J. Allan Dunn

The Marooner

Published by Good Press, 2021
EAN 4064066455705

Table of Contents


The Marooner

Table of Contents


Table of Contents

Like herrings cured in sun and wind
The four lie side by side,
Dry as a husk of coco-rind
Above the creaming tide.
Buccaneer Ballades.

"TURTLER TOM" was the man who discovered them and gave name to the islet. He had beached his sloop in the leeward lagoon the better to calk a leaking seam and found them lying on the sand just above tide reach, the desiccated rinds of what had once been human beings, mummified, distorted husks of shriveled skin and flesh and bone, their bleaching skulls wisped with hair, a few discolored rags flapping about the pitiful remnants.

What tortures had forerun the giving up of their ghosts on this arid shoal that thrust itself above the blue Bermudan waters, Tom could well imagine. There was no water on the cay, no shade, no growth but scanty herbage and brown palmetto scrub that survived between the rains by some miracle. He looked for identification traces in the shreds of personal belongings and found none.

"Dead of hunger and of thirst," Tom said to his Carib sailor. "What brought them here? There is no wreckage."

Then his foot kicked up an object buried in the sand and wind-drift. He stooped and picked it up.

It was a boarding-pistol of unusual design. Forged of the same strip to which the trigger-guard was attached and deep-set in the wooden frame of the barrel was a heavy blade, machete-shaped, sickle-curving, a formidable weapon for close quarters after the discharge of the pan-primed powder and bullet, a thing designed by the genius of deviltry.

Turtler Tom had seen this pattern before though it was rare those days, the recent invention of a buccaneer scourge of the Caribbean. His moody eyes gleamed as he hefted the cunningly balanced weapon by its carved grip.

"Marooned, poor devils! Marooned by 'Long Tom' Pugh!" he exclaimed. "One of his bullies dropped it from his belt, likely, and it got shuffled under the sand. Come, Tampi, we'll bury what's left of 'em."

Turtler Tom bore the news of his grisly find with him back to Providence and to Port Royal and all along his devious water wanderings but the score of Long Tom Pugh was a long one and los quatros hombres lay beneath the weather-fluted sands on the cay that bore their name as only epitaph, unrecognized though doubtless not unmourned.


Table of Contents

THE chase had been a long one and Long Tom Pugh raged like a thwarted devil. From dawn until a scant half-hour of sunset Pugh's schooner had trailed the other, both vessels tacking on long reaches with canvas set until their tall masts bent like whips and their lee rails were gutters of foam.

Foot by foot Pugh's Scourge had overhauled the fugitive until the weapon from which Pugh got his name, the "Long Tom" couched in the bows, had found first its range and then its target, so that now the trader lay wallowing in the choppy seas off the tiny cay, hull riddled, foremast gone, its decks a clutter of rope and canvas that served as shrouds to rive of its crew that the last charge of partridge had dismembered and disemboweled. Three men stood near the stern, weary, blood-stained, helpless, yet defiant, watching Pugh's longboat crowded with his bullies dance over the water to take them off.

"A murrain on the luck!" said Pugh. "A stinking shell-pedler! And I thought it a gold-carrier from the Plate! And we short of powder. But they'll pay for it, the dogs!"

He cupped his hands and bellowed across the crisp waves.

"Bring 'em away and let her sink, blast her. The wind's ashift."

The hair upon Pugh's broad and naked chest was black save where a streak of white marked where a cutlas slash had sliced his brisket, but the hair of his head and of his long beard was dyed a rusty purple as if it were stained with dried blood. His fierce face, deep-tanned, deep-scored, was split by a great, bony nose like the beak of a macaw with nostrils that were narrow slitted and twitched as he watched the progress of his boat. One black eye had Pugh and one of hazel and from both of them the devil looked out as it leaned on elbows across the sill of his brain, never free from the fume of liquor and never seemingly affected by it.

He was bare to his belt that was studded with pistols tucked into a gaudy over-sash and to which swung a hanger in a leather scabbard. Wide pantaloons were thrust into wider sea-boots of leather and he stood with his legs wide apart and his furry hands upon his hips. Almost alone of all his crew of forty ruffians who overcrowded the capacity of the Scourge, Pugh wore no earrings. The lobe of one brown ear lopped in twain where some desperate foe had torn away the ornament. His teeth were naturally divided and Pugh had filed them in the manner of the Madagascar savages, the better to characterize his evil countenance.

The sun dropped rapidly and the sinking schooner swashed about in water that was incarnadined with the sunset. Nine of Pugh's bullies were in the longboat, now returning with the three prisoners, forty-odd watched at the rail or made ready for the tack to come, for the fickle day's-end wind was setting them down to the shoals that outribbed from the cay.

The three men were set aboard, their arms pinioned behind their backs and shoved aft to where Pugh stood agrin. They were of varying age and stature and one was bald save for a fringe of hair. But there seemed some link of related features common to all of them and they looked Pugh fairly in the face though the blood was running into the eyes of one of them from a scalp-wound.

"So," said Pugh. "Ye thought to out-sail the Scourge in that coffin-box of yours?"

The bald man answered.

"We could not fight. We had no weapons to match yours."

"Then ye would have fought, priest-face? Eh? Ye would have fought with Pugh?"

"I'll fight with ye now, an ye let one arm free," answered the other composedly.

Pugh's face grew purple with a rush of choleric blood. He whipped a pistol from his belt and leveled it, the hammer slowly cocking to the pull of his finger. Then he lowered the weapon.

"Sink ye for a bragging fool," he said. "But I will not kill in cold blood. I must remember my vow. I am a merciful man. Yet ye crow well. What is your name?"

"We be three Graemes."

Pugh glanced to where the yellow lettering on the pitching stern of the wallowing vessel showed the name Three Brothers and nodded.

"Of Nassau? Turtlers?"

"Aye. Our port is Nassau but we are Carolinans."

"So? What know ye of the schooner Belle Isle bound from the River Plate. She should be hereabouts. Speak up."

"Naught. Nor would I tell ye an' I did."

"Say ye so? Look ye, Graeme, I am a merciful man. And ye are a fool to be stubborn standing on the edge of trouble. It is in my mind that ye are lying. So, I give ye another chance. Tell me what ye know of the Belle Isle and join my crew. We can find room for all of ye and a full share apiece if ye come willingly?"

Silence hung for a few seconds.

"No? Still stubborn? Then we but waste time, brethren three. Into the boat with them!" Pugh ordered as a stronger gust set the Scourge to shivering where she swung in the eye of the wind, uneasy and restive, her keen bows pawing the waves. "Give them the usual provender and set them on the cay."

For the first time something like anxiety showed in the faces of the trio.

"Ye would not maroon us on yon cay?" said the eldest Graeme. "'Tis waterless. Man, 'twill be worse than murder. It means——"

"A fig for what it means," said Pugh. "Ye will shortly find that out. And I am a merciful man, Graeme. I am sending meat and drink."

The brothers exchanged glances. It was as if they nodded acquiescence with their eyes. The bald-headed one spoke.