Following the invitation to luncheon, Captain Caseau offered the help of several of his crew to finish work on the barque. Soon the beach was alive with activity as the French sailors set to work with the motley crew of the Siren Song.
Grace, Bartolo, and Henry Quintor were soon welcomed aboard La Columbe and ushered into the captain’s cabin. Since the day remained still and was growing hotter, heavy curtains had been drawn along one side of the cabin while the windows opposite were opened wide to admit the scant breeze. The cabin was practical in its decor. A couple of lanterns hung from the low ceiling. A large heavy table stood on a fine wool rug at the back of the cabin. Stacked around it were casks and chests of various sizes. Books were lined up along the railing below the windows. Captain Caseau stepped around the table as two of his crewmen set it for a meal of bread, cured meat, and dried fruit.
“Welcome, welcome,” Caseau said and smiled. His hat and coat had been laid aside, and he stood bareheaded and in his shirt sleeves with his hand extended to Grace. “I am Captain Pierre Caseau, and I am pleased to have you aboard my little dove.”
Grace took his hand and stepped into the shaded cabin. “Thank you for your hospitality, Captain Caseau. My name is Grace O’Malley and these gentlemen are Bartolo Bellamio and Henry Quintor.”
Caseau shook each man’s hand in turn. “Would you prefer wine or grog with your meal? We use lime and a little sugar cane in our grog and it makes for a very refreshing drink in this heat.”
“Then we shall try the grog.” Grace smiled.
“Please have a seat. There is much to discuss, I think, and I should not like to delay a meal.”
Chairs were drawn up to each side of the table and Grace sat opposite of their host. Caseau raised his glass to his guests, took a sip of his drink, and began his story.
“How to begin? Although our family is French, I am a man without a country. My great-grandfather escaped France in a pickle barrel not long after the Saint Bartholomew’s Massacre in Paris. For many years my family lived in exile in England, but we never found acceptance there. To the English we were always foreigners. My grandfather became a sailor and eventually made his way to Martinique. Even though there are many of my Huguenot brethren in Martinique, including the governor, we are surrounded by papist Spaniards.
Several merchant ships have been captured by the Spanish and their crews sent to the mines. This cannot stand.” Caseau’s face grew red with passion. “The Governor sent out several of us under commission to inflict the same anguish on the Spanish. My crew and I have worked our way from Martinique, beyond the shores of the Portuguese in Brazil, and back up the coasts of Chile.”
Caseau paused to push himself back from the table and open a shallow drawer. He withdrew his Letters of Marque and handed them to Grace.
Outside the door of the cabin, the young sailor who had recognized the Siren Song was listening to the muffled conversation within.
Caseau continued, “we think that several of our fellows have been taken to the port of Guayaquil. They think that the river and the heat are protection enough, so the town is not heavily fortified. Other than a failed raid by a buccaneer fleet lead by a couple of English captains, the town has been at peace for over 20 years. I intend to end that peace.”
The Letters of Marque passed from hand to hand between Quintor and Bartolo before Caseau placed them back into the drawer.
“We came here to rendezvou with one of our prize ships, a 450 ton merchantman we captured near Lima a month ago. If you would consider it, the combined force of your ships and mine could easily take Guayaquil.” Caseau concluded his speech and leaned forward in his seat.
The young sailor pressed closer to the door.
“Captain Caseau, your hospitality and this opportunity are grand indeed. I would like some time to consider your offer and discuss it with the rest of my crew. There is one more ship in my company that is due back here by dusk. Please, allow me offer my hospitality in return and invite you aboard the Siren Song for dinner this evening. At that time I will have an answer for you.”
At this Grace rose from her chair. Bartolo and Quintor follow suit. The sounds of chairs scuffing across the floorboards sent the young sailor flying from the door moments before it opened.
Once they were back aboard the Siren Song, Grace asked Dr. Sloane to join her, Bartolo, and Quintor in her cabin.
“How I wish Hawkins had not taken the merchant ship around the island,” she said. “The crew is healthy and spoiling for more than a few small prizes.”
Bartolo quickly brought Dr. Sloane up to date on what Captain Caseau had to say for himself. “The Letters of Marque were genuine, I presume,” the good doctor asked the room at large.
“Aye, they are genuine,” Bartolo replied. “I for one have no doubt that what he told us was true, but I have some misgivings about what he was not telling us.”
“I share your misgivings, Bartolo. This Caseau seemed a bit too gracious and eagar. And yet I don’t think he has any particular designs on us, other than to bolster the count of fighters for this scheme. I wish I knew more about either him or Guayaquil.”
After a pause, Quintor spoke up. “I can’t give you any insight into the man, but I do know something of this city he proposes. Prior to my marooning, our ship had sailed as part of the buccaneer fleet Caseau had mentioned. Captain Eaton and Captain Swan had tried for Guayaquil about four years ago. They had managed to get 200 men in boats up the river and in sight of the town when once of their Indian guides escaped and raised the alarm. Our ship joined them some time later and still the men regretted not making the attempt.
I am certain of this, if the town can be taken by surprise, it would yield a great amount of treasure. There is a shipyard and five churches. It is also a trading post between Lima and Panama.”
They all sat silent for a moment, each weighing the risk against the payoff. Before anyone spoke again, there came a knock upon the door. Van der Beer opened the door, flooding the cabin with sunlight. “Captain,” he said, “the lookout has spotted the León de Oro returning early.”
“Excellent, run up an all is well signal and send the boat out to meet them. I require Hawkins as soon as possible.”
“Aye, Captain.” Van der Beer turned and took the glaring sunlight with him.
“Given all of this, I know what he’s going to say, Captain,” said Sloane. A grin spread across his face. “He will say that the risk of a raid will be far less formidable than the wrath of this crew should we turn down the opportunity. You are right, Captain. The crew is hail, hearty, and itching to fight. You’ll not be well liked when they find out what was passed up.”
By the time Hawkins arrived, Sloane and Quintor had returned to their duties. Grace and Bartolo had the ship’s articles spread across her desk for review. They looked up as Hawkins entered.
“There was another ship flying French colors not many leagues off my stern. I seem to be returning to quite a gathering,” said Hawkins. “It’s a good thing I took the León around today. She’s a bit sluggish when we haul on the sheets. Some of the pulleys and much of the ropes need mending. Without Captain Bernardo in command, his crew was keen to talk and find out who would take his place. It seems they cared not for his management of their adventures so far.” Hawkins smiled broadly. “They were disappointed to find out that the little man was still alive.”
“I wonder how they will feel about the new management when they learn we are likely to attack a Spanish port town,” said Grace. She and Bartolo told him of what they’d learned from Caseau and Quintor.
“I think they will be willing to join the little fleet we’ve built up, but I think it would be wise to spread them out across all of the ships that are too big to go up the river and keep them out of the raid itself.”
“Agreed. With that decided, we need to make sure that the shares are properly assigned. I assume there will still be some negotiation with Captain Caseau before we can take it to his crew and ours for a vote.”
As dusk passed into the deep violet shades of oncoming night, Captain Pierre Caseau, La Columbe’s quartermaster, Jean Fleury, and navigator, Robert Surcouf, came aboard the Siren Song. Bartolo took up the duties of steward as drink was poured and plates were filled. Grace introduced their guests to James Hawkins, and soon all settled down to business.
“Recompense for injury suffered during the raid, yes, we agree,” Captain Caseau said once he had swallowed his food. “Loss of right arm, 600 pieces of eight. Left arm, 500. Right leg, 500. Left leg, 400. Loss of an eye or a finger, 100. Oui, all this is agreed.”
“The special rewards are a clever addition,” said Fleury. “A bonus of 20 pieces of eight for men who are the first to take the fortifications, yes this is agreed.”
“I do not know about this proviso. The ships’ carpenters are to receive 150 pieces of eight each and the surgeons 250. They are not fighters.”
“No, sir they are not, but without them we have no means to escape and no ability to keep fighting men ready for battle,” replied Hawkins.
“I see. Then, yes, we shall agree.”
“Now for the tricky bit,” said Grace. “Each of the prize ships currently has a man in command. Our bark and merchant ship, and your merchant ship. As well as your command and mine, my dear Caseau. I propose that along with one share to each member of the crew, each prize commander gets two shares, and you and I receive four shares each.”
“No, no, no! Captain’s share is six and only quartermaster gets a double share.”
“These men are taking on command responsibilities in the heat of battle in our stead, Caseau. I will not cheat them. If we cannot agree to this, you may take Guayaquil for yourself.”
Captain Caseau sat back in his chair and took a sip of the wine. He knew that four shares in a successful raid was far better than six shares of nothing. Their odds for success were significantly better with the addition of the boats and crew of the Siren Song.
“I will agree on the condition that none of our ships part company until after your Mr. Hawkins and Monsieur Fleury are satisfied with the division of treasure.”
Grace raised her glass to her guests. “Then let us call for a vote.”
The early morning sunlight warmed Father Miguel’s skin with a gentle touch. After weeks of trekking through His Majesty’s glorious colonies, Miguel knew that all too soon the sun would crest over the mountaintops and cease to be gentle. This day would be hot and miserable like the previous ones in Guayaquil.
Soon the rest of his new flock, at least new to him, would rise and start the day’s labors. Most of them would make their way to the nearby river or to the shipyard.
All of the weeks spent on the voyage from Manila to Acapulco, Father Miguel had envisioned Quayaquil as a rustic and wild outpost of the Spanish Empire. He arrived to find a town that was nearly as large as Manila. Tradespeople and craftsmen had built homes on manicured streets that radiated from the city square. His flock were a mix of fishermen, farmers, servants, and merchants representing a varied mix of education and class.
Although Father Miguel found that his training and experience were well suited to this new situation, he was disappointed to find it more familiar than challenging. There were no natives in this community in need of the Light of Christ. His duty was not to alter the course of men’s souls, but to keep them on the path of their familiar faith. Here in Guayaquil, everyone was content to follow the litany of the weeks and seasons. Baptisms, weddings, and funerals punctuated the day to day rituals of Christian life.
Father Miguel often felt he needed to repent of his feelings of discontent. He knew he should be grateful to serve these pious people as confessor and comforter. This service was closer to his idea of serving God than was his time as a servant to the greedy and conniving Urdaneta. At least here he could see the value and blessing that the Church was to this community. And yet, nothing seemed to soothe the restlessness in his soul.
He looked out across the wide river. The fishing boats were making their way down stream to the estuary and then to the sea. It was time for Father Miguel to start another day of candles, prayers, confessions, and catechisms. Maybe he could work something into Sunday’s mass about the restlessness of men’s souls. Maybe he could find a challenge for his.
By the time he had crossed the square, Father Miguel was grateful to step into the cool dim interior of the church. The thick stone walls absorbed the brunt of the scorching equatorial sun and radiated it back at night. Once inside he could hear Señora Guzman already at her labors.
Señora Guzman was a widow who had lost her husband and her son to yellow fever. With no one at home to care for, she had chosen to care for the Church. She came and went on her own schedule and needed no direction. When he first arrived, Father Miguel was surprised to see there was little that had been neglected. The previous priest had died in the same epidemic that took the Guzmans. It was Mama Guzman, as she preferred to be addressed, that single-handedly kept the little church by the river going until a new priest could arrive.
Father Miguel had taken an instant liking to this matron of the Church. She reminded him of his own mother, and she had very quickly adopted him into her life as a surrogate son. In a matter of days he discovered he could rely on her astute observations and knowledge of the rest of the members of the congregation. Had she been a man, Mama Guzman would have made an excellent priest.
This morning he found her busily resetting fresh candles around the altar and preparing to polish the candlesticks and other items needed for communion this coming Sunday.
“Buenos dias, Mama, how does this fine morning find you?”
“Buenos dias, Padre. It finds me as well as any woman my age can expect to be.” She rose stiffly and turned to greet him. “You still do not eat enough, my boy,” she said as she took a good look at him.
“Who can eat in this heat?” He smiled at her kindly concern.
“You will learn. You will eat or you will collapse under the weight of your duties. And then you will have no choice but to let me feed you up.”
“Si, si, Mama. I have no doubt that is exactly what would happen.”
A glaring shaft of sunlight pierced the cool dim space as the door opened to admit a young mother with a baby in her arms.
“Maria, my sweet, what are you doing about so early?” Mama Guzman came bustling down the center aisle ahead of Father Miguel.
“This niñito still does not sleep through the night. He was crying to nurse well before dawn. By the time he was satisfied, I was awake and decided to get a few things done before it was too hot to be about with him.” Young Maria Espinosa smiled wearily down at her young son and held him out for Mama Guzman to see.
“He certain looks like he’s eating well. Unlike our precious Padre.” She gave him a sly look over her shoulder and took the infant from Maria’s arms.
A flash of confusion crossed Maria’s face, she did not understand their private joke. She stood there gazing between the two of them, her eyes lingering a little longer on him than on Mama Guzman.
Father Miguel stepped into the conversational gap. “So, what in particular brings you to church this morning, Señora Espinosa?”
“Oh, aye, yes,” spluttered Maria, her internal thoughts disrupted. “Mother says that we should start making arrangements to have the baby baptized.”
“Splendid,” exclaimed Father Miguel, with a clap of his hands. He immediately realized he was overenthusiastic. “I mean… yes, that can be arranged. How about Saturday afternoon?”
“Oh, that soon? I thought there might be more planning involved. I should think Mother and Father might like to invite family to attend. We could not correspond that quickly.”
“But of course. We are here to serve. Please let your mother and your husband’s family know that we can perform the baptismal rites as soon as the family can gather to attend.”
“Oh, thank you, Padre!” Maria seemed a little breathless as he took her hands and spoke a word of blessing over her.
“Huph,” Mama Guzman harrumphed and practically shoved the baby between them into his mother’s arms. “Well, Maria, darling, I’m sure there are other things you’d like to accomplish before the day grows too hot. It was lovely to see you and the baby.” She took the young mother by the elbow and walked her back down the aisle.
As she walked back up to the altar to continue her chores, she grumbled, “Mother says indeed. That girl could not wait to get out from under her mother’s wing. She marched herself over here as soon as husband, brothers, and father were away in the boats. Mother says…”
“What was that you say, Mama?”
“None of your nevermind, boy. Don’t you have duties to attend to?”
Father Miguel chuckled. “Indeed I do, Mama Guzman. And with your permission I will attend.”
Before he could step away the door opened again. This time Juana and Isabel Perez stepped in side.
“Madre de Dios,” huffed Mama under her breath and crossed herself.
Juana Perez was the overly-proud mother of the blushing Isabel. Poor Isabel spent much of her youth blushing on account of her mother. Since making a match with the eldest son of one of the prominent merchant families in Guayaquil, Juana’s pride seemed to know no bounds. And now they had a permanent and, in her opinion, eloquent priest to perform the wedding.
“Buenos dias, Father Miguel.” She dipped a curtsey.
Father Miguel tucked his hands behind his back, fearing the woman might attempt to kiss a ring that did not exist. “Buenos dias, Señora Perez. How can I be a service this morning?”
“Well, Father, as you may know, my little Isabel has accepted young Juan de Somovilla.” She shoved her daughter forward. “We have been waiting for your arrival to set a date.”
“Indeed.” He looked at Isabel and asked, “When would you like to get married?”
Isabel blushed and stammered, “Me? Oh, I should like to get married in the cool…”
“Early December, I should think,” her mother interrupted. “So that the blessings of the celebration of our Savior’s birth will be upon the marriage.”
“Is that what you and Juan would like, Isabel?”
“That would be lovely,” responded Isabel, though the words seemed a little flat.
“Yes, yes. Of course, dear one. It’s what we discussed only last night! A wedding full of joy and celebration! And plenty of time to gather friends and family to share in our joy.”
“Prideful woman,” Mama Guzman grumbled. She was careful to keep her back to the others, but Father Miguel heard her all the same.
“Her father and I would like to make a special offering in honor of their betrothal,” said Juana stepping closer to the priest.
He took a step back. Her attempts to touch him were most disconcerting. “Then I shall advise you to present your gift this Sunday following mass. It will be most graciously received.”
Juana’s face lit up with the idea of such a public presentation.
“Now, if you don’t mind, Señora Perez. I need to prepare for taking confession.”
“Si, Padre. And thank you.” She beamed and then took Isabel by the hand and swanned back the way they came.
“Do you really think it’s wise to play to her pride that way?”
“Maybe not, but it was either that or let her slobber all over me. I swear what is it with the women in this parish? They all seem to want to fawn all over everyone.”
“Not exactly everyone, dear boy.” Mama Guzman snickered. “It’s been a while since any of us have seen a more comely face than yours.”
“My face? What’s wrong with my face?”
“Not a thing, Padre. Not one little thing.” A grin of motherly knowing bloomed across her face, deepening the jolly lines around her eyes.