For Prey and Spoils - Frederick Ober

A Voyage on a Gold-Laden Galleon

The days that ensued were so filled with horrors that I would rather pass them by, were they not so important in the unfolding of this narrative; but they formed links in the chain that connected us once more with the pirates, whom we had hoped forever gone from our sight. How we lived I know not, and especially how the senorita survived the horrid sights that met her gaze on every hand. As much as possible, Eli and I kept her in the background, while we went among the dead and gave them Christian burial. Not many people were left alive, though a few had hidden in the forest behind the town and some had survived their wounds.

The governor of the fort we found dead amongst a heap of slain, he having paid the price for his mistake in allowing the buccaneers to approach the walls of the fort without training his guns upon them. As we afterward learned from one of his soldiers who survived the attack, he perceived his error when Morgan brought up the maidens to place the scaling-ladders against the walls, and, rather than survive such a shameful deed, he fought until cut down. If he had not been slain by the enemy, the soldier said, he would have fallen upon his own sword, for there was naught else to do after having (though perforce) fired upon his own countrywomen. He was a noble soul, and in the great accounting hereafter, to which all must come, he will doubtless fare well as compared with such as Morgan and Mansvelt, whose souls were stained with innocent blood.

The buccaneers had departed, but not until they had, as they thought, put every living thing in Porto Bello to the sword. They even killed the cattle and horses in the fields; they razed the walls of the fort, and sailed away, bearing immense treasure; but whither they had gone we knew not; only Eli surmised, from what he had overheard on our voyage hither, that they would steer for the isle of Catalina, or perchance for Chagres, whence the isthmus might be crossed and the rich city of Panama invested. But we were to ascertain soon whither they had sailed, and to find that it was not to either of the destinations we had supposed probable. They had left no vessel afloat in the harbor, having scuttled and sunk all they took not away with them, so we were in a quandary as to how we might escape this pestilential spot.

A way was provided, but it was not the one we would have chosen had the matter been left to us. Nearly a week after we had sailed forth from the chapel, where we had been consigned, as the buccaneers imagined, to a dreadful death, we were gladdened by the sight of a sail on the western horizon. Having been for days engaged in burying the dead and succoring the wounded (in which occupation the senorita had proved a veritable angel of mercy, toiling night and day without a murmur and enduring incredible privations), we were gladdened, I say, e'en though the sail might have been one pertaining to a pirate ship.

God worketh in a most wonderful way to further the designs of those who trust in Him. It proved that the approaching sail was a Spanish galleon, one of a fleet which had set out from the isthmus for Spain, but, becoming crippled through an accident to its rudder, it had turned about and sought succor at Porto Bello. As it loomed larger and larger, the hope in our hearts grew stronger, for we knew, as soon as we saw the flag of Spain, that we had naught to fear. We gathered at the landing-place of the port, and there waved ever and anon a large white flag, in order that the master of the galleon might be made aware that there were friends ashore. For, seeing no boats in the harbor or fishing along the shore, as would have been natural, and, moreover, seeing the fort in ruins, he would have been suspicious, and perhaps have sheered off and left the port altogether.

"It won't do to let her get away," said Eli, waving the white banner vigorously. "We don't want to stay in this here hole any longer 'n we can help. For, what with the lack of living comp'ny and the many dead that it has been impossible for us to bury, there's no knowing what might happen. We'll all get fever, anyhow, if we stay here another week, I 'm conceiting. Ah, there she heaves to; she's sending a boat overboard; now the men are tumbling into it; now they're rowing this way. Hurray! guess, we'll be rescood this time, though I misdoubt what they'll do to me when they find out I 'm a buccaneer."

"But why should they find it out?" asked the senorita. "I shall not tell, nor will Senor Humphrey, I am very sure."

"Of course not," I answered with warmth, "And so far as that goes, I 'm just as much of a buccaneer as Eli is, though not quite so long at the business. But he's going to swear off; aren't you, Eli, and not be a buccaneer any more?"

"If the good Lord 'll let me," answered the old buccaneer. "But my intentions don't seem to amount to much, for I've sworn off more 'n forty times in the past twenty years, and something or other's always turned up to yank me back ag'in into the ranks. Now, ma'am, and Hump, you hear me say 't, I'll foreswear the buccaneer's calling if the Lord will only let me; but, you also hear me say 't, something 'll happen to prevent me from escaping from the clutches of bully Morgan and Monseer Mansvelt. It does seem's though they had a grip on every man that's once in their service that couldn't be shooken. Now, here comes a boat from a Don's great galleon, and we jwesoom that 't will take us to Spain, or else some other Spanish possession; but, mark my words, I b'lieve 't will bear us right back ag'in into the buccaneer's jaws. Sorry to seem so doleful, ma'am, but them's my sentiments, and I can't give out no other."

"I would like to get back to Spain," said the senorita, thoughtfully; "but first I wish to see my papa and my sister, and take them with me. Do you think, Senor Humphrey, that the captain of the galleon might be prevailed upon to call with us at Tortuga, even if just for an hour, to take them away? It seems that my heart will break with all the dread doings of the past weeks and this uncertainty."

The maiden looked so wan, and withal gazed so beseechingly into my eyes, that I fain would have given my life to serve her. But she knew that I would honestly divulge my opinion, even if it were adverse to her desires. So I told her that even were it possible for the master of the Spanish ship to change his course and sail northwardly to Tortuga, it would hardly be discreet for him to do so, peradventure he might meet up with the pirate fleet. Still, we would consult him, and anyway ask him to bear us from this port."

"But I do not want to leave unless I can go to my papa and my sister," declared the senorita. And I know that if I can lay the matter before the captain of the galleon, and provided he be a true son of Spain, he will even run the risk of his life to accomplish my desires. As for moneywealth—I can reward him by vastly more than the worth of his vessel, for my papa would not regard any price for my return to him, as he has treasures untold at his castle in Andalusia."

"True, my lady," I rejoined; "and I trust the captain will be open to argument, and sooth, thou knowest that both Eli and myself would consider no risk too great if we might accomplish thy desires. I was merely telling of the objections that might be raised, in order that thou mightest not he disappointed."

"Thou art a true friend, Senor Humphrey, for thou dost not mislead one; still, let me hope for the best until the worst is known."

Meanwhile the boat approached to land and came within hail. A gallant looking man in uniform sat at the helm, and a sturdy company of musqueteers held their arms ready at command while the sailors rowed to shore. Eli and I hastened to aid in drawing the boat upon the sands, and the man at the helm lost no time in leaping ashore and interrogating us as to the cause of the desolation on every hand. He did not at first see the senorita, for she had held herself aloof; but as he spake Spanish, of which our understanding was but meagre, she came to the rescue from behind a wall where she had hidden herself, and appeared before us. At the sound of her musical voice, speaking to him in the liquid accents of his native tongue, the captain started violently, and, doffing his hat, bowed low as he said:

"Methought I heard an angel, now my eyes tell me that I heard aright."

He was an old man with gray beard and mustachios, and he moreover had the bearing of a gentleman, so I felt that his exaggerated style of speech was not intended for mere flattery, but proceeded from custom.

"No angel, senor capitan," replied our lovely maiden, "but a countrywoman of yours in distress. I am the daughter of Count Pasquale de los Remedios, who with my sister is now a prisoner at Tortuga. I and my friends here are survivors of a recent attack upon Porto Bello by those same buccaneers, who have departed leaving it desolate, as you may see, senor."

The captain bowed again, this time nearly touching the ground with his forehead. "I am your servant, senorita. Much as I mourn to discover a daughter of the famous Count Pasquale in distress, I thank my stars and fortune that it has fallen to me to be the humble means of her rescue. Senorita, I and my ship, and all my men, are at your disposal. Tell your servant what he can do, and he will at once move heaven and earth to perform that service for the lovely daughter of the great and mighty Count Pasquale."

The captain concluded this pretty speech with another bow, sweeping the ground with his chapeau, and placed his hand on his heart as an earnest of his good intentions.

Our senorita could hardly repress a smile, despite the gravity of the occasion, yet she replied most sweetly: "Senor capitan, you do me great honor. I knew, of course, that any gallant sailor flying the flag of Spain would hold his service at the command of a maiden in distress; and, senor, I am in such dire straits that I must ask a favor of you and your men—a favor which my father will requite with the half of his estates. It is this—to take me to the isle of Tortuga, there to rescue my father and my sister from the peril they are in. Thence you may take us whither you like, whither your duty carries you; but I trust it will be to Spain."

The captain's face, as the senorita unfolded her request, was indeed a study. As it developed that she wished him to take her to Tortuga, which he, of course, knew as a den of buccaneers, the deadly foes of all honest mariners, and especially of his nationality, his countenance became almost livid at the thought. When she had concluded, his confusion was most pitiful, for he had indeed no desire to proceed to Tortuga, neither wished he, hardly dared he, to deny the request of a fair Spanish woman, and particularly the daughter of a powerful noble like the Count de los Remedios, e'en though he were then a prisoner. He was descended from one of Spain's most ancient families and allied with some of the greatest grandees of Sevilla and Granada.

"Most noble senorita, your desire is—should be—my law; but—but, fairest daughter of my native land, I—that is, my owners—have a king's ransom concealed in the hold of yonder galleon; that is, we have gold from the Peruvian mines beyond a million in value; and, moreover, one-fifth of it belongs by right of law to his majesty the king. Hence, O most worthy daughter of my country's most noble son, I dare not put my vessel in jeopardy, even for your sake. It is not that I would not lay down my very life for you; and of this mind, were I to speak to them, would be all my men, to the last one. We do not fear the bucaniers, but we fear the king's displeasure, senorita. Even at this moment I am far too near the pirates' rendezvous, forced to come here through stress of circumstances."

The senorita's lips curled with scorn, and she flashed a look at the captain which caused him to shrink into himself like the head of a tortoise within its shell. But she said naught more than this: "Where, then, senor, can you take us? For we must go hence."

"I came here in search of a shipwright," he hastened to explain, "to repair a damaged rudder; but as all are, as you say, either dead or departed, I must sail for the next available port, which, so far as I know, is Maracaibo. There, doubtless, we shall find a Spanish frigate, with the commander of which I will use my good offices to have you taken to Tortuga."

"A thousand thanks, senor capitan; but we will trouble you only to take us hence. It may as well be Maracaibo, perhaps, as any, other port, and we will trust to fortune for meeting there a commander who is not afraid of the buccaneers!"