Calico Jack and Constance, a short story by StevenHunley. Date added: 2010-09-02. Times viewed: 1730.
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Calico Jack and Constance
To: Constance: a raven-haired Portuguese beauty
The sea was an angry monster intending to devour his ship. The blackness of night, the tide, the very wind in its sails or lack of it, were conspiring against Captain Jack, betting he would not make port. A conspiracy of nature plotted to thwart him. He stood alone at the helm while his mate Smee peered landward through the spyglass, searching for the light that would point to the entrance of the harbor.
A million darts of rain pelted the Sirocco, and had to be wiped from the glass.
“Well Smee, is it there?”
“No sign Captain, no sign.”
It wasn’t the answer he wanted.
“Damn your eyes Smee, keep a sharp lookout, or we’ll soon be dashed on the rocks!
“Where is Old Ben anyway and what about our deal?”
Captain Jack was worried. Ben, the lighthouse keeper had made a deal and was a man of his word. No matter the risk he would keep it. To help Jack make the entrance and thread his way between treacherous rocks, he would aim the light just so, at a certain angle and no other.
“Old frail Ben is a man of his word, and he’ll keep to it,” he’d told Smee when they left Nantucket, and headed home after dropping two longboats of rum on the beach, “Or my name isn’t Calico Jack.”
But that was then. Now was now, and both were worried. The seas made them worry, the waves were all wrong, and with the new moon there was no light at all. Even the wind was against them. What they wanted was home, and it wasn’t sure they were going to get what they wanted. Ben’s light would usually point their course in safety. But the light refused to shine.
How different this stormy night was from the sunny day when Jack and Ben first met at the Boar’s Head Inn. The two would hardly compare.
When Jack walked into the Boar’s Head he walked in with a strut, with a certain degree of insolence, as if he owned the place. Having just moved a load of rum from Jamaica to Nantucket he was “in the pocket” as he called it and in fine fettle as well.
“Drinks all around,” he shouted, and took a chair by Ben, striking a conversation with the old man immediately, and a friendship just as fast. Each recognized each other as seafaring men at once by as they call it, the cut of their jib.
“So you’re the man who keeps the light out there on the point. It’s saved me more time than once, you’re light has. Innkeeper, another rum here for the man who keeps the light, we sailors owe him more than one drink, and you may lay to that!”
“Why thankee Captain, my name is Ben.”
Jack looked at him closely. He was tall but frail, and had a consumptive cough. His handkerchief, for he used a kerchief, was brown-stained, most probably with his blood. His beard was as grey as his head, and around the mouth, tobacco- stained. He had a beguiling smile, considering he was missing most of his teeth, and beside him, propped up in the corner, a stick.
Jack concluded, after talking to him, that there was one place on him not stained, and would never stain, and that place was his soul. Sincerity was no stranger to old Ben, and he was all in all, a man who could be trusted. In Jack’s profession trust was a rare jewel, and fetched high value. For these reasons, and for a thousand others, he took to him immediately.
“Ye must come home with me and sup, my daughter can cook wondrous things, her mother was Portuguese, and passed her many a secret. Aye, she knows a thing or two about a kitchen!”
Jack laughed, for it was no secret he liked eating, though you couldn’t tell by the look of him.
He was tall and moved with a certainty, a deliberateness which put ladies at their ease. He was dark, and beneath his black brows were piercing eyes of gunmetal blue. They’d seen many a woman’s bosom, but as yet, not one of their hearts. It was the one thing he lacked, though you wouldn’t notice it from afar, ‘cause he kept that part of him hid, and being a smuggler, he was good at such things, at hiding valuable things… even his heart.
“I will, I’ll eat with you. It will be a pleasure I’m sure.”
“Let’s cast off then. It’s getting dark and she’ll be in the kitchen directly.”
The two men set off down the cobbled street, then onto the well trod path that led up and about, onto the point, and neither one knew just then, though they were walking to the lighthouse, that the path they set their feet upon in such good humor would lead them both to treasure.
At this point dear reader, that’s a secret to be kept strictly between you and I. But remember, and keep in mind, that all treasures are not gold and some are worth far more.
They walked over the last rise and saw the lighthouse below. It was white-washed brick with a Spanish tile roof and though cleared on the side for the light, the other end had an oak tree nearby, and hanging from it, a swing. Behind that was a vegetable garden. It didn’t seem much from the outside, and wasn’t pre-possessing. Smoke streamed from the chimney and when they approached they noticed the smell of cinnamon and dough in the air.
“Ah,” said Ben, his eyes brightening, “Smell that? That would be our desert.”
They entered through a wide oak door, where red geraniums were growing in a pot.
“She’s all about color, my daughter is,” Ben explained, “see here.”
The room was well lit from windows that let in the sun with no squabble. Bright hand-painted plates decorated the walls, all in a pattern. Others graced the mantel. Jack saw at once it had a woman’s touch. There were seafaring things about to be sure. Shiny brass ships’ lanterns hung from the beams overhead, and here was a compass, or there on the wall a harpoon from a whaler. Bits of lacquered rope wound round the stairway banister that led up to the light. It was bright and inviting and felt familiar. That’s what Jack liked about.
“Here,” Ben directed, “sit ye by the fire. Have a spot of Drambuie. It will warm you up.”
So they sat and they drank and got comfortable. The house belonged to a stranger, but felt just like home. Everything there seemed to be in its place, even him.
Just as he was getting lost in his thoughts, a bell rang and shook him from his reverie.
“Ah, that will be our supper I reckon. It’s the ship’s bell from the Mary Dear announcing supper. When she went down near Cape Hatterus, I bought her bell and mounted it in the kitchen! I’m a bit hard of hearing you know, but that bell, I can hear from anywhere around. It will do us no good to be late now, and would make Constance cross if we were. Let’s away at once!”
A Dutch door led to the kitchen, and when Ben flung the top portion open, a woman was revealed placing cutlery on the table. By the time Ben opened the bottom half, our captain had taken her measure.
She was a small but well built craft. She had wild dark hair, tied back, and beneath her dark brows, even darker eyes, that flashed when she looked up and beheld him. He understood at once that they were dangerously engaging eyes, as dark and explosive as the black powered that primed the silver mounted pistols he used in his work and at this moment they were aimed straight at him.
He decided to blink first.
“I’m Captain Calico Jack,” he offered, “and your father has invited me to dinner.”
“Ah yes. It seems every man he invites here is either a Captain or a sea dog. Which one you are, I’ll be deciding.”
“Pay her no mind,’ said Ben, “It’s the Portuguese in her. I married her mother, God rest her soul, when I was on leave in the Azores. The Portuguese have a bad habit of speaking their minds.”
“Yes Father and I’ll be speaking my mind to you in a minute if you both don’t sit down immediately to your supper!”
“Aye aye,’ he answered, and took his seat. What could Jack do but follow?
The table, when he noticed the table, was set like no other.
The glasses looked to be crystal, the cutlery all neat in a row, and linen napkins were folded into shapes like pyramids. It was unlike any table he had ever seen, and the food!
The food was a story in itself.
For a sailor used to eating rotten beef and hard tack, it looked a treat. What lay before him and looked so good was a Portuguese sopa or stew that was meat in a red soupy sauce with a green mint leaf floating on top like a boat. She handed him some bread and broke off a piece.
“Here,” she offered, “it’s to sop up the juice.”
She filled his glass with deep dark red homemade wine, and watched his expression after he drank. She saw he was pleased with its taste.
Then they ate.
Constance looked at Jack. When he was addressing her she’d often look down, and pretend she’d missed his remark. He wasn’t saying much anyway, so that was no loss. But when he’d address her father, she’d steal a glance her and there.
She noticed at first the color of his eyes. They were innocent and blue, yet they were calculating eyes, the kind that took a girl’s measure without her consent. She didn’t know if she liked that or not. She couldn’t gauge his height either, as she’d missed it at first, and now he was sitting down.
But when he passed her a plate, she noticed he was well mannered and always said please and thank you. She liked that.
One other thing she noticed and that was his hands. They were well shaped, and she saw they were not course or rough. They were not the hands of a common seaman.
“Perhaps he’s a captain after all.”
She imagined, if only for a second, what those hands might feel like should they happen to brush against her cheek. The thought made her tingle. Then she drew back and hardened her heart. It would never do to think of such things. The men she knew weren’t like that; it was more than just a brush against a cheek they were after. So she withdrew her feelings and hardened her heart as hard as Damascus steel.
All this time, when she was looking away, and talking to her father, Jack was making note of her.
He listened attentively to what she said and how she said it.
“This girl is fast, that she is, as fast running as quicksilver.”
He liked a person who thought well and quick. Thinking fast and saying your mind was something he admired in a woman.
For desert, and the Captain loved desert, she’d made an amazing bread pudding and served it with a layer of lemon pudding on top. He’d never had anything finer.
In the end, he was satisfied with the meal, but unsatisfied with the woman. He wanted to know more and would have asked her directly, but she disappeared as quickly as she appeared saying she had sewing to attend to. When she walked from the room he noticed something about her gait, a kind of a limp that disturbed him.
“Let’s sit by the fire and talk,” Ben suggested.
“Oh, yes, that would be good.”
He planned to find out everything he needed to know from Ben. After they sat down, before he could utter a single word, Ben said,
“I see you noticed she’s lame. I spied that look when you saw her walk away. She has her problems. She wasn’t always that way, poor girl. Here’s how it happened.”
Ben pulled his chair closer and lowered his voice.
“Two years ago she was courted by an English officer stationed nearby at the fort. He was a slick one he was, and she fell for him hard and heavy as an anchor. I saw right through the lad and objected. She ran off one night in December, to meet him at the inn. They planned to elope to Jamaica, then leave for England together. That’s what he told her was his plans.
She arrived at the inn, and he wasn’t there. So she waited in a chair by the fire. Hours later he hadn’t shown up, still she waited, thinking if she moved she’d miss him. The fire grew smaller but she waited. It grew cold in the room but she refused to move.
Earlier that day he’d shipped out with his company on the return ship to Bristol, and went back to his wife. He never even left her a note…the bastard.
A man from his company happened to go by the inn, and when he saw her he recognized her from when she’d visited in the officer’s quarters. He took pity on her and told her the truth.
She was shattered. It broke her heart it did. She cried for hours, and when she finally got up she couldn’t walk the same, and never has since. The doctor has seen her, but doesn’t seem to be able to help.”
He pulled his chair even nearer and looked at Jack closely, a tear glistening in his eye.
“They don’t know whether the problem is here,” and he pointed at his ankle, “or there,” he said motioning to his head, “maybe a little of both.”
Neither of them said anything then, they just stared into the fire and shared the sobering silence.
When Constance entered her room she decided to block all thought from her mind of the stranger in her house. She picked up some embroidery and worked on a scene not quite finished. It was the point of land with the lighthouse and the clouds and ocean beyond, all done up in silken colors. Now it was time to stitch a saying of some sort. Outside it was starting to sprinkle. Raindrops tapped softly on the window pane. She worked a minute unconsciously as she watched the leaves from the oak tree drift by, and felt for some reason, even though her life was stable, and she prized her stability she did, that somehow she had something in common with the leaves.
Snapping out of reverie, she looked down to check her spelling, there was a C and an A and a L and an I and a C and a what was this? An O? She threw down the circle of embroidery and burst into tears. It rolled along the floor like a child’s hoop and came to rest in the corner. The sun in its wisdom broke through the clouds and made patterns of the running raindrops on the window pane match the ones her salty tears had etched on her sweet young face. Both ran together, like two children playing in the rain hand in hand. Only when the tears and children were exhausted and only then, she fell back on her pillow and drifted off to sleep.
Back by the fire the men pulled out their pipes and were smoking. A chart of the island lay on the wall directly above the fireplace. Jack eyed it.
“So there’s your island, and here,” he said, indicating the point “is your light.” He placed his finger to the map.
“Aye,” said Ben, “That be it. I’ve manned this light for nigh on thirty years.”
“It’s made the point safer to be sure. It’s the most dangerous harbor entrance in these waters and every man-jack of us knows it. The light warns us all away from the rocks. At night the harbor can’t be reached anyway. That’s why we all anchor outside and wait until daylight. A night entrance is impossible.”
“Well, not impossible if ye know how,” Ben said with a grin, “though I don’t see why ye’d bother.”
Jack turned from the map and looked at directly at Ben.
“Some captains might want to get ashore in the night…” he hesitated, “ to transact business.”
Ben’s eyes narrowed. Then he moved toward the cabinet.
“Let’s have another spot of Drambuie and give ‘er a think.”
He poured the sweet liquor in two cups and continued. Ben could read a man like a book, and the captain was speaking volumes to his way of thinking.
“Do ye know Captain, that if the light is shown just right, it can’t be seen by the men ashore? To a captain who is good at pilotin’ he can slip right between the rocks, if he has a bit of transactin’ to do. Course, a lighthouse keeper doesn’t work for free you understand; it would take skill and time to do it just right. On the captains’ side of it, it would take a ship of just the right width, and a bit of pilotin’ skill too, he’d have to be a real seaman, not one of these arm-chair admirals you understand, or some weekend yachtsman at the wheel.”
Just then the wind picked up and made the chimney fire flutter. Sparks danced out and into the room and Ben kicked them back were they belonged with his boot.
“Aye Ben, that’s understood. Exactly what would the lighthouse keeper desire for valuable services such as these?”
“Why only a percentage of the value of the load, a mere pittance! Something he could put away for his old age, and buy the occasional bauble for his daughter. That is, if he were to have a daughter. Look here!”
He withdrew a large chart from a cupboard and the captain unrolled it on a nearby table. Together the two old salts, with a few more pipes, and a few more spots of Drambuie, planned and plotted far into the night. Finally at the crack of dawn, if you had been there, you would have seen Captain Calico Jack leaving the lighthouse whistling Sweet Molly Malone with a large chart under his arms, and if you had looked even closer, the smallest and slightest of smiles on his lips when the whistling had stopped. When he got off the path and hit the cobbled street that led through the town back to the harbor, the stone buildings and deserted streets echoed his voice and if you listened you heard,
“In Dublin’s fair city where girls are so pretty
Twas there that I first met sweet Molly Malone
As she wheeled her wheelbarrow through streets broad and narrow
Crying ‘Cockles and mussels, alive, alive oh.”
“Just listen to that man sing,” said a young fair-haired milk-maid setting up her stall on the street. “He’s in a good mood that one is!”
“He’s probably just drunk like the rest of ‘em,” observed her mother drawing her own conclusions.
“Or it may be, by the look of him” she answered her mother back smartly, “that he’s in love.”
He was in a good mood this singer of salty songs on that fresh briny morning, but for what reason or another could hardly be told for certain. Speculating was just a waste of time.
The weeks that followed forced a change in the house. Constance knew Jack had been there, but always missed him, yet knew someone had been there from the clay pipe stems left in the fireplace, too many to be her father’s alone. First she’d find the pipe stems while cleaning, then a day or two later Ben would buy her a rose bush to plant near the wall. Months had gone by and now it looked like a proper English garden. One night when she couldn’t sleep, she was walking outside among the roses in the moonlight when she heard a sudden sound. Someone was climbing the wall!
Before she could cry out, a figured appeared on top of the wall, and when it broke free of the shadows, she recognized it at once.
“Aye,” he dusted his pants legs, then bowed saying, “it’s me and no other ma’am.”
“Why didn’t you use the door?”
“Faith be I did, I knocked but no one answered!”
She blushed. It was true. Her father was fast asleep, and she was in back.
“What brings you here at this hour?”
“I just got in port, and needed to see your father.”
“You arrived Sir, in the dead of night?”
“We’d been away a long while and the crew were getting…”
“Restless for home?”
“That’s it, restless for home.”
“All one of them? Isn’t that all the crew you’ve got, a man named Smee?”
The captain looked puzzled.
“And what do you know about my boat and my crew?”
“I shop all around the dock, and know many people. I’ve seen Sirocco tied up. They say she’s the fastest ship in the islands. Is it true?”
“Well, I’ll not be bragging about her, but she’s the swiftest thing on the water from here to Tortuga.”
Jack knew what a trap smelled like and he saw that the Portuguese lass was cooking one up. These Portuguese! Every one of them explorers! Wasn’t Vaso de Gama one? They prodded and plotted the entire way around Africa, and here was one, a pretty one at that, prodding her way around him! He saw danger lying dead ahead and decided to change his course.
Those roses are the prettiest I’ve ever seen, and these over here, these too!”
He wandered to the rose bushes and turned his back to her.
“And these kind, just look at their color! And the smell! Don’t you just love the smell of them?”
He turned around to look at her. She was laughing, her hand covering her mouth.
“You’re quite a competent navigator when you need to be captain, do you always make safe harbor?”
“Only when I see a storm brewing.”
“A storm brewing for the Sirocco, or for yourself, my captain?”
He blushed, “Ma’am I do the best to remain safe on all sides, both port and starboard as it were and I make it no secret.”
“Sit here on this bench and rest. My father is asleep and I’ll not disturb him, but I’ll let you stay and sleep in the chair by the fire. My father trusts me Captain, and now I’m asking, can I trust you?’
Calico Jack sat down next to her.
“My intentions are honorable, if that’s what you mean.”
“Then I’ll hold the gentleman to his word.”
They sat side by side and watched the moonlight dapple the ground as the leaves from the oak tree moved in the quiet breeze, shifting and swaying each way. Jack noticed the swing, and since she’d settled down, decided the coast seemed clear.
“Care for a swing Miss Constance?”
“I’ve never swung in the moonlight my captain, but I’ll try anything once.”
He was pleased. “That’s the spirit!”
She took the seat and he pulled her towards him, then released her to fall in a sensuous swinging arc. The cool night air ran by her lips and fair cheeks, then over her temples, across her wild dark hair, streaming behind her perfume. Standing in back he was in just the spot to notice, and felt intoxicated by her fragrance. It was better than all the roses the world had to offer, and twice as enchanting.
They stayed this way in each other’s company for a number of minutes never saying a word. When it grew late they wandered inside and Jack took his place by the fire. She found the bottle of Drambuie just where her father hid it, and poured him a drink, then started to excuse herself from his company, begging to take leave. But he caught her hand as she walked by and said,
“Wait here one minute; I have something to ask you.”
“And what’s that?”
He hesitated as if he was making up his mind then he spoke,
“How is it a girl like yourself has no beau?”
She considered a minute, then answered,
“There’s plenty of others girls around here that are whole Captain, and many seek a craft more sea-worthy than me.”
“You? An unworthy craft? And if the right man chose you, what would you look for in him, sea-worthiness, and perfection of form? What?”
If he wanted the truth, he’d found just the girl to give it.
“There’s one thing I look for in a man captain, and it takes but one word to describe it…honesty. It is as hard for a woman to find as gold doubloons on a beach, and I’ve not found one yet.”
She slipped out of the room like a soft breeze, which is to say, noiselessly. Jack finished his drink and gazed at the fire. Before he shoved off to his dreams he did say one thing though, and it showed what was on his mind. He whispered to the fire,
“I reckon she’s been charting the wrong beach.”
He kicked off his shoes and curled up in the chair and fell right asleep. The funny thing was that the next morning when he awoke, his scattered shoes were placed neatly in a pair by the fire, and a blanket had been wrapped around him with care while he was asleep.
“Hello? What’s this? Someone has tucked me in!”
It was a most disturbing state of affairs for a man who was used to looking after himself, most disturbing!
Ben suddenly got worse, worse than he’d ever been. Constance had to help him up to the first step of the spiral staircase that led to the light yesterday, but that was yesterday, now it was today. The blue sheets she’d picked for him on a sunny day at the market were now stained with his blood and it seemed like his coughing would never cease. A single candle lit his room with a feeble flickering light.
“I have to go up and light the light,” Ben reported in earnest but didn’t get out of the bed.
Outside was a cold unforgiving rain and a wind with no conscience at all. It rapped incessantly at the shutters and they both tried unsuccessfully to pay it no heed. It was no use.
“I worry about you Father, that you….”
“That I’ll be gone by the morning?”
She nodded in agreement, her words having failed her. He opened his palm and she gave him her hand.
“So I will lass, so I will. It’s a long voyage I’ll be making that can only be sailed by a man alone.”
He coughed a bit then resisted and sputtered,
“Open the window a little and let me breathe!”
She ran to the window and cracked the shutter. The storm outside moaned aloud for his soul in this his blackest of nights.
“But what shall I do for myself when you’re….”
He was growing impatient, for he knew how little time was left,
“When I’m gone? Is that it? You’ll concern yourself with the living, that’s the course you’ll plot. You’ll do it for me at first, then after that… for yourself.”
“But what if I can’t find my way? What if I get lost?”
“Then you’ll find yourself a pilot that will guide you to a safe harbor I reckon.”
He coughed again and the candle started to flicker even more. The room grew chill.
“There’s something I want you to know. It’s about Captain Jack and me, we have a sort of a deal. At three I must point the way to the harbor with the light, and he’s counting on it! Make no mistake. He must slip into the port by night and safely at that, otherwise his ship and his crew will be lost on the rocks.”
They’ll be no buts about it my girl…”
Then his coughing fit grew rasping and stronger, and as if to match, the wind grew with a terrible strength outside. The shutters flew all the way open, the candle flickered and went out, and a blue line of smoke trailed behind it in a stream, then lifting in silence all up and away.
She struck a match to relight it, but saw it was too late, her father was gone. Walking slowly to the window she closed the shutters and locked them tight. He wouldn’t need the air of the earth any longer. He had left without so much as a goodbye or fare-thee-well, and set sail for a celestial port without her. When she found herself abandoned on the shoreline she sat down and wailed like a child whose hand had suddenly been let go, terrified of what would become of her.
Constance closed the door to her father’s room softly, as if not to wake him. She wandered the hallway and entered the only other room that had light. Sitting by the fire, a million thoughts crowded her mind. What would she do? What would happen next? She could hardly imagine or keep her thoughts together, what with the constant howling of the wind outside and the pelting of the rain against the window and the endless ticking of the clock on the mantel. Words from her father echoed in the canyons of her mind. What would she do?
“You’ll find yourself a pilot,” he’d said, “that will guide you to a safe harbor.”
The clock, the rain, and the wind, all sounded angry.
Her memory skipped about like a flat rock thrown from shore. And then she remembered her own words,
“You’re quite a competent navigator captain when you need to be. Do you always make safe harbor?”
The clock continued to tick but now she’d isolated its sound from the rest. Her eyes read its face with concern. It was past two thirty. She knew what she wanted, and what she needed to do. Without hesitation she rose and hobbled to the staircase that led to the light. The stairs wound up and around in a spiral, she hadn’t mounted them in two years, not since…since the soldier had left her behind. She tried to lift her left foot and reach the first one. It was impossible, it couldn’t be done.
“They’ll be no buts about it my girl.”
With a supreme effort her foot made the first stair, and placing it there, a pain shot like lightning to the top of her head. Yet her foot stayed and was steady.
And the clock ticked again.
There was two years of pain that had to be conquered and Constance the girl that would do it. Step by step and stair by stair she climbed up the spiral. It was sapping her strength but she would not be beat, her intentions remained steadfast to herself and her captain. Outside the storm raged and foamed and howled like a rabid monster who’d slipped his chain, but Constance held to the rail and ascended. She willed her legs so, and they bent to her will and obeyed.
The wind drove arrowheads of rain against the window, refusing to lift its siege of her house, and announced it was giving no quarter.
The clocked kept inching its hands nearer and nearer the three, until it stood just a hair’s breath away.
That’s how it stood on the land, but the sea was a different matter.
“Well Smee, do you see it yet?”
‘No Captain no, but I can hear the swells breaking on the rocks!”
“Aye Smee, it’s the rocks on the starboard side and the reef on the port. We could have used the moon tonight that’s for certain, even a sliver, even the moon of Mohammed would have been enough to help us thread it.”
The sea and its foam started to rise through the narrows, and caught the Sirocco in its grip, intending to deliver it to a watery fate, and into the cold hands of Davy Jones himself. Calico Jack had other plans.
“I’m the Captain of this ship Davy and not thee, and I’ll be the one steering its course and no other!”
Captain Jack shook his fist at the sky and spit over the side.
The waves were insulted as was Davy Jones and decided to have their revenge.
Smee hung on for dear life as a rogue wave rushed over the rail, and ran back out through the scuppers. But he kept an eye peeled as ordered. Just then forked lightning struck the mast, and ran down the wet lines with glowing liquid sparks and blinded them both. When their eyes cleared Smee noticed a sight that made his bones tremble.
“Old Snaggle-tooth rock dead ahead!” he shouted.
Jack spun the wheel hard a-port and prayed for the best, and like an answer from Heaven , he saw the silhouette of old Snaggle-tooth appear black in the night before him, like a black pearl cameo worn on a white silk ribbon wound round the neck of a pretty girl. It was lit up from behind!
“It’s the light Captain!” a very wet Smee shouted with joy, “the light!”
“Then make it we will,” said his captain adjusting the course. Falling down on his knees he added, “and we’ll live to tell the tale. Praise be to God!”
“Praise be to Allah!” echoed Smee, who had once been a Barbary pirate.
It looked as if they’d both been saved and both could thank their stars.
Yet between you and I the secret be kept. It was a woman who had saved them both.
Smee tied the Sirocco up while his captain got a horse, and made straight through the town without stopping and up to the point, sure something was amiss. The light was still lit when he arrived but no one answered the door. Over the garden wall he climbed and in through the French windows. The rain had stopped and it was deadly quiet in the house.
“Ben?” he shouted, and nobody answered.
No one was there, but the door to Ben’s room was ajar. He took a candle from over the fireplace in a brass candle holder, lit it and looked in.
There was old Ben, looking pale as a wax-work, dead. It was no shock to him. He’d been expecting it for weeks now, and had wondered before he left, if Ben would be alive when he returned. The old man hadn’t made it. He’d shipped out for good. But where was Constance? How was she taking it? That’s what concerned him now. Searching the house room to room gave no answers.
“She’s gone,’ he speculated, “but where? And if Ben aimed the light, how did he get back down?”
All seemed a puzzle.
Then the sound of small shoes came echoing down the staircase steps and a figure appeared from the shadows.
It was Constance, his frail beautiful Constance, as pale as pale could be, reaching out for him saying,
“Captain Jack, you’re here!”
She fainted dead away, and fell into his arms. He scooped her up and carried her closer to the fire and set her down on the settee. Her hair, as wild as ever, framed her perfect porcelain face, and her eyelids began to flutter as she revived, warmed by the nearness of his body, and him pressing her as close as he could. Placing her on the cushions, he told her she must wait, though was want to let go; he walked into the kitchen and when he returned, handed her a cup of tea.
“Here, drink this; it will do you no harm.”
Then he pulled a chair up close.
“I’m sorry to see that your father has gone. But since he has I have something to tell you, something I’ve wanted you to know for some time.”
He stopped and reached down, and placed another log on the fire. The tea revived her and she paid close attention to what came next.
‘You father and I had a deal. You see…” and he faltered, then somehow gained strength when he looked at her sitting there, all soft and lady-like holding her tea cup, “we were partners, and he swore me to secrecy, so I could never tell you before…” then he stumbled again,
“I’m a rum smuggler I am, a low down dirty smuggler, and he didn’t want you to know. And for that matter neither did I…. after what you said.”
“After I said what?”
“After you told me you wanted an honest man”
“And why would you be concerned what kind of a man I wanted?”
He felt that she had him by the throat. She did. The only free path led to the truth.
“Because you’re the fairest girl in port and you’ve turned my head.”
It wasn’t much of an answer. But she continued.
“So it was rum you were running was it?”
“And was it that rot-gut stuff they drink on the dock?”
“Oh no Ma’am it was the finest money could buy it was.”
“And you never watered it down?”
“Or made short count on the bottles or barrels?”
Again Jack sensed she was leading him somewhere, but couldn’t figure her course. She went to the fireplace and lifted a pipe from the stand just so, and took some tobacco and stuffed it, again real lady-like you understand, into the bowl.
“Why no, I never did. It would have been bad for business. To live outside the law, one has to live above the law my lady, you might well understand.”
“Would you like a smoke my captain?”
Now he was getting nervous, but he answered her plain.
“That I would.”
“I think you’re a bit mixed up Captain Jack, and confusing the issue. As you know, my father was an honest man.”
“Saints preserve him he was.”
“And he would never deal with someone dishonest would he?”
So I think what’s happening here is you’re confusing honesty, and the smuggling profession, could that be?”
“There are plenty of smugglers that are dishonest are there not?”
“Why yes Ma’am, I suppose…”
“Then we are of one mind aren’t we now you and I? You ply an acceptable trade in an honest manner. Isn’t that what you’re going to say?”
Jack couldn’t believe his ears, as the saying goes.
“Why to be sure, it is!”
Constance crushed in her skirt on the side facing Jack, and before he could think she sat down in his lap. Placing the pipe in his mouth, she lit while he puffed, and looking into his eyes she said,
“It may be my captain, that I’ve found my gold doubloon.”
If you visited the port some time later you would find this: The lighthouse has a new keeper, and he and his wife do suspiciously well on the paltry sum they get paid for keeping the light. Folks there ascribe it to her uncanny ability to making ends meet, and they are quite a couple, the town sees them at all the dances, and her rose garden is twice as big as it once was.
Smee is no longer first mate of the Sirocco, he’s now its captain, and he does well enough for himself for a man who keeps odd hours and never does anything at all, or so it seems.
I must make the observation that things are not often what they seem, and have many an angle that’s hidden.
The point of land looks ever the same and it always will. There’s a monument out at the end which you can reach by the path that wanders close to the lighthouse. Thinking the lighthouse is the only thing there most people don’t take it. But if you’d like a view of the bay and the ocean beyond you might decide to make the trek.
On a cold December, when the point is windswept as tends to be that time of the year, you can pass by the lighthouse itself, and hear children’s laughter coming from within, and figure the children are snug and assured, and notice the smell of cinnamon in the air. That’s a good sign.
Out fifty yards further is the point with its magnificent view and just a few steps away there’s a weathered cross made of teak wood from the deck of a ship, white-washed it is, the paint aflash in the sunlight. It has no name or stone to mark it, but instead a ship’s bell from the Mary Dear sways to and fro in the wind till it rings aloud. If you’re not a drinking man and know nothing of spirits, then you can’t be blamed. But still you’ll notice something peculiar.
You’ll end up licking your lips, you’ll just have to they’ll be so dry from the wind. When you do, you’ll taste on your tongue the flavors of saffron and heather honey and that of fine Scotch whiskey of a quality that would serve Bonny Prince Charlie himself.
If you didn’t known better, you’d say it was Drambuie.
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