'The Rum Ship'
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. The Pirate Queen and her companion capture a merchant ship with a grand cargo.
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, is purely coincidental.
Caution:— There is some extensive swearing in this story; they are pitiless pirates, y'realise.
Captain Joanna Clayton—one of the nastier Caribbean pirates, at least in her own opinion—had just made either a masterly triumph or a ghastly mistake, she now being in the process of discovering which.
The large brigantine the main-topmast lookout had spotted some three hours earlier that morning had put up little defence when run down in the empty wastes of the central Caribbean by Joanna's heavily armed barque; the brigantine having nothing more than a couple of twelve pounders on its deck—utterly useless as defence against determined pirates. There having been no battle but an enthusiastic surrender Joanna hadn't tarried in sending over a longboat full of hearty pirates; what they had reported back as being the brigantine's cargo constituting the problem now on Joanna's mind.
"Lots o'rum!" This in a musing tone, Sandy pursing her lips in thought.
"Don't you go gettin' any unwarranted idee's, lady." Joanna coming down hard on her inamorata's thought processes. "If'n yer thinkin' o'havin' a grand ol' time, put sich right out'ta yer head, dearie."
"What I'm worried about is the crew."
As Joanna made this low-toned statement the two women were standing on the quarter-deck of the Amazon, only the man at the wheel within earshot, and he deaf as a post through also being a gunner.
"There's no way o'keepin' it a secret, now the longboat's crew's shouted the news from stem t'stern." She went on, frowning horribly the while. "an' ye knows well the result unrestricted rum'll have on these reprobates."
"Send 'em all crazy in two glasses—that's sand-glasses, lover not, er, rum glasses." Sandy essayed a quiet laugh. "Take more'n two glasses o'rum t'set these hardy ol' salts off."
Joanna turned to look down on her loved partner, they both standing by the bulwark gazing across the blue water to the source of their problems.
"Ye're not helpin', y'know."
"Sorry, so what's your plan?"
"Plan? Plan, who's got a plan?" Joanna curling a supercilious lip. "It's worth a king's ransom, o'course, so we have no choice but ter take it aboard. The lads an' lassies wouldn't stand fer us leavin' it be."
"Yeah, that's surely true."
"Maybe we could put a small prize crew aboard, an' let 'em take the brigantine in'ta Cayona?"
Sandy saw the hole in this argument almost as quickly as any other member of the Amazon's crew would have.
"An' watch 'em sail over the horizon, never t'be seen by human eye agin'?" She snorted through her nose. "The crew won't hold fer that either."
"We're runnin' out'ta options here, leddy."
"Well, if'n ye could come up with a good idee, maybe that'd help—only sayin'."
Faced with such an unsurmountable problem Joanna threw in her towel.
"Oh, I suppose we must take the bloody stuff aboard." She glanced across to the main deck where most of the crew were obviously discussing their good fortune. "How's the rum loaded? Casks? I thought so—big one's?"
"From what Davidson reported the majority's in two hundred gallon tuns." Sandy having these details at her fingertips. "About a quarter of the whole's in fifty gallon hogsheads, with the remainder in twenty-five gallon barrels."
"Jee-sus, we can't haul those over the sea from ship t'ship. An' both ships' rigging an' yardarms won't allow us t'get close enough ter use a derrick."
"Have t'be a prize crew after all, I suppose." Sandy wrinkling her nose in thought. "What say I go over to take charge of say, oh, twenty men? We'll keep in close company with the Amazon, an' we should both be able t'make Cayona in, what, three days?"
"Well, I wouldn't go so far as t'say it's a plan—but it's a possibility, anyway." Joanna keeping her options open. "Better tell the lads, I suppose. There's gon'na be some grumblin', y'know?"
"I'll just stroke the butt o'my double horse pistol the whiles yer talkin', lover—that should take their minds off any thought o'mutiny, it bein' loaded with fine sixteenth-ounce lead pellets, hee-hee."
Joanna considered her lover from frowning brows but settled for remaining silent, probably wisely, knowing her partner's delicate temper. But then, a few seconds later, being a pirate by nature bound, the opportunity proved too strong to wholly resist.
"Y'know, the last time yer fired that bloody hand-cannon ye broke yer little finger in the recoil, an' I had ter put up with yer whinin' fer three weeks after—only sayin'.
"Har-diddle-dee, lover—with knobs on."
"Huumph—Thomson, get the men t'gether down there, I got things ter say."
Thomson, the long-time quartermaster of the Amazon, nodded and set about the thankless task of instilling some idea of discipline into a gang of pirates. Finally he had succeeded as much as was possible and gave Joanna the nod in her high commanding position at the quarterdeck rail.
"Listen up, men, y'all know what the outcome o'this present lay is—rum, oceans o'rum, enough ter swill yersel's in'ta oblivion ten times over."
She was interrupted here, as she knew would be the case, by a hearty cheer from the assembled crew, hitting each other in the ribs jovially and making ribald remarks about their good fortune.
"However, I means ter haul the cargo back ter Cayona an' sell it ter the merchants on Tortuga fer a nice profit." She paused again to rake her crew with a hard scowl. "So any o'yer hopin' ter wet yer whistles from now till Doomsday, can jest think agin', it ain't goin' ter happen."
The laughter and shouts of joy instantly diminished as the men saw the chance of a wild party evaporating before their eyes; smiles being replaced by that standby of the pirate physiognomy, the snarl of outrage and contempt.
"Thet ain't no-way fair—didn't we jest run the buggers down, at the danger o'our lives? We out'ta get somethin' out'ta it, surely?"
As this whine of self-pity came from the tarnished lips of old Hargreaves the Cook—and good sea-cooks being dam' hard to come by nohow these days—Joanna supposed she should give some sort of soothing reply to someone looked on with at least a modicum of respect by the crew.
"Don't fret none, I'm savin' a number o'casks fer us all, don't worry." Joanna using her soft as silk tone for this admittance, though her curling lip gave away her true feelings on the matter. "But yer ain't gettin' any o't till we drops anchor off Cayona in three days time—till then it'll jest be the usual mid-day issue of grog."
Faced with a classic fait accompli the crew dispersed about their duties with solemn careworn faces; endless seas of rum for the taking not being by any means a subject to let slip lightly. Joanna and Sandy retiring to their private stern cabin to figure out the details of the transfer of crew to the brigantine and who would be in command.
"Yeah, it'll be fer the best." Joanna nodding at her own perspicacity as she and Sandy sat at the table in the stern cabin. "You an' I stayin' here, on the Amazon, whiles Thomson takes command o'the brigantine—he's got enough what the Frenchies calls sang froid t'keep a tight hold on the men."
"Suppose so." Sandy had been looking forward to her own command, but necessity was necessity, after all. "When'll they be goin' aboard the brigantine, an' how far off are ye thinkin' o'lettin' em sail away from us, dear?"
"I told Thomson three cable's-lengths was the furthest I'd allow." Joanna shrugging as she spoke. "Far enough off fer them not t'foul our way, yet not too far fer them t'start gettin' idee's above their stations."
"Hope yer right, doll."
"I'm the Captain, lover, I'm always right."
Towards noon of the following day, the ships having kept close company during the preceding night by the aid of oil-lanterns at bow, stern, and on the masts, the well-planned expedition began to fall apart, as was really only to be expected. As Joanna was discussing a point of the ship's order with the bosun's mate, not a man of a high intellect at the best of times, she was interrupted by Sandy shouting from the quarter-deck.
"What's the problem, lover? I'm busy with dam' Cartwright; ye knows how hard it is to get him ter understand a complicated order. What?"
For reply, Joanna now by her side, Sandy merely nodded over the calm blue waves towards the captured prize brigantine. From the shrouds of its mizzen a line of colourful flags now hung snapping in the light breeze, it taking Joanna only a few seconds to read their message.
" 'Men mutinied, broken orders, under restraint, send more crew.' F-ck it, something's gone wrong." Joanna snarled grimly, shaking her head in disgust. "Sandy, take half a dozen men, one's yer can half-way trust, mind, an' the cutter an' see what the hell's goin on over there. Report back quick as ye can."
"Aye, aye, Captain."
The tale, as told by Sandy on her return an hour or so later, was simple yet all-embracing.
"Thomson reports half a dozen o'the prize crew got in'ta the main hold round about midnight." Sandy pursed her lips disparagingly. "Ye can guess what followed. They broached a hogshead, an' proceeded t'drink their-sel's in'ta something resembling a coma, or near death."
"They went all the way, did they?" Joanna quite certain, of course, they had. "Drunk as rats?"
"Apparently, after Thomson became suspicious, sent a search party, then finally arrived himself, it was like something out'ta a scene from Hell." Sandy sighed mournfully as she recounted the sad tale. "Two men so drunk they was barely breathin'; two covered in bleeding wounds, having gone at each other with knives before passing out together; one crouched in a corner of the hold singing sea-shanties to a hanging knee; and one naked as a jay bird, attempting to do something very naughty indeed with a long-necked wide mouthed silver jug!"
"Well, there ye are, sister." Sandy stoically accepting the realities of life. "About as much as could expected, I reckon. Anyway's, Thomson's got everything under control again. He's put the reprobates in irons in the for'rard hold, locked in tight. Put double locks on the main hold and a armed guard, an' told the crew anyone else thinkin' o'repeatin' the same shenanigans gets shot outright, no questions asked. I think that'll keep 'em quiet till we reaches Cayona, lover."
"Let's bloody hope so."
An hour later, just after the crew of the Amazon had enjoyed their normal afternoon grog issue, Joanna became the recipient of more localised unhappiness. A master's mate, Boals by name, came up on the quarter-deck with a nervous disgruntled look and snapped out his request with little attention to discipline.
"It's like this 'ere, ma'am." He having a harsh Limehouse drawl. "The boys wants a double ration o' two ter one grog, an' they thinks they'd like sich now, as it 'appens."
Having been a pirate since her girlhood Joanna knew exactly how to deal with such open insubordination; leaving the man, who was tall but lean, no time for defence she grabbed his left arm, twisted it behind his back, marched him over to the bulwark just where the steps led down to the main deck; twisted his hand palm down on the flat upper surface of the bulwark and, quick as a flash, stabbed the back of his hand with her long-bladed dagger. The dagger's blade went straight through the man's flesh sinking inches into the hard teak, leaving him skewered to the bulwark. Turning to the now subdued crew watching from the safety of the main deck she gave her next orders in a loud clear shout.
"See what happens ter mutineers, boys? Boals here's gotten himself skewered ter the bulwark, an' here he stays till four bells; make this a lesson ter take notice of and adjust yer actions thereby in future. Now go on about yer bloody business; this here barque not bloody well sailin' itself, yer knows. Move it. An' fer God's sake quit yer whinin', Boals; yer took yer own course, now yer has ter suffer the consequences. Four bells' is only another three glasses off, anyway's."
The next manifestation of discord among the crew came later that evening, just as dusk was falling. A quiet, fearful knock sounded on the door of the main stern cabin where Joanna and Sandy spent most of their private time; Sandy getting up from her chair to answer the call.
"Carling? What d'ye want?"
"Can I come in, ma'am?"
"Yeah, step over here." Sandy pointing to the long table. "Take a seat here. So, what's the problem?"
Nick Carling was a youngster, hardly more than 20, having taken to the pirate's life more from an innocent sense of adventure than any realistic knowledge of what was required. Having been aboard for three months he was rapidly considering a quick change of career whenever the chance offered. Joanna and Sandy, always keeping a close eye on every member of their crew, already being well aware of the thought processes of the lad.
"It's this bloody rum business, ma'am." Carling sat wringing his hands nervously, glancing from his captain to her second-in-command and back again. "I'm jest an ordinary sailor, ma'am; doesn't want ter get involved in anythin' outside King's Regulations, so ter speak. So I hears, not an hour since, somethin' I thinks yer both ought ter know about."
"Oh-ho!" Joanna snapping to attention, considering the state of affairs of the moment. "Spit it out, Carling, we won't bite, always happy ter aid someone on our side. What yer got?"
After some more nervous hesitation the youngster came out with the gossip he had overheard.
"Along in the foc'stle, ma'am." He glanced from one woman to the other, something like fear in his eyes. "It's that there Boals; he not takin' kindly ter bein' skewered ter the ship's bulwark, y'see."
"I kin imagine." Sandy surpressing an incipient sneer.
"—so he gets all riled up an' cocky an' starts talkin' about how, when he was on his last ship, they had ter take charge over that captain; which, he told us, was easier than ye'd o'thought." Here Carling paused to gulp deeply. "He then got in'ta a discussion with Fischer; ye' knows, ma'am, Anton Fischer, the German."
"The last ship Boals was on, ter my knowledge, was the Scorpion, brig, captain Kinnaird Nolan." Joanna searching through her memory for details. "Far as I heerd they knocked him on the head an' threw the remains overboard."
"Hum, if'n I'd known that, lover, I'd a'bin a might more critical o'yer decision ter employ him." Sandy pursing her lips disapprovingly.
"Life ain't never a bed o'roses, doll." Joanna deflecting her partner's concern with a wholly irrelevant answer. "Go on, Carling."
"A'fore ye does, Carling, I got a point ter make." Sandy now taking an intelligent interest in matters. "Anton Fischer—he ain't exactly one o'the most disciplined o'the crew. Big heavy, muscular man—take you an' I both ter subdue him, Jo, if'n necessary. Had ter cut his grog on several earlier occasions, so's I kin see where he's locatin' the basis o'his opposition ter our orders on this here rum business."
"Yeah, I hears yer, lover. Go on, Carling."
Carling, listening to his captain and her lieutenant, had become several shades paler and appeared to be having some difficulty breathing.
"The keel o'his plan, ma'am, is that tomorrow mornin', when ye, Captain, leaves this here cabin, there'll be a welcomin' committee a'waitin' ye—armed with cutlasses, knives, belaying pins, an' brute force." Carling stopped to regain his breath, with deep breaths. "Sorry, ma'am, allus bin liable ter breathin' problems since I was a little tyke. Thought goin' ter sea'd help, but it don't I finds."
""We'll see what we kin do ter help when we reaches Cayona." Joanna nodding and smiling encouragingly.
"Anyway's," He went on, breathing shallowly. "They intends takin' care o'ye, Captain, first, then rushing in an' do'in fer ye, ma-am, afore ye knows what in hell's a'goin' on. That's the bare bones o'the concern, ma'am."
A quiet silence enfolded those in the large cabin as they took in the import of this fresh news. Sandy, considering what Boals and others of the crew were planning for her, became redder and redder in the face until it was too much to contain.
"God-dammed ingrates." She letting off steam at full pressure. "All they're in line fer is a bloody, hopefully tortuously painful, death some'ers in the near future. We cain't have this sort'a thing a'board ship ye knows, Jo."
"Think I doesn't realise same, lover?" Joanna, though generally easy-going—for a pirate—knew well enough when the soft glove had to be replaced with the iron gauntlet hidden beneath. "Carling, you stays here, with the door closed an' locked to all but either of us, got that?"
"Sandy, that double-barrelled horse pistol o'your's needs loadin', if'n ye gets my drift." She stepped over to a cupboard on the port bulkhead. "Better look ter my own two pistols. Take yer cutlass, too, dear—things is gon'na get messy in the near future. I'll take my sabre; lovely weapon fer slashin' an' hackin', yer knows—'specially in confined spaces. So, Boals an' Fischer, Carling?"
"Them's the leaders, ma'am."
"Right, Sandy, let's go—time fer some real pirate discipline on this here barque."
After it was all over there was a deal of discussion around what had just transpired, both by the group of pirates in the foc'stle who had born the brunt of their officers' anger, and by Joanna and Sandy in their own right.
In the foc'stle mayhem, blood, shouting, screaming for mercy, and horror had given way to the remnants and survivors putting themselves and their surroundings to rights once more.
"Is he dead?" Compton, an old sea dog, peering into the furthest dark corner of the foc'stle where a bundle of clothing on the floor could just be made out.
"Boals, dead?" Jenkins, slightly deaf from the loss of an ear years since, grunted disparagingly. "Well, he ain't attached ter his head any longer, if that helps, Comp?"
"That's part o'him over there by the bunks." An unidentifiable voice in the gloom giving out this information to all and sundry. "That's somethin' else o'him over there, by the oak chest—an', I thinks, is that some more o'him jest by the door?"
"Jee-sus Christ, they didn't hold back from goin' for'rard, did they, lads?"
"What I takes from this late meetin' o'opposite minds is, lads, we bettter keep our combined heads down fer the rest o'the vy'age, if'n we doesn't want ter go the same way ter Davy Jones' Locker." Tompkins, probably the most intelligent of the group, taking due note of the late affair's ramifications. "Boals an' Fischer, a'tween them, bein' no great loss ter Society, I o'pines."
Several other voices, of the remaining still shocked crew, echoed in the dark of the foc'stle, adding their agreement to the suggestion just put forward.
"Stands ter reason, don't it."
"God, If'n I'd jes' bin told what bein' a dam' pirate entailed when I was a young lad I'd a'gone ter school ter be a lawyer like my pappy wanted."
"I doesn't like rum, anyway's; don't agree with my in'nards, y'see."
"Pipe down, ye id'yeet; an' jes' be glad yer still alive an' in one piece—the which several o'us present here ain't any longer, dam' it."
In the stern cabin Joanna and Sandy, having sent Carling for'rard to bunk in the main gunroom where he would be safer for the present than down in the crowded lower gun-deck, were taking stock of their late actions.
"Lovely work with yer sabre back there, dear." Sandy giving due honour where it was deserved. "Dam' messy, t'be sure, but lovely work, all the same."
"Thanks, ye didn't do so badly, yerself." Joanna accepting her lover's compliments with a proud mien. "The way Fischer's forearm sailed across the room an' bounced off the foc'stle door was pretty ter see, lover."
"Oh, it were nuthin'." Sandy blushing at this commendation of her expertise with a cutlass. "It was comin' ter the fool, anyway's. So, ye think this little disciplinary set-to'll make the crew see sense fer the rest o'the vy'age?"
"They'd be idiots if it didn't." Joanna finished wiping the stained blade of her weapon with a damp cloth, threw the cloth on the floor then reached out over the table to take command of the wine decanter. "A drop o'Madeira, darlin'? Sweet an' gentle, jest like yer own lovely natur'."
"Jo, I loves yer t'bits; jest wishes we didn't need ter spend time hackin' people ter pieces in order ter enjoy a quiet little tête à tête t'gether."
Joanna was up for this complaint like the captain she was.
"Think o'all the guineas we'll rake in fer this cargo o'rum, when we reaches Cayona, darlin'."
"It helps t'soothe the savage breast, lover, I'll give yer that." Sandy smiling broadly and holding out her wine-glass again. "Kin I have a refill, my beauty, that Madeira goes down like the sweetest ambrosia."
"Here, ye earned sich, doll, I got'ta admit."
On their arrival in Cayona, sadly, all turned out not as expected.
"The price o' a tot o'rum's gone down over two-thirds?" Sandy could not believe what she had just heard, standing in the main saloon of 'The Admiral Underwood'. "Why's that, indeed?"
Master Jonathan Kerdle, owner of the concern around them, stood tall, if five foot seven could be so called, with a stern attitude to boot—he never having dealt personally with these two ladies previously, and so having no idea what might very shortly happen if he kept his snappy attitude up much longer—Sandy's features already showing signs of a mighty internal conflict.
"Why's thet, ye says, t'my very face?" Kerdle digging his grave deeper, if only he realised. "Well, if ye must knows, it's in course o'there bein' a veritable lake o'rum banked up back in Jamaicy. Hell, as we speaks here there's more rum than water over in the big island. Thet's why I has ter almost give the dam' stuff away—an' no, dam'mit, I wants no part o'any more o'the dam' stuff—not fer the next six month, easy. So, get lost."
This was the last straw—Sandy having been, in her opinion, bumped and bruised in all directions by the mutinous crew back on the Amazon over the last three days now gave way to the lower emotions; if hoisting her cutlass from its scabbard at her waist and setting–to with cold-blooded murder in mind could be called an emotion of any sort.
"Wonder how long it'll take the legatees t'find a new master fer the 'Admiral Underwood'?"
Sandy musing as they traversed the main street of Cayona, on their way back to their headquarters at 'The Happy Hoplite'; she taking no notice of the crowds around them, shouldering the slower ones out of their path as they strode along, like the mean-minded pirates they were.
"Who cares, it was a dump, anyway—an' probably won't change fer the better in the future." Joanna taking the run of events philosophically. "What d'we do now? D'ya suppose everyone'll have the same sob story? If so, what'n hell d'we do with all the dam' rum we've got?"
"Take it back out ter sea, dump it overboard, an' make the sharks drunk?" Sandy still not quite back in full command of what generally passed for her everyday wits.
Disdaining to reply to this obviously unhinged remark Joanna led the way on towards the dock, scowling horribly as she did so.
"What in damnation's wrong with the world?" Sandy at the end of her tether, back in their private room in 'The Happy Hoplite' later the same day. "We've spent all day goin' round nearly every dam' Inn, Hostel, an' drinkin' den in Cayona an' what's the end result? Nobody wants rum, in any smallest quantity, t'save their lives."
"The way ye were actin' t'wards several, if they could of they certin'ly would of." Joanna, tired out herself. "Pay fer rum, I means; but they didn't, even in sich extremis as havin' ye wavin' yer bloody cutlass in their faces. Which sez somethin' certin'ly."
"Dam'med if'n I knows what that might be, darlin'." There was a pause while Sandy calmed down a trifle by imbibing a cooling draught of sweet Madeira wine. "Aah, that's dam' better—killin' someone takes it out'ta ya so, don't yer always find, Jo?"
Intent on the important matter to hand Joanna disregarded this last remark of her loved partner, she being deep in thought the while.
"The merchants, that's who we have t'beard in their evil smellin' dens."
"How so?" Sandy, all at sea. "Merchants don't drink—I mean, they certin'ly do, but not in the vast quantities that'd be any use t'us, lover."
"No, no." Joanna tapping the table with the base of her wine-glass. "We've been tryin' t'off-load the dam' stuff on the private market—Inn owners, an' sich as operates drinkin' dens an' low holes like sich.—"
"—which has gotten us precisely nowhere—"
"—so, we hits the public market instead; a whole new shoppin' area, ripe fer the pickin's, don't yer see, my lively lass?"
Sandy, having refilled both her own and her lover's glasses with Maderia, took some time to cogitate on Joanna's explanation; but this quickly proving futile, she curled a supercilious lip instead.
"No, I doesn't see." She shrugged her once-white silk blouse clad shoulders. "Public market? Wha'd'yer mean?"
"We can't get no satisfaction from the professional sellers o'rum," Joanna now grinning widely at her own perspicacity. "So we gets lovey-dovey with the shop-owners an' general merchants, instead."
"Oh, ah,—there's a possible market fer rum in astronomical amounts there, d'ye think, lover?" Sandy by no means convinced of such a likelihood.
"We can but hope, bonnie lassie." Joanna now on top of her world. "What time's it? Ah, still jest late afternoon; we can hit some o'the merchants in their offices, an' waylay the shop-owners jest at the right time fer a really good private conversation."
"What're we gon'na do, leddy?" Sandy still not quite au fait with the fast-moving circumstances of their position.
Joanna, however, was up for this question.
"We beard Tom Lord in his den in Pull-Over Street, is what we do, my pretty-pretty."
"Jee-sus, Tom Lord? He'll bloody well cut us both up fer bait fer his fishing smacks, an' the next day ferget he's ever met us. He's mad as a madhouse ful'la loons, as ye very well knows, dear. What d'ye have in mind? Takin' the whole crew o'the Amazon as back-up? 'Cause that's as much defence as we'll dam' well need, y'know. He operatin' a dam' private army all o'his own, as everyone well knows. Ye're mad. Not as much as Tom Lord, I agrees; but, certin'ly, mad t'a degree, is all."
"Come on, the light's fadin'. Have faith, lassie; what are ye, a lion or a mouse?"
"Fer preference neither, but simply alive, if'n ye must know. Gods, alright, I'm comin'—don't be in such a rush t'attend yer own funeral rites; an' mine, come t'think o'it."
The stories told around Cayona about Tom Lord were all true—he was as mad as a Hatter; at least, if you took his tales at face value; which no-one, of course, did—they not being entirely at a loss for some remaining remnants of common-sense.
At the moment he was sitting on a well cushioned cane chair on the small terrace in front of his two-storied house in Pull-Over Street, Cayona, taking the air; imbibing a tall glass of mint julep and annoying the passers'-by in the street, nearly in touching distance, with snappy comments about their various modes of dress, general sartorial style, and purported reasons for passing his domicile. The fact he was in close consultation with two of his henchmen the while having no bearing on his more simple enjoyments.
"Aargh, where did ya get that tile, sir, it does ye no favours at all, ha-ha." As a man wearing a large feathered hat strode along. "By-yer-leave, madam, yer very nearly wearin' thet there dress, whatever happen'd ter its topsails? Calm day terday, eh? Ha-ha." Directed towards an obvious lady of the streets whose upper coverings, what there was of them, showed more of what was underneath than most women showed when in their morning baths—those as engaged in such dissolute Roman debauchery as actually bathing of a month. "Ged, sir, an orange longcoat? Makes ye look like a walkin' talkin' specimen o'said fruit, sir. D'ye get no offers from passin' strangers ter suck yer dry, if'n ye get's my meanin', ha-ha." Failing to afford a rise from the gentleman so addressed Tom turned his attention to the next person strolling within the limits of his view. "God, silver trimmings, on a light green surtout? Have yer lost yer mind an' all sense o'style, woman? —God, Sandy Parker, by all that's damnable!"
"Afternoon ter ye, too, yer raddled specimen o' debauchery." Sandy starting as she meant to go on. "Still annoyin' the locals, I see's. Why doesn't ye haul off ter bloody Kingston, there bein' a better class o'vagrant there, I hears."
"Ah, still yer sweet gentle self, I see's." Tom placed his glass on the table by his left hand and stared, both at Sandy and Joanna. "Ah-ha, the best lady captin o'the Seas as presently pollutes the Carriby. What ho, Captin' Clayton."
"The better fer bein' somewhere's else, at this present time." Joanna up for this repartee like an old hand. "Got time fer a chin-wag, has ye? O' a private natur', in course."
Two minutes later Tom's henchmen had wandered off about their no doubt nefarious purposes; two more mint juleps had appeared on the table, and they sat comfortably leaning their elbows on same—neither of the three having any notion of manners or etiquette whatsoever.
"It's like this here, Tom," Joanna sipping her drink and ignoring the citizens going about their business some ten feet away in the public street. "Sandy an' I, an' the crew o'the Amazon, in course, has a pretty little offer on hand ter someone with initiative, an' enough pieces o'eight, o'course."
Not being by any means a fool, though completely mad, of course, Tom considered this offer from under heavy-set eyebrows—eyebrows which almost shouted out their suspicions of such an offer.
"An' this here offer'd be what, ma'am?"
So Sandy, having no other course open to her, told him.
"Rum! Rum, yer say's?" This tickling Tom's funny bone more than somewhat. "Let me tell ye both about the history o'said drink, leddies. Rum's a busted flush at the present time round these parts—by which I means ter indicate the whole Caribby, an' associated Spanish Main t'gether. There's enough o'the liquid presently stockpiled on Jamaicy ter float one o'those new seventy-five gun three-deckers o'the bloody Royal Navy. It's dam' well bein' almost given away fer free hereabouts, as we speaks.—"
"—an' thereby," Tom not being one to take interruptions to heart. "yer ocean o'said drink, which ye've managed ter acquire in what I takes ter be yer usual fashion, is wholly an' totally worthless on this here island o'Tortuga at the present day. I wouldn't give yer three silver pennies fer yer whole cargo, an' that's a fact, leddies."
Putting her glass carefully on the table Sandy sat back, inclined her fevered brow to the sky and proceeded to unveil to the passing throng her unrivalled acquaintance with every known cuss word and phrase in not only the English language but French, Spanish, and Gaelic too, she having had a Scottish grandmother. Even Tom was impressed by this magnificent familiarity with the spoken tongue.
"Mighty fine, mighty fine, haven't heard sich vituperation since the days o'Blackbeard hisself." Tom smiling happily as he gave this compliment. "But regardin' the topic under discussion; the same, unhappily, remains the same—no deal."
The Amazon lay motionless on the high seas somewhere east of the Turks and Caicos Islands, well out in the steep Atlantic stream itself. Beside it, some two cables-lengths off, sat the Wild Plover, the brigantine at the centre of Joanna and Sandy's present difficulties. They had formed a plan, but not one universally applauded by all and sundry, meaning the crew of the Amazon to a man and woman.
"Sink it, with all the rum still aboard?" Sandy could hardly believe her own ears when the plan was first proposed to her some days earlier.
"Gets rid o'the dam' stuff, don't it?"
"But what about the expence?" Sandy keeping a close eye on the points that mattered. "The profit we dam' well should be rollin' knee deep in by now, but ain't? What about the crew? They gon'na smile sweetly, an' shout Huzza! I don't dam' well think so, lady."
The crew, in fact, had been incensed on hearing the news; there had been shouts of Traitor! Shouts of Resign! Other, louder, shouts of What about our dam' grog? And finally shouts of Man Overboard!, as someone anonymous for'rard near the port cathead, in the general confusion of the public meeting on the maindeck, chose this heaven sent opportunity to settle old scores with an enemy via a handy nearby belaying-pin.
But that was then, and this was now; the crew had been mollified, to some extent, by Joanna allowing the contents of four tuns from the brigantine to be transferred into barrels and transported to their secure warehouse on Tortuga, for later sampling as thirst might signify. The rest was put under lock and key, guarded by a large contingent of trustworthy crew men and women who didn't indulge in spirits—yes, there were such, unbelievably. And so the present stand-off had come to pass; the question being, was Joanna actually going, in cold blood and malice aforethought, to sink the brigantine and its entire cargo—thereby making the largest amount of oceanic grog for the local fish populace to get drunk on there had ever been in the history of the world? Or was she going to chicken out at the last moment—as everyone else on the Amazon, apart from Sandy, privately hoped and prayed.
"Thomson, where the de'il are ye?" Joanna about to bring things to a climax. "Oh, there ye be; head over t'the Plover, take off the prize crew, then knock out the bilge valves—not fergettin' ter come off yerself afore she goes under, o'course, ha-ha!"
Instead of a hearty piratical laugh this attempt at humor only raised a rolling sigh of agony as everyone realised Joanna was set in her path to destroy the hugest amount of rum any of those present had ever conceived of in their wildest dreams never mind actually been within touching distance of in reality.
Ten minutes later the last scenes of the tragedy, like the conclusions of Macbeth, Hamlet and King Richard III all rolled into one, unfolded before the shocked eyes of the crew watching from the Amazon as the Plover, abandoned by the returning Thomson in his cutter, slowly settled lower into the sea, before suddenly sinking maindeck deep, rolling quietly over, losing her mainmast with a rippling crackle, and finally disappearing in a wild splashing and gurgling of foamy whirlpools and tortured water. The silence following this tragic climax, on the deck of the Amazon, was loud and prolonged enough to have done sterling work in a Sunday Cathedral service; not that any one of those watching the horrifying scene had ever been inside a church in the last 20 years except, of course, to rob it of its silverware and send the priests therein to that place which they had previously seemed to take such delight in extolling the virtues of to anyone within hearing distance.
"Gawd, it's gone—it's bloody actilly dam' gone—all o't." An unbelieving gunner wiping his brow with his kerchief, hardly able to credit his own senses.
"Thousands, meb'be hunner's o'sich, o'mugs o'grog." Another grizzled old-timer shook his head. "Enough t'have done me in daily drink fer the rest o'me life—if'n I'd lived t'a hundred an' twenty."
"If I'd sold my share—supposin' I'd got my legal share, thet is—I could'a retired t'Devon, an' opened my own grog-shop an' drunk meself t'death all legal an' above-board, like a true blue Englishman." George Peppers, the old sailmaker, bewailing his woes with a tear, the first in fifteen years, gleaming in his port eye.
"I puts it down t'the fallin' level o'the Louis d'or, against the Yankee Dollar, myself." Someone who really should have known better, considering the present circumstances, showing away with his interest in World-wide financial economy.
"Bert, yer b-st-rd?"
"Yeah, what the hell?"
"Fer f-ck's sake, put a rag in it, will ya, ya ejeet."
The stern cabin of the Amazon, three days later, as the barque pursued its legal, well not really, way across the broad empty centre of the Carribean Sea was a space imbued with all the bonhomie and easy-going camaraderie of a packed dungeon in the Governor's palace in Jamaica. Not to put too fine a point on it, the two ladies present were at loggerheads with each other.
"Surely you could'a thought o'something other than sinkin' the bloody stuff?" Sandy's usually lively features still sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought, at the lost opportunity so nearly grasped in their hands. "I mean, sinkin' the whole dam' lot—ain't that a crime o'war, or sichlike?"
"Sandy, pipe down, there's a good gal."
Some minutes passed, the only sounds reaching the cabin those of a ship at sea; groaning rigging as the breeze alternately tightened and loosened the multitude of ropes necessary to the ordinary running of a sailing vessel, steps on the planking over their heads as the crew went about their duties on the deck above, some shouts and cries percolating through to the women as orders were issued, dissident replies duly being brought forth by pirates too lazy to go about their duties without a rope's end cracking on their backs, and the general smells and aromas ever-present when one hundred and seventy-five men and women huddled together in business, work, play, and rest, all in the confines of a barque one hundred and forty feet in length, seventeen feet wide, by fifteen in draught.
"It would never have worked out, anyway." Joanna reaching a logical conclusion to her analysis of recent events. "I mean, all that dam' rum—jest too much o'the stuff, is all."
"Wha'd'ya mean, too much?" Sandy failing to see the point entirely. "How can ye ever have too much o' a good thing? Don't stand ter reason, lover."
Jonna spelled it out in figures suited to her audience.
"Ye can have a modicum—"
"—which is never enough—"
"—jest so, or ye can have a moiety—"
"—which ain't enough, no ways—"
"—in course, lover; or ye can have a fair portion—"
"—exactly—or ye has what we've jest endured, too much o' a good thing altogether—"
"—enough ter choke on, in fact." Sandy finally beginning to see daylight. "I thinks I gets ye, my love."
"—ye surprises me—thought it'd be a dam' sight more difficult than this ter beat sense in'ta ye, baby." Joanna taking her life in her hands, through sheer gladness at her explanation having reached safe harbour.
Sandy eyed her inamorata for a few seconds, lazily took a crystal goblet from the table beside her, imbibed a mouthful of the dark liquid therein, then lithely stood and took two paces along to her lover. Here she bent down and kissed Joanna on the mouth, her open lips allowing the liquid she held to flow smoothly into Joanna's mouth as she held the kiss with expert proficiency.
"Ye knows what that there kiss was, darlin'?"
Joanna took a gulp of air to cleanse her tastebuds of the harsh alcohol.
"That was a rum kiss, dear—I jest invented sich—d'ye thinks it'll catch on?"
Joanna laughed, pulling Sandy down to sit on her lap.
"Doesn't know about that, lover; thinks I'll stick ter the usual sort—knows my way about that kind'a kissin', as ye well appreciates, my sweet. Wan'na try me, an' see?"
Sandy, laughing in her turn, wrapped her arms round Joanna's shoulders and leant in for the follow-up.
"Doesn't mind if I does, gorgeous—mmm, yeah—more—more!"
The next Captain Clayton story will arrive shortly.