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SCARFACE OF TORTUGA
"NO, LAD, you've not the way of it. This royal Dane, I grant you, was a glum fellow—but not as doleful as your limping verse does make him. Deal as justly with the Bard as you do with your steel and he will repay you well. Many's the day—" The tall man lying at ease in the grass flung his arms over his head in a luxurious stretch. Sun flashed on the metal hook which served him as a right hand. "Many's the day, mark you, that that same book was meat and drink, good friend and good living to me!"
He plucked a long spear of grass and with it tapped the worn volume his pupil held.
"A man is but a man after all. Little separates him from his brother beasts save the power to reason and to enforce his will, to make some beauty with his hands, or stamp straggling rhymes on good paper. What is in your head is more yours than the coat on your back. I mind me that when I lay in His Majesty's fine prison—"
"Why were you 'prisoned, Pym?" his companion demanded, secretly grateful at this break in a stolen lesson hour.
"Faith, I chose the wrong side. 'Tis an easily recognized crime nowadays. From Cromwell on, our lords have sprinkled the colonies and trimmed Tower Hill with those who have dared to argufy against them. Look at good Lord Jefferys—may the Devil find him rich picking!—who ruined the west countries and shipped a roundly sum of rebel-convicts to our present abode. And Dutch William did as well. I was a man of the Duke of Berwick, look you, own kinsman of Sir John Fenwick. Well, Sir John, he died of his treason. And I was shipped overseas for mine. I had been a Major of Horse under John Churchill, him that they name Marlborough now. Mighty great has Johnny Churchill become since his lady has the ear of the Queen."
Pym Snelgrave, once an officer of the King, and now fencing master to such of the bullies of Tortuga as cared to gain polish in the art of throat-slitting, reached for his tobacco pouch. The sea wind was cooling up here on the headlands. It was good to get away from the heat and stench of the town. Faith, the West Indies were fair enough—save where man himself had fouled them. Man—ex-Major Snelgrave smiled wryly—man was not a good creature even at his poor best. There were few enough you could safely tie to—At that thought he glanced at his companion.
The boy leaned at ease against the sturdy bole of a mahogany tree. His thin cotton shirt was open for coolness to the broad sash about his middle. Wide canvas breeches and ancient sea boots completed his scanty clothing. But from a sword belt at his waist hung good steel. A pity that he should be so marred—from this side he was a comely lad. Like as not he had good blood in him. No trash out of the stews ever had that cock of chin or the goodly habit of looking straight into a man's eyes while speaking.
As Snelgrave so studied him the boy closed his book and laid it down. "This Hamlet," he observed judiciously, "was a wishy-washy fellow. Could he never know his own mind and act on it?" He grinned cheerfully at Pym. Across his left cheek the broad white scar the other had secretly deplored slashed down to his jaw, distorting his face. "Now your Dr. Faustus is more to the taste of a man of war. Though even he spends a deal of time just talking—"
"This is not"—Pym's raised eyebrows betrayed amusement—"an attempt to change the gloomy Dane for Kit Marlowe's more engaging rogue? No, Hamlet I have said and Hamlet shall it be. Begad, a library of three volumes is a mighty one in this fair town. You should be glad that I do not have a Horace. Since you murder the Queen's good English as it is, what would you do to fair Latin? Go to, you're a rogue, though you're an honest one, lad."
The other laughed. But there was no amusement in that laughter, only hurt and bitterness and mockery. "An honest 'Brother of the Coast'? You're growing soft of brain, Pym. Maybe once we had some claim to fair living—when we hunted only the Dons—but now—Faith, am I not cabin boy of the Naughty Lass, out of Tortuga, Captain Jonathan Cheap master? A likelier brig never sailed, nor a dirtier master!" Thin brown fingers curled around sword hilt. "I am well used to him now and I've learned to be on guard. There are whole days when I can strip and show no bruises. As for the rope's end—Lord, I've not felt its kiss these two weeks! 'Tis a short life we lead and a merry one—if we have luck!"
Pym knocked the ashes out of his long-stemmed Dutch pipe. "If I could, lad—"
With a sharply dissenting gesture the boy interrupted him. "I'm not whining, Pym. Was I not sailing when I was but a child? I was bred to Buccaneer's Covenant from my cradle."
"And what are you now but a child?" Pym glanced at the gaunt spareness of that young body. Each rib was lined beneath the sunbrowned flesh, and the lank youthfulness of limb and smooth skin of cheek and jaw betrayed lack of years.
"I'm enough of a man to have Cheap find me of use," returned the boy bitterly. "I shall never be free of him— since we only harbor at Tortuga and Master de Saint-Hilarie, our worshipful governor, has already refused my plea for freedom. Discover me now grateful for small favors, Pym. What I have of peace and comfort and this" — he flung out his hands in a quick nervous movment which included the narrow clearing where they lounged, the shading trees, and the fair arc of blue above them—"has come through your doing. Behold one ever in your debt." Again that scar-broken, half grin twisted his lips.
"But today," he continued, "you have given me something to think on. This Danish Hamlet did a mort of talking but, accomplished little. He cried out against his fate but did naught to change it. I think that I have been tramping his road in that. So this I now swear, Pym, should I ever have the chance to win free of Cheap and all his dirty ways, I shall take it! And," he stared up at the gulls crying above the tree-hidden cliffs, "may that time come soon!"
"How came you with Cheap in the beginning?"
"I have always been with him. He used to take me sailing when I was too small to see above the bulwarks. I think that I must have had some favor with him then, for I can remember being had into the great cabin where he gave me sweetmeats and such. But that was before—" He touched the scar lightly with a long forefinger. "'Course he slit the gullet of Lip Handley for marking me so—may-hap I am in his debt for that. But the slice lost me his good will. So now I am just 'Scarface' and that is all the name I shall have—'Less I can carve me a better one with this piece of loot out of Spain."
He drew his sword and began to play with it skillfully, thrusting it out into the patches of sunlight so that the blade burned fire as he cut and parried. It was a duel with shadows, and he handled the fine weapon with all the ease of one who has used it well for years.
Then it flew up into the air and came down to find resting place in left instead of right hand. Again he thrust, lightly, surely, nor were his strokes one whit less sure and accurate than they had been before. He turned at last, breathing but a little more rapidly, to salute Pym.
"And that, too, Master, do I owe you. No other man on the Main can use either hand."
"It was a lesson I had to learn." Pym waved his metal claw. "But an excellent thing for a fighting man 'to know. You can lay one hand as an offering on the altar of Mars and still contrive to serve him in the field. But you are more handy at the sword than your books."
"Seeing that steel means my life—and my bread—I must be." The boy sheathed the blade again in its scuffed leather scabbard and slung the baldric across his shoulder. Pym pulled himself up and they moved slowly out of the clearing, the older man dragging on a coat of badly worn white linen as they went.
The faint path they followed brought them down into a cuplike hollow where a spring bubbled and a rill of water trickled seawards from a dark pool. Scarface threw himself down and dipped his hands into the cool water, drinking deeply. Then he allowed the ripples to quiet and studied his wavering reflection in the unsteady mirror.
"A sad dog wearing a hackled face," he commented. "But at least"—he swept back locks of his red-bronze hair—"I still have both my ears on my head, which is more than Ghost Peter or Nat can boast. And I do not show the mark of the branding iron. So may a man be thankful for small blessings. And now, friend Pym, look you upon real treasure!"
He pulled from within his shirt a packet wrapped in a scrap of patterned cotton stuff. "Loot from a fine Spanish ship we took by the inner side of Honduras Bay. Well do the Dons know how to live—and—" he hesitated—"how to die." More soberly he pulled away the wrapping to bare a small wooden box. Within lay a razor of good blue steel, a cake of scented soap, and a small box of sweet-smelling pomade.
"Faith, the boy's a coxcomb! And a razor.... You've not a hair to that stubborn chin of yours!"
Scarface grinned. "You're not as observing as you once were, Pym. I've had steel to my chin since last we met—and the need for it too. But now I'll make free with the rest."
He kicked off his boots and shed shirt and breeches to wade out into the pool. It was too shallow for swimming, but good for bathing as he had long ago discovered. With childish satisfaction he used the. soap freely, luxuriating in its scent and the fine lather it made.
Snelgrave lounged near by, twirling his pipe stem between tobacco-stained fingers. "You put me in mind of a court gallant," he observed. "Save that they are none too clean of person. Are you about to call on the Governor's lady, mayhap?"
Scarface shook his head. "No, but I find it is good to be clean and water is free to all—even if one must sail under the Black Flag to have such soap." He rubbed himself dry on his shirt and then pulled it on. The cotton would dry quickly enough in the sun.
"You lie here at Tortuga long?"
"Long enough for the shipboard rats to drink up their shares. Cheap likes him a soft life between cruises. Tomorrow or mayhap the next day we'll be off again. He has some maggot in his head concerning a descent 'pon Barbados."
"Barbados!" Pym's lips puckered in a soundless whistle. "That will be plucking a prickly thistle with the bare hand. His Excellency, Sir Robert Scarlett, is no lamb for the shearing. He was of the same ilk as you ere he became the Queen's man and a terror to his former mates along the Main. You have heard of Henry Morgan? Now there was a man! Stole the Dons blue before he settled down to enjoy the King's favoring smiles in his deputy-governorship of Jamaica. Scarlett has a like history. He was sold o'er seas as a rebel-convict—him a gentleman born. But he had the luck to get away to the fold of the 'Brethren.' This very harbor has sheltered his Revenge more than once. But he was shrewd enough to see that it was time to cut his losses when James Stuart fled to France and Dutch William came to the throne. So now he bides snug, Sir Robert Scarlett, baronet and governor of Her Majesty's Colony of Barbados. And Sir Robert hunts the Brethren with zeal and they hate him mightily for it. A shrewd object lesson, lad. Set aside piracy if you will, but become not the Queen's man in the doing of it!"
"Small chance will I get to do either," Scarface returned dryly. "But I like your Sir Robert, he sounds the proper man—"
"One who has hanged some five and twenty pirates within the past twelve months! I'd advise you not to pay your respects in person lest you discover a rope 'bout your throat. Barbados is not healthy for one of your calling."
"I wonder. Do I scent a challenge in that, Pym?"
The ex-soldier shook his head hurriedly. "Powers above forbid! I'm merely pointing out the crass stupidity of Captain Cheap."
"Of which I already know much. Well, I'm for the town before sundown. Are you with me, Pym?"
They trudged off together through the underbrush. The hottest hours of the day were behind them and there were signs of activity along the dirt track which led into town. For Tortuga was the town. An open port for the buccaneers and the Brethren of the Coast, who were ever free spenders, wealth flowed through that dirty village. Above, surrounded by the gardens which made a small separate world, was the pleasant villa of the Vicomte de Saint-Hilarie, who was the law on this wild island. And Saint-Hilarie, acting as governor for the West India Company, lined his pockets—as well as those of his directors—with gold and other fine things, never enquiring too closely as to whence came these cargoes of spice, silk, and precious metal which were auctioned at his wharves. A blind man cannot testify as to what he "saw."
"A pleasant prospect, lad." Pym waved his hand toward the straggling rows of buildings. "This is—for all purposes of commerce—the capital of the Caribbean, this kennel of boozing kens and dishonest merchants. Faith, the clean land should spew us all out into the sea."
He tugged straight his broad-brimmed straw hat and started a tiny runnel of sweat coursing down his forehead.
"Mayhap the land will in time," suggested Scarface somberly. "How do you fare nowadays, Pym?"
Snelgrave shrugged. "Well enough. That foppish captain of the Governor's Guard comes twice a week for lessons—though his fingers will ever be thumbs—and there areothers. Enough to keep me in tobacco and rum money. Which is all an old soldier can ask. You've grown no richer?"
"How can I? Cheap is kind enough to collect my share of plunder for me—and that is the last I ever see of it."
"One might think that he could name you son," hazarded Pym.
To his surprise the other turned on him to show green eyes wrathfully ablaze in his marred face. "Not even you, Pym, can name me so! Rather would I fall into the hands of those red devils of coast Indians and be plucked apart yet living as was L'Olonnis. I am no son to Cheap! That I will swear to right heartily—even if I never know my sire."
"Your humble pardon," Pym's return was quick and without mockery. "But it is strange that he should so interest himself in your affairs, keeping you ever at his side. 'Tis not for love of you—"
"Then it must be from hate. For only love or hate can so govern a man. It is as if he has some plan—"
"Plan?" Scarface was all alert attention. "I wonder—? I can remember naught save Cheap and the ship and that drab Liza who keeps his house here in Tortuga."
"Did you ever question her? Mayhap she could spin you a tale worth the hearing."
"She does naught but snap at me nowadays. But I'll try—I'll try this very night!" Hooking his fingers into his sash he set off at a brisker pace. Pym panted.
"Must you run the legs off me, lad? I'm getting to be of those safe middle years when a man's more fond of the pipe and the bowl than of using his legs."
"And yet you contrive to teach the sword," laughed the boy.
"That is a matter of business," observed Pym. "And Liza now will not take wings and fly, even if you do not seek her 'til sundown. Come sup with me."
They came into the main street of the dingy town where it was necessary to dispute the right of way with foraging hog and mangy dog as well as staggering drunkard. By a wine shop they parted, Pym to seek refreshment within and Scarface to hunt out his master—and his master's cook.
"Tomorrow, lad," Snelgrave reminded the boy. Scarface nodded.
But it was to be a full two years before Pym Snelgrave laid eyes upon Scarface of Tortuga again.
The boy went on down the dirty lane. Once away from the row of water-front grog shops and merchants' warehouses there were divers small white coral block houses, each within a scrap of yard. In one of these Captain Cheap was pleased to establish himself when his Naughty Lass was in port. For Cheap considered himself a man of birth and fashion and protested that the noisome odors of ship and harbor were not to his liking. Not that the perfume of the town was any more fragrant, thought Scarface, as he pushed past a slave woman, a haunch of still dripping meat balanced on the wooden tray on her head.
Excerpted from Scarface by Andre Norton. Copyright © 1948 Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Posted September 3, 2012
A great pirate adventure story by Andre Norton, who is known as the Grande Dame of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Her adventure stories are equally rich and immersive. Highly recommended to all Andre Norton fans!
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