Read chapter Three from Madame Buccaneer

Chapter Three

Digitally transcribed for the Gardner Francis Fox Adventure Library

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MARTIN CHANDOS woke to the thud of a distant saker. For a moment he lay bemused, turning to the woman beside him in the little bunk, her dark eyes open and sober, intent on his. The sun splashed through the stern windows, across the table and its silver service, touching the rug on the floor and the gilded bulkheads with yellow fingers.

Again the saker roared, and now Martin Chandos came out of the bunk to Cross the stern cabin to its row of windows.

Out over the blue spill of tossing water he saw two tall red galleons under heavy sail, running free before the wind, bearing down on them. Below his feet he felt the surge of the Hussy as she crowded on more canvas, and the faint slap of feet that came from her deck as the buccaneers began uncovering deck cannons.

“Spaniards,” muttered Lizzie Hollister. As her arm touched his, Martin Chandos could feel her tremble.

“They’ve come in answer to my prayers,” he breathed softly. “Look at the fine, big build of them, Lizzie darling. Forty guns each, with sakers at her beak, and a clean spread of sail overhead. Ah, it’s fine lessons we’ll be after teaching them, acushla”

Her black hair trembled as she shook her head, and now he could see the worry in her violet eyes. Her mouth, which had been so soft and warm last night, was tight with anxiety.

She muttered, “We’re foul from being overlong at sea. And Raoul Sans Espoir, whose ship this is, is no clean mariner when he sails. I should have waited for my own ship, instead of renting his.”

“A foul bottom Fash, it’s no more than I should have expected. If only those buckos above-decks would stir their stumps to keep her shipshape, we wouldn’t be at a disadvantage. But no matter! Get above, Lizzie, and take command.”

“We’ve only twenty guns. Those ships have eighty between them.”

He turned then and stared at her. “Why, so they have. The Forthright had only four. Four against sixty, and as true as Craftine played the harp at Tara, I almost took her. I would have done so, but a wave played me an unlucky trick.”

“We’ll let them come close, then board them!”

“Will you? If those dons are the seamen I think, they’ll stand off and batter you to splinters. No, no, Lizzie. It’s a sea fight that’s ahead of us.”

In her helplessness, Lizzie Hollister lost her temper. She whirled, and her eyes were violet pools of fury. “We can’t run and we can’t fight, you insufferable merchant!” she spat. “Now get out of my way while I go topside and consider our plight.”

“Don’t be too long considering, Lizzie darling, or the dons will have us five fathoms down, and still sinking. If you’ve no guts for a battle, I have! Move aside while I cover my skin.”

She tensed as if to launch herself at him, her fingers curved like claws. And then she shrugged and walked across the cabin to the screen where a big sea chest stood open.

They dressed in the silence of their secret thoughts. Martin Chandos crowded long legs into his dark brown breeches and sea boots of Cordovan leather. He found a white shirt freshly laundered and put it on. He had the thought, as he went up the companionway at Lizzie’s heels, that he looked as much the buccaneer as any of the Hussy’s crew.

The galleons were much nearer. He fancied that they had come up in the night, steering by the lanterns gleaming at the Hussy’s stern, running free without their own lights showing to betray them. At dawn they were almost on their quarry. The geysers hurled up by their shots were only a hundred yards aft now. In a few moments they would be crashing into the poop, and splintering wood and metal.

The crew of the Hussy was grouped amidships, fronted by the giant Redscar. They were clad in shirts and breeks, with gaily colored sashes around their heads and middles. Their faces were the color of walnut from sun and sea spray, and barbaric earrings of gold and silver dangled from their ears.

Redscar lumbered forward. Two pistols were thrust into his wide leather belt, and a cutlass hung from the chains wrapped about his middle. His hairy chest was bare, and so were his feet beneath the jagged edge of his breeks. He lifted a hard, callused palm.

His eyes were bright as he said, “Even Montbars himself couldn’t fight them two ships. Well, Lizzie? Do we beg quarter to stay alive for the privilege of sweating our guts out in some Peruvian silver mine?”

Lizzie Hollister had no chance to answer. It was Martin Chandos who stepped to the poop rail and put his big hands on its capping, staring down at the rag-tail crew. His lips sneered.

“You call yourselves buccaneers? You’d let two Spaniards throw you in chains and work you to death in their mines? Faith, now, it’s surprised I am. I always fancied you scum as fighting men!”

Redscar lifted his bush of crimson beard angrily. “Big words, merchantman! Words I’d take you up on, if it wasn’t for them two yonder. I’m savin’ my strength for when they board us.”

It came to Martin Chandos as he stood on the poop deck, with two Spanish galleons at his back and threescore unwashed cutthroats below him, that sometimes a man has his luck thrust upon him by the whim of fate. He was an honest sea captain, but he had fought a ship under Penn, and later another under that unrecognized genius, Christopher Myngs. He had fought bigger odds and come out ahead. These men below were the finest sailors in the world. Knowing that, he found it easy to do what he must do.

He stabbed a finger at them. “Where’s your sea anchor, you scum? Get me a man at the helm who knows what I want when I tell him! You others lay your nets against falling spars and rigging. I want gun crews at those nine-pounders.”

They gaped at him, jaws open. It was Redscar who waved an arm at the men behind him.

“Fall to, lads! What’ve we got to lose?” Lizzie Hollister stood at his side. She asked savagely, “You think you can fight those ships? Twenty guns against eighty? With a foul bottom?”

His grin mocked her. “That’s your fault, Lizzie acushla. Don’t you ever careen and scrape her? How about your cannon? Will they shoot, or are they as foul as your keel boards?”

She opened her mouth to spit an answer at him, but he pushed her aside and went to stand at the poop ladder. Under Redscar’s bellowing voice, the crew was dragging out a rotted strip of canvas and spreading it. There were great ropes tied by knots at her corners.

“You call that a sea anchor, you lubbers?” he rasped. “I’ve seen better canvas on toy boats in Dublin town! Break out a sail and refit it. And mind, I want it done shipshape! Your lives will be depending on it.”

There was authority in his voice. Despite themselves, the hairy men leaped to his bidding. Netting was strung against the rain of shell-splintered masts and rigging. Gun-port lids came open and linstocks were lighted. Muscles bulged under tanned skins as big black cannon balls were slung in canvas strips. At the helm, Redscar himself shouldered a man aside and swung the oaken whip-staff with a sweep of his powerful arm.

Slowly the Hussy swung to the tug of her sails as she came about. Now she was directly ahead of the nearer galleon, and coming abeam of it with such speed that a hoarse shout rose from the throats of the men crouched over their deck guns.

“You utter fool!” screamed Lizzie. “You’ve played right into their hands!”

While Redscar watched from the helm with feverish eyes, she hurled herself at him. One hand yanked at a long-barreled pistol that caught the sun as it came up. Martin Chandos went to meet her with a hard grin twisting his mouth.

“I know what it feels like to be helpless in the hands of those Spaniards, Lizzie acushla,” he said, and caught her slim brown wrist in a big hand. “I won’t fall into their clutches again, even for you!”

He twisted the wrist hard, and Lizzie screamed and went to her knees. The pistol fell and clattered across the deck planks. She was no weakling. Her free hand clawed at Martin’s chest, ripping the cotton shirt, leaving four bleeding gashes from chest to navel. She leaned forward and her white teeth closed on the flesh at his middle, and his voice roared with the pain.

Martin Chandos swung her up and held her high, dodging the feet she kicked at him.

“By the keel of Brendan’s boat, you’re a spitting wildcat! But you’re going to listen to sense if I have to stretch you out on the deck to make you listen. Not a man jack in your crew can fight a ship. All they know is to creep up behind it and swing grapples and go aboard. You can’t use those tactics here, you lovely hoyden!”

She squealed in her fury, her black hair swinging. Her cheeks were flushed to the tint of old copper, and under her black lashes her eyes were glowing violet coals.

“Redscar! Give me a hand with this thief! He’s going to steal my ship Redscar!”

Martin Chandos turned her then and dropped her face down over his left leg, bracing his foot on the binnacle. He eyed her a moment, then grinned, and his big palm dropped.

He spanked her there on the deck of the little bark as it came about, and Redscar’s angry bellow held the crew to its tasks on the main deck and in the yards above.

And then Martin Chandos lifted her and dropped her to the deck, looking down at the tears that streaked her brown cheeks. She wept silently, like a wild thing, and after a moment she crawled away to the taffrail, there to stand and rub herself, and watch Martin Chandos with eyes that were peculiarly bright.

He ignored her. He put his hands on the poop rail and shouted, “Now, you unwashed scum of Tortuga! Test your cannon on her!”

The captain of the nearer of the oncoming galleons, the stately Claro de Luna, upon discovering that this rash act of the fleeing buccaneer was seemingly delivering her to his guns, made no attempt to shorten sail. He took no thought of the motives of the Hussy’s captain, other than imagining that he had lost his reason in his fear. His own red galleon was more than a match for this small buccaneer vessel, and on his starboard quarter his sister ship, the Concepción, was straining her masts in an attempt to be in on the fight.

And so the Claro de Luna came on with the wind, until her great golden beak-head faced the Hussy’s larboard

Her broadside rocked the Hussy. Ten brass throats roared, and smoke poured like a white mist across the deck. It blinded everyone but Martin Chandos on the poop. He roared at the giant Redscar, “Larboard your helm, hard’ and turned back to the men who were swabbing cannon breeches and reloading.

Now the buccaneers could see the wreckage of the Claro de Luna’s gilt beak, that carved and gilded wooden refulgence from which thrust the long bowsprit, the shattered ruin of foremast and knight-heads. Her spritsail topmast lay across her forecastle and hampered the men who ran to clear the decks. She slowed in her run, veering slightly, and a cheer rose from the throats of the Hussy’s larboard gun crew.

Slowly the Hussy swung about. The galleon was now between the Hussy and her companion ship, the Concepción, thus sheltering the Hussy from the Concepción’s guns. And as the Hussy slid slowly alongside the port side of the Claro de Luna, with her gun mouths gaping, her grim brown hull erupted again. This time the Hussy poured her shot high, in the manner of pirate ships, to Smash the masts and rigging.

The Claro de Luna was too preoccupied with its shattered gear to answer that crushing broadside. Masts and sails drowned the gun crews on her deck. Men struggled under the weight of ropes and canvas, or screamed against the agony of broken bones. And as the galleon moved on ahead, another broadside, aimed lower, Caught the men at the gun rails and blew them backward into a bloody welter.

The Hussy came sliding out of the fog of gun-smoke that wreathed her, moving to windward of the stricken Claro de Luna.

Martin Chandos growled down at Redscar, “Larboard your helm again, man, and order your best gunner to be after smashing that galleon’s rudder!”

Redscar showed his teeth. His voice roared across the inferno of shouting, cheering men, and brought them back to a semblance of Order. They ran to Swab a Long Tom, reload, and light their matches. It took them three balls, but they smashed the rudder into an exploding fury of flying wood and metal.

As the Claro de Luna swung aimlessly to the swell of the waves, the Concepción came tacking about on a weather helm, circling to starboard, moving in a northwesterly course away from the Crippled galleon. She bore down close-hauled on the Hussy. In a moment she would be directly ahead, with her own broadside ready to do to the Hussy what the Hussy had done to the Claro de Luna.

The men on the decks of the buccaneer ship groaned and swore, but Redscar only grinned and waited, with the whip-staff in his fingers, for the orders of this magician on the poop deck.

“That sea anchor! Is she ready?”

“All ready, sir!”

“Then over-side with her!” The great sheet of white canvas bellied and shook as the wind took it. A cresting blue wave lifted and filled it, and it sank with a hum of the ropes that held it taut. Beneath the waves the canvas claw took hold, and it was as if some giant hand clasped the barnacled keel of the Hussy. She slowed to a halt in her forward run, and now the Concepción seemed to hurtle forward, her own speed increased in proportion to the sudden slowness of the Hussy.

The Concepción loosed its starboard guns, but the distance between the ships was now too great, for the sea anchor held the Hussy back as the Concepción sped by, dead ahead. One ball splintered a section of the fore-rail before it splashed over-side, but the other balls were yards shy of their target.

A cutlass flashed in the sun, and the sea anchor fell away.

The Hussy jumped forward as if pushed. She came down astern of the Concepción as that great galleon frantically attempted to pay off. She caught the big red ship with a broadside in her stern from her starboard guns. The rudder and stern-post blew up amid a showering rain of glass from shattered stern cabins that were ornate with the gilded carvings of nymphs and cherubs. Like her sister ship, the Concepción drifted helplessly to the wind and waves.

She was useless after that. The Hussy swooped in on the wind and her larboard guns clawed the sails from her masts. She came back against the wind and her starboard cannon raked the Spaniard’s decks.

In an hour it was over. The two red galleons drifted with the waves as the Hussy sent out her boarding parties. Redscar came up from the helm to stand on the poop deck with Martin Chandos. There were devils in his hot black eyes.

“You’m a miracle man, sir! Nobody else on the Caribbee could o’ done it. You’ll be joinin’ us now, of course.”

Martin Chandos grinned. “Fash, it’s the black sheep of the family I am, true enough, born with a wandering foot. and a roving eye. But I’ve no bent for a pirate’s life.”

Redscar eyed him warily. This big Irishman was strangely gifted in his understanding of a ship. He asked suddenly, “How did you do it? I saw it happening under my eyes, but damn them if I understood it!”

“The Little People came and sat on my shoulders and whispered in my ears,” the Irishman laughed.

Redscar Hudson was a stolid Hollander, without the sensitive imagination that his Killarney mother had bestowed on Martin Chandos. He shrugged his puzzlement. Martin Chandos went on. “They caught me out in a haystack with my mother’s waiting maid when I was still in my teens, and they shipped me off to sea with Admiral William Penn. I found myself liking the sea and its clean winds and salty tastes. Before I went back to Galway, I commanded a frigate under Christopher Myngs.”

Redscar growled, “I never knew an Irisher that was a sailor before.”

“Are you telling me that you’ve never heard of the blessed Brendan?”

Redscar grinned. “Irishman or not, you’ve got a way with a ship under sail and with the guns it carries.”

“I can fight a ship well enough, but as I say, I’ve no talent for your game.”

Redscar shook his head until the rings in his ears flashed yellow with sunlight. His teeth were as white as pearls. “You’m think you bean’t cut out for it, sir, but you are. You’m better’n Sans Espoir and Roc Brasiliano and even Harry himself at fightin’ a ship Redscar knows. I’ve fought with all of ’em, one time or the other.”

They were interrupted by a great roar from across the water. A line of half-naked cutthroats was pressed to the starboard rail of the Concepción. When he made out the fevered cries, Redscar clapped a hairy paw to Chandos’ shoulder.

“What’m I been telling you, sir? That you’m be cut out for a pirate? By the toes on my uncle’s feet! You not only fight a ship like nobody else—you’m got the luck of Morgan, tool That be a plate ship’

The power that Spain lost in the Old World when Drake and Frobisher crushed her Armada off the coast of England was not reflected here in the Indies. She owned silver mines in Peru, and her gilded galleons carried gold from her great ports at Cartagena and Panama. When the gold and the silver was gathered, the mighty ships that flew the lion of Spain fetched it eastward to Cadiz and Seville.

“It’s one of those platers we’ve had the luck to smash!” howled Redscar, and his greed was a thing alive in him as he clung to the rail and shouted gleeful obscenities across the waves to his mates on the Concepción.

Lizzie Hollister swung forward from the station at the taffrail that she had adopted to watch this sea battle. She stood with the wind painting her thin shirt against her, breathing deeply of the tangy air.

“Redscar’s right,” she whispered. ‘You’re one of us now. Those men will follow you to hell, if you’ll only stand on the poop and give them orders.”

He grinned at her. “Fash, if that’s my destination, I won’t be needing them to take me there. How’s the backside I had to spank?”

Black hair swirled as Lizzie threw up her head. “I’ll pay you back for that, Martin Chandos. But that’s between the two of us. It doesn’t concern your being a buccaneer.”

“I’ll be no damned pirate to please them or you. Put me down at St. Kitts. It’s all I ask.”

Her eyes glowed as they looked into his. There was a queer smile wrenching her full mouth. Her shoulder shrugged. “I couldn’t do it if I wanted. They wouldn’t let me. They’ve latched onto something big in you, Martin Chandos. You’ll be a pirate, whether you will or not.” Beside him, Redscar turned his head, and his great earrings glittered as he nodded agreement. “The lads’ll be taking a fancy to you after this. You’ve made us all rich, Martin Chandos You pulled the Hussy out of an eighty-gun trap! Twenty guns against eighty! My uncle’s nails!” Something in Martin Chandos came alive as he stood at the poop rail and watched the Hussy’s tender come bobbing back across the Surging blue waters from the Concepción again and again, its thwarts buried under massive sea chests. They hauled those chests to the main deck, and dumped their golden Contents out onto the wet Wooden planks.

There were small gold boxes over-spilling with rosy pearls and with rubies that were like hard red fire. Bars of Peruvian silver and ingots of raw yellow gold stood edge to edge in great mounds beside heavy statues of Inca kings carved in solid gold. Chains of thick gold coiled in heaps behind small mounds of diamonds from somewhere in the Guiana country.

Here a golden plaque was set with jewels, and there a round gold shield sparkled with the green glow of emeralds. Ropes of pearls like white grapes and bands of sapphires set in delicate golden filigree work were passed among hands that had already hefted and adjudged diamond-studded crosses and daggers. Other men knelt in a sea of golden ducats and doubloons, or tossed yellow guineas high.

Martin Chandos stood with Lizzie Hollister and Redscar Hudson and stared at more wealth than he had seen since Christopher Myngs had looted Coro.

“It fair turns a man’s head,” he whispered to himself, but the big Dutchman heard him.

“A captain’s share for you, Martin Chandos. It was you who gave this to us. I’d guess near a hundred thousand pieces! Now what do you say to being a buccaneer captain?”

It was a temptation. With the sea wind playing in his long brown hair and across the ridged muscles of his wide back, Martin Chandos admitted that to himself. His tool cargo would have fetched only a thousand pieces, at best. His share in this treasure would make him rich for life. But he shook his head, and braced himself against the thing inside him that mocked at his scruples.

“Faith,” he answered glumly, “you take a man and you twist his honesty with such a sight and with the fair words you speak. I thank you all, but I’ve got to answer no.”

A deep-chested gunner shouldered a path between his mates. With a respectful knuckle at his forehead he growled, “Beggin’ the Captain’s pardon, but it’s too late to say aught but aye. Them hidalgos know you were commanding the Hussy. They ain’t ones to forget. You’ll not be safe anywhere on the Main but at Tortuga or Port Royal.”

A roar rose from the crew. They crowded in, dirty and bloody, begrimed with gunpowder and spray. Their laughter was hot and rousing, and the smell of salt air was in his nostrils, and gold and silver and precious jewels lay at his booted feet. There was no argument these men would listen to in this mood, or at this moment. Their compliments were fervid, and the thing that was deep in Martin Chandos clawed itself up from some buried corner of his being and gibbered at him.

He swung on them and spread his hands. “Now damn your eyes that see something in me I didn’t know existed!”

He faced them across the treasure and he told himself, I could use my share to fight Spain in these waters! Don Carlos had spoken of an iron curtain of shot and shell that Spain was erecting. He could tear it down, with ships like those two red galleons rolling yonder in the heaving waves.

“I’ll be your captain, if it’s your wish. But at sea, my word is law. Obey me, and I’ll make every unwashed man jack of you rich beyond his dreams!”

They sent a rolling shout out across the waters toward the tenders of the Concepción and the Claro de Luna, filled now with Spanish soldiery and sailors, pulling for Santiago de Cuba.

Then Martin Chandos sat on a gun mount and watched Redscar Hudson divide the spoils according to the articles that each man signed when he called himself a member of this grim brotherhood. He watched prize crews swung overboard to repair the great red galleons, and to refit them with spare masts and new rigging.

The buccaneers obeyed the Dutchman promptly. An understanding was coming to Martin Chandos, who was used to the grim service aboard a warship, with the life or death of every hand at the mercy of the captain’s whim or mood, that these men worked in a perfect democracy, a democracy of obedience to leadership when they saw for themselves that such leadership was good.

He ate that night in the stern cabin with Lizzie Hollister.

He treated the rich Malaga wine with care, but it was powerful and heady, and he found himself eyeing Lizzie with clearer vision. His eyes went again and again to the silk of her shirt. Once, as she leaned to tear a haunch of beef from the stew on its silver platter, she caught his eyes on her and laughed.

“You’ve won over the men, Martin Chandos, but there’s still Sans Espoir to reckon with. It’s his ship I rented and his men you fought with today. Aye, and his woman you had in your cabin last night! He’ll be in Tortuga to demand an accounting of you. He’ll imagine that the share the lads voted to you belongs to him.”

She wiped her fingers on a napkin. Her eyes were bold and hot under their long black lashes. He read the challenge in them. His big hand went out and closed on her wrist. He dragged her like that from her chair, and down across his lap.

He grinned into her flushed face. “We might as well give him something to account for, then!”

She tried to fight, but he was too strong for her. His mouth trailed kisses across her neck and upward to her lips. She shivered at the touch of his fingers. “You’re a devil straight from hell, Martin Chandos!”

Her hair hung back and brushed the arm of his chair as he doubled her arms and brought them down behind her back. He laughed gently, watching her eyes.

“Sure, it’s the devil I am with a ship and with a woman! Isn’t that so, Lizzie darling?”

She struggled with him, but a big hand imprisoned her wrists as he grinned into her flushed face.

“It’s a real woman you are, by the wisdom of Bridget herself! I’d forgotten how much of a woman, with that fight with the Spaniards and the sight of all that gold spilled across the deck planks on my mind.”

She squirmed and cursed him, but his laughter warmed her, and the curses died on her lips.

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