Read The Guns of Tortuga Online
Authors: Brad Strickland,Thomas E. Fuller
Jessie shrugged. “People talked about us after you and your uncle left, for they knew he had lodged there. And it's a rough town, crammed with sailors who drink too much and don't mind their manners. So last fall we found it hot for us, what with the navy sailors angry with us for giving house room to a pirate. Trade fell off, and times were hard.”
“We meant no harm to you,” I said.
“And I'm glad you and your uncle got away,” she replied half-grudgingly. In truth, Jessie had actually helped me as much as she could when I had gone to free my uncle from jail. “Then my mother learned that Lady Wellesley, whose husband, Sir Milo, had just died, was sailing back to England, for her own health was not good. Lady Wellesley
was a highborn woman, but she was kind to my mother, and my mother asked her to take me in service as her maid, to get me passage back to England. There I was to live with my aunt and learn how to be”âshe almost spat the wordsâ“more genteel.”
Fairfax had sat back down on the sofa, leaning forward with his arms crossed on his chest. He took up the tale: “They shipped aboard the
my packet. But Lady Wellesley suddenly died a week into the voyage. Then, south of Bermuda, we were taken by a pirate ship. On my instructions, Jessie disguised herself as a boy, and when they took all the officers prisoner, she came with me as my servant.”
“Why?” I asked. “Why not stay with the packet?”
Jessie snorted. “With all the officers gone, and the sailors left alone and in charge? I'd sooner take my chances here!”
Fairfax glanced toward the door. “We haven't much time. The guards will come in if you don't leave soon. What's afoot?”
Remembering my errand, I said, “MichâJessie has a letter for you, sir. My captain will do all in his
power to help you escape. You and Jessie together.”
Shaking his head, Fairfax said, “I'm not sure that can be done. The pirate who took our ship is not alone in this. He has a master, a man named Gilleâwhat's the matter?”
“I know the man,” I said. “And I know he is holding another English prisoner as well, a Captain Brixton.”
The name seemed to mean nothing to Fairfax, which struck me as a little odd, for the British Navy was not numerous here, and all of them knew the others. “Whatever the case, Gille has money and power. And men. If he wanted to man this place like a fort, it would take an army to break into it. The only reason the guard is so light is that I cannot climb through these windows, and if I got downstairs, I could not climb over the wall around the yard. A word from Gille, and this house would become a stronghold.”
“Listen,” I said, “Gille wants my captain to sail for him. That won't happenâfor reasons I can't tell you. But the two of them are talking to each other. That may give us a chance. I'll tell the captain your situation. Keep tight and quiet here until
we get word back to you.” I turned to Jessie. “Can you find some excuse to go to the market every day?”
“Or to the fountain for water,” she said. She sniffed. “You didn't even know me. You really are a mooncalf.”
“Then arrange it to go to the fountain at noon every day. When we have a plan, I'll meet you there. Be ready to act!”
When I went back down, I clutched a bright penny. One of the guards relieved me of it and gave me a kick into the bargain, but I hardly minded. It just gave me that much more speed back to the ship and back to the captain.
CAPTAIN HUNTER AT
once set about devising a plan. He said we had to free both Captain Brixton and Lieutenant Fairfax at the same time, and nothing less would do. In a way, it made sense, for once we had made an attempt to bring away one of them, Tortuga would be too hot for us to remain and try for the other.
Still, Uncle Patch had his own ideas on that subject. “You do realize that this is a foolish enterprise, don't ye, William?”
“Foolish it may be,” said Hunter doggedly, pacing the wharf near the
The men had almost finished restowing all her cargo, and we had only to
fill her casks with water to be ready to sail. That made the necessity for action all the keener, as Hunter saw things. “Still, Doctor, even a fool can hear the call of duty.”
“Well, well,” grumbled my uncle. “I can only ask you not to get us all killed, I suppose. Though Lord knows that's the last worry a hothead like yourself would have!” Uncle Patch did persuade the captain that charging in with pistols firing and cutlasses flashing was probably not the best way to achieve success.
I stayed quiet and listened to them debate. Finally, the plan they came up with was better thought out but would call for careful timing, courage â¦ “And the luck of the devil himself,” my uncle finished, “for 'tis a certainty that never a saint would concern himself with such a scheme as this.”
And so that Friday, the tenth of February, I found myself seated next to the captain in M. Gille's fine carriage once again on our way to dine. Hunter was in full pirate dress: his rich emerald green coat with the red piping and frogs; the amazing canary yellow sash; and black boots that shone like mirrors. He had a new wig he had picked up in the marketplace.
It was the sort called a court-wig, like the ones the king's counselors wore: black and curled and falling to his shoulders. As my uncle had remarked, you could buy anything there. Still, I did wonder about the fate of the wig's former ownerâdid he still even have a head to call his own? His hat with the ostrich plume the captain held in his lap, for with the wig and the low carriage roof, he couldn't put it on his head.
“Are you sure this is going to work, sir?” I asked, running my finger inside my tight collar.
“We must trust to fortune, Davy. All we have to do is follow the plan and all will be well. At least that's what your uncle Patch said.”
Aye, my uncle Patch. Having raged and roared at the idiocy of even attempting what Captain Hunter wanted to do, my dear uncle had thrown himself into logistics and strategies. Even now, no doubt with him grumbling all the way, he and two crewmen fluent in French were headed for the Commodore's. The sailors bore two jugs of the finest brandy from the
's stores. Both had been spiked with tincture of opium, a sleeping agent that Uncle Patch swore by. Of course, Uncle Patch swore by and at everything.
My uncle was willing to wager that two cheerful French-speaking sailors, free with their drink, would be able to persuade the guards to take a dram. And that was all that would be needed, for if they worked it right, both guards would be blissfully asleep within minutes. The plan was for the sailors to take their places while Uncle Patch spirited Lieutenant Fairfax and Jessie out of that grim place and made them safe aboard the
That would only leave the rescue of Captain Brixton. This would be up to that notorious pirate, Mad William Hunter, and myself. The captain was actually looking forward to it, for there was nothing he enjoyed more than this kind of deceit. Had he not gone to sea, I thought, he would have made a fine play-actor upon the stage. For myself, I thought such acting was close to lying.
And I feared I was getting too good at it.
Night was falling fast when we arrived at the plantation house. The white, square stone building was ablaze with candlelight. “Beeswax candles,” Hunter murmured, pointing out the golden gleam. “None of your cheap tallow dips for our grand Monsieur Gille!” Captain Hunter smiled
with satisfaction. I couldn't help thinking that the windows all looked like hot yellow eyes, silent predators waiting patiently for us to enter their den. But I squared my shoulders and followed him in like a good servant.
If anything, this meal was even more opulent than the last. The table was covered in heavy white silk and laid out with fine patterned china and silver worth a rich Spanish prize. The food was all French: fish and vegetables in colorful, fragrant glazes and sauces. The smell was tantalizing, and my mouth would have watered had it not been so dry with fear of the Frenchmen at the table.
M. Gille sat in his grand chair, dressed in rich purples and blood reds. His round, smooth face glistened in the candlelight, none of which seemed to reach his dark eyes. To his right sat not M. du Pont but Mr. Meade, his English manager. Slim, quiet, and still dressed in his subdued browns, he would have disappeared completely into shadows were it not for his long white wig. It was almost possible to forget he was there, so silent he remained.
Captain Hunter made small talk through the first part of the meal. At the first remove, a servant
poured some pale wine for him, filling a fine Venetian crystal goblet. Captain Hunter lifted it and stared at the candlelight through the wine as he swirled the glass. “I have given your kind offer of, ah, partnership, considerable thought, Monsieur Gille, as have my men.”
M. Gille dabbed at his lips with a napkin and gave Hunter a simpering smile. “Indeed, Captain Hunter. And have all of you come to a conclusion?”
Hunter sipped the wine and nodded appreciatively. “Very fine, sir. Come to a conclusion? Indeed, I believe we have, sir.”
You might have sliced the tension in the air with a carving knife. As I studied M. Gille's face, I became aware that something had changed since our last meeting. What had the planter discovered about us? What had his spies reported? Sweat was trickling down my back, and I wanted to scratch more than anything.
M. Gille lifted his own wineglass and took a sip in obvious imitation of Captain Hunter. “Ah, yes, most delightful. And may one ask what your conclusion is, then?”
Hunter shrugged. “The only sensible one, as you
have so kindly pointed out to me, Monsieur Gille. Shall we sign articles?”
There was a polite cough, and Mr. Meade dabbed his pale lips with his napkin. “Forgive Monsieur Gille if he does not speak personally. I hope your speaking of signing articles is meant metaphorically, sir. A written arrangement is out of the question. Your agreement must necessarily be informal. I am sure you understand.”
With a chuckle, Hunter said, “Then it's the word of honor of gentlemen of fortune, is it? It will do for me if it will do for you.”
“That is rather the question,” Mr. Meade said delicately, the candlelight catching his eyes for just a second. I wished they hadn't.
“I do not understand your meaning, sir,” Captain Hunter said, letting a hint of danger slip into his voice. Here we go, I thought, with the heart of me climbing into my throat. Uncle Patch had planned for this moment. I hoped he had planned well.
“The meaning, Captain Hunter,” rumbled M. Gille, “is that I have, how do you say, developed concerns about the wisdom of a joint venture.
People in port know little about you or your ship. Oh, we know you have taken prizes, and we have the enthusiastic affidavits of Captain Barrel on your bravery. It is your
your motives, that give me pause.”
Hunter turned his head slowly. “My motives, sir?”
Gille toyed with his goblet. “Your crew has been asking questions in Cayona, sir. Questions of a naval nature.”
Captain Hunter grinned, looking like a blond wolf. A slight frown formed on Gille's smooth brow. He did not speak, though, and Hunter smoothly began to talk: “So it's like that, is it? Fine, then, let's clear the decks! Did you think that I wouldn't know? Did you really think that Patch wouldn't tell me?”
Gille glanced at Meade, who said nothing. The Frenchman said, “I do not know what youâ”
“Brixton!” Hunter snapped, rising like wrath from his chair. “Your precious English guest is Alexander Brixton, late of His Majesty's frigate
I thought when she was blown to perdition, she took that smug pig with her!”
“You know him?” M. Gille asked, sounding more confused than angry.
“Know him! He ruined my career with his brutality and harshness! Branded me mutineer, tried to hang me like a side of beef, tried to blow me and mine out of Port Royal Harbor when we made good our escape!” The captain was breathing hard now, eyes wide and blazing. “So you think I have some connection with the navy still, do you? Right. Then let us put that to rest! Brixton is alive, and the only reason he would be is for ransom.”
“Captain Hunter,” warned Mr. Meade, “you cannot expect my employer to answer that. His positionâ”
“To blazes with his position!” roared Hunter. “But let me tell you this: The old buzzard has no family and no fortune. You'll get nothing for him. But by now you should know that. However, you may be willing to sell him.” Hunter yanked a purse loose from his belt and threw it on the table. It landed with a heavy clink, spilling its contents, and the candlelight caught the sunlight gleam of minted gold. I held my breath.
In the sudden silence, I could hear a faint whistle
of breath in Gille's nostrils. He did not even glance at the gold, but kept his gaze fixed on the captain.