The Captain`s Vengeance
(Lewrie – 12)
To all my hard-working, common-sense East Tennessee kin-folk who went before, who lived in the shadows of McCloud Mountain and McLean's Rock in the Powell Valley time out of mind, just a 'Hoot and Holler' from the Cumberland Gap. If they did try to pound some 'down home' verities into me, I'm sorry that they didn't
And, to my ex-wives… don't bother, I'm
Booty bade men double the perils of the surging
deep when it fitted the beaks of war to the rocking ships.
'Tis the freebooter who longs to seize upon
the measureless plains that on many an acre
he may graze his countless sheep.
Of sea for an acre of barren ground-long heath,
Brown furze, anything. The wills above be done
But I would fain die a dry death.
The Dry Tortugas 24°37'N, 82°45' W
Two ships tossed, rocked, and heaved on a fretful sea, fetched-to and immobile, within easy rowing distance of the dry, low-lying, rocky islet-too small to be called an island, too large to be termed a cay. Bastard, barren places were these islets, neither Caribbean soft and beguiling nor American mainland coastal-marshily bleak. These islets did not belong to the Caribbean, but to the Gulf of Mexico, and lay far west of southernmost Spanish Florida, an afterthought of a distracted Creator, who had flung them like excess ochre droplets off a cosmic putty knife, once the last of the Florida Keys had been shaped.
Except for a small sand beach on the north side, off which the two ships lay, the islet's shore was rocky, gravelled and steep-to, with waves breaking vertically, strewn with broken shells, fragments of driftwood, bird skeletons, and russet humps of pine needles and palm furze.
The seas were lively and heaved four or five feet or more in a confused chop; deep-ocean blue-grey, changing to teal, aqua, or lapis near the shore-all under an achingly empty cerulean blue sky that was brushed by mares' tails, with only the rare stiff-winged albatross, frigate bird, or gull to show a single sign of life.
The two ships fetched-to off the northern beach were clattered, clanged, and slatted by those confused seas, rising and dropping, pitching at bows and sterns, and rocking in uneven, unpredictable fits and jerks. One of the fetched-to vessels was a typical bluff-bowed, three-masted merchantman, a tad high at poop and forecastle, wide and beamy and deeply laded. She gleamed with linseed oil 'twixt her black-tarred gunwale and her jaunty blue upper-works and bulwarks, with a hint of a wealthy trader's gilt round her bulging quarter-galleries, entry ports, and figurehead. Her motion, because of her greater tonnage and weight of cargo, was a bit easier and more predictable than the other ship's. A Tricolour flag of Republican France flew from the leach of her large spanker, which was still sheeted in to keep drive on her, and her bows pinched up to the winds, while her courses and topgallants were bag-reefed, her tops'ls flatted aback, and her jibs knife-edged full of wind. That Unseeded gleaming wood was as pretty as a spanking-new, beeswaxed tabletop.
The second fetched-to vessel rode much more lively, for she was a schooner, much narrower in beam. Gaff- hung sails on her foremast and main fought a losing fight to drive her forward, whilst her two standing jibs, hauled taut on the opposing tack, kept her motionless-in respect to the islet, at least. Riding her decks, keeping one's feet as she slatted, was a feat worthy of gainful employment with a touring Gypsy circus. Her hired captain, and her crewmembers, were managing it well. So were their employers.
The schooner showed the world a lovely face, too; black-hulled with a dockyard-fresh coat of the glossiest paint, not tar. That hull, so long, lean, and so sweetly sheer-lined, was boot-topped on the waterline and striped along the upperwork bulwarks with wide bands of a deep scarlet. Her masts, gaffs, and booms, jib boom and bowsprit, her coachtop 'tween foremast and mainmast, and her two small upper yards, were painted a hazy light blue-grey, and her sails… instead of new-from-the-chandlery
For this occasion, though, in keeping with her secret name and her
No matter how desolate or bleak the islet,
happy takings, eyes alight with the novelty of it all, sipping champagne and snickering as they watched the crew aboard the merchantman struggle to sway out and lower her largest launch. The sailors manning the check or snub lines were having a rough go of it as the prize ship juddered about.
'I thought you said
The hired captain of