The Pirate's ApprenticeL.M. Batstone / History & Fiction
The Pirate's Apprentice
By L.M. Batstone
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either based on historical events, the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, events or locals is coincidental.
The Pirate's Apprentice
Copyright © 2014 L.M. Batstone
No part of this book may be reproduced or distributed in any form without permission.
All rights reserved.
Published by Scallywag Books
Surry, B.C. Canada
Second Edition: September 2014
For my baby boy, may you always follow your dreams through to fruition.
Table of Contents
I would like to thank the following people:
To my family and friends, thank you for your help and support. I couldn't have done this without you.
To Jenny and Jessica, thank you for all your help, suggestions and good advice.
To my postpartum maternity support group, thanks for listening.
As his mother pulled him toward the port of Antigua, John inhaled the briny morning air. His heart-beat quickened with anticipation as he took in the sights of the dock. In John's mind, nothing was more exciting than a sailor's life, except for the life of a pirate's, of course.
The early morning sun rose directly over the dock, blinding John. He threw a hand up to shield his eyes and stumbled as his mother yanked him forward, her fingers firmly interlocked with his. He hated holding his mother's hand, it made him feel like a simpleton, but as usual she had imposed her will and he had given in.
Again she yanked his arm, urging him to pick up his pace. He tripped over a loose board and almost fell to his knees as she dragged him forward. After a few awkward steps, he recovered his footing and managed to keep the pace she set as they rushed through the crowd of early morning travelers and traders. With every step the wood groaned and complained underfoot. Under normal circumstances, John would've been crying and moaning in protest, as well, but not this morning.
This was the morning of a new beginning for John, an adventure like none other. His mother was taking him on a trip to Jamaica where she planned to visit her sister. It was John's first time traveling off the island of Antigua, and more importantly, his first time sailing on a ship like the Bonetta.
John knew the ship right away by the gold letters painted on her hull. The Bonetta was a well maintained, medium-sized sloop, with a single mast that rose high into the sky. John fell in love with her the moment he laid eyes on her mahogany hull and her sparkling brass-rimmed port windows.
Her captain stood by, his head held high and proud as he supervised his crew. Her deck was bustling with activity. Many suntanned sailors were busy rolling heavy barrels up her gangplanks and loading them into her hold.
As John and his mother pushed through the crowd, the captain looked up and called out in a booming voice, "Setting sail for Jamaica."
The Bonetta's captain was dressed in a crisp white frilly shirt, black knee breeches and a black waist coat, fastened up the middle with brass buttons. His silk stockings were pulled up to the knee, as was the customary fashion. On his feet he wore simple brass-buckled, black-polished shoes, much like the kind John wore.
John was not very impressed by the man's crisp looking uniform, but was extremely dazzled by the captain's red, long-tailed jacket, adorned with a great many brass buttons and gold stripes. The other item that drew his attention was the captain's broad, bicorn hat, which partially obscured a white powdered wig that ended along the back of his neck in a short, thin braid and black ribbon. John wished he could try on the jacket and hat. And found his imagination entertaining the notion of breaking into the man's wardrobe while he slept and parading about in his attire.
"Ah, m' lady," the captain reached out with two white gloved hands. "I am Captain Abijah Savage. Ye must be Mrs. Alice King. Yer luggage arrived earlier. I'm so glad ye could make it. We'll set sail immediately after ye board."
"Thank you for waiting, Captain Savage. This is my son John." She let go of John's hand as she spoke.
The captain nodded at John, politely acknowledging the boy's presence, which was more attention than John had hoped to get. He smiled at the man and nodded back.
"Please, m'lady, let me help ye board," the captain said as took Alice's delicate hand in his. He helped guide her up the gangplanks and onto the deck of the Bonetta where they stopped for a moment to stand out of the way of the men who were busy loading the hold. John scampered along behind them, anxious not to be left out.
Aromatic steam wafted into the air off the freshly swabbed pine deck. John inhaled the exotic new scent with an audible sigh. This was where he longed to be. On a ship sailing to adventures unknown. For many nights leading up to this moment, John had lay awake, imagining what this journey would be like. Now, he could barely believe he was about to embark on such a voyage.
Then suddenly, he found himself wishing they would never make it to Jamaica. Instead, he pictured himself sailing off to the Americas, searching for adventure and treasure, living the kind of life he imagined pirates did. He closed his eyes and lifted his face towards sun, enjoying the heat against his skin and letting his imagination take flight.
A crew member brushed past him and mumbled a hurried apology as he knocked John back a step. Jarred to his senses, he jumped out of the way and focused his keen attention onto the busy men on deck. The crew paid the new arrivals little attention. They were busy preparing the ship to set sail and had much to do.
The crewmen weren't outfitted as finely as the captain, but they definitely had their own distinctive way of dressing: cut off canvas knee breeches of various colors, loosely fitting white button up shirts rolled up to the elbow, or sometimes, no shirt, no shoes or stockings. John looked at his own feet, fighting the sudden urge to kick off his shoes and rip off his silk constraints. He immediately stifled the thought, knowing his mother would be displeased if he acted on the impulse.
The captain escorted Alice and John down the ladder into the common room and walked past the kitchen galley as they made their way to the captain's quarters. A few of the passengers, all men, were seated at wooden tables playing cards. The room was filled with canvas hammocks hanging from the ceiling, for when passengers and crew needed rest. Half the hammocks were already in use. The other half were rolled up and securely fastened to a head hook.
As they strolled quietly past the crewmen, John wondered if it was difficult to sleep in a hammock.
On the far end of the common room, a red door waited for them to enter.
"A section of m' quarters has been cordoned off for yer use. I hope it is to yer liking, m'lady," the captain whispered. He opened the door and stood aside as he ushered them in.
It was a small room at the far end of the stern and had six window ports, two on each wall. A simple cot with white linens had been pushed against the right wall. A heavy red curtain had been hung along the opposite wall. It partially obscured two hammocks, which were hung between two port windows. John ran to the first window, behind the curtain and looked out. Sparkling waves stretched to the horizon and beyond.
"Ye're the only woman on board. I've spoken to the men an' they have all assured me they will be on their best behavior," Captain Savage said.
"Thank you. This will be sufficient," Alice said stiffly. She sat down on the bottom hammock to try it out. As the hammock swung, the hem of her long blue dress swept over the floor.
John watched his mother frown as she tried to get comfortable on the wobbly hammock. He suppressed a smile as he scanned the rest of their cramped quarters. His mother would never be comfortable in these conditions. She was too delicate a woman to sleep comfortably in a hammock, and much too pampered to enjoy it.
Before they had left the house earlier, John had overheard her complaining about becoming seasick on long journeys and wondered what she had meant by that. He had hoped to ask the captain how one got seasick, but was now afraid the question would only make him look foolish and ignorant in the man's eyes.
Just then, John noticed their luggage had been set under the second window. He lunged towards the top chest and opened it, looking for the slingshot he hid inside after his mother's servant had finished packing. He found it and shoved it down his shirt collar so she wouldn't know he had it.
"I'll let ye get settled," the captain said. "Ye're, of course, welcome in the common room an' on deck at yer leisure. Please let me know if ye 'ave any concerns," Captain Savage added as he left, closing the door gently behind him.
"John, bring me my book," Alice commanded. "What are you looking for?"
John shrugged. "Nothing," he said. He found her book, a worn, dog-eared copy of Bonifacius: Essays to Do Good, inside the inner lid pocket and handed it to her. He wasn't sure what the book was about, but could tell by the title that it was most certainly boring.
"If you're hungry, go ask the galley cook for something to eat. And bring me some tea. I want to read for a while."
John left the captain's cabin. In the common room, the same men were still quietly playing cards. John ignored them, hoping they wouldn't notice him, but none-the-less, he felt their eyes on his back as he walked past them on his way to the galley.
"Hello," John said quietly. He stopped in the doorway of the cramped kitchen and poked his head inside.
The galley was small, with only enough room for one person to move around. Inside, stood a man the size of a bull. He was chopping potatoes with a butcher's knife by the light of a dusty port window, which illuminated a countertop the size of a serving platter. The cook's hulking size made the tiny kitchen seem cramped beyond belief, leading John to wonder why such a man wasn't being used elsewhere.
"Lunch is served at noon," the cook said without looking up.
"My mom wants tea!" John blurted, not knowing what to say next.
Suddenly, the cook looked up and fixed an annoyed eye on John. "Tell her to come get it herself. That's sun brewed tea with lemon over thar. Once it's gone, that's the end of it." The cook pointed his knife at the narrow shelf where a row of glass jars containing an amber liquid sat against the wall. John suspiciously eyed the wedges of lemon floating inside the jars.
"Is there milk and sugar?" John asked as he looked from the jars back to the cook's face. He gasped when he noticed a ghastly scar that swept through the cook's left eye, rendering it useless. The cook wore stained white-and-green striped cut-off trousers, an un-buttoned, white shirt with the sleeves rolled up to reveal bulging, tattooed biceps, and a large black apron that covered him from chest to knee. A matching black bandanna held back the sweat dripping from his bald head.
"Aye there's sugar, but no milk," the cook growled. He stopped chopping and carried the potatoes to a large cauldron sitting overtop a small oil stove. He dumped them into the bubbling soup stock and stirred the pot's contents with a wooden spoon.
"She'll beat me if I come back with no milk for her tea," John said, knowing she wouldn't. She rarely hit him. He wasn’t sure why he lied like that. It was just something he did on a whim to gain sympathy.
The cook stared John down with his one maroon-colored eye. "Damn her then. Ye're her son, not her serving boy. Let her come ta me an' I'll set her straight." The cook opened a tin and took out a white lump of baked dough. "Here's a sea biscuit to tide ye over. Run along little rabbit." The cook tossed the biscuit at John, hitting him in the chest with it. John caught it on the rebound before it hit the floor.
For a moment, John stood still. He clutched the biscuit to his chest and contemplated what to do next. Should he go back and inform his mother the cook had no proper tea. As he thought it over, he took a bite of the dry, flaky biscuit and coughed as it turned to grit in his mouth. He tried, unsuccessfully to swallow and coughed some more. What he needed was water to wash it down.
On his way into the galley, he had noticed a stack of tin mugs beside a barrel, near the entrance. He snatched up a cup as he walked back out and scooped out some liquid from inside the barrel. He took a long, greedy drink, but instantly gagged up the burning, astringent liquid into his sleeve and coughed until his eye watered and his cheeks felt likely to split.
A man sitting at a nearby table chuckled.
"That's grog son," called a white-haired man. "You best drink it slowly. Why don't ye come over here an' be social."
"What's grog?" John asked as he struggled to breath between coughing fits.
When he felt he had finally gotten his body under control, he stepped slowly towards the men. They were all looking at him now and he could feel his cheeks burning with embarrassment. But the one who had spoken was smiling in a friendly way, so John felt comfortable approaching him.
On closer inspection, the portly, old man reminded him of his late grandfather who always had a strip of sugarcane sticking out of his mouth. John's memories of the man were faded, but fond. When he was a little boy he would sit on his grandfather's knee and search his pockets for the sugarcane he always had hidden there. Together they would enjoy his sun-warmed place on the front porch, rocking the afternoon away in the man's favorite rocking chair.
"Grog is a mixture of rum, water, and sugar. You might want to ask the cook for a cup of broth instead. It'd go down better in combination with that sea biscuit o' yours," the man advised. "I'm Mr. Benjamin Wicker. And who might you be?"
"Ah, that's a grand name. These two fine fellows are Paul Williams and William Osbourne."
John nodded towards the two other men sitting at the table. He noticed two slaves sitting on the floor behind Mr. Wicker and knew they wouldn't be introduced. The African man and a teenaged Indian boy sat shackled together like beasts. Neither of them bothered to lift their heads to make eye contact. John hated the sight of men and boys in undeserved shackles, but it was a familiar one, as his family had many slaves back at their sugar plantation where his father treated them just as poorly.
"Paul here is a fellow passenger and Bill is part of the Bonetta's crew. Isn't that right?" Mr. Wicker said as he turned to the man he had just named.
"Aye," Bill said with a curt nod. He placed his hand of cards face-down on the table and crossed his strong looking forearms across his chest. John noticed he wore a uniform much like the captain's and assumed he was an officer of some sort.
"What's your job?" John asked, excited to be talking to a member of the crew.
"I'm a gunner's mate. That means I shoot at pirates." He chuckled. The rest of the men joined him.
"Pirates!" John exclaimed, excited by the notion.
"Don't worry. They'll be few and far between. I'm sure we won't be bothered by any on our trip," Mr. Wicker assured him.
John wasn't worried at all, he welcomed the idea, but he kept that to himself.
"Move along boy," a man above him in a hammock snarled. "Some of us are trying to sleep."
John looked up into the eyes of the sailor lying in the hammock. The young man held his black tricorn hat above his face for a moment, just long enough to stare hard into John's eyes, then he placed the hat back over his face again.
Thoroughly intimidated by the sailor's hostile glare, John nodded a polite goodbye to the men at the table. As he hurried away, he heard the men laughing again, but this time he didn't care. His curiosity urged him beyond the ladder where the dark underbelly of the ship beckoned. The urge to explore took hold of him, causing him to completely forget about his mother who was waiting for him to return.
The room beyond the ladder was a storage space. Barrels and crates were stacked to the ceiling, secured in place by ropes and nets. A narrow pathway had been created down the middle to allow one person to get through. John walked to the head of the ship where he found an outhouse of sorts. The bench at the bow of the ship had a hole in it just large enough for a man to sit over. John threw the rest of his uneaten biscuit down the hole. It splashed into the waves below with a satisfying plunk. The biscuit floated for a moment then sank out of sight.
John turned and walked back to the ladder and then, climbed up to the deck, curious to see if they had left the dock yet. He found a spot out of the way, behind the helmsman, and watched the crew work. It seemed he had arrived just in time to watch them launch the Bonetta.
"Weigh anchor, release th' moorings, stow the cordage an' heave ho th' mainsail," barked the captain in sailor speak, a language John did not quite understand. The crew understood and quickly carried out their tasks. They hoisted the anchor, untied the ropes that held the boat to the dock and raised the sails. Soon the wind was filling the sails and the ship began to move.
John ran to the bow and climbed the rail, so he could hang over the edge as the sloop left the dock. He watched the waves break over the prow of the Bonetta as she gained speed. A soft, refreshing mist hit his face every time the prow crested a wave. He enjoyed the contrasting feel of the cool mist on his hot, sun-warmed skin.
Again he found himself wishing they were headed out to open sea and not to a neighboring island. His gaze followed the waves to the horizon and a shot of exhilaration rushed through him as he imagined himself captaining a ship of his own, plundering sloops and galleys at whim.
Noisy seagulls circling above brought John out of his daydream. He raised his eyes to watch them soar and dive, and wondered how far they would follow the Bonetta out to sea.
"It's a wondrous sight, is it not?" Captain Savage said as he approached from behind.
"How long does it take to get to Jamaica?" John asked.
"A week, give or take a day or two. It depends on the sea, and whether or not the wind is strong and prevailing. Aye, the sea can be a fickle mistress," the captain sighed.
"Will there be pirates?" John asked hopefully.
"Oh," John said.
"Don't sound so disappointed lad." The captain slapped John on the shoulder. "We'd never make our destination if pirates were to mess with us."
The look of disbelief on John's face urged Captain Savage to explain further.
"Ye know they'd kill all aboard and rape your mother. Aye, lad they would, and they'd kill her too. Pirates are evil scoundrels, they are. And after all that, they'd steal everything, including the clothes on our backs, and burn the rest. The Bonetta would sink to the bottom of the sea leaving no trace of their murderous rampage."
John's heart sank. He hadn't considered the reality of what it meant to be attacked by pirates. "But perhaps they're not all that bad. The slaves back home say freedom can be found on a pirate ship. They say …"
Captain Savage interrupted. "Freedom? Lad, that's rebellious talk. Ye better tell yer father of such talk when ye return home."
John ignored the comment. He had no intention of telling his father anything he had heard in the kitchen. The women there were kind to him and didn't deserve to be whipped for craving freedom. "They say some pirates are good. They only steal from the rich to balance the scales, like Robin Hood."
"Ha!" the captain scoffed. "Thieves are thieves. Pirates are merely highwaymen of the high seas. Aye 'tis true some slaves may find themselves free for a time as a thief, but on land they'll always be a slave and there's no escaping that."
John didn't know what to say in response, so he chose to hold his tongue. Clearly the captain had more knowledge on the subject than he did. But he just couldn't let go of the fantasy. In his idealistic imagination, pirates were the underdogs of society, fighting against strangling social constraints. They went where they wanted and did as they liked. John couldn't think of a better way to live than that.
The captain became quiet for a time too. He stayed with John for awhile, watching the ocean, lost in his own thoughts. Then just as suddenly as he had appeared, he left to tend to his duties.
I bet the captain has never met a real pirate, John thought. They can't possibly be as bad as he says.