The Pirate (Marryat)/Chapter XVI
The small patch of islands called the Caicos, or Cayques, is situated about two degrees to the northward of Saint Domingo, and is nearly the southernmost of a chain which extends up to the Bahamas. Most of the islands of this chain are uninhabited, but were formerly the resort of piratical vessels,—the reefs and shoals with which they are all surrounded afforded them protection from their larger pursuers, and the passages through this dangerous navigation being known only to the pirates who frequented them, proved an additional security. The largest of the Caicos islands forms a curve, like an opened horseshoe, to the southward, with safe and protected anchorage when once in the bay on the southern side; but, previous to arriving at the anchorage, there are coral reefs, extending upwards of forty miles, through which it is necessary to conduct a vessel. This passage is extremely intricate, but was well known to Hawkhurst, who had hitherto been pilot. Cain was not so well acquainted with it and it required the greatest care in taking in the vessel, as, on the present occasion, Hawkhurst could not be called upon for this service. The islands themselves—for there were several of them—were composed of coral rock; a few cocoa-trees raised their lofty heads where there was sufficient earth for vegetation, and stunted brush-wood rose up between the interstices of the rocks. But the chief peculiarity of the islands, and which rendered them suitable to those who frequented them, was the numerous caves with which the rocks were perforated, some above high-water mark, but the majority with the sea-water flowing in and out of them, in some cases merely rushing in, and at high-water filling deep pools, which were detached from each other when the tide receded, in others with a sufficient depth of water at all times to allow you to pull in with a large boat. It is hardly necessary to observe how convenient the higher and dry caves were as receptacles for articles which were intended to be concealed until an opportunity occurred for disposing of them.
In our last chapter we stated that, just as the Avenger had entered the passage through the reefs, the Comus and Enterprise hove in sight and discovered her: but it will be necessary to explain the positions of the vessels. The Avenger had entered the southern channel, with the wind from the southward, and had carefully sounded her way for about four miles, under little or no sail.
The Enterprise and Comus had been examining Turk’s Island, to the eastward of the Caicos, and had passed to the northward of it on the larboard tack, standing in for the northern point of the reef, which joined on to the great Caicos Island. They were, therefore, in a situation to intercept the Avenger before she arrived at her anchorage, had it not been for the reefs that barred their passage. The only plan which the English vessels could act upon was to beat to the southward, so as to arrive at the entrance of the passage, when the Enterprise would, of course, find sufficient water to follow the Avenger; for, as the passage was too narrow to beat through, and the wind was from the southward, the Avenger could not possibly escape. She was caught in a trap; and all that she had to trust to was the defence which she might be able to make in her stronghold against the force which could be employed in the attack. The breeze was fresh from the southward, and appeared inclined to increase, when the Comus and Enterprise made all sail, and worked, in short tacks, outside the reef.
On board the Avenger, the enemy and their motions were clearly distinguished, and Cain perceived that he was in an awkward dilemma. That they would be attacked he had no doubt; and although, at any other time, he would almost have rejoiced in such an opportunity of discomfiting his assailants, yet now he thought very differently, and would have sacrificed almost everything to have been able to avoid the rencontre, and be permitted quietly to withdraw himself from his associates, without the spilling of more blood. Francisco was equally annoyed at this unfortunate collision; but no words were exchanged between him and the pirate-captain during the time that they were on deck.
It was about nine o’clock, when having safely passed nearly half through the channel, that Cain ordered the kedge-anchor to be dropped, and sent down the people to their breakfast. Francisco went down into the cabin, and was explaining their situation to Clara, when Cain entered. He threw himself on the locker, and appeared lost in deep and sombre meditation.
“What do you intend to do?” said Francisco.
“I do not know; I will not decide myself, Francisco,” replied Cain. “If I were to act upon my own judgment, probably I should allow the schooner to remain where she is. They can only attack in the boats, and, in such a case, I do not fear; whereas, if we run right through, we allow the other schooner to follow us, without defending the passage; and we may be attacked by her in the deep water inside, and overpowered by the number of men the two vessels will be able to bring against us. On the other hand, we certainly may defend the schooner from the shore as well as on board; but we are weak-handed. I shall, however, call up the ship’s company and let them decide. God knows, if left to me I would not fight at all.”
“Is there no way of escape?” resumed Francisco.
“Yes, we might abandon the schooner; and this night, when they would not expect it, run with the boats through the channel between the great island and the north Cayque: but that I daren’t propose, and the men would not listen to it: indeed, I very much doubt if the enemy will allow us the time. I knew this morning, long before we saw those vessels, that my fate would be decided before the sun went down.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean this, Francisco,” said Cain; “that your mother, who always has visited me in my dreams whenever anything (dreadful now to think of!) was about to take place, appeared to me last night; and there was sorrow and pity in her sweet face as she mournfully waved her hand, as if to summon me to follow her. Yes, thank God! she no longer looked upon me as for many years she has done.”
Francisco made no answer; and Cain again seemed to be lost in meditation.
After a little while Cain rose, and taking a small packet from one of the drawers, put it into the hands of Francisco.
“Preserve that,” said the pirate-captain; “should any accident happen to me, it will tell you who was your mother; and it also contains directions for finding treasure which I have buried. I leave everything to you, Francisco. It has been unfairly obtained; but you are not the guilty party, and there are none to claim it. Do not answer me now. You may find friends, whom you will make after I am gone, of the same opinion as I am. I tell you again, be careful of that packet.”
“I see little chance of it availing me,” replied Francisco. “If I live, shall I not be considered as a pirate?”
“No, no; you can prove the contrary.”
“I have my doubts. But God’s will be done!”
“Yes, God’s will be done!” said Cain, mournfully. “I dared not have said that a month ago.” And the pirate-captain went on deck, followed by Francisco.
The crew of the Avenger were summoned aft, and called upon to decide as to the measures they considered to be most advisable. They preferred weighing the anchor and running into the bay, where they would be able to defend the schooner, in their opinion, much better than by remaining where they were.
The crew of the pirate-schooner weighed the anchor and continued their precarious course: the breeze had freshened, and the water was in strong ripples, so that they could no longer see the danger beneath her bottom. In the meantime, the sloop of war and Enterprise continued to turn to windward outside the reef.
By noon the wind had considerably increased, and the breakers now turned and broke in wild foam over the coral reefs, in every direction. The sail was still more reduced on board the Avenger, and her difficulties increased from the rapidity of her motion.
A storm-jib was set, and the others hauled down yet even under this small sail she flew before the wind.
Cain stood at the bowsprit, giving his directions to the helmsman. More than once they had grazed the rocks and were clear again. Spars were towed astern, and every means resorted to, to check her way. They had no guide but the breaking of the wild water on each side of them.
“Why should not Hawkhurst, who knows the passage so well, be made to pilot us?” said the boatswain to those who were near him on the forecastle.
“To be sure! let’s have him up!” cried several of the crew; and some of them went down below.
In a minute they reappeared with Hawkhurst, whom they led forward. He did not make any resistance, and the crew demanded that he should pilot the vessel.
“And suppose I will not?” said Hawkhurst, coolly.
“Then you lose your passage, that’s all,” replied the boatswain. “Is it not so, my lads?” continued he, appealing to the crew.
“Yes; either take us safe in, or—overboard,” replied several.
“I do not mind that threat, my lads,” replied Hawkhurst; “you have all known me as a good man and true, and it’s not likely that I shall desert you now. Well, since your captain there cannot save you, I suppose I must; but,” exclaimed he, looking about him, “how’s this? We are out of the passage already. Yes—and whether we can get into it again I cannot tell.”
“We are not out of the passage,” said Cain; “you know we are not.”
“Well, then, if the captain knows better than I, he had better take you through,” rejoined Hawkhurst.
But the crew thought differently, and insisted that Hawkhurst, who well knew the channel, should take charge. Cain retired aft, as Hawkhurst went out on the bowsprit.
“I will do my best, my lads,” said Hawkhurst “but recollect, if we strike in trying to get into the right channel, do not blame me. Starboard a little—starboard yet—steady, so—there’s the true passage my lads,” cried he, pointing to some smoother water between the breakers; “port a little—steady.”
But Hawkhurst, who knew that he was to be put on shore as soon as convenient, had resolved to lose the schooner, even if his own life were forfeited, and he was now running her out of the passage on the rocks. A minute after he had conned her, she struck heavily again and again. The third time she struck, she came broadside to the wind and heeled over: a sharp coral rock found its way through her slight timbers and planking, and the water poured in rapidly.
During this there was a dead silence on the part of the marauders.
“My lads,” said Hawkhurst, “I have done my best, and now you may throw me overboard if you please. It was not my fault, but his,” continued he, pointing to the captain.
“It is of little consequence whose fault it was, Mr. Hawkhurst,” replied Cain; “we will settle that point by-and-by; at present we have too much on our hands. Out boats, men! as fast as you can, and let every man provide himself with arms and ammunition. Be cool! the schooner is fixed hard enough, and will not go down; we shall save everything by-and-by.”
The pirates obeyed the orders of the captain. The three boats were hoisted out and lowered down. In the first were placed all the wounded men and Clara d’Alfarez, who was assisted up by Francisco. As soon as the men had provided themselves with arms, Francisco, to protect Clara, offered to take charge of her, and the boat shoved off.
The men-of-war had seen the Avenger strike on the rocks, and the preparations of the crew to take to their boats. They immediately hove to, hoisted out and manned their own boats, with the hopes of cutting them off before they could gain the island and prepare for a vigorous defence; for, although the vessels could not approach the reefs, there was sufficient water in many places for the boats to pass over them. Shortly after Francisco, in the first boat, had shoved off from the Avenger, the boats of the men-of-war were darting through the surf to intercept them. The pirates perceived this, and hastened their arrangements; a second boat soon left her, and into that Hawkhurst leaped as it was shoving off. Cain remained on board, going round the lower decks to ascertain if any of the wounded men were left; he then quitted the schooner in the last boat and followed the others, being about a quarter of a mile astern of the second, in which Hawkhurst had secured his place.
At the time that Cain quitted the schooner, it was difficult to say whether the men-of-war’s boats would succeed in intercepting any of the pirate’s boats. Both parties exerted themselves to their utmost; and when the first boat, with Francisco and Clara, landed, the headmost of the assailants was not much more than half a mile from them; but, shallow water intervening, there was a delay, which was favourable to the pirate. Hawkhurst landed in his boat as the launch of the Comus fired her eighteen-pound carronade. The last boat was yet two hundred yards from the beach, when another shot from the Comus’s launch, which had been unable hitherto to find a passage through the reef, struck her on the counter, and she filled and went down.
“He is gone!” exclaimed Francisco, who had led Clara to a cave, and stood at the mouth of it to protect her: “they have sunk his boat—no, he is swimming to the shore, and will be here soon, long before the English seamen can land.”
This was true. Cain was breasting the water manfully, making for a small cove nearer to where the boat was sunk than the one in which Francisco had landed with Clara and the wounded men, and divided from the other by a ridge of rocks which separated the sandy beach, and extended some way into the water before they were submerged. Francisco could easily distinguish the pirate-captain from the other men, who also were swimming for the beach; for Cain was far ahead of them, and as he gained nearer to the shore he was shut from Francisco’s sight by the ridge of rocks. Francisco, anxious for his safety, climbed up the rocks and was watching. Cain was within a few yards of the beach when there was the report of a musket; the pirate-captain was seen to raise his body convulsively half out of the water—he floundered—the clear blue wave was discoloured—he sank, and was seen no more.
Francisco darted forward from the rocks, and perceived Hawkhurst, standing beneath them with the musket in his hand, which he was recharging.
“Villain!” exclaimed Francisco, “you shall account for this.”
Hawkhurst had reprimed his musket and shut the pan.
“Not to you,” replied Hawkhurst, levelling his piece, and taking aim at Francisco.
The ball struck Francisco on the breast; he reeled back from his position, staggered across the sand, gained the cave, and fell at the feet of Clara.
“Oh, God!” exclaimed the poor girl, “are you hurt? who is there then, to protect me?”
“I hardly know,” replied Francisco, faintly; and, at intervals, “I feel no wound, I feel stronger;” and Francisco put his hand to his heart.
Clara opened his vest, and found that the packet given to Francisco by Cain, and which he had deposited in his breast, had been struck by the bullet, which had done him no injury further than the violent concussion of the blow—notwithstanding he was faint from the shock, and his head fell upon Clara’s bosom.
But we must relate the proceedings of those who were mixed up in this exciting scene. Edward Templemore had watched from his vessel, with an eager and painful curiosity, the motions of the schooner—her running on the rocks, and the subsequent actions of the intrepid marauders. The long telescope enabled him to perceive distinctly all that passed, and his feelings were increased into a paroxysm of agony when his straining eyes beheld the white and fluttering habiliments of a female for a moment at the gunwale of the stranded vessel—her descent, as it appeared to him, nothing loth, into the boat—the arms held out to receive, and the extension of hers to meet those offered. Could it be Clara? Where was the reluctance, the unavailing attempts at resistance, which should have characterised her situation? Excited by feelings which he dared not analyse, he threw down his glass, and seizing his sword, sprang into the boat, which was ready manned alongside, desiring the others to follow him. For once, and the only time in his existence when approaching the enemy, did he feel his heart sink within him—a cold tremor ran through his whole frame, and as he called to mind the loose morals and desperate habits of the pirates, horrible thoughts entered his imagination. As he neared the shore, he stood up in the stern-sheets of the boat, pale, haggard, and with trembling lips; and the intensity of his feelings would have been intolerable but for a more violent thirst for revenge. He clenched his sword, while the quick throbs of his heart seemed, at every pulsation, to repeat to him his thoughts of blood! blood! blood! He approached the small bay and perceived that there was a female at the mouth of the cave—nearer and nearer, and he was certain that it was his Clara—her name was on his lips when he heard the two shots fired one after another by Hawkhurst—he saw the retreat and fall of Francisco—when, madness to behold! he perceived Clara rush forward, and there lay the young man supported by her, and with his head on her bosom. Could he believe what he saw! could she really be his betrothed! Yes, there she was, supporting the handsome figure of a young man, and that man a pirate—she had even put her hand into his vest, and was now watching over his reviving form. Edward could bear no more: he covered his eyes, and now, maddened with jealousy, in a voice of thunder, he called out:
“Give way, my lads! for your lives, give way!”
The gig was within half-a-dozen strokes of the oar from the beach, and Clara, unconscious of wrong, had just taken the packet of papers from Francisco’s vest, when Hawkhurst made his appearance from behind the rocks which separated the two little sandy coves. Francisco had recovered his breath, and, perceiving the approach of Hawkhurst, he sprang upon his feet to recover his musket; but, before he could succeed, Hawkhurst had closed in with him, and a short and dreadful struggle ensued. It would soon have terminated fatally to Francisco, for the superior strength of Hawkhurst had enabled him to bear down the body of his opponent with his knee; and he was fast strangling him by twisting his handkerchief round his throat, while Clara shrieked, and attempted in vain to tear the pirate from him. As the prostrate Francisco was fast blackening into a corse, and the maiden screamed for pity, and became frantic in her efforts for his rescue, the boat dashed high up on the sand; and, with the bound of a maddened tiger, Edward sprang upon Hawkhurst, tearing him down on his back, and severing his wrist with his sword-blade until his hold of Francisco was relaxed, and he wrestled in his own defence.
“Seize him, my lads!” said Edward, pointing with his left hand to Hawkhurst; as with his sword directed to the body of Francisco he bitterly continued, “This victim is mine!” But whatever were his intentions, they were frustrated by Clara’s recognition, who shrieked out, “My Edward!” sprang into his arms, and was immediately in a state of insensibility.
The seamen who had secured Hawkhurst looked upon the scene with curious astonishment, while Edward waited with mingled feelings of impatience and doubt for Clara’s recovery: he wished to be assured by her that he was mistaken, and he turned again and again from her face to that of Francisco, who was fast recovering. During this painful suspense, Hawkhurst was bound and made to sit down.
“Edward! dear Edward!” said Clara, at last, in a faint voice, clinging more closely to him; “and am I then rescued by thee, dearest!”
Edward felt the appeal; but his jealousy had not yet subsided.
“Who is that, Clara?” said he sternly.
“It is Francisco. No pirate, Edward, but my preserver.”
“Ha, ha!” laughed Hawkhurst, with a bitter sneer, for he perceived how matters stood.
Edward Templemore turned towards him with an inquiring look.
“Ha, ha!” continued Hawkhurst; “why, he is the captain’s son! No pirate, eh? Well, what will women not swear to, to save those they dote upon!”
“If the captain’s son,” said Edward, “why were you contending?”
“Because just now I shot his scoundrel father.”
“Edward!” said Clara, solemnly, “this is no time for explanation, but, as I hope for mercy, what I have said is true; believe not the villain.”
“Yes,” said Francisco, who was now sitting up, “believe him when he says that he shot the captain, for that is true; but, sir, if you value your own peace of mind, believe nothing to the prejudice of that young lady.”
“I hardly know what to believe,” muttered Edward Templemore; “but, as the lady says, this is no time for explanation. With your permission, madam,” said he to Clara, “my coxswain will see you in safety on board of the schooner, or the other vessel, if you prefer it; my duty will not allow me to accompany you.”
Clara darted a reproachful yet fond look on Edward, as, with swimming eyes, she was led by the coxswain to the boat, which had been joined by the launch of the Comus, the crew of which were, with their officers, wading to the beach. The men of the gig remained until they had given Hawkhurst and Francisco in charge of the other seamen, and then shoved off with Clara for the schooner. Edward Templemore gave one look at the gig as it conveyed Clara on board, and ordering Hawkhurst and Francisco to be taken to the launch, and a guard to be kept over them, went up, with the remainder of the men, in pursuit of the pirates.
During the scene we have described, the other boats of the men-of-war had landed on the island, and the Avenger’s crew, deprived of their leaders, and scattered in every direction, were many of them slain or captured. In about two hours it was supposed that the majority of the pirates had been accounted for, and the prisoners being now very numerous, it was decided that the boats should return with them to the Comus, the captain of which vessel, as commanding officer, would then issue orders as to their future proceedings.
The captured pirates, when mustered on the deck of the Comus, amounted to nearly sixty, out of which number one-half were those who had been sent on shore wounded, and had surrendered without resistance. Of killed there were fifteen; and it was conjectured that as many more had been drowned in the boat when she was sunk by the shot from the carronade of the launch. Although, by the account given by the captured pirates, the majority were secured, yet there was reason to suppose that some were still left on the island concealed in the caves.
As the captain of the Comus had orders to return as soon as possible, he decided to sail immediately for Port Royal with the prisoners, leaving the Enterprise to secure the remainder, if there were any, and recover anything of value which might be left in the wreck of the Avenger, and then to destroy her.
With the usual celerity of the service these orders were obeyed. The pirates, among whom Francisco was included, were secured, the boats hoisted up, and in half an hour the Comus displayed her ensign, and made all sail on a wind, leaving Edward Templemore with the Enterprise, at the back of the reef, to perform the duties entailed upon him; and Clara, who was on board of the schooner, to remove the suspicion and jealousy which had arisen in the bosom of her lover.