"Hit a forward gun port!" Skank yelled, and Shandy obediently aimed at one of the gleaming cannon muzzles poking out of the Navy ship's bow and touched his match-cord to the vent. His gun went off with a jolting boom, and squinting through the acrid smoke he was pleased to see dust and splinters fly from the port he'd been aiming at.
"Good!" snarled Skank. "Now hit 'em - " Smoke erupted from the remaining guns in the man-of-war's flank but the roar of the cannon fire was lost in the sudden hammering crash that swept the Jenny, and Shandy was slammed violently away from his gun and flung tumbling into the mass of men behind him. Deafened and stunned, he wound up sprawled across a motionless body, trying to get air into his lungs without choking on all the blood and pieces of tooth in his mouth. Over the ringing in his ears he was aware of shouts of rage and panic, and of a new, sluggish shifting of the deck under him.
Hodge was shouting orders, and Shandy finally rolled over and sat up, coughing and spitting. Fearfully he looked down at his body, and he was profoundly grateful to see all limbs present, unpunctured and apparently unbroken - especially after he looked around at the vessel. Dead and injured men were scattered everywhere, and the luffing sails were torn and spattered with blood, and the weather-darkened wood of mast and gunwales was ploughed up in many places to show the bright, fresh wood underneath. It looked, thought Shandy dazedly, as if God had leaned down from heaven and swiped a sharp-tined rake across the
boat a few times.
"Tiller hard to starboard, God damn it," Hodge was yelling. The captain cuffed away some of the blood that was coursing down his forehead. "And somebody grab the mainsail sheet!"
A man by the tiller tried spasmodically to obey, but fell helplessly to his knees, blood frothing from a ragged hole in his chest; Skank had desperately clambered over a pile of his ripped-up companions to the sheet ... but it was too late. The Jenny, uncontrolled in the moments after the gust of scrap metal and chain shot had lashed into her, had drifted around to the point where her bow pointed directly into the wind, and for at least the next several minutes she would sit dead in the water. Shandy had heard this predicament described as "being in irons," and it occurred to him that in this case the term could hardly be more appropriate.
The tall, graceful edifice of the man-of-war, slanted enough against the wind to maintain headway, now crowded across the sloop's starboard bow, and as the high hull ground up against the Jenny's forecastle, snapping the shroud chains and even breaking the catted anchor, grappling hooks clattered and thudded down onto the smaller vessel's deck, and a harsh voice shouted, "There's a pistol trained on every one of you bastards, so drop all weapons, and when we throw down the rope ladder come up one at a time and slow."
Though broken spars swung in the safety net overhead, the man-of-war's deck was intimidatingly clean and neat, the halliards spiral-coiled in perfect circles instead of just lying where they fell, as the Jenny's generally had been, and Shandy tried to keep his head tilted back so as not to drip blood onto the pale, sanded oak. His nose had been bleeding energetically ever since the Navy ship's blast, and the whole left side of his head was beginning to ache, and he decided that the blast must have struck the swivel gun he'd been standing behind, slamming the breech end of it against his head.
Along with the ten other relatively unhurt members of the sloop's crew, he stood now in the ship's waist near the spoked barrel of the capstan, trying not to hear the screams and groans of the badly hurt pirates who had been left sprawled on the Jenny's deck.
The Navy sailors who stood by the rails and kept pistols pointed at the captives all wore tight gray jackets, striped breeches and leather caps, and their plain, utilitarian garb made the gaudy, tar-stained finery of the pirates look ridiculous. Glancing nervously at the Navy men, Shandy noticed something in their expressions besides contempt and anger, and he wasn't reassured when he finally identified it: the morbid fascination of looking at men who, though breathing well enough at the moment, would soon be naving their breath stopped forever in the bight of a noose.
Though the Carmichael was already just a distant tower of segmented white far off to the south, the Navy captain had lowered one of the ship's boats, and now, from his vantage point up on the poop deck, the captain peered through his telescope and laughed. "By God, Hendricks was right - one of 'em did fall overboard, and we've got him." He turned and looked down at his prisoners with a hard grin. "It seems," he called, "that one of your fellows just couldn't bear to leave you behind."
After a moment of bafflement, Shandy decided it might very well be Beth, taking the chance of being missed in the water for the sake of getting away from the pirates and her insane father. He hoped that was the case, for then both of them would at last have come out the end of this savage interlude, and Davies and Blackbeard and Hurwood and Friend could go to Florida or to Hell, for all the two of them need care.
The thought reminded him that it was high time he stopped staring around, stupidly tonguing the gap where one of his molars had recently been, and told the Navy captain who he was, and how he had come to be aboard the sloop.
He took a deep breath, forced his eyes to focus, and then, holding his arms out placatingly, he stepped away from the huddled, silent pirates - and was promptly nearly killed, for one of the guards fired a pistol at him.
Shandy heard the bang of the shot but felt the concussion in the air as the ball whipped past his ear, and he fell to his knees, still holding up his hands. "Jesus!" he screeched, "don't shoot, I'm not doing anything!"
The captain's attention had been effectively drawn, and he shouted angrily at Shandy, "Damn you, get back among your fellows!"
"They're not my fellows, captain," called Shandy, cautiously standing up and trying to appear calm. "My name is ... is John Chandagnac, and I was a paying passenger aboard the Vociferous Carmichael before it was taken by Philip Davies and his men. During that ... encounter, I wounded Davies, and so instead of being allowed to leave on the boat with the crew, I was forced on pain of death to enlist among my captors. Also forced to remain was another passenger, Elizabeth Hurwood, whom I suspect is the person who jumped overboard from the Carmichael just now." Glancing back at his recent companions, Shandy saw not only contempt but real hatred, and he added quickly, "I realize it will take time to verify my story, but I do request that you confine me somewhere separate from the rest of these men ... just to make sure I survive to be a witness at the trial of Philip Davies."
The captain had moved forward to the poop deck rail and was squinting down at him. "Davies?" He scanned the prisoners around the capstan and then glanced toward the Jenny's mast, visible above the forecastle. "Is he with you? Injured?"
"No," Shandy told him. "He's on the Carmichael." He nodded toward the departing ship.
"Ah," said the captain thoughtfully. "His trial won't be soon then." He blinked and looked again down at Shandy. "A forced man from the Carmichael, are you? You'll be pleased - or maybe not - to know that we can check your story right now. It was only this recentest Friday that we left Kingston, and the Carmichael was taken, as I recall, about a month ago, so our current shipping reports will cover it." He turned to a midshipman standing nearby. "Fetch the reports volume, will you, Mr. Nourse?"
"Aye aye, captain." The young officer hurried down the companion ladder and disappeared below.
"For a forced man, you handled that gun pretty thefty," said Skank, behind Shandy. "Turncoat son of a bitch." Shandy heard him spit.
The blood rushed to Shandy's face as he remembered the day Skank had roughed up Jim Bonny to save Shandy from a - real or imaginary - magical attack, and he wanted to face Skank now and plead with him to remember the circumstances of his recruitment three and a half weeks ago ... but after a moment he just said quietly to the nearest armed sailor, "Can I take another step forward?"
"Aye," the sailor said. "Slow."
Shandy did, listening to the pirates behind him moodily arguing about whether he was a treacherous coward or just a pragmatic one. Looking out over the starboard quarter he could see the returning ship's boat, and he squinted against the glitter of sunlight on the wet oars, trying to see if it was indeed Beth Hurwood huddled in the stern.
The captain raised his telescope again and scrutinized the boat. "It's no one named Elizabeth," he said drily.
Damn me, Shandy thought, then she's still with them. Why in hell didn't she think of jumping overboard? Well, it's not my business any longer - it's for people like this fellow, or some other Navy captain, to go and rescue her. I'm for Haiti. And perhaps Friend and her father mean her no harm.
He grinned bleakly at the willful naivete of that thought; and then he allowed himself to remember, gingerly and one at a time, the stories he'd heard about Blackbeard - the time the man decided that his crew would benefit from spending some time in "a hell of our own," and so had everyone go below deck, where he gleefully lit a number of pots of brimstone, and at pistol point prevented anyone from leaving before half the crew was unconscious and in real danger of suffocation, and even then Blackbeard himself had been the last to emerge into the fresh air ... though it was regarded as just another of his barbaric whims at the time, the ritualistic nature of the event was noted later, and one drunkenly indiscreet bocor had hinted that it had been a necessary renewal of Blackbeard's hunsi kanzo status, and not entirely successful because none of the crew had actually died of it; and Shandy recalled his rumored dealings with the genuinely dreaded loa known as Baron Samedi, whose domain is the graveyard and whose secret drogue is low-smoldering fire, which was why Blackbeard always braided lit slow matches into his hair and massive beard before going into any risky encounter; and he had heard of the superficially insane but sorcerously explainable uses to which the legendary pirate put any unfortunate woman that he could get linked to himself in wedlock ... and Shandy thought of Beth's futile courage, and the innately cheerful nature she'd only been able to indulge for half an hour on the Carmichael's poop deck three and a half weeks ago.
Midshipman Nourse reappeared from below with a bound journal or log and clambered up the companion ladder to where the captain stood.
"Thank you," said the captain, taking the volume from him and tucking the telescope under his arm. He leafed through the pages for a couple of minutes and then looked down at Shandy with somewhat less sternness in his craggy face. "They do mention a John Chandagnac who was forced to join." He flipped to another page. "You boarded the Carmichael when and where?"
"On the morning of the third of June, at the Batsford Company Dock in Bristol."
"And ... let's see ... what ship sailed with you through the St. George Channel?"
"The Mershon. They turned north past Mizen Head, bound for Galway and the Aran Islands."
For a moment the captain lowered the book and stared at Shandy in reappraisal. "Hm ... " He turned to the page he'd been reading before. "Yes, and the Carmichael survivors mention the attack by Chandagnac upon Davies ... quite a brave thing that seems to have been ... "
"Hah," said Skank scornfully. "Took him by surprise. Davies wasn't even looking."
"Thank you, young man," the captain said to Skank with a frosty smile. "You've effectively confirmed this man's claim. Mr. Chandagnac, you may step away from those brigands and come up here."
Shandy sighed and relaxed, and realized that he'd been tense for weeks without being aware of it, living among people for whom savage violence was a casual thing. He crossed to the companion ladder and climbed up to the higher deck. The officers standing there made room, staring at him curiously.
"Here," said the captain, handing him the telescope. "See if you can identify our swimmer."
Shandy glanced down at the boat that was rocking closer on the blue water, and he didn't even have to look through the glass. "It's Davies," he said quietly.
The captain turned to the young midshipman again. "Keep those men where they are, Mr. Nourse," he said, pointing to the dispirited rabble around the capstan, "but have Davies brought to me in the great cabin. Mr. Chandagnac, I'll want you present, too, to witness Davies' statement."
Oh God, thought Shandy. "Very well, captain."
The captain started toward the ladder, then paused. "It will be a few minutes before the prisoner is brought aboard, Mr. Chandagnac. The purser could give you some clothes from the slop chest, if you'd like to get out of that ... costume."
"Thank you, captain, I'd like that." Standing among all these officers, with their sober blue uniforms and brass buttons and epaulettes, Chandagnac had begun to feel like a clown in his red breeches and gold-worked belt - though such dress hadn't been at all inappropriate on New Providence Island.
Behind and below him he heard Skank's disgusted snicker.
A little later, feeling much more civilized in a blue-checked shirt, canvas breeches, gray woolen stockings and a pair of shoes, Shandy sat at one end of a long table in the great cabin and stared out the stern window - it was too hig to be called a port or scuttle - the bull's-eye leaded glass pane of which had been propped open to let the breeze into the cabin. For the first time, he wondered what he'd do after prosecuting his uncle. Go back to England and get another position as an accountant? He shook his head doubtfully. England seemed chilly and far away.
Then, and the thought soothed a guilt-cramp that had been troubling his mind ever since the swimmer had been identified as Davies, Shandy knew what he would do: he'd work hard to get his uncle arrested, convicted and imprisoned as soon as possible, and then he'd use the - surely considerable - amount of money that would justly accrue to him to rescue Beth Hurwood. He ought to be able to hire a boat, a Caribbean-tempered captain and a tough, bounty-hungry crew ...