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Frederick A. Ober

Now Forth for Prey and Spoils

Eli was about to start right off on his mission when Jaques stopped him.

"Pardon, M'sieu Eli; but you haf not mek me acquaint wiz yo' friends. Befo' yo' go, eef yo' inseest on seeing ze Capitaine about me—why, it would be a plaisir to haf ze convairsazione wiz zese zhentilmens."

So Eli introduced old Jaques—who until this time had been outside the hut at the doorpost—and then left him with us while he went over to lay the case before Mansvelt. We all hoped it would not be necessary to see Morgan, for he hated old Jaques, for some reason, while Mansvelt had a liking for him. But we knew he would not allow his liking to turn him from performing what he considered necessary for the preservation of discipline, and so it seemed like a rather forlorn hope that Eli started on.

After Eli's departure old Jaques tried to start a conversation with us, still preserving an air of indifference as to his fate; but it languished from lack of response on our part. On almost any other occasion we would have been eager to learn more of so famous a member of the fraternity—one who had been here on the island so many years, who had accompanied Lolonois on his murderous voyages, and could tell us the history of the buccaneers from earliest times; but had suddenly lost interest in his life through apprehension as to his probable fate—his death, perhaps, being near at hand.

Finding his attempts at conversation hopeless, old Jaques gave them up, with a shrug of his shoulders, and muttered "eh biers," and devoted his attention to his pipe, which was filled with the fragrant herb known to the Indians as tobacco, and which is said to have been first introduced into my native country, England, by Sir Walter Raleigh; though as to this I have well grounded doubts. At all events, the fragrant weed against which good King James of sacred memory issued his famous "counterblast," and notwithstanding which was so useful in the famous great plague of 1665, at London, as an herb of exceeding great virtue; this weed, I say, was in great request among the buccaneers. The Indians of Haiti had taught them how to cure it and also how to smoke it. Not only did they make the dry leaves into rolls, which are lighted and smoked by being thrust into the mouth, but they used what they called a "cachibamba," or Y-shaped pipe, the branches of which they insert into the nostrils wherewithal to inhale the smoke and aroma of the tobacco.

But I did not intend a dissertation on this fragrant though pernicious weed, the which had not then come into extensive use, even among the residents of its native home, the West Indies. I myself never could endure its smoke; though this is not to argue that others might not derive refreshment and even consolation from it, as they professed to do.

Now, it seemed that Eli could not have been absent much longer than it hath taken to tell of it than he came stumping back all a feather-white with eagerness to impart the news he brought. From this we augured, ere he divulged its import, that it was of necessity good news, else he would not have been in such haste to return.

"Yes," he said, in answer to our questions, "it is both good news, and bad. That old rascal, Jaques, will save the number of his mess till another time, and will be given another opportunity to prove his devotion to the fraternity. His life is spared, but he must promise not to do it again—that is, not let any prisoners go who are of value to the brotherhood."

At this announcement old Jaques displayed the only sign of interest at all. "Satre tombeau," he exclaimed, "as eef I would not do ze same sing (thing) again eef I haf ze soif. Pooh! I accep' no condition. I would razer [rather] quench ze soif  and suffair ze penaltie zan not quench ze soif  and suffair  nozing [nothing]."

"You old scoundrel," burst out Eli. "I reely believe you 'd rather quench that confounded thirst of yours—and which has got you into trouble all your life—than be guaranteed existence for a thousand years. Here I have been up and interceded with the capt'in for you, and prob'ly saved your worthless old life, and you a whining about your infernal thirst!"

"Veil, M'sieu Eli, vat you vill, eh? Ze soif  eet is mine, and ze life eet ees mine, aussi, and eef I sink [think] ze more of ze one zan ze ozer, why, whose beesnis ees eet, eh, M'sieu Eli?"

As for leeving one tousand year—tombeau de diable—I not want eet—not eef it must to be in Tortuga."

"No, and I don't blame you, neither, though the island's good enough, as to that matter. It's the human hyenas, like you and Morgan—renegade Welshmen and frog-eaters—that make this nat'ral paradise a very hell. Now shut up! Don't say a word. You won't even thank me for putting in my oar to save your miserable carcase from being plugged by bullets, and I won't take any of your slack; don't care if you be older 'n I am "

"Ah, M'sieu Eli, you have—what yo' call?—ze unruly tong'. Because I do not sank [thank] you, eet ees because my life not value so mooch. But eef I haf occazione to serve yo', zen yo' shall see."

"Well, well, we shall see, as you say. Now let me tell you something—all of you. There's a big move on foot, and to-morrow or next day we set out on another expedition. Yes, and I've orders to take you with me, Hump, as well as old Jaques. That is to warn you not to hang back, for go you must and go you shall, so Mansvelt says."

"And I?" asked John. "You won't go and leave me, will you?"

"That depends," answered Eli, aloud. But going over to where John sat he whispered: "Of course, you can't go, Jack. You have the Spaniards to look after. You're their jailor, you know."

"But why am I obliged to go?" I finally asked. "Can't I remain if I choose? There'll be killing, of course, and bloodshed, and plundering."

"Oh, yes, all that," replied Eli, as I thought, very callously. "But you've got to go, just the same, for Mansvelt says so, and there's the end of it. So prepare for the morrow, Hump; get your house in order, and, what's more, make up your mind to take the oath."


'Here dog's son,' he snarled.

On the morrow I found it even as Eli had said—all was hurry and bustle for departure. The ships were always ready, it being the first duty of their captains to put them in order as soon as they arrived in port and had discharged their cargoes; so there was nothing to do but get out our personal effects and—as Eli had truly said—take the oath to serve well and faithfully the fiends in human shape that we called our leaders.

The twain, Morgan and Mansvelt, had set themselves in their huts' mouth, and as we made ready to depart we were compelled to deploy before them, each buccaneer repeating after each one in front of him the prescribed form of oath. For sake of peace, I made my lips move as though repeating the formula; but the eye of Morgan detected—or his evil nature suggested—that I was not saying over the words: "These our masters I will well and truly serve and obey them in all things they may command; and I know no other lord and master, nor will I ever serve another."

"Here, dog's son," he snarled as I passed, marching with my musket on shoulder, cutlass at side, pistols in belt, and very brave in a slashed doublet and tan seaboots with falling tops. Eli was my mate, and heard also the insult, in the nature of a command. And he whispered: "Don't mind the varmint. He means you; but you've no call to know it."

But Morgan was not to be put off, for he was in a surly mood. "Here, dog's son, Gilbert, come hither. An' keep on at your peril. What's that you're muttering? Not the sacred oath, I'll be shot! Stand by here and repeat it after me."

"Who is that you've rounded to?" asked Mansvelt, who just then came to the door, buckling on a belt. He had on his head a broad sombrero with a feather drooping from its brim, a buff jerkin, crimson hosen, and boots with pointed toes. Withal, he was a goodly figure to look at then, and I unconsciously looked my admiration as I saluted him, then stood rigid near the doorpost, with Eli at one side. "'What have you stopped the lad for?" asked Mansvelt of Morgan, who was glaring at me with a vicious expression in his eyes.

"My business, my lord," answered Morgan, sneeringly, "and not yours."

"Nothing on this island but is my business," rejoined Mansvelt, angrily, "and I thank you to keep your monkey fingers out of my pie. Go on, men, and lose no time in getting to the ship."

"Yes, go on," mocked Morgan, "but remember we have a reckoning after."

"If you touch the boy you have me to reckon with," quickly rejoined Mansvelt.

"So be it, then," said Morgan. "But I'll do it!"

And this was the beginning of the quarrel which, as some time past I remarked, I was instrumental (though unwittingly) in provoking. It came to head on the voyage, and cost a life.

Having arrived at the ship in which we were to sail, we were all drawn up on deck to hear read the articles of agreement by which all were mutually bound. In the first place, we were supposed to own all property in common, not only on the island, but on and including the ships. This was a pleasing fiction encouraged by the leaders in order to give us an interest in the work. However, all buccaneers up to the time of Morgan had kept faith with their men; but he, later on, not alone deprived them of their just dues—if such an expression may be used of plunder taken by force and perchance by the shedding of blood—but also caused many to lose their lives. This, however, was in after times, and does not pertain to the period now under consideration.

To carry out, then, the semblance of fair play, we were assembled on deck and agreed to the following articles: First, we fixed upon a price the captain of the ship was to receive; then came the ship's carpenter, who, being a most indispensable man, was adjudged to receive—when we had obtained it from some one else—the sum of one hundred and fifty pieces of eight for the voyage. The ship's chirurgeon was another man likely to be of great service in case of an engagement with an enemy, and he was granted, for himself and his medicines, two hundred and fifty pieces of eight.

The captain of each ship, by the way, was to receive six times the amount of the plunder that a common sailor should be entitled to; the master's mate two portions; and so on down from the highest unto the lowest, not forgetting the boys who served as powder-monkeys and attended to the cabins.

Then ensued a gruesome ceremony, to wit, the allotting to each man the compensation he was to receive for a prospective wound or for being maimed or suffering loss of limbs. For example, it was agreed that the loss of a right arm should be compensated for by six slaves or six hundred pieces of eight; a left arm was to entitle one to five slaves or five hundred pieces of eight; and the same for the loss of the right leg; though for the left leg one was to receive only four slaves or four hundred pieces of eight.

I myself could not see why there should be discrimination in the matter, neither could Eli, who said: "Seems to me I should feel the loss of my left leg just 's much as my right one; though as to any difference betwixt the right arm and the left, why—of course there is. Howsomever, I guess there ain't much chance of losing either this trip, Hump, so don't worry. But you may be sure that, if you do meet with any of the losses specified, the money will be paid. The fust thing the brethren do after getting back to port is to reckon up the damages for wounded ones and 'deaders,' and then pay up.

For the loss of an eye—as though one could be in any manner on earth compensated for that—one slave only was to be awarded and one hundred pieces of eight, and for any one finger of the hand the same, so that were one to lose a hand he would get five hundred pieces of eight therefore—that is, for the right hand, and for the loss of a foot, or the toes of a foot, the same.

Having in this barbarous manner been warned of what they might expect as their portion, in case of being maimed or wounded, and having, with much boisterousness, settled the matter to their satisfaction, the brethren hoisted sails, set the black flag at the peak, and thus fared forth for further prey and spoils.