Rumors of a lost treasure and a hidden map drive a missionary to forsake his vows, cause a pirate to lose his ship and leave two women seriously questioning the value of their "virtue."
Arleigh Avery is not afraid of pirates.
Growing up on the Bahamian island of Providence, she often heard stories of the fabulous treasures of the Gang-i-sawai, the Great Mogul’s treasure ship plundered by her pirate father in the Red Sea years before.
No one knows what became of the treasure, and her father will never speak of it.
Were the gold and jewels taken from him? Lost? Spent?
Or has he hidden them somewhere?
When her father hears that England has sent a governor to Providence to bring order to the unruly island, he immediately makes plans to send her away, saying he fears increasing violence among the pirates.
But Arleigh is not afraid of pirates. Though they land in Nassau all blustery and full of show, she knows they can be easily bent to her will with a tankard of rum and a little feminine persuasion.
Arleigh is not afraid of pirates. But she should be.
Because when she decides that setting sail with pirate Charles Vane is the best way to find her father’s hidden treasure, the pirates show their true colors.
And though she hopes to keep the treasure all for herself, the time will come when she will welcome all the help she can get.
Historical escapades of real pirates Henry Avery, Charles Vane, Calico Jack Rackam and Edward Teach—better known as Blackbeard—are woven into this tale of adventure, betrayal, trust, and love
An explosion echoed across the harbor, sending bits of flaming debris soaring into the night sky.
Edward Talbot yawned. “I thought we were finished for the evening.”
“’Parently not.” An older, portly man rose from his chair in the corner of the thatched hut that passed for a tavern and tottered over, blocking the view.
“Will ye take another?” He waved toward the pewter tankard on the table.
“Seems we shall be kept awake for some time yet.”
Edward stood, peering around the man toward the distant east end of
harbor. He was confident Hardey would keep the Osprey well clear of the hulk
Charles Vane had set aflame at the west harbor entrance, but all the same he couldn’t help but look. Then he turned back to his new companion.
“Be my guest. Or rather, I shall be yours.”
The man grinned as he heaved his ponderous bulk into a chair that creaked in protest. Even in the dim candlelight, it was clear his garments were those of a wealthy gentleman, but his unkempt gray hair, unshaven face and swaggering gait counterbalanced any pretense to gentility.
He looked like a pirate.
As did nearly everyone else in Nassau. Since the English crown had elected not to send a governor to Providence, pirates had made the island their own, with the decrepit town of Nassau their capital. But all that was about to change, as the presence of the warships in the harbor testified. He had yet to decide whether he would accept the governor’s pardon or, like Vane, decline the offer and continue on the old account. And his time was running out.
The man rapped his knuckles on the table. “More rum, if you please, Hanney.”
The hollow-faced, toothless barmaid dozing on a stool in the corner blinked her eyes open. She picked up the bottle she had held clasped between
her feet, glided over to them and poured a good measure into the gentleman pirate’s leather jack. Then she looked at Edward.
“His, too.” The man waved her to pour. “An’ don’ be stingy, mind ye.”
She poured an equal measure into the tankard then set down the bottle and licked her fingers. Rivulets of dark liquid trickled down the neck of the bottle.
“Leave it.” The man glanced around, removed a silk purse from his coat pocket and carefully plucked out two coins. These he placed in the barmaid’s
palm, tucking her fingers around them securely. “That should take care o’ it.”
“’Anks, milord,” the barmaid mumbled as she retreated to her corner.
Milord? Edward peered at the gentleman more closely. In his experience pirates were not generally addressed by honorific titles.
“Might I be so impertinent as to ask to whom it is I owe thanks for the hospitality this night?”
“Ben Bridgeman is my name,” the man answered. “I have a plantation on the other side of the island.”
“And a successful one, by the looks of things.” He took a draught of rum, watching over the rim of his tankard as Bridgeman fidgeted with the braid on his coat sleeve. “You made your fortune in sugar, I presume?”
Bridgeman laughed uneasily. “It is a sweet fortune, if I do say as much. And what of your own business on New Prov’dence? Ye can’t be a planter, ’less yer just startin’ out.”
A planter. A man of property. It was still a possibility… if he took the pardon. Edward pushed that thought to the back of his mind as he leaned back in his chair. “I have not the patience to wait for things to grow. I trade what others have already produced.”
“Costs have gone up so much—it can be hard to profit by honest trade.” Bridgeman eyed him warily.
He laughed, feeling himself relax for the first time in a great while. “Of that I would know nothing, for there is little enough honest trade to be had in these latitudes, new governor or no.”
“An’ what do ye think o’ this new gov’ner from England?”
Edward looked out into the street at the collection of palmetto-thatched
huts, piles of trash and offal and crumbling stone fortifications of the sorry excuse for a town.
“I think he’ll wish himself somewhere else rather sooner than later.”
“D’ye think he’ll be welcomed here?”
Another explosion sounded in the harbor.
“Not by Vane, at any rate. I take it the governor refused to accept his terms.” He stood and stepped out into the street for a moment to get a clearer view of the water. Only two of the governor’s warships had managed to make it into the harbor and Charles Vane had “saluted” both with shot, damaging the ship’s rigging each time. Then he set fire to a French prize, apparently loading the starboard guns before doing so and set the ship adrift in the direction of warships. The naval vessels cut their cables and fled back to sea, while the burning hulk of the French ship continued to offer up random shot and explosions that echoed harmlessly off the water.
His own sloop remained out of range on the east side of the bay.
He returned to the tavern.
Bridgeman smiled. “Ye have a ship at anchor.”
“A sloop. The Osprey.”
“Making ready to sail?”
“Yes.” Edward said. “Have you kept watch over the harbor all day or was that simply an extraordinarily good guess?”
“As it ’appens, I am looking for transport.” Bridgeman poured more rum into his jack. “Could you be persuaded to take on a small…cargo?”
“Perhaps.” He picked up his tankard, trying not to display his interest. A smuggling venture of some sort would give him an excuse to avoid making his decision for at least a few more weeks. “Bound for what parts?”
“Ile St. Bertila..”
He smiled. “Not much of a market for illicit luxuries on a deserted island.”
“Now, why would ye be thinkin’ this is stolen cargo?”
“Why else would you be in such a hurry to dispose of it before the governor arrives?”
“I have my reasons.” The rumble of a lesser explosion caused Bridgeman to look toward the harbor. “The fire does cast a lovely glow on the water, don’ it?”
Edward kept his gaze focused on the man across from him. “What’s the cargo?”
“Not what.” Bridgeman turned back with a sigh. “Who. A very special passenger.” He leaned in close. “I wan’ her off the island before any more trouble breaks out.”
Edward grinned. “I thought the intent of bringing in a new governor was to quell the existing trouble. And I believe some of the troublemakers have already made haste to accept the government’s pardon.”
“Yes, an’ how long d’ye think that’ll last?” Bridgeman’s jovial countenance was gone, replaced by a look of concern that aged his face by a score of years. “Rogers is no fool. He’ll chase Vane and any others that try to cross him.” He sighed, his fingers once again twisting the braid on his coat. “An’ he might come fer me. I don’ wan’ her to be here.”
For a moment, Edward almost felt sympathy for the man, so worried about a wife or daughter he obviously cared for. But of course this was a weakness that could be turned to profit. He needed to know what this Bridgeman had to offer. “Why would the governor trouble an honest planter such as yourself?”
“The indiscretions o’ me youth, sir. All repented of now, ’course.” Bridgeman leaned in again. “But I’ve still enough left of the experience to pay you handsome for your trouble. Will ye take her?”
Could it be that Bridgeman was that rare breed, a pirate who had managed to keep himself from squandering his share as soon as he hit land? He would have to see the money before he’d believe it. But he nodded nonetheless. “Ile St. Bertila is said to be lovely this time of year. I think the crew can be persuaded to make the trip. For the right price, of course.”
“You mus’n lay a hand on her, now, nor any of the crew.”
“Your daughter?” he guessed.
“Yes. The only good thing in me life.” Bridgeman sniffed. “Never was born a sweeter, more honest, gentle girl.” His face puckered as he fought back a tear. “Ye will take good care of her?”
Edward smiled and bowed his head. “On my honor as a gentleman.”
Arleigh Avery sat up in alarm when she heard her father’s voice at the front door, just a thin wall away in the shabby three-room house. “You have to leave!” She pushed her visitor off the bed toward the unglazed window. “At once! Papa’s home.”
“Huh?” Jemmy, the most promising of the young men from Ben Hornigold’s crew, looked dazed at the sudden reversal of his fortunes. “You said he wouldn’ be ’ome til midday.” Then his expression turned to a smug grin as he sat down next to her. “We’ll just tell ’im I’m here to repair the bedstead.”
“He’s not likely to believe that story again this week.” Arleigh disentangled Jemmy’s fingers from the bodice of her gown.
“Again this week?” His voice rose to an incredulous squeak. “Just ’ow many men have you—”
She put her finger to his lips. “Whst. A lady never speaks of such things.”
She offered her best enticing smile as she gently guided him toward the window. “Meet me at twilight on blue hill.”
He leaned forward and plastered a sloppy kiss on her lips before she managed to push him away.
She shook her head.
“If he catches you here, neither of us will be in any condition to appear at blue hill.”
With a sheepish grin, Jemmy heaved himself out the open window onto the sand below.
Arleigh straightened her skirts and was about to head out to greet her father when the sound of the voices made her stop. Her father was not, as she had supposed, speaking to his man Samson. The voice that answered was much too refined, speaking in longer sentences and with much more enthusiasm than she was accustomed to hearing.
Her father had brought home a gentleman.
She pulled on her stockings and shoes and hurried over to the small looking-glass propped against a loose board in the corner. Making a face at the ghoulish appearance she cast in the scratched greenish glass, she twisted tangled gobs of hair into position on top of her head and secured them in place with a few bent pins. She then covered the whole mess with a proper linen cap. Now that she was presentable and could see what opportunities lay in store in the next room.
Her hopes were immediately dashed at the sight of the new visitor. Instead of the well-cut coat of a gentleman, he was in shirtsleeves, wearing a worn waistcoat and patched breeches with a battered straw hat tucked under his arm. It was the ridiculous young man everyone in town referred to as “Reverend Yam” due to his tiresome propensity to quote scripture while handing out produce to the needier residents of Nassau. Not much prospect for gain, or even fun, from this man. She hoped his visit would be brief.
Her father’s face lit with a smile as she approached them.
“Ah, Arleigh, my dear. May I pr’sent Mr. Charles Carter? He has some words t’share on the subject we discus’t last even’.”
At the reminder of her father’s insistence that she leave the island, she fought back a grimace of anger. An angry woman offended most men; she stood a much better chance of convincing them with a smile.
With infinite gentleness, she laid a hand on her father’s arm. “Dear Papa, I wish to stay with you, whatever difficulties lie ahead. We will be safe enough when we return to the plantation.”
Her father shook his head. “Ah, no, Arleigh, we’ve been through that a’ready. It’s too dangerous to remain anywhere on the island. An’ ye belong in the company of women at a time such as this.”
“But I’ve lived here all my life and you’ve never expressed concerns for my safety. And surely, sir, with Maggie and Mrs. Urquhardt—”
As always, her father waved aside her objections. “Mr. Carter will explain it all in proper language for ye.” He nodded toward the young man who, despite his powerful build and educated speech, suddenly looked very ill-at-ease, as if her father had asked him to address a pack of venomous snakes instead of a helpless female.
But perhaps he was afraid of helpless females. Arleigh fluttered her eyelashes at him, just to ascertain.
His face reddened and he addressed his next remarks to the floor.
“Mr. Avery, your confidence in my powers of proselytization may be misplaced.”
Her father clapped him on the back. “Bridgeman, my boy—you must remember to call me Bridgeman.
“Oh, Samson, there you are.” He waved toward the open front door to hail his man on the porch. “Samson, we need to secure the victuals and wine Polly ordered before some blackguard makes off with ’em.” He stepped out, the porch stairs creaking as he left his guest alone with his daughter without even a nod of farewell.
The young man now looked up at her, his shyness gone just as suddenly as it had appeared.
“I cannot abide a lie, even in a name. Henry Avery he is before God and so he is before me, also.”
“Well,” Arleigh leaned a little closer, “if you could refer to him so in a very small voice, he would be much obliged.”
Reverend Yam tilted his head to one side and pursed his lips thoughtfully.
“I believe I can do that.” He cleared his throat and removed a small book from the pocket of his waistcoat. “Now, surely you must see, Miss…” He leaned forward and whispered, “…Avery, that you remain in a most precarious position on this island in the company of so many men of dubious moral state. Any father would fear for his daughter in this nest of pirates. And now, with the possibility of hostilities with the new governor, the danger is much the worse. It is for your own protection he wishes you to remove to Ile St. Bertila.”
“From what I understand, the moral state of the men on Providence has grown much the better, thanks to your ministries.” She offered her most obsequious smile.
He blushed and fumbled with the pages of the book, which looked ridiculously small in his large, calloused hands.
“Well, I do try. But that progress is not sufficient so as to ensure your wellbeing. So, please, will you respect your father’s wishes?”
The sooner she agreed with him, the sooner he would leave. She nodded slowly, as if he had succeeded in convincing her.
“I see that I was selfish in wishing to remain at home. Thank you for showing me the error of my ways.” She began a stately walk toward the door, leading him out.
He took the hint, cramming the straw hat on his head as he followed her toward the front door.
“Do you know when you are to sail?”
“I believe Papa arranged passage for me last night, but I’ve not been told when we shall depart. Maggie—my maid—has my belongings packed, so we may leave on short notice. Of course, living among the sisters I will not have need of any fancy things.”
He nodded, a quiet smile lighting his features. “No, indeed. You go to a simple, wholesome life.”
There was no way she could match the sincerity of his smile, but she did her best to pretend. “I am nearly faint with anticipation.”
“Then I had best leave you to rest.” He offered a deep bow. “Please give my regards to Mr. Avery.”
“A pleasant afternoon to you, Reverend Ya—Mr. Carter.”
She nodded her head pleasantly and took a seat in the corner, forcing herself to pick up the crewelwork Maggie had set down earlier. With a gentle smile, she withdrew the needle and stabbed it through the fabric, hoping she wasn’t ruining Maggie’s careful design too badly. The thread stuck, so she pulled on it— still with the pleasant smile, for Reverend Yam was not yet out of sight. With one vicious tug, she managed to pull the thread all the way through, although in doing so she tore a hole in the fabric. She arranged the knot over the hole, stuck the needle back in and glanced up to ensure she was finally alone.
She was. The needlework dropped to the floor as she jumped up and ran to the open window facing the harbor. In the east, she could see the Osprey, the sloop that would take her to the nuns. It might well leave with the tide later this morning. And she would be damned it she would be on it.
But if her father would not permit her to stay on Providence, she would have to find someplace else to go.
She scratched viciously at an insect bite on her arm while she scanned the other vessels at anchor—at least, what she could see through the haze of smoke. Most of them were small fishing boats and all of the fisherman knew her father and would not dare go against his wishes. There was also a boat from HMS Rose that had entered the harbor last night, probably to see the cause of the explosion. The Royal Navy was not likely to offer her passage either.
The only other vessel was a brigantine onto which Charles Vane had loaded his booty before turning his large French prize into a fireship, setting it ablaze to block the governor from entering the main harbor. Vane now made ready to sail out of the shallow east end of the bay.
If she ran off into the interior of the island, she might last a few weeks.
Then someone in her father’s pay would find her. Vane’s sloop was her only hope to escape the prospect of the convent school on Ile St. Bertila.
There were so many men and boys crammed aboard a pirate ship, who would notice one more? Any difficulty she encountered could be bought off—she would just claim her inheritance a little early. And pirates were a highspirited, jovial sort, most of whom were completely vulnerable to feminine charms. She would get on much better in the company of pirates than the company of nuns.
Maggie and the housekeeper Mrs. Urquardt would soon return from their outing to the market, so she if she was going to act, she didn’t have much time. With rapid steps, she headed to the small parlor in the back of the house where her father slept. Under his bedstead she knew she would find the small leather chest where he kept jewels. And, indeed, hidden under a smelly velvet waistcoat and nankeen breeches, the chest sat just as she remembered it.
The iron padlock holding it closed took some work to pick, for her hands shook and she was rather out of practice. At every creak or sigh from the sagging wooden house she expected to find Maggie or even her father in the room with her. But at last she pulled the rusted lock free and opened the chest.
Right on top, wrapped in an old piece of parchment, was a gray felt bag.
She loosened the string at the top and carefully poured some of the content into her hand. Diamonds, rubies and topazes shone dully in her palm.
The bag seemed smaller than she remembered, but it was difficult to gauge, since she the last time she saw it, she had been peeking through the crack between the door and door frame and her father’s ponderous bulk had blocked most of what little view she did have.
She weighed the bag with her hand. This could not possibly be all that remained of the treasure of the Gang-i-Sawai. Even split among all the crew, the loot from the Great Mogul’s treasure ship had been enough to last any man ten lifetimes. While her father spent a fair bit on rum and women when he came to town, his visits were few and far between. Her mother had died long before she could order enough gowns and porcelain to devour the treasure. The rest of it must be hidden on the plantation somewhere, though she’d never been able to find anything other than the leather chest.
Unless he’d hidden the treasure someplace other than the plantation. She reached for the parchment she had cast aside earlier. Her father always seemed to be scratching or carving designs on bits of wood or whatever came to hand, so she’d paid no mind to the rough drawing on the parchment. At first glance, she could see why—this rendition of a bird’s head was even worse than most of his designs. It scarcely resembled a bird at all.
But perhaps it was not supposed to be a bird. She crawled over to the window to crack open the shutter that had been closed against the daytime heat. Beams of dappled sunlight revealed notes on the page, faded with time: “Crooked cavern. Ten paces 12:00, six paces 3:00.”
The bird’s head was a place, another island probably. And the notes—directions to her father’s hidden treasure? Keeping a few jewels as spending money, she returned the felt bag to the chest but kept the parchment wrapping. The map. This map led the way to her inheritance, so she might just as well claim it now.