The Bloody Cutlass (3)
©Larry B. Lambert 2020
As Chapter One continues, William (Bill) Teach, a boy of five, destined to be the feared Black Beard, sails as ship’s boy on the cutter, Dolphin. We join then as they leave Bristol harbor with a cargo of tincture of opium, bound for the New World.
Billy Bones barked orders and the crew broke out the long oars that would propel the Dolphin on her way down the Avon River to the sea beyond.
“She’s a cutter.” Gerrit took the measure of the ship. “Forty feet.” His pronouncement was made with significant skepticism.
“The Vikings sailed from the ice sheet to Constantinople on smaller ships that were not outfitted nearly so well, Meneer Haak.”
“I’d have thought that Agustus Grey might have found something a bit larger.”
“We are packed into the cabin with food, water, rum and cargo, but there’s still space for two more hammocks.”
Albert Mugg, who carried Haak’s sea chest and sea bag took them aboard, followed by young Bill.
“Who is this scallywag, Captain?”
“Mister de Bornes, it’s our new ship’s boy. Have him sign articles and show him where to find the junk. Have Appleby show him how to sew sailor’s clothes.” Charles handed the letter from Grey and Company to Gerrit Haak, “Meneer Haak will also sign ship’s articles.”
Haak didn’t say anything but his eyes were sharp under bushy brows.
“Your mission, my ship.”
“Aye, captain. I do know the waters and the transit.”
“And I defer to you as pilot and when you please, as quartermaster and sailing master.”
“That will do. There is no black art to sailing a thousand leagues downwind. The key is to know when to turn west and then to keep it steady.”
“I look forward to learning from you,” Charlie said as they walked aboard.
Two sailors were man-handling the swivel gun into a chest attached to the deck, and the rest were pushing the sweeps into locks and pulling rowing benches into place.
“It should be easier with the current and tide carrying us out, Mister de Bornes. Keep her steady in the center of the channel.”
“I know that you want to be formal, Captain, but I’d rather you just call me Billy or Billy Bones.”
“With our new ship’s boy we have five Williams or Bills or Billys on Dolphin. What’s your last name, young Bill?” Charles called out to the ship’s boy.
“It’s Teach, Captain Barry. My name is William Teach.”
“Then Teach it is. That’s one less Bill to worry about. Get on the ship’s wheel with the quartermaster and help con the ship out of this harbor.”
Teach smiled, “Yes, sir.”
They crossed the Bristol bar at slack tide, and set the jib poled out to one side and the staysail poled out on the other to take advantage of a following sea. They raised the gaff to help keep the ship steady and the watch stood easy as the wind did the work.
Charles stood on the low quarterdeck and looked at the sea and sky. Gerrit walked up next to him. “There’s a night-time squall coming.”
Gerrit nodded, “Aye.”
“We’ll take in sail when that hits, but there’s no reason to do it now. We have a fine moon to light our way and shall take full advantage.”
“The most reliable passage is the simplest, Captain. I recommend that we run south ‘till the butter melts and then cross. That will put us at 20°N, 30°W. Have you read Thomas Harriot’s rudder on the mathematics of navigation? If not, I have the book in my sea chest and you’re welcome to read it and take notes.”
“Thank you, Gerrit, that is very kind of you.”
“The rhumb line route is the one that we shall follow.” He waited for the Captain to argue with his suggestion. When he didn’t, Gerrit continued, “We will pick up the trade winds earlier but they still won’t blow proper until we’re five hundred leagues into the voyage.” He looked at the rigging. “She’s a fast ship, and we will tick off three degrees of latitude a day. With luck, it will be a fast passage. Keep an eye out for chafe points on the sheets. It’s easy to forget that on a long voyage such as this with constant wind and seas.”
Gerrit Haak spent much of the day teaching Teach how to spell his name and to write the name of the ship. On a ship at sea, there is time for work and Gerrit made sure that there was also time to instruct both young William Teach and other members of the crew how to use a sextant and how that related to charts. The men marked off the days with their newly found skills. Broxie Quigley refused to participate, and was often found eating an extra apple or breaking a minor rule. A stout, strong crewman, he did his work with exactness, but the attitude he showed contrasted with that of the rest of the men.
On the first day of real heat, the Dolphin was becalmed and the ocean became a mirror that reflected the sun’s rays back into the ship and crew. It was also the day that young Bill Teach first took off his shirt in the presence of the crew. The five-year old boy had a dozen scars across his back from where he had been beaten.
“D’ya know your birthday, Teach.” Charles asked the boy.
“I don’t, Captain.”
“It’s today. You’re six years old and near as we can tell, it’s May first.”
“Appleby, you and Two Bobs, which is what we call Robert Roberts, the ship’s carpenter, rig an awning and we’ll have a party to celebrate Teach turning six.”
“Ain’t nobody celebrated my birthday,” Broxie grumbled.
“I attended your birthday Broxie Quidley, when you turned ten,” Charles said.
“Well, not since then.”
Charles boomed, “Fred cook us a pudding and what honey is left we shall use to spice our rum. There are still apples a plenty. Use them as you will.
“And kill the chickens?” Broxie asked in his typically defiant tone.
“Why would we do that, Broxie and deprive ourselves of eggs,” Billy Bones asked, get aloft and check the jib for signs of chafing. Come back down when the pudding is done.”
Broxie smiled, and climbed the rigging.
Albert Mugg and Gerrit Haak took muskets to watch for sharks while the men went swimming. The captain in particular enjoyed the exercise, as did young Teach, who was like a small salmon, crossing back and forth under the ship.
“Her hull is still clean,” The captain reported up to Gerrit as he treaded water.
“At this latitude, we’ll begin to pick up shipworm as soon as we’re dodging around the Windward Islands. It’s inevitable even if you’ve graved her well. Shouldn’t be a problem though because we’ll do what we’ve come to do, we’ll sail for home with a profit for the voyage and I’ll go home to Holland.”
They all took turns having Mugg cut their hair, salivating while the bully beef cooked, trenchers of bread cooled and the pudding was being prepared. Broxie slinked down the rigging for a dip in the ocean and qued himself for the last haircut.
Teach asked Charles, “Captain, what happened to your foot.”
The crew looked at Captain Barry’s left foot with two missing toes and a piece of flesh hewed off.
Charles ignored him, but Billy Bones said, “Tell the boy or I will.”
“That’s right, you were there, weren’t you Mr. de Bornes. It’s the day you became Billy Bones. Well, young Teach, I lost them in the search for fame, glory and profit. I was sailing on Gull, commanded by my uncle Patrick when I was barely fifteen years old. Almost three years ago now. We’d been running from a storm that passed us to the north when we came up on a sambuck in the Gulf of Tunis, where the Romans battled Carthage a thousand and a half years before. She rode low in the water and we had straight at her. Captain Quidley ordered the guns run out and the black flag raised so that she would know of our intentions. She was the Salamati, commanded by some sort of Mohammedan king or priest.” Charles looked at William de Bornes, who took up the tale.
“I shipped on the crew of the Nancy, a galleon out of LeHarve, with a cargo of pilgrims who paid for passage to the Holy Land. The ship foundered in a heavy storm somewhere near Algiers and those of us who survived, which was almost all, ended up on a reef thirty or so miles east of Algiers. When the storm abated, we took what we had from the ship and swam or floated a short distance to the shore. Nancy had been an old ship. It hadn’t taken much for the rotten rigging to fail us. We were taken as slaves and were sold at the market in Algiers. Most of us was bought by a prince named Hassan. It was maybe two months after that we were at sea headed for Cario where he hoped to make a profit from his purchase. Then I seen the Gull, the black flag and all but gave up ‘ope all together. The nuns prayed and the priests prayed and the pilgrims, fifty and three prayed. The crew and there were forty knew Gods will would be done one way or t’other. ” He paused for Charles.
“The Salamati fired what she could by way of broadside, but the hull of the Gull is stout and most of the shot fell short anyway. We returned fire with chain shot because Patrick wanted to de-mast her so we could take the ship intact. We had experience before where a ship like her sank before we could take all the cargo off. We lost cargo and the prize.”
“And you ain’t heard nothing till you heard chain shot flying at you. It took two?”
“Three.” Charles corrected.
“Three broadsides to take down the masts, but the shot that swept over the deck tore men in half. Right terrifying. Then the Gull comes along side and the hooks swing over the side. Buccaneers come over the rails and most of the Muslims were most fearful, but not their Prince Hassan, who is swinging his scimitar and praying or whatever he said. Then comes Charlie Barry across the rail holding a rope in one hand and a pistol in the other and the Prince tries to cut him in two but only catches his foot. Charlie hits him full body in the chest and down goes the Prince. Charlie puts a slug from the pistol into the Prince’s guts and it takes the fight out of him.
“Captain Quidley learned what happened and that most of the slaves had been pilgrims going to Jerusalem, so he took one of the Mohammedan crew, beheaded him, tied a line to him and chummed with him. When the sharks came and began to feed, he threw Prince Hassan over the side. But he gave his cutlass to Charlie for his bravery.”
“Those of us who were seamen were offered the opportunity to sail the prize to Spain. It took us two weeks to reach Malaga because we’d stepped the spare masts that the Gull gave us, and what we salvaged from the dhow. Captain Quidley made me second mate of the Salamati prize and changed my name to Billy Bones.
“What happened to Captain Charlie?” Teach asked in wonder.
“He got the woman. I don’t recall her name.”
“Marie Louise,” Charles said.
“That’s right. She was beautiful even dressed in slave’s rags and the Mohammedens didn’t touch her because they knew she’d fetch more if she was fresh. She told me her story by way of confession one night when we were in chains. She’d been a courtesan at one of those fancy houses in Paris, a soiled dove, who took her earnings and set out for the Holy Land looking for forgiveness. She couldn’t have been more than nineteen when we were captured. It was Marie Louise who took charge of binding Charles’ injury and caring for him. Captain Quidley gave them his cabin.”
Charles blushed, “And that’s all there is to tell. She left the ship in Malaga, still intending to go to Jerusalem.”
“Patrick always did have a soft place in his hard heart for you, Charles Barry,” Broxie said.
Gerrit Haak turns out to be Captain Hawk, an old pirate with larceny in his heart. His lessons to young Teach do not fall on deaf ears.
Soon, Charles Barry, master of the Dolphin, cuts his teeth in combat against a small pirate vessel off the Carolina Capes. The crew, hoping to find a rich treasure in the pirate ship, discover that she’s hulled with ship worm and is leaking and the only cargo is a few dozen tubs of manteca (butter).
The adventures of the crew of the Dolphin continue as they meet new people and have new adventures, and the character of the captain and crew are put to the test.