Sir Jasper aboard
The lantern still burned in the Captain’s cabin aboard the Black Leopard. It swung a little as the ship rocked gently on the slight sea swell in the deeper part of the harbour. Tantamount the parrot was asleep on his perch and Jasper stood before the wide small paned window that overhung the stern of the ship, looking out at the town of Goldcaster, now illuminated by the moon. All was quiet, and he was smoking a cigarillo, contemplating the beauty of the starlit sky, and feeling rather pleased with himself. A solitary seagull glided towards the window, peered in, relieved himself upon the window ledge, and then softly glided away again, over the town towards the woods.
So far, so fortunate. And there had been no serious injuries on either side, always a satisfactory outcome. Apart from the usefulness of having live prisoners as hostages, or as possible labour or with a view to ransom, Jasper always sought to avoid unnecessary bloodshed. When attacking a prospect his strategy was to overcome if at all possible, not just by the element of surprise, but also by presenting a show of apparently overwhelming strength and inducing fear by an appearance of unbridled ferocity. Generally the relief and compliance of the conquered when they found that they were still alive was a considerable advantage.
There was a little niggle in this case – how had they known they were to be attacked? There had been no sign of life where the southern landing party came ashore. Even if some fleet of foot unseen observers had carried a warning they could not have reached the town much before his men, certainly not in time for the Mayor to have organised such a reception committee and the evacuation of most of the population. The resistance had not presented any problem, indeed it gave a useful indication of the nature of these people. Like Doctor Johnson, Jasper also never underestimated his enemies. He felt he would live longer that way – plan for the worst and hope for the best, had always proved for him a sound if somewhat pessimistic approach.
The total evaporation of the residents, apart from those who had chosen courageously but rather foolishly to fight, had been a bit of a surprise. In his experience things most valued in a crisis were loved ones, food, and valuables, not always in that order. In fact quite often not in that order. Jasper had rather hoped for more by way of ready cash in the first swoop upon their target, and there were already some murmurs of disappointment amongst the crew.
He turned back into his cabin, sat down at his desk and checked his day book, marking the items attended to and due for attention.
Maroon prisoners – tick
Attack Goldcaster. – tick
Take it. – tick
Secure hostages.- tick
Secure bells.- one down, four to lower
Strip town of anything valuable – proceeding
Relieve residents of liquid assets – pending
Option evaluation for Tuesday onwards – tick
Critical Path Analysis update – tick
Resource Inventory and Stock Control report – due from Quartermaster Tuesday
Motivational address for crew – completed apart from threats
Shopping list – tooth powder, moustache wax, parrot food.
Jasper poured the small cognac he allowed himself before bedtime, and mused upon his situation. How his life would have been different if he had not been betrayed by that girl. At the age of nineteen to kill a man in an unwitnessed duel – what a fool he’d been. And one way or another he’d been on the run or avoiding the authorities ever since. Ah well, at least matters were proceeding now almost as planned, which was just as well as this expedition was so important. With navies protecting merchantmen everywhere, even in the Indian Ocean and the Spice Islands, too often recently he had been reduced to raiding small outposts rather than ships, getting in and out quickly, with frequently far too little booty to keep the crew satisfied for long. And now the British Navy were apparently after him in person, curse it.
A change of occupation, perhaps even retirement was looking essential but of course there was the problem of how to leave his present profession without being hung in chains at Wapping with his corpse being pecked by seagulls… Damnation! – there was another one peering in through the window now.
‘Sod off!’ he exclaimed, banging on the glass. The window swung open and his cigarillo, only half smoked, fell with an expiring hiss into the water.
Tantamount woke with a squawk. ‘God’s bodikins my lord – ‘Macbeth hath murdered sleep!’ ‘
Then there was a knock on the cabin door.
‘Come!’ snapped Jasper.
‘Just returning the book.’ said Rathbone, holding up a copy of Jane’s Fighting Ships 1781. ‘You were quite right – that vessel was a felucca. One more for my Ship Spotter’s Log.’
‘Really? I am so pleased for you. Put the Jane’s back in the bookcase would you? Between the West Coast Pilot and the Readers Digest Book of the Sea.’
Jasper sat down somewhat wearily. ‘It’s been rather a long day Mr Mate, but on balance quite a good one. Would you care for a nightcap?’
Author of Dangerous Chimes, read more about Michael Macauley over here.