Pirates of the Caribbean without Johnny Depp.
“Helmsman, make your course one eight seven.”
“Aye, sir, one eight seven.”
“Lower the mains’l.”
“Captain, I must respectfully protest, we are being led into a trap.”
“Noted, lieutenant, but the sloop entered this passage not fifteen minutes ago, and where they can go, we shall, too. If it makes you feel better then send a man forward with line and weight to gauge the depth. Enemies of the King must not escape.”
The crewman had just reached the bow when a sickening lurch pulled the ship to a halt amid the creaking and moaning of the hull.
“We’ve run fast aground, sir,” came the unnecessary warning.
Before Captain Trevor Wainwright of His Majesty’s Navy could give the next command, a large explosion and geyser of water appeared close by to starboard, followed by a cannon’s roar.
“There she is, sir, behind us!” The watcher called from the crow’s nest.
“How in the devil . . .?” The Captain muttered as he turned to look.
There she was, the Reprisal, her sleek black hull and bulwarks low in the water, her every line testifying to her speed and maneuverability. The two deck cannons on her bow had the English ship fair in range. A voice floated across the water.
“Strike your colors, Captain, or you’ll be flotsam on the beach. I’ve no wish to take your lives, but I am prepared to do so!”
The British Man o’ War was fair caught with her britches down. Heavy and tall, her bulwarks high in the air, she was a goose for slaughter. Though her armament was twice that of the Reprisal, she was immobile on the coral reef and had but one cannon aft, her only possible shot nearly impossible, a bow shot. Any attempt to bring another cannon to bear would result in her immediate destruction.
“This is a ship of His Majesty’s Navy, and any untoward action on your part . . .”
“Spare me the speech, Captain Blowhard,” Nicholas Breed, Captain of the Reprisal shouted back. “Your nearest Man o’ War is far away, sitting on the Thames, you have no choice. Strike your colors and prepare to be boarded!”
Nicholas watched as the Union Jack was slowly lowered. Thereafter, his careful plan was put into being. All soldiers were brought on deck and made to throw their muskets into the water before being ferried, along with the crew, in the launch to a small nearby island. All officers were to remain in plain sight on deck. He brought the Reprisal to within one hundred yards, point blank range, where he and his men boarded the warship. The British, ever fond of routine, were assembled in formation. Captain Wainwright stepped forward, offering his sword in surrender.
“A brilliant strategy, Captain,” he said. “May I ask what you plan to do with us?”
“I plan to search you, take what we need, then give your ship back to you. If you throw your cannon and shot and most of your supplies overboard, you may get off this reef and go where you will.”
“This is a warship; we carry no ‘booty’, as you pirates call it.”
“We are not pirates, merely men addressing a wrong committed by your government. If we were, you would already be dead.” Breed turned to his first mate. “Spike all cannon, destroy all powder and munitions above our needs, and take care to take nothing of a personal nature.”
“You stopped a British Man o’ War for resupply?” Captain Wainwright was incredulous.
“No, Captain, we stopped you for the one treasure you are carrying, the treasure that was your mission until you decided we’d be an easy target and followed us in here. Where is she?”
“Where is whom?”
Breed pulled the Captain’s sword from its scabbard and placed its point against his throat.
“Lady Elizabeth Sterling, daughter of Horatio Sterling, Lord of Southby, supplier to the Royal Navy.”
Captain Wainwright’s face remained stolid, but his eyes betrayed him. “What makes you think we have such a person aboard?”
“Careful study for several months plus many favors called. Stop delaying or I’ll run you through and start on your officers!”
“Cap’n Nick, we’ve found her trunks in the Captain’s cabin,” the first mate advised.
“Load them in the boat, if you please Mr. Stiles,” Breed said with a smile. He turned back to Wainwright. “Gives a new meaning to ‘cabin boy’, Captain?”
“Certainly not, those clothes belong to my wife,” Wainwright swiftly lied.
“Cap’n Nick,” Stiles interrupted, “the first load to the island contained what I thought was the cabin boy, but, you know, he was just too pretty.”
“Fetch him, Mr. Stiles, and let us have a look.”
Stiles motioned to two men and headed for the launch.
“Captain Nick?” Wainwright pondered. “Nicholas Breed. You are he?”
“That’s right, Captain, do you know that name?”
“Vaguely. Some matter of the government, as I remember.”
“Yes, ‘some matter’. If you should make it back to England, tell your superiors that I have Lady Sterling. They will refresh your memory.”
“I say, you do not have her yet, it would seem.”
Captain Wainwright was either courageous or very sure of something, Breed thought. Where would I hide such a lady on a ship full of men? Disguised as the cabin boy makes perfect sense as a young lad would have a smooth face, but I wonder. Breed allowed his eyes to travel over the assembled officer’s faces. Pushing the Captain aside he shoved his way into the second rank off officers, bringing the point of the sword to a new throat.
“You, sir, do not quite fit your uniform and your face is smudged despite the fact that there has been no fire. Appearance totally unbecoming an officer in His Majesty’s Royal Navy, what have you to say for yourself?”
When the officer didn’t answer, Breed flicked the tip of the sword up and knocked his hat off. Golden curls cascaded to the officer’s shoulders and Lady Sterling fixed him with a look of utter contempt.
“Signal Stiles to return, we have found our treasure,” Nicholas shouted over his shoulder.
Sweeping the sword to his side, Breed bowed in her direction. “Lady Sterling, I pray that you will accompany me without further incident.”
“You may pray all you like, Mr. Breed, but I doubt the Lord listens to the likes of you.”
“That may well be, my Lady, but be assured that I mean you no harm.”
“Weigh anchor, Mr. Stiles.”
“Shouldn’t we put a hole in her for good measure, Cap’n?”
“No, Mr. Stiles, it will take at least two days of backbreaking labor to lighten and refloat their ship. By that time we will have disappeared where none may find us. Make our heading to Santiago Island, if you please.”
Santiago Island was not their destination but it served for a heading. Their destination was a day beyond, a small, unnamed island that appeared inhospitable. Its steep cliffs and lack of beaches gave no mooring, and if anyone had seen it they had simply passed it by for the better comfort of the Santiago’s. For that reason it was perfect for Breed, because he knew what no one else apparently did; that there was a treacherous hidden passage to the interior of the island. No warship would attempt that passage, but the smaller Reprisal could squeeze through and be rewarded with paradise. Rainwater collected in vast tanks in the rock, even supplying a waterfall or two, and Breed, looking ahead, had supplied it with pigs and fowl to supplement the fish in the cove. A wide beach and deep mooring completed the picture; Breed and his men could have lived comfortably there for an eternity. But, that was not their purpose.
Lady Sterling stood on the bow surveying her prison while the men moved her belongings to the largest hut on the beach. She was careful to manage her appearance though her heart was sinking like the setting sun. She had overheard conversation about this island and knew rescue was truly impossible. Still, with God’s help, she would not lose hope and would continue to pray for that rescue.
Breed escorted her from the ship to her hut, opening the door with a flourish and a bow. “I know it is not what you are used to, my Lady, but it is the best we can provide.”
“So,” she asked, “I am to be incarcerated in this ‘gilded cage’ until your nefarious plans can be completed?”
“Not so, my Lady, you may go wherever you wish, you will not be molested.”
“Then I wish to go home, Mr. Breed, unmolested. My father is a very rich man, as you apparently know, and he will pay any sum for my release.”
Breed grasped her hand and deftly removed the diamond and ruby ring it bore. “I am counting on that, my Lady.”
Dinner was succulent roast pork with pineapple rings along with other fruit of the island. It was delivered by an old, crippled Portuguese dressed in a white coat, like a waiter. Beth was starving, having refused all meals that day, but she would not drop her demeanor.
“Well, I least I won’t starve, this meal seems edible,” she groused, picking at the sliced meat as if she expected to find maggots.
The Portuguese smiled a toothless grin. “My name is Jim-Jam, and I am your servant. If you require anything, just sing out, ‘Jim-Jam’.”
“My servant? Do you expect to dress me, too?” She spat with sarcasm.
“Oh, No, M’lady. At your age I would expect that you can do that yourself.” Still smiling, Jim-Jam left by backing out the door, bowing all the way.
Beth dug into her meal like a pirate then stopped as she remembered that she had neglected to say Grace. She bowed her head and certain passages from the Bible came to her mind, passages concerned with the treatment of servants and slaves, laws set down from God. Through the rest of her meal she felt remorse at the way she had treated Jim-Jam. He was only doing his job and she had been decidedly unpleasant. It was her plan to act like a lady in hopes that her captors would act like gentlemen, but the truth was, they had and she hadn’t. She had been kidnapped, but that was Breed’s doing, not the men, especially Jim-Jam. His physical condition had probably been caused by Breed, maybe even personally. She had heard of pirate justice. She must remember that Breed was the enemy here, he was the one with the nefarious plan.
Beth was eating a particularly sweet fruit that she had never before encountered when she remembered Jim-Jam’s last words to her, and she let go an unlady-like giggle. Jim-Jam was not as helpless as he appeared, with words anyway.
After her dinner, she sang out and Jim-Jam was immediately at the door. “Please come in, Jim-Jam. I wish to apologize for my earlier behavior. You are probably as much a captive as I.”
Jim-Jam gave her an odd look. “You are as gracious as you are comely, M’lady, and no apology is necessary.”
As he cleared her dinner dishes it suddenly occurred to Beth that since rescue was quite improbable, then her only hope would be escape, and equally improbable act. However, it was something she could do rather than just sit and wait. She would need allies, men who were unhappy under Breed’s rule, and she imagined that there might be more than a few of those.
Before retiring to bed, Beth decided to read her Bible for the comfort it always brought, the wisdom and promises of the Lord. While thumbing through the Testaments her eyes fell upon the phrase, “Hate the sin, but love the sinner.” Her mind flashed to a picture of Breed, vile pirate and kidnapper of women, thief of rings. How could anyone love a man like that? She felt the point of the sword against her throat and remembered her fear. But as she drifted off to sleep, the last image in her mind was his easy smile and soft brown eyes.
Beth was awakened by the sounds of activity and men shouting. When she peered through the window shutters she saw that the pirates were getting the ship under way. Dressing quickly, she barged out the door and almost knocked Jim-Jam and her breakfast sprawling.
“Where are they going?” Beth shouted.
“On the first leg of the journey to set you free, M’lady.”
Hiking up her skirts Beth ran down the beach to where Breed was standing. Breathlessly she questioned, “Where are you going? I demand that you take me with you!”
Breed fixed her with a stern glaze. “My Lady, you are not in a position to demand anything. Return to your hut, Jim-Jam will provide for you until we return.”
Catching her angry breath, Beth yelled, “Suppose you get yourself shot to pieces and do not return? Am I to spend the rest of my life here alone?”
Breed flashed a quick smile that irritated Beth all the more. “I guess that’s the chance you will have to take.” He turned to board the launch.
Beth was totally speechless and could only watch Nicholas row away. On her way back to the hut she suddenly realized that this might be her chance to escape, if she could get Jim-Jam to help her. She stopped and looked around but saw no one. Apparently she really was alone with Jim-Jam. She looked to see if a boat had been left behind, but the beach contained only footprints. In the hut her breakfast was on the table, but Jim-Jam was nowhere in sight.
When Jim-Jam didn’t appear, Beth drummed her fingers angrily on the table, her irritation growing. No one was around. She could escape, but how? Climb the steep, ragged lava walls and wave at a passing ship, hoping someone was looking at her direction? Get a note out somehow, maybe in a bottle? Pirates likely had plenty of rum bottles lying around. All she needed was a piece of paper and then . . . but wait, had she any idea where she was? What use would a message in a bottle be if she couldn’t lead anyone to this island?
Taking a deep breath and her anger under control she looked around her ‘prison’ for the first time. Wasn’t this Breed’s hut? Had he left anything, maybe a weapon behind? He eyes fell upon a small desk and large trunk in a dark corner. Glancing out the window, she lit the lamp and went to the desk.
It was a small, battered roll top desk and when she tried to lift the lid, she found it was unlocked. There was foolscap and pen and ink and other sundry stationary items but nothing useful. Opening the middle drawer showed a letter opener and pen points, but it was the bottom drawer that held something of interest; a large, well-used ledger for the current year.
Pirates keep books? Beth thought to herself. Probably a listing of booty stolen by Breed. She opened it on the desk and brought the lamp close. On the leather cover was embossed, Galveston Merchant Fleet. Flipping through the pages showed her various heading of names of ships and underneath, in almost feminine handwriting, a listing of cargo. This must be how Breed kept track of his victims.
Putting the ledger back and rolling the top shut, Beth turned to the trunk. It had a large padlock on it, but it was hanging open, as if Breed had been in a hurry and forgotten to lock it. Looking around again, she carefully opened the lid.
On top of carefully folded clothing was a pistol. Beth knew nothing about them, but a weapon was a weapon and she secreted it in her own trunks in case she should need it in her escape. She searched through the rest of the trunk but found nothing except Breed’s clothes. She reached to close the lid when her eyes fell upon a large faded envelope stuck in a pocket in the lid. Taking it, she went back to the table with the lamp to read the contents.
The envelope contained a few newspaper clippings from three years ago. All concerned a ship, the Odyssey, which had been sunk by the Royal Navy as a pirate ship, all hands lost. The Odyssey had been registered as part of the Galveston Merchant Fleet. There it was, proof that Nicholas Breed was a pirate hiding behind a legitimate shipping company! Not wanting to be found snooping, Beth returned the envelope to the trunk and had just reseated herself at the table when Jim-Jam knocked on the door.
With a quick glance to see that everything she was back in place, she bade him enter.
Jim-Jam saw her breakfast cold on the plates and commented, “You have not touched your food, M’lady.”
With her finger she jabbed the slice of ham. “There, I touched it.”
To her complete surprise, Jim-Jam burst out laughing and she found herself joining in. His was a deep, mellow laugh tinted with a musical accent and she found it pleasant upon her ears. Jim-Jam ended his mirth with a smile and said, “I wonder if Nicholas knows the caliber of Lady he has taken?”
Serious again she asked, “Why should he care? I am but property to bargain with, according to him.”
“I know him well, M’lady, as well as a father might, and you have touched him in a manner I have not seen before. I say this so that you will not unduly fret as to your future. Nicholas would not harm you at any cost.”
“He has harmed me by kidnapping and the theft of my ring. Isn’t that what pirates do, harm people?”
“Nicholas Breed is not a pirate, M’lady; I wish to make that clear to you. He needs the ring as proof that he has you.”
Deciding to throw caution to the wind, Beth blurted out, “I know about the Odyssey hiding behind the Galveston Merchant Fleet and being sunk as a pirate ship. I saw the proof in that desk and trunk.”
Jim-Jam glanced at the desk then fixed her eyes with his. “That is the trouble with snooping, M’lady; it can cause one to jump to conclusions without all of the facts.”
“Oh, then what are the facts?” Beth asked, standing with her hands on her hips.
“The facts are, twenty years ago the Galveston Merchant Fleet was created by Nathaniel Breed, father of Nicholas, and is a very legitimate shipper. By employing the smaller but faster ships, such as the one you sailed on, Breed was very successful in overhauling his competition and enjoyed great success. But one of his competitors, one with connections, convinced the British Government that Nathaniel was a pirate and had the Odyssey sunk, with all hands, including Nathaniel Breed. Now you have the facts. What would you do?”
“I would seek redress in the courts, not turn to piracy.”
“How would you prove such a thing? How do you overcome the fact that the perpetrator has the ear of the King?”
“I don’t know, compel the man to tell the truth in some way, I suppose.”
“By kidnapping his daughter and holding her for ransom, perhaps?”
Beth felt as if she had been struck in the stomach. It was fully two minutes before she could gasp, “You’re saying my father . . . that’s absurd, my father would never . . .” But, deep in her heart of hearts, she knew. God has a way of making the truth clear, and she knew that Jim-Jam spoke the truth. She fell to her knees and cried.
Jim-Jam quietly cleared the dishes then softly said, “I’m sorry, M’lady” as he left her alone in the hut.
It had meant nothing to her, three years ago at her eighteenth birthday party. Her father had been late getting home, but when he had arrived he was ecstatic and when she had rushed to meet him, he had said to her mother, “They got him. Breed will trouble us no more!” It meant nothing then, but everything now. Beth prayed until she fell asleep on the floor.
She was awakened by a gentle knock on the door. Rising, she brushed at her clothes, trying to make herself presentable. Jim-Jam quietly set her table, and although the aroma of her dinner was wonderful, she didn’t feel like eating. As he turned to go, Beth stopped him.
“Please, what manner of man is Nicholas Breed?”
Jim-Jam smiled warmly. “I’ll tell you, M’lady, if you will but eat.”
He sat opposite her in the lamplight and told his tale as she ate. “I was a teacher in my native land when I got the urge to immigrate to America. I had no money, so I sold myself as an indentured slave to pay for my passage. Once in Galveston I was sold to a merchant who put me to unloading ships and cleaning his premises, hard work for a little man. Still, I did my best and he was not interested in my teaching. One day I tripped over a rope left lying and dropped a crate of glass bowls. My master was beating me when Nathaniel Breed happened by and stopped him, offering twice my indenture in gold. I was sold to Breed on the spot. The deal concluded, Nathaniel proceeded to whip my former master to within an inch of his life. Then he carried me to his house and nursed me back to health, or as much as was left of it. He hired me as a teacher for Nicholas, and I have spent my life in his employ.”
“Nicholas grew to be a tall, strong man in the manner of his father, and God-fearing, too. His Bible usually sits where your plate is now. The Breed’s have a strong sense of justice and are good to the poor and the community. On that fateful day three years ago, Nicholas had to choose his crew for this fight from every man jack who worked for him. Our loyalty is absolute and each of us will give our life for Captain Nick, if it comes to that.”
“I’ve always suspected that there was a gentle streak in him, and you have brought that out. He constantly asks if you are comfortable and are needful of anything. I know he abhors doing what he has done, but he seeks justice for the death of his father, although he almost gave it up this morning at the thought of how it pains you.”
“Nicholas is a private man and would be sore distressed to hear me talk of him, so I must ask, M’lady, to keep this conversation between us.”
“Has he killed men?”
“None that I know of and he took your Man O’ War without hurting anyone, an exhibition of his skill and courage.”
Jim-Jam cleared the dishes and left. After her prayers, Beth slept better than she had since her kidnapping.
Three days later Nicholas returned, the afternoon tide carrying the ship easily into the harbor. Beth stood on the beach waiting patiently, as if she were a woman welcoming her man home from the sea. Breed noticed her change in attitude and asked her about it. Beth said nothing, not wishing any embarrassment on Jim-Jam.
“I’ve come to ask the Captain to dinner,” she said boldly, “if he has the time and inclination.”
With flashing eyes Nicholas swept off his hat with an exaggerated bow and said, “Nothing would please me more, My Lady.”
All afternoon Beth fussed with cleaning the hut, even managing to sneak a tablecloth from Jim-Jam. Promptly at seven, a knock on the door and in came Jim-Jam and the Captain, laden with plates of food and glasses for wine. The table set, Jim-Jam disappeared and left them alone.
After seating Beth, Nicholas sat in his chair and just smiled at her.
“Would you say ‘Grace’, Captain?”
“Nicholas, please, and I will.” He bowed his head. “Heavenly Father, we thank You for this repast and the forgiveness of our sins. I especially ask My Lady Sterling for forgiveness for my wrongs against her and pray that this, too, shall pass.”
They ate in silence, Beth noticing that he stole glances whenever she looked away. A warmness soon filled her and she began to feel almost giddy.
During desert, Beth suddenly asked, “Did my ransom go well?”
He was taken aback, and his neck reddened. “Only time will tell, My Lady.”
“Tell me,” she teased, enjoying his discomfiture, “how much am I worth?”
Nicholas turned away and cleared his throat. “To your father, more than money, I pray.”
His eyes widened. “You speak with boldness, My Lady, perhaps too much. Is that why you are not married yet, I wonder?”
It was Beth’s turn to blush. “Perhaps. I speak my mind, and men find that uncomfortable sometimes.”
“Not all men.”
“Now who’s being bold?”
They stared at each other, both barely breathing.
Nicholas stood and cleared his throat again. “Would My Lady care to walk on the beach?”
“It’s Beth, and yes, I would.”
They walked along the beach in silence until Beth stopped and looked up at the Heavens. “This island is almost paradise you know.”
Nick looked at the ocean of stars above them, then at the almost luminous surf lapping at their feet. “You’re right. I have never taken the time to look.” His eyes fell on hers. “Perhaps it’s the company.”
Beth blushed in the dim moonlight. “What happens when this is over?”
“I suspect you will want to see me even less, My Lady.”
“Beth. Say it, ‘Beth’.”
He looked deep into her eyes. “Beth,” he said in a husky voice.
“See. That didn’t hurt, did it?”
“More than you might think.”
They were interrupted by the sound of a man running on the beach. Almost out of breath the man shouted, “Captain, there’s a ship to the lee of the island. I saw her lights!”
Nicholas was instantly all business. “Just the one? How about the passage?” The man shook his head. Breed looked at the stars. “It’s three hours until low tide. If we get caught in here, all they have to do is lob shells into the crater. If there’s no ship guarding the passage we must leave now!”
An hour later they were underway. Without the pull of the tide, the passage would be tricky, but negotiable with Breed’s skill. There were some anxious moments as the bulwarks came dangerously close to the jagged rocks but the crew answered every call and the Reprisal inched through without damage. With the spotted ship on the other side of the island, Breed thought he had a clear path to escape, until all the lights of the British Man O’ War suddenly materialized in front of them. She had been running in the dark. Now fully lit, Breed could see that she was broadside, with all of her port guns bearing on the Reprisal. Another ship had blocked the path off the bow. He was fairly trapped! Nicholas recognized the voice that carried over the water.
“Now it’s my turn to say, ‘strike your colors and prepare to be boarded’, Captain Breed.
Nicholas recognized the voice of Captain Wainwright and his heart sank. If only Beth wasn’t on board he could take the chance, bluff his way out hiding behind her skirts, but he had sought a confrontation in court, and now he would get it. Over the objections of his men, Breed ordered the raising of the white flag.
Standing on the deck of the warship in chains, Breed had to endure the gloating of Wainwright. “After I got off that reef, I chanced to meet another ship, and by seniority took command of her. I met Lord Sterling here in Santiago, and we caught the spy you left there. It took only a threat against his wife to learn of your whereabouts. I will enjoy watching you hang, as I’m sure will Lord Sterling.”
Beth broke away from her father and rushed to place herself between the two Captains. “Nicholas has killed no one, he will not be hanged!”
“My Lady,” Wainwright said trying vainly to pull her aside. “Piracy is a hanging offense.”
“But he’s not a pirate. Father,” she pleaded, looking beseechingly at Lord Sterling, “tell him the truth, in God’s name, tell him the truth!”
Lord Sterling’s eyes were wide and he stuttered, “Elizabeth, you’re distraught, you, you don’t know what you’re saying!”
“I do know what I’m saying, father. My birthday, remember? You told mother, ‘Breed will trouble us no more.’ you said that, I remember!”
Lord Sterling’s face twisted in agony and his mouth dropped open.
“Tell him, in God’s name, father, or you’ll never see your grandchildren, I promise you that!”
“Beth!” Nicholas gasped, shaking his head.
Her quick wink cut him off. “Tell him, father, God is watching!”
A suddenly broken man, Lord Sterling stumbled toward Captain Wainwright. “It’s true , Breed is not a pirate, I lied, and may God have mercy on my soul.”
“What will happen to my father?
“He will not see prison, he has too many friends in high places, but he will surely lose his lordship. That means you will no longer be a lady,” Nicholas said.
“Captain Wainwright married us; I’m perfectly content to be just Mrs. Nicholas Breed.” She turned serious and searched his eyes. “Can you ever forgive my father?”
“As God forgives me, I must forgive him. After all, his greatest treasure is now mine.”
© 2005 S.J. Beres