Careening was a very necessary operation
for the old pirate. On his superior speed he
depended both for overhauling the trader and escaping
the man-of-war. But it was impossible to retain
his sailing qualities unless he periodically once
a year, at the least cleared his vessel’s
bottom from the long, trailing plants and crusting
barnacles which gather so rapidly in the tropical
seas. For this purpose he lightened his vessel,
thrust her into some narrow inlet where she would be
left high and dry at low water, fastened blocks and
tackles to her masts to pull her over on to her bilge,
and then scraped her thoroughly from rudder-post to
During the weeks which were thus occupied
the ship was, of course, defenceless; but, on the
other hand, she was unapproachable by anything heavier
than an empty hull, and the place for careening was
chosen with an eye to secrecy, so that there was no
great danger. So secure did the captains feel,
that it was not uncommon for them, at such times, to
leave their ships under a sufficient guard, and to
start off in the long-boat, either upon a sporting
expedition or, more frequently, upon a visit to some
outlying town, where they burned the heads of the women
by their swaggering gallantry, or broached pipes of
wine in the market square, with a threat to pistol
all who would not drink with them.
Sometimes they would even appear in
cities of the size of Charleston, and walk the streets
with their clattering side-arms an open
scandal to the whole law-abiding colony. Such
visits were not always paid with impunity. It
was one of them, for example, which provoked Lieutenant
Maynard to hack off Blackbeard’s head, and to
spear it upon the end of his bowsprit. But,
as a rule, the pirate ruffled and bullied and drabbed
without let or hindrance, until it was time for him
to go back to his ship once more.
There was one pirate, however, who
never crossed even the skirts of civilisation, and
that was the sinister Sharkey, of the barque Happy
Delivery. It may have been from his morose
and solitary temper, or, as is more probable, that
he knew that his name upon the coast was such that
outraged humanity would, against all odds, have thrown
themselves upon him, but never once did he show his
face in a settlement.
When his ship was laid up he would
leave her under the charge of Ned Galloway her
New England quartermaster and would take
long voyages in his boat, sometimes, it was said,
for the purpose of burying his share of the plunder,
and sometimes to shoot the wild oxen of Hispaniola,
which, when dressed and barbecued, provided provisions
for his next voyage. In the latter case the
barque would come round to some pre-arranged spot
to pick him up, and take on board what he had shot.
There had always been a hope in the
islands that Sharkey might be taken on one of these
occasions; and at last there came news to Kingston
which seemed to justify an attempt upon him.
It was brought by an elderly logwood-cutter who had
fallen into the pirate’s hands, and in some freak
of drunken benevolence had been allowed to get away
with nothing worse than a slit nose and a drubbing.
His account was recent and definite. The Happy
Delivery was careening at Torbec on the south-west
of Hispaniola. Sharkey, with four men, was buccaneering
on the outlying island of La Vache. The blood
of a hundred murdered crews was calling out for vengeance,
and now at last it seemed as if it might not call in
Sir Edward Compton, the high-nosed,
red-faced Governor, sitting in solemn conclave with
the commandant and the head of the council, was sorely
puzzled in his mind as to how he should use this chance.
There was no man-of-war nearer than Jamestown, and
she was a clumsy old fly-boat, which could neither
overhaul the pirate on the seas, nor reach her in
a shallow inlet. There were forts and artillerymen
both at Kingston and Port Royal, but no soldiers available
for an expedition.
A private venture might be fitted
out and there were many who had a blood-feud
with Sharkey but what could a private venture
do? The pirates were numerous and desperate.
As to taking Sharkey and his four companions, that,
of course, would be easy if they could get at them;
but how were they to get at them on a large well-wooded
island like La Vache, full of wild hills and impenetrable
jungles? A reward was offered to whoever could
find a solution, and that brought a man to the front
who had a singular plan, and was himself prepared to
carry it out.
Stephen Craddock had been that most
formidable person, the Puritan gone wrong. Sprung
from a decent Salem family, his ill-doing seemed to
be a recoil from the austerity of their religion,
and he brought to vice all the physical strength and
energy with which the virtues of his ancestors had
endowed him. He was ingenious, fearless, and
exceedingly tenacious of purpose, so that when he
was still young, his name became notorious upon the
American coast. He was the same Craddock who
was tried for his life in Virginia for the slaying
of the Seminole Chief, and, though he escaped, it
was well known that he had corrupted the witnesses
and bribed the judge.
Afterwards, as a slaver, and even,
as it was hinted, as a pirate, he had left an evil
name behind him in the Bight of Benin. Finally
he had returned to Jamaica with a considerable fortune,
and had settled down to a life of sombre dissipation.
This was the man, gaunt, austere, and dangerous,
who now waited upon the Governor with a plan for the
extirpation of Sharkey. Sir Edward received him
with little enthusiasm, for in spite of some rumours
of conversion and reformation, he had always regarded
him as an infected sheep who might taint the whole
of his little flock. Craddock saw the Governor’s
mistrust under his thin veil of formal and restrained
“You’ve no call to fear
me, sir,” said he; “I’m a changed
man from what you’ve known. I’ve
seen the light again of late, after losing sight of
it for many a black year. It was through the
ministration of the Rev. John Simons, of our own people.
Sir, if your spirit should be in need of quickening,
you would find a very sweet savour in his discourse.”
The Governor cocked his episcopalian nose at him.
“You came here to speak of Sharkey, Master Craddock,”
“The man Sharkey is a vessel
of wrath,” said Craddock. “His wicked
horn has been exalted over long, and it is borne in
upon me that if I can cut him off and utterly destroy
him, it will be a goodly deed, and one which may atone
for many backslidings in the past. A plan has
been given to me whereby I may encompass his destruction.”
The Governor was keenly interested,
for there was a grim and practical air about the man’s
freckled face which showed that he was in earnest.
After all, he was a seaman and a fighter, and, if it
were true that he was eager to atone for his past,
no better man could be chosen for the business.
“This will be a dangerous task,
Master Craddock,” said he.
“If I meet my death at it, it
may be that it will cleanse the memory of an ill-spent
life. I have much to atone for.”
The Governor did not see his way to contradict him.
“What was your plan?” he asked.
“You have heard that Sharkey’s
barque, the Happy Delivery, came from this
very port of Kingston?”
“It belonged to Mr. Codrington,
and it was taken by Sharkey, who scuttled his own
sloop and moved into her because she was faster,”
said Sir Edward.
“Yes; but it may be that you
have lever heard that Mr. Codrington has a sister
ship, the White Rose, which lies even now in
the harbour, and which is so like the pirate, that,
if it were not for a white paint line, none could
tell them apart.”
“Ah! and what of that?”
asked the Governor keenly, with the air of one who
is just on the edge of an idea.
“By the help of it this man
shall be delivered into our hands.”
“I will paint out the streak
upon the White Rose, and make it in all things
like the Happy Delivery. Then I will set
sail for the Island of La Vache, where this man is
slaying the wild oxen. When he sees me he will
surely mistake me for his own vessel which he is awaiting,
and he will come on board to his own undoing.”
It was a simple plan, and yet it seemed
to the Governor that it might be effective.
Without hesitation he gave Craddock permission to carry
it out, and to take any steps he liked in order to
further the object which he had in view. Sir
Edward was not very sanguine, for many attempts had
been made upon Sharkey, and their results had shown
that he was as cunning as he was ruthless. But
this gaunt Puritan with the evil record was cunning
aid ruthless also. The contest of wits between
two such men as Sharkey and Craddock appealed to the
Governor’s acute sense of sport, and though
he was inwardly convinced that the chances were against
him, he backed his man with the same loyalty which
he would have shown to his horse or his cock.
Haste was, above all things, necessary,
for upon any day the careening might be finished,
and the pirates out at sea once more. But there
was not very much to do, and there were many willing
hands to do it, so the second day saw the White
Rose beating out for the open sea. There
were many seamen in the port who knew the lines and
rig of the pirate barque, and not one of them could
see the slightest difference in this counterfeit.
Her white side line had been painted out, her masts
and yards were smoked, to give them the dingy appearance
of the weather-beaten rover, and a large diamond-shaped
patch was let into her foretopsail. Her crew
were volunteers, many of them being men who had sailed
with Stephen Craddock before the mate, Joshua
Hird, an old slaver, had been his accomplice in many
voyages, and came now at the bidding of his chief.
The avenging barque sped across the
Caribbean Sea, and, at the sight of that patched topsail,
the little craft which they met flew left and right
like frightened trout in a pool. On the fourth
evening Point Abacou bore five miles to the north
and east of them. On the fifth they were at
anchor in the Bay of Tortoises at the Island of La
Vache, where Sharkey and his four men had been hunting.
It was a well-wooded place, with the palms and underwood
growing down to the thin crescent of silver sand which
skirted the shore. They had hoisted the black
flag and the red pennant, but no answer came from
the shore. Craddock strained his eyes, hoping
every instant to see a boat shoot out to them with
Sharkey seated in the sheets. But the night
passed away, and a day and yet another night, without
any sign of the men whom they were endeavouring to
trap. It looked as if they were already gone.
On the second morning Craddock went
ashore in search of some proof whether Sharkey and
his men were still upon the island. What he found
reassured him greatly. Close to the shore was
a boucan of green wood, such as was used for
preserving the meat, and a great store of barbecued
strips of ox-flesh was hung upon lines all round it.
The pirate ship had not taken off her provisions,
and therefore the hunters were still upon the island.
Why had they not shown themselves?
Was it that they had detected that this was not their
own ship? Or was it that they were hunting in
the interior of the island, and were not on the look-out
for a ship yet? Craddock was still hesitating
between the two alternatives, when a Carib Indian
came down with information. The pirates were
in the island, he said, and their camp was a day’s
march from the Sea. They had stolen his wife,
and the marks of their stripes were still pink upon
his brown back. Their enemies were his friends,
and he would lead them to where they lay.
Craddock could not have asked for
anything better; so early next morning, with a small
party armed to the teeth, he set off, under the guidance
of the Carib. All day they struggled through
brushwood and clambered over rocks, pushing their
way further and further into the desolate heart of
the island. Here and there they found traces
of the hunters, the bones of a slain ox, or the marks
of feet in a morass, and once, towards evening, it
seemed to some of them that they heard the distant
rattle of guns.
That night they spent under the trees,
and pushed on again with the earliest light.
About noon they came to the huts of bark, which, the
Carib told them, were the camp of the hunters, but
they were silent and deserted. No doubt their
occupants were away at the hunt and would return in
the evening, so Craddock and his men lay in ambush
in the brushwood around them. But no one came,
and another night was spent in the forest. Nothing
more could be done, and it seemed to Craddock that
after the two days’ absence it was time that
he returned to his ship once more.
The return journey was less difficult,
as they had already blazed a path for themselves.
Before evening they found themselves once more at
the Bay of Palms, and saw their ship riding at anchor
where they had left her. Their boat and oars
had been hauled up among the bushes, so they launched
it and pulled out to the barque.
“No luck, then!” cried
Joshua Hird, the mate, looking down with a pale face
from the poop.
“His camp was empty, but he
may come down to us yet,” said Craddock, with
his hand on the ladder.
Somebody upon deck began to laugh.
“I think,” said the mate, “that
these men had better stay in the boat.”
“If you will come aboard, sir,
you will understand it.” He spoke in a
curious, hesitating fashion.
The blood flushed to Craddock’s
gaunt face. “How is this, Master Hird?”
he cried, springing up the side. “What
mean you by giving orders to my boat’s crew?”
But as he passed over the bulwarks,
with one foot upon the deck and one knee upon the
rail, a tow-bearded man, whom he had never before observed
aboard his vessel, grabbed suddenly at his pistol.
Craddock clutched at the fellow’s wrist, but
at the same instant his mate snatched the cutlass
from his side.
“What roguery is this?”
shouted Craddock, looking furiously around him.
But the crew stood in knots about the deck, laughing
and whispering amongst themselves without showing
any desire to go to his assistance. Even in that
hurried glance Craddock noticed that they were dressed
in the most singular manner, with long riding-coats,
full-skirted velvet gowns and coloured ribands at
their knees, more like men of fashion than seamen.
As he looked at their grotesque figures
he struck his brow with his clenched fist to be sure
that he was awake. The deck seemed to be much
dirtier than when he had left it, and there were strange,
sun-blackened faces turned upon him from every side.
Not one of them did he know save only Joshua Hird.
Had the ship been captured in his absence? Were
these Sharkey’s men who were around him?
At the thought he broke furiously away and tried
to climb over to his boat, but a dozen hands were
on him in an instant, and he was pushed aft through
the open door of his own cabin.
And it was all different to the cabin
which he had left. The floor was different,
the ceiling was different, the furniture was different.
His had been plain and austere. This was sumptuous
and yet dirty, hung with rare velvet curtains splashed
with wine-stains, and panelled with costly woods which
were pocked with pistol-marks.
On the table was a great chart of
the Caribbean Sea, and beside it, with compasses in
his hand, sat a clean-shaven, pale-faced man with a
fur cap and a claret-coloured coat of damask.
Craddock turned white under his freckles as he looked
upon the long, thin high-nostrilled nose and the red-rimmed
eyes which were turned upon him with the fixed, humorous
gaze of the master player who has left his opponent
without a move. “Sharkey!” cried
Sharkey’s thin lips opened,
and he broke into his high, sniggering laugh.
“You fool!” he cried,
and, leaning over, he stabbed Craddock’s shoulder
again and again with his compasses. “You
poor, dull-witted fool, would you match yourself against
It was not the pain of the wounds,
but it was the contempt in Sharkey’s voice which
turned Craddock into a savage madman. He flew
at the pirate, roaring with rage, striking, kicking,
writhing, foaming. It took six men to drag him
down on to the floor amidst the splintered remains
of the table and not one of the six who
did not bear the prisoner’s mark upon him.
But Sharkey still surveyed him with the same contemptuous
eye. From outside there came the crash of breaking
wood and the clamour of startled voices.
“What is that?” asked Sharkey.
“They have stove the boat with cold shot, and
the men are in the water.”
“Let them stay there,”
said the pirate. “Now, Craddock, you know
where you are. You are aboard my ship, the Happy
Delivery, and you lie at my mercy. I knew
you for a stout seaman, you rogue, before you took
to this long-shore canting. Your hands then
were no cleaner than my own. Will you sign articles,
as your mate has done, and join us, or shall I heave
you over to follow your ship’s company?”
“Where is my ship?” asked Craddock.
“Scuttled in the bay.”
“And the hands?”
“In the bay, too.”
“Then I’m for the bay, also.”
“Hock him and heave him over,” said Sharkey.
Many rough hands had dragged Craddock
out upon deck, and Galloway, the quartermaster, had
already drawn his hanger to cripple him, when Sharkey
came hurrying from his cabin with an eager face.
“We can do better with the hound!” he
cried. “Sink me if it is not a rare plan.
Throw him into the sail-room with the irons on, and
do you come here, quarter-master, that I may tell
you what I have in my mind.”
So Craddock, bruised and wounded in
soul and body, was thrown into the dark sail-room,
so fettered that he could not stir hand or foot, but
his Northern blood was running strong in his veins,
and his grim spirit aspired only to make such an ending
as might go some way towards atoning for the evil
of his life. All night he lay in the curve of
the bilge listening to the rush of the water and the
straining of the timbers which told him that the ship
was at sea and driving fast. In the early morning
someone came crawling to him in the darkness over the
heap of sails.
“Here’s rum and biscuits,”
said the voice of his late mate. “It’s
at the risk of my life, Master Craddock, that I bring
them to you.”
“It was you who trapped me and
caught me as in a snare!” cried Craddock.
“How shall you answer for what you have done?”
“What I did I did with the point
of a knife betwixt my blade-bones.”
“God forgive you for a coward,
Joshua Hird. How came you into their hands?”
“Why, Master Craddock, the pirate
ship came back from its careening upon the very day
that you left us. They laid us aboard, and, short-handed
as we were, with the best of the men ashore with you,
we could offer but a poor defence. Some were
cut down, and they were the happiest. The others
were killed afterwards. As to me, I saved my
life by signing on with them.”
“And they scuttled my ship?”
“They scuttled her, and then
Sharkey and his men, who had been watching us from
the brushwood, came off to the ship. His mainyard
had been cracked and fished last voyage, so he had
suspicions of us, seeing that ours was whole.
Then he thought of laying the same trap for you which
you had set for him.”
Craddock groaned. “How
came I not to see that fished mainyard?” he
muttered. “But whither are we bound?”
“We are running north and west.”
“North and west! Then we are heading back
“With an eight-knot wind.”
“Have you heard what they mean to do with me?”
“I have not heard. If you would but sign
the articles ”
“Enough, Joshua Hird! I have risked my
soul too often.”
“As you wish. I have done what I could.
All that night and the next day the
Happy Delivery ran before the easterly trades,
and Stephen Craddock lay in the dark of the sail-room
working patiently at his wrist-irons. One he
had slipped off at the cost of a row of broken and
bleeding knuckles, but, do what he would, he could
not free the other, and his ankles were securely fastened.
From hour to hour he heard the swish of the water,
and knew that the barque must be driving with all
set in front of the trade wind. In that case
they must be nearly back again to Jamaica by now.
What plan could Sharkey have in his head, and what
use did he hope to make of him? Craddock set
his teeth, and vowed that if he had once been a villain
from choice he would, at least, never be one by compulsion.
On the second morning Craddock became
aware that sail had been reduced in the vessel, and
that she was tacking slowly, with a light breeze on
her beam. The varying slope of the sail room
and the sounds from the deck told his practised senses
exactly what she was doing. The short reaches
showed him that she was manoeuvring near shore, and
making for some definite point. If so, she must
have reached Jamaica. But what could she be
And then suddenly there was a burst
of hearty cheering from the deck, and then the crash
of a gun above his head, and then the answering booming
of guns from far over the water. Craddock sat
up and strained his ears. Was the ship in action?
Only the one gun had been fired, and though many
had answered, there were none of the crashings which
told of a shot coming home. Then, if it was
not an action, it must be a salute. But who would
salute Sharkey, the pirate? It could only be
another pirate ship which would do so. So Craddock
lay back again with a groan, and continued to work
at the manacle which still held his right wrist.
But suddenly there came the shuffling of steps outside,
and he had hardly time to wrap the loose links round
his free hand, when the door was unbolted and two
pirates came in.
“Got your hammer, carpenter?”
asked one, whom Craddock recognised as the big quartermaster.
“Knock off his leg shackles,
then. Better leave the bracelets he’s
safer with them on.”
With hammer and chisel the carpenter loosened the
“What are you going to do with me?” asked
“Come on deck and you’ll see.”
The sailor seized him by the arm and
dragged him roughly to the foot of the companion.
Above him was a square of blue sky cut across by the
mizzen gaff, with the colours flying at the peak.
But it was the sight of those colours which struck
the breath from Stephen Craddock’s lips.
For there were two of them, and the British ensign
was flying above the Jolly Rodger the honest
flag above that of the rogue.
For an instant Craddock stopped in
amazement, but a brutal push from the pirates behind
drove him up the companion ladder. As he stepped
out upon deck, his eyes turned up to the main, and
there again were the British colours flying above
the red pennant, and all the shrouds and rigging were
garlanded with streamers.
Had the ship been taken, then?
But that was impossible, for there were the pirates
clustering in swarms along the port bulwarks, and waving
their hats joyously in the air. Most prominent
of all was the renegade mate, standing on the foc’sle
head, and gesticulating wildly. Craddock looked
over the side to see what they were cheering at, and
then in a flash he saw how critical was the moment.
On the port bow, and about a mile
off, lay the white houses and forts of Port Royal,
with flags breaking out everywhere over their roofs.
Right ahead was the opening of the palisades leading
to the town of Kingston. Not more than a quarter
of a mile off was a small sloop working out against
the very slight wind. The British ensign was
at her peak, and her rigging was all decorated.
On her deck could be seen a dense crowd of people
cheering and waving their hats, and the gleam of scarlet
told that there were officers of the garrison among
In an instant, with the quick perception
of a man of action, Craddock saw through it all.
Sharkey, with that diabolical cunning and audacity
which were among his main characteristics, was simulating
the part which Craddock would himself have played
had he come back victorious. It was in his
honour that the salutes were firing and the flags flying.
It was to welcome him that this ship with the
Governor, the commandant, and the chiefs of the island
were approaching. In another ten minutes they
would all be under the guns of the Happy Delivery,
and Sharkey would have won the greatest stake that
ever a pirate played for yet.
“Bring him forward,” cried
the pirate captain, as Craddock appeared between the
carpenter and the quartermaster. “Keep
the ports closed, but clear away the port guns, and
stand by for a broadside. Another two cable
lengths and we have them.”
“They are edging away,”
said the boatswain. “I think they smell
“That’s soon set right,”
said Sharkey, turning his filmy eyes upon Craddock.
“Stand there, you right there, where
they can recognise you, with your hand on the guy,
and wave your hat to them. Quick, or your brains
will be over your coat. Put an inch of your knife
into him, Ned. Now, will you wave your hat?
Try him again, then. Hey, shoot him! Stop
But it was too late. Relying
upon the manacles, the quartermaster had taken his
hands for a moment off Craddock’s arm.
In that instant he had flung off the carpenter, and,
amid a spatter of pistol bullets, had sprung the bulwarks
and was swimming for his life. He had been hit
and hit again, but it takes many pistols to kill a
resolute and powerful man who has his mind set upon
doing something before he dies. He was a strong
swimmer, and, in spite of the red trail which he left
in the water behind him, he was rapidly increasing
his distance from the pirate. “Give me
a musket!” cried Sharkey, with a savage oath.
He was a famous shot, and his iron
nerves never failed him in an emergency. The
dark head appearing on the crest of a roller, and then
swooping down on the other side, was already half-way
to the sloop. Sharkey dwelt long upon his aim
before he fired. With the crack of the gun the
swimmer reared himself up in the water, waved his hands
in a gesture of warning, and roared out in a voice
which rang over the bay. Then, as the sloop swung
round her head-sails, and the pirate fired an impotent
broadside, Stephen Craddock, smiling grimly in his
death agony, sank slowly down to that golden couch
which glimmered far beneath him.