Wolves of the Sea by Randall Parrish
Chapter IV. The Shores of Virginia
I rested quietly in my berth for a long time, staring blankly up at the dark deck above, unable to sleep, and endeavoring to figure out the true meaning of all these occurrences. It began to rain, torrents sweeping the planks overhead, while vivid flashes of lightning illumined the open hatch, before it could be hastily closed, revealing the squalidness of the interior in which we were quartered. Then someone, growling and stumbling through the darkness, lit a slush lantern, dangling from a blackened beam, its faint flicker barely discernible. The hole became foul and sickening, men tossing and groaning in their uneasy sleep, or prowling about seeking some measure of comfort. There was no severe wind accompanying the storm, and the flurry of rain soon swept by, leaving an ugly swell behind, but enabling the guard to again uplift the hatches.
Immersed as I was in thought, all this left but small impress on me. I felt that I could understand the interest exhibited by Dorothy Fairfax, and, greatly as I already admired her, I was not egotist enough to even imagine that her effort to serve me had basis in any personal attraction. My connection with Bucclough, coupled with her uncle's report of my conviction, had very naturally aroused the girl's sympathy in my behalf. She felt a desire to lighten my sorrows as much as possible, and, under the existing circumstances, had found it comparatively easy to persuade the good-natured planter to acquiesce in her suggestion. In all probability he really had need of my services, and was therefore glad enough of this opportunity to secure them. This part of the affair I could dismiss without giving anyone undue credit, although I deeply appreciated the kindness of heart which had led her to interpose, and which later led her to tell me so quickly what had occurred. Her purpose, however, was fairly clear.
But what about Lieutenant Sanchez? Why was this unknown Spaniard already so openly my enemy? There was no doubting his position, and there surely must be some reason for it outside of anything which had occurred on board the Romping Betsy. His words had given me some inkling of the cause--a past quarrel with the Duke of Bucclough, in England, in which he must have been worsted, and which had left in his mind a lurking desire for revenge. He dreamed of striking his enemy through me, because of relationship, a cowardly blow. Yet this, by itself alone, was scarcely a reason why he should have thus sought me out for a victim. No sane man would deliberately visit the sins of my brother on me. Nor had this been deliberate; it was the mere outburst of sudden passion, arising through my intercourse with the young woman. Otherwise it might never have occurred to him. So there was seemingly but one answer--Sanchez used this merely as an excuse for the concealment of his real object. What could that object be? Could it be Dorothy Fairfax? I was a long while in actually convincing myself of this probability, and yet no other satisfactory explanation offered itself. She had exhibited an interest in me from the very first, and he had endeavored to win her attention elsewhere. Even that day when we first came aboard in chains, he had plainly evinced this desire, and, since then, the girl had never appeared on deck, without his immediately seeking her company. I felt finally that I had the clue--jealousy, the mad, unreasoning jealousy of his race. He fiercely resented her slightest interest in anyone--even a prisoner--as against his own attractions. He was incapable of appreciating friendly sympathy, and already held me a dangerous rival. Then, possibly, it had not been a mere idle desire to visit the Colonies, which had originally led to his prompt acceptance of Roger Fairfax's invitation to make one of their party; the real attraction was the charms of Dorothy--her girlish beauty, coupled, no doubt, with her father's wealth. The fellow was in love, impetuously in love, resenting blindly the slightest advance of any other.
The thought rather pleased me, largely because of its absurdity. It was, in my case at least, so utterly false, and unjustifiable. To the ordinary mind, indeed, any such connection would be practically unthinkable. Even had I been wild enough to dream of such a thing, the gulf existing between myself and Dorothy Fairfax was far too deep and wide ever to be spanned. I had before me twenty years of servitude, and an unknown future; nor could I even conceive the possibility of any such thought ever entering her mind. The very opposite was what gave her courage to serve me. I had no false conception as to this; no vagrant thought that her interest in me was any more than a passing fancy, born of sympathy, and a desire to aid. Nevertheless, as she had thus already served me, I now owed her service in return, and here was the first call. If conditions made it possible it was my plain duty to place myself between these two. I felt no hatred toward the man, no desire to do him a personal injury; but I did dislike and distrust him. This feeling was instinctive, and without the slightest reference to his seeking intimacy with the girl. From the first moment I had looked upon his face there had been antagonism between us, a feeling of enmity. Whether this arose from his appearance, or actions, I could not determine--but the fellow was not my kind.
In the intensity of my feelings I must have unconsciously spoken aloud, for a shaggy head suddenly popped out from the berth beneath where I lay, and an interested voice asked solicitously:
"Hy, thar; whut's up, mate? Sick agin?"
"No," I answered, grinning rather guiltily, "just thinking, and letting loose a bit. Did I disturb you?"
"Well, I reckon I wa'n't exactly asleep," he acknowledged, without withdrawing his head. "Ye wus mutterin' 'way thar an' not disturbin' me none, till ye got ter talkin' 'bout sum feller called Sanchez. Then I sorter got a bit interested. I know'd thet cuss onct," and he spat, as though to thus better express his feelings. "The damned ornary pirate."
I laughed, my whole mental mood changed by this remark.
"It is not very likely we have the same party in mind, Haley. You see Sanchez is a decidedly common name among Spaniards. I've known two or three of that name myself. You were not referring to anyone on board, were you?"
"I sure hope not," he scratched his head, staring up at me through the dim light, wakefulness encouraging him to talk. "They tell me ye are a sea-farin' man. Well, I wus a Deal fisher, but hev made a half dozen deep-sea v'y'ges. Thet's how I hed the damn luck ter meet up with this Sanchez I was a speakin' 'bout. He's the only one ever I know'd. I met up with him off the isle o' Cuba. Likely 'nough ye know the devil I mean?"
The question served to center my memory suddenly on a dim remembrance of the past.
"No, unless you refer to 'Black Sanchez.' I 've heard of him; were you ever in his hands?"
"Wus I!" he laughed grimly. "I hed eight months of it, mate, and a greater demon never sailed. The things I saw done ye 'd never believe no human bein' could do. If ever thar wus two people in one skin, sir, it's thet Black Sanchez. When he's playin' off fer good he's as soft an' sweet as a dandy in Picadilly, an' when he's real he's like a devil in hell."
"Was you a prisoner--or did you sail under him?"
"Both, fer the matter o' thet. He give me the choice ter serve, er walk the plank. I wus eighteen, an' hed an ol' mother at Deal."
"I see; but later you got away?"
"Ay, I did thet," chuckling over the recollection. "But I hed ter wait eight months fer the luck. Hev ye ever been sea-farin' down in them waters, off the West Indies?"
"Well, they're all studded over with little islands--cays, they call 'em down thare; an' it's in among them thet the buccaneers hide away, an' sorter rest up after a cruise. Thar's a lot o' 'em too; whole villages hid away on some o' them cays, with women an' children--every color ye ever saw. Sanchez he made his headquarters on a cay called Porto Grande. He hed three ships, an' maybe a hundred an' fifty men 'bout the time I got away. The last I saw o' him wus at sea. He'd overhauled an English ship, an' sunk her; an' then the next mornin' we took a Dutch bark in ballast. She wus such a trig sailor Sanchez decided to keep her afloat, an' sent a prize crew aboard ter sail her inter Porto Grande. I wus one o' the fellers picked fer thet job, an' we wus told off under a nigger mate, named LaGrasse--he wus a French nigger from Martinique, and a big devil--an' our orders wus ter meet Sanchez three days later. His vessel wus a three-masted schooner, the fastest thing ever I saw afloat, called the Vengeance, an' by that time she wus chock up with loot. Still at that she could sail 'bout three feet to our one. Afore night come we wus out o' sight astern. Thar wus eight o' us in the crew, beside the nigger, an' we had twelve Dutchmen under hatches below. I sorter looked 'round, an' sized up four o' that crew ter be good honest sailormen, who'd been shanghied same as I wus. So, long about midnight, I 'd got ter talk with all these fellers, an' when LaGrasse went down below ter take a snooze in the cabin, we hoisted them Dutchmen on deck, flung a couple o' hell-hounds overboard, an' just naturally took control. The mate wus a dead nigger afore he ever knew whut wus up. When daylight come we wus streakin' it eastward by compass, an' every damn sail set. Thet wus the easiest part of it. Them Dutchmen could n't talk nuthin' but their own lingo; an' thar wa'n't a navigator aboard, fer Sanchez hed kept all the offercers with him, an' the end wus about a week later, when we piled up against an island off the African coast, an' only one boat load of us got ashore. Thet's whut I know about Sanchez."
"I had a shipmate once," I observed, interested in his story, "who claimed to have seen the fellow; he described him as being a very large man, with intensely black hawklike eyes, and a heavy black beard almost hiding his face."
"Maybe he looked like that when he saw him, but he ain't no bigger man than I am; he won't weigh as much by fifteen pound. Fact is he mighty seldom looks the same, fer thet's part o' his game. Them whiskers is false, an' so is the saller look to his face. I 've seen him in all sorts o' disguises. It's only his eyes he can't hide, an' thar's been times when I thought they wus the ugliest eyes ever I saw. He's sure an ornary devil, an' when he gits mad, I'd rather be afront of a tiger. Besides fightin's his trade, an' no weaklin' ain't goin' ter control the sort o' chaps he's got ter handle. Most of 'em would murder him in a minute if they dared. Oh, he's bad all right, but yer wouldn't exactly think so, just ter look at him, I've run up agin a lot o' different men in my time, thet I 'd naturally sheer off from a blame sight quicker than I would from him."
"You mean that when he is not in disguise he does not appear dangerous. What then does he really look like?"
Haley spat again onto the deck, and scratched his shock of hair as though thus to stimulate his memory.
"Oh, a sorter swash-bucklin' Spanish don--the kind whut likes ter dress up, an' play the dandy. He's got a pink an' white complexion, the Castilian kind yer know, an' wears a little moustache, waxed up at the ends. He's about two inches taller than I am, with no extra flesh, but with a hell of a grip in his hands. As I said afore, if it wa'n't fer his eyes nobody'd ever look at him twice. All his devilishness shows thar, an' I've seen 'em laugh like he didn't have a care on earth."
"How old a man is he?"
"How old is the devil? I heard he wus about forty-five; I reckon he must be thet, but he don't look older than thirty. He ain't the kind yer can guess at."
We talked together for quite a while longer, our conversation gradually drifting to the recounting of various sea adventures, and my thoughts did not again recur to Sanchez until after I rested back once more in my berth, endeavoring to fall asleep. Haley must have dropped off immediately, for I could distinguish his heavy breathing among the others; but my mind continued to wander, until it conjured up once again this West India pirate. His name, and the story of his exploits, had been familiar to me ever since I first went to sea. While only one among many operating in those haunted waters, his resourcefulness, daring and cruelty had won him an infamous reputation, a name of horror. In those days, when the curse of piracy made the sea a terror, no ordinary man could ever have succeeded in attaining such supremacy in crime. No doubt much that had been reported was either false, or exaggerated, yet there flashed across my memory numberless tales of rapine, outrage and cold-blooded cruelty in which this demon of the sea had figured, causing me to shudder at the recollection. To my mind he had long been a fiend incarnate, his name a horror on the lips. Black Sanchez--and Haley pictured him as a dandified, ordinary appearing individual, with white and red complexion, a small moustache, and flashing dark eyes--a mere Spanish gallant, without special distinction. Why, that description, strangely enough, fitted almost exactly this fellow on board, this other Sanchez. I leaned over the edge of my bunk, and looked down on Haley, half resolved to ask if he had ever noticed this lieutenant, but the man was already sound asleep. The suspicion which had crept into my mind was so absurd, so unspeakably silly and impossible, that I laughed at myself, and dismissed the crazy thought. What, that fellow Black Sanchez! Bah, no! He had been at sea, of course; there was no denying that fact, for he knew ships, and spoke the lingo of blue water; but the very idea that that blood-stained buccaneer, whose hated name was on the lips of every sea-faring man of Britain, would ever dare openly to visit England, and then sail under his own name on board an English vessel for Virginia, was too preposterous for consideration. Why, it would be sheer madness. The knowledge that such a possibility ever had flashed into my mind became amusing, and chuckling over it, I finally fell asleep.
It was noon, the sky overcast, the wind blowing strong from the southeast, when the Virginia coast was first sighted from our mast-head. An hour later it became plainly visible from the deck below, and the prisoners were routed out from their quarters, and the shackles, removed from limbs when we first arrived on board, were again riveted in place, binding them together in fours, preparatory to landing. I, with one or two others, already disposed of, and in control of masters, were spared this indignity, and permitted to move about as we pleased within the narrow deck space reserved for our use. The last meal was served in the open, the men squatting on the deck planks, endeavoring to jest among themselves, and assuming a cheerfulness they were very far from feeling. The long hardships of the voyage had left indelible marks on the majority, and they were by now a woe-begone, miserable lot, who had largely abandoned themselves to despair.
The Monmouth campaign had been brief, but no less disastrous to the men engaged in it. Those who survived the one battle, wounded and fugitive, had been hunted down remorselessly like so many wild beasts. Escape from the pursuit of soldiers was almost impossible, and they had been brutally beaten and bruised by infuriated captors; and then, uncared for, nor shown the slightest mercy, had been thrust into loathsome gaols to helplessly await trial, and a certain conviction. No pen could adequately describe the suffering and horror of those months of waiting, while the unfortunate victims lived in crowded, dirty cells, subjected to every conceivable indignity and insult from brutal guards, half starved, and breathing foul, fetid air--the breath of sickness, the stench of unclean wounds. Dragged forth at last, one by one, into a court organized for condemnation, presided over by a foul-mouthed brute, whose every word was insult, denied all opportunity for defense, they had later been shackled together as felons, and driven aboard ship like so many head of cattle. Herded below deck, tossed about for weeks on a stormy sea, uncared for, and half starved, scarcely realizing their destination, or knowing their fate, seeing their dead dragged out from their midst with each dawn, and flung carelessly overboard, cursed at and struck by their guards, they now dragged their aching bodies about in half dead despair, the chains clanking to every movement of the limbs, their dull, lackluster eyes scarcely discerning the darkening line of coast toward which the Romping Betsy steered.
With what depth of pity I looked at them, my glance gladly straying from their downcast faces toward the group of passengers gathered eagerly along the poop rail to welcome joyfully the approach of land. These were all animation, excitement, talking eagerly to each other, and pointing out familiar headlands as they emerged through the thin mists. Their thoughts were all centered on home, or the promises of this new land they were approaching, and so deeply interested that scarcely an eye turned toward those miserable wretches grouped on the forward deck, being borne into slavery and disgrace. It was a contrast between hope and despair. As these passengers moved restlessly back and forth, from rail to rail, I easily recognized among them every face grown familiar to me during the course of the voyage, excepting the two I most eagerly sought; and became convinced that neither Roger Fairfax nor his niece had yet come upon deck. Sanchez was there, however, standing alone and silent, seldom lifting his eyes to the changing view ahead, but apparently buried in his own thoughts. Once our glances accidentally met, and I could but observe the sudden change in the man's expression--a change sinister and full of threat. Whatever the original cause might be, his personal feeling toward me was undoubtedly bitter and unforgiving, and he possessed no wish to disguise it. The new life in the new world had already brought me both friend and enemy before I had as yet touched foot on land.