'The Manzanilla Tree'

by Phineas Redux

—OOO—

Summary:— Joanna Clayton is Captain of her own pirate ship the 'Amazon', accompanied by her sweetheart Sandy Parker. Time, 171-; Place, the Caribbean and Spanish Main. Sandy has a bad few days after encountering a particular specimen of the local Caribbean vegetation.

Disclaimer:— All characters are copyright ©2022 Phineas Redux. All characters in this story are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Caution 01:— There is some extensive swearing in this story; they are pitiless pirates, y'know.

Caution 02:— This story contains strongly explicit details of medical procedures and disease symptoms.

Caution 03:— There is also a short but vivid description of a very nasty sea battle between two ships where the wounded are very wounded indeed.

Caution 04:— The manchineel tree (Hippomane mancinella), Spanish name manzanilla, is a species of flowering bush or tree in the spurge family (Euphorbiaceae) growing up to 15 metres (49 feet) tall. Its native range stretches through the tropical America's. It is poisonous in every aspect of its form, roots, leaves, stems, fruits (like green apples) the white sap being dangerous in even minute particles. The symptoms related in this story are exact and precise.

—O—

The unidentified island, somewhere in the wastes of the central Caribbean Sea, had all the attributes of a desert island, covered in a mass of trees down to the waterline, the ground rising to a single large mountain in the island's centre, the coast a mass of wide open sandy bays, and the greatest attribute of all—uninhabited.

Standing on the white sand of the beach forming the particular bay in which the barque Amazon presently lay at anchor, Captain Joanna Clayton, First Lieutenant Sandy Parker, both women and the entire crew cold vicious hearty pirates from head to toe, and their medical officer, Henry Blaine, surveyed the scene.

"Well, it's solid ground, I give ye that."

"Thank'ee, Blaine, mighty kind o'ye." Joanna not put out in the least, being long inured to her Doctor's reserved outlook on life.

"Don't see any hereabouts," Sandy piping up, her focus, at least, on the matter which had brought them to this desolate waste. "But there must be a freshwater stream inland somewhere. I mean, look at the dam' vegetation!"

"May have t'dig a well." Joanna musing on possibilities.

"I'll be overseer." Sandy looking around to pick a spot. "Sit in the shade under a wide-spreading tree, watching others hard at work—the perfect afternoon's sport!"

"Ye're a hard case an' no mistake."

"I tries, darlin', I tries."

"How large is this place?" Blaine speculating on a point of local geography.

"I'd say somewhere's around a league long by about three-quarters wide." Joanna frowning over this calculation. "Yeah, that'd be about right."

"Hmm, bound ter be water somewhere, then." Blaine's tone one of certainty.

"Yeah, somewhere." Sandy, a trifle less sure.

"Thompson! Get a bunch o'the lads an' take a party inland over t'the north, OK?"

"Aye, aye, ma'am."

"Fullarton! Another party, six men, t'the south; try'n penetrate as far in'ta the jungle as ye can, if not findin' water quick, OK?"

"Aye, ma'am."

Ten minutes later the group of men on the beach had lessened greatly, the remainder busy in setting-up the basis of a temporary camp.

"Figure there may be any dangerous animals about, lady?"

Joanna considered this seriously, there being no profit in taking unnecessary chances.

"Shouldn't think so, darlin'. Island's too small t'sustain anything of a dangerous nature, in my view. What ya say, Blaine?"

Blaine, standing a few yards off staring at the line of trees bordering the beach, turned at this question.

"Dangerous animals? No, the island ain't large enough t'allow of anything of a ferocious nature sustainin' life over any period of time. Maybe a few hogs, but I'm even doubtful of that."

"Snakes?" Sandy having a well-grounded fear of such reptiles.

"Nah, nuthin deadly, anyway." Blaine nodding as one who knew of what he spoke.

"Spiders?" Joanna adding her part just to keep the conversation going.

Blaine bucked-up immediately.

"Ah, now there ye have an interesting supposition, ma'am. Spiders? Well, the likelihood is, yeah, spiders. Probably the main bird-eatin' variety, I'd expec'."

"Bird-eatin'?" Sandy sounding in no way enthralled by this news.

"Long hairy legs, body the size of the palm of your hand, capable of runnin' remarkably fast, can bite vicious when provoked." Blaine giving freely of knowledge no-one present wanted to hear.

"Better be careful of webs when we walk through the undergrowth." Joanna making what she thought a sound argument.

"Don't make webs, ma'am." Blaine well ahead of her there. "Live in trees an' bushes; just drop down, unexpected, on their prey."

"Sh-t!" Sandy definitely underwhelmed by the prospect.

"Oh, well!" Joanna taking it much as it offered. "Can't expec' much else—this not bein', nor settin' itself up as, Paradise on earth."

"Looks mighty like, at first glance, mind ye." Sandy waxing poetic, not her usual outlook at all.

"Looks can be deceptive, doll." Joanna nodding sagely, like an old grandma. "Look at the Amazon out there. For all appearances an ordinary barque; but underneath, a pirate from stem t'stern, jus' like us!"

"I'm goin' surveyin', if so ye allows, ma'am." Blaine setting-off towards the line of trees to his left. "In hopes of findin' some useful herbs an' roots an' whatnot."

"Go ahead, just don't get lost."

"Surely, ma'am."

—O—

The afternoon had worn on towards early evening by the time both parties of explorers returned from their extended expeditions into the island's interior. Joanna had been, as a Captain should, keeping busy by annoying the rest of the crew on the beach into doing this that, and the other most of all; but finally it seemed that work for the day had come to a useful and fruitful conclusion. Sandy meanwhile, as she had prophesied, had been keeping a beady eye on a party of workers building a small hut out of fallen branches and wide tree fronds to hold and cover some of their equipment they meant to leave on the beach overnight: she doing so from the comfort of the edge of the treeline under the shade of a wide-spreading tall tree giving much needed shade.

The two exploring parties arrived back within half an hour of each other, with varying news.

"Well, Thompson?"

Joanna eager to hear of fresh water being found somewhere nearby."

"Nuthin' ma'am. Not so much as a dam' drop anywhere. Island t'the north seems barren an' dry as a month dead donkey."

"Dam'! Fullarton?"

"Found a small stream about two mile inland, just on the lower slope of the big mountain. Sweet cold water, seems clear an' fresh."

"Good! That'll do nicely. We can send a party tomorrow, to fill a few casks, then we can wipe this desolate terrain from our boots." Joanna happy as a lark. "Anyone seen Blaine? Hope t'God he ain't gotten hisself lost; we'll never find him, otherwise."

"Here he be now, ma'am."

"Ah, good."

The Doctor trudged out from the gloom of the treeline, a well-filled canvas bag hanging at his side, he showing a wide grin as of someone who had fulfilled all his expectations.

"Ye seem happy, Doctor?"

"By all means, ma'am!" He grinning from ear to ear. "Some very nice herbs t'be found in these parts, we must come back again sometime, fer sure. And some roots, berries, fruits; oh, all sorts of things I can find medical uses for. A very useful day indeed!"

"Well, time t're-embark; where's that lazy hound, Sandy?"

"Over-seein' the buildin' of the hut, ma'am." An anonymous sailor pointing to the edge of the treeline. "From under that apple-tree—she knowin' well what comfort means, allowin' o'sich, ma'am."

They all looked round, with wide grins, at the spot indicated where their second-in-command took her ease—but it was Blaine who came to life most of all at the sight.

"Apple tree? F-ck me! That ain't a apple tree—that's a manzanilla! Get her out'ta that right now, afore she's killed by the dam' thing. Jee-sus!"

At the sound of the dreaded word Joanna sprang to life herself, running over the sand like an athlete, reaching her lover in record time and completely out of breath.

"Ou—ou—out'ta there, right now, gal!"

"What? What's the hurry, the lads still have the back end o'the hut t'finish." Sandy wholly at ease, waving a loose frond of the tree as a fan, its edges tickling her cheek on each movement. "I'm enjoyin' myself, as it is, lover."

"You won't be in a few hours, ma'am." Blaine arriving in a shower of sand, unceremoniously kicking the frond from her hand and leaning down to grab her shoulder, lifting her to her feet as if she weighed nothing at all. "This's a manzanilla, ma'am, the most deadly tree in the world; you're in deadly danger. How long've ye been lying under it?"

"What? Manzanilla? What're ye sayin'?"

"A manzanilla, ma'am." Blaine taking a deep breath before launching into his explanation. "I'd'a thought if'n ye knew nuthin else ye at least knew what a dam' manzanilla looked like?"

"This's just a apple tree, is all, Blaine." Sandy still under the delusion that had allowed her to choose this place as her centre of activity. "Apples a trifle green, immature, I gives ye that, but certain a apple tree."

"No, it ain't, fer God's sake!" Blaine shaking his head in disbelief. "God! How can anyone be so dam' stupid! Ma'am, this's a manzanilla, as God is my witness. An' you, havin' luxuriated under it fannin' yersel' with a branch fer the last few hours, is in deadly danger. Its roots is deadly poison, its leaves is deadly poison, its bark is deadly poison, every dam' atom of it from root t'crown, is deadly poisonous! A single drop of its white sap, which is in every dam' part of it, will bring ye out in horrible burns all over. If it gets, the sap, in yer eyes yer certain t'be blinded fer days, if not permanent! Get away from here!"

Sandy, coming to a horrible realisation, dropped the leaf-covered branch like a hot brick gasping wordlessly, staring from Blaine to Joanna and back.

"I—I—I don't feel bad. No itchin', or pain anywhere?"

"You won't, not fer a few hours, then it'll take hold." Blaine leaning over his patient to examine her eyes. "Whatever you do, don't touch your eyes with your fingers, or rub them with the back of your hand, if you haven't already. Have you?"

Sandy, now much distressed, shook her head anxiously.

"Can't rightly remember; might have."

"Sh-t!" Blaine shaking his own head, holding her firmly by the shoulder. "Come on, let's get ye back a'board where I can medic ye properly. Captain, can ye get a tub o'water prepared in yer cabin? I want Sandy here washed down from head t'toe, with all the places in-between, coverin' her head an' hair most of all. I want her washed like a washer-woman beats a sheet in'ta submission, every square inch of her body! But mindin', in doin' so, no water gets in her eyes; that'll just exacerbate matters; ye'll need a blindfold over yer eyes in the washin' o'ye, ma'am."

"Can't it wait, Blaine?" Joanna as worried as the Doctor by this point. "Maybe a period of rest'll do wonders?"

"No, ma'am." Blaine sure of his footing on this subject. "We need to confirm nursin' procedures right away; the effects of the poison when they show, as they surely will, will be severe for sure—we must be prepared."

Finally acknowledging the Doctor's wisdom in the matter Joanna sprang to action.

"Thompson, ready the longboat, get the rowers in sharpish. Fullarton, help get Sandy aboard. Row like the wind, lads, we need'ta reach the Amazon a'fore we've left the dam' shore here!" Go!"

—O—

"I'm doing my best, ma'am!" Blaine under pressure from a nearly crazed Joanna. "I know she looks, er, bad, but I can assuage most of her present pain, believe me. I have laudanum to hand, along with raw opium, and tincture of belladonna, usually deadly itself but, in these present conditions, used carefully, of the most important usefulness. Now, if you will just let me get along with my care, I assure you all will be well."

"All will be well!" Joana harping on the very detail that had triggered her reaction in the first place. "Have ya really looked at her hands an' face? She's come out in the most horrible burns an' blisters—like the bloody Plague. Ya sure it ain't the Plague, or sumthin' like?"

The time was late evening, around six hours since Sandy had been rescued from her own folly under the manzanilla tree, and symptoms of her stay there were in full view now. Her right hand, used to fan herself with a frond of the tree, looked as if it had been put in a pot of boiling water and left for a considerable time; blisters covered it almost completely: nasty large liquid filled blisters that looked as painful as Sandy's groans and screams reflected as she lay in her bunk in the Amazon's stern cabin, now sickbay.

"Aa-aargh!" Sandy in the throes of the most exquisite pain she had ever suffered, even when she had been blown up by an unstable keg of gunpowder going-off near her some years since. "The pain's unbearable! Can't ya do somthin?"

While she made this cry of distress Blaine had been hard at work, making-up a compress.

"I'm goin' ter wrap this round your hand, ma'am." He leaning over the bunk carefully. "Try not to wince overmuch, I know it may be painful, but it'll soothe the pain in a short time."

The fact he felt the need to give this warning at all bore fruit in the next few seconds when, on application of the cotton swab, Sandy screamed for real at the increased pain.

"Jee-sus Chr-st!" Joanna nearly out of her own mind. "Blaine, have ya any idea of what you're doin'?"

"Tincture of Belladonna, ma'am." He nodding, though a sheen of sweat stood on his forehead. "Bound to soothe the pain, in a short time. All we can do now is let things take their course."

"Which'll be what?"

"You see the red marks forming on her face? Especially on her cheeks, and the red raw look of her eyes?" By this time they both stood on the far side of the cabin where their patient couldn't hear, though she had other matters on her mind at the moment. "She'll come out in more blisters there, for sure. And her eyes will almost certainly take on a really bad look. In other cases I've read about the eyes, the eyelids, swell powerfully, are raw and sore, and render the patient blind—either for a few days or in some cases, permanently. I say this now in order that you're prepared, ma'am, if the worst comes to the worst."

Glancing over at the bunk where her lover of the last ten years lay in agony Joanna shook her head in disbelief.

"I just can't take it in. How bad is she?"

"Not anywhere near as bad now as she will be in a few hours, ma'am." Blaine deciding that honesty was the best policy, strangely enough for a pirate. "The blisters will increase, over most of her body, as well as in level of pain; her face will look like a leper's for a couple of days, and there may well be pockmarks left by the more insistent blisters; and her eyes will be the most affected, possibly. Her sight will certainly be defective for months to come, if not for the rest of her life—always supposing, as I've already mentioned, she is not rendered wholly blind in the long run."

"Chr-st A'Mighty!"

"But I'm doing what can be done." Blaine nodding as he thought of his medical options. "Soothing poultices are the order of the day, of course; and I have the most important soothing herbs and ointments available, I assure you. Also, pain-killing lotions such as laudanum, opium, Tincture of Belladonna, tincture of South American Coca leaves, and certain scientific concoctions whose names would mean nothing to you. If you wish to stay by her side that will be helpful: she needing a face she knows and loves beside her in her dire need."

"Jee-sus!"

—O—

"Belay splicin' that brace, Carruthers. Longstaffe, what's afoot?" Thompson, the Quartermaster, standing on the Amazon's quarterdeck next day trying to command the ship as a whole and the fine details at the same time. He having just been hailed by the Main topmast lookout in no uncertain terms.

"Sail on the port beam, rising the horizon." The said Lookout showing away with his keen eyesight. "T'gallants visible—pennant Royal Navy, fer sure. Think it's a frigate."

"Oh, Josephine, Mary, Matilda, George, an' Henry!" Thompson running through the latest itinerary of his lovers' list; he being a man of sweeping tastes. "What the Hell? Jenkins? Jenkins, get yer arse over here, at the double. OK, Jenkins, take command, I'm goin' below; try not ter sink us a'fore I reappears, OK?"

In the stern cabin all was by no means quiet and calm; in fact the exact opposite held sway. The time was near four bells in the afternoon watch and Sandy was in the worst possible condition imaginable. The blisters, caused by the toxic sap of the manzanilla, had spread just as Blaine had prophesied; her right hand looking almost raw, while her face was enough to make the most hardened pirate stand back and take stock. Her cheeks were blistered all over, large water-filled blisters that looked as painful as the patient obviously found them. Both eyes were sealed shut by excessive swelling of the lids, themselves almost raw in texture and red as a fire's innermost heart. The pain made audible by Sandy' groans, cries, whimpers, and most often, wholly unguarded screams. Joanna by her side, caressing her lover's face gently with a soft poultice dampened with tincture of Laudanum.

"Any more of that coca leaf extract, Blaine?" Joanna nodding over to the table where the Doctor had most of his medicines arrayed in front of him. "It seems t'have stopped her throat from closing-up, at least, and soothed the general pain somewhat."

"Yes, here, let her sip it slowly, not too much at once. She can empty the glass if able."

The cabin door here opened to reveal a hard breathing Thompson flushed with bad news.

"Royal Navy frigate on the horizon, ma'am."

"Oh, f-ck!" This something Joanna least wanted to hear. "Where away?"

"Port beam; some, oh, five leagues, meb'be."

"God! OK, I'll be up soon's I can."

"Aye, ma'am."

Left to themselves once more Blaine and Joanna looked at each other then the prone patient, still in the worst throes of agony.

"I'll look after her for the nonce, ma'am." Blaine stepping over to the bunk. "You can be sure I'll be givin' her the best of attention. See ter you're needs, ma'am."

On the quarterdeck Joanna soon sighted the frigate, now visible on the horizon line without the need of a spyglass.

"Yeah, Royal Navy frigate, sure enough! Jay-sus! What a day! Thompson!"

"Aye, ma'am!"

"Upper topsails, upper t'gallants, studdingsails an' jibs as ye pleases."

"Aye-Aye, ma'am!"

"So, they wants a run for their money, do they?" Joanna musing on the distant Captain's motives. "Well, I'm the gal, and I'm in the mood, t'give ye just that, boyo! Bring it on!"

—O—

By virtue of the encompassing wind direction it had fallen out that the Amazon had the weather gage so was able to keep the approaching frigate beating up towards her at bay as she made for the far horizon.

"Just another glass an' black night'll let us speed free." Joanna saying this aloud more for her own comfort than those of the crew near enough to hear. "Thompson, we're keeping well ahead of her; keep us on this course, making sail as ye sees fit. I'm goin' back below; call me if there's any significant change."

"Aye, ma'am."

Below things were much as they had been; Sandy tossing in pain on her bunk, Blaine, shirt-sleeves rolled up, administering various poultices and tinctures as need arose. Sandy had imbibed so much laudanum and opium by this time she was more or less experiencing an extended dream rather than present reality, though the pain remained more or less constant.

"How's she doin'?"

"Rather improved," Blaine surprising Joanna with this statement which seemed at odds with the visible situation. "I know it seems hardly believable, but a slight improvement is certainly taking place, I assure you. Not much change in the severity of the blisters—we cannot look for much change there within the next twenty-four hours, I'm afraid. But the pain is lessening, I'm confident. The laudanum, allied with the tincture of coca leaves, and opium carefully administered at intervals, is having an effect."

Joanna knelt by the bunk, putting a hand on the damp shirt covering the hot chest of her lover.

"She's burnin' up!"

"Only a necessary symptom of the medicine she is being given." Blaine sounding confident as he made up another fresh poultice by the table. "She is experiencing a certain amount of hot flushes as a result of the toxic nature of the manzanilla sap in her body. The restoratives I'm administering are working against this, causing a reaction of temperature rises—essentially burning the fever out, y'see. But it will take some time—hours yet, before we can say the climax has passed."

"Is she still in danger?"

"Oh, yes!" Blaine not attempting to hide the reality of the moment. "In the state she is, and her small frame, her physical relative weakness, there is certainly great worry about her, ah, eventual recovery. We must wait for the fever to recede before we can say that improvement is truly taking place."

Joanna, with incredible gentleness, peeled the used poultice from her lover's face, changing it for the new handed to her by Blaine.

"Sandy? Sandy? You'll pull through, OK, don't worry. Never fear the pain, it'll fade away eventually. I'll be here by your side as much as I can, lover. Sandy?"

"Don't try to have a conversation, ma'am." Blaine putting his own hand on his Captain's shoulder. "She is out of it for the foreseeable future—hours to come. She is having an opium dream that takes up all her consciousness; she doesn't know what's going forward round her, I'm afraid: all she can experience right now, in reality, is the pain."

"She can't see anything? Me?"

"No, ma'am." Blaine shaking his head. "The sap, even in minute quantities, attacks the eyelids, as you see; but also the cornea of the eyes themselves. It is this latter that creates the most dangerous problem—whether it will be reversible in the weeks to come, or not. From what I have been able to read up about it, most sufferers tend to come through more or less unscathed; though a minority suffer various severe after-effects."

"Such as?" Joanna not wanting to hear, but unable to stop herself asking.

"Anything from difficulty opening and closing the eyelids, to inflamed eyeballs, to weakness of vision on a variety of levels ranging from slight problems in focusing to partial or complete blindness." Blaine sucked his teeth in thought. "But I must make plain these only affect a small minority of patients; Miss Parker, here, has every chance of surviving without much, if any, permanent disfigurement or disability. It is better, in this situation, to hope for the best, which will almost certainly be the actual outcome, when all is done, ma'am."

Here Sandy, experiencing another bout of pain, began muttering and groaning loudly again; her blistered lips making even this reaction a dual torture to her.

"I'm here, lover, I'm here." Joanna gently touching the patient's unhampered hand. "I won't go away, I'll be here for you, don't worry."

—O—

The next morning, just after dawn, found the Amazon Queen of a featureless sea from horizon to horizon; only the blue waves and the brighter clear sky all round from compass-point to compass-point.

"A fine day, Thompson."

"Aye, ma'am." The Quartermaster nodding his agreement. "And finer still for no sign of the dem'med Royal Navy."

"Just so." Joanna agreeing abstractedly, her mind on other matters. "We seem to have smoked 'em well. Rght, I'm going below, take care of the ship in the meantime; sails as ye sees fit."

"Aye-Aye, ma'am."

In the stern cabin things were quieter, Sandy appearing to be asleep.

"I gave her a sedative, ma'am." Blaine leaning over his patient. "Signs of improvement showing away very well, as things are."

"Glad ye sees sich." Joanna hardly convinced. "She seems much of a muchness t'me, I must admit."

"This is a long-term recovery, speed not to be looked for, I'm afraid. The actions of the toxic sap take a long while to dissipate, to wash clear of the body, you understand. Meantime the swelling, the blisters, the pain, remain, only waning slowly over time."

"How long?"

Blaine pursed his lips, musing on this problematic question.

"Taking her general state of health into account; her small frame; her severe reaction to the manzanilla poison; I should say several months."

"What!" Joanna appalled by this prognosis. "She'll be in this pain for months? I don't believe it!"

"No-no, ma'am; she'll get over the pain in the next few days, for certain. I only mean to state that her general physical recovery—getting her strength back—will take, say, three months till she's back on her feet as she was previous."

"Ah!" Joana relieved beyond measure.

"The blisters round her lips are already significantly less than they were last night, though perhaps not visibly so to your, ah, untrained eye, ma'am." Blaine trying his hardest to instill confidence in his Captain. "Perhaps by this evening we may be able to administer some light soup."

Joanna perked-up at this news, turning swiftly to the cabin door where a sentry stood in the corridor outside.

"Matthews, kick the sea-cook out'ta his bunk an' make him boil up some chicken soup. Wait, tell him not t'make it till this afternoon, around six bells. Got that?"

"We only got three chickens as it is, ma'am, for the eggs." Matthews looking to the longer outcome. "What'll we do?"

Joanna sighed softly.

"Do your pirate thing, Matthews, you being one; by this afternoon I want we have only two chickens fer the dam' eggs, OK?"

"Aye-Aye, ma'am; two chickens! One fer the soup, got that!"

Back by her lover's bunk Joanna found Blaine sitting on a chair considering a porcelain pot held in his hand, the lid off revealing a green tinted ointment within.

"What's that?"

Blaine raised his eyes to his Captain's.

"A new ointment, of my own mixing. Based on some rare flowers and their essences found on the Spanish Main. I made up a pot some time ago, more or less as an experiment. Haven't been able to use it much as yet."

"What does it do?"

"If I have the proportions in the right order, it should act as an emolument softening swelling and blisters such as are shown in this presentation."

Joanna raised an eyebrow at this.

"How sure are you of its effectiveness?"

"Very, ma'am. I've based it on various vegetables and flower essences found in the Old Country, only using several new varieties of flower found on the Main only. It should be much stronger than the European alternatives—work more effectively."

"Then use it, Blaine. Anything that'll relieve her agony. Don't waste time; it's my responsibility."'

"Aye-Aye, ma'am."

—O—

By six bells in the afternoon watch even Joanna could see a marked improvement in the patient. Sandy no longer tossed and turned in a drug induced haze, but seemed much more aware of her surroundings, though the pain seemed to remain in an only slightly diminished form. The hardly attained chicken soup was given, in small spoonful's by an anxious Joanna, which Sandy managed to swallow with only the smallest difficulty, her lips much improved, the swelling blisters almost all subsided from her delicate lips.

"That's my baby, love. Just a sip at a time; don't try to swallow too hard, just let it run down your throat, that's it. Can you hear me, Sandy? It's Jo, I'm here by your side. Can you open an eye, baby? No, don't if it's too painful. Just rest now."

"I fancy I caught the least glimpse of her eye, ma'am." Blaine showing eager enthusiasm. "How I dearly wish to examine her eyeballs! Tomorrow, possibly."

"The blisters on her face are definitely receding." Joanna noticing another improvement. "Yeah, they are! And not leaving any visible scars or pockmarks, thank God! Is she finally on the mend?"

"Yes, certainly, yes." Blaine nodding his professional agreement. "It's taken some time, but improvement is definitely showing."

"Thank God!" Joanna relieved beyond all measure. "What a couple of days it's been! But she's gettin' better. I'm goin' up on deck fer a breather, back in half a glass."

"Very good, ma'am."

On deck, Thompson still in command of the ship's running smoothly on its course, Joanna took a few deep breaths of the fresh air. Gazing around she watched the crew going about their duties, men by the guns, oiling and cleaning them; up in the shrouds attending to various braces and parts of the rigging; those even higher out on the spars of mainsail, topsail and topgallants making sure the sails were performing to capacity. In the Main-top a group were sitting doing something intricate with ropes, chatting between themselves meanwhile; while further above, on the Upper-top, two men were hauling in a brace. All over the vessel, in fact, Life seemed to be going about its normal functions, taking little if any note of the sick woman still writhing in agony in the stern cabin: but again, Joanna thought to herself, that was Life all over.

"On deck, thar!" The main-top showing they still had an eye on the seas around them. "Sail on the starboard quarter. Dirty topsails, looks like a merchantman, meb'be an Indiaman."

Joanna perked-up at this news, going to stand by the starboard bulwark to see what was to be seen. As their name suggested Indiamen were large merchant vessels specially built for the trade between Britain and their colony of India; but on being sold out of service, generally after no more than four voyages to and fro, they were quickly bought up by enterprising Companies to continue their work in other stations of the World. If this present vessel was indeed an old Indiaman it could be loaded to the gunnel's with God knew what riches.

"What's it's headin'?" Joanna roaring this request herself in the loudest voice she could muster.

"Headin' west! Two points north. Will cross our bows in, oh, two glasses."

"Thompson, beat t'quarters, if ya please!"

"Aye-Aye, ma'am!"

Pirate ships were a motley bunch at best; most made up of small schooners or barquentines, not fit to attack anything larger than themselves: but there were other larger vessels, like the barque Amazon, better ordered and disciplined which could safely take on almost any merchant vessel, even ones larger than themselves, as was the case here. In something short of quarter of an hour Joanna could see the large nature of her prey; that it was indeed an old Indiaman, with a painted white line along its bulwarks pretending to hide a row of guns, that were not, in fact, there. It was, essentially, defenceless relying only on its speed and powerful presence to escape its enemies—but not in this case.

"Thompson! Roll out the starboard upper deck eighteens! And let loose the Black Flag!"

"Aye-Aye, ma'am!"

When a merchant vessel meets a pirate vessel in the wastes of the central Caribbean Sea there are several outcomes to be considered; first, the merchantman may well have the weather gage in which case it has an excellent chance of cocking its thumb at its attacker and making its escape; or it can be on the other foot in which case disaster is literally written in the wind. On this second option applying there are still further outcomes that may be chosen, this time by the pirates. Whether to throw the surrendered crew and passengers to the sharks as duty bound; to let most if not all survive for reasons of booty, ransom or play, would be up to the intentions, nature, and desires of the pirates of the day.

In Joanna's case things were up for grabs in a variety of ways. Her spirits had been tugged and outraged over the past few days as never before; her feelings were rubbed threadbare to the bone; she had taken little sleep over the last two days or food; and she now harboured a feeling towards Humanity at large that would have done a starving Tiger proud. Up to now Pirating had been a mere job to her, one way of getting through an otherwise boring day; but now it felt more like a duty-bound life of almost a religious nature. A cold light gleamed in her sore eyes though, as she well realised, not so sore as those of her lover in the stern cabin.

"Thompson!"

"Aye, ma'am?"

"Clear the balls from the eighteens. Reload with grapeshot!"

"Aye-Aye, ma'am!"

Joanna strode to the edge of the quarterdeck, looking down on the maindeck.

"Hear me, lads! Gunners, take note of the Indiaman over there, a couple of cable's-length's off our starboard bow! I want you should train your weapons on the bulwarks of the main and quarterdeck. I mean ter sweep the decks clean of humanity from stem t'stern, if God pleases! Aim straight, aim sure, an' too hell with Mercy, I says, boys an' gals!"

Huzza! Huzza!

The crew as a whole, deeply entertained by their likely coming adventure, acknowledging their pleasure in the coming hunt; almost like men in red coats on a foxhunt seeing the pack of dogs nearly on the heels of their quarry after a long run.

"This could be messy, ma'am?"

"The more so, the merrier, I say, Thompson! Bring on the blood wholesale. If we leave a single person alive over there after taking it, the sadder I'll be, for sure!"

Even Thompson, a pirate of long years standing, felt somewhat taken aback by this level of outright viciousness.

"Aye-,er,-Aye, ma'am!"

—O—

The outcome of a battle at sea depends wholly on the opposing forces involved; whether one side is outnumbered and out-gunned; whether one side has the weather gage; whether, indeed, one side does or does not wish to engage at all! In the present circumstance the first of these possible options held sway; the Amazon was a thirty-gun frigate to all intents and purposes, with two mighty thirty-six pounders on its lower gundeck. The Indiaman had no defensive weapons apart from four eighteen pounders a side on the maindeck, absolutely useless against a formidable experienced pirate, of which Joanna was the very epitome of such. The fight was short, sharp, bloody beyond description, and fell the only way it possibly could—the Indiaman struck its colours within the first five minutes and the first raking broadside from the grapeshot of the Amazon—by which time there were no surviving officers of the merchantman left alive—excepting one young lieutenant in his twenties but now without both legs above the knee, he surviving this catastrophe for only the matter of time it took Joanna to cross over in a longboat, take stock of the situation on the blood-soaked deck, order the poor disabled man thrown overboard, and turning to the matter of real import, what the cargo consisted of.

Back on the Amazon Joanna hardly set foot on her quarterdeck before the touch of a dirty raggedy-taggedy powder-monkey grasping her waistbelt broke into her melancholy thoughts bringing her back to reality.

"Please, Cap'n, Doctor Blaine sez ter come at once; she's speakin', he told me ter tell ye."

Making haste to visit her patient once again, late in the day as it now was, on entering the stern cabin she found Blaine had already lit a couple of large silver candlesticks, booty from an earlier victim.

"How is she?"

"Coming on well, ma'am." Blaine's tone reflecting his delight at this outcome. "She spoke a couple of words a few moments ago. Seems to have her wits pretty much in hand, too, I'm glad to say—though there is still a substantial level of pain involved, sadly. May I ask how the fight went? Am I needed in the surgery for any wounded?"

"No! Not on our side, anyway. And on the other, well, Davy Jones' Locker's serving them well enough as their surgery, ha!"

The almost deranged tone in which these last words were spoken did not escape the Doctor's attention, he glancing at a nearby bottle of sedative mixture as if he knew well enough a party who would benefit wonderfully from it if only she would take same. Then he sighed.

"I've done all that can be done for the moment, A likely moment for me to take a break and get some food an' drink, ma'am. I'll leave you in charge for a couple of glasses, if I may?"

"Yeah, get some rest, you've done splendidly. Go!"

In the peace of the empty cabin Joanna sat on a low stool by the bunk of the girl she loved with all her heart, taking deep breaths to recover from her earlier exertions, leaning over the supine figure under the sweat-soaked sheet covering the restless patient.

"Sandy? Sandy, can ye hear me, bewhiles?"

"Oo-oowaat?"

"Sandy, it's Jo, I'm here, by yer side, lover. How d'ye feel? Can ye hear me?"

"Aa-aah! Ee-rrza? Jo? Jo? Water?"

"Water? Yeah, sure."

Rising she strode to the table where a decanter of water stood. Filling a glass she brought it to the bunk, holding it above the damaged lips of her lover as gently as touching a day-old lamb.

"Here ye be, sweetie. That's right, jes' let it run over yer lips. I know how painful it still is, but yer gettin' better hour by hour, lover. There ye be."

Calm descended on the cabin once again; the patient in the bunk not now so restless as previously, seeming to know her lover sat by keeping watch over her trials and pains. Joanna, for her part, leaned forward never taking her glance from the lithe sorely punished body under the sheets.

"Ye'll get over this fine, lady, or my name's not Joanna, Queen o'the Spanish Main!"

—O—

Four days later, the Amazon sailing strongly before an easterly breeze across a deep blue sea devoid of any other vessel but her; Joanna standing tall on the quarterdeck in full charge of the pirate ship, Sandy on a chair by her side, weak, pale, lacking in breath, and not able yet to speak clearly without a residue of pain from the late blisters on her face, but gaining in strength with every hour spent in the fresh warm air.

"How're ye feelin' presently, doll?"

"Oh, could be a mite better, but ready t'go whenever ye calls, lover."

"Ha! Ful'la beans as ever, I sees!"

"Not quite, I allows; but gettin' there, sure."

"Ye'll be some careful of lyin' beneath supposed apple-trees in future, I'm thinkin', little lady?"

"Ye ain't wrong there, baby." Sandy acknowledging the fact. "I knew manzanilla trees were dangerous, but I didn't realise just how dangerous they could be. God! I felt like I was in a furnace, bein' burned up from top t'toe fer days on end. The pain was awful!"

"Yeah, I know." Joanna nodding in her turn. "Those blisters really got t'me! Ye looked like someone with a bad case o'the smallpox, fer sure. Felt certin ye'd be pockmarked all over after, but seemingly not—yer just as amazingly beautiful as ever, thank the Gods o' every religion known t'Man!"

"Did ye make much out'ta that Indiaman ye fell on whiles I was under Blaine's opium influence?"

Joanna laughed lightly for the first time in several days, focusing on the second part of this enquiry.

"Opium? Doesn't know about mere opium, baby. Blaine had ye under almost every sedative or tincture o'deadly poison known t'the medical profession. Things that'd normally kill ya in seconds he was splashin' all over or makin' ye drink like they were sparklin' Spa waters! Think ye've ingested enough poison ter kill a herd o'buffalo! How d'yer feel, as a result?"

"All the stronger, lover!" Sandy essaying a small smile, her lips still too tender to approach a wider sustained effort. "If that's what poison does fer ye bring it on, I says! All except manzanilla, of course! I'd like t'burn every specimen in the New World!"

"Wouldn't work, lover; ye'd just come down as ye were as a result. The smoke'd work by spreadin' the sap particles, so Blaine tells me."

"Huh! That'd be no fun, then!"

"Want another sip of this mixture Blaine said'd soothe yer throat?"

"Yeah, tastes quite nice, like fruit juice mixed with licorice. What's in it?"

"Somethin' of Blaine's own concoction—something t'do with what he calls coca-leaf extract in sparklin' waters. I know the brown colour makes it look like beer, but sweeter."

"Yeah, tastes nice, though. Blaine should manufacture it; people'd like it, I bet."

"Ha! Don't think so, baby; I tasted it myself a'fore givin' ye any; didn't much like it, myself. Wouldn't take on at all with the general public, I bet."

"Oh, well! All the more for me, then, lover!"

The End

—O—

The next Captain Claytonstorywill arrive shortly.