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Authors: John Drake

Skull and Bones

Skull and Bones

John Drake

    

    

HarperCollinsPublishers

77-85 Fulham Palace Road,

Hammersmith, London W6 8JB

    

www.harpercollins.co.uk

    

Published by HarperCollinsPublishers 2010

    

Copyright © John Drake 2010

    

John Drake asserts the moral right to

be identified as the author of this work

    

A catalogue record for this book

is available from the British Library

 

ISBN-13: 978-0-00-726897-9

    

Set in Sabon by Palimpsest Book Production Limited,

Grangemouth, Stirlingshire

    

Printed and bound in Great Britain by

Clays Ltd, St Ives plc

For my dear sister
LGFF

Acknowledgements

    

I am very grateful to those who have given much-valued help

and advice in my efforts to write a decent novel. As always

I thank my editors Julia Wisdom and Anne O'Brien, for their

scholarly reviews, some splendid ideas, and their careful

weeding out of my errors. Also I particularly thank my agent,

Antony Topping, and my son, who together prevented this

novel from turning into a historical documentary on Colonial

America, which might have made a nice textbook, but nobody

would have bought it for fun.

John Drake

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter
8

Chapter
9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter
12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter
18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter
22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter
27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter
30

Chapter 31

Chapter
32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

The Beginning

Afterword

 

 

    

    

Chapter 1

    

Three bells of the first dog watch

20th July 1735 (Old Style)

Aboard Isabelle Bligh

The Atlantic

    

    The six-pound shot came aboard with a scream and a hiss, smashing one of the mainmast deadeyes, punching holes through the longboat secured over the waist, taking off the arm and shoulder of a seaman, as neat as a surgeon's knife… and throwing the limb shivering at his feet, as if still alive. The man screamed, and sat down flat with his back to the windward bulwark.

    In the horror of the moment, Olivia Rose, sixteen years old and at sea for the first time in her life, turned from her father and clung to the heavy bulk of the lad who'd been doing his best to stand between her and the flying shot.

    "Get below!" cried Josiah Burstein, her father. "And get away from
him!"
He snatched her away, blinking nervously at the boy, for Burstein was a small man while the boy, also only sixteen, was broad and heavy with thick limbs, big fists and a dark, ugly face. But the boy stood back, nodding.

    "Get below, Livvy," he said. "Your pa's right."

    Seizing the moment, Burstein hustled his daughter down a hatchway, out of the way of shot. He cursed the day he'd set out from Philadelphia to make his fortune in London with his skills as a mathematical instrument maker, for nothing good had come thus far: only Livvy Rose keeping company with that lumpish oaf of a ship's boy.

    Boom! A distant gun fired, and on deck, the crew ducked as another shot came howling down and smashed into the hull. The boy looked astern as his captain yelled from the quarterdeck.

    "There, sir!" cried Captain Nehemia Higgs, seizing hold of the man beside him, the ship's owner Mr Samuel Banbury, and shaking him angrily. "Now where's your
peaceful way?"

    Banbury said nothing, but pulled free and, wrenching off his coat and shirt, ran forward to jam the crumpled linen deep into the fallen seaman's hideous injury in an effort to stem the flow of blood.

    "Aaaaaaaah!" screeched the wounded man.

    "And may I now - in God's name - turn to my guns?" yelled Captain Higgs.

    "Aye!" roared the crew, nearly two dozen of them, angrily waiting for the order. Their captain might be a Quaker, but at least he was one of the
right
sort - unlike Mr Banbury, who was clearly one of the
wrong
sort. The crew, on the other hand, weren't no sort of Quakers at all - not them, by God and the Devil! And they weren't about to give up their wages at the mere sight of a black flag!

    Ignoring them, Banbury tugged off his belt and managed to strap it round the wounded seaman's chest to hold the dripping red bundle in place. Looking around him for help, he spotted the boy.

    "You!" cried Banbury. "Give me your shirt!"

    So two shirts were clapped on the wound, with the boy close enough to be sprayed by the victim's spittle and drenched in his blood. But he could see it weren't no use. Soon the screaming stopped and the man's eyes closed. Tommy

    Trimstone was his name; from Ilfracombe in Devon, and now dead.

    The boy stood up from the corpse, wiping his hands on his breeches. He'd never seen death and didn't know what to make of it. He looked to his captain again, cussing and blinding as no Quaker should, and then finally raising a telescope to check on their pursuers, before calling to the boy.

    "Come here, you young sod!" he cried. "Take this bastard glass and get into the bastard top, and keep watch on
that
bugger -" he pointed to the oncoming ship - "and be quick about it, or I'll skin the bleeding arse off you!" With all hands on deck, standing by to man his guns, Higgs needed a lookout.

    The boy went up the shrouds at the run, and got himself nice and tight into the maintop. He levelled the glass…

    "What d'you see?" yelled Captain Higgs.

    The boy saw a sharp-keeled, rake-masted brig of some two hundred tons: deeply sparred, and with ports for twenty guns. The wind was weak so she was under all sail, and coming on only slowly, but her decks were black with armed men, which was not surprising for a vessel that flew the skull and bones.

    Boom! Up went another cloud of white from the enemy's bow, followed swiftly by the deadly howl of shot heading their way. It shrieked high over the masts as the boy called down to the quarterdeck telling what he'd seen.

    "You heard that," said Higgs to Banbury. "We must defend ourselves!"

    "Can we not outrun them?" said Banbury. "You have
three
masts to their
two!
"

    Higgs sneered from the depth of his seaman's soul at this ludicrous dollop of landlubber's shite.
Isabelle Bligh
was a Bristol-built West Indiaman: well found, and fit in all respects
for sea.
But she was designed for
cargo,
not swiftness. In her
favour,
however, was the fact that she bore sixteen guns and
was
heavily timbered,
so
if it came to cannonading, she might well drive off a lighter vessel that was built purely for speed. Higgs yelled this thought at Banbury, but dared not act without his word.

    Up in the top, the boy looked down, puzzled. Banbury and Higgs were Quakers that weren't supposed to fight. But the ship had guns, like other Quaker ships, so why not use them? The boy shook his head. He didn't know. He only knew that Banbury was a very special Quaker, come out from England to staunch the slave trade among the Pennsylvania Quakers, and now going home. Clearly Cap'n Higgs was afraid of Banbury. Perhaps it was like the Catholics with their pope?

    Boom! Another shot from the pirate's bow-chaser. They were close enough now that the boy could see the men working the gun. Again the shot went wide, and he watched them haul in, sponge out and re-load. And then he had a nasty thought. For the first time it occurred to him - in his youth and innocence - that the pirates…
might actually capture the ship!
He groaned in fear of what they would do to Olivia Rose.

    Plump and luscious with shining skin and titian hair, Livvy was the only female aboard. He blushed for the things the hands said about her, behind her back. What chance would she stand if such men as them - but worse - got hold of her?

    Then another flag went up on the pirate brig: a plain, red flag. The boy didn't know what it meant, but his mates did, down below.

    "Bugger me," said one, "it's the Jolly Roger!"

    "Gawd 'elp us," said another.

    "Higgs," demanded Banbury, "what's that red flag?"

    "The
Jolie Rouge,"
said Higgs. "The 'Pretty Red One' of the French Buccaneers."

    "What does it mean?"

    "It means no quarter to those that fight," he said. "It's death to all aboard."

    "But only if we fight?"

    "Aye." Higgs scowled, for he knew this gave the game to Banbury.

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