Fiction

Caribbean Mutiny

WILLIS LINDQUIST April 1 1950
Fiction

Caribbean Mutiny

WILLIS LINDQUIST April 1 1950

Caribbean Mutiny

Fiction

He had his choice — turn back to the palm-fringed coast with its plunder and pestilence, or risk tropic reefs and the ignomy of mutiny to save the lives of a ship, a girl, and a crew

WILLIS LINDQUIST

THE SHOCK of it came after three days in the mountains and steaming coastal savannahs of Haiti. It came when Lee Barnshaw returned to his ship in the estuary under cover of darkness, expecting a hero’s welcome.

The cold reception made no sense at all. He had accomplished what he set out to do. He had rescued Captain Clayton’s close friends, the plantation owner Jessup and the Jessup girl, from certain death. It was for this very purpose the armed merchantman Glenard had nosed into the estuary of Jacmeaux seven days ago. Napoleon’s armed might had struck at the island and the black freemen of Haiti had risen against all whites, killing, plundering, burning plantations in a frenzy of mass hysteria.

He sat rigidly now on the edge of his bunk, twitching with pain as Collins daubed at his festering scratches with Stockholm tar.

“Hold still,” Collins grumbled.

For a man whose tongue was usually as free as a topmast pennant, the squat gunnery officer had very little to say, Barnshaw thought, and he took that as an indication that, his blunder, whatever it was, had been a serious one.

“Well,” Barnshaw demanded at last, “what have I done now? I brought in the Jessups, didn’t I?” Collins’ watery grey eyes flicked up at him. He dipped his rag in the bucket of tar. "Aye, that you did. And you broke Captain Clayton’s strict orders not to leave the ship.”

“What orders could be more important than the lives of two people?”

“Especially,” said Collins with faint irony, “when one of them happens to he as pretty a lass as Yvonne Jessup.”

“What’s that got to do with it?”

“You went off to save her, they're saying,” muttered Collins, running a line of tar across Barnshaw’s chest. “Some say you was in love with her last trip when you went up to Jessup’s planta-

Barnshaw cursed. It was the kind of talk the ship’s company would find it easy to believe. They saw him still as the wild and irresponsible second mate who couldn’t so much as stand a watch without the captain being on deck too, keeping an eye on him. He couldn’t change. They wouldn’t let him. Even his good intentions had to be twisted and distorted until they counted for nothing.

“Sounds like something Mate Hanlon thought up,” he said bitterly.

When Mate Masterson’s health had failed two months ago, Barnshaw had expected promotion as a matter of course. But Hanlon, a fleshy-faced stranger, had been hired as mate on an hour’s notice.

"All right, I’m jealous of Hanlon,” Barnshaw said between his teeth. “I’m no good. You know it. Everybody knows it. I got to be second mate by accident because the second was killed in an action against the French privateers and 1 happened to be lucky enough to save the captain’s life. But

understand this, Collins; it wasn’t the Jessup girl that made me slip ashore that night.”

“You don’t know what you done,” Collins went on evenly, wiping his hands on his canvas pantaloons. “You can pick all the fights you want in them water-front saloons. You can stand on top the mainmast again on one foot to satisfy your silly bets, or dive after another shark with a knife in your teeth. Risk that fool neck of yourn much as you like.” He came forward grimly and shook a hard fist in Bamshaw's face. “But when you risk your ship and the life of every man on it, I’m having my say.”

Barnshaw felt a lightening in his stomach. “How could I do that?”

“There was good reason for them orders. Captain Clayton figured to sail next day before the Frenchies could come and sew us up. You kept us waiting three days. And now, Mister Barnshaw, it’s too late.”

“We’re blockaded?” Barnshaw asked weakly.

Collins nodded. “This morning. The masthead lookout saw the Frenchie sneaking in behind the cape. They’re waiting to grab us if we make a run for it.”

Slowly Barnshaw began to realize what his disobedience had cost them. They were trapped in the estuary, and with 30-odd refugees aboard from nearby plantations, the food and water supply would soon give out. Hostile blacks would cut them down if they went ashore, and the French would capture them or blast them to bits if they put out to sea.

But Barnshaw remembered Captain Clayton’s habit of doing the impossible, and he said warmly, “No Frenchman was

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ever born that could box in the Old Man. He’ll find a way.”

His words had a curious effect on Collins. He wavered. Under the gleam of perspiration his face became as grey as old sailcloth.

“Wasn’t meaning to say it till you had some rest,” he said softly. “Old Man won’t be getting us out of this. One of them stray shots from shore got him last night. He’s bad hurt.”

Barnshaw sat very still for several moments, and the chuckle of water along the wooden hull seemed strangely loud. His mouth went dry and hot, and his legs were unsteady when he got to I his feet.

“He’s sleeping,” Collins said. “You can’t see him.”

IN SILENCE Barnshaw mounted to the quarter deck and moved through the light of the lantern hanging in the mizzen shrouds. For a long time he stood at the rail, gripping it hard with both hands, staring out into the night.

Presently someone touched his arm and he knew, before turning, that it was Yvonne Jessup.

A dark, slender girl of eighteen, she was still dressed in the torn pantaloons ! and white silk blouse she had worn in her flight through the jungle. But now she had a red sash bound around her head in a turban. She looked exquistely fragile.

“Monsieur Barnshaw,” she said, j “You must speak with the captain. My father is troubled that he cannot see his old friend to thank him.”

Anger flamed in his face. He resented her beauty and the look of trust in her eyes. “It does you no good to speak to me,” he said brusquely. “I can do nothing for you.”

Her eyes widened with fear. “Then it is true. Something has happened.” He relented a little. “You’d better go below and get some rest. Perhaps in the morning you can see Captain Clayton.”

He left her quickly, hoping she’d understand he had no wish to see her

As he entered the waist, Collins limped out of the shadows. “Been waiting for you,” he said. “The captain’s needing a doctor.”

It was Collins’ way of hinting something had to be done soon. Barnshaw ¡ glanced at the sky. It was overcast, and a favorable land breeze, which promised to grow stronger during t! e night, whispered encouragingly in t e rigging.

Barnshaw said, “I know what Captain Clayton would do. He’d sail tonight.”

“I figured that.” Collins spat expertly between the shrouds. “Hanlon’s acting captain now. If you can keep a civil tongue we’d better go see him.”

CAIKI’AIN Clayton’s saloon smelled unpleasantly from Hanlon’s clay pipe. The mate was a massive and flabby man. He ignored Barnshaw completely and shook his head when Collins had finished.

“Running a blockade is a serious matter,” he said. “If we weren’t pounded to pieces by gunfire, I’d stand .o lose my ship and face a possibleterm in some filthy French dungeon. No thank you.”

“But the night is dark,” Collins said. “If we sail now—”

Hanlon stah)>cd at the charts l>efore him with the stem of his clay pip«?. “R«-efs, Collins! Look at them. And who knows h«>w accurate this chart is?"

“You’re forgetting Mister Barnshaw, bc-gging your pardon sir,” Collins said.

“It was him marked them charts. He could sail out of here in his sleep.”

Barnshaw blinked at this wild exaggeration. Up to that moment he had not given the reefs at the mouth of the estuary a single thought, but now he began to sweat.

Hanlon scowled at him. “You could get us out of here at night?”

“Aye, aye, sir,” Barnshaw said without hesitation. He saw the gleam of hope in Hanlon’s agate eyes and he knew this was the moment to strike a bargain. “I’ll do it, but only on my own terms. 1 know these waters. You don’t. I want you to keep off the deck till dawn. Your presence could only lead to differences.”

Hanlon’s fleshy face reddened. “I’ve heard it said, Barnshaw, that the last time you stood watch alone you tried to outrace a squall with every sail on her. You lost a topmast and half the sails I believe.”

“That was all of a year ago,” Collins put in. “I’ve great respect for his seamanship, sir.”

Hanlon gave a contemptuous grunt.

Looking at Barnshaw, Collins said, “If you’d step out, Mister Barnshaw.”

Barnshaw did. He waited for ten minutes on the quarter-deck before Collins came, looking pleased with himself.

“She’s yourn till dawn,” he said. “Hanlon’s left the charts in the saloon

for you.”

“How did you—”

“I’m calling all hands.”

STILL not quite believing it, Barnshaw returned to the saloon and spent several minutes poring over the charts. When he emerged once more the lantern had been extinguished and the darkness was alive with faint creaking sounds.

Collins appeared out of the gloom for orders.

“Slip the anchor,” Barnshaw said. He caught himself glancing over his shoulder out of long habit, half expecting to see Captain Clayton at his usual post by the taffrail. But he was alone, and the knowledge brought a churning conflict of fear and uncertainty.

He moved aft and stood beside his friend Rant, who was at the wheel. “Keep your helm aweather,” he said in an undertone. “This will be like coming around in a rain barrel.”

Rant put the wheel over. "There’s something mighty queer going on,” he said. “Collins keeps the key to the Old Man’s cabin. Won’t let nolwdy in.” “You mean the captain’s a prisoner?” “No. He was shot all right. But nobody saw it happen. We just found him on deck with a hole in his back. And then this morning Hanlon wus fixing to sail without you when the Frenchies come.”

Barnshaw frowned slightly as he studied the compass and took bearings on the end of the cape, beyond which the Frenchman lay in ambush.

Seconds dragged. Suddenly the sound of a splash came from the bows. They were free, and the sails dropped with a sibilant swish.

The deck came to life un«ler him as the Clenard swung about and thrust her forefoot into the swells. Like a ghost ship gliding into the night, she gathered way.

Hastily, he rechecked his b«?uringH, glanced ahead over the dark waters. There was nothing to mark the location of the passage through the reef.

How could he be sure? In desperation, he glanc«?d back, trying to get a fix on the t«)w«?r of Jacmeuux which had guided th«?m in. But it was swallejwed up in the loom «»f the mountains.

He felt a wild upsurge of panic that

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blanked out thought. The Glenard quickened her swing and for a frantic moment he hesitated.

“Meet her!” rasped Barnshaw. He kept his eyes on the rocking compass card as the Glenard halted her swing. “There! Hold her so!”

He stepped back wet with perspiration. He had made his guess. It was all he could do. They were rushing down on the reef—to destruction or escape. Seconds would tell.

He conned the mainsails, all taut and drawing now, and as his gaze swept upward he saw the mast jerk and heard a sound.

A mild shock came up through his legs and the Glenard rolled. He braced himself instinctively for the crash. But the ship sheered off and righted herself far more quickly than he could steady his reeling senses.

He sucked in a deep breath of sea air. They were through!

“Another one coming up,” he warned Rant. “Bear on the tip of the cape.”

Hanlon came pounding up the hatchway ladder and wanted to know what had happened.

“Scraped some coral, but we got through. I’m checking the pumps.”

Apparently satisfied, Hanlon went below again.

THE Glenard began feeling the seas, rolling a little as she bore down on the rocky cape, taking them closer and closer to where the Frenchman lay. But she was on the other side of the cap and would not be able to see them. Barnshaw passed the word for silence.

He judged his speed by the bubbling wake. A minute more, he estimated, would bring them clear of the outer reef which ended abruptly a hundred yards from the cape.

He had just given the order to round the end of the reef when he heard the shots.

“Signal shots,” groaned Rant. “They must have men posted on the cape.” With the element of surprise lost, speed was their only hope, that and the thin possibility of shaking off pursuit in the darkness.

Every stitch was clapped on with miraculous speed, and the Glenard, trembling under the press of canvas, shook herself, surged forward joyously, lifting her bows and thrashing the seas as she heeled along at the edge of the wind.

After a time Collins came aft mopping his face. He glanced anxiously at the dark margin of Haiti off their beam. “You’reholdingmighty close in.” “Got to keep this land breeze,” Barnshaw explained. “Place lookouts and get a man in the chains with the lead.”

He was setting a hazardous course, for the charts of the coast were so inadequate as to be almost useleas. The leadsman’s singsong voice could warn them of gradual shoaling, but hidden reefs could lay open their bottom without warning. Yet the risk seemed worth it. By skirting the coast they could hold the stiff land breeze through the night and increase their speed by two or three knots.

Time after time Collins returned. They tried vainly to peer into the murk astern for some sign of the French. The tension eased somewhat as the hours passed.

SUDDENLY Collins stood beside him again. “Dawn in an hour,” he

Barnshaw dreaded the coming of dawn. He concealed his uneasiness by changing the subject.

“Looked in on Captain Clayton?”

“A few minutes ago.” Collins leaned

heavily against the rail. “He knows we’re at sea. Might be a good sign.” “I understand you keep his door locked.”

“Aye, with the jewels and gold them rich plantation people brought aboard —it’s all in the captain’s strongbox— I ain’t taking no chances. I mind how Hanlon and his redheaded friend took special interest in the stuff.”

Barnshaw had the impression Collins was withholding something.

A PULSING sheen of silver in the east brought silence to the quarterdeck, every man rapt in his anxious thoughts, wondering what dawn would

The world became grey about them. Then suddenly the first rays of sun touched the sails with golden light and everyone turned instinctively to study the horizon astern.

“A sail! Starboard quarter!” came the cry from the masthead.

The grim glances of Collins and Rant made it seem like the voice of doom.

“How do you make her out!” Barnshaw asked.

“A brig, sir,” came the reply. “She’s bearing down with everything flying.” Hanlon rushed up in time to hear the last of it, a wild look in his bloodshot eyes. Red, the bosun, followed at his heels. Curiously, they were both wearing pistols, small pistols that did not belong to the ship.

“Where is she?” Hanlon demanded. “She’s—” At that instant, as the stern of the Glenard rose over the crest of a wave, Barnshaw saw the steady white square of a sail on the horizon. He pointed. “There she is.” Hanlon got out his glass and studied her for several minutes.

Barnshaw stood by. He was distracted by a peculiar babbling sound and turned to find the passengers streaming into the waist. The girl was there, her dark hair flowing in the wind as she looked up at him. The sight of her touched off his anger.

“You people get below!” he roared. ‘There may be shooting.”

“They can stay where they are,” said Hanlon. “I’m master here. I’ll not jeopardize the lives of these people by resisting a French man-o’-war.”

Barnshaw was immediately stung with humiliation. Hanlon’s position was perfectly correct, he knew. It would be suicide to put up a show of resistance against a man-o’-war.

When Barnshaw looked aft again the slanting tower of sails stood large over the rim of the sea. The Frenchman was bearing down, closing the gap between them with alarming speed. There could no longer be any thought of escape.

Hanlon said to Collins, “You and Rant go forward and stand ready to round her to. We’ll have to surrender. Get the colors up so we can strike

Collins shot a curious, lingering look at Barnshaw before he turned to

Red fell in behind him, the pistol in his belt glinting in the morning sun. It was clear that Hanlon, having failed to gain the respect of the crew, meant to have his orders obeyed at pistol point if necessary.

But to Barnshaw, Hanlon was no longer important. The Glenard would soon be in the hands of the French and she would be headed back for the pestilence and misery of Port-auPrince. He wondered grimly how many of them would live through it.

He kept his back to the girl in the waist. He had no wish to see her again. He remembered the fear in her eyes a few minutes ago; and she had been looking at him, not Hanlon, as though he could somehow work miracles.

THE sound of a flat report made him jerk up his head. The sleek hull had come into sight.

Barnshaw studied the strange vessel. She was a small corvette, flush-decked, with a single line of guns. But something about her unusual rig and her waspish look of speed held him and brought a vague feeling of familiarity.

A puff of white smoke flowered from her bows and was instantly whipped to shreds by the wind.

“There!” cried Hanlon. “She’s trying to rake us with her bow chasers. Give Collins the word and round her to, Mister Barnshaw.”

Barnshaw stood firm. He had suddenly recognized the vessel for what she was and he tried to suppress his excitement. “I was about to suggest, sir, that we run out the guns.”

“Guns! Turn the guns on a man-o’-

“She’s a French privateer!” Hanlon’s red-rimmed eyes smoldered. “She’s on patrol duty for the navy, no matter what she is. She’s got twice our number of guns. And we’re a blockaderunner, remember that. If we spilled one drop of French blood, I—I would perhaps hang for it.”

The big fellow seemed unnerved and desperate. They glared at each other, and slowly Hanlon drew his pistol. “I gave you an order, Barnshaw. Round her to.”

“Captain Clayton wouldn’t.”

Hanlon raised his pistol. “I know how to deal with mutinous dogs! Round her to, Barnshaw. You’ve got five seconds.”

Barnshaw hesitated. It came to him that Hanlon was afraid to give the order himself. It might not stick. Hanlon was using him to enforce surrender.

The alternatives were clear. He could submit to legal authority, follow Hanlon’s orders, and they could all take their chances of surviving the months of hard labor and disease and privation of Port-au-Prince—which would almost certainly mean death of the Old Man; or he could shoulder the responsibility of leading a mutiny, a criminal act, and turn the guns of the Glenard on the privateer.

It was enough for him that he knew what the Old Man would have done. He turned to the waist.

“Collins!” he roared at the top of his lungs, raising his fist high. “She’s a French privateer!”

There was’an eruption of sound and commotion in the crowded waist. A shot rang out, Collins shouted orders, passengers milled and ran to get under

Hanlon’s pistol went off as Barnshaw came rushing in. It blinded him momentarily but he struck out and his fist found the fleshy face. Hanlon staggered.

Then the pistol cracked down on Barnshaw’s skull and the deck swirled about him. He kept swinging with wild strength, blindly, furiously.

Hanlon was down when the seamen rushed the quarter-deck. They jerked him to his feet like a jointless rag doll.

“Lock him up. Red, too,” gasped Barnshaw. “Then get back to your

Behind him the banging of the privateer’s bow chaser came loudly and at regular intervals. The French had come within easy range. One shot growled along the hull. Another, moments later, parted two mainmast shrouds.

“Keep as close to the wind as she’ll lie,” he told the helmsman.

THE Glenard mounted fourteen guns, seven to a side; and these were certainly no match for the privateer’s armament. But the odds

were good, Barnshaw knew from experience, that a gun battle would not materialize. Unlike a man-o’-war, the privateer—which was a privately owned pirate ship under government license—would avoid a gun battle if possible. They had no desire to damage a ship which they meant to take as a prize. They would want it whole and in good condition.

Their strategy would be to slip up on the lee side and board with fifty or more men armed with pistols and grenades and cutlasses. Once aboard, they would make short work of the Glenard’s crew.

But Barnshaw hoped to prevent them from boarding. His only slim chance of success depended upon that.

In the waist, Collins had already cleared for action. Shot and fireboxes of ammunition and matchtubs were being brought up and placed at proper intervals.

Barnshaw ducked as a round shot screeched past his head like an infernal blast of hot air. It landed on the forecastle with a solid crash, sending up a deadly shower of splinters that scattered men at the forward guns.

Collins came at a limping trot. “All clear and ready, sir.”

“Have the extra men stand ready to back sails,” said Barnshaw. “You and Rant lay the guns. Fire when they all

The jeering of the privateers could be plainly heard now. They were supremely confident, Barnshaw noticed with satisfaction. That was in his favor.

Dashing alongside the Glenard they sent a deadly barrage of grenade and a hail of shot.

A shattering explosion drove Bamshaw into the rail. He saw his helmsman sway and crumple to deck. Leaping over the body, he grabbed the wheel before the Glenard could pay off.

There was no panic in the waist. The leeward gun crews huddled grimly over their guns. Others stood ready to haul the yards, their eyes on Barnshaw, knowing their lives depended upon split-second execution.

Then the privateers were abeam yardarm to yardarm.

“Braces and tacks! Haul!” roared Barnshaw. A second later he put down the helm.

The Glenard came smartly into the eye of the wind. Yards wheeled and squared, so that the wind, all in a moment, fell full on the fronts of the sails to act as a powerful brake.

Grappling irons flew from the privateer—steel hooks arching up on the ends of lines which were meant to draw the ships closely together for boarding. Some of the casts fell short because of the Glenard’s sudden swing, but many were good, and the hooks caught at the bulwarks and in the shrouds and backstays.

Grapple lines took up the strain. The critical moment for boarding had come. But now the Glenard was reducing speed so sharply that the forward drive of the privateer proved too much for the frail grapple lines. They parted like so many threads.

Collins’ hoarse shout brought a deafening salvo. Seven guns thundered in unison.

The Glenard heaved to the recoil. Decks tilted. Acrid white smoke rolled up, wiping out vision. For a suspended moment there was neither sight nor sound.

Then Barnshaw heard the coughing of his men. He rubbed the tears from his smarting eyes as the wind tore the smoke into ragged streamers and whipped them astern.

Before he could see clearly, a wild shout came up from the waist.

Then he saw it too, and he leaned weakly against the wheel.

Less than a pistol shot off the port bow lay the stricken privateer. She was as helpless now as a wallowing old barge. Her masts were reduced to splintered stumps. Her deck was a clutter of wreckage and torn sail, and her top hamper dragged over the side, so that she listed sharply to port. There was no fight left in her.

A few broadsides into her hull would have sent her to the bottom. But Barnshaw, having no quarrel with the French let the Glenard fall off and draw quickly away.

BY THE time the guns had been secured and the wounded cared for—there were six of them—the French privateer was a mere speck on the windward horizon.

“Hanlon’s threatening to have us all up for mutiny,” Rant reported.

The time had come, Barnshaw thought, to play his hunch. He reviewed the shreds of evidence in his mind. The captain shot in the back, no witnesses, it seemed highly imimprobable that a shot from shore could have reached the ship. No one aboard had access to the captain’s small-arms locker. But Hanlon and Red had pistols of their own, and in the excitement of this morning, they’d made the mistake of showing them.

When Barnshaw finally returned to the quarter-deck, he met Rant’s anxious look with a grin. “Hanlon won’t be in a position to charge us with mutiny,” he said. “I’m holding him for attempted murder.”

Rant’s eyes popped.

Barnshaw nodded. “I think Collins suspected it all along. Hanlon had the most to gain.”

“But there’s no proof,” Rant said. “I’ve got a witness. Red confessed his part of it after I told him Hanlon said that he’d done the shooting. Red claims Hanlon was the one. They can fight it out in court.”

An hour later Collins came up. “Captain Clayton’s asking for you, Mister Barnshaw.”

Barnshaw hurried below. The elderly man, propped with pillows, held out his hand.

“Well done, lad,” he said warmly. Barnshaw swallowed. “I was only following the orders I knew you would have given, sir.”

Captain Clayton waved that aside with a gesture. “Nonsense. You were doing what you knew was right. That comes out of experience. No man could have done more.”

“Aye,” beamed Collins, clapping him on the shoulder. “I always said when the captain here spends that much time training men, you can be sure he’s got the right kind of tar

The captain’s faded blue eyes twinkled. “Modesty becomes you, Barnshaw.” He paused. “I want you to take over for me lad.”

“T—thank you, sir.”

It was all Barnshaw could say. The command of the Glenard was rightfully his now, and to merit such confidence from the Old Man seemed more glorious by far than his victory over the French.

Suddenly, as he turned to go, he discovered the girl. She stood in the shadows near the foot of the bunk, stood so still that she seemed not to be breathing. She smiled.

He got an odd but pleasing sensation in his chest. He gave her a warm smile in return, and it seemed right that the Old Man should be there to see it, giving his silent approval.

“No shoals ahead, lad.”

A slow grin spread on Barnshaw’s face. “Stand by the captain for a while, Collins,” he said. “I’m taking Miss Jessup out for some fresh air.” ★