by Laela Relfe
A privateer captain gets more than he bargained for during a simple escort mission.
Crate after crate, each full of shiny gold, were loaded onto the cart. Spanish gold, borrowed without permission – stolen, in other words – from the traders near Santiago. There was enough money on that cart to feed a family of five for ten years.
“I'd say that was a successful haul,” said Captain Richard Cartwright of the Lara proudly. He was standing on the small brig, leaning over the side and peering into the clear depths of Port Royal harbour. “Governor Modyford should be pleased.”
“Pleased? Delighted, more like. I hope he actually bothers to say thank you instead of celebrating as soon as he hears the news,” scoffed Miles Stanford, lieutenant of the Lara. He was standing next to Richard, studying the other ships in the harbour with a critical eye.
“Miles, he's not that bad, really. He could have done all sorts of terrible things to Morgan after it became known that the king was angry with him for allowing the raid, but he stood by him. He's a man of his word.”
“And he'll pay for it, if the rumours are true. They say the king is so mad he's going to appoint a new governor.”
Richard turned to his first mate, startled. “Where'd you hear that? I haven't heard anything of the kind!”
“From the Dutchman we had dinner with in Tortuga. Remember?” Miles raised an expressive eyebrow. He was of medium height and build, not exactly handsome. He always looked as if he hadn't shaved for a week.
“Oh, yes. But he didn't say anything to me.”
“I don't blame him. You were so utterly cold to him – I would have done the same thing if I were him!” Miles frowned reproachfully, but then his face softened and he laughed. “You look a picture! You'd think the Dons were about to invade, looking at your face!” He paused. “Richard, you aren't listening to me, are you?”
Richard looked up again, guiltily. “Yes, I am. I was just thinking.”
“Of what?” Miles lent on the side, face curiously intent, as if he was regarding a particularly shiny piece-of-eight.
But Richard was thinking of anything but nothing. Miles's casual passing-on of the rumour had started a suspicion he couldn't quite shake off, no matter how hard he tried. Henry Morgan, captain of the infamous Brethren of the Coast, had raided Panama almost a year earlier and come away with a fortune in gold and silver. The king, however, had been trying to make peace with Spain, and the queen of Spain was displeased with the fact that an English privateer captain had stolen Spanish money. If the king wanted to please Queen Maria, he would have to punish the offenders, including all the other privateer captains who had attacked Spain.
And that meant the captain of the Lara – him.
Richard tweaked his neckcloth apprehensively, staring at the governor's ornate mansion. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, it was a glorious day, and Richard would far rather have been standing on a grapeshot-torn deck than here. But he summoned his courage and rang the doorbell.
The peal sounded throughout the house; Richard could hear it clearly even standing outside. He winced at the ugly noise, so out-of-keeping with the beautiful surroundings of Jamaica.
The door opened. Standing just inside was a aide, older than Richard but still young, with a confident air and dignified bearing. “Sir?” He almost hissed the word, so supercilious was his tone.
All the courage Richard had summoned fled, and it took him a few seconds to reclaim it. “I'm here to see Governor Modyford,” he finally said, breaking the dreadful silence.
There was another dreadful silence as the aide regarded him first with surprise, then disbelief, then with amused scorn. “You haven't heard, have you?” he said. “Governor Modyford is governor no more, and on his way to England. Sir Thomas Lynch is the new governor here.”
Richard reeled. Not only were the rumours true, they were more than true! Desperately he questioned the aide. He was uncommunicative at first, but finally softened when the young captain pointed out that you don't get much news at sea, and told him the whole story.
King Charles had been furious when Modyford had stood by the privateers rather than punishing them. He had ordered the governor to put the Brethren of the Coast on trial, but Modyford had insisted that they had been acting with his permission and tried unsuccessfully to convince the king that Panama had been plotting to take Port Royal. The king, seething, had sent Sir Thomas with orders to replace Modyford and send the erring governor and privateer captain back to England. It was likely Morgan would face trial.
Richard considered. He could ask the aide to show him to the governor and throw himself on Sir Thomas's mercy, but would the new governor understand that Richard had felt it his duty to attack the Spanish ships? He was likely to have a firm and unreasoning hatred of pirates if the king had trusted him to take over. No, the governor probably would not understand.
But what was the alternative? Hurry back to the Lara and run? To Tortuga, perhaps? No. That would be cowardly, refusing to accept responsibility for his actions – although they had been done with good intentions. Richard had been given a commission at the same time as Morgan, on the same conditions as Morgan. If the famed pirate captain would have to face trial, then so would he. It was his duty, however unpleasant. He took a deep breath.
“Tell the governor Captain Cartwright of the Lara is here to see him.”
The boat clunked against the side of the Lara, and Miles waited expectantly until Richard appeared on deck.
He looked tired and dejected, but relieved all the same – a curious facial expression, that Miles had never encountered before. He watched Richard walk to the side and stare into the water as he had that morning. Only this time he seemed to be searching for something – it was as if even he didn't know what he was looking for.
“All right, sir?”
Richard jumped, then relaxed when he saw who it was. “Fine, Miles.”
“Why don't I believe you?” Miles sat on the side next to Richard, and waited. Richard didn't reply, only stared harder into the water, now dark as the sun began to sink under the horizon. “Come on, tell me,” Miles coaxed.
“Modyford and Morgan have been arrested.” Richard spoke without seeming to move, his gaze still riveted on the ocean floor. “Sir Thomas Lynch is the new governor. They've let most of the Brethren go free. Most of them have gone to Tortuga.”
Miles whistled in disbelief. “And us?”
“Free. I had to turn in my commission, but he won't arrest me. He says if he arrested all the suspected pirates of Port Royal, he'd have to arrest almost every seaman in the place.” He smiled faintly, but there was no laughter in his eyes. “He suggests we go into trading. Ferrying goods between here and the Bahamas.”
“Never,” said Miles, unusually serious, and Richard nodded. They both had the fighting seaman's horror of the merchant service, with its long trips back and forth and nothing to break the monotony. “So what will you do?”
“I don't know.” Richard's voice cracked slightly, and he closed his eyes. A long sigh escaped his lips. “I really don't know.”
“Look, Richard,” said Miles, placing a hand on his captain's shoulder, “you can't let an obstacle like this get you down. We've defeated Spanish navy vessels at crazy odds, escaped countless customs officials, and escaped French prisons. We've got to find a way past this!”
“You think we can?” Richard turned to face Miles, thoughtful. For the first time since he'd come on deck there was hope in his eyes.
“Sure we can,” said Miles firmly. An idea hit him. “Go talk to Lynch. If he didn't bite your head off, maybe he'll be friendly. Ask his advice. Appeal to his vanity if necessary – that always works.” Miles was rewarded with a chuckle from Richard. “Maybe he'll have some work for us to do, or an idea,” he finished.
“You're right, Miles,” said Richard, straightening. His tone was positive, and his jaw had a determined set. “I'll go see him first thing tomorrow.”
“So you want my help.”
Sir Thomas was very tall. Taller than Richard, and Richard was tall. His powered wig reached halfway to his waist, and his face was long, like a mule's.
Richard nodded, apprehensive. Ornate decorations and fancy houses made him nervous, and this mansion was no exception to the rule. The memory of what had happened last time he had sat in that chair was little comfort. Although Sir Thomas had not actually been that angry, Richard had still felt like a schoolboy caught in the act of robbing the pantry. “Yes, sir,” he replied, trying not to squirm.
“And you're not interested in trading with the merchants in Grand Bahama.”
Sir Thomas looked thoughtful; he frowned slightly, as if debating something with himself. Richard waited, tense. He wanted nothing more than to get up and run out the gilded double doors, but the entire crew of the Lara was relying on him – seventy-five men. This conversation would decide their future. Again, an unpleasant duty.
“As a matter of fact, I do have something for you.”
Richard released the breath he hadn't known he'd been holding. “Thank you, sir,” he said.
“I suppose you don't know that I have a young female ward?”
Richard's relief and gratitude turned rapidly to puzzlement and surprise. What did this have to do with him and the Lara? “No, I did not know, sir.”
The governor smiled faintly. “I didn't think you would. No doubt you know, however, that I left England in haste. I did not have time to wait for a vessel to depart fit for carrying a lady, so I went alone and arranged for her to come after me on a more spacious vessel. Her vessel will be passing the town of Tortuga in a few weeks.”
Understanding dawned. “You want us to escort her, sir?”
“Yes. I'm concerned that the former members of the Brethren of the Coast there will make an attempt on her ship as an act of revenge for my confiscating their spoils.”
“I see, sir.”
The governor rose. “I'll arrange to have precise co-ordinates and an official commission sent to you this afternoon. I assume you have sailed in company with another vessel before, Captain?”
Richard smiled, remembering the days when Captain Andrews in the Snatcher and the Lara had sailed together. “Frequently, sir.”
“Good. Good day to you, Captain Cartwright.” Sir Thomas extended his hand, and Richard shook it with a grateful smile.
“Thank you, sir.”
“You've said that already. Now, off with you!” said the governor with a laugh. Richard obediently left the room. He was hard-pressed not to yell with delight as soon as he got outside. Miles had been right – they'd done it!
A wave hit the side of the Lara, washing over the deck and soaking the crew. She rolled with the sea, and another wave hit, stubbornly refusing to let up.
Richard pushed his wet hair out of his eyes, and surveyed the vessel. The ship was holding up to the strain well, and the crew seemed to be enjoying the dousing. No, there was nothing to worry about. They'd make it to Tortuga fine.
So he continued to reassure himself as he went below to his cabin, but he was not convinced. A million things could go wrong. This squall could delay them so they'd miss their rendezvous, or Miss Seldon's vessel might get lost, or either ship could be attacked before they could get to the other, or Captain Fairchild, the captain of the vessel, might refuse to cooperate. This mission would be incredibly easy to mess up; and Richard was still relying on the mercy of Governor Lynch. Get this wrong, it'd most likely be prison – or the noose.
Richard placed the chart of Hispaniola on his tiny desk, and caught at the table as another wave shook the ship. He shook his head, brushed his damp hair from his eyes again, and concentrated on the chart.
They were no more than one day's sail from meeting the King Charles II, if both ships had kept to the plotted course. Richard had no fear of the Lara being lost, he'd kept to his assigned course with a vigor that had been quite surprising to Miles Stanford. Miles had not been able to understand why precise navigation was so important as Richard had not yet told him their mission. Richard had had to scold Miles for deviating slightly from the ordered course – the memory of Miles's shocked reaction still smarted. He didn't understand why deviating from their course by a few degrees was such a terrible thing: it never had been before.
A knock on the door penetrated into Richard's thoughts. He sighed wearily. “Come in.”
It was Miles. He was standing erect, slightly aloof. “Excuse me, sir, but we won't be able to keep to our course much longer. The breeze is getting stronger.” Richard had never heard Miles so formal. Was he holding a grudge? Richard held back a frustrated sigh. Happy-go-lucky Miles was usually careless, but he didn't often hold grudges. Why now?
“I'll be on deck directly.” As he stood a sudden roll caught him by surprise. He careened across the cabin and crashed into the bulkhead, bruising his shoulder.
“Are you alright, Richard?” asked Miles. Somehow he had made it across the cabin in half-a-second flat and was now helping him up.
“Yes,” said Richard, embarrassed at how undignified he must have looked. Suddenly the funny side hit him, and he laughed. “I looked like an idiot, didn't I?”
“Do you really want me to answer that?” chuckled Miles as he opened the door. Richard followed him through with a sigh of relief. At least Miles had forgiven him the bawling out.
“Two points to starboard,” bellowed Richard over the din of a wave. He'd been standing by the helm for the past hour, personally giving directions to keep the ship on the correct course. They were down to the minimum possible sail. The wind had gotten stronger; sheets of rain poured down, soaking him to the skin.
“Aye aye, sir!” yelled back the helmsman as he struggled with the wheel, which seemed to have a mind of its own. It almost slipped out of his hands. Richard dived forward and grabbed it, holding it steady.
“Sorry, sir. Thank you, sir,” mumbled the man, embarrassed that a slip in his work had forced his captain to intervene. Richard knew the feeling all too well.
“Carry on,” he said with an almost imperceptible smile, remembering a similar occurrence when he'd been at the helm of the Snatcher under Captain Andrews. That, however, had been in a hurricane. An experience he didn't care to repeat.
After a few more minutes, the wind had calmed down sufficiently that Richard felt it was safe to leave the wheel. He hurried forward, to where Miles was commanding a division of topmen.
“All right, Miles?”
Miles turned to face him, startled. He had not seen him approach. “Yes, mostly. We have a lot of wear on part of the standing rigging, but it's still too blowy to effect repairs.”
“Think it'll hold?”
“It should, unless this gale gets worse.”
Richard nodded, then hurried back to the wheel, frowning at yet another worry to add to his list. If the rigging broke, they'd miss the rendezvous by several days, leaving the King Charles vulnerable. And the captain of the Lara in deep trouble. He clenched his fists and set his jaw. They'd just have to hope that the rigging would hold.
It did hold. The squall blew itself out after another hour, and the Caribbean returned to its usual deceptively calm state. The next morning, Richard woke to the sound of the lookout calling “Sail ho!” He was out of his hammock in a second, and on the deck in ten. Miles had just called something to the lookout, and Richard got there fast enough to hear the reply.
“To larboard, sir. Looks like a sloop,” called the lookout.
Miles turned to face Richard. “Orders, sir?”
Richard was surprised at Miles's request at first, but remembered that he had not yet told the lieutenant what they were doing out here. “Hoist our colours and close with them. If she flies an English flag, get close enough to hail them and request that they heave to.”
“And if they refuse?”
“I'll handle it.” He paused. Yes, he'd tell Miles their mission. Just in case. “We're supposed to rendezvous with and escort to Port Royal an eight-gun sloop flying English colours named the King Charles II. This could be it.”
Miles gave a low whistle as he realised the reason for all the precautions and careful navigation. He also knew how difficult it was to make a rendezvous at sea. “I see,” he said to Richard, then spun around to face the helmsman. “Four points to port. Close with them.” He turned back to Richard, but was just in time to see his head vanish below decks. Richard had gone to get dressed in his formal uniform.
When Richard came up on deck again, Miles was standing on the larboard side of the deck, yelling at the now nearby sloop through a speaking trumpet. Richard's eyes scanned the small vessel. There were only a handful of sailors on deck, and she was flying English colours. They were facing the bow of the ship, so he could not see the name, but he supposed it was the King Charles because Miles would not have brought the Lara so close if she wasn't. They couldn't have been more than one hundred yards away from each other.
“I demand you heave-to!” hollered Miles, exasperated. “We are to escort you –”
“That's what any pirate would say!” yelled a man on the deck of the sloop. “I don't believe you for one second, and would anyone?”
Richard sighed. He'd have to handle this – he had more diplomacy in his little finger than Miles did in his entire body. He took the trumpet from Miles with a curt nod. “Thank you, Mr. Stanford, that will do.” Miles stepped back guiltily. Richard raised the speaking trumpet to his lips.
“My apologies, sir. It seems you have misunderstood us. I am Captain Cartwright, of the privateer vessel Lara, and I am here as your escort past Tortuga. I have a letter from Governor Lynch to prove my word.”
“Y'think I believe you?”
Richard was about to lose it and yell an angry reply – the man was so difficult! – when a young woman appeared on deck. He paused, waiting to see what the lady – who was most likely Miss Seldon – would do.
She walked over to the captain and exchanged a few words. Though Richard could not see her face at this distance, but her hands were on her hips and her whole stance communicated annoyance. The captain nodded, half-meekly, half-grumpily. He raised the trumpet to his lips again.
“I am sorry for the misunderstanding, sir. We will heave-to and let you come aboard to discuss formation, if you wish it.”
“I do wish it,” Richard called back emphatically. “I will come aboard directly.”
Richard hauled himself onto the deck of the sloop. “Welcome, Captain,” said the captain, who was waiting at the entry point. “I'm Captain Fairchild, of the King Charles II. Please come aft.” Richard nodded, and followed him up the deck until they reached the tiny quarterdeck.
“Welcome, sir,” said a female voice. Richard jumped, then turned to Miss Seldon, embarrassed. She was almost as tall as he was, with fiery red hair and raised eyebrows. She smiled faintly.
“I'm glad you've come to escort us, Captain,” she said frankly. “I don't think this ship could function alone in a fight.”
Glancing around the King Charles again, Richard was inclined to agree with her. The few crew members he saw were poorly outfitted, and slouched lazily. He could see a rip in the topsail, and coils of rope were casually lying about the foot of the mast forward. But it would be very rude to Fairchild to admit it in front of him. He chose to ignore the comment.
“Thank you, ma'am,” he said formally. It occurred to him that he hadn't spoken to a lady since he left Bristol for the Caribbean years earlier – and they were technically women rather than 'ladies'. In all his contemplating this mission on the way here, he had never once thought that he'd actually have to talk to Miss. Seldon. She looked at him expectantly, waiting for him to fill in the gap. He struggled to think of something else to say. “May I ask, ma'am, why you didn't come with your guardian when he came to Port Royal?” He hoped 'ma'am' was the correct term to use.
“He insisted I take a vessel 'more fit for a lady',” she quoted, doing a creditable imitation of the governor's voice. “I wish I had gone with him. It would have been safer.”
Richard stiffened. “Are you implying you do not trust me and Captain Fairchild?” The mention of Fairchild was as an afterthought. Richard could understand not trusting him.
“I was merely stating the fact that traveling on a navy vessel is safer. You're less likely to be attacked than on a merchant ship, being escorted by common privateers.”
He bristled. Common? “I assure you, ma'am, that we are just as disciplined as any navy crew.” She shrugged nonchalantly. He bristled more.
“The navy is undercrewed at present, ma'am.”
“So they sent you instead?”
“That's not what I was implying.” What he had meant to say was that the navy wasn't effective because they were undercrewed. And here she was, taking him to mean ... what had she taken him to mean? Her response hadn't really told him. “I meant, ma'am, that your guardian asked me to do it as a personal favor.”
“Are you a friend of his?”
“No. I mean, yes. I mean, sort of.” Richard mentally kicked himself for acting like such a fool. At least Miles wasn't there to hear him – Richard would never hear the end of it if he was.
“What's that supposed to mean?” she asked, sounding slightly amused. Now she was laughing at him!
He cleared his throat. “I met Sir Thomas only recently. He gave me the mission as a favor to me, not to him.”
“How's it a favor to you?” Her smile was gone.
“Excuse me, sir,” interrupted Fairchild. There was a sailor Richard didn't know standing next to him. “My steward informs me dinner is served in my cabin. Shall we go down?”
“Very well,” said Richard, teeth clenched, looking anywhere but at Miss Seldon. “My crew?” He gestured to the longboat waiting by the side of the King Charles II.
“They may return to your ship if you wish. I can send you back by our boat.”
Richard nodded an assent and walked to the side. “Johnson!” he called to the coxswain of the boat.
“Yes, sir?” replied Johnson, looking up.
“Go back to the Lara. Tell Mr. Stanford I leave him in command.”
“Aye aye, sir! Cast off, Lambert.”
Richard turned back to Fairchild. “I'm at your disposal, sir.”
Fairchild nodded. “Come below.” He turned and disappeared down the hatchway, followed by Miss Seldon. Richard shot one last glare at her departing back before following them down the hatchway.
“Do try some of this wine, Captain.” offered Captain Fairchild. “It is excellent.”
“No, thank you,” replied Richard distantly. He was aware of the fact that he had been thoroughly disagreeable all evening, but the knowledge didn't improve his mood, or tempt him to be more conciliating. Miss Seldon had not improved on further acquaintance, and Fairchild had proved to be a pompous toady. The food wasn't much to boast about, either.
“So, Captain Cartwright, I hear you are from Bristol?” asked Miss Seldon.
“Yes,” replied Richard guardedly. Where did she hear that? And what did she mean by asking?
“I spent a summer there once, with Sir Thomas. I do not believe that I ever met any of your family.” There was a slight inflection on the end of 'family'. There was no doubt in Richard's mind she was asking a question.
“No, you probably didn't,” he muttered under his breath. His father had been a shipwright at the port, hardly in her social circle. “A misfortune for you, ma'am,” he said gallantly.
She stiffened, and did not reply. Richard resisted the urge to smile in triumph. She'd been humiliating him all evening; it was his turn now.
“When did you come to the Caribbean, Captain?” asked Fairchild awkwardly, in an attempt to break the silence.
“Seven years ago, sir.”
Fairchild started. “Really? You must have been very young.”
“I suppose I was.”
“When did you become captain of the Lara?” asked Miss Seldon.
“Three years ago, but I remained under the direct command of Captain Andrews of the Snatcher until two years ago.” He watched her reaction carefully, expecting surprise, but did not see any.
And with that the entire party collapsed into silence. No one said anything for a full quarter-hour: Fairchild could not think of anything, Richard did not want to speak, and Miss Seldon ... what did Miss Seldon think? Richard couldn't tell. Her face was a mask, hiding any emotion she might feel. Her eyes raised to meet his, and he hurriedly looked away.
“So, Captain,” said Fairchild. “Do you have a signal system organised for us to use?”
“Yes, I do, but it's very simple. Just coloured pennants. Black for danger, red for 'come to our aid', and so on. I'll give you a full list before I return to the Lara.”
“Good, Captain. I really think someone should come up with a signal system common to all British ships. It would make communication much simpler – for instance, we wouldn't have had that misunderstanding this morning.”
Richard was about to agree – this was one of his pet peeves – when Miss Seldon began to speak.
“If you gentlemen are going to begin discussing ships and suchlike, I will excuse myself.” She stood, and the two men followed her example, in accordance with proper etiquette.
Richard was not sorry to see her go. Without her watching his every move he felt more at liberty to discuss matters with Fairchild, and soon they had worked out protocols for sailing together and an entire signal system. The Lara would need to supply the flags, the King Charles had none on board. They continued to talk for some time, until Richard looked out the cabin window and saw the sunset in all its glory. He gasped.
“It's getting late. I must return to the Lara.”
“Very well, Captain. Come up on deck.”
When they reached the deck Fairchild began dishing out orders to have a boat launched for Captain Cartwright. Richard couldn't help but think it would be faster to signal to the Lara for his own boat, but said nothing. Instead he leaned against the side of the ship nearest to land, gazing towards the distant coast of Hispaniola. He thought for a moment that he had seen a white sail on the horizon, but when he looked again it was not there. He shrugged, puzzled.
“Captain Cartwright? What are you looking at?”
It was Miss Seldon. He groaned inwardly, and turned to the lady. “Nothing, ma'am.”
“Nothing? You most definitely were looking at something.” She peered out to where Richard had thought he'd seen the ship. “What's that?”
Richard looked again. There was a ship out there, and it was getting closer by the second. “Telescope!” he snapped to a nearby midshipman, who, startled, handed one over. Richard held it to his right eye and stared through it. It was a brig of similar size to the Lara, all sails out and making way at an astonishing rate. But most worrying of all: flapping above the masthead was the distinctive red flag of no quarter, traditional among pirates.
“Captain Fairchild!” he yelled, startling Miss Seldon, who jumped out of her skin. The portly captain hurried over and took the telescope from Richard's outstretched hand. He peered through it and his face went deathly pale.
“I'll never be able to get back to the Lara in time,” said Richard. He forced himself to stifle the growing panic and think logically.
“That's correct,” muttered Fairchild. “And they'll never be able to get past us in time, with them going this fast.”
A germ of a plan began to grow in Richard's mind. “I suppose you don't have any signal flags, Captain?”
Richard turned to Miss Seldon. He expected her to look frightened, but she seemed fully in control of her emotions, whatever they were. “Do you have a red dress, Miss Seldon?”
However in control she had been, she wasn't prepared for that. Her eyes widened. “Yes, Captain Cartwright, but how –”
“Say no more,” he interrupted rather rudely. “Would you be so good as to fetch it immediately? We're short on time.”
She nodded, curtsied, and ran below decks. Richard turned to the Lara, about one hundred and fifty yards away.
Hopefully Miles remembered the signal system, or they were in deep, deep trouble.
To be continued in Part Two.