FICTION

TWENTY LASHES

Theodore Goodridge Roberts June 1 1934
FICTION

TWENTY LASHES

Theodore Goodridge Roberts June 1 1934

TWENTY LASHES

FICTION

Theodore Goodridge Roberts

H. M. S. AMARYLLIS was a light frigate of forty guns and exceptional speed; she had proved her speed and handiness against the French; and when there was no longer need or excuse for chasing French frigates she was dispatched to the southward and westward to clear the Caribbeesof pirates and suffer the ravages of Yellow Jack.

The chief offender against the laws of God and man among the islands at this time was notorious and yet unknown, by the name and style of the Archdeacon.

He sprang to infamy overnight, so to speak, and became straightway a mystery, a legend and a constant menace.

No man lived who had ever set eyes on him, so far as any honest man knew—so thorough was he in his methods. No man knew why he was called the Archdeacon, though many pretended to know.

He was an unfrocked dignitary of the Church of England; a broken nobleman; a cashiered admiral. He was young; he was old ; he drank human blood ; he had loved the Queen of Spain; he was Old Nick himself. Everything went, for nothing was known. A knowledge of the personal appearance of the Archdeacon was the end of knowledge. Dead men don’t tell.

To clear the Caribbeesof pirates was to clear them of the Archdeacon. Or t’other way round. What would be left after he was disposed of would not be worth an ounce of sailor’s twist. Any old bumboat woman could handle that rabble, but the Archdeacon was a prize in fame and money to tempt any commander and ship’s company afloat.

The Amaryllis cracked on for Kingston,

Jamaica, which was to be the base of her operations against the Archdeacon. She had fair weather and favorable winds most of the way. It was a pleasant and uneventful voyage from the viewpoint of those who mattered and even the majority of those who did not matter. But two seamen found the run to Kingston neither entirely pleasant nor quite uneventful.

And what of it? Two seamen! Everyone cannot be suited in everything. And they were to blame for what happened to them; though John Dunn made a statement to the effect that it was not his fault but all the fault of Peter Wren.

Dunn said that Wren had picked the quarrel and been the first to bring his gully into play; but as Wren said it was exactly t’other way round and there was no witness of the commencement of the fight, what of it? D’ye expect the truth from a common seaman when his hide is in peril? Captain Westwood, an easy-going gentleman both afloat and ashore, thought that five lashes each would be about right; but Lieutenant Copple, the first lieutenant, who was neither easy-going nor a gentleman afloat, whatever he may have been ashore, pointed out to the captain that five lashes on a seaman’s back were no more than tickling him to make him laugh at those whom His Majesty and God had set in authority over him, and that this was Dunn’s third bloody quarrel since he had joined the ship. So Dunn received twenty strokes

of the “cat” and Wren ten, ah well laid on by the masterat-arms; and if the naughty fellow's were tickled they refrained from laughter. The fact is, it was thought for several weeks that John Dunn would never laugh again. Wren’s knife had not done him any good, y’understand; and twenty strokes of the cat were not the wisest treatment for loss of blood.

But Dunn was not finished. He lived to laugh again ; as you will see if you go on to the finish of this yam. At Kingston, he was carried ashore to the military hospital, there to die of his wounds or of Yellow Jack; but a regimental surgeon healed the wounds of knife and lash, so far as hide and flesh were concerned, and the deadly fever of those parts missed him. He got on his feet again. He learned to walk. He thought long and deep and said little. He thought of Peter Wren and Lieutenant Copple; of Peter as a sneak and liar, and the lieutenant as a merciless beast.

He thought less often and bitterly of Wren and more and more bitterly of the officer. That ruddy, iron-jawed, arrogant face haunted him. Those pale, staring, damn-ye-for-dirt eyes followed him even into his dreams. The scars on his back were healed and cool, but twenty strokes of braided lashes burned across his soul. He thought nothing of the master-at-arms; no more than of the teakwood grating to which he had been lashed for the flogging. Lieutenant Copple had flogged him, cutting through his red back to his quivering heart and soul, as surely as if his hand had gripped the sweaty, bloody leather handle of the nine-tailed cat. But he ate and gained strength. A day came when the surgeon told him that he would be fit for duty again within the week, and that as the Amaryllis was cruising he was to join the ten-gun brig Badger. John Dunn tweaked his forelock and thanked the doctor kindly—and deserted the hospital that very night.

The deserter took to the canes. He crawled in among their ranks; crawled there all through that sweltering night; hid there and lost himself there. And all his crawling and sweating of the next day did not win him clear of the canes. Their sweet juice was his meat and drink. He heard and saw rats and snakes there, but nothing of man. He was sunk and lost in that green tide as if he had been drowned at sea. He became a bit queer in his head at times; but the eyes of Lieutenant Copple followed him, and the cuts of the cat burned across his soul, telling him that he was dirt—a thing lower than the rats scurrying about the roots of the canes. On the third day, crouched and plunging wildly, he broke from the green cover of the cultivated lands into the higher and darker cover of the jungle.

The deserter got clear of the jungle within the month and wandered an enchanted shore until he found a little village of brown fisherfolk. The brown people received him kindly as a runaway indentured servant—which was near enough to the truth. He became a fisherman and turtle hunter, but not for long. He and two brown companions were blown sixty miles off shore, smashed by surf and rocks and rolled up on a spray-drenched reef. His companions came ashore dead. He discovered a spring of sweet water on the reef, but very little to eat. There he was found, two days later, by a brig’s longboat in search of water. He guided the sailors to the spring;'and when their casks were filled he went aboard the brig Mary Jane, of Liverpool, and signed on for the remainder of the long voyage under the name of Hunter.

The Mary Jane was a friendly, slovenly ship. The master was a keen trader and practical navigator, but a slack seaman and commander. The mates took their tones from him; and there were three fiddlers in the fo’castle. Decks

were dirty, standing gear and running gear were slack and frayed. But she was a moneymaker; and, better still, an easy ship for poor seamen. John Dunn would have sailed in her as long as she held together if fate had not stepped in and again shifted his humble course for him. This was the way of it; In a bit of a blow some of her gear carried away and a few hundredweight of rotten yardarm and split sailcloth came down from a long way up and knocked the deserter cold.

John Dunn, alias Paul Hunter, recovered consciousness—and, so far as his head was concerned, not much more. He saw and felt that he was in a clean bed beneath a clean mosquito bar and that his head was sore, but beyond this he did not know where he was and had only faint and confused notions of where he had been; and when a yellow boy brought a cool but bitter drink and told him that he was in the new marine hospital of the great and good Governor of Bados, he was not much wiser. Feeling very comfortable except for his bandaged head, he was content to be where he was, wherever that might be. He was at peace, for he had escaped from Lieutenant Copple’s terrible, merciless, degrading gaze; hidden from it in his own hurt brain as he had failed to hide from it in the canes and the jungle.

“These are wicked scars on your back, my man,’’ said the red-headed doctor.

"Thanky, sir,” returned the humble fel-

"Tell-tale scars,” continued the doctor. “How’d ye come by them?”

The seaman wagged his sore head and smiled vaguely. Scars? He wondered what the kind gentleman was talking about.

“They have a professional look,” continued the doctor.

"Thanky, sir.”

“Poor fellow! Whatever ye’ve been in the past—sinned against or sinning—ye’re nought but a fool now. A lucky fool, my poor Hunter. That's my guess, anyhow. To eat, to sleep, to cool one’s gullet—surely these are enough. To forget. To have the dead past bury its dead. Wine will not do it, nor yet spirits. But enough of this. Hunter, I’m a clever man. I’ve done a grand job on your skull. But I'm not clever enough to set to rights that gleam, that flame, which God Himself lit in your brain. It may be the bash on your skull extinguished it entirely; or perhaps it still bums, but feeble and murky. In either case, I can do nothing for it. So be it.”

Dr. Harris was right. The poor seaman who was known in Bados as Paul Hunter recovered health and strength of body but not the clear flame in his mind. He was happy, harmless and a half-wit. He was no trouble, nor unpleasant to have about; and soon after the governor had taken him into his household as a manof all work, he proved a very useful servant. Some time in his forgotten past, he had served in a great house. Now tricks and ways of that service, and the manner of it, came back to him. He was dependable; and when in livery and on duty the silly smile of the half-wit left his face and he was a model of dignified servitude. He delighted in his little tasks. With grave artistry did he offer a silver dish or refill tall glasses at the elbows of the governor and his guests.

In the meantime, H. M. S. Amaryllis sought the Archdeacon among the islands to windward and leeward and up and down the Main. Sometimes the chase was hot and lively, but more often it was cold. Amaryllis was fast, but the Archdeacon’s big maintopsail schooner had the heels of her on most slants of wind.

At last, to increase the chances of success, Lieutenant Copple was sent away on an auxiliary expedition with the frigate's cutter and two longboats, all well manned, armed and provisioned. Things began to look dark for the Archdeacon, sail he never so fast, hide he never so cunningly. On the eve of Copple’s departure, the wine and the rum went round and round in every mess aboard. Toasts to the captain, Lieutenant Copple, prize money, Amaryllis, the cutter and the boats were drunk and drunk again. Prize money! The least of the ship’s

boys could almost feel his pockets bulged and heavy with shillings.

A BIG main-topsail schooner with a cutter in tow let go an anchor in the roadstead of Queensport, Bados. The only other vessels in roadstead and port were three merchantmen and half a dozen little island craft. The schooner flew the white ensign at her main-top, mizzen-peak and taffrail.

“But she doesn’t look like a king’s ship,” said the governor, examining her through his spyglass.

“A prize,” suggested the officer commanding the garrison.

“I be acquainted with the cut of her jib, Yer Honor,” said one of the merchant skippers. “Didn’t she chase me through the Saints’ Passage a year ago come Christmas?” “Chased you? Who is she?”

“If she bain’t the Archdeacon’s schooner, Yer Honor—or what was his schooner—I’ll eat Yer Honor’s cocked hat.”

The schooner dipped her colors. A boat was piped away from her side, man-o’-war style. The boat pulled four oars to the side, with a man in the bows with a boathook and a cox and two officers in the stemsheets. She came on like a racehorse. The oars moved like machinery.

The governor and his suite moved to the water stairs and down them ; the townspeople and soldiers crowded forward; Major Jinks ordered Captain Featherstonehaugh to tell the officer of the day to turn out the guard. Ripples of excitement went through the crowd; and when one of the officers in the boat stood up and doffed his hat, and the eight oarsmen stopped rowing like one man and “tossed” their oars all together as smartly as it was ever done in any admiral’s barge, all the people fell to cheering.

The senior of the two officers in the boat stepped nimbly ashore and bowed low before the governor. Upon straightening his back, his glance touched all the faces of the gentlemen present, moving quick as lightning. Then it met and held the governor’s enquiring stare, gently and respectfully.

“I seek news of Captain Westwood and his ship, sir.”

“Westwood has not once honored us with a call since he came pirate hunting into these seas. He was reported off Antigua seven weeks or more ago, by a turtling fore-andafter. But what is your business with Captain Westwood and his Amaryllis, sir?” “To report a prize, sir; and as my captain is not here to pass on the report to Your Excellency, permit me to do so.” He indicated the big schooner in the roadstead with a modest gesture. “The notorious Archdeacon, sir—harmless as a sucking dove.” The governor embraced the slender sailor. “I knew it!” he cried. “I guessed it! And you, my brave young friend? Which of the frigate’s dashing officers are you?”

Again the stranger’s glance went over the faces of the gentlemen at the governor’s back and elbows like blue lightning.

“Copple commanded the cutter and boats, sir—William Copple, the frigate’s first lieutenant;” and even while he spoke his quick blue glance continued to dart here and there. “Copple commanded, sir—but let me say that every officer and man of the little expedition did his duty.”

"Need ye tell me?” exclaimed the governor jovially. “And as for yourself, my friend—this is no time for such modesty, no matter how well it becomes a young officer. Why, dammy, I’m proud of you! We’re all proud of you ! His Majesty is proud of you —though only in my humble person at the moment. Gentlemen—gentlemen all and people all—I present a hero—Lieutenant Copple of His Majesty’s Ship Amaryllis!’’ During the governor’s harangue, every eye was upon the naval officer; and his eyes were everywhere. The governor’s suite and the townspeople eyed him proudly and kindly, but in the unwavering gaze of his own boatmen and junior officer there was a suggestion of strained alertness. He himself wore a strained look about the eyes and mouth for a few seconds, and for a moment his brows puckered as if he were screwing

Continued on page 24

Continued from page 16

page 16—Starts on page 15

up his courage to a dangerous decision ; then he smiled luminously and grasped the extended hand of the officer commanding the garrison.

“William Copple at your service, sir,” he murmured.

He grasped every extended hand with a charming air of pleased good humor and modesty. Then he and His Excellency led the way to Government House; and there, after a glass of punch, he asked the great man’s pleasure regarding the disposal of his prisoner.

“Shall I hang him up to his own main yardarm, sir, as I did to the other survivors of the fight? Or would Your Excellency like to make an example and warning of him ashore?”

“The Archdeacon, d’ye mean? You have the man himself—that devil!—as well as his schooner? Better and better, my young friend. I’ll be glad of a look at him and a word with him. He has homs and a tail, according to common rumor. Then we’ll swing him on our grand new gallows on Windmill Hill, for all the world to see and all piratical minded persons to consider. Have him ashore.”

“Very good, sir. And I promise Your Excellency no little amusement; for, though he does not show his homs, hoofs and tail, he displays more devilish effrontery and insolence than I believe Old Nick himself is capable of.”

THE PRISONER was fetched ashore from the big main-topsail schooner and marched up to Government House under a strong guard. His wrists were still ironed. He was unshaven and wore a bloody bandage on his head. His pale, merciless eyes flashed with hate and fury. The muscles of his jaws bulged and twitched and his lips were withdrawn from his big teeth in a wolfish snarl. The Archdeacon ! The terror of those seas! He looked the part; and men trembled and women screamed when he turned those terrible eyes upon them. He was taken to the library, where the governor, the senior officer of the garrison, his captor and half a dozen other gentlemen sat at a table which was centred by a bowl of punch.

“So here you are,” said the governor harshly.

“Yes, here I am!” rasped the prisoner. “And with all your vile deeds stamped on your vile face.”

“For whom do you take me, you fool? Are you mad? Or am I gone mad?”

“I take you for the bloody pirate you are, fellow; for the ruthless, murdering devil’s spawn that’ll be swinging from my new gallows on Windmill Hill within the

At that, the prisoner uttered an inarticulate scream of rage and pointed his manacled hands at his captor. He trembled from head to foot. The elegant young officer smiled at him gently, and cautioned him against bursting a blood vessel.

"He would be better for a drink, Your Excellency,” continued the hero. “He wants to tell you that he is Lieutenant Copple and I the Archdeacon, but he is too dry to do the subject full justice. I am inclined to think that he is beginning to believe it, poor devil. May I offer him a glass, sir, so that we may hear all he has to say?”

The governor nodded, still eyeing the prisoner with disgust. The lieutenant stood up, filled his glass from the bowl and extended it to the prisoner.

“He doesn’t like me,” said the lieutenant, smiling. “Will one of you gentlemen offer him a glass?”

Mr. Cranby, a planter, filled and offered a glass. The prisoner accepted it with both hands and drained it. He dropped the empty glass and again pointed both hands at the lieutenant.

“There he is!” he cried. “There he sits—

the Archdeacon !—red with blood ! Can't ye see it? Look at him!”

They looked from the twitching horrid face of the prisoner to the gentle, smiling face of his captor.

“Can’t ye see it? Blind! Mad! What ails ye? We spied him out. He couldn’t know we were within a hundred miles of him— unless he’s the devil. He is the devil! We boarded him at night—pitch-black nightup and over all together. And he was ready for us. He was waiting for us. They trapped us! He cut me down. He did—see him there—the bloody, tricky, smirkin’ pirate! Gimme a drink.” Someone gave him another glass, which he drained. “I am William Copple, first lieutenant of His Majesty’s Ship Amaryllis—God strike me dead else!’’

At that moment a servant entered the room with a dish of green limes and a bottle of yellow Bados rum for the replenishing of the punch bowl.

“You know me!” cried the prisoner. “I know you. Out with it. Tell them—these fools—they think I'm a pirate—who I am."

The servant hung his head in silence.

“Your name’s John Dunn,” cried the prisoner.

“His name is Hunter,” said the governor.

“Fellow, your name is Dunn! Or is it Wren? Ye know me, anyhow—Lieutenant Copple. We were shipmates, lad, in the smartest frigate afloat. Don’tye remember?”

Yes, the fellow remembered. It had all come back to him at the first sight of the prisoner; and he did not like it. Would he be taken aboard the frigate again and flogged for a deserter?

“Speak up, curse ye!” screamed the prisoner. “It's life or death. They mistake me for that bloody pirate there.”

Then poor John Dunn became inspired— by the devil, was it? Trembling, he knelt before the governor.

“It was no choice o’ mine, sir. I run away from him as soon as I could, sir—from himself an’ his wicked schooner. An’ when they was at their bloody deeds I alius hid away, sir—an’ took many’s the floggin’ for it.”

At that, the prisoner’s emotions struck him dumb. The calm, elegant lieutenant peaked his eyebrows for a second, then smiled more gently than ever.

THE GOVERNOR’S secretary woke His Excellency from heavy, punch-laden slumber. The party in honor of the hanging of the Archdeacon and Lieutenant Copple’s notable exploit had lasted till three in the morning. It was now seven-thirty.

“Schooner’s gone, sir—Copple and his prize—clean gone! And a frigate’s coming up to the harbor, sir—Amaryllis, by the look of her.”

“What was Copple’s hurry? Don’t he know his own ship?”

“He must have sailed before daybreak,

"Success has turned his head.”

“Or your punch, sir.”

The frigate let go an anchor and Captain Westwood came ashore. He listened to the governor’s story without comment. Then he suggested a visit to Windmill Hill. There the corpse was cut down from the gallows. Captain Westwood looked at its face, sighed and took a pinch of snuff.

“The wrong man, Your Excellency,” he said. “This is—was—my Lieutenant Copple.”

The governor’s butler came running—a fat man who did not often run.

"The gold dinner service!” he cried. “I can’t find it, high nor low.”

And poor John Dunn was gone,too. In a queer mood of gratitude or pity, the Archdeacon had carried him away. Or perhaps it had been done from curiosity. The Archdeacon may have wanted to know why the poor fellow had denied and forsworn Lieutenant Copple. All because of a wounded soul, if you ask me.