“Why might he have taken against me?” I asked, to which Friday could only reply with a shrug and a mumble of “Ignore him.” Then he closed his eyes to indicate our conversation was at an end.
So I did. I ignored him.
This—obviously—infuriated Blaney even more. Blaney didn’t want to be ignored; he wanted to be noticed. He wanted to be feared. My failure to be frightened of Blaney—yes, it stoked his hatred of me.
Meantime, there were other things to think about. For example, a rumour going round the crew that the captain was feeling left out of spoils. There had been no raids for two months; we’d not earned so much as a halfpenny and there were rumblings of discontent, most of which were coming from his cabin. It became common knowledge that our captain felt as though he was holding up his end of the bargain but getting little in return.
What bargain, you might ask? Well, as privateers, we provided a presence for Her Majesty; it was as though we were unenlisted soldiers in her war against the Spanish. In return, of course, we were allowed to raid Spanish ships with impunity, which means as much as we bloody well wanted, and for as long as anyone could remember that’s exactly what had happened.
There were fewer and fewer Spanish ships at sea, however. At port, we’d begun to hear rumours that the war might be coming to an end; that a treaty might soon be signed.
Captain Dolzell, though, well, you’d have to give him credit for being able to look ahead of times and see which way the wind was blowing, and what with us being left out of spoils, he decided to take us on a course of action that went outside the remit of our letters of marque.
Trafford, the mate, stood next to Captain Dolzell, who removed his tricorn and wiped sweat from his brow before replacing it and addressing us all.
“This raid will make us rich, lads, your pockets will split. But I’ve got to warn ye, and I would be failing my duty as your captain if I did not, that it is indeed a risky venture.”
Risky. Yes. The risk of capture, punishment and death by the drop of the hangman’s scaffold.
A hanged man’s bowels open, I’d been told. A pirate’s breeches would be tied at the ankles to stop the shit escaping. It was the indignity of that which scared me more than anything. It wasn’t how I wanted Caroline to remember me, dangling from a rope, reeking of shit.
I had not left Bristol in order to become a fugitive from the law, a pirate. If I stayed with the ship and we went through with the captain’s plan, then that is what I would be. We would have the combined forces of the East India Company’s own Marines plus Her Majesty’s Navy after us.
No, I hadn’t joined up as a privateer in order to become a pirate, but all the same if I was ever going home, I couldn’t do it penniless. I had this idea that if I returned with riches I could pay the price on my head; that my enemies might be appeased.
But no, I hadn’t joined up to be a pirate. The money I earned would be earned legally.
Please cease your sniggering. I know how quaint I sound now, but back then, I still had fervour in my belly and dreams in my head. So when the captain made his offer, saying he knew not all on board would want a part of any badness, and that anybody not wanting a part should say now, or forever hold their peace, so that he could organize passage off the ship, I went to step forward.
Friday stopped me with a surreptitious hand. Not looking at me. Just stopping me from moving forward and staring straight ahead. From the side of his mouth he said, “Wait,” and I didn’t have to wait long to find out why. Five of the crew had shuffled up the deck, good men who wanted no part of any piracy. At a word from the captain the first mate had these five good men thrown overboard.
I decided there and then to keep my trap shut and instead determined that I would follow the captain, but only up to a point. I’d follow him, reap my share of the money we made, then jump ship. After I’d jumped ship, I’d join up with other privateers—after all, I was by then an experienced jack-tar—and deny all knowledge of ever having been on the Emperor when this terrible crime was committed.
As plans go, it wasn’t especially sophisticated. It had its flaws, I had to admit, but yet again I found myself stuck between a rock and a hard place with neither of my options being particularly appealing.
As the appeals of the men thrown overboard receded behind us, the captain went on to outline his plans for piracy. He didn’t go so far as suggesting we attack the Royal Navy, that would have been suicide; instead he knew of a target to be found in the West Indies. So there, in January 1713, was where the Emperor headed.
As we sailed among the islands, we would drop anchor in a sheltered bay or river estuary and men would be sent ashore to find supplies: wood, water, beer, wine, rum. We could be there for days and we’d pass the time catching turtles to eat or taking shots at birds or hunting cattle, goats or pigs if we could.
Once we had to careen the Emperor, which involved beaching her, then using block and tackle to turn her over. We used lit torches to burn off seaweed and barnacles, caulk her and replace any rotten planks, all under the direction of the ship’s carpenter, who used to look forward to such occasions. Hardly surprising, really, because we also took the opportunity to make repairs to the masts and spas, so he had the pleasure of ordering around the quartermaster as well as the first and second mates, who had no choice but to keep their mouths shut and carry on with the task.
They were happy days, fishing, hunting, enjoying the discomfort of our superiors. It was almost a disappointment having to set sail again. But set sail we did.
The ship we were after was a merchant ship run by the East India Company. There’d been many rumblings below decks regarding the wisdom of the enterprise. We knew that by attacking such a prestigious vessel we were making ourselves wanted men. But the captain had said there were only three naval warships and two naval sloops patrolling the entire Caribbean Sea, and that the East India Company’s ship, the Amazon Galley, was said to be carrying treasure, and that providing we brought the Galley to a halt in open water out of sight of land, we should be able to plunder the ship at our leisure, escape and be out of it.
Wouldn’t the crew of the Galley be able to identify us, though? I wondered aloud. Wouldn’t they tell the navy they’d been attacked by the Emperor? Friday had just looked at me. I didn’t care for that look.
We found it on the third day of hunting.
“Sail ho!” came the cry from above. We’d been used to hearing it, so we didn’t get our hopes raised. Just watched as the captain and quartermaster conferred. Moments later they’d confirmed it was the Galley and we set off across the water towards it.