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Frederick A. Ober

The Capture of Porto Bello

It is with scant ceremony, I fear me, that I have dismissed my mate, John, and his precious charge, the dwellers in the cave, from this narrative. It was not my intention, truly, to ignore them; but in the hurry of departure and the exceeding crowding together of events I have e'en o'erlooked them. Let me now make some amends ere I betake me hence from Tortuga and embark upon the career of crime into which I was forced.

But spare me the recital of our parting words, especially the harrowing details of our farewells. Suffice it that John and I had grown to love each other truly and well, and to be separated was like driving a knife into the flesh. I misdoubted that we should ever be rejoined; but yet I tried to keep a brave heart and a smiling face for his sake. Poor boy, he had no mother, sister or brother to cheer him; I was all in all to him, as he full oft told me.

But well it was that he had a responsibility thrust upon him, in shape of the Spaniards in the cave, else he must have brooded sore o'er his sorrows. It was more to divert his mind from our departure than aught else that I strove to impress upon him the serious nature of his charge: that he was to visit the Spaniards at least once a day, to glean for their divertisement all the gossip of the camp, and to take then such fruits and refreshments as it were possible for him to obtain.

Snatching an hour before our departure, also, Eli. and I accompanied John in a visit to the cave, in order to take farewell of our captives and tell them to be of good cheer. We found them very much depressed, especially the serving maid, who was for the scratching out of Eli Herrick's eyes, apparently, she looking upon him as the cause of all her woes. But the Don was more gracious and received us with the customary embrace and salute.

His daughter, also, was graciousness itself, and flashed upon us such glances from her dark orbs that I felt ashamed. Not so Eli, I am constrained to relate; for her glances were to me like the sunshine on an apple's cheek, bringing out the color; they merely reflected themselves in the eyes of bold Eli Herrick, who seemed, in sooth, to delight in their radiance. She gave to each of us a slender hand and chatted gaily the while, darting at both Eli and me those penetrating glances, which e'en pierced me through and through, me seemed. For I had rarely before met a fair lady of near my own age—methinks she was about seventeen—so close as to engage her in conversation. Our speech, of course, was but halting, since of each other's language we knew small measure; but the demoiselle spake as much with her eyes as with her ruby lips, methinks, and it was not difficult to understand her.

Ah, but I did admire the gallant Eli, so bold and yet so deferential was he withal. No longer was he the scantily educated buccaneer, lame of speech and uncouth of manner. Verily, he seemed to swell with the occasion, and had he but a broidered jerkin, a jewel-hilted sword and a plumed cap withal, I misdoubt me the had not been taken for a prince, despite his wooden leg and many scars. The obscurity of the cavern hid his numerous defects, and by the same token it may have enhanced the beauty of the maiden; but, at all events, we were seemingly well pleased with each other, and the hour passed all too quickly, I ween.

I showed the maiden and her father how the rift in the rock that overlooked the sea commanded a view of our fleet, which was then riding at anchor in the harbor, with sails loosened ready to depart. They both sighed at sight of the sea, and the Don sniffed eagerly at the whiff of sea air that came through the window.

"Oh, that it were possible for me to go with you!" he said, and cursed his fate that he should be immured there like a rat in a hole while things were going on outside. Learning from Eli that our probable destination was the Spanish main, and, at a venture, the city of Porto Bello, he gnashed his teeth and tore his hair in very impotence and rage, explaining that he had property there, and not alone property, but another daughter, who was at school at the convent in Porto Bello. And, explaining all this to his daughter, she fell to weeping, so that it were a task quite beyond Eli and me to pacify her, withal. But, as the violence of their grief began to abate, they recognizing probably the futility of tears and groans, like the very sensible people that they were, I ventured to remark that peradventure our destination should be Porto Bello, we both would do all we could—yea, risk our very lives, to do them a service. At this the Don took heart, and the maiden darted at me—rather I should say through me—such a piercing glance of gratitude that I felt my heart swell near to bursting, and that moment would have been glad to have rushed upon an army of invaders for her sake.

"But how shall we know your daughter, senor, peradventure we should find her where we go?" I asked.

"Amigo (friend)," he answered; "she is the veritable image of this daughter here, her only sister, and though two years her junior she is full as large and as mature as she. Her name is Anita, and our patronymic is Del Mar, for we are of a noble family of Spain's sea-fighters, which of yore won many a battle for the king. Thereby, in truth, I came possessed of property in Porto Bello, which was gained at the sword's point by an ancestor of mine."

When he had ceased speaking his daughter approached, and, taking a ring of gold set with gems from one of her fingers, pressed it upon me, saying: "Take this, noble youth, so that perchance you meet my dear sister she shall know you have seen me. If you do not meet her, then keep it as a token of our confidence in you."

Now, I was not given to soft speech with maidens, never having, as I have said, met them in close converse; but I took the ring most reverently, and, pressing it to my lips, I vowed to her that I would hold it as a trust until I should have found her sister and given it to her. And, I added, that if she were in peril I and my comrade would fight for her so long as we had breath within our bodies.

"And that we will, senorita," added Eli, "fight for her, and glad to do it, too. And if we do find her, rest assured that she will come along with us, if we have to move heaven and earth to bring it about."

And it were no vaporing on Eli's part, neither on mine, as the sequel will show thee, reader, if thou wilt keep company with us further. Of a verity, we. both felt ready to go through fire and water for this maiden and her father; but I misdoubt me if we should have been so inspired had the Don been alone and told his tale.

However, let us not question our motive. Feeling that it would not be safe to wear the ring on my finger, I drew forth my mother's miniature, from its hiding-place beneath my doublet, with the view of attaching it to the golden chain by which the locket was suspended. At sight of the miniature the maiden's curiosity was excited, and forsooth I gave her a glance at the fair face of my mother, for proud was I and gratified to have one of her sex see and admire her.

The maiden gave one glance, and then exclaimed in admiration: "Ah, que hermosa!  (how beautiful). Es su madre?  (is it your mother?")

I nodded, but I could not speak, for the feelings that welled up in me, and the maiden took it in both hands, as though it were a sacred relic, and pressed it to her cheek, then to her lips.

"Madre, o mi madre!  (mother, oh, my mother)," she wailed, then fell to weeping; while the Don, who had also seen the portrait, turned his back, and for a space it seemed that he, too, was shedding tears.

But he soon controlled himself and said: "Pardon my child, for she is motherless; the sweet face of that lady, your mother, reminded her of our loved one, for there is great resemblance."

I was then reminded me of one I had for the moment forgotten, to wit, John, my chum, who had remained silently standing by all through our conversation. Now, it was time that he should be made acquainted with the Spaniards, and I was glad to create a diversion by saying that he was to have special charge of them while we were away, and that his commands must be implicitly obeyed. Both the Don and the maiden smiled upon him, the latter through her tears, and both promised, while at the same time they embraced him, that they would accept him as their jailor.

Now, it must not be supposed that all I have narrated transpired as glibly as I tell it, for of necessity our speech was halting, lacking words for mutual understanding. But the Spaniards well understood that their safety lay in secrecy, and that we should watch for an opportunity for their release, and avail ourselves of it as soon as it should be safe to make the attempt. But in any case nothing could transpire until our return, as to which we knew nothing, neither the date nor the manner of it.

"God be with you," said the Don, as he finally embraced us, and the maiden murmured: "May God save you, gentlemen, and bring you safely back again;" but the serving woman only glowered at us from a remote corner of the cavern to which she had retired in a rage.

"By gum," was Eli's first exclamation after we had emerged from the pit and reassembled in the hut: "I b'lieve that's the pootiest gal I ever set eyes on; blamed if she ain't a picter!"

"Do you mean the serving woman?" asked John, demurely, being prone to poke fun, I weep, knowing full well of whom Eli spake.

"No, you scapegrace, I mean the senorita, Miss Maria Del Mar, the English of which is Mary of the Sea, and a mighty fine name it is, too. Blame me if I wouldn't go through fire and brimstone for her, old as I am, and so would Hump, too, or I misween me much; eh, friend Humphrey?

"That I would," I replied; "or, for that matter, for any lady whatever who was thrown on my protection as she is on ours. It is our duty, Eli, as you know, as well as our pleasure, to defend her; and, as for her sister, we must find her, or never return without having used our every effort to do so."

And thus it was we went aboard the galleon with a determination that inspired us to endure much, to brave everything, for the sake of those placed in dependence upon us. I misdoubt me if any fair lady of olden time ever had more loyal liege knights errant than had Senorita Del Mar in Eli Herrick and myself. I may say this now, since subsequent events proved our mettle; and again, said events are a long time in the past, as I now write.

But no longer will I delay describing the voyage we took, and which resulted in such consequences, disastrous to some, hopeful to others, but which served only to weld more firmly the chains that bound me to the pirates' cause. We sailed forth from the harbor, such a fleet that its like had never been gathered before in these waters. There were fifteen sail, big and little, from the huge three-decker carracks and galleons captured at odd times from the Spaniards to small sloops and brigs, West Indian built and rigged, picked up here and there among the islands. The nominal captain, or rather admiral, of this pirate fleet was Mansvelt, and Henry Morgan was his vice-admiral. Before the voyage ended this man Morgan was admiral, both in name and in fact, and Mansvelt was no more; but that will be told shortly, as it came about.

Fifteen vessels and five hundred men made a force that might well cause the hearts of our enemies to quake, and doubtless they would have had they known we were at sea on pillage bent. It was at first Mansvelt's intention to sail forth for the windward channel between Cuba and Haiti, there to strive to intercept the king of Spain's treasure-fleet, which at this season was in convoy from the Isthmus of Panama to the home country with silver from the Peruvian mines. But he was doubtful if it were yet due, and meanwhile resolved to sail southward for the Gulf of Darien, there to attack, and if possible capture, the Spanish city of Porto Bello, or Puerto Bello, which, of ancient foundation and long engaged in traffick with the salvages of the gold country adjacent to Darien, was one of the wealthiest cities of the Spanish main. But it was strongly fortified, enclosed within high stone walls and with a castle on its harbor that had never yet been taken by assault or reduced by cannonading. But, inasmuch as there had never set sail such another expedition for attack as this of ours, Mansvelt boasted vaingloriously that he would set the example and be the first pirate to reduce a walled city belonging to the king of Spain. Hence, once in the open sea, we steered southwardly for that doomed city, Porto Bello, and in due course arrived within sight of its frowning ramparts.