by Arthur Conan
HOW THE GOVERNOR OF SAINT KITT'S CAME HOME.
When the great wars of the Spanish Succession had been brought to an end
by the Treaty of Utrecht, the vast number of privateers which had been
fitted out by the contending parties found their occupation gone. Some
took to the more peaceful but less lucrative ways of ordinary commerce,
others were absorbed into the fishing fleets, and a few of the more
reckless hoisted the Jolly Rodger at the mizzen, and the bloody flag at
the main, declaring a private war upon their own account against the
whole human race.
With mixed crews, recruited from every nation, they scoured the seas,
disappearing occasionally to careen in some lonely inlet, or putting in
for a debauch at some outlying port, where they dazzled the inhabitants
by their lavishness, and horrified them by their brutalities.
On the Coromandel Coast, at Madagascar, in the African waters, and above
all in the West Indian and American seas, the pirates were a constant
menace. With an insolent luxury they would regulate their depredations
by the comfort of the seasons, harrying New England in the summer, and
dropping south again to the tropical islands in the winter.
They were the more to be dreaded because they had none of that
discipline and restraint which made their predecessors, the Buccaneers,
both formidable and respectable. These Ishmaels of the sea rendered an
account to no man, and treated their prisoners according to the drunken
whim of the moment. Flashes of grotesque generosity alternated with
longer stretches of inconceivable ferocity, and the skipper who fell
into their hands might find himself dismissed with his cargo, after
serving as boon companion in some hideous debauch, or might sit at his
cabin table with his own nose and his lips served up with pepper and
salt in front of him. It took a stout seaman in those days to ply his
calling in the Caribbean Gulf.
Such a man was Captain John Scarrow, of the ship Morning Star, and yet
he breathed a long sigh of relief when he heard the splash of the
falling anchor and swung at his moorings within a hundred yards of the
guns of the citadel of Basseterre. St. Kitt's was his final port of
call, and early next morning his bowsprit would be pointed for Old
England. He had had enough of those robber-haunted seas. Ever since he
had left Maracaibo upon the Main, with his full lading of sugar and red
pepper, he had winced at every topsail which glimmered over the violet
edge of the tropical sea. He had coasted up the Windward Islands,
touching here and there, and assailed continually by stories of villainy
Captain Sharkey, of the twenty-gun pirate barque, Happy Delivery, had
passed down the coast, and had littered it with gutted vessels and with
murdered men. Dreadful anecdotes were current of his grim pleasantries
and of his inflexible ferocity. From the Bahamas to the Main his
coal-black barque, with the ambiguous name, had been freighted with
death and many things which are worse than death. So nervous was
Captain Scarrow, with his new full-rigged ship, and her full and
valuable lading, that he struck out to the west as far as Bird's Island
to be out of the usual track of commerce. And yet even in those
solitary waters he had been unable to shake off sinister traces of
One morning they had raised a single skiff adrift upon the face of the
ocean. Its only occupant was a delirious seaman, who yelled hoarsely as
they hoisted him aboard, and showed a dried-up tongue like a black and
wrinkled fungus at the back of his mouth. Water and nursing soon
transformed him into the strongest and smartest sailor on the ship.
He was from Marblehead, in New England, it seemed, and was the sole
survivor of a schooner which had been scuttled by the dreadful Sharkey.
For a week Hiram Evanson, for that was his name, had been adrift beneath
a tropical sun. Sharkey had ordered the mangled remains of his late
captain to be thrown into the boat, "as provisions for the voyage," but
the seaman had at once committed it to the deep, lest the temptation
should be more than he could bear. He had lived upon his own huge frame
until, at the last moment, the Morning Star had found him in that
madness which is the precursor of such a death. It was no bad find for
Captain Scarrow, for, with a short-handed crew, such a seaman as this
big New Englander was a prize worth having. He vowed that he was the
only man whom Captain Sharkey had ever placed under an obligation.
Now that they lay under the guns of Basseterre, all danger from the
pirate was at an end, and yet the thought of him lay heavily upon the
seaman's mind as he watched the agent's boat shooting out from the
"I'll lay you a wager, Morgan," said he to the first mate, "that the
agent will speak of Sharkey in the first hundred words that pass his
"Well, captain, I'll have you a silver dollar, and chance it," said the
rough old Bristol man beside him.
The negro rowers shot the boat alongside, and the linen-clad steersman
sprang up the ladder. "Welcome, Captain Scarrow!" he cried. "Have you
heard about Sharkey?"
The captain grinned at the mate.
"What devilry has he been up to now?" he asked.
"Devilry! You've not heard, then? Why, we've got him safe under lock
and key at Basseterre. He was tried last Wednesday, and he is to be
hanged to-morrow morning."
Captain and mate gave a shout of joy, which an instant later was taken
up by the crew. Discipline was forgotten as they scrambled up through
the break of the poop to hear the news. The New Englander was in the
front of them with a radiant face turned up to Heaven, for he came of
the Puritan stock.
"Sharkey to be hanged!" he cried. "You don't know, Master Agent, if
they lack a hangman, do you?"
"Stand back!" cried the mate, whose outraged sense of discipline was
even stronger than his interest at the news. "I'll pay that dollar,
Captain Scarrow, with the lightest heart that ever I paid a wager yet.
How came the villain to be taken?"
"Why, as to that, he became more than his own comrades could abide, and
they took such a horror of him that they would not have him on the ship.
So they marooned him upon the Little Mangles to the south of the
Mysteriosa Bank, and there he was found by a Portobello trader, who
brought him in. There was talk of sending him to Jamaica to be tried,
but our good little Governor, Sir Charles Ewan, would not hear of it.
'He's my meat,' said he, 'and I claim the cooking of it.' If you can
stay till to-morrow morning at ten, you'll see the joint swinging."
"I wish I could," said the captain, wistfully, "but I am sadly behind
time now. I should start with the evening tide."
"That you can't do," said the agent with decision. "The Governor is
going back with you."
"Yes. He's had a dispatch from Government to return without delay.
The fly-boat that brought it has gone on to Virginia. So Sir Charles
has been waiting for you, as I told him you were due before the rains."
"Well, well!" cried the captain in some perplexity, "I'm a plain seaman,
and I don't know much of governors and baronets and their ways. I don't
remember that I ever so much as spoke to one. But if it's in King
George's service, and he asks a cast in the Morning Star as far as
London, I'll do what I can for him. There's my own cabin he can have
and welcome. As to the cooking, it's lobscouse and salmagundy six days
in the week; but he can bring his own cook aboard with him if he thinks
our galley too rough for his taste."
"You need not trouble your mind, Captain Scarrow," said the agent.
"Sir Charles is in weak health just now, only clear of a quartan ague,
and it is likely he will keep his cabin most of the voyage.
Dr. Larousse said that he would have sunk had the hanging of Sharkey not
put fresh life into him. He has a great spirit in him, though, and you
must not blame him if he is somewhat short in his speech."
"He may say what he likes, and do what he likes, so long as he does not
come athwart my hawse when I am working the ship," said the captain.
"He is Governor of St. Kitt's, but I am Governor of the Morning Star,
and, by his leave, I must weigh with the first tide, for I owe a duty to
my employer, just as he does to King George."
"He can scarce be ready to-night, for he has many things to set in order
before he leaves."
"The early morning tide, then."
"Very good. I shall send his things aboard to-night; and he will follow
them to-morrow early if I can prevail upon him to leave St. Kitt's
without seeing Sharkey do the rogue's hornpipe. His own orders were
instant, so it may be that he will come at once. It is likely that Dr.
Larousse may attend him upon the journey."
Left to themselves, the captain and mate made the best preparations
which they could for their illustrious passenger. The largest cabin was
turned out and adorned in his honour, and orders were given by which
barrels of fruit and some cases of wine should be brought off to vary
the plain food of an ocean-going trader. In the evening the Governor's
baggage began to arrive—great iron-bound ant-proof trunks, and official
tin packing-cases, with other strange-shaped packages, which suggested
the cocked hat or the sword within. And then there came a note, with a
heraldic device upon the big red seal, to say that Sir Charles Ewan made
his compliments to Captain Scarrow, and that he hoped to be with him in
the morning as early as his duties and his infirmities would permit.
He was as good as his word, for the first grey of dawn had hardly begun
to deepen into pink when he was brought alongside, and climbed with some
difficulty up the ladder. The captain had heard that the Governor was
an eccentric, but he was hardly prepared for the curious figure who came
limping feebly down his quarter-deck, his steps supported by a thick
bamboo cane. He wore a Ramillies wig, all twisted into little tails
like a poodle's coat, and cut so low across the brow that the large
green glasses which covered his eyes looked as if they were hung from
it. A fierce beak of a nose, very long and very thin, cut the air in
front of him. His ague had caused him to swathe his throat and chin
with a broad linen cravat, and he wore a loose damask powdering-gown
secured by a cord round the waist. As he advanced he carried his
masterful nose high in the air, but his head turned slowly from side to
side in the helpless manner of the purblind, and he called in a high,
querulous voice for the captain.
"You have my things?" he asked.
"Yes, Sir Charles."
"Have you wine aboard?"
"I have ordered five cases, sir."
"There is a keg of Trinidad."
"You play a hand at picquet?"
"Passably well, sir."
"Then anchor up, and to sea!"
There was a fresh westerly wind, so by the time the sun was fairly
through the morning haze, the ship was hull down from the islands.
The decrepit Governor still limpid the deck, with one guiding hand upon
the quarter rail.
"You are on Government service now, captain," said he. "They are
counting the days till I come to Westminster, I promise you. Have you
all that she will carry?"
"Every inch, Sir Charles."
"Keep her so if you blow the sails out of her. I fear, Captain Scarrow,
that you will find a blind and broken man a poor companion for your
"I am honoured in enjoying your Excellency's society," said the captain.
"But I am sorry that your eyes should be so afflicted."
"Yes, indeed. It is the cursed glare of the sun on the white streets of
Basseterre which has gone far to burn them out."
"I had heard also that you had been plagued by a quartan ague."
"Yes; I have had a pyrexy, which has reduced me much."
"We had set aside a cabin for your surgeon."
"Ah, the rascal! There was no budging him, for he has a snug business
amongst the merchants. But hark!" He raised his ring-covered band in
the air. From far astern there came the low, deep thunder of cannon.
"It is from the island!" cried the captain in astonishment. "Can it be
a signal for us to put back?"
The Governor laughed. "You have heard that Sharkey, the pirate, is to
be hanged this morning. I ordered the batteries to salute when the
rascal was kicking his last, so that I might know of it out at sea.
There's an end of Sharkey!"
"There's an end of Sharkey!" cried the captain; and the crew took up the
cry as they gathered in little knots upon the deck and stared back at
the low, purple line of the vanishing land.
It was a cheering omen for their start across the Western Ocean, and the
invalid Governor found himself a popular man on board, for it was
generally understood that but for his insistence upon an immediate trial
and sentence, the villain might have played upon some more venal judge
and so escaped. At dinner that day Sir Charles gave many anecdotes of
the deceased pirate; and so affable was he, and so skilful in adapting
his conversation to men of lower degree, that captain, mate, and
Governor smoked their long pipes, and drank their claret as three good
"And what figure did Sharkey cut in the dock?" asked the captain.
"He is a man of some presence," said the Governor.
"I had always understood that he was an ugly, sneering devil," remarked
"Well, I dare say he could look ugly upon occasions," said the Governor.
"I have heard a New Bedford whaleman say that he could not forget his
eyes," said Captain Scarrow. "They were of the lightest filmy blue,
with red-rimmed lids. Was that not so, Sir Charles?"
"Alas, my own eyes will not permit me to know much of those of others!
But I remember now that the adjutant-general said that he had such an
eye as you describe, and added that the jury was so foolish as to be
visibly discomposed when it was turned upon them. It is well for them
that he is dead, for he was a man who would never forget an injury, and
if he had laid hands upon any one of them he would have stuffed him with
straw and hung him for a figure-head."
The idea seemed to amuse the Governor, for he broke suddenly into a
high, neighing laugh, and the two seamen laughed also, but not so
heartily, for they remembered that Sharkey was not the last pirate who
sailed the western seas, and that as grotesque a fate might come to be
their own. Another bottle was broached to drink to a pleasant voyage,
and the Governor would drink just one other on the top of it, so that
the seamen were glad at last to stagger off—the one to his watch, and
the other to his bunk. But when, after his four hours' spell, the mate
came down again, he was amazed to see the Governor, in his Ramillies
wig, his glasses, and his powdering-gown, still seated sedately at the
lonely table with his reeking pipe and six black bottles by his side.
"I have drunk with the Governor of St. Kitt's when he was sick," said
he, "and God forbid that I should ever try to keep pace with him when he
The voyage of the Morning Star was a successful one, and in about
three weeks she was at the mouth of the British Channel. From the first
day the infirm Governor had begun to recover his strength, and before
they were halfway across the Atlantic, he was, save only for his eyes,
as well as any man upon the ship. Those who uphold the nourishing
qualities of wine might point to him in triumph, for never a night
passed that he did not repeat the performance of his first one. And yet
be would be out upon deck in the early morning as fresh and brisk as the
best of them, peering about with his weak eyes, and asking questions
about the sails and the rigging, for he was anxious to learn the ways of
the sea. And he made up for the deficiency of his eyes by obtaining
leave from the captain that the New England seaman—he who had been cast
away in the boat—should lead him about, and, above all, that he should
sit beside him when he played cards and count the number of the pips,
for unaided he could not tell the king from the knave.
It was natural that this Evanson should do the Governor willing service,
since the one was the victim of the vile Sharkey and the other was his
avenger. One could see that it was a pleasure to the big American to
lend his arm to the invalid, and at night he would stand with all
respect behind his chair in the cabin and lay his great stub-nailed
forefinger upon the card which he should play. Between them there was
little in the pockets either of Captain Scarrow or of Morgan, the first
mate, by the time they sighted the Lizard.
And it was not long before they found that all they had heard of the
high temper of Sir Charles Ewan fell short of the mark. At a sign of
opposition or a word of argument his chin would shoot out from his
cravat, his masterful nose would be cocked at a higher and more insolent
angle, and his bamboo cane would whistle up over his shoulders.
He cracked it once over the head of the carpenter when the man had
accidentally jostled him upon the deck. Once, too, when there was some
grumbling and talk of a mutiny over the state of the provisions, he was
of opinion that they should not wait for the dogs to rise, but that they
should march forward and set upon them until they had trounced the
devilment out of them. "Give me a knife and a bucket!" he cried with an
oath, and could hardly be withheld from setting forth alone to deal with
the spokesman of the seamen.
Captain Scarrow had to remind him that though he might be only
answerable to himself at St. Kitt's, killing became murder upon the high
seas. In politics he was, as became his official position, a stout prop
of the House of Hanover, and he swore in his cups that he had never met
a Jacobite without pistolling him where he stood. Yet for all his
vapouring and his violence he was so good a companion, with such a
stream of strange anecdote and reminiscence, that Scarrow and Morgan had
never known a voyage pass so pleasantly.
And then at length came the last day, when, after passing the island,
they had struck land again at the high white cliffs at Beachy Head. As
evening fell the ship lay rolling in an oily calm, a league off from
Winchelsea, with the long, dark snout of Dungeness jutting out in front
of her. Next morning they would pick up their pilot at the Foreland,
and Sir Charles might meet the King's ministers at Westminster before
the evening. The boatswain had the watch, and the three friends were
met for a last turn of cards in the cabin, the faithful American still
serving as eyes to the Governor. There was a good stake upon the table,
for the sailors had tried on this last night to win their losses back
from their passenger. Suddenly he threw his cards down, and swept all
the money into the pocket of his long-flapped silken waistcoat.
"The game's mine!" said he.
"Heh, Sir Charles, not so fast!" cried Captain Scarrow; "you have not
played out the hand, and we are not the losers."
"Sink you for a liar!" said the Governor. "I tell you I have played
out the hand, and that you are a loser." He whipped off his wig and
his glasses as he spoke, and there was a high, bald forehead, and a pair
of shifty blue eyes with the red rims of a bull terrier.
"Good God!" cried the mate. "It's Sharkey!"
The two sailors sprang from their seats, but the big American castaway
had put his huge back against the cabin door, and he held a pistol in
each of his hands. The passenger had also laid a pistol upon the
scattered cards in front of him, and he burst into his high, neighing
laugh. "Captain Sharkey is the name, gentlemen," said he, "and this is
Roaring Ned Galloway, the quartermaster of the Happy Delivery.
We made it hot, and so they marooned us: me on a dry Tortuga cay, and
him in an oarless boat. You dogs—you poor, fond, water-hearted dogs—
we hold you at the end of our pistols!"
"You may shoot, or you may not!" cried Scarrow, striking his hand upon
the breast of his frieze jacket. "If it's my last breath, Sharkey, I
tell you that you are a bloody rogue and miscreant, with a halter and
hell-fire in store for you!"
"There's a man of spirit, and one of my own kidney, and he's going to
make a very pretty death of it!" cried Sharkey. "There's no one aft
save the man at the wheel, so you may keep your breath, for you'll need
it soon. Is the dinghy astern, Ned?"
"Ay, ay, captain!"
"And the other boats scuttled?"
"I bored them all in three places."
"Then we shall have to leave you, Captain Scarrow. You look as if you
hadn't quite got your bearings yet. Is there anything you'd like to ask
"I believe you're the devil himself!" cried the captain. "Where is the
Governor of St. Kitt's?"
"When last I saw him his Excellency was in bed with his throat cut.
When I broke prison I learnt from my friends—for Captain Sharkey has
those who love him in every port—that the Governor was starting for
Europe under a master who had never seen him. I climbed his verandah,
and I paid him the little debt that I owed him. Then I came aboard you
with such of his things as I had need of, and a pair of glasses to hide
these tell-tale eyes of mine, and I have ruffled it as a governor
should. Now, Ned, you can get to work upon them."
"Help! help! Watch ahoy!" yelled the mate; but the butt of the pirate's
pistol crashed down on his head, and he dropped like a pithed ox.
Scarrow rushed for the door, but the sentinel clapped his hand over his
mouth, and threw his other arm round his waist.
"No use, Master Scarrow," said Sharkey. "Let us see you go down on your
knees and beg for your life."
"I'll see you—" cried Scarrow, shaking his mouth clear.
"Twist his arm round, Ned. Now will you?"
"No; not if you twist it off."
"Put an inch of your knife into him."
"You may put six inches, and then I won't."
"Sink me, but I like his spirit!" cried Sharkey. "Put your knife in
your pocket, Ned. You've saved your skin, Scarrow, and it's a pity so
stout a man should not take to the only trade where a pretty fellow can
pick up a living. You must be born for no common death, Scarrow, since
you have lain at my mercy and lived to tell the story. Tie him up,
"To the stove, captain?"
"Tut, tut! there's a fire in the stove. None of your rover tricks, Ned
Galloway, unless they are called for, or I'll let you know which of us
two is captain and which is quartermaster. Make him fast to the table."
"Nay, I thought you meant to roast him!" said the quartermaster.
"You surely do not mean to let him go?"
"If you and I were marooned on a Bahama cay, Ned Galloway, it is still
for me to command and for you to obey. Sink you for a villain, do you
dare to question my orders?"
"Nay, nay, Captain Sharkey, not so hot, sir!" said the quartermaster,
and, lifting Scarrow like a child, he laid him on the table. With the
quick dexterity of a seaman, he tied his spread-eagled hands and feet
with a rope which was passed underneath, and gagged him securely with
the long cravat which used to adorn the chin of the Governor of
"Now, Captain Scarrow, we must take our leave of you," said the pirate.
"If I had half a dozen of my brisk boys at my heels I should have had
your cargo and your ship, but Roaring Ned could not find a foremast hand
with the spirit of a mouse. I see there are some small craft about, and
we shall get one of them. When Captain Sharkey has a boat he can get a
smack, when he has a smack he can get a brig, when he has a brig he can
get a barque, and when he has a barque he'll soon have a full-rigged
ship of his own—so make haste into London town, or I may be coming
back, after all, for the Morning Star."
Captain Scarrow heard the key turn in the lock as they left the cabin.
Then, as he strained at his bonds, he heard their footsteps pass up the
companion and along the quarter-deck to where the dinghy hung in the
stern. Then, still struggling and writhing, he heard the creak of the
falls and the splash of the boat in the water. In a mad fury he tore
and dragged at his ropes, until at last, with flayed wrists and ankles,
he rolled from the table, sprang over the dead mate, kicked his way
through the closed door, and rushed hatless on to the deck.
"Ahoy! Peterson, Armitage, Wilson!" he screamed. "Cutlasses and
pistols! Clear away the long-boat! Clear away the gig! Sharkey, the
pirate, is in yonder dinghy. Whistle up the larboard watch, bo'sun,
and tumble into the boats, all hands."
Down splashed the long-boat and down splashed the gig, but in an instant
the coxswains and crews were swarming up the falls on to the deck once
"The boats are scuttled!" they cried. "They are leaking like a sieve."
The captain gave a bitter curse. He had been beaten and outwitted at
every point. Above was a cloudless, starlit sky, with neither wind nor
the promise of it. The sails flapped idly in the moonlight. Far away
lay a fishing-smack, with the men clustering over their net. Close to
them was the little dinghy, dipping and lifting over the shining swell.
"They are dead men!" cried the captain. "A shout all together, boys,
to warn them of their danger." But it was too late. At that very
moment the dinghy shot into the shadow of the fishing-boat. There were
two rapid pistol-shots, a scream, and then another pistol-shot, followed
by silence. The clustering fishermen had disappeared. And then,
suddenly, as the first puffs of a land-breeze came out from the Sussex
shore, the boom swung out, the mainsail filled, and the little craft
crept out with her nose to the Atlantic.
THE DEALINGS OF CAPTAIN SHARKEY WITH STEPHEN CRADDOCK
Careening was a very necessary operation for the old pirate. On his
superior speed he depended both for overhauling the trader and escaping
the man-of-war. But it was impossible to retain his sailing qualities
unless he periodically—once a year, at the least—cleared his vessel's
bottom from the long, trailing plants and crusting barnacles which
gather so rapidly in the tropical seas. For this purpose he lightened
his vessel, thrust her into some narrow inlet where she would be left
high and dry at low water, fastened blocks and tackles to her masts to
pull her over on to her bilge, and then scraped her thoroughly from
rudder-post to cut-water.
During the weeks which were thus occupied the ship was, of course,
defenceless; but, on the other hand, she was unapproachable by anything
heavier than an empty hull, and the place for careening was chosen with
an eye to secrecy, so that there was no great danger. So secure did the
captains feel, that it was not uncommon for them, at such times, to
leave their ships under a sufficient guard, and to start off in the
long-boat, either upon a sporting expedition or, more frequently, upon a
visit to some outlying town, where they burned the heads of the women by
their swaggering gallantry, or broached pipes of wine in the market
square, with a threat to pistol all who would not drink with them.
Sometimes they would even appear in cities of the size of Charleston,
and walk the streets with their clattering side-arms—an open scandal to
the whole law-abiding colony. Such visits were not always paid with
impunity. It was one of them, for example, which provoked Lieutenant
Maynard to hack off Blackbeard's head, and to spear it upon the end of
his bowsprit. But, as a rule, the pirate ruffled and bullied and
drabbed without let or hindrance, until it was time for him to go back
to his ship once more.
There was one pirate, however, who never crossed even the skirts of
civilisation, and that was the sinister Sharkey, of the barque Happy
Delivery. It may have been from his morose and solitary temper, or, as
is more probable, that he knew that his name upon the coast was such
that outraged humanity would, against all odds, have thrown themselves
upon him, but never once did he show his face in a settlement.
When his ship was laid up he would leave her under the charge of Ned
Galloway—her New England quartermaster—and would take long voyages in
his boat, sometimes, it was said, for the purpose of burying his share
of the plunder, and sometimes to shoot the wild oxen of Hispaniola,
which, when dressed and barbecued, provided provisions for his next
voyage. In the latter case the barque would come round to some
pre-arranged spot to pick him up, and take on board what he had shot.
There had always been a hope in the islands that Sharkey might be taken
on one of these occasions; and at last there came news to Kingston which
seemed to justify an attempt upon him. It was brought by an elderly
logwood-cutter who had fallen into the pirate's hands, and in some freak
of drunken benevolence had been allowed to get away with nothing worse
than a slit nose and a drubbing. His account was recent and definite.
The Happy Delivery was careening at Torbec on the south-west of
Hispaniola. Sharkey, with four men, was buccaneering on the outlying
island of La Vache. The blood of a hundred murdered crews was calling
out for vengeance, and now at last it seemed as if it might not call in
Sir Edward Compton, the high-nosed, red-faced Governor, sitting in
solemn conclave with the commandant and the head of the council, was
sorely puzzled in his mind as to how he should use this chance.
There was no man-of-war nearer than Jamestown, and she was a clumsy old
fly-boat, which could neither overhaul the pirate on the seas, nor reach
her in a shallow inlet. There were forts and artillerymen both at
Kingston and Port Royal, but no soldiers available for an expedition.
A private venture might be fitted out—and there were many who had a
blood-feud with Sharkey—but what could a private venture do?
The pirates were numerous and desperate. As to taking Sharkey and his
four companions, that, of course, would be easy if they could get at
them; but how were they to get at them on a large well-wooded island
like La Vache, full of wild hills and impenetrable jungles? A reward
was offered to whoever could find a solution, and that brought a man to
the front who had a singular plan, and was himself prepared to carry it
Stephen Craddock had been that most formidable person, the Puritan gone
wrong. Sprung from a decent Salem family, his ill-doing seemed to be a
recoil from the austerity of their religion, and he brought to vice all
the physical strength and energy with which the virtues of his ancestors
had endowed him. He was ingenious, fearless, and exceedingly tenacious
of purpose, so that when he was still young, his name became notorious
upon the American coast. He was the same Craddock who was tried for his
life in Virginia for the slaying of the Seminole Chief, and, though he
escaped, it was well known that he had corrupted the witnesses and
bribed the judge.
Afterwards, as a slaver, and even, as it was hinted, as a pirate, he had
left an evil name behind him in the Bight of Benin. Finally he had
returned to Jamaica with a considerable fortune, and had settled down to
a life of sombre dissipation. This was the man, gaunt, austere, and
dangerous, who now waited upon the Governor with a plan for the
extirpation of Sharkey. Sir Edward received him with little enthusiasm,
for in spite of some rumours of conversion and reformation, he had
always regarded him as an infected sheep who might taint the whole of
his little flock. Craddock saw the Governor's mistrust under his thin
veil of formal and restrained courtesy.
"You've no call to fear me, sir," said he; "I'm a changed man from what
you've known. I've seen the light again of late, after losing sight of
it for many a black year. It was through the ministration of the Rev.
John Simons, of our own people. Sir, if your spirit should be in need
of quickening, you would find a very sweet savour in his discourse."
The Governor cocked his episcopalian nose at him.
"You came here to speak of Sharkey, Master Craddock," said he.
"The man Sharkey is a vessel of wrath," said Craddock. "His wicked
horn has been exalted over long, and it is borne in upon me that if I
can cut him off and utterly destroy him, it will be a goodly deed, and
one which may atone for many backslidings in the past. A plan has been
given to me whereby I may encompass his destruction."
The Governor was keenly interested, for there was a grim and practical
air about the man's freckled face which showed that he was in earnest.
After all, he was a seaman and a fighter, and, if it were true that he
was eager to atone for his past, no better man could be chosen for the
"This will be a dangerous task, Master Craddock," said he.
"If I meet my death at it, it may be that it will cleanse the memory of
an ill-spent life. I have much to atone for."
The Governor did not see his way to contradict him.
"What was your plan?" he asked.
"You have heard that Sharkey's barque, the Happy Delivery, came from
this very port of Kingston?"
"It belonged to Mr. Codrington, and it was taken by Sharkey, who
scuttled his own sloop and moved into her because she was faster," said
"Yes; but it may be that you have lever heard that Mr. Codrington has a
sister ship, the White Rose, which lies even now in the harbour, and
which is so like the pirate, that, if it were not for a white paint
line, none could tell them apart."
"Ah! and what of that?" asked the Governor keenly, with the air of one
who is just on the edge of an idea.
"By the help of it this man shall be delivered into our hands."
"I will paint out the streak upon the White Rose, and make it in all
things like the Happy Delivery. Then I will set sail for the Island
of La Vache, where this man is slaying the wild oxen. When he sees me
he will surely mistake me for his own vessel which he is awaiting, and
he will come on board to his own undoing."
It was a simple plan, and yet it seemed to the Governor that it might be
effective. Without hesitation he gave Craddock permission to carry it
out, and to take any steps he liked in order to further the object which
he had in view. Sir Edward was not very sanguine, for many attempts had
been made upon Sharkey, and their results had shown that he was as
cunning as he was ruthless. But this gaunt Puritan with the evil record
was cunning aid ruthless also. The contest of wits between two such men
as Sharkey and Craddock appealed to the Governor's acute sense of sport,
and though he was inwardly convinced that the chances were against him,
he backed his man with the same loyalty which he would have shown to his
horse or his cock.
Haste was, above all things, necessary, for upon any day the careening
might be finished, and the pirates out at sea once more. But there was
not very much to do, and there were many willing hands to do it, so the
second day saw the White Rose beating out for the open sea. There
were many seamen in the port who knew the lines and rig of the pirate
barque, and not one of them could see the slightest difference in this
counterfeit. Her white side line had been painted out, her masts and
yards were smoked, to give them the dingy appearance of the
weather-beaten rover, and a large diamond-shaped patch was let into her
foretopsail. Her crew were volunteers, many of them being men who had
sailed with Stephen Craddock before—the mate, Joshua Hird, an old
slaver, had been his accomplice in many voyages, and came now at the
bidding of his chief.
The avenging barque sped across the Caribbean Sea, and, at the sight of
that patched topsail, the little craft which they met flew left and
right like frightened trout in a pool. On the fourth evening Point
Abacou bore five miles to the north and east of them. On the fifth they
were at anchor in the Bay of Tortoises at the Island of La Vache, where
Sharkey and his four men had been hunting. It was a well-wooded place,
with the palms and underwood growing down to the thin crescent of silver
sand which skirted the shore. They had hoisted the black flag and the
red pennant, but no answer came from the shore. Craddock strained his
eyes, hoping every instant to see a boat shoot out to them with Sharkey
seated in the sheets. But the night passed away, and a day and yet
another night, without any sign of the men whom they were endeavouring
to trap. It looked as if they were already gone.
On the second morning Craddock went ashore in search of some proof
whether Sharkey and his men were still upon the island. What he found
reassured him greatly. Close to the shore was a boucan of green wood,
such as was used for preserving the meat, and a great store of barbecued
strips of ox-flesh was hung upon lines all round it. The pirate ship
had not taken off her provisions, and therefore the hunters were still
upon the island.
Why had they not shown themselves? Was it that they had detected that
this was not their own ship? Or was it that they were hunting in the
interior of the island, and were not on the look-out for a ship yet?
Craddock was still hesitating between the two alternatives, when a Carib
Indian came down with information. The pirates were in the island, he
said, and their camp was a day's march from the Sea. They had stolen
his wife, and the marks of their stripes were still pink upon his brown
back. Their enemies were his friends, and he would lead them to where
Craddock could not have asked for anything better; so early next
morning, with a small party armed to the teeth, he set off, under the
guidance of the Carib. All day they struggled through brushwood and
clambered over rocks, pushing their way further and further into the
desolate heart of the island. Here and there they found traces of the
hunters, the bones of a slain ox, or the marks of feet in a morass, and
once, towards evening, it seemed to some of them that they heard the
distant rattle of guns.
That night they spent under the trees, and pushed on again with the
earliest light. About noon they came to the huts of bark, which, the
Carib told them, were the camp of the hunters, but they were silent and
deserted. No doubt their occupants were away at the hunt and would
return in the evening, so Craddock and his men lay in ambush in the
brushwood around them. But no one came, and another night was spent in
the forest. Nothing more could be done, and it seemed to Craddock that
after the two days' absence it was time that he returned to his ship
The return journey was less difficult, as they had already blazed a path
for themselves. Before evening they found themselves once more at the
Bay of Palms, and saw their ship riding at anchor where they had left
her. Their boat and oars had been hauled up among the bushes, so they
launched it and pulled out to the barque.
"No luck, then!" cried Joshua Hird, the mate, looking down with a pale
face from the poop.
"His camp was empty, but he may come down to us yet," said Craddock,
with his hand on the ladder.
Somebody upon deck began to laugh. "I think," said the mate, "that
these men had better stay in the boat."
"If you will come aboard, sir, you will understand it." He spoke in a
curious, hesitating fashion.
The blood flushed to Craddock's gaunt face. "How is this, Master Hird?"
he cried, springing up the side. "What mean you by giving orders to my
But as he passed over the bulwarks, with one foot upon the deck and one
knee upon the rail, a tow-bearded man, whom he had never before observed
aboard his vessel, grabbed suddenly at his pistol. Craddock clutched at
the fellow's wrist, but at the same instant his mate snatched the
cutlass from his side.
"What roguery is this?" shouted Craddock, looking furiously around him.
But the crew stood in knots about the deck, laughing and whispering
amongst themselves without showing any desire to go to his assistance.
Even in that hurried glance Craddock noticed that they were dressed in
the most singular manner, with long riding-coats, full-skirted velvet
gowns and coloured ribands at their knees, more like men of fashion than
As he looked at their grotesque figures he struck his brow with his
clenched fist to be sure that he was awake. The deck seemed to be much
dirtier than when he had left it, and there were strange, sun-blackened
faces turned upon him from every side. Not one of them did he know save
only Joshua Hird. Had the ship been captured in his absence? Were
these Sharkey's men who were around him? At the thought he broke
furiously away and tried to climb over to his boat, but a dozen hands
were on him in an instant, and he was pushed aft through the open door
of his own cabin.
And it was all different to the cabin which he had left. The floor was
different, the ceiling was different, the furniture was different.
His had been plain and austere. This was sumptuous and yet dirty, hung
with rare velvet curtains splashed with wine-stains, and panelled with
costly woods which were pocked with pistol-marks.
On the table was a great chart of the Caribbean Sea, and beside it, with
compasses in his hand, sat a clean-shaven, pale-faced man with a fur cap
and a claret-coloured coat of damask. Craddock turned white under his
freckles as he looked upon the long, thin high-nostrilled nose and the
red-rimmed eyes which were turned upon him with the fixed, humorous gaze
of the master player who has left his opponent without a move.
"Sharkey!" cried Craddock.
Sharkey's thin lips opened, and he broke into his high, sniggering
"You fool!" he cried, and, leaning over, he stabbed Craddock's shoulder
again and again with his compasses. "You poor, dull-witted fool, would
you match yourself against me?"
It was not the pain of the wounds, but it was the contempt in Sharkey's
voice which turned Craddock into a savage madman. He flew at the
pirate, roaring with rage, striking, kicking, writhing, foaming.
It took six men to drag him down on to the floor amidst the splintered
remains of the table—and not one of the six who did not bear the
prisoner's mark upon him. But Sharkey still surveyed him with the same
contemptuous eye. From outside there came the crash of breaking wood
and the clamour of startled voices.
"What is that?" asked Sharkey.
"They have stove the boat with cold shot, and the men are in the water."
"Let them stay there," said the pirate. "Now, Craddock, you know where
you are. You are aboard my ship, the Happy Delivery, and you lie at
my mercy. I knew you for a stout seaman, you rogue, before you took to
this long-shore canting. Your hands then were no cleaner than my own.
Will you sign articles, as your mate has done, and join us, or shall I
heave you over to follow your ship's company?"
"Where is my ship?" asked Craddock.
"Scuttled in the bay."
"And the hands?"
"In the bay, too."
"Then I'm for the bay, also."
"Hock him and heave him over," said Sharkey.
Many rough hands had dragged Craddock out upon deck, and Galloway, the
quartermaster, had already drawn his hanger to cripple him, when Sharkey
came hurrying from his cabin with an eager face. "We can do better with
the hound!" he cried. "Sink me if it is not a rare plan. Throw him
into the sail-room with the irons on, and do you come here,
quarter-master, that I may tell you what I have in my mind."
So Craddock, bruised and wounded in soul and body, was thrown into the
dark sail-room, so fettered that he could not stir hand or foot, but his
Northern blood was running strong in his veins, and his grim spirit
aspired only to make such an ending as might go some way towards atoning
for the evil of his life. All night he lay in the curve of the bilge
listening to the rush of the water and the straining of the timbers
which told him that the ship was at sea and driving fast. In the early
morning someone came crawling to him in the darkness over the heap of
"Here's rum and biscuits," said the voice of his late mate. "It's at
the risk of my life, Master Craddock, that I bring them to you."
"It was you who trapped me and caught me as in a snare!" cried Craddock.
"How shall you answer for what you have done?"
"What I did I did with the point of a knife betwixt my blade-bones."
"God forgive you for a coward, Joshua Hird. How came you into their
"Why, Master Craddock, the pirate ship came back from its careening upon
the very day that you left us. They laid us aboard, and, short-handed
as we were, with the best of the men ashore with you, we could offer but
a poor defence. Some were cut down, and they were the happiest. The
others were killed afterwards. As to me, I saved my life by signing on
"And they scuttled my ship?"
"They scuttled her, and then Sharkey and his men, who had been watching
us from the brushwood, came off to the ship. His mainyard had been
cracked and fished last voyage, so he had suspicions of us, seeing that
ours was whole. Then he thought of laying the same trap for you which
you had set for him."
Craddock groaned. "How came I not to see that fished mainyard?" he
muttered. "But whither are we bound?"
"We are running north and west."
"North and west! Then we are heading back towards Jamaica."
"With an eight-knot wind."
"Have you heard what they mean to do with me?"
"I have not heard. If you would but sign the articles—"
"Enough, Joshua Hird! I have risked my soul too often."
"As you wish. I have done what I could. Farewell!"
All that night and the next day the Happy Delivery ran before the
easterly trades, and Stephen Craddock lay in the dark of the sail-room
working patiently at his wrist-irons. One he had slipped off at the
cost of a row of broken and bleeding knuckles, but, do what he would, he
could not free the other, and his ankles were securely fastened.
From hour to hour he heard the swish of the water, and knew that the
barque must be driving with all set in front of the trade wind. In that
case they must be nearly back again to Jamaica by now. What plan could
Sharkey have in his head, and what use did he hope to make of him?
Craddock set his teeth, and vowed that if he had once been a villain
from choice he would, at least, never be one by compulsion.
On the second morning Craddock became aware that sail had been reduced
in the vessel, and that she was tacking slowly, with a light breeze on
her beam. The varying slope of the sail room and the sounds from the
deck told his practised senses exactly what she was doing. The short
reaches showed him that she was manoeuvring near shore, and making for
some definite point. If so, she must have reached Jamaica. But what
could she be doing there?
And then suddenly there was a burst of hearty cheering from the deck,
and then the crash of a gun above his head, and then the answering
booming of guns from far over the water. Craddock sat up and strained
his ears. Was the ship in action? Only the one gun had been fired, and
though many had answered, there were none of the crashings which told of
a shot coming home. Then, if it was not an action, it must be a salute.
But who would salute Sharkey, the pirate? It could only be another
pirate ship which would do so. So Craddock lay back again with a groan,
and continued to work at the manacle which still held his right wrist.
But suddenly there came the shuffling of steps outside, and he had
hardly time to wrap the loose links round his free hand, when the door
was unbolted and two pirates came in.
"Got your hammer, carpenter?" asked one, whom Craddock recognised as the
"Knock off his leg shackles, then. Better leave the bracelets—he's
safer with them on."
With hammer and chisel the carpenter loosened the irons.
"What are you going to do with me?" asked Craddock.
"Come on deck and you'll see."
The sailor seized him by the arm and dragged him roughly to the foot of
the companion. Above him was a square of blue sky cut across by the
mizzen gaff, with the colours flying at the peak. But it was the sight
of those colours which struck the breath from Stephen Craddock's lips.
For there were two of them, and the British ensign was flying above the
Jolly Rodger—the honest flag above that of the rogue.
For an instant Craddock stopped in amazement, but a brutal push from the
pirates behind drove him up the companion ladder. As he stepped out
upon deck, his eyes turned up to the main, and there again were the
British colours flying above the red pennant, and all the shrouds and
rigging were garlanded with streamers.
Had the ship been taken, then? But that was impossible, for there were
the pirates clustering in swarms along the port bulwarks, and waving
their hats joyously in the air. Most prominent of all was the renegade
mate, standing on the foc'sle head, and gesticulating wildly. Craddock
looked over the side to see what they were cheering at, and then in a
flash he saw how critical was the moment.
On the port bow, and about a mile off, lay the white houses and forts of
Port Royal, with flags breaking out everywhere over their roofs.
Right ahead was the opening of the palisades leading to the town of
Kingston. Not more than a quarter of a mile off was a small sloop
working out against the very slight wind. The British ensign was at her
peak, and her rigging was all decorated. On her deck could be seen a
dense crowd of people cheering and waving their hats, and the gleam of
scarlet told that there were officers of the garrison among them.
In an instant, with the quick perception of a man of action, Craddock
saw through it all. Sharkey, with that diabolical cunning and audacity
which were among his main characteristics, was simulating the part which
Craddock would himself have played had he come back victorious. It was
in his honour that the salutes were firing and the flags flying.
It was to welcome him that this ship with the Governor, the
commandant, and the chiefs of the island were approaching. In another
ten minutes they would all be under the guns of the Happy Delivery,
and Sharkey would have won the greatest stake that ever a pirate played
"Bring him forward," cried the pirate captain, as Craddock appeared
between the carpenter and the quartermaster. "Keep the ports closed,
but clear away the port guns, and stand by for a broadside. Another two
cable lengths and we have them."
"They are edging away," said the boatswain. "I think they smell us."
"That's soon set right," said Sharkey, turning his filmy eyes upon
Craddock. "Stand there, you—right there, where they can recognise you,
with your hand on the guy, and wave your hat to them. Quick, or your
brains will be over your coat. Put an inch of your knife into him, Ned.
Now, will you wave your hat? Try him again, then. Hey, shoot him! Stop
But it was too late. Relying upon the manacles, the quartermaster had
taken his hands for a moment off Craddock's arm. In that instant he had
flung off the carpenter, and, amid a spatter of pistol bullets, had
sprung the bulwarks and was swimming for his life. He had been hit and
hit again, but it takes many pistols to kill a resolute and powerful man
who has his mind set upon doing something before he dies. He was a
strong swimmer, and, in spite of the red trail which he left in the
water behind him, he was rapidly increasing his distance from the
pirate. "Give me a musket!" cried Sharkey, with a savage oath.
He was a famous shot, and his iron nerves never failed him in an
emergency. The dark head appearing on the crest of a roller, and then
swooping down on the other side, was already half-way to the sloop.
Sharkey dwelt long upon his aim before he fired. With the crack of the
gun the swimmer reared himself up in the water, waved his hands in a
gesture of warning, and roared out in a voice which rang over the bay.
Then, as the sloop swung round her head-sails, and the pirate fired an
impotent broadside, Stephen Craddock, smiling grimly in his death agony,
sank slowly down to that golden couch which glimmered far beneath him.
HOW COPLEY BANKS SLEW CAPTAIN SHARKEY
The Buccaneers were something higher than a mere band of marauders.
They were a floating republic, with laws, usages, and discipline of
their own. In their endless and remorseless quarrel with the
Spaniards they had some semblance of right upon their side.
Their bloody harryings of the cities of the Main were not more barbarous
than the inroads of Spain upon the Netherlands—or upon the Caribs in
these same American lands.
The chief of the Buccaneers, were he English or French, a Morgan or a
Granmont, was still a responsible person, whose country might
countenance him, or even praise him, so long as he refrained from any
deed which might shock the leathery seventeenth-century conscience too
outrageously. Some of them were touched with religion, and it is still
remembered how Sawkins threw the dice overboard upon the Sabbath, and
Daniel pistolled a man before the altar for irreverence.
But there came a day when the fleets of the Buccaneers no longer
mustered at the Tortugas, and the solitary and outlawed pirate took
their place. Yet even with him the tradition of restraint and of
discipline still lingered; and among the early pirates, the Avorys, the
Englands, and the Robertses, there remained some respect for human
sentiment. They were more dangerous to the merchant than to the seaman.
But they in turn were replaced by more savage and desperate men, who
frankly recognised that they would get no quarter in their war with the
human race, and who swore that they would give as little as they got.
Of their histories we know little that is trustworthy. They wrote no
memoirs and left no trace, save an occasional blackened and
blood-stained derelict adrift upon the face of the Atlantic.
Their deeds could only be surmised from the long roll of ships who never
made their port.
Searching the records of history, it is only here and there in an
old-world trial that the veil that shrouds them seems for an instant to
be lifted, and we catch a glimpse of some amazing and grotesque
brutality behind. Such was the breed of Ned Low, of Gow the Scotchman,
and of the infamous Sharkey, whose coal-black barque, the Happy
Delivery, was known from the Newfoundland Banks to the mouths of the
Orinoco as the dark forerunner of misery and of death.
There were many men, both among the islands and on the Main, who had a
blood feud with Sharkey, but not one who had suffered more bitterly than
Copley Banks, of Kingston. Banks had been one of the leading sugar
merchants of the West Indies. He was a man of position, a member of the
Council, the husband of a Percival, and the cousin of the Governor of
Virginia. His two sons had been sent to London to be educated, and
their mother had gone over to bring them back. On their return voyage
the ship, the Duchess of Cornwall, fell into the hands of Sharkey, and
the whole family met with an infamous death.
Copley Banks said little when he heard the news, but he sank into a
morose and enduring melancholy. He neglected his business, avoided his
friends, and spent much of his time in the low taverns of the fishermen
and seamen. There, amidst riot and devilry, he sat silently puffing at
his pipe, with a set face and a smouldering eye. It was generally
supposed that his misfortunes had shaken his wits, and his old friends
looked at him askance, for the company which he kept was enough to bar
him from honest men.
From time to time there came rumours of Sharkey over the sea. Sometimes
it was from some schooner which had seen a great flame upon the horizon,
and approaching to offer help to the burning ship, had fled away at the
sight of the sleek, black barque, lurking like a wolf near a mangled
sheep. Sometimes it was a frightened trader, which had come tearing in
with her canvas curved like a lady's bodice, because she had seen a
patched foretopsail rising slowly above the violet water-line.
Sometimes it was from a coaster, which had found a waterless Bahama cay
littered with sun-dried bodies. Once there came a man who had been mate
of a Guineaman, and who had escaped from the pirate's hands. He could
not speak—for reasons which Sharkey could best supply—but he could
write, and he did write, to the very great interest of Copley Banks.
For hours they sat together over the map, and the dumb man pointed here
and there to outlying reefs and tortuous inlets, while his companion sat
smoking in silence, with his unvarying face and his fiery eyes.
One morning, some two years after his misfortunes, Mr. Copley Banks
strode into his own office with his old air of energy and alertness.
The manager stared at him in surprise, for it was months since he had
shown any interest in business.
"Good morning, Mr. Banks!" said he.
"Good morning, Freeman. I see that Ruffling Harry is in the Bay."
"Yes, sir; she clears for the Windward Islands on Wednesday."
"I have other plans for her, Freeman. I have determined upon a slaving
venture to Whydah."
"But her cargo is ready, sir."
"Then it must come out again, Freeman. My mind is made up, and the
Ruffling Harry must go slaving to Whydah."
All argument and persuasion were vain, so the manager had dolefully to
clear the ship once more. And then Copley Banks began to make
preparations for his African voyage. It appeared that he relied upon
force rather than barter for the filling of his hold, for he carried
none of those showy trinkets which savages love, but the brig was fitted
with eight nine-pounder guns, and racks full of muskets and cutlasses.
The after-sailroom next the cabin was transformed into a powder
magazine, and she carried as many round shot as a well-found privateer.
Water and provisions were shipped for a long voyage.
But the preparation of his ship's company was most surprising. It made
Freeman, the manager, realise that there was truth in the rumour that
his master had taken leave of his senses. For, under one pretext or
another, he began to dismiss the old and tried hands, who had served the
firm for years, and in their place he embarked the scum of the port—men
whose reputations were so vile that the lowest crimp would have been
ashamed to furnish them. There was Birthmark Sweetlocks, who was known
to have been present at the killing of the logwood-cutters, so that his
hideous scarlet disfigurement was put down by the fanciful as being a
red afterglow from that great crime. He was first mate, and under him
was Israel Martin, a little sun-wilted fellow who had served with Howell
Davies at the taking of Cape Coast Castle.
The crew were chosen from amongst those whom Banks had met and known in
their own infamous haunts, and his own table-steward was a haggard-faced
man, who gobbled at you when he tried to talk. His beard had been
shaved, and it was impossible to recognise him as the same man whom
Sharkey had placed under the knife, and who had escaped to tell his
experiences to Copley Banks. These doings were not unnoticed, nor yet
uncommented upon in the town of Kingston. The Commandant of the
troops—Major Harvey of the Artillery—made serious representations to
"She is not a trader, but a small warship," said he.
"I think it would be as well to arrest Copley Banks and to seize the
"What do you suspect?" asked the Governor, who was a slow-witted man,
broken down with fevers and port wine.
"I suspect," said the soldier, "that it is Stede Bonnet over again."
Now, Stede Bonnet was a planter of high reputation and religious
character who, from some sudden and overpowering freshet of wildness in
his blood, had given up everything in order to start off pirating in the
Caribbean Sea. The example was a recent one, and it had caused the
utmost consternation in the islands. Governors had before now been
accused of being in league with pirates, and of receiving commissions
upon their plunder, so that any want of vigilance was open to a sinister
"Well, Major Harvey," said he, "I am vastly sorry to do anything which
may offend my friend Copley Banks, for many a time have my knees been
under his mahogany, but in face of what you say there is no choice for
me but to order you to board the vessel and to satisfy yourself as to
her character and destination."
So at one in the morning Major Harvey, with a launchful of his soldiers,
paid a surprise visit to the Ruffling Harry, with the result that they
picked up nothing more solid than a hempen cable floating at the
moorings. It had been slipped by the brig, whose owner had scented
danger. She had already passed the Palisades, and was beating out
against the north-east trades on a course for the Windward Passage.
When upon the next morning the brig had left Morant Point a mere haze
upon the Southern horizon, the men were called aft, and Copley Banks
revealed his plans to them. He had chosen them, he said, as brisk boys
and lads of spirit, who would rather run some risk upon the sea than
starve for a living upon the shore. King's ships were few and weak, and
they could master any trader who might come their way. Others had done
well at the business, and with a handy, well-found vessel, there was no
reason why they should not turn their tarry jackets into velvet coats.
If they were prepared to sail under the black flag, he was ready to
command them; but if any wished to withdraw, they might have the gig and
row back to Jamaica.
Four men out of six-and-forty asked for their discharge, went over the
ship's side into the boat, and rowed away amidst the jeers and howlings
of the crew. The rest assembled aft, and drew up the articles of their
association. A square of black tarpaulin had the white skull painted
upon it, and was hoisted amidst cheering at the main.
Officers were elected, and the limits of their authority fixed. Copley
Banks was chosen captain, but, as there are no mates upon a pirate
craft, Birthmark Sweetlocks became quartermaster, and Israel Martin the
boatswain. There was no difficulty in knowing what was the custom of
the brotherhood, for half the men at least had served upon pirates
before. Food should be the same for all, and no man should interfere
with another man's drink! The captain should have a cabin, but all
hands should be welcome to enter it when they chose.
All should share and share alike, save only the captain, quartermaster,
boatswain, carpenter, and master-gunner, who had from a quarter to a
whole share extra. He who saw a prize first should have the best weapon
taken out of her. He who boarded her first should have the richest suit
of clothes aboard of her. Every man might treat his own prisoner, be it
man or woman, after his own fashion. If a man flinched from his gun,
the quartermaster should pistol him. These were some of the rules which
the crew of the Ruffling Harry subscribed by putting forty-two crosses
at the foot of the paper upon which they had been drawn.
So a new rover was afloat upon the seas, and her name before a year was
over became as well known as that of the Happy Delivery. From the
Bahamas to the Leewards, and from the Leewards to the Windwards, Copley
Banks became the rival of Sharkey and the terror of traders. For a long
time the barque and the brig never met, which was the more singular as
the Ruffling Harry was for ever looking in at Sharkey's resorts; but
at last one day, when she was passing down the inlet of Coxon's Hole, at
the east end of Cuba, with the intention of careening, there was the
Happy Delivery, with her blocks and tackle-falls already rigged for
the same purpose. Copley Banks fired a shotted salute and hoisted the
green trumpeter ensign, as the custom was among gentlemen of the sea.
Then he dropped his boat and went aboard.
Captain Sharkey was not a man of a genial mood, nor had he any kindly
sympathy for those who were of the same trade as himself. Copley Banks
found him seated astride upon one of the after guns, with his New
England quartermaster, Ned Galloway, and a crowd of roaring ruffians
standing about him. Yet none of them roared with quite such assurance
when Sharkey's pale face and filmy blue eyes were tuned upon him.
He was in his shirt-sleeves, with his cambric frills breaking through
his open red satin long-flapped vest. The scorching sun seemed to have
no power upon his fleshless frame, for he wore a low fur cap, as though
it had been winter. A many-coloured band of silk passed across his body
and supported a short, murderous sword, while his broad, brass-buckled
belt was stuffed with pistols.
"Sink you for a poacher!" he cried, as Copley Banks passed over the
bulwarks. "I will drub you within an inch of your life, and that inch
also! What mean you by fishing in my waters?"
Copley Banks looked at him, and his eyes were like those of a traveller
who sees his home at last. "I am glad that we are of one mind," said
he, "for I am myself of opinion that the seas are not large enough for
the two of us. But if you will take your sword and pistols and come
upon a sand-bank with me, then the world will be rid of a damned
villain, whichever way it goes."
"Now, this is talking!" said Sharkey, jumping off the gun and holding
out his hand. "I have not met many who could look John Sharkey in the
eyes and speak with a full breath. May the devil seize me if I do not
choose you as a consort! But if you play me false, then I will come
aboard of you and gut you upon your own poop."
"And I pledge you the same!" said Copley Banks, and so the two pirates
became sworn comrades to each other.
That summer they went north as far as the Newfoundland Banks, and
harried the New York traders and the whale ships from New England.
It was Copley Banks who captured the Liverpool ship, House of Hanover,
but it was Sharkey who fastened her master to the windlass and pelted
him to death with empty claret-bottles.
Together they engaged the King's ship Royal Fortune, which had been
sent in search of them, and beat her off after a night action of five
hours, the drunken, raving crews fighting naked in the light of the
battle-lanterns, with a bucket of rum and a pannikin laid by the tackles
of every gun. They ran to Topsail Inlet in North Carolina to refit, and
then in the spring they were at the Grand Caicos, ready for a long
cruise down the West Indies.
By this time Sharkey and Copley Banks had become very excellent friends,
for Sharkey loved a whole-hearted villain, and he loved a man of metal,
and it seemed to him that the two met in the captain of the Ruffling
Harry. It was long before he gave his confidence to him, for cold
suspicion lay deep in his character. Never once would he trust himself
outside his own ship and away from his own men. But Copley Banks came
often on board the Happy Delivery, and joined Sharkey in many of his
morose debauches, so that at last any lingering misgivings of the latter
were set at rest. He knew nothing of the evil that he had done to his
new boon companion, for of his many victims how could he remember the
woman and the two boys whom he had slain with such levity so long ago!
When, therefore, he received a challenge to himself and to his
quartermaster for a carouse upon the last evening of their stay at the
Caicos Bank he saw no reason to refuse.
A well-found passenger ship had been rifled the week before, so their
fare was of the best, and after supper five of them drank deeply
together. There were the two captains, Birthmark Sweetlocks, Ned
Galloway, and Israel Martin, the old buccaneers-man. To wait upon them
was the dumb steward, whose head Sharkey split with a glass, because he
had been too slow in the filling of it. The quarter-master has slipped
Sharkey's pistols away from him, for it was an old joke with him to fire
them cross-handed under the table and see who was the luckiest man.
It was a pleasantry which had cost his boatswain his leg, so now, when
the table was cleared, they would coax Sharkey's weapons away from him
on the excuse of the heat, and lay them out of his reach.
The captain's cabin of the Ruffling Harry was in a deck-house upon the
poop, and a stern-chaser gun was mounted at the back of it. Round shot
were racked round the wall, and three great hogsheads of powder made a
stand for dishes and for bottles. In this grim room the five pirates
sang and roared and drank, while the silent steward still filled up
their glasses, and passed the box and the candle round for their
tobacco-pipes. Hour after hour the talk became fouler, the voices
hoarser, the curses and shoutings more incoherent, until three of the
five had closed their blood-shot eyes, and dropped their swimming heads
upon the table.
Copley Banks and Sharkey were left face to face, the one because he had
drunk the least, the other because no amount of liquor would ever shake
his iron nerve or warm his sluggish blood. Behind him stood the
watchful steward, for ever filling up his waning glass. From without
came the low lapping of the tide, and from over the water a sailor's
chanty from the barque. In the windless tropical night the words came
clearly to their ears:—
A trader sailed from Stepney Town,
Wake her up! Shake her up! Try her with the mainsail!
A trader sailed from Stepney Town
With a keg full of gold and a velvet gown.
Ho, the bully Rover Jack,
Waiting with his yard aback
Out upon the Lowland Sea.
The two boon companions sat listening in silence. Then Copley Banks
glanced at the steward, and the man took a coil of rope from
the shot-rack behind him.
"Captain Sharkey," said Copley Banks, "do you remember the Duchess of
Cornwall, hailing from London, which you took and sank three years ago
off the Statira Shoal?"
"Curse me if I can bear their names in mind," said Sharkey. "We did as
many as ten ships a week about that time."
"There were a mother and two sons among the passengers. Maybe that will
bring it back to your mind."
Captain Sharkey leant back in thought, with his huge thin beak of a nose
jutting upwards. Then he burst suddenly into a high treble, neighing
laugh. He remembered it, he said, and he added details to prove it.
"But burn me if it had not slipped from my mind!" he cried. "How came
you to think of it?"
"It was of interest to me," said Copley Banks, "for the woman was my
wife, and the lads were my only sons."
Sharkey stared across at his companion, and saw that the smouldering
fire which lurked always in his eyes had burned up into a lurid flame.
He read their menace, and he clapped his hands to his empty belt.
Then he turned to seize a weapon, but the bight of a rope was cast round
him, and in an instant his arms were bound to his side. He fought like
a wild cat, and screamed for help. "Ned!" he yelled. "Ned! Wake up!
Here's damned villainy! Help, Ned!—help!"
But the three men were far too deeply sunk in their swinish sleep for
any voice to wake them. Round and round went the rope, until Sharkey
was swathed like a mummy from ankle to neck. They propped him stiff and
helpless against a powder barrel, and they gagged him with a
handkerchief, but his filmy, red-rimmed eyes still looked curses at
them. The dumb man chattered in his exultation, and Sharkey winced for
the first time when he saw the empty mouth before him. He understood
that vengeance, slow and patient, had dogged him long, and clutched him
The two captors had their plans all arranged, and they were somewhat
elaborate. First of all they stove the heads of two of the great powder
barrels, and they heaped the contents out upon the table and floor.
They piled it round and under the three drunken men, until each sprawled
in a heap of it. Then they carried Sharkey to the gun and they triced
him sitting over the port-hole, with his body about a foot from the
muzzle. Wriggle as he would he could not move an inch either to the
right or left, and the dumb man trussed him up with a sailor's cunning,
so that there was no chance that he should work free.
"Now, you bloody devil," said Copley Banks, softly, "you must listen to
what I have to say to you, for they are the last words that you will
hear. You are my man now, and I have bought you at a price, for I have
given all that a man can give here below, and I have given my soul as
"To reach you I have had to sink to your level. For two years I strove
against it, hoping that some other way might come, but I learnt that
there was no other. I've robbed and I have murdered—worse still, I
have laughed and lived with you—and all for the one end. And now my
time has come, and you will die as I would have you die, seeing the
shadow creeping upon you and the devil waiting for you in the shadow."
Sharkey could hear the hoarse voices of his rovers singing their chanty
over the water.
Where is the trader of Stepney Town?
Wake her up! Shake her up! Every stick a-bending!
Where is the trader of Stepney Town?
His gold's on the capstan, his blood's on his gown,
All for bully Rover Jack,
Reaching on the weather tack
Right across the Lowland Sea.
The words came clear to his ear, and just outside he could hear two men
pacing backwards and forwards upon the deck. And yet he was helpless,
staring down the mouth of the nine-pounder, unable to move an inch or to
utter so much as a groan. Again there came the burst of voices from the
deck of the barque.
So it's up and it's over to Stornoway Bay,
Pack it on! Crack it on! Try her with stunsails!
It's off on a bowline to Stornoway Bay,
Where the liquor is good and the lasses are gay,
Waiting for their bully Jack,
Watching for him sailing back,
Right across the Lowland Sea.
To the dying pirate the jovial words and rollicking tune made his own
fate seem the harsher, but there was no softening in those venomous blue
eyes. Copley Banks had brushed away the priming of the gun, and had
sprinkled fresh powder over the touch-hole. Then he had taken up the
candle and cut it to the length of about an inch. This he placed upon
the loose powder at the breach of the gun. Thin he scattered powder
thickly over the floor beneath, so that when the candle fell at the
recoil it must explode the huge pile in which the three drunkards were
"You've made others look death in the face, Sharkey," said he; "now it
has come to be your own turn. You and these swine here shall go
together!" He lit the candle-end as he spoke, and blew out the other
lights upon the table. Then he passed out with the dumb man, and locked
the cabin door upon the outer side. But before he closed it he took an
exultant look backwards, and received one last curse from those
unconquerable eyes. In the single dim circle of light that ivory-white
face, with the gleam of moisture upon the high, bald forehead, was the
last that was ever seen of Sharkey.
There was a skiff alongside, and in it Copley Banks and the dumb steward
made their way to the beach, and looked back upon the brig riding in the
moon-light just outside the shadow of the palm trees. They waited and
waited watching that dim light which shone through the stem port. And
then at last there came the dull thud of a gun, and an instant later the
shattering crash of an explosion. The long, sleek, black barque, the
sweep of white sand, and the fringe of nodding feathery palm trees
sprang into dazzling light and back into darkness again. Voices
screamed and called upon the bay.
Then Copley Banks, his heart singing within him, touched his companion
upon the shoulder, and they plunged together into the lonely jungle of