For Prey and Spoils - Frederick Ober

How the White Slave Purchased his Freedom

"Oh, Ho!" laughed Eli Herrick. "Here's a pretty kettle of fish: A Yankee, a Roundhead and a Cavalier! Each one of us had a soldier for a father, and each one fought for a different cause."

"But each one fought for the right, as he thought then," said John.

"Well, maybe; we won't quarrel about it. The fact remains that he fit and was a soldier, and that we, the sons of soldiers, ought to have enough fighting blood in our veins to give us a little glory on our own account. What say you, friend Humphrey Gilbert?"

"I say, I've had enough of fighting, and would much rather run away."

"Don't believe it; anyway, your record don't show it. Howsomever, you'll get your fill of fighting ere you get out of this piratical trap. Mind your eye, now, this is sure as preaching."

By this we were outside the hut, sitting in the shade of the palms. The sun beat down fiercely upon the sands, but the sea-breeze blew freshly upon us and made the air gratefully cool. Reclining on the sands, John and I listened to Eli Herrick, as he told us what he knew of the island and its people, intermixed with some account of himself. First, he told us he came to have such liberty that day on account of his companions being all engaged in a foray upon the neighboring island of Haiti, which lay, large and beautiful to the view, across a two-league channel to the south and east. They had had some trouble with the planters there, and such of them as were not off on the cruise with Morgan and Mansvelt had taken their boats in order to descend upon the main island. Eli Herrick had watched his opportunity to escape from going on the foray—for it was no quarrel of his own, he said—and had slipped over to our side of the island to satisfy his curiosity as to ourselves. He had heard of what we had done, and in a measure who we were, but wanted to see for himself.

"Now, you must know," he said in the beginning, "this island we are now on is called Tortuga, inasmuch as it is said to somewhat resemble in shape a great sea-turtle, for which the Spanish is Tortuga de Tar. They tell me it was first found by a wise old Spaniard called Christopher Columbus, who has the name of having discovered America; though as to that I don't know, not having had much edicationleastwise only such as I have picked up at sea."

"Yes, said John, "that's what I've read in the history, and he came here in 1492, sailing back to Spain with the first information the Europeans ever had of these islands."

"Well, then, that goes," rejoined Eli Herrick. "So far so good. Chris., he come here and he give the name to this island. Then he sailed across the channel on the south of it, and put in at the larger island of Haiti—which you can see any time you want to by climbing up them rocks and looking to the s'uthard. They say the Spaniards had it all their own way in these waters till about a hundred year ago, when along come an old nigger stealer named. Hawkins, who had made a voyage to the coast of Africa, and where he filled up his ships with blackamoors and brought t'em to the Spanish islands to sell. He did so well that another Britisher called Drake—I always remember his name because it reminds me of duck—"

"And I remember it," I broke in, "because he was from my own Devonshire, and he was a gallant knight." At which words of mine John nodded hearty assent; for he too was from Devon, and our eyes filled at the thoughts of those we had left behind us there.

"That so?" asked Eli Herrick, carelessly, not feeling the full import of the words to us. "Well, your gallant knight, Sir Francis, played ducks and drakes with the Spaniards, so an old sailor told me, and is somewhat responsible for the war that followed between his country and Spain. Howsomever, things went from bad to wuss after the English privateers got into the Caribbean Sea, and along about thirty or forty years ago some French and English settlers in the island of Saint Kitts, over to the east'ard of here, were set upon by a Spanish Don and driven from their plantations. Some of 'em sailed away, and finally brought up at this here island of Tortuga, where they met some gallant tars, and formed a sort of combination against the Jack Spaniards. Some were French, and some were Dutch, and some ag'in were Britishers; but all were desp'rit men, every mother's son of 'em—made so by the acts of the Spaniards. And inasmuch as the Spaniards had done them all injury, so they leagued themselves together ag'inst 'em. And that's how this band of pirates began that you find on this island to-day.

"Fust they were called 'Filibusteros' by the Spaniards, because of the little boats they used, or 'filibotes,' but after awhile they got to be known as buccaneers, or boucaniers, which an old sailor who was one of 'em told me meant 'Meat Smokers.' You see, it come about in this way: When there got to be a consid'ble number of 'em, they divided up into three sorts or parties, one to plant, one to hunt, and the other to roam the sea. The party that hunted gen'rally went over to Haiti, where the woods are full of wild cattle, and there they killed the animals and smoked the meat for bringing it over here and preserving it when at sea. Now, the smoking of the meat is called by the Indians who live over there 'Boucan,' and so that's the way the Boucaniers got their name. But you may call 'em by any name you choose, my boys, and there is only one word fits 'em, and that is PIRATE—and write it big!

"How many are there here now, when all are to home? Oh, about fifteen hundred, all told, big and little pirates and prisoners, boys and girls, women and Injun salvages. 'Nough of 'em, by the blue blazes!

"How'd I get here? Well, friend Humphrey, I didn't swim, bet your boots; and I didn't come of my own accord, any more 'n you did, I guess. B'lieve I told you that the vessel I was in was taken off the north coast of Haiti, the cap'n, mate, and most of the sailors murdered in cold blood, and a few of us saved and brought here. I call it being kidnapped; don't know's you do. Howsomever, that's about the size of it. And not only was I kidnapped, but when I got here I was sold a slave to one of the boucaniers.

"Did he treat me well? Look here." Our friend rose to his feet, stripped off his shirt and showed us his bare back, which was striped with welts and scarred in divers places. Oh, it was a horrible sight, and I grieved that this old man should have suffered so much. Both John and myself showed our sympathy by the tears that welled to our eyes, and by our exclamations, at which Eli Herrick was greatly touched. He gripped our hands, as they were extended to him, and he looked into our faces and burst into tears. Then he sank to the sand again and buried his face in his hands, sobbing bitterly the while.

"Pang it all," he burst forth at last, drawing the back of his hand across his eyes; "I never meant for any man or boy ever to see me cry. But you are the first humans in many long years who have spoken words of sympathy to me. And though my master lashed me till my back was raw, then rubbed into the bleeding wounds the juice of lemons, mixed with salt and pepper, yet he never saw me cry nor heard me beg for mercy. Ah, God, but it is good to weep! Why did he lash me? Who knows but the devil? He was himself a fiend, if ever there was one, but no worse than the rest. They are all devils. But this one—ah, but I shall give his blood for dogs to drink ere I get through with him! He thinks I have forgot. Forgot? Ha, ha!"

Eli Herrick's face was working with wrath, his fists clenched and his chest heaving with excitement, as he rose to draw on his shirt. And I blamed him not; more, I aided and abetted him in the design he later concerted against his former masters.

"How did I get my liberty?" he said at last, repeating our inquiries after his wrath had somewhat cooled. "Well, such liberty as I have came to me through purchase. The hound thought he had killed me after stripping and tying me to a tree and lashing me until I fainted from loss of blood. He placed me in the hands of a chirurgion (surgeon or doctor) who, seeing that there was yet hope of life, and feeling somewhat of compassion for me, offered my master seventy pieces of eight for me, which he eagerly accepted. Under the chirurgion's care I recovered, but only to find in him a hardly less cruel master than the other, though he did not beat me. I was nearly naked, scarred—as you have seen me —worn down to the bone; and even though I gained strength again, I was such a sorry sight that my new master repented of his bargain.

"Now, about this time, as I was prowling about by myself, seeking only to get well, I was mercifully assisted by Providence: that is, I found the hiding-place of a coffer containing more 'n a thousand pieces of eight. Taking out two hundred pieces of eight, I returned the coffer to its hiding-place and went to seek my master, with a new hope in my heart. I knew what he had paid for me, and when I offered him for my liberty one hundred pieces of eight he jumped at the bargain at once. But, he repented him when he had got the money almost in his hands, thinking to get other pieces of eight, perchance a hundred more. But I was wary, bitter experience having taught me its lesson; hence I had brought him only fifty at the first, having buried the other fifty in the sand, and the remaining hundred eke in yet another spot. So when he haggled with me he got nothing for his pains, and finally, in the presence of witnesses, he agreed to take what I offered him and sign a release.

"You have heard perhaps that there is honor among thieves. Well, it is true that there is a certain sort of honor here. I am now a free man, and no one durst enslave me again. But still we are all in slavery of the most foul kind, being bound by oath to serve our leaders in whatsoever service they shall command. The penalty of disobedience is death; but other than this there is nothing to fear. Death is nothing once you are used to it; hey?"

Eli Herrick was in reckless mood from thinking upon the sufferings he had endured, perchance, and when I replied: "We should have no fear of this life's death, only death of the soul," he rejoined: "Oh, you ought to be a parson! I can see it by the cut of your jib. But preachin' don't go down on this island, so let me warn you fellers. Not that I'm ag'in it, but the others are.

"Howsomever, do as you please; only if you preach you'll get your head taken off in short meter. And, friends Humphrey and John, I don't want that to happen. You're the fast friends I've found sence I joined the 'Brethren of the Sea.' You hain't been taken in yet; but soon's the leaders get back you'll have to take the oath and sign the articles, or walk the plank, so you'd better be making up you minds. My advice is to do it; for an oath under compulsion, you know, don't count, and a lie to a pirate is rather a credit—provided you make anything by it. That's our code of morals, or a leaf out of the book, and I quote it for your benefit."

John and I were too depressed to make answer, seeing which the good fellow tried to cheer us up: "Come," he said, rising and stretching himself, "take a climb with me to the top of the cliffs, and I'll show you a bit of paradise. Take the boy by one arm, friend Humphrey, and I'll take him by the other, and 'twixt the two of us he will get there soon as we do."

After a hard climb over the rough rocks, taking many a rest for breathing spells, ever and anon stopping also to look at the fair view out-spread with ever increasing extent at our feet, we finally arrived at what may be truly called the backbone of the island of Tortuga. The rock was covered with soil along the ridge, and great trees grew thereon—trees that rose up high toward the clouds and spread their giant limbs athwart. They were hung with long vines like tangled ropes, and many strange plants sat astride their branches decked with gorgeous flowers.

Peering through the open space betwixt the trees, we could see off on either side the island, northwest and southeast; below us the little harbor, where our ill-fated "Nancy "lay rocking on the swell, a toy ship in the distance. But southwardly was the grandest view of all, for there was no horizon, as on the north, it being interrupted by the great island of Haiti, which the Spaniards named Hispaniola, extending as far as the eye could reach. Our island of Tortuga was but twenty miles in length, and the eye could measure it e'enmost; but that of Haiti was vast as well as beautiful. Purple mountains rose above the clouds, beneath which were broad areas of vivid greens, black gulches and ravines, dense forests, sparkling rivers in cascades, water-falls, hurrying toward the coast, where curving beaches of white sand lay between the blue sea and the fields. We would fain have gazed on this fair scene for hours—John and I—but hardly had we swept it once over with a glance when our friend pulled us back. "Down, down!" he said; "the pirates are returning!"