Now remained the performance of my duty to my uncle. I had promised him that he should not be tossed to the sharks, and should be buried 'neath one of the swaying palms on shore, provided I could accomplish it. To do so I must seek Mansvelt in his lair and beg the favor of him, or of whomsoever made pretense of being the lord of the isle. Doubtless it was Mansvelt, but I misdoubted if the pirate Morgan would not have a word to say. And it was even so, for when I went ashore to proffer the request I found the twain holding high revel in the leader's hut. They had little mind to listen to me, in sooth; but my mission was urgent, my heart was callous with much suffering, and I cared nothing for their whims.
"How is this?" demanded Mansvelt, after I had gained entrance to the room where he was reclining in a hammock surrounded by his boon companions. "How is this? Is it not enough that ye all should murder some dozen or more of my honest knaves who had gone aboard your craft on pleasure bent, but that ye also should desire me to bury them? Who is this man you would thrust upon my island now? Ods blood, but there are bones enough buried here now, without adding to the number. Over on the leeward side is a veritable golgotha.
"Well, yes, bring him ashore, for one more or less will not matter. But who is he that of all the number slain should be so highly honored? No sailor, I'll trow, who prefers a dry grave ashore to the salt sea."
"It is my uncle, sir," I managed to stammer, yet looking him full in the eye. "You knew him when alive, yet he would not wish me to beg a favor of you, that I am sure."
"What, Brabazon? He killed? Well, I'm sorry. He was the most skillful navigator ever sailed these seas, and I had hoped yet to have him one of us. He would have made a fine chief mate, in sooth. He was a brave man, too. I reel moved to go with you and see him laid at rest. What sayest thou, Morgan, shall we go and do the honors?"
"Go an 't pleaseth thee," snarled the one addressed, who was lolling near in another hammock; "but as for me, this wine is to my taste. I'll not leave it for any dog's funeral, let alone Brabazon. I have it from my spies that he came here of a purpose: namely, to gather information of the rendezvous and then haste home to England, eke to return with the king's ships and hang the whole of us!"
"Not so," returned Mansvelt. When I took him he was bound for the Barbadoes, whither he was going for a cargo."
"When you took him! Ah, ha, that is rich enough. Why, man, he allowed himself to be taken, that he might be brought here and gain the evidence that would swing us all from the yard's arm."
"Thou liest, Morgan, I took him in a fair fight."
"Fight? Call you that a fight when no blood was shed save by that youngster yonder, and that, too, of your own men in the quarrel that he picked with them? Better make it a double funeral and bury them both in the same grave—Brabazon and his nephew—else the pup may carry out the old dog's scheme and cause us trouble later."
Morgan had said all this without even rising from his reclining position in the hammock, and without raising his voice, as if it were a matter of indifference to him, yet the words stung the more, both Mansvelt and myself. I felt the blood boil within my veins and that creeping at the roots of my hair which boded ire. It was only by the mightiest effort that I controlled myself. I did not wish to engage in unseemly strife at that time when on such an errand, and I tried to still the beating of my heart and the bounding of my pulse, resolving to swallow the insult rather than allow myself to be drawn into a quarrel.
But Mansvelt had no such scruples as mine to restrain him, and he leaped to his feet soon as the words were said that impugned his honor and veracity. His cimitar he jerked from its scabbard and flourished aloft, at the same time exclaiming that he would make Morgan eat those words: that he must fight unless he retracted what he had said. As for the latter, he seemed in no whit moved by the actions of the Frenchman, although in the circles described by Mansvelt's cimitar in the air it came very near to his head. He continued puffing tobacco, blowing rings of smoke into the air, and now and then reaching for a cup of wine, held by an Indian slave who stood trembling by. He seemed to enjoy the confusion he had created, and his huge shoulders quaked with inward merriment. One would have thought, seeing him thus, that he had cracked the greatest joke in the world.
But the confusion was not all of either his or Mansvelt's creating, for at his suggestion of burying me in the same grave with my uncle there arose a shout of approval from the rest of the company gathered there at the revel, nearly all, as with one voice, yelling out: "Aye, bury them together. One grave for both! One grave for both!" And weapons were unloosed, while, if scowls could have killed a person, I were like to fall dead at once.
I stood my ground, however, neither replying to the wretches nor yielding to the impulse that now and again seized me of taking to my heels and seeking shelter on the ship. It seemed to me, despite the apparent danger I was in, that these fools were merely vaporing, and especially Mansvelt, with his sword play at the empty air and his oaths, which he continued to explode like Chinese fireworks in a barrel. My opinion of him underwent a change as I saw him thus, and at that particular moment his rival, Morgan, appeared to the better advantage, I ween.
Morgan said all this without rising from the hammock.
At last the latter thundered forth: "Avast and belay there, fool. Enough of this boy's play. If you misdoubt me ask the lad what his uncle's intentions were. Stand forth, thou British cur," he said, addressing me, "and tell us what thou knowest about the admiralty scheme. Tell Monsieur Mansvelt that I am no liar!"
"That you cannot prove by me," I said, recklessly enough. "Where you got that tale I know not, but from the time our ship left England until the day we arrived at this island I never heard a word of it. But, then, I was not master of the vessel. Belike he would not have confided his plans, if he had any such, to his cabin boy."
"No, belike," sneered Morgan, bringing his evil face close to mine (for he had .now left his hammock and was on his feet), "but he might have confided them to his sister's son when at the point of death. He might have done this, and this he did, as you cannot deny, and also have bound you by an oath to carry out his scheme. Is that so?"
Like a flash then it came to me how this villain had secured the information: he had been eavesdropping while my dear uncle had falteringly confessed to me his scheme in his last moments. Unutterable loathing of the creature took possession of me then, and I drew away from him as though he were a thing unclean—as, in sooth, he was.
"I will not tell you what my uncle said to me. His last words are sacred. But, be assured, he bound me by no oath." I told him this much and then lapsed into silence, resolved not to speak again.
"Sacred, eh?" the pirate repeated after me with a leer. "Know, fool, that there is nothing sacred in these seas. Not life, nor death, nor religion. For this is the nether world—d' ye hear? This is the place where demons dwell. We are all devils here. That ape over there (pointing to Mansvelt) is a French devil; I am a Welsh devil; those asses who brayed so loudly just now are mongrel devils; but all, all are possessed of the evil one!"
"Oh, let the lad alone," now interposed Mansvelt, his fury being now spent and Morgan's ghastly jesting putting him in good humor again. "What matters it whether he knows of his uncle's plan or not, or whether Brabazon had a scheme? Who cares? Brabazon is dead; the boy cannot escape us, and as for the British admiralty, like all things British, it is pig-headed and dense. Were it the French admiralty, now—ah, that would be different."
"Of course," snarled the Briton, "the difference between something and nothing. "No wasp-waisted Frenchman yet could handle a vessel, let alone a navy; which, by the way, your nation never owned."
"Eh, bien," returned the Frenchman, now thoroughly good-humored. "Have it your own way. But let the lad go bury his uncle. Captain Brabazon was not the man to wait on others in his life; methinks this delay must be vexatious to him." He laughed at his grim joke and his boon companions joined in, so there was peace again in camp.
Such as I have described him was the buccaneer, Henry Morgan, though I have given but a phase or two of his hideous character. It makes me ashamed that one of my countrymen should have sunk so low as he, should have given to the land of his birth such a reputation; but he was born a monster, it would seem. A native of Wales, his father a wealthy farmer, somehow or other Morgan became enamored of the sea, and shipped for the Barbadoes, arrived at which island the master of his vessel sold him into slavery, in a manner, that sort of white slavery being then in vogue; that is, men and boys were lured to the islands under one pretence and another, or else sent there for their offences, and indentured to the planters for terms of years. The latter saw to it that their 'prentices did not escape without paying them well for their investments, and many a poor white slave paid his reckoning with his life.
Morgan, however, was of stronger stuff than the common run, and instead of sinking under his misfortunes ran away and escaped them. He made his way either to Saint Kitts or to Jamaica, and there joined the fraternity known as the Brethren of the Sea, or the Buccaneers, becoming shortly one of the best known of those gentry and carrying things before him with a high hand. Having in mind the sufferings he had endured from his own countrymen in particular, he always held a grudge against them, it would seem, being especially cruel to such as fell into his clutches. Many a poor mariner had he made to walk the plank, and many a British ship had he consigned to the flames, after sacking her of all she held worth taking away.
When I first made his acquaintance he was not much more than thirty years old, having been born, he always held, in 1637. As I have already described him: he was big and burly, peculiarly phlegmatic when he chose, but as cruel as a tiger or hyena—which latter he seemed more to resemble in his ghoulish delight in lending away from his victims, whether dead or alive, the last shred of character he was able to deprive them of. Just when he made the acquaintance of my friend Mansvelt I never knew, but they had known each other some time when I first found them. They had already been engaged in several nefarious expeditions, had plundered a city and taken galleons galore. They made a good pair together so long as they could agree, for the Frenchman was crafty and designing, while the Englishman was bold and relentless in pursuit. The one would plan a scheme of plunder, be it the sacking of a city on the Main or the cutting out of a fleet of treasure ships from its convoy, and the other would execute it.
This precious pair of rascals would not much longer hold together, as any one the least observant could see with half an eye, for they were now wealthy beyond all calculation from the plunder they had taken, and had little more to gain by working in unison. Each was getting restive under the domineering of the other, and there were not lacking those in Tortuga who predicted that the question of leadership would soon be settled by personal combat. There could be only one leader; but while Mansvelt enjoyed the nominal distinction, Morgan was really the dominant one. He had hitherto kept pretty much at sea, being a pirate that was happy only when sailing under the black flag with the cross-bones on it at the masthead in open sea. But latterly he had shown a preference for Tortuga that was most unusual, sometimes spending weeks ashore, when he should have been off scouring the sea, Mansvelt thought, for their common prey.
I learned later that there was a fair lady in the case, whose favors both were striving for, and who dwelt a prisoner in Tortuga under guard of Mansvelt's men. It did not seem possible to me then that any man could care sufficiently for any woman, not his mother or sister, to fight for her withal; but as I grew older I grew wiser, and learned what it was to become interested to that extent. In sooth, no knight-errant of chivalry could have fought more fiercely for his lady love than I myself fought in defence of this same lady's honor later on. I mean she who was the cause of trouble between Morgan and Mansvelt.