With the Entrees by Bret Harte
"Once, when I was a pirate—!"
The speaker was an elderly gentleman in correct evening dress, the
room a tasteful one, the company of infinite respectability, the locality
at once fashionable and exclusive, the occasion an unexceptionable
dinner. To this should be added that the speaker was also the host.
With these conditions self-evident, all that good breeding could do
was to receive the statement with a vague smile that might pass for
good-humored incredulity or courteous acceptation of a simple fact.
Indeed, I think we all rather tried to convey the impression that our
host, when he WAS a pirate,—if he ever really was one,—was
all that a self-respecting pirate should be, and never violated the
canons of good society. This idea was, to some extent, crystallized by
the youngest Miss Jones in the exclamation, "Oh, how nice!"
"It was, of course, many years ago, when I was quite a lad."
We all murmured "Certainly," as if piracy were a natural expression of
the exuberance of youth.
"I ought, perhaps, explain the circumstances that led me into this way
Here Legrande, a courteous attache of the Patagonian legation,
interposed in French and an excess of politeness, "that it was not of a
necessity," a statement to which his English neighbor hurriedly
responded, "Oui, oui."
"There ess a boke," he continued, in a well-bred, rapid whisper, "from
Captain Canot,—a Frenchman,—most eenteresting—he
was—oh, a fine man of education—and what you call a
'slavair,'" but here he was quietly nudged into respectful silence.
"I ran away from home," continued our host. He paused, and then added,
appealingly, to the two distinguished foreigners present: "I do not know
if I can make you understand that this is a peculiarly American
predilection. The exodus of the younger males of an American family
against the parents' wishes does not, with us, necessarily carry any
obloquy with it. To the average American the prospect of fortune and a
better condition lies OUTSIDE of his home; with you the home means the
estate, the succession of honors or titles, the surety that the
conditions of life shall all be kept intact. With us the children who do
not expect, and generally succeed in improving the fortunes of the house,
are marked exceptions. Do I make myself clear?"
The French-Patagonian attache thought it was "charming and
progressif." The Baron Von Pretzel thought he had noticed a movement of
that kind in Germany, which was expressed in a single word of seventeen
syllables. Viscount Piccadilly said to his neighbor: "That, you know now,
the younger sons, don't you see, go to Australia, you know in some
beastly trade—stock-raising or sheep—you know; but, by Jove!
"My father always treated me well," continued our host. "I shared
equally with my brothers the privileges and limitations of our New
England home. Nevertheless, I ran away and went to sea—"
"To see—what?" asked Legrande.
"Aller sur mer," said his neighbor, hastily.
"Go on with your piracy!" said Miss Jones.
The distinguished foreigners looked at each other and then at Miss
Jones. Each made a mental note of the average cold-blooded ferocity of
the young American female.
"I shipped on board of a Liverpool 'liner,'" continued our host.
"What ess a 'liner'?" interrupted Legrande, sotto voce, to his next
neighbor, who pretended not to hear him.
"I need not say that these were the days when we had not lost our
carrying trade, when American bottoms—"
"Que est ce, 'bot toom'?" said Legrande, imploringly, to his other
"When American bottoms still carried the bulk of freight, and the
supremacy of our flag—"
Here Legrande recognized a patriotic sentiment and responded to it
with wild republican enthusiasm, nodding his head violently. Piccadilly
noticed it, too, and, seeing an opening for some general discussion on
free trade, began half audibly to HIS neighbor: "Most extraordinary
thing, you know, your American statesmen—"
"I deserted the ship at Liverpool—"
But here two perfunctory listeners suddenly turned toward the other
end of the table, where another guest, our Nevada Bonanza lion, was
evidently in the full flood of pioneer anecdote and narration. Calmly
disregarding the defection, he went on:—
"I deserted the ship at Liverpool in consequence of my ill- treatment
by the second mate,—a man selected for his position by reason of
his superior physical strength and recognized brutality. I have been
since told that he graduated from the state prison. On the second day out
I saw him strike a man senseless with a belaying pin for some trifling
breach of discipline. I saw him repeatedly beat and kick sick
"Did you ever read Dana's 'Two Years before the Mast'?" asked
Lightbody, our heavy literary man, turning to HIS neighbor, in a
distinctly audible whisper. "Ah! there's a book! Got all this sort of
thing in it. Dev'lishly well written, too."
The Patagonian (alive for information): "What ess this Dana, eh?"
His left hand neighbor (shortly): "Oh, that man!"
His right hand neighbor (curtly): "The fellah who wrote the
Encyclopaedia and edits 'The Sun'? that was put up in Boston for the
English mission and didn't get it."
The Patagonian (making a mental diplomatic note of the fact that the
severe discipline of the editor of "The Sun," one of America's
profoundest scholars, while acting from patriotic motives, as the second
mate of an American "bottom," had unfitted him for diplomatic service
abroad): "Ah, ciel!"
"I wandered on the quays for a day or two, until I was picked up by a
Portuguese sailor, who, interesting himself in my story, offered to
procure me a passage to Fayal and Lisbon, where, he assured me, I could
find more comfortable and profitable means of returning to my own land.
Let me say here that this man, although I knew him afterward as one of
the most unscrupulous and heartless of pirates,—in fact the typical
buccaneer of the books,—was to me always kind, considerate, and, at
times, even tender. He was a capital seaman. I give this evidence in
favor of a much ridiculed race, who have been able seamen for
"Did you ever read that Portuguese Guide-book?" asked Lightbody of his
neighbor; "it's the most exquisitely ridiculous thing—"
"Will the great American pirate kindly go on, or resume his original
functions," said Miss Jones, over the table, with a significant look in
the direction of Lightbody. But her anxiety was instantly misinterpreted
by the polite and fair-play loving Englishman: "I say, now, don't you
know that the fact is these Portuguese fellahs are always ahead of us in
the discovery business? Why, you know—"
"I shipped with him on a brig, ostensibly bound to St. Kitts and a
market. We had scarcely left port before I discovered the true character
of the vessel. I will not terrify you with useless details. Enough that
all that tradition and romance has given you of the pirate's life was
ours. Happily, through the kindness of my Portuguese friend, I was kept
from being an active participant in scenes of which I was an unwilling
witness. But I must always bear my testimony to one fact. Our discipline,
our esprit de corps, if I may so term it, was perfect. No benevolent
society, no moral organization, was ever so personally self-sacrificing,
so honestly loyal to one virtuous purpose, as we were to our one vice.
The individual was always merged in the purpose. When our captain blew
out the brains of our quartermaster, one day—"
"That reminds me—DID you read of that Georgia murder?" began
Lightbody; "it was in all the papers I think. Oh, I beg
"For simply interrupting him in a conversation with our second
officer," continued our host, quietly. "The act, although harsh and
perhaps unnecessarily final, was, I think, indorsed by the crew. James,
pass the champagne to Mr. Lightbody."
He paused a moment for the usual casual interruption, but even the
active Legrande was silent.
Alas! from the other end of the table came the voice of the Bonanza
"The rope was around her neck. Well, gentlemen, that Mexican woman
standing there, with that crowd around her, eager for her blood, dern my
skin! if she didn't call out to the sheriff to hold on a minit. And what
fer? Ye can't guess! Why, one of them long braids she wore was under the
noose, and kinder in the way. I remember her raising her hand to her neck
and givin' a spiteful sort of jerk to the braid that fetched it outside
the slip-knot, and then saying to the sheriff: 'There, d—n ye, go
on.' There was a sort o' thoughtfulness in the act, a kind o' keerless,
easy way, that jist fetched the boys—even them thet hed the rope in
their hands, and they—" (suddenly recognizing the silence): "Oh,
beg pardon, old man; didn't know I'd chipped into your yarn—heave
ahead; don't mind me."
"What I am trying to tell you is this: One night, in the Caribbean
Sea, we ran into one of the Leeward Islands, that had been in olden time
a rendezvous for our ship. We were piloted to our anchorage outside by my
Portuguese friend, who knew the locality thoroughly, and on whose
dexterity and skill we placed the greatest reliance. If anything more had
been necessary to fix this circumstance in my mind, it would have been
the fact that two or three days before he had assured me that I should
presently have the means of honorable discharge from the pirate's crew,
and a return to my native land. A launch was sent from the ship to
communicate with our friends on the island, who supplied us with stores,
provisions, and general information. The launch was manned by eight men,
and officered by the first mate,—a grim, Puritanical, practical New
Englander, if I may use such a term to describe a pirate, of great
courage, experience, and physical strength. My Portuguese friend, acting
as pilot, prevailed upon them to allow me to accompany the party as
coxswain. I was naturally anxious, you can readily comprehend, to
"Certainly," "Of course," "Why shouldn't you?" went round the
"Two trustworthy men were sent ashore with instructions. We,
meanwhile, lay off the low, palm-fringed beach, our crew lying on their
oars, or giving way just enough to keep the boat's head to the breakers.
The mate and myself sat in the stern sheets, looking shoreward for the
signal. The night was intensely black. Perhaps for this reason never
before had I seen the phosphorescence of a tropical sea so strongly
marked. From the great open beyond, luminous crests and plumes of pale
fire lifted themselves, ghost- like, at our bows, sank, swept by us with
long, shimmering, undulating trails, broke on the beach in silvery
crescents, or shattered their brightness on the black rocks of the
promontory. The whole vast sea shone and twinkled like another firmament,
against which the figures of our men, sitting with their faces toward us,
were outlined darkly. The grim, set features of our first mate, sitting
beside me, were faintly illuminated. There was no sound but the whisper
of passing waves against our lap-streak, and the low, murmuring
conversation of the men. I had my face toward the shore. As I looked over
the glimmering expanse, I suddenly heard the whispered name of our first
mate. As suddenly, by the phosphorescent light that surrounded it, I saw
the long trailing hair and gleaming shoulders of a woman floating beside
us. Legrande, you are positively drinking nothing. Lightbody, you are
shirking the Burgundy—you used to like it!"
He paused, but no one spoke.
"I—let me see! where was I? Oh, yes! Well, I saw the woman, and
when I turned to call the attention of the first mate to this fact, I
knew instantly, by some strange instinct, that he had seen and heard her,
too. So, from that moment to the conclusion of our little drama, we were
silent, but enforced spectators.
"She swam gracefully—silently! I remember noticing through that
odd, half-weird, phosphorescent light which broke over her shoulders as
she rose and fell with each quiet stroke of her splendidly rounded arms,
that she was a mature, perfectly-formed woman. I remember, also, that
when she reached the boat, and, supporting herself with one small hand on
the gunwale, she softly called the mate in a whisper by his Christian
name, I had a boyish idea that she
was—the—er—er—female of his
species—his—er— natural wife! I'm boring you—am I
Two or three heads shook violently and negatively. The youngest, and,
I regret to say, the OLDEST, Miss Jones uttered together sympathetically,
"Go on—please; do!"
"The—woman told him in a few rapid words that he had been
betrayed; that the two men sent ashore were now in the hands of the
authorities; that a force was being organized to capture the vessel; that
instant flight was necessary, and that the betrayer and traitor
was—my friend, the Portuguese, Fernandez!
"The mate raised the dripping, little brown hand to his lips, and
whispered some undistinguishable words in her ear. I remember seeing her
turn a look of ineffable love and happiness upon his grim, set face, and
then she was gone. She dove as a duck dives, and I saw her shapely head,
after a moment's suspense, reappear a cable's length away toward the
"I ventured to raise my eyes to the mate's face; it was cold and
impassive. I turned my face toward the crew; they were conversing in
whispers with each other, with their faces toward us, yet apparently
utterly oblivious of the scene that had just taken place in the stern.
There was a moment of silence, and then the mate's voice came out quite
impassively, but distinctly:—
"'Aye, aye, sir!'
"'Come aft and—bring your oar with you.'
"He did so, stumbling over the men, who, engaged in their whispered
yarns, didn't seem to notice him.
"'See if you can find soundings here.'
"Fernandez leaned over the stern and dropped his oar to its shaft in
the phosphorescent water. But he touched no bottom; the current brought
the oar at right angles presently to the surface.
"'Send it down, man,' said the mate, imperatively; 'down, down. Reach
over there. What are you afraid of? So; steady there; I'll hold you.'
"Fernandez leaned over the stern and sent the oar and half of his
bared brown arm into the water. In an instant the mate caught him with
one tremendous potential grip at his elbows, and forced him and his oar
head downward in the waters. The act was so sudden, yet so carefully
premeditated, that no outcry escaped the doomed man. Even the launch
scarcely dipped her stern to the act. In that awful moment I heard a
light laugh from one of the men in response to a wanton yarn from his
comrade,—James, bring the vichy to Mr. Lightbody! You'll find that
a dash of cognac will improve it wonderfully.
"Well—to go on—a few bubbles arose to the surface.
Fernandez seemed unreasonably passive, until I saw that when the mate had
gripped his elbows with his hands he had also firmly locked the traitor's
knees within his own. In a few moments—it seemed to me, then, a
century—the mate's grasp relaxed; the body of Fernandez, a mere
limp, leaden mass, slipped noiselessly and heavily into the sea. There
was no splash. The ocean took it calmly and quietly to its depths. The
mate turned to the men, without deigning to cast a glance on me.
"'Oars!' The men raised their oars apeak.
"'Let fall!' There was a splash in the water, encircling the boat in
concentric lines of molten silver.
"Well, of course, that's all. WE got away in time. I knew I bored you
awfully! Eh? Oh, you want to know what became of the woman— really,
I don't know! And myself—oh, I got away at Havana! Eh? Certainly;
James, you'll find some smelling salts in my bureau. Gentlemen, I fear we
have kept the ladies too long."
But they had already risen, and were slowly filing out of the room.
Only one lingered—the youngest Miss Jones.
"That was a capital story," she said, pausing beside our host, with a
special significance in her usual audacity. "Do you know you absolutely
sent cold chills down my spine a moment ago. Really, now, you ought to
write for the magazines!"
Our host looked up at the pretty, audacious face. Then he said, sotto