The nine Indians that had been aboard the bark seemed relieved as they were escorted aboard the Siren Song. Although they were immediately lead below to the hold, Grace signaled to have food and water brought to them.
“They seem to be in a sorry state, Captain,” Hawkins reported. “They are all very thin and don’t seem to have had much fresh water to drink. I think we may have rescued them rather than captured them.”
“And the state of the boat?” Grace asked.
“She’s sound enough, although that sail is not going to last much longer. If they have been out fishing, they’ve had little luck. The cargo holds are practically bare, and their nets are dry and crusted. I am interested to hear what they have to say for themselves.”
She watched Hawkins. Although he seemed to be concerned about the fishermen, there was a gleam in his eye.
“Do continue, Mr. Hawkins,” she said.
“I like the boat very much, Captain. As I said, it’s sound. We could replace the mast and sail easily enough. She would be quick and perfect for close engagements. She would also be able to scout ahead of the Song without tipping off a potential prize too soon.”
“You propose we claim her and refit her, then?”
“Aye, Captain, most heartily.” Hawkins grinned.
“Sail!” cried the man who had just taken his turn at watch in the crow’s nest. “Sails, Captain! Looks to be two masts. She’s just cleared an outcropping.” He was pointing toward the shoreline at about the same point the bark had been heading.
“Possible that the fishing boat had plans to rendezvous,” said Hawkins.
“Indeed. And we have a chance to take them. Quick man, get a crew aboard the bark and let’s make this an adventure to our credit.”
Hawkins was leaping down to the main deck before Grace had finished speaking.
Twenty men streamed over the side of the Siren Song and had the bark under sail in a trice. Taking command at the helm herself, Grace kept the ship floating calmly as if it had no interest in this new ship. Hopefully, it would look as though the bark had only come alongside their galley to share a bit of news.
The bark was closing the gap between it and the other ship, and there was no sign yet that their target was suspicious. Grace nudged the helm ever so slightly and the sails caught the wind. The Siren Song picked up her pace and began to close in on the two smaller vessels. The second potential prize looked to be about 50 tons, a Spanish merchant ship.
“Signal from the bark! They are preparing to board, Captain.”
“Reef the sheets and roll out the starboard guns, boys!”
Within a couple of minutes they could hear the battle cries of their crew mates aboard the merchantman.
“Warning shot only, forward guns!”
Ba-boom, sounded the swivel guns mounted along the forward railings. While the ferocious attack of more than double the men expected aboard the bark was surprising, fire from the 300 ton galley sealed the deal. The merchant ship turned across the wind and her sails went slack. A cheer of triumph went up from the men who had been fighting hand to hand on the deck.
“Mr. Quintor, take the helm if you please,” Grace ordered.
“Aye, Captain.” He stepped up to the wheel calm and confident. Bartolo followed close behind.
Grace called over to the merchant ship. “How fare you, Hawkins?”
“All is well and secure, Captain. No injuries more serious than cuts and bruises, and most of those were suffered by the poor wretches ordered to resist. They are now confined to quarters below.”
“Take command of this prize and send her captain over.”
Hawkins motioned two men to take the door of the aft cabin. The heavy wooden door gave way with a crash. Shouts and a few thuds could be heard across the gap. The two crewmen emerged with a small man in fine temper, his wig askew. Grace chuckled as she watched them lift him off his feet and carry him body and soul to the rails of his ship. A torrent a vehement Spanish epithets issued from the man with little avail.
“Bartolo, fetch Felipe, please. I fear I will need some help understanding this rightfully outraged Spaniard.”
“Aye, Captain.” Bartolo turned on the spot and marched double quick to the hatch in the main deck.
As the crew rowed the merchant captain over to the Siren Song, Hawkins gave a high and piercing whistle from the deck of the prize. Grace stepped to the railing.
“You may want to take a look around over here before you question him, Captain,” Hawkins shouted across the gap.
Grace looked down and watched as they forcibly shoved the man up the ladder.
While most of his crew were bare footed and practically dressed for the heat and sun, the merchant captain was dressed more like the merchant class in Seville. A wide brimmed hat sat atop a wig of jet black curls. A silk brocade coat covered waistcoat, shirt, and cravat. The britches were a shining satin. Bright white stockings and fine leather shoes topped with enormous silver buckles completed his attire. Popinjay immediately came to Grace’s mind.
She looked back across at the quartermaster and called, “Aye, Mr. Hawkins, I believe I shall come have a look.”
She turned to find Bartolo and Felipe at her elbow. “Bartolo, would you mind making our guest comfortable in my cabin for a little while?”
“Play him a tune and keep an eye on him, Captain?”
“Indeed, my friend.” She turned to Felipe and said, “Get him talking, if you can. I need to know where to send a ransom demand.”
“Si, mi Capitana, we shall talk of many things, this capitito and I.” Felipe’s dark Latin face cracked with a bright white smile that was equal parts melicious and joyous.
Grace went over the rail wondering if her guest would be talking or screaming by the time she returned.
Dr. Sloane met her as she boarded their prize. “This crew is slightly better off than our fishermen friends. But only just slightly. They were ordered to stand and fight, but didn’t put up much of one. Some minor injuries. Our boys took it easy on them.
“Noted, doctor. Thank you.”
Grace spotted Hawkins waiting for her at the broken door of the captain’s cabin. “Your first impression, Hawkins,” she asked.
“Coward enjoying a little minor despotism,” he replied.
Grace arched an eyebrow. “That was your first impression? Show me.”
Hawkins stepped aside so she could cross the threshold.
[Cabin Description – now you see how this is a work in progress. What do you think? How might this pompous third rate merchant enrich his life aboard ship?]
Hawkins took two strides to the desk and snatched several documents from the top of a pile he had created. “The official manifests don’t match up to the cargo in the hold. I think he was using the local fishermen to smuggle in some of his cargo and avoid all of the bureaucratic port fees and taxes. It would explain their empty holds and dry nets.”
“And he justifies some of this because the native fishermen are godless savages?”
“Aye. But he’s making a substantial profit on these activities and certainly enjoys spending all of it on himself,” Hawkins replied and looked around the garish space.
“I don’t believe I will be inclined to like him much, but I will be inclined to like his gold” Grace said, and made her way back out on deck.
As she approached her cabin aboard the Siren Song, Grace could hear Bartolo’s mandolin but no conversation. She opened the door and signaled Felipe to come outside.
“He refuses to speak to anyone but the captain,” Felipe explained as soon as the door shut behind him. “He fancies himself as a high-born aristocrat, but at best he is a third or fourth son of a minor aristro in Spain or he is the bastard son of someone too prominent to risk his continued presence back home. Despite how enjoyable it would be, I thought I might wait to persuade him until you returned.”
Grace smiled on Felipe and replied, “then let us discover what he is willing to say to me.”
“Likely even less than he said to me, Capitana.”
Grace gestured to the door. Felipe opened it and formally announced in rapid Spanish, “ the glorious Captain of the Siren Song, Mistress Grace O’Malley.”
Grace paused in the doorway, standing tall and proud, allowing her eyes to adjust to the darker interior of her cabin. Bartolo immediately stopped playing and stood in the presence of his Captain.
In English Felipe introduced, “Captaina O’Malley, may I present Captain of the León de Oro, señor Jose Bernardo.”
The face of the Spanish dandy was a mix of shock and outrage.
Felipe’s presence was more for politics than translation, but the rapid vehemence that spewed forth from the unwilling guest was difficult to follow.
“Honestly, mi Capitana, he does not believe that a woman is in command and demands that the man in charge be brought forth at once. I would rather not clarify some of the words he has used in reference to you,” said Felipe as a blush rose in his cheeks.
“I would rather you did not either, Felipe. I caught the more colorful aspects of his speech. He’s not the first to use such filth to my face.”
“Likely you understand more of what he says than he will understand you, Mistress,” contributed Bartolo.
Grace kept her voice soft and low, edged with danger….
[Still haven’t decided exactly how this conversation goes]
“Captain,” Quintor addressed her in his honeyed baritone.
“There is a rough little island a few leagues from here that would provide shelter while the carpenters refit the prizes.”
“And you can get us there?”
“Aye, Captain. I can plot a course and have us there by morning. There’s no fresh water and nothing but bare rock, but it does have a beach and quiet anchorage.”
“Excellent. Mr Van der Beer can take the helm and let you set our course. Signal the course heading to our prizes, and let us make way.”
The morning dawned grey and threatening rain. The approach to Lobos was a labor through a choppy leaden sea. The Siren Song and her consorts wallowed their way into the anchorage in the lee of the island. The bark was hauled to shore just as the clouds broke in a downpour. As Henry Quintor had described it, the island had no sheltering trees. Nothing but a solid and barren cliff of rock rose above the narrow strip of sandy beach.
“It’s either this or roasting in the relentless sun,” Dr. Sloane quipped. His clothes were already soaked and clinging to his body. The rain was running down his grinning face.
“Leave it to you to be pleased,” said Grace. She had abandoned both hat and scarf. Her shortened hair was slicked to her head. “What do you think of the fisherman aboard?”
“I think that they are very pleased to be so well fed. They are already looking much healthier and stronger than when we took them two days ago.”
“Any chance that they have the skill and the inclination to join us? With two prizes I would not object to augmenting our crew.”
“I would say yes to the fishermen, but no to any of the crew from that merchant ship.”
“I quite agree with you. That captain of theirs is a nasty one. I wanted to scrub my skin off after that last conversation. The Spanish have some very funny ideas about how to treat people.”
“But, Captain, you aren’t a person in his mind. You are a woman and even worse not Catholic. They think they elevate creatures to the level of humanity by converting them to the One True Faith.”
Grace spat into the rain over the railings.
“My sentiments exactly,” replied Dr. Sloane.
“Meanwhile heaven itself weeps at the things men to do one another in the name of God. The sooner that nasty man and his crew are off my ship, the better.”
“We could leave them here.”
“My good doctor, that suggestion flies in the face of your oath!”
“Well, I could take a similar view to our Spanish friends and deem them less than human and therefore not governed by any oaths of mine.”
“For shame.” Grace smiled. “No, I will not allow you to give into such wickedness, doctor. We will find some reasonable place to set them ashore. One that won’t be tantamount to a death sentence.”
As they conversed, they could see that the dilapidated sail and mast had been removed from the bark. The ship’s boat was already ferrying a replacement mast found in the cargo hold of the merchant ship. Below decks, the riggers and a couple of the captured fishermen were readying a new sail to be hoisted as soon as the weather relented.
The weather, however, refused to relent until well into the night. Once the mast had been removed, the fishing bark had been hauled far over on her side to prevent her from taking on water in the driving rain. The work detail ferried back out to the merchant ship to wait out the weather and finish their task once the rain had cleared off.
The morning dawned clear and calm. There was barely enough breeze to carry La Columbe around the southern tip of Lobos. The French corvette captained by Pierre Caseau made its way slowly.
“There is a ship at anchor, sir!” Came the cry from the man on watch.
As La Columbe came about, Captain Caseau could see the 3 masted galley and a small fishing bark up on the shore.
“I know that ship, sir,” cried a young sailor from directly overhead in the rigging. “Permission to come down, sir.”
“Oui, come down quickly and tell me of this ship.”
The young sailor quickly scrambled down the rigging with the natural ease of a monkey and stood at attention at Caseau’s side. Next to the captain, this young rigger seemed very small and young, standing only as high as the captain’s chest. Dark brown eyes sparkled from a nut brown face tanned by the sun. Sun bleached hair hung in waves about the sailor’s youthful face. Bouncing up and down on bare feet, the sailor vibrated with excitement.
“I know that ship like I know my own mother,” said the sailor. “It’s the Siren Song. From Jamaica.”
“This ship is a very long way from home,” mused Caseau. “But she is likely English, yes?”
“Well, her Captain has many friendships among the English Governors, and she certainly has no love for the Spanish.”
“Then we shall risk a brief stop here. I should like to know more about this Siren Song.” Captain Caseau turned to the crew and ordered, “hoist the colors and stand by to drop the anchor.”
Aboard the Siren Song, Grace and her crew watched as the corvette raised a French flag and slowly made its way into the bay where they were at anchor. Hawkins had taken the merchant ship around the island in the predawn hours to keep their prisoners out of mischief. The ship’s boat had been launched a few minutes before the newcomer came into view, and Grace hoped she would not regret allowing the crew to become scattered.
“Ahoy, ship!” came the cry as soon as the French ship was within hailing distance. “Permission to come alongside.”
Grace gave a nod and Bartolo replied, “Permission granted.”
The crew aboard La Columbe heaved the sails about, slowing the corvette to a crawl. The anchor chains rattled as the anchors dropped into the water and halted the French ship alongside the Siren Song.
A tall and bulky man, Captain Pierre Caseau, stepped up to the railing nearest the Song. He wore a wide-brimmed hat festooned with a cockade of feathers, a dark blue military-style great coat over a red waistcoat, britches, stockings, and fine leather shoes. Bright blue eyes shined from his jolly face as he smiled. Although his stance was relaxed, his hand rested on the hilt of the sword hanging at his waist.
“I would like to demonstrate my good will,” Caseau began in slow and heavily accented English, “by extending an invitation to a meal and conversation. Would yon captain be inclined to accept?”
Grace smiled and stepped up the railing across from Caseau. “The captain would indeed be inclined to accept.”
Caseau’s eyes widened in amazement, but he recovered quickly. He doffed his hat and gave a grand bow. “My lady, I am honored to find myself host to such charming company.”