'Tales From The Panther Club'

by Phineas Redux


Summary:— Joanna Clayton is Captain of her own pirate ship the 'Amazon', accompanied by her sweetheart Sandy Parker. Time, 171-; Place, the Caribbean Sea and Spanish Main. They meet for a monthly chat and dinner with friends in Cayona, Tortuga.

Note:— Many details of various subjects covered in this story come curtesy of A. O. Exquemelin's famous work "The Buccaneers of America', 1684.

Disclaimer:— Copyright ©2023 Phineas Redux. All characters in this story are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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


How it came by the name of the Panther Club was lost in the mists of past time, it simply was and that was that as far as the pirates, buccaneers, and other assorted swashbucklers making-up the members cared about. Place, the Merry Adder, Cayona, Tortuga, Caribbean Sea; members, as nasty a bunch of deadly, bravadoes as ever sat down together to carouse the evening away with the help of a hearty meal, grog wine and rum uncounted, and tall tales or reminiscences without end.

The Merry Adder had the advantage of a second floor private room sizeable enough to host a large party in security and privacy where anything might go within reason. The food, for Cayona, was always good, the wine ditto, and the company—well, pirates are always pirates, whatever they might wear, effect in manners, or pretend to otherwise show away as.

The time, by the tall clock in the far corner of the long room, was nearly 10.30pm on a balmy evening of this year of 171- and the assembled members were just settling into their stride, having eaten well, drunk even better, and now feeling comfortable and relaxed among friends.

"Hoi, matey!" Captain Verracker waving an already erratic arm down the table's length. "Pass up thet thar bowl o'limes, if ye will—my grog's dryer'n a tub of wood shavings. Thankee—thankee!"

"Pass along the salver o'curry, if'n ye will. Finds the flavor tickles my palate something fine." This from Long Tom Atkinson, determinedly digging into his vittals like a starving beggar. "Whar's the dam' cayenne, blister my buttocks! Oh-ah, thanks."

"Grab that platter o'pickled herring, will ye, lass?" Sandy Parker, second-in-command of the barque Amazon licking her lips in anticipation. "Think I'll try another couple."

Joanna Clayton, Captain of said Amazon and Sandy's long-term lover, sighed quietly but did as requested.

"Ye'll need t'unbuckle yer belt a coupl'a notches, I'm thinkin', if ye pig out any more'n ye already have t'night."

"Ye only sez sich 'cause you ain't got the fine appetite I does." Sandy already engrossed in the contents of the silver platter now placed before her. "Ye got'ta eat proper if ye wants a full stomach, good physique, and fine health. All thet bread ye eats regular cain't do yer innards any good at all, I'm minded. Beef, beer, vegetables, an' grog, not necessarily in thet order, is the food o'the Gods, baby, remember I said so—pass the salt, if ye pleases."

"Gods, indeed!"

"Bananas? T'Hell wi' them all, from the Bahamas t'Grenada, dam' my eyes!" Bill Stickley getting into his stride, if near apoplexy and a face red as a crimson pomegranate could ever be called a tolerable state of health. He shifting his vast bulk clad in a dark green grogram coat to eye the salver of pears halfway down the table. "Throw me a couple o'they ripe 'uns, if ye will, lad."

One of the army of young servants trying their best to keep up with the appetites of the members grabbed a couple of pears, bringing them along to the starving recipient in a flash.

"Thankee, lad, thankee-saved m'life fer sure—mmm, nice!"

Whether Stickley referred to the pears, or—

"What's happened t'the dam' port? Where's the dam' port?" Captain Josiah Murgan, never a man who could be accused of having any level of patience, now showing why he was universally regarded as such. "Somebody find the dam' port decanter, if it hasn't bin stolen by one o'ye desperadoes yet!"

A roll of laughter swept round the table at this witticism, they all open to a good jest when offered.

"Never tasted a better game pie in all my puff." Captain Kinnaird, a man who dearly loved his food, sitting back with a sigh after demolishing his third serving of the comestible in question, and those not small by any means. "Madeira! I must have Madeira, t'wash my palate clean! Any time this side o'Christmas'll do, I'm sure!"

As two servants, on opposite sides of the table, simultaneously strove to comply with this request the general air of satisfaction and mild hilarity spread further amongst the assembled pirates.

"William Stively? Is thet ye, by all thet's glorious? Thought ye'd gone down wi' the Diamante brigantine three month since! Fine t'see ye still wi' us. A glass wi' ye, by dam'!" Conrad Foulkes, as hearty a pirate who ever strode a quarterdeck, addressing an old friend just noticed returned, apparently, from a watery grave.

"Is it dessert?" Captain Cummings, he of the renowned sweetest tooth in the Caribbean, gazing around with a sparkling eye. "Then bring on the Ratafia cakes an' syllabubs as quick as ye will!"

"Mmm, orange pudding!" Sandy focusing her eye on the object that mattered. "That thar orange pudding's all mine, boys! Just making my play so's no-one gets hurt in the melee, OK?"

"Sandy, you're an embarrassment." Joanna trying her best.

"Orange pudding, lover, cain't take no prisoners!"



Twenty minutes later as replete a band of brigands as ever was sat back on their chairs round the table, filling long stemmed churchwarden clay pipes with tobacco, glasses or silver tankards of whatever concoction was preferred at their elbows. Now was the time for stories, tales, anecdotes, and downright lies, of which each individual was well stocked, particularly of the latter.

"I recalls—" Captain Aloysius Silver shifting his wide buttocks to get comfortable on his wooden chair while puffing away like a factory chimney. "I recalls, jes' some four month since, I had a set-to with a dam' unicorn, down Darien way on the Main—true as I sits here this evenin'."

"Bull!" From Lorelei 'Lori' Schenkmeyer, a young woman with flowing red tresses which exactly matched her temper when in a fight taking a ship at sea. "Never was, fer sure."

"No, ma'am, a female of the species, I assures ye." Silver not to be put out by such a minor criticism. "Saw it with my own peepers, only some fifteen yards distant in the underbrush. Just a glimpse, but thar it was, sure's four pieces of eight's worth half a gold doubloon."

Two nearby listeners clearly tried, by their glazed expressions, to work out if this mathematical assumption bore any truth, while Lori continued to pour scorn on the tale in general.

"What fer were ye out in the brush, anyhow?"

"Bin drinkin' with friends all thet evenin'." Silver quick to give his assurances. "Felt a little light-headed an', more t'the point, wanted ter take a long refreshin' leak—so thar I was, p-ssin' like a broken water-pipe an' thinkin' glad thoughts o'rapine, treachery, skullduggery an' other light diversions, when the unicorn appeared fer all of five seconds in the brush over t'my port side. Gave me a look of deep intelligence then vanished as if it'd never been—only time I ever saw a unicorn, ma'am. Beautiful creatures, I assures ye."

Lori, clearly unconvinced, scowled in reply and turned her attention to the tankard of wine in her hand, shaking her head the while.

Captain Verracker, by now much more than half-seas over, made an unintelligible gesture two or three times with an outstretched arm, Long Tom sitting by his side eventually coming to his companion's aid.

"What for ye wants, Verracker? More wine? Grog? Madeira? What?"

"I wants a raspberry syllabub, is what I wants—an' dam'med be he who don't bring it this time thirty seconds, dam' 'em!"

Long Tom, usually one of few words, pinned a young servant with his gimlet eye, gave a series of gestures covering Captain Verracker, the bowl of raspberry syllabub, and the need to perform an immediate meeting of the twain, before sitting back with the knowledge of a charitable service well done.

"A twenty-four pound ball will always create far more damage than a thirty-two—a scientific fact!" Bill Stickley, keeping a close eye on a youth pouring a member more wine two seats to his north, coming to for a fleeting moment and covering a favorite topic of his. "Twenty-fours ye can make skip across the waves, thus hittin' yer target on or below the waterline. Thirty-two's are only useful fer hittin' the tumblehome, as yer knows; langrage or grape fer the masts an' sails, o'course."

Having delivered himself of this technical lecture Stickley raised his tankard to himself, took a mighty swig and relapsed into silence.

"Met Gregory Hawkins last week." Villiers d'Lisle, caressing his long mustachios, smiling round the table. "What a character, took a small brigantine last month, spent the rest o'the day, so he told me, amusin' his crew by keelhaulin' the captured officers an' passengers—women as well as men—what a wag!"

A pause ensued whilst the servants removed most of the dishes and used plates then left the room; when privacy had been assured they all settled to enjoy the rest of the evening together.

"Don't hold with keelhaulin' myself." Francis Lavattiere nodding wisely. "Too much trouble, and only t'be done in a dead calm, too. No-no, throw 'em overboard an' have done wi' 'em, I say."

"Knew a Captin, years since when I were a lad," Davis Hamilton stroking his white beard. "used ter enjoy tyin' prisoners t'a cannon's mouth on the main deck an' firin' sich off with either a blank charge or a ball, dependin' on his mood o'the moment. Great fun, but a hell-uva mess, t'tell the truth! Always needin' ter make sure t'turn downwind a'fore firin', too! The backblast, if this not ensured, turnin' out something shockin', I assures ye all!"

A general cacophony spread round the table as various members kept on eating dishes left over from the various courses and not taken away; or drank wine of uncounted varieties; or settled to listen to or add to the increasing number of highly dubious anecdotes being tossed around the table.

"Recalls fine ol' Captain Nevers, of the Brigand barque, used often t'spread-eagle prisoners on a high sandy beach, staked down tight at each corner, an' sit wi' a bottle of rum whilst watchin' the sea-crabs eatin' said prisoner alive!" This recounted by Oliver Jalland, of evil reputation. "A man who knew what he liked, and liked what he liked."

"Many ways of offing a recalcitrant prisoner." Captain Tollande reminiscencing with a malicious grin. "Tying their limbs individual to four wild bulls an' whippin' the animals their separate ways! Throwing someone off a convenient cliff, always an easy exit when pressed for time, I finds. Tying 'em t'stakes, lightin' their ankles an' watchin' the ongoing fire, always worth a laugh, I found. Or, if no other came to hand, just beatin' someone t'death by way of a nearby hefty branch, log or bludgeon."

"Never thought o'usin' yer pistol, Tollande?"

"Powder al'lus dam' expensive t'come by, sir. Never waste it if something more entertainin' comes t'hand, I finds."

Aloysius Silver, chomping on a hard biscuit, then put forth a sentiment he obviously felt strongly about.

"Tries my best, in sich circumstances, t'sell prisoners fer as much as the slave market kin stand. Men worth more'n women, o'course—wimen not bein' useful fer much, over an' above the obvious, I finds. But it brings in a few more doubloons, without too much effort, which is fine by me."

"Re-set my Barquentine Lolly Masters's sails jes' las' month." Captain Diego Ramirez nodding wisely, his swarthy features showing up the deep white scar across his left cheek to advantage. "Triple-layered canvas, y'see. Helps with the reefin' points though a dam' sight more trouble t'hove up when required; soaks up water like a dam' sponge, makin' the sail like tryin' ter manhandle sheets o'concrete."

"Should think that a dis-advantage, in a followin' upper topsail breeze?" Captain Kinnaird coming to from a deep alcoholic daze brought on by mixing, as he would when no-one was nearby to stop him, rum, Madeira wine, and arrack all in the one tankard. "Like t'tryin' t'sail with a tall wooden fence sheeted home—ha-ha!"

"Served me well enough so far, Kinnaird." Ramirez loath to give up the good points of his sailing regimen. "Takes somethin' akin t'a minor gale t'get the ol' ship movin', I allows; but when shiftin' she goes like a powder trail t'a barrel o'powder wi'out fail. Why, jes' last week my starboard scuppers were scrapin' the sea-mews off'n the wavetops fer ever so long, I tells no lie!"

To those close enough to hear this mighty affirmation it was quite obvious that exactly the opposite was the case; but no-one struck up a discordant note, a pirate being, after all, a pirate and allowed these flights of fancy among friends.

"Once saw L'Olonois wi' my own eyes rip the beatin' heart from a prisoner, then stand an' gnaw on said organ while the unfortunate prisoner looked on, still alive fer the moment. L'Olonois surely knew what the term terror meant an' how t'create same in anyone he met!" This from old George Sparling who, by his own admission if believed, had sailed the Seven Seas and all the Oceans with every well-known buccaneer and pirate within the last fifty years—sometimes even of earlier date if well in his cups. "Dearly loved a spot o'well executed torture in his day, so he did!"

Andrew Carstairs, a Scotchman with a dour temper who had never been known to smile never mind laugh, paused in his determined attack on a pork pie washed down with the help of a tankard of Malmsey to add his little tithe to the conversation.

"Sailed several v'yages on a slaver in my hot youth—from the Ivory Coast t'Florida. Smell! You never met the like, I assures ye all, like a public sewer an' house o'ease combined. An' as ter disease, we had ter throw sick specimens overboard almost daily! But what I was comin' to is the time we had ter dump the whole cargo in the ocean, in light o'bein' followed close by a British frigate; they bein' well known as opponents ter slavery all round an' as likely ter hang us all at our own yardarms if caught so as not. So, o'course we had ter dump them all, all five hundred an' forty, men, women, childs, an' babes, altogether. The key t'this bein' t'leave their chains on so's to make sure they sunk quick, y'see. No slaves, no crime—ha-ha! But a Hell'uva wailin' an' cryin' fer mercy goin' on the while we was engaged in sayin' g'bye t'them all. Would'a been somewhat put-out, surely, if'n they'd bin white, o'course; but jes' bein' dark uncivilized natives, who gave a dam'—ha-ha! Had t'make do wi' only quarter-pay thet voyage, mind yer—sigh!"

Edmund Cassiertes, long known as a brutal specimen of a buccaneer, had been toying this long while with a mug of something dark and strong, his gloom-covered features attesting to a temper not of the lightest; now he sat up, banged his mug down heartily, and spat out a stream of blasphemies apparently aimed at the world in general rather than any one individual.

"Mighty fine vocabulary." Sandy whispering softly to her partner. "If'n I had quill an' parchment would take some down fer future reference—good strong venomous curses bein', as ye well knows, so hard t'come by these days!"

"—an' what was that someone said jus' previous, about sellin' slaves?" Cassiertes coming to a point at last. "I kin tell ye all tales about dam' slaves, by the score, dam' 'em! An' as ter indentured servants, the scum o'the earth, I assures you; only way is hard labour an' discipline o'the harshest t'keep 'em in line. Heavy work, an' dam' few vittals is the order o'the day wi' them, believe me. Why, only last month I lost no less'n five indentures through sickness an' starvation. They fall sick at the drop of a hat, dis-regardin' their vittals over weeks if let do so, an' can no more be made t'work properly—twelve hours a day in the sugar-beet fields, wi' dam' little water t'keep 'em on their toes—than a bunch o'donkeys. Every week I finds some recalcitrant servant needs nuthin' more than bein' taken out to the edge of the forest an' beat t'a pulp a'fore they mends their ways, jus' ter stop me losin' profit thar'by."

"Vittals!" Ramirez, wiping the gravy from a beef stew off his wide chin, taking-up a point made by Cassiertes. "The Devil o'my life, fer sure. Often more difficult t'buy beef casks than powder. Goin' t'a merchant for ready-filled casks is, as all here'll allow, a lost cause; more'n likely they'll, when bought, turn out t'have been filled original ten year since back in Portsmouth, England! Why, I've opened with my own hands casks of beef that, on openin', dam' near explode wi' the contained gas. Them as don't do so reveal beef cuts so old an' corrupt they gleam green wi' disease an' rotteness!"

"I takes my meat fresh straight from the livin' creature, from local farmers." Aloysius Silver meantime motioning his tablemate to pass along the decanter of port. "Goes over t'Hispaniola, inland, t'the farmers there. Asks 'em polite as a Presbyterian Minister on a Sunday t'do the needful for a fair price wi' their steeds; then, if found unwilling, takes 'em out t'a useful tree an' hangs 'em straight an' true. Then takes my meat wi'out payin', o'course—ha-ha! Haven't had a single case o'scurvy on my Lightning Barque this last three year, fact."

Although the evening's banquet had officially come to an end some time since, with the servants having cleared the table as much as was possible, there were still a great deal of salvers, bowls, platters and decanters of food and wine littering the table's length—the diners not loath at all to continue guzzling whatever came within reach as the minutes went by. Captain Findlay Armstrong, having had the good fortune to corral a salver of fruit pudding and a bowl of custard both of which he was now defending with his life and an angry scowl towards anyone even looking faintly as if they wanted a share, now spoke up on this interesting topic.

"I was in the Royal Navy, dam' 'em all t'Hell, fer three yar a'fore seein' sense an' bailin' out one fine mornin'. Since which I've bin able t'eat old rotten meat from casks wi'out any comeback worth mentionin'; thet bein' one o'the few good points t'come from my service fer King an' Country. Why, I've split open casks an' ate wi' relish beef dated at twenty-two yar old a'fore now; an', as ye all sees, survived the experience. Nah, green slimy, rotten smelly beef ain't as bad as folks most often tries t'make out. I gets mine from Tortuga dealers, an' dam' the date o' barrelin'. If any o'my crew comes down wi'a gross belly or bowels thet won't stop fer Hell nor High Mass I jes' chucks 'em overboard an' gets on wi' my day, see!"

"Thet's one way o'keepin' yer crew lively!" Joanna pausing in crunching on a ship's biscuit to make this rejoinder. "Treatin' 'em wi' respect bein' another, t'my mind."

"With ya there, doll." Sandy acknowledging her heartmate's standpoint.

"Thar's something o'note I finds some confusing," Captain Verracker, having emptied one decanter of rum now starting valiantly on his second, taking a momentary interest in the conversation. "Is it true the Carpenter gets a hundred and fifty pieces of eight fer fitting out his ship, and fer any prize taken during a v'yage? Seems mighty high t'me. Last v'yage I took I made sure my Carpenter was given fifty pieces o'eight t'fit out my Nighthawk Barque, twenty fer any prize took. Seems quite fair enough t'me."

Lori Schenkmeyer, toying idly with a chicken breast, perked-up at this topic.

"Thought it was made a Rule by the Brotherhood? One hundred and fifty pieces o'eight per Carpenter fer his own ship an' any prize? Knows well enough I'm goin' by the Rules, an' givin' my Surgeon two hundred an' fifty pieces o'eight fer his supplies, an' ten pieces o'eight coverin' every victim he treats durin' any one v'yage; seems reasonable."

Captain Verracker, his stomach well-lined with dark rum, becoming somewhat atribilarious as a result.

"Harph! Dam' waste o'money thar, if ye doesn't mind my sayin' so, Captain Schenkmeyer. Talkin' o'the Surgeon, a mighty fine an' essential officer, I allows—but needin' ter be kept in check as ter expences all the same. Why, I've had Surgeons', dazed wi' their appointments, wantin' ter spend idle cash on sich things as potions fer keepin' the Yeller Fever in check, or medicines fer eradicatin', so they sez, Blackwater Fever entire! Never heerd sich dreamin' in all my life! Why, one Surgeon wanted ter open a dentist clinic aboard ship, seein' ter my crews' teeth—said he had an infallible cure fer the scurvy, never failed yet. Took him at his word, dosed the crew as per his orders; thirty per cent tharby comin' down wi' the dam' scurvy as a result in the first six weeks. Sent the dam' Surgeon t'make Davy Jones' acquaintance via a thirty pound ball round his ankles the next day!"

"Dear me!" From Sandy, hardly interested, her attention wholly entranced by a stray plate of hard biscuits with pink icing close to hand no-one else seemed to have noticed as yet.

Long Tom Atkinson, lately wholly taken up in seeing whether a tolerable concoction could be made out of rum, malmsey, and Madeira mixed together in a silver tankard, heard this last remark and sat up almost straight as a result.

"Talkin' o'Surgeons, I has a interest in sich; wounds an' sichlike, thet is. Is it true if ye loses an arm, by way o'grape or langrage, ye gets a payment o'six hundred pieces o'eight? Seems mighty high t'me. Given the need I'd stick at around one hundred pieces o'eight fer each—person thet is, not each limb!"

Lori Schenkmeyer had words on this stance.

"Considerin' they, the wounded, will be crippled fer life, don't seem too much ter me. Take in'ta account anyone who loses a finger should by Rule get one hundred pieces o'eight."

"Hah! When the Devil Himself walks the Earth!" Long Tom taking this information personally.

"Rules sez if someone has ter lie under the Surgeon's knives he gets five hundred pieces o'eight in compensation." Lori repeating what she knew of the Brotherhood's Rules of Engagement.

"Hah!" Long Tom not taking this lying down. "In my crew anyone under the Surgeon either gets better or takes a short long drop t'the ocean's bottom curtesy o'me, leddy! What use, I asks yer, is a crippled crewman t'anybody? None, ma'am, none, an' so things is as they is, far's I'm concerned, anyhow."

The high intensity of this latest exchange had brought to life Captain Stickley, who till now had been completely involved with a shepherd's pie of royal size left over and forgotten by all the other diners; but now, electrified by the topic under discussion, he gazed around and broke into speech in a loud droning tone.

"Brings t'mind the usual method o'resupplyin' our crews when out on a long v'yage; hidin' out by an island or along the Main somewhere; it bein' the usual thing t'kidnap the local turtle-fishers an' make 'em work fer us fer the duration of our presence there. O'course, they're bein' separated from their families often fer weeks or even months at a time, is hard on 'em but they are paid, if little and should be grateful ter be let-off alive in the end, mostly. O'course, eatin' turtle soup every day soon palls an', in itself, is one o'the big reasons fer movin' on as quick as's needed, I admits. Got'ta say, a barrel o'rancid beef, years old, seems like ambrosia after six weeks o'turtle steaks an' soup."

Having listened intently to the flow of conversation over the long table Conrad Foulkes now set up as a Public speaker, having refreshed himself with a goblet of red wine beforehand.

"Enough o'the crews an' natives! What of ourselves? Life as a pirate bein' a dam' dangerous way o'makin' a livin'. Look at me, fer one. Jes' over a year ago I chased a Dutch merchantman, took him, disposed o'the officers as usual, an' sailed off in'ta the sunset, but got chased in turn by a Dutch Navy frigate. The same catchin' my Barque in double-quick order, dam' it! They put into Campeche, whose Fathers ordered I be handed over fer hanging in the mornin', the Navy Captain, bein' a coward, allowin' o'sich."

"Bad luck, Con." From some unidentified pirate further along the table.

"Aye, but I had a plan." Foulkes laughing grimly. "I was locked in a cabin with a crewman t'guard me. I wanted him t'go t'his own hammock, tryin' all in my mind t'effect same; but he wouldn't, so instead I cut his throat. Then, tyin' two empty wine casks t'gether I slipped on deck in darkest night, their idee of settin' look-outs o'worth bein' entirely absent, slid unnoticed over the side an' made it t'the beach where I hid in the forest fer three days till my quartermaster, havin' retaken my ship meantime, was searchin', an' found me half-dead. An' here I be—ha-ha!"

This personal anecdote seemed to energise the other pirates who, to a man and woman, dearly liked boasting of their own activities. Captain Cummings, a lost cause till now, filled a pewter tankard with white wine, drank deeply, and broke into speech himself.

"When I was a young powder-monkey I sailed two v'yages with Rock the Brazilian, as bad a man an' buccaneer as ever lived, as everyone round this table can testify to, I'm sure. But, havin' personal experience of the man, I can tell tales from first-hand terrible enough t'turn anyone's blood. I recalls, fer one, he had no self-control at all, goin' around as if in a sullen fury most days. It bein' quite common, me followin' in his very boot-tracks as man-servant that, meetin' someone he didn't like fer whatever reason, or none whatever, he would draw his sword an' lop off an arm or leg of his opponent without a second thought, continuing along the street as if merely havin' bumped against a pedestrian an' nuthin' more!"

"Dam' glad we never met the maniac." Sandy shaking her head as she sipped a goblet of white wine.

"Yeah, not my idee of a compatriot." Joanna adding her assent. "Ain't it curious, the number of completely mad monsters we, as pirates, seem t'foster?"

"Spends most o'my day tryin' ter avoid specimens o'same, doll."


"Rock? Har! Far worse than him!" Captain Kinnaird throwing a used chicken wing over his shoulder, quickly snapped up by a small dog hunting for scraps unnoticed. "L'Olonois, fer one, as we've already heard. Then there was Captain Harrison who used ter set-up a cask o'wine in the middle o'the street here in Cayona; after the head had been stove-in he would accost everyone who passed-by making 'em drink—if they protested he would shoot 'em with his pistol. True as I sits here t'day!"

"Believes I recollects the moron." Captain Cummings furrowing his brow in an act of unusual concentration for him. "Went down wi' his ship all of ten yar since; took it in'ta his head he, in his brigantine, ought'a take on a passing Spanish convoy of six ships! Thought he was a better seaman than any o'the Spaniards—found, in fat, he wasn't. Last sight of him, reported, he was waving an angry arm an' blaspheming something awful at the Spaniards from his main-top as the ship sank beneath him—ha-ha!"

Captain Bryant Evans of the Synnefo Barque, having arrived late to the banquet, grabbed a flagon of wine and a platter of beef cuts, sat down by Captain Cummings and took up the body of his compatriot's tale.

"Hallo mateys'! Sorry I'm late, but Life gets so in the way o'havin' a good time often, don't it? But here I be an' here I accords ter stay till the servants has ter drag my unconscious body back ter my Inn later t'night—wi' a round curse, mateys'-Ha!"

"Jeez," Sandy, from a safe distance, commenting on the new arrival. "tries so hard t'be a real rollickin' pirate he sounds like a Harlequin on a stage!"

"Shh! He'll hear ya, then what'll he do?" Joanna trying to keep her lover safe for the nonce.

"Ha! If it ain't Sandy Parker!" The worst having indeed taken place. "A glass wi' ye, gal!"

"Oh, Gods!" But Sandy, with a twisted curl of her lips that might, at a distance, be mistaken for a smile, raised her own glass in the general direction of the clearly already well oiled pirate. "To yer, Captain Evans, I'm sure."

"Whar was I?" Evans frowning darkly as he attempted to bring his sozzled brain to its bearings. "Ah, yeah, tellin' tales. Not but what I'm about ter tell ye all ain't true, by any means. No-no, true as my grandmother, I assures ye. Les'see, it happened in Seventeen oh-nine; no, I tells a lie, it were oh-seven. No, it warn't, it were oh-five. At least I'm pretty sure it was oh-five. Might'a bin oh-four, mind yer. Oh, t'hell wi' the date. What happened was I was at the time—pretty sure it were oh-three—in league wi' Black Bartlemy—ye all recalls Black Bartlemy I'm sure? Yeah, 'course ye does. Whar was I? Oh, Black Bartlemy!"

Here he paused in some confusion, having obviously lost the thread of his discourse but, brave as a Greek Hero of Old, he took a refreshing swig of whatever poison was in his tankard, smacked his lips and recovered his line of thought.

"Black Bartlemy! What a man, as good a pirate as could be wished; ye recalls, o'course, his famous meeting wi' the woman on the deck o'the merchantman he'd just took in a mighty cloud o'grape an' blood combined? Yer a monster, Captain, sez she, a Lady of some presence in a green silk dress. Dam' yer eyes, sez Black Bartlemy in return, picks her up wi' one hand an' tosses her overboard wi' one fling. Whar's the rum? He then goin' on about his business as if it were nuthin' o'moment.—har-har!"

"Black Bartlemy?" Sandy searching her memory as she played with a glass of grog. "Never heard o'him. Whar does, or did, he operate out'ta of, lover?"

"Cain't say, never heerd o'him mysel'." Joanna admitting her lack of knowledge. "Got a fancy he, Black Bartlemy, only lives in the mind o'Evans h'yar. A figment o'his diseased mind. Jes' smile an' nod if he glimpses ye agin, dear."

"An' then thar was the time he took the Church at San Campeche!" Evans digging himself ever deeper into memories of dubious origin. "Picked up a stray monk on the coast, tortured him something terrible to find out whar his church was an' how much treasure, Aztec an' whatnot gold ye knows, it might have. Then took him forty miles t'find the place. Attacked it straight-off, killed over one hundred monks, an' at least two hundred local natives, jes' out'ta pure pes'nal spite—he bein' a cold hard character o'that type. Then went off, successful, wi' around fifty thousand moidores o'treasure, so it was reported. Took sail fer South Carolina soon after, an' never bin heerd'o since. My kind'a pirate, that thar Black Bartlemy! Pass the dam' rum, someone, if'n ye all don't want t'see the colour o'my steel, dam' ye all!"

Sandy, having listened to this farrago of obvious nonsense, had taken all she could stand in the way of fantastic reminiscences.

"That man couldn't steer a sloop between Hispaniola an' Jamaica wi'out ending-up instead somewhere on the Spanish Main!"

"Easy, gal, quiet as ye will; don't want a swordfight breakin' out on the Club's premises; against the Rules, ye knows." Joanna putting a comforting arm round her lover's shoulder.

"Astonishing he can handle a knife fer his beef, never mind fight wi' a sword." Sandy well started on a critical odyssey. "A child o'ten could take him down in a swordfight any day, even when he was sober, if such a state ever exists at all!"

From further along the table another voice broke the tension.

"Anyone knows what the best sea-fight between outnumbered vessels ever was?" Captain Jamieson of Florida piping-up with this query. "Thinks, mysel', it were when Captain Finlayson, in the Cairngorm brig, faced-off six Spanish ships sum'mers off Maracaibo. Sunk two, an' captured two others, the remainder makin' their escape while he was engaged. A great action!"

"L'Olonois took on seven Spaniards," Captain Kinnaird, somewhat the worse for wear, attempting to caress the memory of his favorite pirate. "Sunk three, took the others, made a fortune in silver ingots. Cain't say better'n thet, surely?"

"Poppycock!" Captain Lori Shenckmeyer having none of it. "Thet bein' a wild story, of no truth whatever, made up ter show L'Olonois in a good light by his mates, after his disappearance; he bein' well known then, as now, fer a double-dealin' evil slaughterer more'n three-quarters out'ta his dam' mind."

"Yer opinion, ma'am, I'm sure." Kinnaird not so drunk he wanted to engage with the renowned swordswoman. "Everyone t'their own, I'm sure."

"What's the best, sez ye?" Bill Stickley rejoining the conversation, his latest tankard of rum having worn-off somewhat in its effects. "Fer pirates, I means. Ter go inland an' attack these dam' Spanish Churches, filled as they inevitably is wi' Aztec gold an' silver; or out t'sea ter hit on small sloops an' brigs as may be passin', an' takin' whatever was on offer, if even only a handful o'loose change? Or settin' an eye on a Galleon, if available, or a small fleet o'merchantmen? These latter bein' often some unattended wi' sufficient firepower t'resist a child's toy boat never mind a determined pirate?"

Captain Verracker had his answer to this oft asked question.

"If all ye wants is the easy life of a beachcomber, sleepin' on said beach an' never havin' the price of a tankard of ale ter yer name, then chasin' small sloops an' sich fer whatever the crew may have in small change in their pockets is all very well; but it'll never get ye ter be the Governor o'Jamaicy, fer sure! Nah, what's wanted, what's wanted in the line of any dead-sure an' cocky pirate, is a focused need an' determination ter set the world at bay wi' yer activities, so's yer comes ter be feared from Carolina ter the Spanish Main entire. Always aim fer the big results, leavin' the dross ter the unadventurous no-hopers draggin' at yer heels lookin fer the rubbish yer throws away contemptuous. Think like Henry Morgan, or don't be a pirate at all, sez I!"

Round the long table eating had given way to liquid refreshment, there being an astonishing mixture of spirits available to suit every taste. Ordinary grog, one fourth rum to three parts water, with a dash of lime or lemon; rum straight, white or dark; red wine, white ditto, schnapps from Holland, Madeira from the Mediterranean, brandy from France, strange colourless spirits from the Steppes of Russia guaranteed to knock over the hardiest pirate coming to it for the first time if unprepared, gentle flowery wines from Germany, gorgeous wines from southern France, and bubbly champagnes from the same country, though this latter not much liked by the hardy hard-living pirates. Altogether wines for every and any taste.

"A pox on this!" Captain Avery, a man of individual tastes, suddenly objecting to his wine of the moment. "I've drunk rainwater out'ta a muddy wheel-rut sweeter than this muck! Gim'me some Medoc or Barsac instead. Brings t'mind, while I'm waitin', what's a better prize? A wine ship or a treasure ship? Pieces o'eight's alright, I finds, in their way, but sweet wine's the nectar o'the Gods fer real. Any suggestions amongst my mates here?"

William Stickley, a man of hot temperament, set his tankard aside feeling the necessity to reply to this imbecilic question.

"Wine aginst pelf an' gold! Are ye out'ta yer mind, Avery? Money in the pocket represents power—wine down yer throat means a heavy head in the mornin'. Who'd take the latter over the former any day, I asks?"

Lori Schenkmeyer had a strong rebuttal to this stance.

"Thar's strange coincidences plays out sometimes, out on the wastes o'the Caribby. Remembers quite well two yar since Captain Donaldson o'fair memory went off ter face three Spanish ships under the impression they was merchantmen that could hold fair cargoes amongst 'em. Halfway thar he was sidestepped in'ta fallin' down on a large single ship jes' out'ta pure greed, thinkin' he had the time to carry her off an' still make the Spaniards. Turns out it was a Galleon loaded with gold an' silver, makin' Donaldson a rich man in an instant. He sailin' off t'the Ameriky's wi'out a partin' wave t'his old friends an' now livin' the life of a rich plantation owner somewhere in the Carolinas'; the three Spanish ships meanwhile, his original prey, turnin' out t'be a nondescript merchantman an' two heavily armed Naval ships that would'a blown him out'ta the water if he'd bin mad enough t'attempt an attack. So he got off pretty well, all told."

"Once in a lifetime!" Captain Cummings scowling grossly. "Won't happen agin this time fifty yar."

Conrad Foulkes, having exhausted a decanter of rum now starting happily on one with cherry brandy looked around for his old friend.

"Stively, mate, whar be ye?"

"Under the table, two settin's t'my starboard, mate." Kinnaird giving this information with a shake of his head. "He's well gone an' out'ta it, fer sure."

"Oh, well, thar yer are." Foulkes taking this on the chin. "Anyways, about coincidences, I can recount one thet happened t'me in person, along'a my Barque Samson an' crew. We was sailin' in company wi' the Brigantine Daffodil, Captain Lannigan; we'd set our sights on a two ship convoy headin' out'ta Maracaibo which were known t'be carryin' silver ingots t'the value o'two hundred thousand pieces o'eight. Well, t'push the story along, it were a three day v'yage across the Caribby t'Maracaibo but two days out we met a storm that tore us apart. Heavy dark cloud an' a wind thet set fair t'haul us into the air an' make us flying boats rather than fair sea-goin' vessels. Well, we suffered but survived, though losin' sight o'each other fer the best part of the followin' two days. Findin' it best fer everybody I set fair fer Maracaibo an' the convoy, the which we attained in due time, though the Daffodil was nowhar t'be seen this long time. Comin' up wi' the Spaniards in the late mornin' aroun' four bells, we saw the Daffodil abaft our port bow so we both headed towards the convoy. They, seein' two heavy armed pirates comin' down on 'em, we havin' the weather gage, they lowered their colours and surrendered wi'out a fight. Later both Spanish Captains told me they'd have put-up a struggle if'n there'd only bin one o'us, but both t'gether settled their hash straight an' true. Thing about this is, the Daffodil took no part in my boardin' either Spaniard, layin'-off the while; an' by the time we'd taken the Spaniards the Daffodil had disappeared once more, never, I can tell ye all now, t'be seen again by anyone, anywhere. What d'ye think o'thet? Must'a gone down in the storm an' what accompanied me in my cuttin'-off the Spaniards nuthin' but a ghost!"

"Hardly thinks I believes yer." Lori Schenkmeyer sticking to her principals.

"If'n ye'd bin a man they'd be fightin' words, ye wh-re!" Foulkes failing completely as a gentleman, which was hardly surprising considering his self-attested vocation.

Lori instantly on her feet, auburn tresses flowing loose round her enraged face as she unloosed her rapier, it gleaming in the candlelight.

"Stand up, ya tub o'lard, an' repeat that, ya scumbag!"

Joanna, seated only two settings away from the clownish pirate rose quickly, taking a couple of swift paces to reach Foulkes before he could reply, holding him by his broad shoulders firmly in his chair.

"Captain Foulkes, a little in his cups, begs t'allow he spoke out'ta turn an regrets any embarrassment his previous words may have mistakenly caused."

The fact that while giving this speech she was having some trouble keeping Foulkes from rising to continue his argument with Lori causing her to be a trifle out of breath in the delivery; but Foulkes, finally defeated, sat back with a resigned shrug; Lori not failing to respond in kind before reseating herself.

"Suppose he must be drunk as a skunk, fer sure, or he'd never have had the courage t'say what he did. Hopes, after he's survived the hangover that definitely awaits the idiot he sees sense an' doesn't repeat same; the which, if occasioned, would certainly result in his corpse pollutin the streets o'Cayona in quick order, curtesy o'my rapier."

She seating herself again, and Foulkes now more interested in the decanter of rum before him, Joanna decided it was safe to return to her own seat after the dramatic interval.

"Sloops, schooners, brigantines, brigs, barques, barquetines, an' three-deckers of all sorts?" This from Captain Aloysius Silver abandoning his platter of sardines in cayenne sauce to make his opinion heard. "Is any type better, fer pirates, than the other? I finds a sweet-tempered an' sharply lined Barque answers t'my purpose well enough."

"Barques is heavy in the bows, fer a fact." Captain Verracker taking-up the challenge. "My brig, though generally large, runs through the seas like a porpoise. She's fast, easy ter control, an' answers t'the helm like a well-trained steed."

"Smaller vessels, like sloops an' schooners, can tack an' shift mighty quick, far faster an' at steeper angles than larger vessels with more sail abroad." Captain Cummings throwing a technical fact into the argument. "Can tharby outsail almost any ship chasin' 'em, given sufficient sea-room."

"What good's a sloop against a Barque, well-armed merchantman, or Navy ship, Dutch, Spanish, or British?" Long Tom Atkinson putting in his personal thoughts on the matter. "Any well armed merchantman, well-officered, could knock sich fer six any day o'the week?"

"Some mighty fine actions, a'tween such, havin' come off in the past, I'm sure." Captain Cummings sticking to his opinion. "I myself, just three month since, took a merchantman sportin' a whole broadside o'twelve guns while in my little Falcon schooner, eight twenty-pounders on my maindeck."

"You, sir, played your cairds right, knew what you was up aginst an' how t'outsmart your opponent." Captain Villiers d'Lisle shaking his classically sculpted head in disagreement. "Most others bein' amateurs who'd get themselves sunk without a second thought."

"Saw the Flyin' Dutchman once, some three years ago!" This astonishing admission from Captain Francis Lavattiere, rubbing a grease spot from his elegant silver-laced jacket as he spoke.

"Never!" Lori Schenkmeyer not falling for this at all. "Just a fantasy, never was sich a person t'begin with, never mind sailin' the Seven Seas ferever. Dam' nonsense; thought ye'd, at least, not fall fer sich a child's story, Captain."

"Strange things happenin' in this world of ours, Ma'am." Captain Verracker nodding wisely. "Walkin' down a street in Lunnon twenty yar since I saw a bundle o'seven pink kittens fall out'ta the sky from nowhere right on the paving-stones a'fore my own astonished eyes, sure as I sits here t'day."

"Tossed from a high winder, no doubt?" Lori eager to put a cap on such nonsensical fancies.

"Nary a building within a hundred an' fifty feet in any direction, ma'am."

"Were ye wanderin' home from some party?" She making a likely point. "What time o'day was it?"

"Happens I was, around seven of a bright sunny mornin'. I remembers 'cause the light was hurtin my eyes an' brain something awful."

"Har! Thar ye be! Sozzled out'ta yer mind, answers the whole question. And, anyway, pink!"

"As I sits here t'day a'fore ye, ma'am, I assures ye!"

"Ye must'a partaken something mighty at that party, I'm thinkin'." Lori loath to give up a good argument.

"Jes' a friendly supper a'tween pals, ma'am." Verracker sounding a little offended by this criticism. "Was very partikler about my drinkin' in those days, ma'am. Never went over my habitual six bottles o'wine of an evenin', sure as I sits here t'day sober as a dam' Judge! Hic-cup!"

Lori, knowing when she was facing a lost cause, shook her head in anything but a belief in what she had just endured, returning to apparently trying to unravel a cotton dishcloth with her long nails, a glass of white wine standing unregarded by her elbow.

"Knows a fine joke about three wh-res!" From Captain Stickley, pouring the last of a decanter of raw dark rum into his heavily abused silver tankard. "Heerd it jes' last week; ye see these three wh-res, one Scotch, one Welsh, one English, all walked in'ta an Inn, an' one asked Mine Host—"

Sandy swiftly drained her glass, setting it on the table before her with an air of permanency, wiping her lips with her left sleeve as she rose.

"Come on, darlin', time we were out'ta here, an' in our beds fer the night."

"Wanted ter hear—"

"No yer didn't! Lori'll no doubt repeat it ter us in the mornin', anyhow, I'm sorry t'say."

"Oh-ah, well, then."

"Right! This way, follow me—an' don't lurch around like a sick bull."

"Ye accusin' me o'bein' drunk, leddy?"

"Not accusin', tellin' yer, sis. Here, hold onto my arm, an' we'll get down the stairs wi'out ye fallin' down 'em like yer did the last time."

"Idle lies, ma'am, idle lies, never happened—hic!"

"Gods! Come on, Captain, I loves yer still, anyhow!"


The End


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