So busily employed were the pirates aboard the brig in the task of hoisting out cargo and striking it into the boats alongside that we were quite half-way across the bay before they discovered our presence, although the people ashore, who were unloading the boats, did their utmost to warn their comrades, by hailing and pointing. But no sooner was the felucca seen and recognised than the whole place was thrown into a state of consternation. The alarm bell ashore was rung, the people made a dash for their weapons, and then, tumbling the goods haphazard out of the boats on to the sand, sprang in and pulled might and main for the brig, while those on board her swarmed up out of the hold and down over the side into the half-loaded or empty boats, and gave way for the shore in a very panic of confusion.
But although the brig was moored well in, so that the boats passing to and fro might have but a short distance to travel, we in the felucca were alongside and had secured undisputed possession of the vessel before the boats with their armed crews had traversed half the distance between her and the shore; seeing which, the occupants paused and drew together, as if to confer and to await further developments. Of this brief pause we promptly availed ourselves by getting the brig under way and working her and the felucca out toward the entrance, when, much to our astonishment, the boats with one accord turned round and pulled back to the beach. This unexpected action on their part was a great relief to me, for I had fully expected that they would make a concerted effort to recapture the brig, or the felucca, or both, by boarding, in which case we should have had our hands full, and must almost certainly have lost a few men. But probably they believed the felucca to be armed with cannon, and fully expected to be received with liberal doses of grape and canister, which would fully account for their sudden and unexpected display of prudence. Be that as it may, we were allowed to work both craft out to sea without molestation; when, having hurriedly overhauled our prize and found that she was amply provisioned for a much longer voyage than that to Port Royal, I put her in command of my second midshipman, with a prize-crew of ten men, and, giving him instructions to report to the Admiral without delay, dispatched him forthwith. Then, transferring myself and the remainder of my following back to the felucca, we re-entered the Cove and came to an anchor outside of but close to the islet that masked the entrance, and in such a position that the little craft could be warped right in alongside a bit of cliff that dropped sheer down into the water. We had scarcely done this when a deep, hollow boom, echoing and re-echoing along the face of the cliff that enclosed the Cove, told us that the party which had been dispatched to breach the road up the face of the cliff, and so cut off the retreat of the pirates toward the interior of the island, had accomplished its task.
Time was now all important to us; for, of course, we could not tell at what moment Garcia, the arch-pirate, and his crew in the Tiburon, might put in an appearance upon the scene; and we had a few very important preparations to make before we could consider ourselves ready to deal with him; therefore we had no sooner let go the felucca's anchor than we lowered the only other boat that we had brought with us, and ran warps away to the shore of the islet, securing them to such rocks as were most convenient for our purpose. This done, we warped the little craft right in alongside the cliff, and made her secure; after which our next task was to carry ashore two stout hawsers which we had brought with us for the purpose, and convey them to the top of the cliff under which the felucca lay moored. Then we rigged a pair of sheers over the vessel's hatchway, and proceeded to hoist our 68-pounders out of the hold—one at a time, of course. Then, having got the first gun on deck—already prepared in Port Royal dockyard, by being encased in a stout cylindrical packing of planks—we passed the bights of our two hawsers round it, one at each end, and with all hands tailing on—except one, whom we set to watch as a sentinel—proceeded to parbuckle it up the face of the cliff. It was a stiff job, but, all our preparations having been made beforehand, everything went without a hitch; and when we knocked off work for the night all four guns were landed, together with their carriages; while, so far as we could discover, the pirates ashore remained in absolute ignorance not only of our doings but also of our whereabouts.
The same night, waiting until the darkness was sufficient to hide our movements from the pirates ashore, the gunner, the boatswain, the carpenter and I ascended to the highest point of the little islet, in search of a suitable spot upon which to construct our projected battery, and were fortunate enough to find it on the very summit itself. It was, indeed, perfectly ideal for its purpose, for it commanded not only the whole of the interior of the Cove, with the settlement ashore, but also both entrances, and the open sea, for a space of about a mile. And it possessed the further advantage that it needed but very little labour to completely adapt it for our purpose. So eager was I to complete our preparations that I would fain have set the men to work upon it that night; but they had already done extraordinarily well in getting the four guns landed and mounted upon their carriages; I therefore decided, though somewhat reluctantly, to let them have a long, unbroken night's rest; and when the next day arrived I was glad that I had been wise enough to do so, for they came to their work fresh, and laboured with a will. As for me, I spent the night doing sentry-go, for I fully expected to receive a visit from the shore some time during the hours of darkness. But nothing happened; and when at length day dawned and I was relieved, I was inclined to believe that our efforts to conceal our presence on the island from the pirates had been successful.
With the dawning of a new day, however, the critical period was past, and I cared very little whether the inhabitants of the settlement did or did not discover our whereabouts. We, therefore, got all hands to work the moment that it was light enough to see; and by the time that the pirates ashore began to show themselves, two of our four 68-pounders were in place on the spot which we had chosen for our battery, and were ready to open fire at a moment's notice. But the Cove was too small, and the islet too close to the settlement for us to conceal our whereabouts or our movements, when once we began to work upon the summit, where we were in full view of every eye within a range of a couple of miles; and the pirates ashore had not been on the move more than half-an-hour before it became apparent that our presence had been discovered. The indications that this was the case were clear and unmistakable; the alarm bell clanged out its summons, and instantly all work ceased and every man was seen to be hurrying toward the building in which I had been interviewed by Fernandez upon my arrival in the settlement. This could mean but one thing, namely, a speedy attack upon the islet; and in anticipation of this we hastened the completion of our preparations, so that we might be quite ready to meet that attack when it came. Our first business was to get the remaining two guns into position, and bring up to the battery our entire stock of ammunition. This did not cost us more than half-an-hour's strenuous labour, at the completion of which all hands went to work to tumble a sufficient quantity of ballast into the felucca to enable her to stand up under sail; and the moment that this was done I sent her out to sea, with a midshipman and four hands on board—in order that she might not fall into the hands of the pirates—with instructions to return only when the British ensign should be displayed from the battery.
Scarcely was the felucca under way when the sentinel who had been left in the battery, to keep watch upon the movements of the pirates ashore, summoned us to our posts; and upon our arrival there we at once saw that our preparations had not been completed a moment too soon. For, as we topped the hill that obstructed the view of the Cove from the seaward side of the islet, we saw the whole male population of the settlement, numbering about one hundred and forty, marching down to the beach, with the evident intention of embarking in their boats and pulling off to attack us. With the aid of my telescope I could distinctly distinguish the figure of Fernandez, who was assuming the direction of operations; and I could not but admire the strictness of the discipline which he appeared to exercise over his followers, for the fellows seemed amenable to his briefest order. They possessed exactly twenty boats in all, ranging in size from a craft capable of accommodating forty men down to the little Norwegian dinghy in which I had made my escape, and it was evident that every man of the party had been previously told off to some particular boat; for upon their arrival at the beach the hitherto compact body at once dissolved into twenty separate detachments, each of which made its way, in a perfectly orderly manner, to a particular boat; the whole flotilla being launched and manned at Fernandez' word of command. This done, the boats were turned round with their bows pointing straight for the islet, and—again at the word of command—the oars, as one, dropped into the water and the expedition advanced to the attack in a long straight line.
The boats had not so much as a single gun among them, their crew being armed simply with cutlass, pistol, and musket; I therefore felt no apprehension at all concerning the result of the coming conflict, but rather a somewhat unaccountable pity for the unfortunate wretches who seemed to be quite unaware that they were advancing to their doom. But this singular feeling of pity was quickly swamped by the reflection of the fate that would certainly be ours, should we by any chance be foolish enough to let the pirates get the better of us; and since it was important that we should make the utmost of our opportunities, I gave orders for the four guns to be loaded with grape and carefully aimed at the four largest boats. This was done, and the four pieces spoke their deadly message almost simultaneously, the smoke momentarily obscuring our vision, while the thunder of the discharge echoed and re-echoed round the cliffs in a long series of slowly decreasing reverberations. But long before these had died away the breeze had swept aside the pall of smoke that hid the boats from us, and we saw that, so carefully had the guns been aimed, each shot had taken effect, the four boats at which they had been discharged being now mere shapeless masses of wreckage, among which a few men struggled, here and there, to keep themselves afloat.
The casualties among the pirates must have been appalling, for I estimated that those four boats, being the largest in the entire flotilla, must have contained at least half the total number of men comprising the expedition, and, so far as I could ascertain, with the aid of my telescope, the survivors of the four crews scarcely numbered a dozen in all! Of course the nearest boats at once closed in upon the wreckage, with the object of rescuing those few survivors, and in so doing some half-a-dozen of them became bunched close together for about a minute. Such an opportunity was too good to be missed, and our guns having meanwhile been smartly loaded again, two of them were brought to bear upon the bunch, and simultaneously discharged. The result of these two shots was scarcely as effective as that of the previous discharge— possibly because the gun-captains had become a little flurried and excited—nevertheless two of the boats aimed at were blown to pieces, while two or three of the others showed signs of more or less serious damage, and the occupants were thrown into such dire confusion that, abandoning all further effort to save their comrades, they took to their oars and seemed intent only upon getting apart as quickly as possible, an example which was immediately followed by the remaining boats, the crews of which opened out until there was at least a couple of fathoms of clear water separating boat from boat.
For a few seconds I was under the impression that the havoc thus quickly wrought by our guns had so far discouraged the pirates that they intended to abandon the attack upon the islet—for there were several very evident signs of hesitation among them—but presently, apparently in response to the exhortations of Fernandez, who pulled along the line in a fast gig, the oars dipped once more, and the remnant of the flotilla most gallantly resumed its advance, amid cheers and yells of encouragement and defiance that clearly reached us on the islet.
CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.
THE EXTERMINATION OF THE PIRATES.
Nothing could possibly have been better, from our point of view, than the foolhardy gallantry of the pirates in thus persistently pressing home their attack upon the islet, for the advantage was all on our side, and must remain so until the enemy had landed and come to hand-grips with us; and it was imperative that, in order to ensure our own success, as many as possible of our foes should be put hors de combat before the fight became a hand-to-hand melee. It certainly seemed, at the first blush, to be rather cowardly to pelt the poor beggars with grape while they were unable to strike a blow in return; but the feeling was, after all, one of very weak, false sentimentality. Every man of them was an outlaw and, even if not yet an actual murderer at least a potential one, and a consorter with cruel, cowardly brutes in human shape who would destroy without mercy if they were not themselves destroyed—who were, in fact, worse than wild beasts; for whereas the latter take life merely to satisfy the cravings of nature, the average pirate slew for the sheer love of slaying, and in order that he might gratify the unnatural lust that caused him to revel in the sight of human suffering. Therefore, after the first qualm of reluctance, I felt no compunction in ordering the gunners to ply their weapons upon the advancing enemy with all the skill at their command. And right willingly did the men obey my order, sponging, loading, priming, pointing, and firing with the fell determination of men who knew that they must slay or themselves be slain; aiming so carefully that every shot was made to tell with disastrous effect; so that the advancing boats gradually fell into confusion as shot after shot whistled through them, sinking a boat here, shattering another there, and killing or maiming so many of her crew that she could neither advance farther nor retire, but lay upon the water a mere drifting, blood-bespattered wreck. Had the distance between the beach and the islet been half as far again as it actually was, there can be no doubt that the entire expedition would have been swept out of existence; as it was, nine out of the twenty boats which left the settlement survived to reach the islet, and were grounded upon the beach just below the battery. As the keels grated in upon the shingle their crews sprang out, dragged the boats well up, so that they would not go adrift, and then, sinking upon one knee, emptied their muskets at us, to cover the landing of their comrades; we, on our part, holding our fire in readiness to meet the rush upon the battery that was now imminent.
Here Fernandez, still unwounded, exhibited the only bit of sound generalship that had distinguished the attack; for instead of allowing his men to charge up the slope promiscuously as they landed, to be cut down or bowled over by our pistols, in detail, he ordered them to form up, in single file and open order, until the last boat had arrived, probably guessing that we were without muskets, and knowing that he and his men were for the moment beyond pistol-shot. Then, after allowing them time to recharge their muskets, and a minute or two additional in which to recover their breath and prepare for the desperate up-hill rush at the battery, he gave the word to advance, himself leading the way, while we, with naked cutlass in one hand and pistol in the other, crouched behind our low breastwork, watching the toiling figures scrambling and struggling up the steep, almost precipitous slope.
They had advanced about half-way, and Fernandez, still leading, was just about within pistol range, when I rose to my feet, sprang up on the low earth parapet which we had constructed, raised my sword above my head, and, in as loud and authoritative a voice as I could command, shouted, in Spanish:
Then, as the advancing pirates wavered and hesitated, in astonishment at my unexpected action, I continued:
"Fernandez, and you others, I call upon you to throw down your arms and surrender, in order to prevent the further sacrifice of life. You can do no good by persevering further in this futile attack, for we are the masters of the situation, and we can shoot down every man of you before it will be possible for you to reach the spot where I stand. To push on will simply mean—"
Crack! One of the pirates, crouching behind another, had coolly levelled his musket and taken a pot shot at me, the bullet passing through my hat and searing my skull like a white-hot wire, so that I toppled over with the shock and fell back into the arms of one of my men. The yell of savage joy raised by the pirates at the sight of my fall was echoed by my own men as they sprang to their feet, intending to leap over the low parapet and charge down upon the advancing foe to avenge me. But I was not really hurt, and, shaking off the grip of the man who held me, I cried out in time to stay them, adjuring them, by all that they held dear, to stand fast where they were, and finish the fight in the battery itself. And splendidly they obeyed me, although they might well have been excused had they ignored my command; for the firing of that musket-shot served as the signal for a general fusillade on both sides, in the course of which four of our men fell. But ours was the commanding position, and by the time that the pirates had emptied their muskets and pistols at us we had brought them to a standstill, with more than half their number down. After that there was no possibility of further restraining our lads, nor, indeed, was there any need. We, therefore, poured out over the low earthwork and down the few yards of slope that still intervened between us and the enemy, and the next moment were engaged in a hand-to-hand, life-and-death conflict, neither side expecting or giving quarter. For the few seconds that it lasted it was warm work, the pirates fighting desperately—since they knew that, if taken alive, the halter awaited them—and then, in the space of a minute it was all over. The last of our foes was down—as well as a few more men on our own side—and we who remained unhurt stood gasping for breath, and mopping our perspiring brows as we glared hungrily about us for more foes to conquer. But there were none; and presently pulling ourselves together, we gathered up our own wounded and carried them to such shade as could be found, where the surgeon's mate, who formed one of our company, at once got to work upon them, attending to their hurts. Meanwhile the ensign was hoisted as a signal to the felucca to return to the harbour; and then such of us as could be spared went out to disarm the wounded pirates and afterwards afford them such relief as lay in our power, while others again gleaned the weapons and ammunition of the fallen, recognising that they might possibly be useful in our fight with the crew of the Tiburon later on.
Then, having made all arrangements for the conduct of the work on the islet during the next few hours, I took the two largest boats that had survived the passage across the waters of the Cove, and with a dozen men, armed to the teeth, under the leadership of myself and the boatswain, pulled away to the settlement, to see how matters stood in that direction. As I had anticipated, there was not a man left in the place—not even a boy above fourteen years of age; every male above that age had been detailed to take part in the attempt to capture the islet, which Fernandez had fully recognised to be the key of the entire position. And now, of the hundred and fifty who had taken part in the disastrous attempt, every one was either slain, or lay wounded in our hands.
While I was taking stock generally of the situation, so to speak, and making my further plans, the boatswain, assisted by the seamen whom we had brought ashore with us, made a careful and systematic search of every building in the place, removing every weapon, everything that could be used as such, and all ammunition, and transferring them to the two boats prior to our return to the islet. There were not many weapons, and not a very great quantity of ammunition; but there was more than we could conveniently stow in the boats. We, therefore, took a portion of it out to about the middle of the bay and there threw it overboard, returning for the remainder and conveying it to the islet. The most important result of our visit to the shore, however, consisted in the information, freely given me by one of the women, that, so far as she had been able to gather from the conversation of the men, the Tiburon and her crew might be expected to arrive in the Cove at any moment.
By the time that I and my party got back to the islet the day was well advanced, the felucca had returned to the Cove and was now anchored inside the islet, close to its southern shore, and the surgeon, although still busy among the wounded pirates, had doctored up the whole of our own wounded and made them comfortable. As might have been expected from the peculiar character of the engagement and the enormous advantage of position which we enjoyed, our casualties were singularly light, consisting only of five killed and nine wounded. But in the case of the pirates there was a very different story to tell. I had ascertained, while ashore, that they left the settlement one hundred and fifty strong; and now all that remained of them amounted to just thirty-seven wounded, of whom at least one quarter would probably succumb to their hurts. Those thirty-seven I caused to be put into the boats, as soon as they had, been attended to, and conveyed to the settlement, where I turned them over to the care of the women folk, who, I thought, would probably be able to give them more attention and better nursing than we could hope to afford. The next day, at the urgent request of several of the women, I also caused our own wounded to be taken ashore, where, under the supervision of the surgeon, they were taken in hand and most tenderly cared for. The dead—both our own and as many as we could find belonging to the pirates—were hastily sewn up in canvas, weighted, and launched overboard from the felucca, which was taken well out to sea for the purpose.
It was about three bells in the forenoon watch, on the fifth day after the attack upon the islet, that two sail were sighted by the lookout, standing in toward the Cove; and half-an-hour later I was able to identify one of them as the infamous Tiburon, while the other was a large craft, apparently British, judging by her build and the cut of her canvas; doubtless a capture.
We had long ago made every possible preparation to give the pirate schooner a warm reception upon her arrival, going even to the length of surrounding our battery with a parapet and masking the latter by covering it with sods of growing grass. We had now, therefore, nothing to do but patiently to await the arrival of the enemy, confident that he would sail right into the Cove, unsuspectingly, and never get so much as a hint of our presence until we should open fire upon him.
As we had planned so matters turned out; the two vessels entered the Cove together and simultaneously came to an anchor, the big craft—upon the stern of which we descried the words Berwick Castle: Bristol— anchoring about a cable's length east of the schooner and, very fortunately for those chiefly concerned, well out of our line of fire.
We waited until we saw the anchors of both vessels splash into the placid waters of the Cove, and heard the rumble of their cables as they smoked out through the hawse-pipes; then, while the gunners brought the four 68-pounders, loaded with round shot and grape, to bear upon the crowded deck of the pirate schooner, another party raised a rough flagstaff, to which a British ensign had been nailed, and dropped its heel into a socket already prepared for it. Even then it was nearly a minute before our presence was discovered by the pirates, who were at that moment busily clewing-up and hauling down their canvas preparatory to stowing it. But the boatswain, the gunner, and I all had our telescopes focussed upon the schooner, keenly watching every movement on board her, and it was not long before I recognised upon her quarter-deck, issuing orders and generally carrying himself with an air of authority, the handsome rascal who, during the fight between the Tiburon and the Wasp, had hailed us asking whether we had struck. Almost on the instant of recognising him I saw a man run up to him, excitedly say something to him, and point toward the islet. The handsome rascal—who was without doubt the pirate captain, Manuel Garcia himself—stood, stared amazed for a few seconds at the islet, and then made a dash for the companion, from which he withdrew a telescope, which he levelled in our direction. For perhaps a quarter of a minute he kept the tube steadily pointed toward us; then with a gesture of mad ferocity he dashed the instrument to the deck, and, seizing his speaking-trumpet, placed it to his lips. The effect was an instant stoppage of the operation of clewing-up and hauling down aboard the Tiburon, while every eye in her was, as by one impulse, directed toward the islet. But the pause endured only for a space of a few seconds, just long enough to enable the gazers to identify the flag flying on the islet as the British ensign, thereupon everybody seemed to be galvanised into instant, breathless activity again. Now, however, the former processes were reversed; the men who were already half-way aloft, intent upon furling the canvas, started to return to the deck, others sprang to the sheets and halliards and began to sheet home and hoist away as if for their lives, and, in short, it was evident that the pirates contemplated getting under way again and attempting to escape out to sea.
It was at this moment that the boatswain, who still had his glass focussed on the schooner, cried out:
"They're goin' to cut her cable, Mr Delamere! Look, sir, and you'll see a chap hurrying for'ard with an axe in his hand."
"Is that so?" I exclaimed. "Then bring Number 1 gun to bear on the schooner's forecastle and sweep it clear. Quick, before they can cut her adrift! It will never do to have her drifting all over the Cove."
I was interrupted by the crashing report of Number 1, which, with the others, had already been most carefully trained upon the schooner; and as the smoke blew away we saw the vessel's port bulwark, all about the cathead, thickly dotted with white marks where the shot had struck, while the forecastle, which had been crowded with men a moment before, was now clear; not so much as a single head showed above the rail.
"Give them the other three guns, as quick as you please; and keep up your fire, with grape only, until you receive further orders," I cried. And almost as the words left my lips the other three guns bellowed their terrible message, in response to which the men on the Tiburon's deck seemed to shrink and disappear. But although a good many of them went down, enough were still left to enable them to man their port broadside of seven 12-pounders, as well as their long 32; and with astounding rapidity they brought the whole of these guns to bear upon the spot from which the jets of flame and smoke issued, marking the position of our guns, while they defiantly ran up the black flag to their main truck.
Now the action raged fast and furious, both sides loading and firing as rapidly as they could, although I continually exhorted our own gunners to give themselves plenty of time to take careful aim. The enemy quickly got our range to a nicety, and their shot came screaming about our ears and plumping into our earthen rampart in an almost continuous shower, blinding us with the dust and dirt that they threw up, and occasionally sending the splinters flying in all directions when the shot happened to strike a stone. Yet, marvellous to relate, although several of us were suffering from severe contusions caused by those flying splinters of rock, not one of us was, thus far, actually disabled, while, within ten minutes from the beginning of the firing, that of the schooner slackened perceptibly, showing plainly how severe was the punishment which we were inflicting upon her. This was further exemplified by the fact that presently a man was seen to be hailing the Berwick Castle, in response to which two boats were lowered, and, crowded with men, pulled over to the schooner. Thus reinforced, the Tiburon's fire breezed up again for a few minutes; then it gradually slackened again; and finally, when the action had been in progress some twenty minutes, it died away altogether, the black flag being slowly and reluctantly hauled down, a minute later, in token of surrender.
"Cease firing, lads," I cried; "the schooner has struck. Now, while the guns' crews remain here, ready to open fire again, if need be, the rest of us will go aboard and take possession." And, with a wild cheer, some thirty of us leaped the ruins of our parapet and dashed headlong down the steep slope to the little strip of beach where half-a-dozen boats were drawn partly up out of the water.
To pounce upon those boats, rush them afloat, and then tumble helter-skelter in over the gunwales was the work of seconds only; then, throwing out the oars, away we went for the pirate schooner, keeping well apart, in case of a treacherous resumption of firing on the part of the pirates. But nothing occurred, everything remained silent—almost ominously so—on board the schooner, one head only showing above the torn and splintered bulwarks—that of a man who, apparently wounded, clung to the main-topmast backstay, seeming to watch our approach. As we drew nearer that head gradually assumed a recognisable appearance in my eyes, until at length I felt convinced that it was that of Garcia himself. Suddenly, as I watched, the fellow disappeared, not as though he had sunk to the deck exhausted but rather as though he had gone elsewhere at a run, and with his disappearance a strong suspicion of some diabolical treachery on his part gripped me. I wrestled with it for a few seconds—until in fact we were within half-a-dozen fathoms of the schooner's side; then, influenced by some irresistible impulse, I sprang to my feet and shouted:
"Hold water all! we will go alongside the ship first, and see what is the state of things there. The schooner is safe; she cannot escape; but while we are aboard her who can tell what may be happening aboard the ship? Round with the boats, men, and pull alongside the Englishman!"
With one accord the boats swept round and headed for the Berwick Castle, and a couple of minutes later we were alongside and swarming up her lofty sides. I was in the act of swinging in over her rail, in the wake of her main rigging, when a terrific concussion shook the vessel from stem to stern, a loud boom, like the explosion of a pent volcano, rent the air, and, looking in the direction of the sound, we saw a vast sheet of flame and smoke suddenly burst from the schooner; her masts, guns, and a vast quantity of debris—among which we recognised some thirty or forty human bodies—went hurtling high into the air; her sides opened out, showing her ribs here and there black against the white flame; and then the torn and dismembered hull sank in the midst of the seething waters of the Cove, followed by the plunging debris as it came down again after its flight into the air. My instinct had warned me aright; the man I had seen was, beyond all doubt, Garcia himself; and he had fired the vessel's magazine in the hope of blowing us all into the air with him as we boarded!
"By the Living Jingo, sir, that was a lucky thought of yours to order us to board this ship first!" gasped the boatswain, with white and quivering lips, as he clung to the rail. "Where would we all ha' been if we'd gone on and boarded that schooner, as we at first intended to?"
As soon as our somewhat shaken nerves would permit we proceeded to search the Berwick Castle, in the hope of finding some at least of her crew, but there was no trace of them beyond the seamen's chests in the forecastle and the clothing of the master and officers in their respective cabins, all of which showed signs of having been made free with by the captors; the crew had vanished, to the last man, having doubtless been offered, in accordance with the pirates' usual policy, the alternative of service under the black flag, or—death. And apparently, to their eternal honour, they had chosen the latter.
My story is done, for there is no need to weary the reader with prosaic details regarding the arrangements which I made for the removal of the women from the pirate settlement prior to its destruction, or how the latter was accomplished. Let it suffice me to say that the destruction was so thorough and complete that no encouragement was left for other pirates to adopt the place as a rendezvous; and, so far as I am aware, no other pirates ever attempted to do so.
We sailed for Port Royal that same afternoon, about two hours before sunset; and just as the great luminary was about to sink gorgeously beneath the western horizon the wind failed us and afforded me the opportunity to do something which I very greatly desired to do, namely, to call upon my friends Don Luis and Dona Inez, the two warm-hearted friends who had played the Good Samaritan, and treated me with such generous hospitality, when I had been brought to their house, more dead than alive, after the loss of the Wasp. Thus far I had had no opportunity to pay them a visit, but now, by a lucky chance, the wind happened to fail us when we were within a couple of miles of the shore, and almost exactly abreast of Bella Vista, which was distinctly visible from the deck of the Berwick Castle, in the strong light of the setting sun.
I took my glass and carefully examined the shore, found the beach upon which I had been landed, saw that the water was smooth enough to permit of my landing, and recognised that here was an opportunity to visit my friends, and express my gratitude for all that they had done for me, which might never occur again. Next, I turned my glass upon Bella Vista itself, and saw that the doors and windows were opened, the latter draped with curtains, and I fancied I could even make out one or more persons seated under the shadow of the veranda; it was pretty certain, therefore, that my friends were at home, and I at once made up my mind to visit them, as I felt that I might with safety, for the calm would last about two hours, and then the land-breeze would spring up, and the Berwick Castle could then work close inshore and heave-to until I should rejoin her.
My preparations were soon made, and within ten minutes of arriving at my decision to go ashore, having left the boatswain in charge and given him all necessary instructions, I was in the boat and heading for the beach. Of course it was quite dark some time before the boat's keel grated upon the sand; but that fact did not greatly trouble me, for I knew my way quite well, and had very little difficulty in finding the path which led up to the house.
The building was by this time lighted up, and as I approached I heard voices, among which that of Don Luis was easily distinguishable. Then, as I ascended the steps which led up to the gallery running round the house, I heard Dona Inez speak, and the next moment she stepped out through the drawing-room window, and caught sight of me.
For a moment she stopped dead, with a startled look in her eyes; then, with a little scream of delight she darted forward, seized my hands, and impulsively kissed me on both cheeks in the Spanish fashion, much to my embarrassment.
"Luis—Luis," she cried, still holding my hands, "come hither quickly, caro mio, and see the most welcome sight that you have seen for many a day!"
"Why, yes, of course I will," responded Don Luis. And the next moment he too stepped out on to the gallery, straight up to me, and, like his wife, kissed me!
"Welcome! a thousand welcomes, my dear Don Ricardo!" he exclaimed, snatching my hands from his wife's clasp. "But where on earth have you sprung from?"
"From yonder," I answered, pointing to seaward where the lantern at the Berwick Castle's gaff-end shone like a star through the darkness.
"Well, you are just in time for dinner," he exclaimed, "so come in. There are others here who will rejoice to once more see you whom we thought dead long ago." And as these two dear, warm-hearted, impulsive friends dragged me in through the open window I became aware that the entire Mendouca family were in the drawing-room; and by them, too, I was very cordially welcomed, though, naturally, with a little more restraint than that displayed by Don Luis and his wife.
Oh! what a dinner that was, and how genuinely delighted they all were to see me—not excepting Mama Elisa and Teresita, both of whom insisted upon seeing me when they learned that I was in the house. Of course I had to relate to them in detail everything that had happened to me, from the moment when I went forth to reconnoitre on the memorable day of the attack on Bella Vista by the blacks, and many and loud were the ejaculations of amazement as I reached the most telling points of my story. It appeared that they had waited anxiously for my return, and had only finally given up hope at nightfall, by which time they had arrived at the conclusion that the blacks had got me and carried me away into the mountains to torture me to death. They told me that they had mourned for me as for a brother, and their delight at finding I still lived convinced me of the truth of the assertion. Later I learned that the Mendouca family were still enjoying Don Luis' hospitality, pending the rebuilding of Montpelier.
It was not until after ten o'clock that night that I succeeded in dragging myself away from Bella Vista, and only then upon the promise, which I most willingly gave, to keep in touch with them by letter, and repeat my visit as often as possible. But so far as the latter part of my promise was concerned, fate was against me, for I never again was privileged to meet any of them.
It was six bells of the first watch when I reached the Berwick Castle, by which time the land-breeze was piping up strong; and as soon as the boat was hoisted to the davits we filled away for Port Royal, where we arrived in due course, and landed our prisoners, to the number of twenty-three. Three weeks later they underwent their trial for piracy on the high seas, and, the evidence against them being overwhelming, they were all hanged at Gallows Point a fortnight after their conviction.
As for me and my crew, we obtained full and even generous recognition for our exploit, the merchants of the various West Indian islands combining together to present me with an exceedingly handsome service of plate, and to subscribe to a purse the contents of which was to be divided pro rata among the other officers and men of the expedition. The Admiral was good enough to express unbounded satisfaction at what he was pleased to term "the unusual skill and discretion" with which the task of exterminating a most formidable nest of pirates had been carried out; and he took considerable pains to afford me an early opportunity, not only to undergo the formalities of a court-martial for the loss of the Wasp, but also to pass my examination. Immediately after this latter event he presented me with my commission to a crack frigate; and in her I subsequently saw much exciting service, lasting up to the short-lived peace of Amiens, toward the end of the year 1801, by which time I had attained to the rank of post-captain. But although many of my subsequent experiences as an officer of the British Royal Navy were sufficiently strange and exciting, it was never again my lot to cross swords with a pirate; for "pirating" became an occupation to be shunned, so far as the West Indian waters were concerned, for several years after the memorable example made by the British Government in the inexorable hunting down and destruction of the notorious Garcia, the pirate of Hayti, and his formidable band.