Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Pirate Waters 2: The Rescue of Barbados Betty

Captain Powder Jack stood at the helm of his newly christened ship the Sea Dragon. He spun the wheel to turn the ship as they sailed out of the harbor of Port Royal. There was a favorable wind and Jack was elated to be heading out to sea again. He sang lustily and off-key:
"What did we do with Cap'n Jones bones?
What did we do with Cap'n Jones bones?
What did we do with Cap'n Jones bones?
We buried him at sea.
First, we used the skull for bowling
Then we used the thigh for walking
Then we used the fingers for needles
We buried him at sea
Second, we used the shin for stirring
Then we used the heel for grinding
Then we used the toes for dice
We buried him at sea"
Three verses later the first mate came up to the captain and said, "Begging your pardon, Cap'n, sir but I represent the crew. They say your singing is most noisome."
"Ah, just the man I wanted to see." said the captain smiling. "The privy is in dire need of scrubbing—see to it.
"Aye, aye, Cap'n." said the mate.

Nothing was going to stop Captain Powder Jack today from being in a good mood. He had a new ship, a large purse of gold, and a shiny hook for his right hand. He had wanted a hook for some time but until recently both of his hands worked perfectly. Fortunately, he blew off his own hand a couple of days ago. Jack thought the new hook made him look both dashing and fierce. He had practiced using a sword with his left hand for years in the event that he lost his right hand and was glad that the hard work would pay off. Jack began singing again, much to this dismay of the sailors who had prayed to the saints and gods of the sea that he had lost his place.
"Seventh, we used the beard for weaving..."
Powder Jack knew all twenty verses of the song and could sing them without missing a word even while drunk (though the words would slur a little.)

As he sang he thought about the girl he loved down in Barbados, Elizabeth 'Betty' Prim. The daughter of an Englishman and a native princess, Betty was a stunning beauty. Her dark eyes and wavy tresses were the envy of all the ladies. She was also a huge flirt and Jack knew he would have to return to her soon or she would get restless. And there would be plenty of suitors for her. On an island with few women, men circled Betty like hungry sharks.
"...Then we used the guts for strings
We buried what's left o' him at sea!"
Mercifully, the captain's song ended. The first mate ran up before Powder Jack could start a new song.

"Cap'n, sir! I have scrubbed the privy clean." said the mate.
"Really? Clean already?" asked Jack in disbelief.
"Aye, Cap'n, sir. Clean enough for the queen herself to sit on." said the mate.
"Good man!" replied Jack and his mind began to work. The first mate clearly had the potential of being a great lackey. There was one on every crew.

"Er, what exactly is your name, mate?" asked Jack.
"Augustus Daniels, sir, but most calls me 'Gus'." said the mate.
"Well, Gus, how would you like to be my new shadow?" said Jack.
"You mean it? Oh yes, Cap'n, sir, I would be delighted!" said the mate.
"Please, Gus, just call me 'Cap'n'." replied Jack smoothly.

*****
Gus rowed the small canoe as fast as he could. Cannon balls flew overhead between the pirate ship and the barricades of Barbados. Some of them splashed uncomfortably close to the canoe in the shallow water. Captain Powder Jack sat in the bow while facing forward and holding a drawn sword. He was reveling in the battle and wearing a broad smile.
"Cap'n, are you sure about all this?" yelled Gus between cannon blasts and rowing the canoe.
"Ha! Gus, you worry too much! The plan is simple: you and I will go ashore and I will locate and steal away Barbados Betty while you go find the jailer's key." said Jack beaming confidently.
"And why exactly do we need the jailer's key?" asked Gus.
"Why, in case I get captured, you simpleton!" retorted the captain. "Honestly, Gus, you don't think ahead sometimes." quipped Jack.
"A thousand pardons, Cap'n." said Gus.

Gus, however, was unsure if Powder Jack thought ahead much either. He had ordered the pirate ship to sail right up to the harbor of Barbados and blast away with a broadside of cannons. "Make it rain cannonballs, lads!" the captain had said. "Blast them to bits. We'll teach them the meaning of 'Powder Jack'. And when the fort flies the white flag you're free to come ashore and loot to your heart's delight."

Apparently, the authorities at Barbados were ready for Powder Jack and his crew. They knew he would visit again and they had a line of cannons waiting for him. Jack loved the challenge though and was hoping they would put up a fight before he sacked the town.

Reaching the beach, Jack jumped from the canoe and pointed with his sword down the main road.
"You will find a very drafty and rat-infested jail that way, Gus—just beyond the church." Gus, covered in sweat, just nodded.

"As for me, I'm off to see my love, Betty." said Jack. He turned to trot towards the terraced hills nearby of her father's plantation.

*****
Betty looked out from the balcony of her house and then returned quickly to the looking glass. She wanted to look her best when Jack arrived. "Mother! Quick! Help me tighten my corset in the back." she yelled down the stairs.
Betty knew the day would come when Jack would return and was excited to hear the cannon balls booming.

Betty's mom entered the room and gave her a look. Betty read the look on her face and gave one back.
"What are you going to tell that nice boy, Geoffrey?" Betty's mom, Siba, asked while tightening her corset.
"Mother, I don't love Geoffrey. He's just a friend." she said quickly.
Siba persisted, "Geoffrey has worked very hard for your father and he would make a great husband. Besides, he will be heartbroken."

Siba would be heartbroken, too, if Betty ran off with Jack rather than marrying the local boy. She knew that Geoffrey was a quiet landlord who would choose to live next door to Siba and her husband for many years while raising her grandchildren. Powder Jack would haul her daughter off to sea or worse leave her pregnant and stranded for months at a time while he sacked merchant ships on the waters.

"It's not like Geoffrey and I are married." said Betty defiantly.
"Yes, but you were to marry him in one week!" shot back Siba. "As if it weren't enough already that you are too young to marry." she continued.
"You were younger than I, Mother, when Father stole you from your people and carried you away to this island to be his wife!" fumed Betty.
"Yes, but I was very mature for my age. The women of our tribe had to grow up fast. You! you're a coquettish girl who likes to dress up." said Siba.
Betty played her trump card by saying, "Well, I'm marrying Jack and no one can stop me!"
The truth is Betty had been playing this game a long time—pouting, raging, charming, doing anything to get her own way. Her parents could hardly wait for her to be married off and become someone else's problem. They were so close to her marrying someone decent but now she was determined to run off with a pirate.

*****
Peter Prim was tired of his daughter causing trouble. He had already run Powder Jack off the island once before and now he would have to deal with him again.

Half a year before when Betty came home with a garishly dressed seaman on her arm, Peter smelled a rat.
"What exactly do you do for a living, sir?" asked the wary father.
"Oh, papa, Jack is a ship captain—isn't that exciting?" squealed his daughter. Jack simply smirked and nodded.
"And what pray-tell do you carry on your ship, sir?" inquired the father.
"Oh, whatever I pick up here and there." said Jack nonchalantly.
"Hmm, yes. What's the current price for a barrel of sugar?" asked Peter, the sugar plantation owner.
"Er... a large or small barrel?" stalled Jack.
"And how much for a barrel of rum?" persisted Peter.
"Two crowns, a shilling, six pence, and a couple of farthings." replied Jack without blinking. "Or I could give it to you in doubloons or dollars...
"How are you with a sword, sir?" asked Peter.
Suddenly Powder Jack's eyes flashed. "Any man that crosses blades with me will not live to tell about it." said Jack chuckling. "That is, if I don't shoot them first! Eh?"
"Do you ever encounter pirates on the seas, sir?" asked Peter.
"Oh yes, they're nasty devils. Rumor has it that there's some prowling these very waters. Why just two—no three days ago a merchant vessel was hit not far from here and blown to bits! Or so says the sailors down at the tavern." said Jack.
"Betty, dear, would you please fetch my pipe and bring Captain Jack a cigar?" Peter said suddenly. "I wish to talk with him further in private."
The ecstatic girl suspected her father and Jack were really getting along well now.
Fifteen minutes later she heard them arguing loudly in the drawing room.

"...I'm a powerful man on this island and if you don't want to be hanged or thrown in jail you will stay away from my daughter!" yelled Peter Prim.
"No, Papa!" Betty said as she rushed into the room. By now, most of the household servants were crowded just outside of the room to see what all the commotion was about.
Jack had drawn his matchlock pistol and lit the wick with the end of his cigar. Peter stood on the other side of the room with a machete he had grabbed off a peg by the door.
"Stay out of this, Betty!" yelled Peter.
"Honestly, sir, I think your daughter has a say in this matter." interjected Jack.
"You'll get to my daughter over my dead body." growled the father.
"As you wish." said Jack and he fired the pistol and shot the pipe out of Peter's mouth. It was a very impressive shot—a one in a million. It was also an accident. Jack had been aiming for his head. He had a flare for the dramatic however and seized the moment to walk past the stupefied father and attendants.
"I will be down at the tavern, Betty, if you wish to join me." said Jack as he was leaving.
Betty's father stood wide-eyed and motionless with only the stem of the pipe clenched in his teeth.

The next day, a delirious sailor washed up at Barbados clinging to a half empty barrel of rum. Once they revived the poor, sunburned man, he told the harrowing story of being attacked by the notorious pirate, Powder Jack. The ship was plundered and blown to bits by powder kegs and he alone escaped on a barrel of rum. He had drifted at sea for four days and survived by taking nips of the rum and passing the hours singing, "Cap'n Jones Bones."

Once the news got around, Peter Prim had the local magistrates arrest Powder Jack (who was found head down on a table at the tavern) and throw him in jail. That was the last of Powder Jack—or so Peter thought but over the next month his daughter and Jack exchanged letters daily through the bars of the window.
"She'll get over him after he's hanged." thought Peter. However, the night before the execution the town awoke to the church bell ringing in alarm. The custom house and bank were ablaze and the window of the jail had been blown out. Jack's pistol and sword had been taken when he was arrested but he had hidden his powder horn and flint in his boot. It turned out that his distinctive limp was not merely an affectation but caused by what he was carrying in his boot.

It did not take people long to put the pieces together and the crowd rushed to the docks in time to see Jack being rowed out to a waiting pirate ship in the harbor. Jack stood defiantly in the boat, lit by the flickering firelight and shouted across the waters, "I've got the money from the bank but I will return for the biggest prize yet—Betty Prim!" The whole town was abuzz with the news for weeks and Betty was delighted.

Now, six months later, Jack was back on the island and Peter Prim was busy gathering a guard for his house. By now, most of the fighting men in town had rushed to the barricades to hold the pirates back with cannons and muskets. In fact, the whole town was in chaos.
Peter rode up on horseback to someone he knew would still be around. There was Geoffrey giving instructions to some workers on plans for an irrigation ditch to be dug. He was so engrossed in his work that he was oblivious to the cannon fire.
"Geoffrey! You had better grab your sword and hurry to the main house if you still want to have a bride in a week!" shouted Peter.
Geoffrey looked around, startled by the realization that Betty could be gone by the time he got to her house. The past four months with Betty had been exciting and agonizing. Geoffrey had proved again and again his undying love to her in a thousand acts of kindness. He assured her his only goal was her happiness in life. He worked tirelessly for her father and had saved enough money to build a house for them.
But the ghost of Powder Jack haunted their courtship. He often saw Betty looking out from her balcony dreamily at the sea. Her big eyes would moisten ever so slightly at those times and a sigh would escape through her luscious lips. Geoffrey noticed her elevated heart rate as well by the slight pulse of the vein along her delicate neck—he could not marry her soon enough! He begged her for short a engagement, but she convinced him she needed more time to plan.

Geoffrey jumped on a horse and tore across the countryside. Fortunately, he already had a longsword tied carefully across the back of his saddle. When he arrived Betty stood on the balcony breathless (from the corset) and clutching her bosom. Powder Jack was standing below, entreating her to jump into his waiting arms.

"Back off, you blackguard!" shouted Geoffrey at Jack. Both men drew swords.

Just two days before Betty had made up her mind finally to marry Geoffrey. She had walked the hills of her plantation talking for countless hours with her best friend, Rica, about whom she should marry. Rica was such a great friend! She had pointed out to Betty that Geoffrey was handsome and secure while Jack was exotic and risky. Rica thought Betty should marry Geoffrey but she totally supported her friend no matter what her decision. Now as Betty looked below she was as confused as ever. Sweet Geoffrey, fresh from the field, with his tanned muscles and tussled, blonde hair was holding a sword and ready to die for her. Just to the left of him stood Jack in a long, blue coat with silver buttons. He wore a dark purple, tricorne hat with a plume made of peacock feathers. Only a dandy or a flamboyant pirate would attempt such fashion. A thin rapier was in his left hand and the rays of the setting sun reflected off a silver hook on his right—how dashing and fierce!

"En garde, you scoundrel!" shouted Geoffrey.
"Meet your death!" countered Jack.
Geoffrey swung the heavy longsword and Jack deftly turned it aside with his slender rapier. Geoffrey used his back swing to try to take off Jack's head. But Jack caught the blade with the hook on his right hand.
"I love this thing!" Jack exclaimed while turning Geoffrey's sword with his hook. Then Jack whipped his rapier across Geoffrey's chest, slicing his shirt open and tracing a thin trail of blood.
"Boys, please, don't fight!" Betty cried from the balcony, but secretly she was thrilled. The townspeople would talk about this for years. Additionally, if one of the two men were killed it would make her choice for a husband a whole lot easier—decisions, decisions!

Betty's father and a group of armed men thundered up on horseback. They saw that Geoffrey was losing the sword fight badly. Jack was just toying with him like a cat playing with some unfortunate creature before killing it.

"Ah, gentlemen, good of you to join us." said Jack while dodging a sword slash. "You will have to wait your turn to die. Please form a line."

Peter Prim did not want to take any chances though so he and his men rushed up and threw three fishing nets quickly over Jack. Then they wrestled him to the ground and stood on his sword blade.

"Oy! It's dishonorable to interrupt a duel!" protested Jack.
"You're no gentleman!" said Peter triumphantly. "You're a dirty pirate—the lowest of criminals."
"You mean the best dressed of them." said Jack.

Jack knew his time was short so he started yelling. "Betty! Betty! I will break free and find you. Come away with me!"

"Where, Jack?" she gasped. "Wherever shall we live?" Her hand went from her bosom to her forehead. She feared she might faint at any moment.
"Who cares!" yelled Jack. "I have enough gold to buy an island."
"Really?" she sang out, suddenly revived. Then she dropped the question, "Would you be willing to retire from the sea to make a home for us?"
"What?" exclaimed Jack. "That's not part of the deal..."

Jack was suddenly dragged behind the horses, net and all. He went bumping and eating the dirt all the way to the jail. Once there he was indignantly thrown into his old cell with the promise that he would be hung in the morning. A rat scurried by his feet as he sat down on the hard, wooden cot.

"Time for a nap." thought Jack. Even though it was early evening, Jack knew he would need all the rest he could get to be ready for either a grand escape the next day or a memorable death.

*****
"Get up!" yelled the jailer while banging the bars with a club. "You have a visitor. Father Maynard is here—no doubt to pray for your condemned soul."
Jack sat up and rubbed his face sleepily. A priest in black robe entered the cell carrying a basket.
"Leave us, my child." he said to the jailer. "That I might hear the confession of this dying thief."
The jailer obliged, happy to get back to his station in the front room where he could return to sleep himself.
When the jailer was well out of earshot. The priest whispered, "I brought you some bread and a skin of wine, Cap'n."
"What the devil took you so long, Gus!" said Jack.
"Begging your pardon, Cap'n, but the priest next door put up quite a fight. Also, I didn't feel right about killing a man of the cloth so I restrained him. We have to move fast before someone finds a naked priest in the church bound by ropes." said Gus.
"This bread is stale!" complained Jack.
"Sorry, Cap'n, stale was the best I could steal." said Gus.
"It can't be helped, I guess." said Jack. "Did you get the key?"
"Aye, I did." said Gus and he pulled the key to the jail from his sleeve.
"What news of the attack, then?" asked Jack.
"The quartermaster had the crew pull the ship out of range of the barricade cannons. The townsfolk are glad they survived the bombardment and are using the cover of darkness to shore up the fortifications for tomorrow." said Gus.
"Excellent!" said Jack. "Have you got any black powder on you?"
"Aye, Cap'n, a little." said Gus.
"Meet me an hour before dawn by the custom house." said Jack with a gleam in his eye.

*****
As dawn broke the weary townsfolk awoke to the sound of the church bell ringing in alarm. A fat, naked priest was pulling the bell rope, the newly rebuilt custom house and bank were on fire, and the notorious pirate Powder Jack was being rowed out to his ship with so much gold it threatened to sink the small canoe. Jack soaked in the moment, standing in the canoe with the rising sun behind him. Most of the town, including Peter and Betty Prim, stood on the shore in shocked defeat.
"Cap'n, are you sure you want to leave Barbados Betty behind?" asked Gus while rowing.
"Ah, lad." replied Jack. "The sea is my only mistress."

2 comments:

  1. I see you like to write stories too. If you are ever in the Seattle area I would love to buy you a cup of coffee sometime.

    Peace...

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks Joe,
    I'd like that. My wife is begging me to take her to Seattle but it's hard to get away sometimes. I'm sure we'll head that way eventually. The offer stands for you, too. Let me buy you a cup of coffee if you are ever in Spokane. Blessings.

    ReplyDelete