The Bloody Cutlass (2)
©Larry B. Lambert 2020
This is a continuation from the posting yesterday. In this first chapter, William (Bill) Teach, a boy of five, destined to be the feared Black Beard signs ships articles and joins his first sailing expedition as ship’s boy of the Dolphin.
Seventeen year old Charles Barry and his crew of eight, beached the forty foot cutter Dolphin at high tide and men from the Port of Margate came out to help careen the hull, removing weed, gribble, algae and barnacles. The hull was thankfully found to be free of shipworm. The rudder was sound.
“Our Charlie is born to the sea,” some of the men commented.
“Bit young to be a captain?”
“Oh, not our Charlie. He sailed on the Gull, he did.” Mention of the Gull, soto voce, implied dark violent deeds that were tacitly approved by the Lord Warden and likely the King, himself.
“That Gull is the devil’s own ship, and Captain Patrick is his imp, it’s said. She don’t need to be careened.”
“‘Er hull is clad in lead with brass nails. She won’t foul up on a long voyage.”
“Charlie was a gun captain at fifteen years, and he’s swung from the rigging onto an enemy deck holding a boarding pike and pistol.”
“How’d he swing on a line holding pistol and pike?”
“With his teeth, mate. With his bloody teeth. You’ve seen them fine white teeth, ain’t ya?”
“I eard that when they took that Mohammedan dhow, Charlie lopped the ‘ead right off one of them ‘eathens.”
“That be true, my cousin were on the Gull when they took the Salamati off Gibralter. He told the same story from what he seen that day. She was a rare rich sambuck. His share of the voyage was forty-one gold guineas after they sold the prize, the cargo and the slaves they took off her, at Malaga.”
“It be safer to take dhows in the Mediterranean than…other ships.” The comment silenced the men and they moved on to safer topics.
“He’s lucky, Charlie is. Nobody else could be driven to shore by a squall, beach his boat in a river and find a big rock of ambergris but ‘im.”
“I ‘eard he gave the treasure to ‘is mum and dad.”
“No rumor, that.”
“I wish I ‘ad a son like Charlie.”
Most of the men knew that the Gull had recently sailed with a full crew to raid along the coast of North Africa yet again. The religious artifacts from the San Jose de Padre had been Catholic and the men of Dover were not, so they took some private pleasure in the fact that they’d been melted into bar. However, thereafter, Patrick Quidley stuck to more acceptable plunder and prizes. The Stuart Kings approved of taking gold from the heathen nations. The Spanish and Portuguese plundered the New World eight ways from Sunday. The English raiding along the North African Coast was a pale, moon-cast shadow to what their Most Catholic Spanish Majesties were doing to the unfortunate Incas and Aztecs with the full approval of the Pope.
Charles thought of his charismatic uncle Patrick and his decision to follow his father’s advice and take his inheritance, the Dolphin, instead of raiding with his uncle. It had been a more difficult decision than an outsider might expect.
As the eldest son, his brother John was poised to inherit everything. Their father sought to strike fairness between the boys. John would inherit the docks, warehouses and the business and Charles would get his own small ship to provide a start, an income, and to help him find his place in the world.
Albert Barry profited handsomely from his marriage to Margaret Quidley, Patrick’s sister. Family ties ran deep with the Quidleys and he had to pick battles that he could win. Though he wanted to intervene against young Charlie’s signing ships articles with the Gull, his mother thought that time at sea, raiding the heathen’s shipping along the North African coast would do the boy good. God knew the depredations of the Muslims among good Christian shipping justified any excesses that Patrick and the Gull meted out. However the boy been wounded in the effort and the injury gave Albert enough traction with his wife to strike the bargain with his adventurous son.
Charles worked with the men of the town on every facet of careening, earning their trust and also learning from the shipwrights of Margate who’d seen it all when it came to oak ships. The process took three days to complete to his satisfaction and he paid the men with silver coins. Charles Barry had earned a reputation for prompt payment, but that reputation wasn’t as important to the men as being lucky. Charlie Barry had been exceptionally lucky.
During the careening process, Emma Grey, whose father was fourth cousin to Henry Grey, Duke of Kent, had her driver and footman take her out to watch Charles work, shirtless, among the men of the town. The fops and nobles that her father was determined to match her to, did not stand up in her eyes to the young captain whose ship brought both her, her mother and members of her household across the Channel from Calais to Dover a month previously.
Even her father, Augustus Grey, ceded to her that Charles Barry was reputed to be a fine captain for one so young, and his cutter, the Dolphin was in constant demand as the very fastest packet in England. His praise stopped there, but he didn’t halt her visits to the port to deliver tea to young Charles. At age fifteen, she was certain that she knew her mind. Augustus was wise enough not to drive her into the arms of the smart, fashionable, young rogue. Arrangements had been concluded outside of Emma’s knowledge with prosperous wool merchant from London, who despite his age of forty-six, and having been twice widowed previously, had been deemed to be an appropriate match, and one who could deliver a suitable dowry.
While not a beautiful young lady, Emma had that formidable Grey constitution that could not be denied. Each day she packed a lunch for Charles and each day he shared it with her on the stone jetty near the careening beach. He smelled of sea slime, wood smoke and sweat, but Emma found it appealing in a masculine way.
She drew the line at joining him for lunch when he began to grave the ship once the wood had dried. The process of graving was one that he undertook with the help of the crew of the Dolphin. During careening, the crew was given leave to go into town but graving required a more serious attention to detail and the crew returned to the beach to lend a hand.
When she arrived at the beach and stepped from the carriage, the smell of the graving compound drove her back inside. “What is that ghastly odor?”
Charles smiled, “Family secret, but it is just tar, pitch and brimstone in the right quantities. We paint it on the bottom to protect the ship and make it faster.”
“It’s a very fast ship.” Emma spoke from experience, holding a perfumed handkerchief under her nose. Her mother booked passage on his cutter from France to Dover and if her diary is to be believed, she had been smitten by the captain immediately. “A fast and most excellent crew with an honorable and talented captain.”
“We’re the fastest and because of that, we can command the best price.” He brimmed with pride over the little cutter.
She handed him a note sealed in an envelope. “Father invites you to tea tomorrow if you’re able to attend.”
Charles smiled his most winning smile, “I wouldn’t miss it.”
“Very well, then I will be on my way, Captain Barry.”
His face flushed with pride again at her use of the title.
Tea was served in Augustus Grey’s library and Charles Barry was one of several guests. When he arrived, claret had already been served, consumed and poured again. The talk surrounded King James’ establishment of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle. Sir Thomas Saxham, a baronet who had hired the Dolphin recently to make the run to Bristol as soon as she was fit for sea bellowed, “It’s a travesty! Ancient and Noble, my ass! It is a mechanism for His Majesty to bestow honors on his supporters when he needs allies against Monmouth and the insurrection.”
“It doesn’t matter, Sir Thomas, there are only sixteen knights and ladies that it applies to. He’s king, he can do as he pleases.” John de Preaux master of Oakhampton Castle and a close friend of the Quidleys replied. “Here’s young Captain Barry, what do you make of this, Charles.”
Charles, had no idea what they were discussing, but took a long pull on his claret and said, “I am but a young man of the sea, and only master of a cutter. The doings of great men are far above me.”
Sir Thomas seized the opportunity to press him farther. “But you must have an opinion on the matter, Charles.”
Charles poured a long slug of claret into his glass, raised it and said, “God save the King.”
They all followed his toast. “Deftly laid,” John de Preaux said with a wink.
Augustus took the lead since the house belonged to him and he invited his guests to tea, which meant a drinking bout that would last the remainder of the day. “Charles, we have invited you to put a proposal to you that is not without both risk and reward. All of us have profited from our investments in Patrick’s ventures and there is yet another that we have an interest in.”
“I’m your man.”
“Yes, well, hear us out first. It would require you taking the Dolphin across the Atlantic to the Sugar Islands and beyond.” Augustus let that sink in. “And taking a small boat that distance is an undertaking given the limited capacity to store fresh water, food and the supplies necessary to successfully cross.”
“That’s true, sir, I’d need to take a spare mast and spars, line, canvas, and our hold is not designed for heavy cargo. Perhaps another ship would more suitable, and a pilot with experience in those waters.”
John de Preaux said, “But you’ve sailed the Mediterranean, the Atlantic to the Azores, I know this for a fact.”
“All that is true, and I may be able to lay hands on charts and leeskarte—sailing directions, but they would be unconfirmed though my experience and therefore, not completely reliable.”
“Do you know Gerrit Haak?”
“Yes, I know of him and met him once in Antwerp when I sailed there with Patrick.”
“If Meneer Haak shipped with you to guide you and to help you secure our interests, would that be sufficient?”
Charles thought for a moment and stared into the fire, “Gerrit Haak is an old man, and while the Dolphin is comfortable enough crossing the channel, it will not be pleasant on a voyage. There is always the question of whether he will sign ship’s articles and will serve under my command since I am the age of his grandsons.”
Thomas Saxham slapped his thigh and laughed, “I told you he was a boxer, Augustus. By God, you have some nerve Charles Barry.”
“Dolphin is my ship.”
“Very well, I will prepare a letter for you to take to him. He will serve under your command, but he is responsible for navigation and for the trade. This is the thing,” Augustus Grey stressed, “You must leave within the week. Gerrit is at Bristol. You can finish what remains of your victule there. You’ll find him at the Hatchet Inn, or if not there, the Rummer at St. Nick’s Market. Give John a list of your costs and we will advance you against the voyage.”
Charles asked, “Why the urgency and what is it that you want me to ship?”
“You’ll be taking a large supply of tincture of opium, in bottles, packed into crates with straw and cork. It’s a high value cargo in the fever islands and we will want you to make port call at Maricaibo, the Greater and Lesser Antillies, the Dry Tortugas and to take possession of a cargo for your return voyage that Meneer Haak will explain once the time is right. The key is that you are an exceptionally fast ship and also a very small ship. Your arrival won’t threaten anyone. Once it is known, Dolphin’s cargo will be appealing to corsairs that are thick as ticks on a dog’s back, but if Dolphin is well handled, you can avoid them. You draw very little water and the majority of the Welshman’s prize fleet is comprised of much heavier ships of greater draft. Morgan governs in Port Royal but the rumor is that his illness may prove fatal. I don’t know if this will dampen the ardor of his buccaneers, but I doubt it. Your advantage over them in a sea comprised of so many reefs will be Haak’s knowledge, your seaman ship and the nature of Dolphin.
“Crossing any reef is dangerous.”
Augustus smiled and drank from his glass. “Spoken like a captain. And as to my daughter, Emma, she is truly a lovely lass, but she’s betrothed as of this very day. You need to keep that in mind. She’s like a reef that will rip the bottom out of a ship. Do I make myself clear, young captain?”
Thomas Saxham charged the glasses of all present and proposed a toast, “To Charlie Barry, the Family Quidley and the Dolphin.”
They all drank and then Augustus walked to a sideboard and withdrew two copies of a contract that laid out what they had all agreed to. He signed and blotted, followed by John de Preaux and then Thomas Saxham. Saxham handed Charles Barry the quill, which he dipped, and signed with a flourish. Augustus then handed Charles a sheaf of documents. This is a letter of credit to your father’s chandlery to provide you supply as you deem necessary, this is your manifest, and the chests of tincture will be delivered within three days or so to your ship. Sign the receipt for them personally. Here is a letter of introduction to Governor Henry Morgan at Port Royal. I don’t trust the Welshman, but it may stand you in good stead with the Royal Navy. Lastly a letter of introduction from John Beaumont, Lord Warden and Admiral of the Cinque Ports attesting to your good character and addressing his personal interest in your wellbeing. I will draft the letter to Meneer Haak and you will receive it at your ship by messenger. The messenger will also deliver to you a chest containing £300 in silver for payment of your crew for twelve months and another £200 in gold, which you will share with Meneer Haak. Further £200 in silver for ship’s expenses, and for which we shall require receipts at the conclusion of your voyage. Expenses exceeding that amount will be paid by Grey, Saxham and de Preaux, Limited on your letter of demand at the conclusion of your voyage.
£700 in a strongbox provided a huge amount of good faith to both Charles and the crew. Naturally, if he absconded, Augustus Grey would put the bill to the Quidley Family to make good on.
He put the letters into an oilskin and then into a leather case and handed it to Charles with ceremony. “God speed.”
Thomas Saxham opened the door to the parlor, an invitation to go. Charles bowed to the men and took his leave.
When they heard the servant let Charles out the front door, John de Preaux said, “If I had a daughter, I’d wed her to young Charlie.”
Augustus cleared his throat. “Here’s to profit!”
Dolphin ate up the 460 sea miles between Dover and Bristol in 60 hours, tacking gently in a fresh westerly breeze, and crossed the bar on the flood tide. They quickly ran out sweeps to take them up the Avon. He docked at the Quidley pier and set the watch under the command of the twenty year old first mate, William de Bornes, called Billy Bones. The eight-man crew had been flushed to twelve, which provided two watches in foul weather, three in steady sailing.
With the letter of credit in hand, he purchased five new bronze one-pounder swivel guns from the Quidley Chandlery in Dover that had been manufactured at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London. They would be worthless against other ship’s hulls in close action, but a pound of three quarter inch soft lead balls propelled by a healthy load of powder could devastate a long boat or men on the deck of a ship intent on taking them. The guns could be moved from one side of the ship to the other and set into prepared mounts that the ship’s carpenter set to work on as soon as they left Dover. While he and his mate joined and set, the crew named the guns and carved those names into the sets. When they completed that work, they crafted canisters, each filled with a pound of musket balls and then set them aside in the powder locker.
Even though they were in port, in Bristol, Billy Bones slid one of the guns, named Christ’s Communion into a forward mount that could sweep the dock. He waited to mount the swivel until Captain Barry took Albert Mugg, the largest and meanest of the crew into Bristol Port to look for Gerrit Haak. Captain Charlie left him in charge of ship, crew and cargo and nothing untoward would happen to them on his watch.
Custom dictated that some of the crew could go ashore, but all leave from the ship had been canceled. There was a double rum ration for the men to calm their nerves. Most had sailed with Charlie in the past and the new men were all named Quidley. Order was maintained by virtue of blood and the fellowship of the sea. They all knew that they’d be at sea until the Dolphin covered a thousand leagues. To their credit, they busied themselves with their tasks and when they finished, they holystoned the deck with out a gripe except for Broxie Quidley, a bombastic lad, who lost a leg fighting with Patrick on the Gull against the heathens in Morocco. After he doubled up the shank painter, he asked to be let go into the port to see to Captain Charlie’s well being. Billy Bones sent him aloft to inspect the clew garnets that held the single yard in place. He climbed up and remained there, watching the port, sullenly.
Albert Mugg’s face looked as if somebody tried to put a fire out on it by using a wet chain. His nose had been broken several times and his breathing through the damaged organ was noisy and sloppy. He’d been born cock-eyed but from all accounts, he had the sharpest vision of any sailor on the Dolphin. Ashore he’d made a decent living as a bare-knuckle fighter. His knuckles were scored and in places the skin had pulled back showing bare bone and heavy callouses. While he made for a fearsome man to watch your back, his hands gave him chronic pain and in his off hours on ship, he wove, braided and worked lines into interesting patterns to keep his fingers limber. Mugg had been a contradiction since Charles Barry first met him, but over all things, he had a reputation of being absolutely reliable.
When they walked into the Hatchet Inn on Frogmore Street, Charles put his money on the nail and ordered a bowl for both Mugg and himself. The pub master delivered as ordered and said, “You’re men off the Dolphin, I’ll wager.”
Mugg said, “Aye,” and Charles gave him an elbow.
“And if we are?” Charles asked with an arched eyebrow.
“If ye are, you’re after Garrit Haak, who is currently residing at the Rummer on yon road ‘arf a cable to the East.”
“He owes on his bill.”
“2 shillings thrupence for a doxie and three shillings for board.”
Charles counted out silver and copper coins and settled the bill. As he did, a young boy of five or six years with bright blue eyes and bushy coal black hair looked on from under the bar.
“Get back to work, Bill!” The publican pulled out a cane whip and laid it across the boy’s shoulder. “These boys think they can loaf and calk off when there’s work to be done.”
“But a whip?” Charles asked.
“It’s the only way to motivate the little bastard. He came out of a workhouse and settled here, but he’s a thief. I knowed it right off, but he does know how to mop and empty the slops.
Albert Mugg grabbed the publican by the shirt collar and planted a meaty fist in the pub master’s face. The man’s nose spurted like a fountain. “I was one of those lad once and a man used a whip on me when I was wee like ‘im. I takes exception, Captain Charlie.”
Charles said, “Come with us boy,” as they left the premises. The boy followed. “What’s your name, boy?”
“My name’s Bill.”
“Would you like a job?”
“What kind of job?” He had a wary way about him, but his eyes were keen with excitement.
“We’re sailing for the West Indies and don’t have a ship’s boy. There’s food and a fair wage for honest work on your part. Have you ever been on a ship?”
“No, m’lord, never.”
“You can learn if you will, and it pays one shillings a fortnight, with food, and junk thrown in.”
“That’s a fortune.”
Charles reached into his purse and flipped a penny to the boy. “There’s pay up front for the articles you’ll sign.” He expected the boy to leave but he didn’t.
“Pay for work I haven’t done?”
“It’s an investment, Bill, and as ship’s boy you’re entitled to a share of the profit. When you’re an able seaman, you’ll earn £20 a month, but it’s not an easy process. There is much to learn to get to that point and years of practice. Say, can you show us to the Rummer?”
“Follow me.” He ran ahead, looking back at the towering Albert Mug, who wore cutlass and pistol tucked into a stout leather belt and the clothing of a seaman and Charles Barry, who looked like a gentleman, wearing a cocked hat and his blue captain’s coat with brass buttons. His basket hilt sword swung from his belt with great panache.
Bill had cut a few purses in his day and knew that a penny represented a token, and not a fortune, but he’d run out of luck at The Hatchet Inn and needed another sponsor to take care of him. He knew that once he’d grown into his own, that wouldn’t be necessary but near as he could tell, he was five years old and he’d been on his own for the past year since his mother died. The young gentleman captain setting out on an adventure was as good as he’d ever hoped for.
“What are your names?” Bill spoke over his shoulder as he led the two men.
Charles said, “I’m Captain Charles Barry and this is Master-at-Arms Albert Mugg.”
They arrived at the Rummer and Bill had a word with a man who watched the door. He motioned up a narrow stairway and both Charles and Mugg walked up it. The stairway swayed and groaned as they ascended and when they reached the top, Bill stood by a door.
“You know who we are looking for?”
“I heard you tell the publican at the Hatchet that ye were looking for Gerrit Haak. He’s in there.”
“Is there a reason that you are just standing there?”
“He has a French pistol and used to shoot through the door at the Hatchet.”
“Ah.” Charles put on a glove, withdrew his sword, held it by the blade and they stepped back as he tapped on the door with the big basket hilt.
They heard muttering inside the room through the daub and wattle walls.
Mugg walked up, drew his cutlass and opened the door with a push, putting his ballast into it. A lock broke and he was in. When Charles went through the door he was assailed by odors of wine, sex, ass and sweat. Gerrit Haak, age somewhere over fifty, near completely bald, sat naked on a bed flanked by two women. From the presence of the powder flask and black powder sprinkled over the blanket, Haak was in the process of loading his pistol when Mugg burst in, brandishing his cutlass.
“I know you,” Gerrit Haak said. “You’re Patrick Quidley’s runt cousin—growed up. Ah, I see now. You must be working for Grey and Company.”
Charles bowed slightly and told Mugg, “Get the women of the town clothed and out of the room.” Then to Haak, “We can talk once they’re gone. I’d like to make the tide and be out of Bristol by sunset.”
“Is that wee Billy Teach you have with you? From the Hatchet?”
“Hello, Mister Haak.” Bill said, “I’m to be ship’s boy on the Dolphin.”
Gerrit looked hard at Charles, “It was a bad business at the Hatchet. I’m glad to see that Billy has a new home.” Then at Bill, “If you look in that satchel on the chair, you’ll find honey candy that I bought for you.”
Young Bill ran to a worn leather satchel and withdrew sticky candy wrapped in paper and chewed on it, possessively.
“We saw how he was treated and he seems to have a good heart.”
“Ah, he’s a clever lad and he learns wicked fast. He’d be an admiral some day if he were a rich man’s son.”
“Sea bag, Meneer Haak. Time waits for no man.”
“Yes, and the more empty the hour glass, the more clearly you see through it.”
They came up the dock to the Dolphin to find a swivel gun leveled and two men of the crew sporting the new flintlock muskets purchased for the voyage. Billy Bones had a long dragoon pistol in his belt and smoked from a long stem pipe.
“It seems that you took all precautions, Mister de Bornes.”
“Break out the sweeps and lets get underway before the tide turns against us.”
The story is continued with Part 3 and will thereafter be concluded in the upcoming novel, The Bloody Cutlass.