Chapter 1: The Barque



27 October, 1686 Evening

The Maidens Revenge was under her main-sail and two jibs, and the beautiful white canvas shone in the sun like snow or silver, her sails were drawing and she was lying a course south by southwest just off the western coast of Cuba sailing toward Port Royal.

Teresa was alone at the wheel, the Schooner in her control. It was a scene of quiet splendor, the sun partially obscured by misty clouds was already well down in the western sky, with the wind producing white foam-cresting waves. The distant headlands appeared shadowlike and gray through the vapor, while the waters beyond took on the tint of purple shade. As she stood there, grasping the wheel spokes within her own thoughts Teresa suddenly became alert when the swift boat leaped forward through the water, leaning recklessly over before the force of the wind, and the previous numbing sense of daydreaming servitude left her in a new return of seaman responsibility as she righted the ship.

The Maidens Revenge responded to the helm gallantly, the spreading canvas above standing out like the wake of broad gull wings spreading far astern. Not another sail appeared across the surface of waters, the only other vessel visible being a dim outline close in against that far-away headland toward which Teresa had been instructed to steer so they could follow the coast. Teresa stared at this indistinct object, at first believing it to be a wreck, but finally distinguishing the bare masts of a medium-sized bark rigged vessel, evidently riding at anchor only a few hundred yards off shore.

Satisfied after stomping her foot sharply on the deck in order to let Carmen know she was wanted Teresa's glance shifted from the Barque to her our own decks, feeling a seaman's admiration for the cleanliness of the vessel, and the shipshape condition of everything aboard. The decks had more the appearance of a pleasure yacht, than that of a pirate Schooner, although the broad beam, and commodious hatches spoke of ample storage below and within the forecastle.The deck planks were scrubbed clean, and the hand-rails had been polished until they shone. Looking forward she assumed Ihon was busily engaged in the cook's galley, based on the thin column of black smoke pouring out through the tin funnel.

When Carmen arrived with Claire in tow Teresa pointed out the position of the still distant Barque, which was by this time plainly visible off the port quarter. Carmen stood taller in order to see better, and then the two women crossed the deck to a position only a few feet from where Teresa stood at the wheel, and remained there, staring out across the intervening water.

"Surely a strange place in which to anchor," said Carmen at last, breaking the silence, her hand shading her eyes. "Bark rigged, and very heavily sparred. Seems to be all right though. What do you two make of it?"

"Decidedly Dutch I would say," Claire answered slowly with her gaze on the craft, "to judge from the shape of her lines, and the size of her spars. They seem quite at home there, with all their washing hanging out to dry. Certainly not a usual anchorage?"

"No, nor a particularly safe one either. There are some very heavy seas off that point," Carmen answered.

"That's why I stomped on the deck," Teresa responded, "it just didn't look right to me, you know, anchored out there like that."

"You're right. Thanks Teresa." Carmen told the girl then turning to Claire she said, "Clair, go get the others and make sure they're well armed, I believe we'll hail this fellow, and find out what he's doing in there. Teresa, port your helm a little, and run down as close as seems safe, until I hail him."

"Aye, aye Captain," Teresa responded adjusting the ship's heading.

Claire nodded then quickly headed off to collect the rest of the crew.

"So, what have we here?" Scarlet asked as both he a Constance, armed to the teeth approached Carmen.

"Don't know," Carmen answered him, "but I thought it deserved a closer look."

"Hmmm..." Constance mused while looking over the anchored vessel, "strange place to harbor."

By then the rest of the crew had assembled on deck gazing in surprise at the Barque just as the Maidens Revenge came about slowly, tossing a little by the heavy swells as the ponderous boom swung around permitting the loosened canvas to flap against the ropes, until the Schooner finally steadied onto its new tack.

The distance to be covered was not great, and in less than ten minutes, they were drawing in toward the high stern of the anchored vessel. She was larger than Carmen had first thought a lumping craft, bark rigged, with lower spars the heaviest she had ever seen. No evidence of life appeared on board, although everything looked shipshape below and aloft, and a rather extensive wash flapped in the wind forward, indicating a generous crew. There was no flag at the mizzen to signify nationality, yet there was a peculiar touch to the rig which confirmed in Carmen's mind the truth of Clair's guess that she was indeed originally Dutch. A moment later that supposition was confirmed as Carmen's eyes made out the name painted across the stern, DE DROOM OF ROTTERDAM.

Both Carmen and Scarlet leaned far out across the rail, as they swept in closer, their eyes searching the Barque's decks for any evidence of human presence aboard, but neither one spotted any sign of life.

"See anything?" Carmen asked Scarlet looking over toward him.

Scarlet shook his head, "nothing, but it's strange how she's bark rigged so she can sail with fewer crew members than a ship rigged craft, and yet they have enough washed clothes hanging out for a hundred or more."

"Let's run out the cannons just in case Aba," Carmen called over her shoulder to the big man.

"Aye," the black man answered then he, Isabel, Constance and the two brothers quickly moved toward the guns.

A hundred feet distant, Teresa held the dancing Schooner to mere steerage-way, while Carmen hailed in a voice which went roaring across the water, "Ahoy, the Barque! De Droom!"

A full faced, red headed man with a thick dark orange beard thrust his head up above the after rail, and answered, using English, yet with a faint accent which was not Dutch. What he looked like below the shoulders could not be discerned.

"Well, what do you want? Is anything wrong?"

"No, not aboard here," returned Carmen, a bit puzzled at the reply, "We ran down to see if you were in any trouble. This is a rather strange place to anchor. What are you Dutch?"

The man waved his hands in a gesture indicating tenseness, "Ah... yes that's right Dutch. We're out of Rotterdam as you can see by the name of this ship. But we've not sailed from there this time... no. We've come here from the Barbadoes," he explained brokenly, "with cane-sugar, an' hides. We're waiting here for our agent."

"But why anchor in a place like this? Why not go around the point into the bay where the sea is calmer?"

"Why here? Because I'm afraid my crew might swim ashore. They are west Indy blacks, and would escape at the slightest opportunity."

In spite of Teresa's efforts the two vessels were drifting rapidly apart, and this last explanation came to them over the water in a faint thread of sound barely discernible.

Teresa asked Carmen if she should tack back, but Carmen shook her head, and in a moment more they were beyond reach of the voice.

Carmen remained beside the rail, staring out across the widening water, clearly dissatisfied, but finally waved her hand in a command to Teresa to resume their original course. Shortly after she crossed the deck, and stood there beside Scarlet, still watchful of the dwindling vessel already far astern.

"What do you make of her, Jack?" she asked finally, turning slightly to glance at his face. "I believe that fellow lied."

"So do I," Scarlet answered promptly. "Whatever he may be, he's no peaceful trader. That Barque is Dutch built all right, and no doubt once sailed out of Rotterdam; but that red head's accent is not Dutch."

"Damn me, that's just what I was thinking," Carmen responded.

"And that's not all of it. If he was loaded with sugar cane, his ship wouldn't be riding nearly so high out of the water. That Barque was in ballast, or I miss my guess. Besides, if he was what he said, where is his crew? There wasn't a single man that looked up over the rail beside his while we were hailing them and that isn't ordinary. Even a West Indies black has curiosity. I tell you any men on board that hooker had orders to keep down."

Carmen bit down on her lower lip as her eyes shifted from the distant vessel to Constance and Isabel who were now making their way from the guns toward her and Jack.

"Yes, I do believe you're right Jack," she admitted frankly, "there's certainly something wrong there."

The sun was rapidly sinking below the fringe of the tall trees on the mainland, and a fresh breeze held favorably as the Maidens Revenge made excellent progress, the water being much smoother since the ship had rounded the point and thereby well beyond view of the anchored Barque. All around was a scene of loneliness, and when any of their searching eyes sought the near-by shore it saw only a stretch of uninhabited wilderness, densely forested, and the broad extent of the Bay, across which no white gleam of sail was visible.

It was dusk when the Maidens Revenge finally drew into the bay, set anchor and made fast. Ihon announced supper ready and the call to supper was quite welcome. The entire crew gathered in the dinning area built in the forecastle center to eat. After everyone was seated Ihon and Teresa served with some skill then they also took a place at the table. Discovering they were hungry, all did full justice to the well-cooked fare while speaking of the weather and the strangeness of the Barque they had witnessed earlier.

"You did not like the look o' things, Captain?" Ihon asked Carmen referring to the Barque.

"Both Jack and I feel there's more to that ship than we were told. We'll need to keep a sharp eye tonight I should think... just in case," Carmen answered.

Constance washed down a mouthful of fish with lemon water then thoughtfully said, "Well, at least we can be assured that Bass does not have a filthy hand in that Barque lying fast out there."

"Here, here," Claire acknowledged with her wine glass.

"So then Captain, speaking of Bass," Diego interjected while turning toward Carmen, "now that he has been dealt with and having come to know you to be kind and temperate, are you still set on a path of piracy? It would seem to me you're little fitted for such a wicked life as a true pirate."

"Well Diego," Carmen answered sincerely, "there are yet others that still deserve our attention and I have not wavered from my path so much as a thread," then she added with laughter behind her words, "and if need be, you will find I can be just as wicked as anybody."

"I doubt that," said Diego sturdily, "I could not even begin to fathom you cutting down and murdering the innocent? Would you drive them upon an unsteady plank and make them walk into the sea? Could you raise your sword upon the widow and the orphan?"

"Perhaps I should prove my point," returned Carmen jokingly, "by putting you upon a wavering plank and making you walk into the sea."

Now Diego laughed, "And if you were to do so," he said, "you would next jump upon the plank yourself and slide swiftly into the waves, that you might save your poor Spaniard shipmate, thinking he might not be able to swim."

That got everyone around the table into a good fit of laughter.

Once the laughter had died down Carmen said with more seriousness in her voice, "Now Diego as to pirating, having worked in my father's merchant business for many years I learned that unlike my father's company many sea traders frequently act more as smugglers than commercial trading companies. Their trade goods are usually either considered borderline, are actually proscribed, or are extremely unsavory. Heady liquors, dangerous herbs and opiates, and several types of virulent poisons are popular trade goods among the less scrupulous trading companies. Stolen magic items, artworks, and rare treasures are also smuggled to those willing to pay handsomely for them. And despite my own personal distaste of slavery, there are still some trade companies willing to sell the crews or passengers from other trade ships they have sunk or that they have taken captive from barbarian lands to those looking for inexpensive and expendable slaves. Some even snatch children from one city and sell them in another as apprentices. These unprincipled merchant ships I would not hesitate boarding."

"So you see Diego," she continued, "even without letters of marque, piracy can take various forms. Some pirates steal only cargo, freeing the ship and its crew to travel on safely. Some sink the ship, offering membership to those able-bodied sailors who will accept it, and killing the rest, or freeing them at the nearest neutral or friendly port. Others murder all aboard, so that the crime goes forever unreported. I for one, see the Maidens Revenge future to be that of being selective in any ship we plunder which will not require such wickedness as you have previously described. But make no mistake; when called for I'm not a figure of fun."

"Indeed you're not, Captain. I only meant that your heart, though stout, is a tender one," Diego answered rather meekly, feeling his joking may have carried too far.

Carmen smiled.

As for Felipe, he knew no more of his future than the sea-birds knew what was going to happen to them, he cared no more for his future than the clouds cared whether they were moving east or west. His life was like the sparkling air in which he moved and breathed. He sat at the supper table listening to Carmen O' Daire, Captain of the Maidens Revenge words knowing that whatever future she determined, that future would also be his. Just being in her company he would have been glad to sing aloud, but he knew that that would not be proper over supper. And so he let his heart do his singing, which was not heard, except by himself.

Claire having the sense that Diego had become uncomfortable squeezed his forearm for reassurance then she quickly changed the subject, "Well, if that man aboard the De Droom is to be believed at all, that ship at the very least carries slaves on board."

"No one has need of asking my sentiments regarding slavers," Aba commented.

"I should think not," Scarlet confirmed.

"Would you like us to have a second look at her Aba?" Carmen asked the big man.

"Only if you think so Captain," Aba answered.

"Indeed I do," said Carmen, with conviction then added, "providing the rest of the crew agree that is."

"The Maiden more than out guns that Barque, I shouldn't think having another pass at her would put us in any danger what so ever, regardless of the number or make-up of her crew," Scarlet commented.

"Provided we settle only at cannon range, right?" Teresa questioned.

"Right," Carmen agreed, "I would hate to have us in close only to discover her crew to be well seasoned cutthroats, and not West Indies blacks as we were advised."

Cog stood, then after pointing to himself he used his arms to mimic rowing motions, then he impersonated someone climbing a rope, after which he used two fingers over the bridge of his nose as if looking around.

"No Cog, I don't feel it necessary for you to sneak onto the Barque and have a look around. In the morning we'll sail up to her in broad daylight displaying our colors just as fancy as you please. If there is more to her than meets the eye I'm confident we'll know soon after that," Carmen said and then she added, "Never the less, we'll keep a sharp watch tonight."

It was a calm, pleasant night, but moonless, with very little wind stirring, and a slight haze in the air, obscuring vision. Felipe, who was on watch moved silently aft toward the more open space near the wheel. He had been standing there hardly a minute, staring blankly out into the misty dimness of the Bay, when his eyes caught a glimpse of a speck of white emerging from the black shadows, a ghostlike glimmer of a small sail. At first he was scarcely convinced he had seen it, yet swiftly moving to the far aft rail and straining his eyes through the dark gloom told him this was no deception. The strange craft swept past, so far out that those on board no doubt believed themselves beyond sight, heading apparently for a point of land, which Felipe vaguely remembered as jutting out to the northward. Even his eyes, accustomed to the darkness, and strained to the limit, could scarcely detect more than the faintest shadow gliding silently by, yet sufficient enough to recognize the outlines of a small keel boat, pushed by a single lug sail.

He had in fact little more than grasped the reality of the boat's presence when it vanished completely once more behind the curtain of darkness. There was no sound to convince him that he had actually seen a boat, running before the wind, under someone's control, and headed toward the north. No echo of a voice came across the water, no flap of a sail, no distant creak of pulley, or groaning of rope, merely that fleeting vision, seemingly a phantom of imagination, a vision born from sea and fog.

Yet he knew he had not imagined it. Where was the craft bound, what secret purpose did it have, who was aboard, were but unanswerable questions arising in his mind. He stared vainly into the darkness, puzzled and uncertain, impressed only by the one controlling thought, that some mysterious objective, some hidden purpose alone could account for that swift, silent passage. Where could it have come from, unless from that strange Dutch Barque riding at anchor off the point below? He could think of nothing else. They must have chosen this late hour purposely, they had undoubtedly endeavored to slip past the Maidens Revenge unobserved, seeking some more desolate spot up the coast where they might land unseen. Possibly, deceived by the night, the helmsman had approached closer to the Maidens Revenge than he had intended, yet, nevertheless, if he held to his present course, he would surely touch shore less than five hundred yards distant. In all probability that was his purpose.

Felipe moved toward the lower deck, tempted at first to arouse the Captain but quickly changed his mind. If he could single handily determine the purpose of the devious little craft perhaps that would make a favorable impression on the good Captains heart. Driven by the impulse that this was an opportunity to prove his worth and thereby perhaps gain even a little of Carmen's favor he instead entered the crew's quarters where he noiselessly awoke his brother Diego.

Using an index finger to cover his lips Felipe let his brother know he did not wish to disturb the others, and then he bid Diego to follow him out onto the main deck.

Once both men were alone on deck Felipe told his brother what he had seen and of his intention of rowing ashore in order to identity the inhabitants and purpose of the small craft.

"I think it best that we let the Captain decide what action is to be taken," Diego told his older brother.

"I think it would be better first to determine who these individuals are, rather than create any unnecessary alarm. One reasonable possibility is that they are merely a party of West Indies slaves, who having stolen away unobserved, and are now endeavoring to beach their stolen boat," Felipe offered.

"Still," Diego argued back, "I don't think..."

"Diego, please," Felipe countered, "you have found your way into Claire's heart, allow me this small thing that Carmen might find some reason to believe that I too am capable, and perhaps her heart might beat high with gratitude and joy," he said, looking very earnestly at his brother.

Diego understood that Felipe's heart belonged to Carmen, and ever would belong, no matter what might happen or what might be said for good or for bad, on the sea or the land, by friends or enemies, so troubled as he was, Diego could not refuse his brother's plea. He nodded and with apprehension in his voice he said, "Have it your way brother, I will stand watch in your stead, but take heed, if you have not returned within the hour I will be duty-bound to inform the Captain without any farther delay."

"Thank you Diego," Felipe said placing his hand on his brother's shoulder, "Come help me to lower one of the Jolly boats."

Felipe landed the Jolly boat on the east bank of the river which flowed into the Bay, then after disembarking he made his way up a bluff which followed along the rivers path. The bluff rose rather steeply from the water's edge ending at a crowning summit where the land leveled out.

To his right Felipe saw a point of land sparsely wooded, tapering at its outer extremity into a sand bar against which the restless waves of the Bay broke in thin lines of foam. He determined that the only practicable method of gaining the spot he sought would be by following this narrow strip of beach, which he felt could be attempted safely, as his movements would be concealed by the darker background of the bluff on his left.

In spite of his unfamiliarity with the route, he succeeded in making good progress, advancing silently along the soft sand; feeling confident he was safe from observation by reason of the intense darkness. The waves lapping the beach helped muffle the noise of his footsteps, and no other sound reached his ears, nor could his eyes perceive the slightest movement along the water surface within reach of his vision. The distance proved somewhat greater than he had anticipated because of the deep curve in the shore, and he had nearly come to the conclusion that the boat must have gone farther around the point, when suddenly he was brought to a halt by a voice speaking in one of those harsh, deep voices, never to be condensed to a whisper.

"Are we out of ear-shot?"

"No one can hear us. All the men are gathered farther up the shore," a somewhat more discreet, but piping voice replied.

"The cursed fog made me run in closer to shore than intended. I could see the Schooner, but I'm confident they could not see me. Now there is nothing to do but wait for the last longboat. It should be here presently."

"Aye, but I still think this is foolishness. Better had we hunted them down with our armed Sloops and had done with it!" the second voice said angrily.

"Perhaps you've forgotten that that ship and crew took on two fully cannoned ships outfitted with one hundred and twenty men and two well seasoned Captains, yet still they came out the better for it! Later that very same ship and crew not only bested Captain Bloody Bass himself they also sent him to the deep! No, better this way, the way Lucien Blanchart set it up," the first voice said with a touch of anger in the tone. "I tell you I don't savor facing that crew in open battle. Not I. Feel fortunate that we were the ship the Maidens Revenge came upon, Blanchart has five other cargo vessels anchored out there not so lucky."

"Where then is Blanchart? I want my pay directly after this deed is done," The second voice said perversely unsatisfied.

"At his plantation off the North Carolina coast, where else? He knew how it would be; only beforehand it was not possible for him to know where the Schooner might be, that is why he engaged five other ships such as the De Droom and placed each one at different locations through out the Caribbean. You see it now?"

"Aye, but about his plan here?"

"Blanchart's plan was to use the disguise of a cargo ship, afraid that any direct sea battle would end even as Bass's battle had ended, and then use the cover of night to board and overtake the crew of the Maidens Revenge killing all other than two sisters which are not to be killed, if they can be taken alive, women which it would seem Blanchart has personal plans for."

"How are we to recognize them from the others? I have heard that the Maidens Revenge is crowded with women."

"Humph! A blind man would know. They are European, extremely beautiful, one blonde the other almost blonde, the only two of that blood on board."

"I will pass the word to the men."

"See that you do."

"But... why this beach?"

"Ho! But you are stupid. While we were anchored off the point I explored this coast. Now this is my part of the plan. As soon as the last longboat arrives we'll be fifty men strong. I intend on running all four of our longboats down this river and into the bay in order to approach the Schooner for boarding. If anyone is on watch they will be looking toward the sea never expecting any attack to come from landward. That is the plan, to my notion. Pist! 'tis boys' play."

"And the pay?"

"Blanchart gave me funds enough that the crew might buy themselves several drams of rum and even a woman or two while we have that round, red-headed, son of a mushroom we sail with take us to where he has hidden the real pay for doing Blanchart's work. Mind you, if we are able to take these two sisters alive there is no one to tell us we shouldn't have our own bit of fun with them before turning them over to Blanchart."

The other licked his lips, as though the picture drawn greatly pleased him, "I hope it is so. It has been dull enough here this month past. I am for blue water, unwilling beautiful women, and the clink of gold in my pocket."

"Ah, here now, finally the last of our lads."

A band of men emerged noiselessly from a longboat, and gathered into a group around the figures of the other men already on shore.

"Handsomely now, gather all hands and let's drag theses boats over to the river, it will take us at least an hour to get them there and I've waited quite long enough for this deed to be done," the first man told the second.

"Aye," agreed the second man.

The heartless discussion of boarding, murder and rape left Felipe cold with horror and he arose silently to his feet, fully aware that all hope of thwarting this villainy lay in immediate action, him being fully conscious of how important it was that he get back to the Maidens Revenge and bring warning to her sleeping victims before this crew of cutthroats managed to launch their longboats onto the river.

Felipe raced forward along the narrow strip of sand, reckless of what he might encounter, eager only to arrive in time to give warning and to help his crew prepare for the attack. His heart leaped into his throat, yet he ran on, unseen, until the planks of the small Jolly boat were beneath his feet, and the shadowed outline of the Maidens Revenge loomed black before him.

Calling up to Diego for the ships ladder, Felipe wasted no time in climbing aboard and then without explanation to his brother he rushed to the Captain's cabin door and pounded on it furiously, "Captain!" he called out, "Captain! We're about to be boarded!"

For the rest of this story, you need to Log In or Register

Story tagged with:
Ma/Fa / Romantic / Historical /