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Porto Bello Gold

Porto Bello Gold

by A. D. Howden Smith

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This thrilling "prequel" to Robert Louis Stevenson's classic pirate tale imagines how Captain Flint and Murray sacked the Spanish galleon and buried their ill-gotten treasure on the Dead Man's Chest and on Treasure Island


This thrilling "prequel" to Robert Louis Stevenson's classic pirate tale imagines how Captain Flint and Murray sacked the Spanish galleon and buried their ill-gotten treasure on the Dead Man's Chest and on Treasure Island

Editorial Reviews

Saturday Review
Mr. Howden Smith has attempted the impossible, but with so engaging a humility and frankness that it is impossible to find fault with him.
New York Times Book Review
A Good old fashioned pirate story is Porto Bello Gold a tale of tall ships and lawless men on the Spanish Main...
From the Publisher
"A tale of tall ships and lawless men on the Spanish Main."  —New York Times

"Mr. Howden Smith has done an excellent piece of work. . . . The two stories, Stevenson's and this, dovetail prettily and the joints escape detection."  —New York Tribune

Product Details

McBooks Press
Publication date:
Classics of Naval Fiction
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File size:
2 MB

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Porto Bello Gold

By A.D. Howden Smith

McBooks Press, Inc.

Copyright © 1948 Dorothy D. Smith
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-59013-307-1



I WAS IN the counting-room, talking with Peter Corlaer, the chief of our fur-traders — he was that very day come down-river from the Iroquois country — when the boy, Darby, ran in from the street.

"The Bristol packet is in, Master Robert," he cried. "And, oh, sir, the watermen do say there be a pirate ship off the Hook!"

I remember I laughed at the combination of awe and delight in his face. He was a raw, bog-trotting bit of a gossoon we had bought at the last landing of bonded folk, and he talked with a brogue that thickened whenever he grew excited.

"For the packet, I do not doubt you, Darby," I answered. "But you must show me the pirate."

Peter Corlaer chuckled in his quiet, rumbling way, his huge belly waggling before him beneath his buckskin hunting-shirt, for all the world like a monster mold of jelly.

"Ja, ja, show us der pirates," he jeered.

Darby flared up in a burst of Irish temper that matched his tangled red hair.

"I would I were a pirate and had you at my mercy, you butter-tub!" he raged. "I'll warrant you'd tread the plank!"

Peter gravely unsheathed his hunting-knife, seized Darby's flaming locks and despite his wriggles went through the motions of scalping him.

"If I tread der plank, first I take your hair, ja," he commented.

"Not if I had my growth," snapped Darby.

"T'ree growths you must get to fight me, Darby," rejoined Peter placidly. "You better ask Mr. Ormerod dot he let you come with me into the Iroquois country. We make a forest-runner out of you — ja! Dot's better than a pirate."

Darby contemplated this, drawing a circle on the floor with the toe of one boot.

"No," he decided finally. "I'd rather be a pirate. I know nothing of your forest, but the sea — ah, that's the life for me! And sure, a pirate has more of traveling and adventure than a forest-runner, with none but red savages and wild beasts to combat. No, no, Master Peter, I am for the pirates, and I care not how soon it may be."

"It will be long, not soon, Darby," said I. "Have you done the errands my father set you?"

"Every one," answered he.

"Very well. Then get you into the store-room and sort over the pelts Peter fetched in. Even a pirate must work."

He flung off with a scowl as I turned to Peter.

"My father will wish to know the packet has arrived," I said. "Will you go with me to the Governor's? The Council must be on the point of breaking up, for they have been sitting since noon."

Peter heaved his enormous body erect. And I marveled, as always after a period of absence, at his proportions. To one who did not know him he seemed a butter-tub of a man, as Darby had called him — a mass of tallow, fat limbs, a pork-barrel of a trunk, a fat slab of a face upon which showed tiny, insignificant features grotesquely at variance with the rest of his bulk. His little eyes peered innocently between rolls of fat which all but masked them. His nose was a miniature dab, above a mouth a child might have owned.

But under his layers of blubber were concealed muscles of forged steel, and he was capable of the agility of a catamount. The man had not lived on the frontier who could face him bare-handed and escape.

"Ja," he said simply. "We go."

He stood his musket in a corner and slipped off powder-horn and shot-pouch the while I donned hat and greatcoat, for the air was still chilly and there was a scum of snow on the ground. We passed out into Pearl Street and walked westward to Hanover Square, and there on the farther side of the Square I spied my father, with Governor Clinton and Lieutenant-Governor Colden.

And it made my heart warm to see how these and several other gentlemen hung upon his words. There had been those who slandered him during the uproar over the '45, for he was known to have been a Jacobite in his youth; but his friends were more powerful than his enemies, and I joy to think that he was not the least influential of those of our leaders who held New York loyal to King George when many were for casting in our fortunes with the Pretender.

He saw Peter and me as we approached and waved us to him, but at the same moment there was a slight disturbance on the eastward side of the Square, and another little group of men came into view surrounding a grizzled, ruddy-cheeked old fellow, whose salt-stained blue coat spoke as eloquently of the sea as did his rolling gait. I could hear his hoarse, roaring voice clear across the Square —

"— ran him tops'ls down; — — — my eyes, I did; and when I get to port what do I find, but not a King's ship within —"

My father interrupted him:

"What's this, Captain Farraday? Do you speak of being chased? I had thought we were at peace with the world."

Captain Farraday discarded the listeners who had attended him so far and stumped across the Square, bellowing his answer in tones which brought shopkeepers to their doors and women's heads from upper windows.

"Chased? That I was, Master Ormerod, by as — — —, scoundrelly a pirate as flouts the King's majesty i' the —"

Here he perceived who accompanied my father. Off came his hat, and he made an awkward bow.

"Your sarvent, your Excellency! My duty, Master Colden! But I have no words to withdraw, for all I did not see who was near by to hear me.Aye, there is more to be said, much more; and matters have come to a pretty pass when the rascals come north to these ports."

Peter Corlaer and I joined the little group of merchants who were with the Governor, and the other curious persons hovered as close as they dared.

"But I find this hard to give credence to, captain," said Governor Clinton pleasantly enough. "Pirates? In these latitudes? We have not been bothered by such of late."

Captain Farraday wagged his head stubbornly.

"That's true enough, I grant your Excellency; and since the peace we have not been bothered by French privateers, neither. But the day'll come we fight the French again, and then the letters of marque will be scouring the Atlantic north and south. And by the same token, sir, I bid you remember the pirates are always with us, and clever devils they are, too; for if they find their trade falling off in one part they are away at once elsewhere. And the first you know of them is a score of missing ships and a mariner like myself lucky enough to give them the slip."

"You may be right," acknowledged the Governor. "Tell us more of your experience. Did you have sight of the ship which pursued you?"

"Sight? Marry, that I did; and uncomfortable close, your Excellency. She came up with a so'easter two days past, and at the first I made her out for a frigate by the top-hamper she carried."

"A frigate?" protested Master Colden. "So big as that?"

"Aye, sir, my master! And if I have any eye for a ship's lines and canvas she was none other than the Royal James that chased me three days together when I was home-bound from the West Indies in '43."

"That would be the vessel of the fellow known usually as Captain Rip-Rap," spoke up my father, and there was a quality in his voice which led me to regard him closely.

It was manifest that he labored in the grip of some strong emotion; but the only indication of this in his face was a slight rigidity of feature, and none of the others marked it. I was the more amazed because my father was a man of iron nerves, and also, though his earlier year had been starred with a series of extraordinary adventures, so far as I knew, he had had nothing to do with the sea.

"True for you, Master Ormerod," answered Captain Farraday; "and since Henry Morgan died there hath not lived a more complete rogue. One of my mates was taken by him off Jamaica ten years gone and cites him for a man of exquisite dress and manners that would befit a London macaroni, God save us! And moreover, is as arrant a Jacobite as ever was. Witness the name of his ship."

"I have heard he sails usually in company," remarked my father.

"He works with John Flint, who is no less of a rascal, albeit rougher, according to those unfortunates who have fallen in his path. Flint sails in the Walrus, a tall ship out of Plymouth that was on the Smyrna run before she fell into his hands. Betwixt them they are a pretty pair.

"Did you ever hear, gentles, how they sank the Portuguese line-ship off Madeira for naught but the pleasure o' destruction? Aye, so they did. They ha' the metal to hammer a brace of King's ships. But they are wary of such.

"Portuguese, Frenchies, Spaniards or Barbary corsairs they will assail, but they will not stop for a powder-blow with his Majesty's people. Why? I know not, save 'tis never for lack o' daring. Mayhap they know if they ever did my Lords of the Admiralty, that take small account of the sufferings of us poor merchantmen — always saving your Excellency's presence — would be stirred to loose a fleet of stout frigates against 'em."

Captain Farraday stopped perforce for breath, and Governor Clinton seized the opportunity to ask with a smile:

"Captain Rip-Rap did you call your pursuer? What manner of name is this?"

The merchantman shrugged his shoulders.

"Nobody knows, sir. But 'tis the only name he goes by. I ha' heard that years past — oh, it may be twenty or more — he stopped a home-bound Chesapeake packet, and when the master was haled aboard the first question he asked was 'did he have any rip-rap in his cargo?' For it seems he is singularly partial to that mixture of snuff. And now, I ha' been told, his own men give him this name, for even they do not know for certain that to which he was born.

"'Tis said he was a gentleman who suffered for his political convictions, but that is as like to be a lie as the truth. All I know is that he chased me in past the Hook, though the Anne showed him a clean pair o' heels and had run him tops'ls down wi' sunrise this morning. And when I made the harbor, 'twas to find there was not a King's ship to send after him."

"Yes," nodded the Governor; "the Thetis frigate sailed for home with dispatches a week ago. But I will send express to Boston where Commodore Burrage lies and bid him get to sea without loss of time. I sympathize with your feelings, Master Farraday, and certes, 'tis beyond toleration that such scoundrels as Rip-Rap and Flint should be permitted to flout his Majesty's Government so openly. Doubt not, our good commodore will make them rue the day."

"But doubt it I must, your Excellency," returned Captain Farraday with sturdy independence. "An express to Boston, say you? Humph! That will require two days or three. Another day to put to sea. Two days, or it may be three, to beat south. Why, my masters, in a week's time Rip-Rap and Flint will have wrought whatever fiendish purpose they have in view and be off beyond reach."

"Mayhap, mayhap," said the Governor with a touch of impatience. "But 'tis the best I can do."

And with Lieutenant-Governor Colden and the rest he made to move off. Only my father lingered.

"You have letters for me, Captain Farraday?" he asked.

"Aye, indeed, sir — from Master Allen, your agent in London. I was on my way to deliver 'em. And a goodly store of strouds, axes, knives, beads, tools, flints and other tradegoods to your account."

"I will accept the letters at your hands, and even save you the trip to Pearl Street, captain," replied my father." My son, Robert, here, will visit you aboardship in the morning and take measures to arrange for transshipping your cargo."

"I ha' no quarrel with such terms," rejoined Captain Farraday, fishing a silken-wrapped packet from his coat-tail pocket. "Here you are, Master Ormerod. And I'll be off to the George Tavern for a bite of shore food and a mug of mulled ale."

My father fidgeted the packet in his hands for a moment.

"You are certain 'twas Captain Rip-Rap who chased you?" he asked then.

"I'd swear to his foretops'ls," answered Farraday confidently. "Mark you, my master, when I first sighted him I made sure he was a King's ship, and I lay to until he was abeam. Then I saw he showed no colors — and moreover, there was that about him, which I'll own I can not put a name to, made me suspicious. So I hoisted colors. And still he showed none. I fired a gun, and wi' that he bore up for me, and I made off, wi' every sail set; aye, until the sticks groaned. For I knew he was up to no good purpose, and I made certain that he was Rip-Rap.

"As I said afore, he chased me once in '43, and Jenkins he took off Jamaica in the snow Cynthia out o' Southampton, when Flint was for drowning the lot o' them; but Rip-Rap, in his cold way, says there was no point to slaying without purpose, and they turned 'em loose in the longboat. And there's none left 'on the Account' that sail in a great ship fit to be a King's frigate, save it be Rip-Rap — Flint's Walrus is a tall ship and heavy armed, but hath not the sail-spread o' the Royal James. Jen-kins says she was a Frenchman, and 'tis to be admitted she hath the fine-run lines the Frenchies build."

My father was hard put to it to make head against this flow of talk, but at last he succeeded.

"It was my understanding," he said, "that Captain Rip-Rap disappeared from the West Indies during the late war."

Captain Farraday shrugged his shoulders.

"Like enough. There were too many cruisers o' both sides at large in those seas to suit him. But now he knows we ha' back the piping times of peace — and when nations are at peace your pirates reap their harvest. You may lay to that, Master Ormerod."

"'Tis not to be questioned," assented my father. "I give you thanks, captain. Pray call upon me at your leisure, and if I can be of any service to you I am at your command."

Captain Farraday stumped off toward the George, a tail of the curious at his heels, and I grinned to myself at thought of the strong drink they would offer him in return for his tale. There was no chance of his being sober inside the twenty-four hours.

My father nodded absently to Peter, who had stood throughout the entire conversation, his flat face sleepily imperturbable.

"I like it not," he muttered, as if to himself.

Peter gave him a quick look but said nothing.

"Is there anything wrong, father?" I asked.

He frowned at me, then stared off at the housetops in a way he had, almost as if he sought to peer beyond the future.

"No — yes — I do not know."

He broke off abruptly.

"Peter, I am glad you are here," he added.

"Ja," said Peter vacantly.

"You have not looked at your letters yet," I reminded him.

"I have no occasion to," he retorted. "There is that which — But the street is no place for such conversation. Come home, my boy; come home."

We set off over the snowy ground, and the people we passed bowed or bobbed their heads to my father, for he was a great man in New York, as great as any after the Governor; but he walked now with his eyes upon the ground, immersed in thought. And once again as we turned into Pearl Street he muttered —

"Nay, I like it not."

Darby McGraw met us at the door, and from his wild gaze I knew him to be half-expecting to behold the pirates hotfoot at our heels.

"Have you performed your tasks, Darby?" questioned my father as the lad backed into the counting-room on the right of the entrance hall.

"Yes, master."

"Be off with you, then. I wish not to be disturbed."

"See can you find us late news of the pirates, Darby," I added as he slipped by.

He answered me with a merry scowl, but my father spun on his heel.

"What mean you by that, Robert?" says he.

I was nonplussed.

"Why, naught, sir. Darby is daft on pirates. He —"

Peter Corlaer shut the room-door upon the Irish boy and came toward us, moving with the swift stealth that was one of his most astonishing characteristics.

"Ja, he does not know," he said.

"What?" challenged my father.

"What you andt I know," returned the Dutchman calmly.

"So you know too, Peter?"


I could restrain my impatience no longer.

"What is this mystery?" I demanded. "I thought I knew all the secrets of the business; but sure, father, I never thought to hear that we were concerned as a firm with pirates!"


Excerpted from Porto Bello Gold by A.D. Howden Smith. Copyright © 1948 Dorothy D. Smith. Excerpted by permission of McBooks Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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