Buccaneer hl 2, p.1

Buccaneer hl-2, page 1

 part  #2 of  Hector Lynch Series


Buccaneer hl-2

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Buccaneer hl-2


  ( Hector Lynch - 2 )

  Tim Severin

  Sailing across the Caribbean, Hector Lynch falls into the hands of the notorious buccaneer, Captain John Coxon. Hector’s two friends, Dan and Jacques, are released when Coxon mistakes Hector as the nephew of Sir Thomas Lynch—the Governor of Jamaica—an error that Hector encourages. Coxon delivers Hector to Sir Henry Morgan, a bitter enemy of Governor Lynch. The captain is expecting to curry favour with Henry Morgan but is publicly humiliated at a Christmas ball. From then on, Coxon seeks to revenge himself on Hector and the young seafarer finds himself on the run again.



  In 1679 the Caribbean was a dangerous and lawless sea. Jamaica, Hispaniola and the arc of islands known as the 'Caribees' were variously claimed by rival nations — notably France and England. The opposite shore, the 'Main' or continental coast, was jealously guarded by Spam as the vulnerable frontier of her vast land empire in the Americas. Smuggling was rife. For years the island governments had made up for a lack of men and ships by deploying irregular local forces, which operated as little more than licensed brigands. They had acquired a taste for plunder, and — though officially the region was now at peace — these soldiers and sailors of fortune were prepared to attack any easy and lucrative target.


  Hector Lynch leaned back and braced himself against the sloop's mast. It was hard to hold the little telescope steady against the rhythmic rolling of the Caribbean swells, and the image in the lens was blurred and wavering. He was trying to identify the flag at the stern of a vessel which had appeared on the horizon at first light, and was now some three miles to windward. But the wind was blowing the stranger's flag sideways, directly towards him, so that it was difficult to see against the bright sunshine sparkling off the waves on a late-December morning. Hector thought he saw a flicker of blue and white and some sort of cross, but he could not be sure.

  'What do you make of her?' he asked Dan, offering the spyglass to his companion. He had first met Dan on the Barbary coast two years earlier when both had been incarcerated in the slave barracks of Algiers, and Hector had developed a profound respect for Dan's common sense. The two men were much the same age - Hector was a few months short of his twentieth birthday — and they had formed a close friendship.

  'No way of telling,' said Dan, ignoring the telescope. A Miskito Indian from the coast of Central America he, like many of his countrymen, had remarkably keen eyesight. 'She has the legs of us. She could be French or English, or maybe from the English colonies to the north. We're too far from the Main for her to be a Spaniard. Perhaps Benjamin can say.'

  Hector turned to the third member of their small crew. Benjamin was a Laptot, a freed black slave who had worked in the ports of the West African coast before volunteering to join their vessel for the voyage across the Atlantic and into the Caribbean.

  'Any suggestions?' he asked.

  Benjamin only shook his head. Hector was unsure what to do. His companions had chosen him to command their little vessel, but this was his first major ocean voyage. Two months ago they had acquired their ship when they had found her stranded halfway up a West African river, her captain and officers dead of fever, and manned only by Benjamin and another Laptot. According to the ship's papers she was the L’Arc-de-Ciel, registered in La Rochelle, and the broad empty shelves lining her hold indicated that she was a small slave ship which had not yet taken on her human cargo.

  Hector wiped the telescope's lens with a strip of clean cotton rag torn from his shirt, and was about to take another look at the stranger's flag, when there was the sound of a cannon shot. The noise carried clearly downwind, and he saw a black puff of gun smoke from the sloop's deck.

  'That's to attract our attention. They want to talk with us,' said Benjamin.

  Hector stared again at the sloop. It was obvious that she was closing rapidly, and he could see some sort of activity on her stern deck. A small group of men had clustered there.

  'We should show them a flag,' Benjamin suggested.

  Hector hurried down to the dead captain's cabin. He knew there was a canvas bag tucked away discreetly in a locker behind the bunk. Pulling open the bag, he tipped out its contents on the cabin floor. There were some items of dirty linen and, beneath them, several large rectangles of coloured cloth.

  One had a red cross stitched on a white ground, which he recognised as the flag worn by the English ships that had occasionally visited the little Irish fishing port where he had spent his summers as a child. Another as a blue flag with a white cross. In the centre of the cross was a shield bearing three golden fleurs-de-lys. That flag too he recognised. It had flown on the merchant ships of France when he and Dan had been prisoner-oarsmen at the royal galley base in Marseilles. The third flag he did not know. It also displayed a red cross on a white background, but this time the arms of the cross ran diagonally to each corner of the flag, and the edges of the arms of the cross were deliberately ragged. They looked like branches cut from a shrub after the shoots had been trimmed away. It seemed that the deceased captain of L'Arc-de-Ciel had been prepared to fly whichever nation's flag suited the occasion.

  Hector returned on deck, all three flags under his arm in an untidy bundle. 'Well, which one is it to be?' he asked. Again he glanced across at the unknown vessel. In the short interval he had been below decks it had come much closer. Well within cannon shot.

  'Why not try King Louis's rag,' proposed Jacques Bourdon. In his mid-thirties Jacques was an ex-galerien, a thief condemned to the oar for life by a French court and who had 'GAL' branded on his cheek to prove it. He, together with the second Laptot, made up their five-man crew. 'That way, our colours will agree with our ship's papers,' he added, shading his eyes to scrutinise the approaching sloop. 'Besides ... if you look there, she's flying the French flag as well.'

  Hector and his companions waited for the stranger to come closer. They could see someone at her rail waving his arms. He was pointing at their sails and gesturing that they should be lowered. Too late, Hector felt a prickle of suspicion.

  'Dan,' he asked quietly, 'any chance that we can get away from her?'

  'No chance at all,' Dan answered without hesitation. 'She's a ketch and carries more sail than us. Best heave to and see what they want.'

  A moment later Bourdon was helping the two Laptots loose the sheets and lower the sails so that L'Arc-de-Ciel gradually slowed to a halt, and lay gently rocking on the sea.

  The approaching ketch altered course to come alongside. There were eight cannon on her single deck. Then, without warning, the little group on her stern deck parted to reveal someone hauling briskly on a halyard. A ball of cloth was being pulled aloft. A puff of wind caught it and the folds of cloth shook out, revealing a new flag. It carried no marks, but was a plain red sheet.

  Jacques Bourdon swore. 'Shit! The jolie rouge. We should have guessed.'

  Startled, Hector looked at him. 'The jolie rouge,' Bourdon grunted. 'The flag of the flibustiers, how do you call them - privateers? It's their mark. I shared a Paris prison cell with one of them once, and a right stinking bastard he was. Smelled worse than the rest of us gaolbirds all put together. When I complained, he told me that in the Caribees he had once gone two years without a proper wash. Claimed to have dressed in a suit of untreated cattle skins.'

  'You mean he was a buccaneer,' Dan corrected him. The Miskito seemed unworried by the sight of the red flag.

  'Are they dangerous?' Hector wanted to know.

  'Depends what sort of mood they're in,' replied Dan quietly. 'They'll be interested in our cargo, if there's anything they can steal and sell. They'll not harm us if we cooperate.'

  There was a clatter and slap of can
vas as the strangers' vessel came up into the wind. Her helmsman must have carried out the manoeuvre many times and was obviously an expert for he deftly laid the ketch alongside the smaller L'Arc-de-CieL Hector counted at least forty men aboard, an uncouth assembly of all ages and shapes, most of them heavily bearded and deeply tanned. Many were bare-chested and wore only loose cotton drawers. But others had chosen a ragbag of clothes that ranged from soiled lawn shirts and canvas breeches to seaman's smocks and broadcloth coats with wide skirts and braided cuffs. A few, like Jacques's former cell mate, were dressed in jerkins and leggings of untanned cattle skin. Those who were not bareheaded displayed an equally wide range of hats. There were brightly coloured head cloths, sailor's bonnets, tricornes, leather skull caps, and broad-brimmed hats of a vaguely military style. One man was even sporting a fur hat despite the blazing heat. A few hefted long muskets which, Hector was relieved to observe, were not being pointed at L'Arc-de-Ciel, nor were the deck guns manned. Dan had been right: the buccaneers were not unduly aggressive towards a ship's crew that obeyed their instructions. For the present the mob of ill-assorted strangers were doing no more than lining the rail of their vessel and looking appraisingly at L'Arc-de-Ciel.

  The slightest thump as the hulls of the two vessels touched, and a moment later half a dozen of the buccaneers dropped down on L'Arc-de-Ciel’s deck. Two of them carried wide-mouthed blunderbusses. The last man to come aboard seemed to be their leader. Of middle age, he was short and plump, his close-cropped reddish hair turning grey, and he was dressed more formally than the others in buff-coloured breeches and stockings, with a purple waistcoat worn over a grubby white shirt. Unlike his fellows who preferred knives and cutlasses, he had a rapier hanging from a shabby baldrick. He was also the only boarder wearing shoes. The heels clumped on the wooden deck as he strode purposefully to where Dan and Hector were standing. 'Summon your captain,' he announced. 'Tell him that Captain John Coxon wishes to speak with him.'

  Closer up, Captain Coxon's face, which at first sight had seemed chubby and genial, had a hard set to it. He bit off his words when he spoke and the corners of his mouth turned down, producing a slight sneer. Hector judged that Captain Coxon was not a man to be trifled with.

  'I am acting as the captain,' he replied.

  Coxon glanced at the young man in surprise. 'What happened to your predecessor?' he demanded bluntly.

  'I believe he died of fever.'

  'When and where was that?'

  'About three months ago, maybe more. On the river Wadnil, in West Africa.'

  'I know where the Wadnil is,' Coxon snapped irritably. 'Have you any proof, and who brought this ship across? Who's your navigator?'

  'I did the navigating,' Hector answered quietly.

  Again the look of surprise, followed by a disbelieving twist of the mouth.

  'I need to see your ship's papers.'

  'They're in the captain's cabin.'

  Coxon nodded to one of his men who promptly disappeared below deck. As he waited, the captain slipped his hand inside his shirt front and scratched at his chest. He seemed to be suffering from some sort of skin irritation. Hector noticed several angry red blotches on the buccaneer captain's neck, just above the shirt collar. Coxon gazed around at L'Arc-de-Ciel and her depleted crew. 'Is this all your men?' he demanded. 'What happened to the others?'

  'There are no others,' Hector replied. 'We had to sail shorthanded, just the five of us. It was enough. The weather was kind.'

  Coxon's man came out from the cabin door. He was holding a sheaf of documents and the roll of charts that Hector had found aboard when he, Dan and Bourdon had first set foot on L'Arc-de-Ciel, Coxon took the papers and stood silently for a few moments as he read through them while absent-mindedly scratching the back of his neck. Abruptly he looked up at Hector, then thrust one of the charts towards him. 'If you're a navigator, then tell me where we are.'

  Hector looked down at the chart. It was poorly drawn, and its scale was inadequate. The entire Caribbean was shown on a single sheet and there were several gaps or smudges on the surrounding coastline. He placed his finger about two-thirds across the parchment, and said, 'About here. At noon yesterday I calculated our latitude by backstaff, but I am unsure of our westing. Twelve days ago we saw a high island to the north of us, which I took to be one of the windward Caribees. Since then we could have run perhaps a thousand miles.'

  Coxon stared at him bleakly. 'And why would you want to go due west?'

  'To try to reach the Miskito coast. That is where we are headed. Dan here is from that country, and wishes to get home.'

  The buccaneer captain, after a brief glance towards Dan, looked thoughtful. 'What about your cargo?'

  'There is no cargo. We came aboard the ship before she had loaded.'

  Coxon gave another jerk of his head, and two of his crew opened up a hatch and clambered down into the hold. Moments later, they reappeared and one of them said 'Nothing. She's empty.'

  Hector sensed the captain's disappointment. Coxon's mood was changing. He was becoming annoyed. Abruptly he took a step towards Jacques Bourdon who was loitering near the mast. 'You there with the brand on your cheek!' Coxon snapped. 'You've been in the King's galleys, haven't you? What was your crime?'

  'Being caught,' Jacques replied sourly.

  'You're French, aren't you?' A ghost of a smile passed across Coxon's face. 'From Paris.'

  Coxon turned back towards Hector and Dan. He still had the sheaf of papers in his hand.

  'I'm seizing this ship,' he announced. 'On suspicion that the vessel has been stolen from her rightful owners, and that the crew has murdered her captain and officers.’

  'That's absurd,' Hector burst out. 'The captain and his officers were all dead by the time we came aboard.'

  'You have nothing to prove it. No certificate of death, no documents for transfer of ownership.' It was evident that Coxon was grimly satisfied with himself.

  'How could we have obtained such papers?' Hector was getting more angry by the minute. 'The bodies would have been put overboard to try to stop the contagion, and there were no authorities to go to. As I said, the vessel was halfway up an African river, and there were only native chiefs in the region.'

  'Then you should have stopped at the first trading post on the coast, sought out the authorities, and registered the events,' countered Coxon. 'Instead you set sail directly across to the Caribees. It is my duty to regularise the matter.'

  'You have no authority to take this ship,' Hector insisted.

  Coxon treated him to a thin smile. 'Yes I do. I have the authority of the Governor of Petit Guave, whose commission I carry on behalf of the kingdom of France. This vessel is French. There is a branded convict aboard, a subject of the French king. The ship's papers are not in order, and there is no proof of how the captain died. He could have been killed, and the cargo sold off

  'So what do you intend to do?' Hector asked, choking down his anger. He should have realised that from the start Coxon had been trying to find an excuse to seize the vessel. Coxon and his men were nothing more than licensed sea brigands.

  'This vessel and those found on her will be taken to Petit Guave by a prize crew. There the vessel will be sold and you and your crew will be tried for murder and piracy. If found guilty the court will decide your punishment.'

  Unexpectedly, Dan spoke up, his voice grave. 'If you or your court mistreat us, you will have to answer to my people. My father is one of the old men council of the Miskito.'

  Dan's words seemed to have carried some weight because Coxon paused for a moment before replying. 'If it is true that your father is of the Miskito council then the court will take that into account. The authorities in Petit Guave would not wish to anger the Miskito. As for the rest of you, you will stand trial'

  Coxon again slipped his hand inside his shirt front and scratched at his chest. Hector wondered if the itching was what made the man so irritable. 'I need to know your name,' the buccaneer said to Hector.

  'My name is Hector Lynch.' The hand stopped scratching. Then Coxon said slowly, 'Any relation to Sir Thomas Lynch?'

  There was a wariness in the man's tone. His question hung in the air. Hector had no idea who Sir Thomas Lynch was, but clearly he was someone well known to Coxon. Hector also had the distinct impression that Sir Thomas Lynch was a person whom the captain respected, perhaps even feared. Alert to the subtle change in the buccaneer's manner, Hector seized the opportunity.

  'Sir Thomas Lynch is my uncle,' he said unblushingly. Then, to increase the effect of the lie, he added, 'It was why I agreed with my companions that we sail for the Caribbean without delay. After we had brought Dan to the Miskito coast, I intended to find Sir Thomas.'

  For an alarming moment Hector thought that he had gone too far, that he should have kept the lie simple. Coxon was staring at him with narrowed eyes. 'Sir Thomas is not in the Caribees at this time. His estates are being managed by his family- You didn't know?'

  Hector recovered himself. 'I was in Africa for some months and out of touch. ‘I received little news from home.'

  Coxon pursed his lips as he thought over Hector's statement.

  Whatever Sir Thomas Lynch meant to the buccaneer, the young man could see that it was enough to make their captor reconsider his plans.

  'Then I will make sure that you are united with your family,' the buccaneer said at last. 'Your companions will stay aboard this ship while she is taken to Petit Guave, and I will send a note to the authorities there that they are associates of Sir Thomas's nephew. It may stand in their favour. Meanwhile you can accompany me to Jamaica — I was already on my way there.’

  Hector's mind raced as he searched Coxon's statement for clues as to the identity of his supposed uncle. Sir Thomas Lynch had estates on Jamaica, therefore he must be a man of substance. It was reasonable to guess that he was a wealthy planter, a man who had friends in government. The opulence and political power of the West Indian plantation owners was well known. Yet at the same time Hector sensed something disquieting in Coxon's manner. There was a hint that whatever the buccaneer captain was proposing was not entirely to Hector's advantage.

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