long ago, but was now reconsidering. "Ye does? Good God; an' ye means ter actually,—ter actually—; well, I'll be dammed. But won't they get in the way o' a person's, er, activities, when one is in the way o'—"
"Nah, lover; jest make it all the nicer—fer me, anyway's—ha-ha."
"Thomson, get more men t'the main'sl; set more staysails, we're goin' too slow—want that bloody frigate t'catch us?"
"I got one place I'm gon'na hang a coupl'a small rubies, y'know."
The next 'Captain Clayton, Pirate', story will be along shortly.