The Pirate, by Walter Scott

Chapter 34.

Hark to the insult loud, the bitter sneer,

The fierce threat answering to the brutal jeer;

Oaths fly like pistol-shots, and vengeful words

Clash with each other like conflicting swords —

The robber’s quarrel by such sounds is shown,

And true men have some chance to gain their own.

Captivity, a Poem.

When Cleveland, borne off in triumph from his assailants in Kirkwall, found himself once more on board the pirate-vessel, his arrival was hailed with hearty cheers by a considerable part of the crew, who rushed to shake hands with him, and offer their congratulations on his return; for the situation of a Buccanier Captain raised him very little above the level of the lowest of his crew, who, in all social intercourse, claimed the privilege of being his equal.

When his faction, for so these clamorous friends might be termed, had expressed their own greetings, they hurried Cleveland forward to the stern, where Goffe, their present commander, was seated on a gun, listening in a sullen and discontented mood to the shout which announced Cleveland’s welcome. He was a man betwixt forty and fifty, rather under the middle size, but so very strongly made, that his crew used to compare him to a sixty-four cut down. Black-haired, bull-necked, and beetle-browed, his clumsy strength and ferocious countenance contrasted strongly with the manly figure and open countenance of Cleveland, in which even the practice of his atrocious profession had not been able to eradicate a natural grace of motion and generosity of expression. The two piratical Captains looked upon each other for some time in silence, while the partisans of each gathered around him. The elder part of the crew were the principal adherents of Goffe, while the young fellows, among whom Jack Bunce was a principal leader and agitator, were in general attached to Cleveland.

At length Goffe broke silence. —“You are welcome aboard, Captain Cleveland. — Smash my taffrail! I suppose you think yourself commodore yet! but that was over, by G — when you lost your ship, and be d — d!”

And here, once for all, we may take notice, that it was the gracious custom of this commander to mix his words and oaths in nearly equal proportions, which he was wont to call shotting his discourse. As we delight not, however, in the discharge of such artillery, we shall only indicate by a space like this ---- the places in which these expletives occurred; and thus, if the reader will pardon a very poor pun, we will reduce Captain Goffe’s volley of sharp-shot into an explosion of blank cartridges. To his insinuations that he was come on board to assume the chief command, Cleveland replied, that he neither desired, nor would accept, any such promotion, but would only ask Captain Goffe for a cast of the boat, to put him ashore in one of the other islands, as he had no wish either to command Goffe, or to remain in a vessel under his orders.

“And why not under my orders, brother?” demanded Goffe, very austerely; “—— — are you too good a man, —— — with your cheese-toaster and your jib there, —— to serve under my orders, and be d — d to you, where there are so many gentlemen that are elder and better seamen than yourself?”

“I wonder which of these capital seamen it was,” said Cleveland, coolly, “that laid the ship under the fire of yon six-gun battery, that could blow her out of the water, if they had a mind, before you could either cut or slip? Elder and better sailors than I may like to serve under such a lubber, but I beg to be excused for my own share, Captain — that’s all I have got to tell you.”

“By G — I think you are both mad!” said Hawkins the boatswain —“a meeting with sword and pistol may be devilish good fun in its way, when no better is to be had; but who the devil that had common sense, amongst a set of gentlemen in our condition, would fall a quarrelling with each other, to let these duck-winged, web-footed islanders have a chance of knocking us all upon the head?”

“Well said, old Hawkins!” observed Derrick the quarter-master, who was an officer of very considerable importance among these rovers; “I say, if the two captains won’t agree to live together quietly, and club both heart and head to defend the vessel, why, d — n me, depose them both, say I, and choose another in their stead!”

“Meaning yourself, I suppose, Master Quarter-Master!” said Jack Bunce; “but that cock won’t fight. He that is to command gentlemen, should be a gentleman himself, I think; and I give my vote for Captain Cleveland, as spirited and as gentleman-like a man as ever daffed the world aside, and bid it pass!”

“What! you call yourself a gentleman, I warrant!” retorted Derrick; “why, —— your eyes! a tailor would make a better out of the worst suit of rags in your strolling wardrobe! — It is a shame for men of spirit to have such a Jack-a-dandy scarecrow on board!”

Jack Bunce was so incensed at these base comparisons, that without more ado, he laid his hand on his sword. The carpenter, however, and boatswain, interfered, the former brandishing his broad axe, and swearing he would put the skull of the first who should strike a blow past clouting, and the latter reminding them, that, by their articles, all quarrelling, striking, or more especially fighting, on board, was strictly prohibited; and that, if any gentleman had a quarrel to settle, they were to go ashore, and decide it with cutlass and pistol in presence of two of their messmates.

“I have no quarrel with any one, —— —!” said Goffe, sullenly; “Captain Cleveland has wandered about among the islands here, amusing himself, —— —! and we have wasted our time and property in waiting for him, when we might have been adding twenty or thirty thousand dollars to the stock-purse. However, if it pleases the rest of the gentlemen-adventurers, —— —! why, I shall not grumble about it.”

“I propose,” said the boatswain, “that there should be a general council called in the great cabin, according to our articles, that we may consider what course we are to hold in this matter.”

A general assent followed the boatswain’s proposal; for every one found his own account in these general councils, in which each of the rovers had a free vote. By far the greater part of the crew only valued this franchise, as it allowed them, upon such solemn occasions, an unlimited quantity of liquor — a right which they failed not to exercise to the uttermost, by way of aiding their deliberations. But a few amongst the adventurers, who united some degree of judgment with the daring and profligate character of their profession, were wont, at such periods, to limit themselves within the bounds of comparative sobriety, and by these, under the apparent form of a vote of the general council, all things of moment relating to the voyage and undertakings of the pirates were in fact determined. The rest of the crew, when they recovered from their intoxication, were easily persuaded that the resolution adopted had been the legitimate effort of the combined wisdom of the whole senate.

Upon the present occasion the debauch had proceeded until the greater part of the crew were, as usual, displaying inebriation in all its most brutal and disgraceful shapes — swearing empty and unmeaning oaths — venting the most horrid imprecations in the mere gaiety of their heart — singing songs, the ribaldry of which was only equalled by their profaneness; and, from the middle of this earthly hell, the two captains, together with one or two of their principal adherents, as also the carpenter and boatswain, who always took a lead on such occasions, had drawn together into a pandemonium, or privy council of their own, to consider what was to be done; for, as the boatswain metaphorically observed, they were in a narrow channel, and behoved to keep sounding the tide-way.

When they began their consultations, the friends of Goffe remarked, to their great displeasure, that he had not observed the wholesome rule to which we have just alluded; but that, in endeavouring to drown his mortification at the sudden appearance of Cleveland, and the reception he met with from the crew, the elder Captain had not been able to do so without overflowing his reason at the same time. His natural sullen taciturnity had prevented this from being observed until the council began its deliberations, when it proved impossible to hide it.

The first person who spoke was Cleveland, who said, that, so far from wishing the command of the vessel, he desired no favour at any one’s hand, except to land him upon some island or holm at a distance from Kirkwall, and leave him to shift for himself.

The boatswain remonstrated strongly against this resolution. “The lads,” he said, “all knew Cleveland, and could trust his seamanship, as well as his courage; besides, he never let the grog get quite uppermost, and was always in proper trim, either to sail the ship, or to fight the ship, whereby she was never without some one to keep her course when he was on board. — And as for the noble Captain Goffe,” continued the mediator, “he is as stout a heart as ever broke biscuit, and that I will uphold him; but then, when he has his grog aboard — I speak to his face — he is so d — d funny with his cranks and his jests, that there is no living with him. You all remember how nigh he had run the ship on that cursed Horse of Copinsha, as they call it, just by way of frolic; and then you know how he fired off his pistol under the table, when we were at the great council, and shot Jack Jenkins in the knee, and cost the poor devil his leg, with his pleasantry.”35

“Jack Jenkins was not a chip the worse,” said the carpenter; “I took the leg off with my saw as well as any loblolly-boy in the land could have done — heated my broad axe, and seared the stump — ay, by ——! and made a jury-leg that he shambles about with as well as ever he did — for Jack could never cut a feather.”36

“You are a clever fellow, carpenter,” replied the boatswain, “a d — d clever fellow! but I had rather you tried your saw and red-hot axe upon the ship’s knee-timbers than on mine, sink me! — But that here is not the case — The question is, if we shall part with Captain Cleveland here, who is a man of thought and action, whereby it is my belief it would be heaving the pilot overboard when the gale is blowing on a lee-shore. And, I must say, it is not the part of a true heart to leave his mates, who have been here waiting for him till they have missed stays. Our water is wellnigh out, and we have junketed till provisions are low with us. We cannot sail without provisions — we cannot get provisions without the good-will of the Kirkwall folks. If we remain here longer, the Halcyon frigate will be down upon us — she was seen off Peterhead two days since — and we shall hang up at the yard-arm to be sun-dried. Now, Captain Cleveland will get us out of the hobble, if any can. He can play the gentleman with these Kirkwall folks, and knows how to deal with them on fair terms, and foul, too, if there be occasion for it.”

The Pirate’s Council

“And so you would turn honest Captain Goffe a-grazing, would ye?” said an old weatherbeaten pirate, who had but one eye; “what though he has his humours, and made my eye dowse the glim in his fancies and frolics, he is as honest a man as ever walked a quarter-deck, for all that; and d — n me but I stand by him so long as t’other lantern is lit!”

“Why, you would not hear me out,” said Hawkins; “a man might as well talk to so many negers! — I tell you, I propose that Cleveland shall only be Captain from one, post meridiem, to five a. m., during which time Goffe is always drunk.”

The Captain of whom he last spoke gave sufficient proof of the truth of his words, by uttering an inarticulate growl, and attempting to present a pistol at the mediator Hawkins.

“Why, look ye now!” said Derrick, “there is all the sense he has, to get drunk on council-day, like one of these poor silly fellows!”

“Ay,” said Bunce, “drunk as Davy’s sow, in the face of the field, the fray, and the senate!”

“But, nevertheless,” continued Derrick, “it will never do to have two captains in the same day. I think week about might suit better — and let Cleveland take the first turn.”

“There are as good here as any of them,” said Hawkins; “howsomdever, I object nothing to Captain Cleveland, and I think he may help us into deep water as well as another.”

“Ay,” exclaimed Bunce, “and a better figure he will make at bringing these Kirkwallers to order than his sober predecessor! — So Captain Cleveland for ever!”

“Stop, gentlemen,” said Cleveland, who had hitherto been silent; “I hope you will not choose me Captain without my own consent?”

“Ay, by the blue vault of heaven will we,” said Bunce, “if it be pro bono publico!”

“But hear me, at least,” said Cleveland —“I do consent to take command of the vessel, since you wish it, and because I see you will ill get out of the scrape without me.”

“Why, then, I say, Cleveland for ever, again!” shouted Bunce.

“Be quiet, prithee, dear Bunce! — honest Altamont!” said Cleveland. —“I undertake the business on this condition; that, when I have got the ship cleared for her voyage, with provisions, and so forth, you will be content to restore Captain Goffe to the command, as I said before, and put me ashore somewhere, to shift for myself — You will then be sure it is impossible I can betray you, since I will remain with you to the last moment.”

“Ay, and after the last moment, too, by the blue vault! or I mistake the matter,” muttered Bunce to himself.

The matter was now put to the vote; and so confident were the crew in Cleveland’s superior address and management, that the temporary deposition of Goffe found little resistance even among his own partisans, who reasonably enough observed, “he might at least have kept sober to look after his own business — E’en let him put it to rights again himself next morning, if he will.”

But when the next morning came, the drunken part of the crew, being informed of the issue of the deliberations of the council, to which they were virtually held to have assented, showed such a superior sense of Cleveland’s merits, that Goffe, sulky and malecontent as he was, judged it wisest for the present to suppress his feelings of resentment, until a safer opportunity for suffering them to explode, and to submit to the degradation which so frequently took place among a piratical crew.

Cleveland, on his part, resolved to take upon him, with spirit and without loss of time, the task of extricating his ship’s company from their perilous situation. For this purpose, he ordered the boat, with the purpose of going ashore in person, carrying with him twelve of the stoutest and best men of the crew, all very handsomely appointed, (for the success of their nefarious profession had enabled the pirates to assume nearly as gay dresses as their officers,) and above all, each man being sufficiently armed with cutlass and pistols, and several having pole-axes and poniards.

Cleveland himself was gallantly attired in a blue coat, lined with crimson silk, and laced with gold very richly, crimson damask waistcoat and breeches, a velvet cap, richly embroidered, with a white feather, white silk stockings, and red-heeled shoes, which were the extremity of finery among the gallants of the day. He had a gold chain several times folded round his neck, which sustained a whistle of the same metal, the ensign of his authority. Above all, he wore a decoration peculiar to those daring depredators, who, besides one, or perhaps two brace of pistols at their belt, had usually two additional brace, of the finest mounting and workmanship, suspended over their shoulders in a sort of sling or scarf of crimson ribbon. The hilt and mounting of the Captain’s sword corresponded in value to the rest of his appointments, and his natural good mien was so well adapted to the whole equipment, that, when he appeared on deck, he was received with a general shout by the crew, who, as in other popular societies, judged a great deal by the eye.

Cleveland took with him in the boat, amongst others, his predecessor in office, Goffe, who was also very richly dressed, but who, not having the advantage of such an exterior as Cleveland’s, looked like a boorish clown in the dress of a courtier, or rather like a vulgar-faced footpad decked in the spoils of some one whom he has murdered, and whose claim to the property of his garments is rendered doubtful in the eyes of all who look upon him, by the mixture of awkwardness, remorse, cruelty, and insolence, which clouds his countenance. Cleveland probably chose to take Goffe ashore with him, to prevent his having any opportunity, during his absence, to debauch the crew from their allegiance. In this guise they left the ship, and, singing to their oars, while the water foamed higher at the chorus, soon reached the quay of Kirkwall.

The command of the vessel was in the meantime intrusted to Bunce, upon whose allegiance Cleveland knew that he might perfectly depend, and, in a private conversation with him of some length, he gave him directions how to act in such emergencies as might occur.

These arrangements being made, and Bunce having been repeatedly charged to stand upon his guard alike against the adherents of Goffe and any attempt from the shore, the boat put off. As she approached the harbour, Cleveland displayed a white flag, and could observe that their appearance seemed to occasion a good deal of bustle and alarm. People were seen running to and fro, and some of them appeared to be getting under arms. The battery was manned hastily, and the English colours displayed. These were alarming symptoms, the rather that Cleveland knew, that, though there were no artillerymen in Kirkwall, yet there were many sailors perfectly competent to the management of great guns, and willing enough to undertake such service in case of need.

Noting these hostile preparations with a heedful eye, but suffering nothing like doubt or anxiety to appear on his countenance, Cleveland ran the boat right for the quay, on which several people, armed with muskets, rifles, and fowlingpieces, and others with half-pikes and whaling-knives, were now assembled, as if to oppose his landing. Apparently, however, they had not positively determined what measures they were to pursue; for, when the boat reached the quay, those immediately opposite bore back, and suffered Cleveland and his party to leap ashore without hinderance. They immediately drew up on the quay, except two, who, as their Captain had commanded, remained in the boat, which they put off to a little distance; a manœuvre which, while it placed the boat (the only one belonging to the sloop) out of danger of being seized, indicated a sort of careless confidence in Cleveland and his party, which was calculated to intimidate their opponents.

The Kirkwallers, however, showed the old Northern blood, put a manly face upon the matter, and stood upon the quay, with their arms shouldered, directly opposite to the rovers, and blocking up against them the street which leads to the town.

Cleveland was the first who spoke, as the parties stood thus looking upon each other. —“How is this, gentlemen burghers?” he said; “are you Orkney folks turned Highlandmen, that you are all under arms so early this morning; or have you manned the quay to give me the honour of a salute, upon taking the command of my ship?”

The burghers looked on each other, and one of them replied to Cleveland —“We do not know who you are; it was that other man,” pointing to Goffe, “who used to come ashore as Captain.”

“That other gentleman is my mate, and commands in my absence,” said Cleveland; —“but what is that to the purpose? I wish to speak with your Lord Mayor, or whatever you call him.”

“The Provost is sitting in council with the Magistrates,” answered the spokesman.

“So much the better,” replied Cleveland. —“Where do their Worships meet?”

“In the Council-house,” answered the other.

“Then make way for us, gentlemen, if you please, for my people and I are going there.”

There was a whisper among the townspeople; but several were unresolved upon engaging in a desperate, and perhaps an unnecessary conflict, with desperate men; and the more determined citizens formed the hasty reflection that the strangers might be more easily mastered in the house, or perhaps in the narrow streets which they had to traverse, than when they stood drawn up and prepared for battle upon the quay. They suffered them, therefore, to proceed unmolested; and Cleveland, moving very slowly, keeping his people close together, suffering no one to press upon the flanks of his little detachment, and making four men, who constituted his rear-guard, turn round and face to the rear from time to time, rendered it, by his caution, a very dangerous task to make any attempt upon them.

In this manner they ascended the narrow street and reached the Council-house, where the Magistrates were actually sitting, as the citizen had informed Cleveland. Here the inhabitants began to press forward, with the purpose of mingling with the pirates, and availing themselves of the crowd in the narrow entrance, to secure as many as they could, without allowing them room for the free use of their weapons. But this also had Cleveland foreseen, and, ere entering the council-room, he caused the entrance to be cleared and secured, commanding four of his men to face down the street, and as many to confront the crowd who were thrusting each other from above. The burghers recoiled back from the ferocious, swarthy, and sunburnt countenances, as well as the levelled arms of these desperadoes, and Cleveland, with the rest of his party, entered the council-room, where the Magistrates were sitting in council, with very little attendance. These gentlemen were thus separated effectually from the citizens, who looked to them for orders, and were perhaps more completely at the mercy of Cleveland, than he, with his little handful of men, could be said to be at that of the multitude by whom they were surrounded.

The Magistrates seemed sensible of their danger; for they looked upon each other in some confusion, when Cleveland thus addressed them:—

“Good morrow, gentlemen — I hope there is no unkindness betwixt us. I am come to talk with you about getting supplies for my ship yonder in the roadstead — we cannot sail without them.”

“Your ship, sir?” said the Provost, who was a man of sense and spirit — “how do we know that you are her Captain?”

“Look at me,” said Cleveland, “and you will, I think, scarce ask the question again.”

The Magistrate looked at Kim, and accordingly did not think proper to pursue that part of the enquiry, but proceeded to say —“And if you are her Captain, whence comes she, and where is she bound for? You look too much like a man-of-war’s man to be master of a trader, and we know that you do not belong to the British navy.”

“There are more men-of-war on the sea than sail under the British flag,” replied Cleveland; “but say that I were commander of a free-trader here, willing to exchange tobacco, brandy, gin, and such like, for cured fish and hides, why, I do not think I deserve so very bad usage from the merchants of Kirkwall as to deny me provisions for my money?”

“Look you, Captain,” said the Town-clerk, “it is not that we are so very strait-laced neither — for, when gentlemen of your cloth come this way, it is as weel, as I tauld the Provost, just to do as the collier did when he met the devil — and that is, to have naething to say to them, if they have naething to say to us; — and there is the gentleman,” pointing to Goffe, “that was Captain before you, and may be Captain after you,”—(“The cuckold speaks truth in that,” muttered Goffe,)—“he knows well how handsomely we entertained him, till he and his men took upon them to run through the town like hellicat devils. — I see one of them there! — that was the very fellow that stopped my servant-wench on the street, as she carried the lantern home before me, and insulted her before my face!”

“If it please your noble Mayorship’s honour and glory,” said Derrick, the fellow at whom the Town-clerk pointed, “it was not I that brought to the bit of a tender that carried the lantern in the poop — it was quite a different sort of a person.”

“Who was it, then, sir?” said the Provost.

“Why, please your majesty’s worship,” said Derrick, making several sea bows, and describing as nearly as he could, the exterior of the worthy Magistrate himself, “he was an elderly gentleman — Dutch-built, round in the stern, with a white wig and a red nose — very like your majesty, I think;” then, turning to a comrade, he added, “Jack, don’t you think the fellow that wanted to kiss the pretty girl with the lantern t’other night, was very like his worship?”

“By G — Tom Derrick,” answered the party appealed to, “I believe it is the very man!”

“This is insolence which we can make you repent of, gentlemen!” said the Magistrate, justly irritated at their effrontery; “you have behaved in this town, as if you were in an Indian village at Madagascar. You yourself, Captain, if captain you be, were at the head of another riot, no longer since than yesterday. We will give you no provisions till we know better whom we are supplying. And do not think to bully us; when I shake this handkerchief out at the window, which is at my elbow, your ship goes to the bottom. Remember she lies under the guns of our battery.”

“And how many of these guns are honeycombed, Mr. Mayor?” said Cleveland. He put the question by chance; but instantly perceived, from a sort of confusion which the Provost in vain endeavoured to hide, that the artillery of Kirkwall was not in the best order. “Come, come, Mr. Mayor,” he said, “bullying will go down with us as little as with you. Your guns yonder will do more harm to the poor old sailors who are to work them than to our sloop; and if we bring a broadside to bear on the town, why, your wives’ crockery will be in some danger. And then to talk to us of seamen being a little frolicsome ashore, why, when are they otherwise? You have the Greenland whalers playing the devil among you every now and then; and the very Dutchmen cut capers in the streets of Kirkwall, like porpoises before a gale of wind. I am told you are a man of sense, and I am sure you and I could settle this matter in the course of a five-minutes’ palaver.”

“Well, sir,” said the Provost, “I will hear what you have to say, if you will walk this way.”

Cleveland accordingly followed him into a small interior apartment, and, when there, addressed the Provost thus: “I will lay aside my pistols, sir, if you are afraid of them.”

“D— n your pistols!” answered the Provost, “I have served the King, and fear the smell of powder as little as you do!”

“So much the better,” said Cleveland, “for you will hear me the more coolly. — Now, sir, let us be what perhaps you suspect us, or let us be any thing else, what, in the name of Heaven, can you get by keeping us here, but blows and bloodshed? For which, believe me, we are much better provided than you can pretend to be. The point is a plain one — you are desirous to be rid of us — we are desirous to be gone. Let us have the means of departure, and we leave you instantly.”

“Look ye, Captain,” said the Provost, “I thirst for no man’s blood. You are a pretty fellow, as there were many among the buccaniers in my time — but there is no harm in wishing you a better trade. You should have the stores and welcome, for your money, so you would make these seas clear of you. But then, here lies the rub. The Halcyon frigate is expected here in these parts immediately; when she hears of you she will be at you; for there is nothing the white lapelle loves better than a rover — you are seldom without a cargo of dollars. Well, he comes down, gets you under his stern”——

“Blows us into the air, if you please,” said Cleveland.

“Nay, that must be as you please, Captain,” said the Provost; “but then, what is to come of the good town of Kirkwall, that has been packing and peeling with the King’s enemies? The burgh will be laid under a round fine, and it may be that the Provost may not come off so easily.”

“Well, then,” said Cleveland, “I see where your pinch lies. Now, suppose that I run round this island of yours, and get into the roadstead at Stromness? We could get what we want put on board there, without Kirkwall or the Provost seeming to have any hand in it; or, if it should be ever questioned, your want of force, and our superior strength, will make a sufficient apology.”

“That may be,” said the Provost; “but if I suffer you to leave your present station, and go elsewhere, I must have some security that you will not do harm to the country.”

“And we,” said Cleveland, “must have some security on our side, that you will not detain us, by dribbling out our time till the Halcyon is on the coast. Now, I am myself perfectly willing to continue on shore as a hostage, on the one side, provided you will give me your word not to betray me, and send some magistrate, or person of consequence, aboard the sloop, where his safety will be a guarantee for mine.”

The Provost shook his head, and intimated it would be difficult to find a person willing to place himself as hostage in such a perilous condition; but said he would propose the arrangement to such of the council as were fit to be trusted with a matter of such weight.

35 This was really an exploit of the celebrated Avery the pirate, who suddenly, and without provocation, fired his pistols under the table where he sat drinking with his messmates, wounded one man severely, and thought the matter a good jest. What is still more extraordinary, his crew regarded it in the same light.

36 A ship going fast through the sea is said to cut a feather, alluding to the ripple which she throws off from her bows.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00