Wolves of the Sea by Randall Parrish
Chapter I. Sent Into Servitude
Knowing this to be a narrative of unusual adventure, and one which may never even be read until long after I have departed from this world, when it will be difficult to convince readers that such times as are herein depicted could ever have been reality, I shall endeavor to narrate each incident in the simplest manner possible. My only purpose is truth, and my only witness history. Yet, even now lately as this all happened it is more like the recollections of a dream, dimly remembered at awakening, and, perchance, might remain so, but for the scars upon my body, and the constant memory of a woman's face. These alone combine to bring back in vividness those days that were--days of youth and daring, of desperate, lawless war, of wide ocean peril, and the outstretched hands of love. So that here, where I am writing it all down, here amid quietness and peace, and forgetful of the past, I wander again along a deserted shore, and sail among those isles of a southern sea, the home for many a century of crime and unspeakable cruelty. I will recall the truth, and can do no more.
I can recall that far-away dawn now as the opening portals of a beautiful morning, although at the time my thought was so closely centered upon other things, the deep blue of the sky, and the glimmering gold of the sun scarcely left an impression on my mind. It was still early morning when we were brought out under heavy guard, and marched somberly forth through the opened gates of the gaol. There had been rain during the night, and the cobble-stones of the village street were dark with moisture, slipping under our hob-nailed shoes as we stumbled along down the sharp incline leading to the wharf. Ahead we could perceive a forest of masts, and what seemed like a vast crowd of waiting people. Only the murmur of voices greeting us as we emerged, told that this gathering was not a hostile one, and this truth was emphasized to our minds by the efforts of the guard to hasten our passage. That we had been sentenced to exile, to prolonged servitude in some foreign land, was all that any of us knew--to what special section of the world fate had allotted us remained unknown.
In spite of curses, and an occasional blow, we advanced slowly, marching four abreast, with feet dragging heavily, the chains binding us together clanking dismally with each step, and an armed guard between each file. Experiences have been many since then, yet I recall, as though it were but yesterday, the faces of those who walked in line with me. I was at the right end of my file, and at my shoulder was a boy from Morrownest, a slim, white-faced lad, his weak chin trembling from fear, and his eyes staring about so pleadingly I spoke a word of courage to him, whispering in his ear, lest the guard behind might strike. He glanced aside at me, but with no response in the depths of his eyes, in which I could perceive only a dumb anguish of despair. Beyond him marched Grover, one time butcher at Harwich, a stocky, big-fisted fellow, with a ghastly sword wound, yet red and unhealed on his face, extending from hair to chin, his little pig eyes glinting ugly, and his lips cursing. The man beyond was a soldier, a straight, athletic fellow, with crinkly black beard, who kept his eyes front, paying no heed to the cries. The guard pressed the people back as we shuffled along, but there was no way of keeping them still. I heard cries of encouragement, shouts of recognition, sobs of pity, and occasionally a roar of anger as we passed.
"Good lads! God be with yer!"
"Thet one thar is sore hurted--it's a damn shame."
"Thar's Teddy--poor laddie! Luck go with yer, Teddy."
"Ter hell with Black Jeffries, say I!"
"Hush, mon, er ye'll be next ter go--no, I don't know who sed it."
"See thet little chap, Joe; lots ther lad bed ter do with the war."
"They all look mighty peaked--poor devils, four months in gaol."
"Stand back there now. Stand back!"
The guards prodded them savagely with the butts of their musketoons, thus making scant room for us to shuffle through, out upon the far end of the wharf, where we were finally halted abreast of a lumping brig, apparently nearly ready for sea. There were more than forty of us as I counted the fellows, and we were rounded up at the extremity of the wharf in the full blaze of the sun, with a line of guards stretched across to hold back the crowd until preparations had been completed to admit us aboard. As those in front flung themselves down on the planks, I got view of the brig's gangway, along which men were still busily hauling belated boxes and barrels, and beyond these gained glimpse of the hooker's name--ROMPING BETSY OF PLYMOUTH. A moment later a sailor passed along the edge of the dock, dragging a coil of rope after him, and must have answered some hail on his way, for instantly a whisper passed swiftly from man to man.
"It's Virginia, mate; we're bound fer Virginia."
The ugly little pig eyes of the butcher met mine.
"Virginia, hey?" he grunted. "Ye're a sailorman, ain't ye, mate? Well, then, whar is this yere Virginia?"
The boy was looking at me also questioningly, the terror in his face by no means lessened at the sound of this strange word.
"Yes, sir, please; where is it, sir?"
I patted him on the shoulder, as others near by leaned forward to catch my answer.
"That's all right, mates," I returned cheerfully. "It's across the blue water, of course, but better than the Indies. We'll fall into the hands of Englishmen out there, and they'll be decent to us."
"But whar is the bloomin' hole?"
"In America. That is where all the tobacco comes from; likely that will be our job--raising tobacco."
"Have ever yer bin thar?"
"Ay, twice--and to a land beyond they call Maryland. Tis a country not so unlike England."
"Good luck that then; tell us about it, matie."
I endeavored to do so, dwelling upon what I remembered of the settlements, and the habits of the people, but saying little of the great wilderness of the interior, or how I had seen slaves toiling in the fields. The group of men within range of my voice leaned forward in breathless attention, one now and then asking a question, their chains rattling with each movement of a body. The deep interest shown in their faces caused me unconsciously to elevate, my voice, and I had spoken but a moment or two before a hard hand gripped my shoulder.
"Yer better stow that, my man," growled someone above me, and I looked up into the stern eyes of the captain of the guard "or it may be the 'cat' for ye. Yer heard the orders."
"Yes, sir; I was only answering questions."
"Questions! What the hell difference does it make to this scum whar they go? Do yer talkin' aboard, not here. So ye've been ter the Virginia plantation, hev ye?"
"As a sailor?"
"In command of vessels."
His eyes softened slightly, and a different tone seemed to creep into his voice.
"Then ye must be Master Carlyle, I take it. I heerd tell about ye at the trial, but supposed ye ter be an older man."
"I am twenty-six."
"Ye don't look even thet. It's my notion ye got an overly hard dose this time. The Judge was in ill humor thet day. Still thet's not fer me ter talk about. It's best fer both of us ter hold our tongues. Ay, they're ready fer ye now. Fall in there--all of yer. Step along, yer damn rebel scum."
We passed aboard over the narrow gang-plank, four abreast, dragging our feet, and were halted on the forward deck, while artificers removed our chains. As these were knocked off, the released prisoners disappeared one by one down the forward hatch, into the space between the decks which had been roughly fitted up for their confinement during the long voyage. As my position was in one of the last files, I had ample time in which to gaze about, and take note of my surroundings. Except for the presence of the prisoners the deck presented no unusual scene. The Romping Betsy was a large, full-rigged brig, not overly clean, and had evidently been in commission for some time. Not heavily loaded she rode high, and was a broad-nosed vessel, with comfortable beam. I knew her at once as a slow sailor, and bound to develop a decidedly disagreeable roll in any considerable sea. She was heavily sparred, and to my eye her canvas appeared unduly weather-beaten and rotten. Indeed there was unnecessary clutter aloft, and an amount of litter about the deck which evidenced lack of seamanship; nor did the general appearance of such stray members of the crew as met my notice add appreciably to my confidence in the voyage.
I stared aft at the poop deck, seeking to gain glimpse of the skipper, but was unable to determine his presence among the others. There were a number of persons gathered along the low rail, attracted by the unusual spectacle, and curiously watching us being herded aboard, and dispatched below, but, to judge from their appearance, these were probably all passengers--some of them adventurers seeking the new land on their first voyage, although among them I saw others, easily recognized as Virginians on their way home. Among these I picked out a planter or two, prosperous and noisy, men who had just disposed of their tobacco crop, well satisfied with the returns; some artisans sailing on contract, and a naval officer in uniform. Then my eyes encountered a strange group foregathered beside the lee rail.
There were four in the little party, but one of these was a negress, red-turbaned, and black as the ace of spades, a servant evidently, standing in silence behind the others. Another was clearly enough a Colonial proprietor, a heavily built man of middle age, purple faced, and wearing the broad hat with uplifted brim characteristic of Virginians. I passed these by with a glance, my attention concentrating upon the other two--a middle-aged young man, and a young woman standing side by side. The former was a dashing looking blade, of not more than forty, attired in blue, slashed coat, ornamented with gilt buttons, and bedecked at collar and cuffs with a profusion of lace. A saffron colored waist-coat failed to conceal his richly beruffled shirt, and the hilt of a rapier was rather prominently displayed. Such dandies were frequently enough seen, but it was this man's face which made marked contrast with his gay attire. He was dark, and hook-nosed, apparently of foreign birth, with black moustache tightly clipped, so as to reveal the thin firmness of his lips, and even at that distance I could perceive the lines of a scar across his chin. Altogether there was an audacity to his face, a daring, convincing me he was no mere lady's knight, but one to whom fighting was a trade. He was pointing us out to his companion, apparently joking over our appearance, in an endeavor to amuse. Seemingly she gave small heed to his words, for although her eyes followed where he pointed, they never once lighted with a smile, nor did I see her answer his sallies. She was scarcely more than a girl, dressed very simply in some clinging dark stuff, with a loose gray cloak draping her shoulders, and a small, neat bonnet of straw perched upon a mass of coiled hair. The face beneath was sweetly piquant, with dark eyes, and rounded cheeks flushed with health. She stood, both hands clasping the rail, watching us intently. I somehow felt as though her eyes were upon me, and within their depths, even at that distance, I seemed to read a message of sympathy and kindness. The one lasting impression her face left on my memory was that of innocent girlhood, dignified by a womanly tenderness.
What were those two to each other? I could not guess, for they seemed from two utterly different worlds. Not brother and sister surely; and not lovers. The last was unthinkable. Perhaps mere chance acquaintances, who had drifted together since coming aboard. It seems strange that at such a moment my attention should have thus centered on these two, yet I think now that either one would have awakened my interest wherever we had met. Instinctively I disliked the man, aware of an instant antagonism, realizing that he was evil; while his companion came to me as revealment of all that was true and worthy, in a degree I had never known before. I could not banish either from my mind. For months I had been in prison, expecting a death sentence, much of the time passed in solitary confinement, and now, with that cloud lifted, I had come forth into a fresh existence only to be confronted by this man and woman, representing exact opposites. Their peculiarities took immediate possession of a mind entirely unoccupied, nor did I make any effort to banish them from my thought. From the instant I looked upon these two I felt convinced that, through some strange vagary of fate, we were destined to know more of each other; that our life lines were ordained to touch, and become entangled, somewhere in that mystery of the Western World to which I had been condemned. I cannot analyze this conception, but merely record its presence; the thought took firm possession of me. Under the circumstances I was too far away to overhear conversation. The shuffling of feet, the rattling of chains, the harsh voices of the guard, made it impossible to distinguish any words passing between the two. I could only watch them, quickly assured that I had likewise attracted the girl's attention, and that her gaze occasionally sought mine. Then the guards came to me, and, with my limbs freed of fetters, I was passed down the steep ladder into the semi-darkness between decks, where we were to be confined. The haunting memory of her face accompanied me below, already so clearly defined as to be unforgettable.
It proved a dismal, crowded hole in which we were quartered like so many cattle, it being merely a small space forward, hastily boxed off by rough lumber, the sides and ends built up into tiers of bunks, the only ventilation and light furnished by the open hatch above. The place was clean enough, being newly fitted for the purpose, but was totally devoid of furnishings, the only concession to comfort visible was a handful of fresh straw in each bunk. The men, herded and driven down the ladder, were crowded into the central space, the majority still on their feet, but a few squatting dejectedly on the deck. In the dim twilight of that bare interior their faces scarcely appeared natural, and they conversed in undertones. Most of the fellows were sober and silent, not a bad lot to my judgment, with only here and there a countenance exhibiting viciousness, or a tongue given to ribaldry. I could remember seeing but few of them before, yet as I observed them more closely now, realized that these were not criminals being punished for crime, but men caught, as I had been, and condemned without fair trial, through the lies of paid informers. I could even read in their actions and words the simple stories of their former lives--the farm laborer, the sailor, the store-keeper, now all on one common level of misfortune and misery--condemned alike to exile, to servitude in a strange land, beyond seas.
The ticket given me called by number for a certain berth, and I sought until I found this, throwing within the small bundle I bore, and then finding a chance to sit down on the deck beneath. The last of the bunch of prisoners dribbled down the ladder, each in turn noisily greeted by those already huddled below. I began to recognize the increasing foulness of air, and to distinguish words of conversation from the groups about me. There was but little profanity but some rough horse-play, and a marked effort to pretend indifference. I could make out gray-beards and mere boys mingling together, and occasionally a man in some semblance of uniform. A few bore wounds, and the clothes of several were in rags; all alike exhibited marks of suffering and hardship. The butcher from Harwich, and the white-faced lad who had marched beside me down the wharf, were not to be seen from where I sat, although beyond doubt they were somewhere in the crowd. The hatch was not lowered, and gazing up through the square opening, I obtained glimpse of two soldiers on guard, the sunlight glinting on their guns. Almost immediately there was the sound of tramping feet on the deck above, and the creaking of blocks. Then a sudden movement of the hull told all we were under way. This was recognized by a roar of voices.