'Captain Merry Aveling'

by Phineas Redux

—OOO—

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 meet another Pirate Queen.

Disclaimer:— All characters are copyright ©2019 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.

Note:— I know that historically, during the time period in which this story is set, the island of Mayaguana was essentially uninhabited, but for the purposes of my tale it boasted a small prosperous community.

Caution 01:— There is some extensive swearing in this story; they are pitiless pirates, y'realise.

Caution 02:— There are some rather nasty images referred to in this tale; readers of a delicate disposition may wish to seek their literary sustenance elsewhere.

—O—

"Why's she called Merry?"

"It's a corruption of her real name—Mary."

"Sounds odd t'me."

"She is odd—very odd indeed." Joanna Clayton, Pirate Queen, sat back on her rickety Inn chair with a grunt. "As barmy as they come, even fer pirates—could'a been L'Olonnais' sister."

"God, bad as that?"

"Yep."

"Jeez, I've changed my mind, I don't wan'na meet the bitch, after all."

"Too late now, lover," Joanna sniggered lightly. "here she comes."

"Oh, God."

The Inn, The Happy Hoplite, where the present parley was about to commence, sat on one of the main streets of Cayona, the only substantial town on the island of Tortuga; this small island, off the north coast of Hispaniola, being renowned as the lair of pirates and buccaneers innumerable. Captain Joanna Clayton, Pirate Queen and owner of her own pirate barque, the Amazon, and her loving consort Sandy Parker, both sat at a deal table in the main saloon of the Inn awaiting the arrival of their guest, the celebrated, or infamous, or indeed both—Mary 'Merry' Aveling, as notorious, debauched, and merciless a pirate as had been seen in the Caribbean for many a year; she having now polluted the general area of Tortuga for the last three years—her previous origins being wholly unknown.

Merry by name, to which she answered happily—it tickling her funny bone,—but not by nature; she having one of the worst sadistic personalities owned by any known active pirate; hence Joanna's reference to an old-time equally, if not more so, nasty representative of the Brotherhood.

As Merry entered the wide door of the Inn, crossing to her hosts without a second glance around her, it could be seen she stood somewhere around five feet ten inches in her knee-high leather boots. Hair of a rich dark auburn, glinting like waves of blood in the sunlight coming through the windows; her frame lithe, supple, muscular. Of pale complexion she habitually wore a short-crowned very wide-brimmed hat set at an angle, nominally concealing her features till she stood right over her victim. Her voice, when she spoke, had a rasping low growling note; while her glance, from greyish blue eyes, seemed to give away to the spectator as little of her soul as they did their watery indeterminate colour. She walked with an easy grace, but showing something of a feigned saunter.

"Hallo, ladies, kept ye waitin' long, have I?"

"Nah, not t'speak of." Joanna rose to hold out her hand, taking the woman's in a firm grip. "My companion, Sandy Parker."

Sandy remained in her chair, making no move to offer one of her own, chamois-leather gauntleted, hands; contenting herself with a short nod of welcome. Merry glanced over the seated woman's form, presently smiling in a relaxed manner and taking a chair herself.

"Well, t'business. Wha'd'ya both want o'me?"

"Time yet fer that." Joanna smiling in what she fondly imagined was a friendly manner. "Let's wet our whistles, meantime. Yoh."

This last word was aimed at a female servant waiting for just this agreed cue over by the long bar. In an instant she picked up a pewter salver and brought silver goblets, an earthenware jug, another glass jug of water, and two limes.

"What's yer likin', Merry?" Joanna coming it the hostess like a good 'un. "Straight rum, or grog an' it?"

"Grog an' it, thanks. I got another appointment later; don't wan'na stagger there drunk as a goat."

Joanna poured the rum, added water in large quantities to the three goblets, and chopped a lime in pieces before squeezing the juice into all three receptacles.

"There ye be, as fine a glass o' grog as ye'll ever taste—if'n I sez so myself."

"Keepin' busy, these days?" Sandy joining the conversation in the hopes of hearing some juicy gossip. "Landed any good catches over the last month or so?"

"Mighty well, yeah, seein' ye ask." A curious cold gleam appearing in Merry's pale eyes; lips parting to show slightly ivory-toned teeth. "Ran down on a meaty brigantine last week, loaded with tobacco. Small crew, old Captain, a loud-mouthed lady an' her daughter, twenty year or so; passengers. Topped him right off; he after sayin' something nasty about my mother. She, the lady; well, as a consequence she got t'rantin' an' ravin' something awful as well, sayin' some bad things about me, too."

"Well, only t'be expected." Joanna knowing, nonetheless, something dreadful was coming.

"Yeah well, I soon shut her complainin' mouth; or gave her something else t'concentrate on, at least." Grinning even more widely, Merry reached to her waist and brought her left hand up with a long-bladed dagger. "Stripped her daughter naked, tied her up some—jest t'give me room ter work, yer understands—then I practiced some, with this very knife; afore flingin' her still conscious remains over the side fer the sharks,—ha-ha! An' didn't they jest have a ball; took ages before she final was dragged down entire—or not, actually; the lady-mother forced t'be an interested spectator t'the whole thing, o'course. Hah, that was fun. And you? Anything much doing with the Amazon, an' all?"

Joanna sat still, silently looking across the table at her guest; Sandy also sat transfixed, eyeing Merry in amazement, hardly able to believe what she had just heard. Finally Joanna, like the Captain she was, took up the thread of the discussion.

"—ahh, we,—that is, we took a barque loaded with rum, round about a fortnight ago." Joanna tried to bring the details back, if only to get away from the pictures in her mind as a result of the story she had just listened to. "You wouldn't believe how much trouble it caused—my crew goin' mad an' fit ter mutiny t'get their hands on the casks. An' then, back in Jamaicy, could we find a merchant t'buy the stuff? No, we bloody well couldn't; in fact, in the end, we had ter—"

"Merry won't wan'na hear about that, Jo." Sandy butting in, perfectly aware the conversation needed bringing back to business, before Merry could regale them with further examples of her working methods at sea. "We've, Joanna here an' I, got a proposition fer ye, thet ye might find worthwhile from a pecuniary point o'view."

"Always on the lookout fer an easy dollar, ladies." Merry sat back, comfortably at ease, grinning widely. "What's it ter be, then?"

Joanna cast a furtive glance round the public room of the Inn, but no-one of the few customers seemed to be taking any notice of the three dangerous looking women.

"It partakes of some complexity, t'tell the truth." Joanna turning back to stare into the face of the veteran pirate lady opposite. "Firstly, Sandy an' I were thinkin' o'takin' a v'yage north t'the Bahamas."

"Oh yeah, and for-why, if I may ask?" Merry raising a single eyebrow as she spoke.

"There's a remote island there, Mayaguana by moniker, ye might'a heard o'it?"

"Yeah, lem'me see." Merry frowning mightily under the strain of thinking logically for more than thirty seconds. "Yeah, what I've heerd there ain't nuthin' there—at least o'use or interest t'such as we?"

"Ah, that's where ye're wrong." Sandy, catching a gleam of something in Merry's eyes, immediately took evasive action. "That's t'say, where everyone might be forgiven fer thinkin' sich. No, there's great things brewin', up in Mayaguana."

The silence that now descended on the table was like the calm before the storm, if storm there was to be.

"If'n ye wants ter keep sich a secret, don't let me spoil yer fun, lady." Merry leaned forward, resting her elbows on the table as she pinned Sandy with her grey-blue eyes. "Meantime I'll take another glass o'grog, thanks fer offerin'."

Caught off-guard, and rather nervous anyway, Sandy let a slice of lime slip from her fingers to land on the dusty floor by her boots.

"Ah, no, no; tellin' ye's the whole reason fer askin' ye t'this mer—er, happy little occasion. Joanna's got all the details—ain't ye, lady?"

Herself caught short by this imperative plea Joanna took a few seconds to gather her wits, then went to it—in for a piece of eight, in for a moidore, being one of her standby's.

"Mayaguana's mostly flat from end to end, but covered in trees," She looked again into the soulless eyes of the woman sitting across the table. "Not jest any tree, but special, expensive trees—"

"Lignum vitae, or guayacan as most folks call it." Sandy jumping in regardless, as was her wont. "Dam' expensive wood, as Jo says; apparently goes fer bucket-loads o'ducats, fer makin' fancy furniture fer the nobs, an' tools an' things."

"So?" Merry still all at sea, as far as understanding went.

"There's a merchant, Francis Delavane by name—"

"Knows him-hates his guts-would love ter have him at my knife's point—could enjoy skinnin' him, long an' slow." The gleam in Merry's eyes now taking on the glare of the veteran sadist. "What's his lay with Mayaguana an' these trees, then?"

Seeing she had caught Merry's attention Joanna sat back slightly; things apparently going to plan, after all.

"He's the majority buyer fer the wood on the island." She shrugged her shoulders, as if well-used to these sorts of probably dubious business transactions. "Makes somewhere over fifteen percent profit overall, I believes, of the annual price o'the trees."

"A tidy sum," Sandy again full of information. "that's why he doesn't need'ta swan about the Caribbee overmuch seekin' bread fer his table, like the rest o'us has ter do t'keep the wolf from the door."

Another pause followed, as Merry took in these facts; running them over in her mind and pondering the implications for her own advancement therein.

"Ye interests me mightily, I allows." She grinned widely; not a pretty sight from a moral point of view, there being nothing of human warmth in her expression. "Any more?"

Joanna took time to refresh herself from her own goblet before answering, not wanting to seem too eager to harness the Pirate Queen's assistance in this latest endeavour.

"People, workers, has ter be paid," She now laid her left forearm on the table, leaning forward slightly in her turn. "The owners of the estates on the island, there's three o'them, has workers on contracts who duly need t'be paid in the usual manner;—an' then there's the slaves."

"Slaves?" Merry perked up considerably at this mention of a real profit margin looming on the horizon. "Slaves don't come cheap—slaves is moidores, hell, ducats in the pocket any way yer looks at it; I havin' what ye might call a nice sideline in sich, when the wind's in the right direction. What about 'em, as it is, as things lay?"

"There's slaves on the island," Sandy coming in here with further knowledge. "but there's also a new load, a new cargo o'slaves comin' in from Ameriky; an' Jo an' I knows when. Jest around ten days or so from now. Jest long enough fer you an' Jo an' I ter sail north an' bag the goods afore they realises what's what."

Finally Merry could see the whole plan, from horizon to horizon, and what she saw delighted her handsomely.

"A passel o'money t'be grabbed, seeming easily, an' Delavane to boot. I likes it already. We gets the money that's meant fer the worker's wages; we gets the slaves; an' I gets Delavane. Looks mighty pretty from every angle, I got'ta admit."

"And we get the trees, the wood, too." Joanna butting in here with the deciding blow. "They'll have a barque or so fer cargo, we'll take 'em; an' we can take any overload in our own barques. Sell it in Jamaicy fer loads o'moidores an' guineas."

"A four-fold success, ye see, Merry." Sandy going for gold, in every sense of the term. "Expensive loads o'wood; free money from the wages; Delavane, certainly; an' slaves fer us ter do as we pleases with. Wha'd'ya say, lady?"

"I'm in, is what I says." Merry grinning widely for the second time, though this time exhibiting what passed for actual happiness in her mind. "I don't see any blunt edge t'any o't; ye can count on me an' my crew as partners. When d'we start? How long d'we have, did yer say? An' how far's Mayaguana from Tortuga here, precisely, anyway?"

Always a mine of information Sandy had the answer already tripping off her tongue.

"Around one hundred an' fifty miles almost due north of us as we sits here in great comfort an' glee."

"In which case, jest ter seal the deal, I sez we all takes another round o'drinks." Merry here turning round to catch a servant's attention, bellowing her order loudly. "More rum, an' ferget the water or lime—we'll drink it straight, like the Ladies we is, eh? Har-har."

Joanna and Sandy exchanged muted glances while Merry was engaged in overseeing the servant laying the goblets and bottles on the table; everything seeming to be going just right, as they had been planning for over the last five weeks or more.

—O—

The island of Mayaguana was indeed flat as a pancake, not rising anywhere more than one hundred and thirty feet above the waterline of the Atlantic Ocean in which it sat. The two vessels, Joanna's Amazon and Merry's Retribution, had passed Great Inagua Island to port, left the Turks and Caicos Islands well to starboard and after entering the Caicos Passage had made contact with Mayaguana on the northern horizon just as planned; the ocean remaining calm and blue all round, as if cheering them on their dishonest pursuits.

The ships had hove-to, well in the offing, Joanna and Sandy taking a jolly-boat over to the Retribution for a conference; Merry meeting them on the main deck of her barque like a Queen receiving visiting ministers of state, after which they had retreated to the privacy of her stern cabin to do the real talking.

"So where're we at?" This after the obligatory rum had been dispensed all round by a servant, who had closed the cabin door on leaving the three women. "Mayaguana on the nor-west horizon, eh?"

"Not to put it too mildly, we're there." Sandy sitting at the table and actually twitching in glee. "Abraham's Bay, for what little it's worth, facing us on the island's south coast; Pirate's Well, out'ta sight meanwhile on the nor-west coast. The rest, trees, a hundred or so workers, and around three hundred slaves. There ye has it."

"And the pay fer the workers?" Merry keeping the important points well to the fore. "Locked in a house in one or t'other settlement?"

"From our information it's kept on the barque that brought it. " Joanna putting in her guinea's'-worth to the conversation. "Always anchored off Pirate's Well, and transported by boat to the shore as and when the various slave-owners come to receive their share for their actual workers. Delavane in attendance, in his own barque, t'oversee all as usual."

"Which, I takes it, is all a'sittin' there whiles we chat idle here?" Merry on top of the situation, like the professional sadist she certainly was. "Jest awaitin' our arrival; a casual offer t'relieve said owners of the heavy duty of ownin' all that cash; a bloody fight with lot's a'stabbin' an' skinnin' an' gore—God, I loves the smell o'gore in the mornin'—, then the beautiful delight of ownin' fer yerself what was owned jest prior by someone else? Yep, works fer me—when d'we start?"

Joanna and Sandy exchanged glances; they both quite clear about the mental state of the woman hosting them in her cabin—but business is business.

"The wages barque, Captain Kinnaird, should be off Pirate's Well now." Joanna spoke softly, bringing the facts into the light of day. "We hauls round the west coast, comin' up on the settlement—it ain't much more'n a few log cabins near the shore—an' fall down on Kinnaird in the early mornin' afore he's out'ta his smelly bunk."

"Should be easy as all get-out." Sandy nodding wisely at this certainty of life. "Only his few crew to oppose us, if it could be called that; you takes Delavane's ship, we takes the money ship; then we goes ashore an' makes Pirate's Well live up ter its name fer once."

This all entertained Merry from every possible viewpoint, she grinning coldly like someone who had just won a free gift at a fairground.

"Well, I likes it, show me the way, an' I'll follow in yer wake, m'dearies."

—O—

The rest of the day was spent in circum-navigating the island, standing-off the west flank to round the north coast and so reach Pirate's Well, which sat in a deep bay protected by a long coral reef; the only entrance for a barque being a rock-strewn gap on the west coast side. On arrival both the Amazon and Retribution lay off the coast out of sight from land though in water shallow enough to safely anchor for the night.

"An' make sure no fool shows a glim, anywhere." Sandy giving the quartermaster, Thomson, last minute instructions as the ship settled for the night. "Anyone on the island looking out t'sea an' seeing unidentified lights'll jest naturally start t'take umbrage, an' then where'll we all be?"

"Aye, ma'am."

"Hmmph."

Sandy stroked the wide brim of her hat, fiddled with her leather gloves, which she never took off in public; they concealing nasty burns from an exploding powder keg a few years in her past, then strolled over to help her lover in keeping the ship's bulwark from falling inboard by the simple expedient of leaning against it.

"What-ho?"

"Eh?"

"What's doin', don't yer keep up with the evolving lingo of the streets, lady?"

"No, I don't; anyway, the lingo in the streets of Cayona don't bear rememberin'-considerin' the mouths it issues from."

"My, in a vitriolic mood this evenin', ain't we?" Joanna turned to examine the face of the lady she loved most in all the world. "Eaten a bad oyster fer lunch, or what?"

"Will ye stop askin' impertinent questions, lover; reminds me o'my old governess but one." Sandy sniffed royally. "God, the happy day I recalls it was when Jones the coachman drove his vehicle too close to the balustrade of the estate lake-bridge whiles she was strolling across. She had ter jump fer her life, over the balustrade into the water; only rememberin' on hittin' the wet stuff she couldn't swim. By the time they hauled the remains out from amongst the weeds remains was all they was—Ha-Ha. I raided Cook's larder that night an' had myself a celebratory feast—sick fer three days afterwards, o'course. Ah-me, happy days."

Joanna politicly kept her gaze on the now too dark to see horizon as she meditated on the past history of the woman by her side. Sandy, real name the Honourable Mirabelle Flockington, was actually the daughter of an honest-to-goodness British Viscount; though bad blood had separated her from her family and positon in Society many years since. Sandy had been a pirate a long time prior to meeting her paramour, and Joanna and she had been together as equal partners for several years themselves—both now well-steeped in all aspects of the pirate trade.

"See anythin' o'the Retribution, away yonder?"

"Nah, Jo; can barely make out its main royal masthead, silhouetted against the jest barely lighter sky."

"Wonder what Merry's thinkin' right now?" Joanna rubbed her chin to help with her ruminations. "It's all gon'na come off tomorrow."

"Surely will."

"Ah, well, first watch all at their stations?"

"If they ain't Thomson'll soon have somethin' ter say on the matter." Sandy pushed herself upright away from the bulwark. "Better go an' tell him shoutin' loud's out fer the night."

"See yer in the cabin in ten minutes, lover."

"I'll be there, lady; keep the bed warm, now; y'know how I hates ter get chilblains."

"Har-har, ye won't have time ter worry about chilblains, dearie, not with what I've got planned ternight."

"Yeeph, better make that eight minutes, then."

"I'll time yer by my full-hunter; y'know it keeps time ter three seconds a day."

"I'll beat it, don't worry, gal."

"Ha!"

—O—

The great thing to always bear in mind about a pirate, any pirate of whatever rank, reputation, or sex is that one should never trust said specimen so far as their shadow stretches at mid-day. Empowered by this knowledge one has a fairly good chance of surviving any unexpected meeting with a member of the Brotherhood, on land at least; but let your defences down for even an instant and nothing but despair and calamity can possibly ensue. The same goes for any other pirate in their dealings with compatriot members of their trade, which is where Merry had made her initial, unknowing, mistake. Joanna and Sandy, expert leaders in their chosen field, could smile and smile; but, like a certain character of the dramatic stage, could also be villains still.

So when the sun rose on the new day actions were already afoot across the whole of the surrounding panorama of sea and land. Deep laid plans, many weeks in the building, were now coming to fruition; ships were stationed at various points, in clear view in the reef-enclosed bay and out of sight round the west coast of the island. On the island itself, hidden by the thick stands of trees, several twenty-four pounder cannon had been expertly placed to command the entrance to the bay where Pirate's Well lay basking in the sunshine.

In the bay itself two ships, barques both, lay peacefully at anchor; as far as Merry understood, the vessels of Captains' Kinnaird and Delavane going about their appointed duties—but nothing was actually as it seemed to the innocent eye, supposing such a hypothetical item to be, at the moment, anywhere within a radius of three hundred leagues or so of Mayaguana.

And so, as the day dawned, Merry Aveling hardly realised it was going to be one of the most remarkable of her entire life.

—O—

The day having sprung to life bright and cheerful, the first thought that filtered through the various pirates' thought processes, or what passed for such, was to hone the fine points of their plan, just to be sure an' certain, like. So Merry bounced across the intervening water between the Retribution and Amazon in a small jolly-boat, all anxious and ready for the fray.

"What's ter do?" Her first words on gaining the quarterdeck of the Amazon and confronting the waiting women there. "All ship-shape, m'dears, eh?"

"Thomson'll be beating t'quarters in half a glass, then the fun begins." Sandy nodded with a cold smile, she being a fine actress when needed. "An' you? Got your routine laid out prim an' proper?"

"I opens the bay in the vanguard, you ladies followin' in my wake; I hauls across the bows o'the swine Delavane an' proceed t'pepper his barque like a bloody colander; you meanwhile laying aboard Kinnaird's ship an' taking possession o'the golden doubloons, or whatever the moneys' form may be. Job done. That right, my friends?"

"Perfect, Merry." Joanna nodded her acknowledgement. "Better return t'yer ship an' get goin'. We'll give yer, oh, two or three chains'-length's lead ter let ye have enough sea-room ter maneouvre in'ta the bay."

"Right, I'll be on my way, ladies. Jest think, an hour from now we'll be happily ensconced in Kinnaird's cabin, countin' the loot, ha-ha. G'bye fer the present."

—O—

Ten minutes later, Merry safely back on her own ship and preparing to carefully lead the way into the coral-reef sheltered bay, Joanna and Sandy got down to the real business.

"Everyone ashore at their places an' ready, d'ye think, lover?"

"I saw the blue flag rising on the headland a few minutes since." Sandy gazing across to the island coast as she spoke. "Merry'll take no note, thinkin' it's jest a ordinary daily routine. Yep, they're ready over there, right enough. That was a nice touch o'yourn, lady, tellin' her you'd give her wide sea-room into the bay; she won't suspect a thing."

"Just so." Joanna grinned in her turn; not, on this occasion, a pretty sight. "Gives us allowance ter haul round an' present our broadside t'her jest as she traverses the bay entrance, nice an' slow."

"At which time the battery on the coastal cliff opens up on her." Sandy smiling broadly at the thought. "Then Sampson, in the barque masqueradin' as Delavane, hauls round an' gives her his broadside o'twenty-fours, too."

"As an' when, havin' placed oursel's jest right, we opens up on her with our own broadside."

"Specifically, the single thirty-two on the lower gun-deck." Sandy looking every iota of her usually hidden mean nature. "We've practiced secretly fer the right distance an' inclination; Rodgers, down by the gun, will hit with almost every shot."

"By which time Delavane, not in that other barque in the bay, will round the west coast behind us, sail up, an' add his broadside to the gen'ral good efforts of all concerned."

"End result, Merry Aveling becomes a historical myth instead o'a physical reality." Sandy pondered this image for a few seconds, then laughed out loud—an eerie sound. "Works fer me."

"There she goes all unsuspectin'. Better get to it."

"Thomson, haul up the main halyards an' double-reef the fore tops'l."

"Aye-aye, ma'am."

"It's time, Jo."

"Sure is, baby, sure is."

—O—

The reasons generally motivating a pirate's activities are manifold and curious, though hardly ever based on moral foundations; but every situation has its exception. Some five weeks previously Sandy, Joanna, Delavane and MacIntosh, an estate owner from Mayaguana, had sat round a table in the Happy Hoplite Inn in Cayona, the only fair-sized town on Tortuga, the seat of buccaneer and pirate activities in the Caribbean, talking about causes and effects and hatching a plan to deal with such.

"Tell us once more, MacIntosh, what Merry was doin', on her ship an' off the coast o'Mayaguana." Joanna wanting not to believe what she had already just been told, but afraid it was in reality all too true.

"She'd overhauled a pretty little brigantine; the Jane Morris, Captain Henry Foster." MacIntosh spoke firmly, looking his audience in the eye, sure of his subject. "Read the crew into her own vessel's books, tossed most of the seven passengers an' captain overboard as by natur' bound; then fell ter playin' with the two left over—a mother, an' daughter aroun' eighteen."

"Yeah?" Sandy, inescapably gripped by the unfolding horror of MacIntosh's story.

"Wherein an' whereas, so the spectators who witnessed same told me ter my face," MacIntosh's features growing red themselves as he brought the details once more to mind. "she set-to an' went ter practicin' with a long-bladed knife on the gal, whiles her mother was made ter watch—"

"Jay-sus!"

"Yeah, Mistress Parker, jest so." MacIntosh shook his head, he having been brought up in a strict Non-Conformist chapel himself, back in the days before he found his preferred trade. "After an hour o'this activity she threw the remains, still livin'—if ye can say such o'sich as was the end result—overboard an' laughed whiles the sharks finished the job fer her—the mother, o'course, all this time in hysterics like to a mad-woman."

"God Almighty!" Joanna sighed deeply, appalled at the scene conjured by the grizzled old man's words.

"Then accordin' t'my witnesses agin, she did somethin' very nasty indeed with her knife t'wards the mother, an' final threw her in the briny too." MacIntosh paused to take a deep swig of his grog before continuing. "Them witnesses bein' in a position, ye'll understand, whereby if they'd tried any way o'interferin' or makin' any kind'a criticism they'd a'been feelin' the tickle o'Merry's knife themselves, y'see."

"Yeah, quite." Joanna acknowledging the reality of this. "And you, Captain Delavane?"

Charles Delavane was in his late forties, long dark hair down to his shoulders, a fine sweeping moustache, and a thin sharp featured face full of natural intelligence, now marred by a deep frown.

"She's a demented bitch; she was born a demented bitch, grew up such, an' has come to what maturity has been allowed her still a God-damned demented bitch o'the first water." He took a deep breath, which he let out in a growl of frustrated emotions. "Six month since she fell down on the Huntington, a sloop taking my nephew to Jamaicy. As is her way she took some o'the crew t'bolster her own company; threw the rest overboard, but kept Jim, my nephy, fer her own amusement. He was eighteen at the time, y'understand. She kept him in irons, let her crew do what they liked with him fer several weeks, final castrated him fore an' aft, an' sold him—he havin' by a miracle survived the operation—t'a white plantation owner in Ameriky who, apparent, likes sich. Never seen him since."

"Oh, God!" Sandy let out a sigh, overcome by the ghastly tale.

"An' your personal feelings on this, er, matter, Captain Delavane?" Joanna trying valiantly to keep sight of the business end of the affair.

"My feelin's is, ladies, there's pirates, there's bloody-minded pirates, there's pirates whose reputations won't stand the light o'day, an' there's demented crazy lunatics of a purely animal natur' callin' themselves pirates who oughtn't to be allowed ter live—Merry Aveling bein' a classic case o'sich." He stopped to draw breath and control his feelings as much as he could. "Them's my thoughts on the matter. I'll end by merely sayin' as it is my sole wish in life ter be the one who has the happy opportunity o'sendin' the insane Medusa ter Davy Jones' Locker as soon as may be."

Joanna gazed into the eyes of her lover, seated by her side; Sandy did likewise and, no words being exchanged, both knew precisely the decision of the other.

"We're in, gentlemen." Joanna nodded, scowling darkly. "What's yer plan, Mr MacIntosh—Captain Delavane?"

—O—

The coral reef protecting the bay in which Pirate's Well sat had a curving line to its extensive run; the entrance being on the western side and quite wide but encumbered by various rocks sticking their peaks above water near against the reef proper: so some modicum of expertise and careful handling was necessary in entering, particularly in such a large vessel as a barque—and Joanna and Sandy were proving sharp critics of Merry's manoeuvring.

"Laying rather near the outer reef, on her port bow, I fancy."

"Yeah, far too close." Sandy agreeing with her lover as they stood by the quarterdeck bulwark watching proceedings. "Given half a chance she'll bloody wreck the barque, savin' us the bother o'sinkin' her."

"When's the battery on the cliff supposed t'let fly?"

"When she's open'd the bay, an' fair set fer the false Delavane barque."

"Well, that'll be—"

"What's that?"

Both women snapped to attention as something unexpected seemed to overtake the distant ship passing the wave-lashed reef.

"She's come t'a halt." Joanna shielded her eyes against the bright sun, making sure of her surmise. "By God, she's aground! She's run herself on the edge o'the reef."

"I'll be dammed."

As the women continued their observation, stunned into inactivity by the sudden and wholly unexpected turn of events, white clouds of gunpowder smoke rose from the trees on the cliff-lined coast hard by the bay entrance, followed seconds later by the rolling boom of several cannon firing in unison. Instantly the water round the endangered Retribution became peppered by columns of water where the balls hit; explosions of dust and debris on the ship itself showing where several cannon had made direct hits. Then, without warning, the bows and forecastle of the barque seemed to disappear in a whirlwind of dust, fabric and shrapnel; the echoing scream of multiple shot, tearing wood, and tortured cries of wounded crew wafting over the water to the ears of the enthralled watchers on the Amazon.

"God, the mock Delavane barque, who's the captain?, is usin' canister-shot. Look at that."

True enough, as Sandy had realised instantly, the captain in charge of the barque masquerading as Delavane's ship had let loose with his twenty-four pounders loaded with canister—long tin cans filled with musket-balls or simply any old iron fragments available; guaranteed, over short distances, to wreak havoc on the human frame.

"Thomson! Tell Rogers, down below, ter open up with the thirty-two. We'll never get a better opportunity."

"Aye-aye, ma'am."

Joanna, as captain of the Amazon, had provided it with an extraordinary range of cannon; on the upper deck, ordinary eighteen-pounders; on the lower gundeck, the usual twenty-four pounders, but in the centre of these, one on each side, a thirty-two pounder. These enormous cannon were capable of throwing a heavy ball an enormous distance, creating destruction on an industrial scale when they hit their intended target. Joanna had spent a week with Rogers, the ship's boatswain and main gun-captain, practicing at the range believed to be closest to the required distance; now she was sure their giant gun would perform to its limits.

"Bring the bow round; hard-by on those port sheets now." Joanna gave her orders in a loud but contained voice, watching her crew jump to obey like experts. "That's it."

Within seconds the Amazon had swung round, starboard side facing the reef and the stranded barque; another instant and Rogers gave the order for the first shot. There was an enormous cloud of white-grey gunpowder smoke, an explosion like as if the Gates of Hell had fallen off their hinges and struck the ground, then the whole ship keeled backwards in the water, driven so by the huge recoil of the gun—Joanna never allowing any other guns to fire on her ship at the same time as the thirty-two for this very reason, any extra recoil certainly contributing to the ship crashing on its beam-ends and sinking.

With the fair breeze blowing all round the cloud of smoke wafted away quickly enough for the crew and Sandy and Joanna to have a speedy view of the result. Over on the immobile Retribution, where the rear cabin used to be, was an enormous hole, shredded wood encircling the gap.

"Dead-shot, Yippee!"

"Hang-on, Rogers's goin' ter go for a second."

True to her intuition down below on the smoke-filled gundeck Rogers had harangued his gun-crew to great efforts; within seconds he was preparing with another thirty-two pound shot.

"Ready, Caleb?"

The man crouched by the cannon's rear, and the touch-hole, was watching his leader's face intently—the noise being deafening in this tight space—getting the nod, he placed the red-hot tip of his slow-match to the touch-hole and jerked sideways away from the cannon. Everyone else of the crew, including Rogers to the side, had made themselves scarce, as far from the massive metal cylinder as possible. The cannon fired, instantly recoiling like a live thing, a Demon from Tartarus hungry for unwary victims. There was a back-blast through the gunport of throat-wrenching gunpowder smoke which filled this section of the gundeck, everyone already having folded neckties at their mouths to soften the effects. Then the ship rolled sideways, the crewmen holding tightly to any likely protuberance or solid object nearby.

In the next instant the crew jumped to action again, four men hauling on loose ropes to stop the cannon from rolling free backwards and forwards in the confined space. Having checked this unhindered motion they buckled down to haul the mighty cannon to the gunport again, only stopping short to allow the man with the long wooden rammer with a wet sponge at its end to push this down the cannon's mouth to extinguish any remaining fragments of hot powder in the barrel. The primer then pushed a loose cotton bag filled with two pounds of gunpowder down the barrel, it having been cut at its rear end before going in. Then the huge ball, all thirty-two pounds of it, was manhandled up to the mouth by two broad-shouldered men and allowed to roll down the slightly inclined barrel, helped on its way by the rammer with his long staff to make sure the ball made comfortable contact with the primer below it. A thick round cotton wad was next shoved down to hold the contents in place, then the small priming-iron was jiggled in the touch-hole to clear it of debris from the last shot, a new load of fine gunpowder dribbled loose into it then, the crew now standing back again, the primer advanced with his slow-match on the end of a long wood pole to await the order to fire from the gun-captain: an action which Rogers was not slow to provide.

"Fire!"

Up on deck again everyone of the crew not engaged in official activities at their stations grabbed hold of anything in their vicinity not likely to move under extreme duress. There was a silent anxious pause, then the mighty Juggernaut below bellowed forth for the third time. Another heavy cloud of grey gunpowder smoke, the ship reeling sideways again, rocking back and forth as the immense recoil diminished throughout the ship's fabric, then the clear sighting once more of their target.

"Look at that; look at that, Jo."

Joanna hardly needed this request to observe the result of the Amazon's third shot, the second having hit somewhere on the Retribution's waterline; not showing much to the interested eye, though probably having done great damage to the ship's lower deck internally: the ball this third time had made contact with the port bulwark of the Retribution, it having swung slightly sideways though still hard aground on the sharp reef. A large part of the maindeck bulwark of the ship had disappeared and a nasty dark stain was washing down the tumblehome to the waves below, it not being necessary for any of the watching spectators to ask what this meant; and there was a suspicious cant to the main-mast, to boot.

"God, I think Rogers' hit the mainmast." Sandy raised a gloved hand to her forehead, peering close-eyed from this shade. "Yeah, by God, he has—it's goin', it's goin'—"

"It's gone!" Joanna grinning widely as the mast fell over the port side into the water, obscuring almost the whole of that side of the stricken ship with its tangle of yardarms, ropes and flapping useless sails. "She's done fer, now."

All this time, while the Amazon's mighty cannon had been doing sterling duty, the cliff-top battery of the islanders had been keeping up a fine cannonade with their twenty-four pounders; allied to the ongoing fusillade from the mock Delavane barque, sitting comfortably at anchor in the bay with its gunports previously set to the best direction for the ensuing action, now firing roundshot after its initial canister, all that was still needed was the cream on the coffee—and this came now in the form of the real Delavane in his barque, coasting round the western curve of the island to bring into view a sight which must have touched his heart in all the right places. Without wasting a minute he hauled-up close to Joanna's Amazon, loosed sail, swinging to port with swift efficiency, then the gunports on his starboard side opened showing the round cannon mouths of his armament, ready and waiting. Having placed his vessel just right Delavane gave the order and his first broadside boomed across the blue water, attended by the usual rolling cloud of grey gunpowder smoke.

The barrage hit with cold proficiency, making an even worse mess of the wrecked Retribution than was already the case. And so it went on for the next ten minutes by Joanna's gold full-hunter, before she shouted the order to cease fire and the command to raise the yellow and green flag at her mainmast as a signal for everyone else to hold hard, cease and desist, and generally stop enjoying themselves.

Within a minute all had heeded Joanna's signal and fallen silent at their various artillery pieces; all except Delavane, who continued firing broadsides into the now wholly shattered wreck of what had been the Retribution, taking no note whatever of the silent guns of his compatriots on ship and shore. Finally, another ten minutes later, when there was nothing to be seen of the former Retribution but battered unrecognisable wreckage on the reef and a few pieces of larger flotsam floating on the disturbed water, he came to his senses and ordered his own cease-fire—a calm silence wafting over the area which, in its tranquility, almost hurt the ears more than the previous carnage.

"Better late than never, I expects." Joanna taking the philosophical outlook.

"Survivors in the water, ma'am; some swimmin' t'wards us." Thomson, the quartermaster, on top of his game.

"Shoot 'em in the water, one an' all, when they comes within range." Joanna giving this order without a qualm. "Them as chose t'sail with Merry can dam' well follow her t'Hell, as well."

—O—

Later in the day, in a house that was hardly more than a wooden hut in the hamlet called Pirate's Well on the mainland of Mayaguana, Joanna, Sandy, Delavane, and MacIntosh, who had been in charge of the cliff-top cannon batteries throughout, took stock of the morning's doings.

They sat round a long deal table, spread with silver tankards and dark wide-bottomed rum bottles. There was also a fine lay-out of silver dishes loaded with various cuts of meat and other delicacies, but no-one took much notice of this solid food. It was Joanna who started things off.

"So, she's dead, I expects?"

"Wholly." MacIntosh nodded, taking a deep swallow of the black liquid to soothe his parched throat. "Not that we've found her body, nor any small part thereof; but the single survivor o'her crew who made it t'shore alive was able t'allow he saw her blown ter mush an' shrapnel by one o' Captain Sampson's canister shot from the pseudo-Delavane barque in the bay."

"A very fine denouement, if I may say so." Delavane grinned from ear to ear himself, joining MacIntosh in his potations. "Aahmm, I needed that. So, the bitch's gone fer good, an' damnation t'her, too. Couldn't ask fer a better finish ter the day, I'm sure."

"Someone survived?" Joanna raised her eyebrows at this news, pouring herself a small refreshment in the meantime. "Can't say I've seen the bastard about."

"Take a look out the window, there, ma'am." MacIntosh the perfect host to his visitors. "Ye see the giant lignum vitae tree five degrees t'port, across the bare ground there? That's him a'hangin' from it, nice an' easy; him havin' been swung off in'ta eternity not ten minutes since. No, ma'am, there ain't any one survivor from the Retribution; not now, at least."

"Well, well, a good day's business, brought t'a fine conclusion." Sandy now perking up no end and taking a bright interest in her surroundings. "This ham looks jest perfect, an' is this a bowl o'spicy sauce—mmm! Anyone want a portion? No, oh well, all the more fer little me, then. Jo, not a word; not a dam' word. You know how killin' on the grand scale always makes me hungry."

"Gods!"

The End

—O—

The next Captain Clayton story will arrive shortly.