All at Sea
The smell of salt and brine was heavy in the air as Catherine Holderness stepped out of the carriage and looked to the tall wooden structure that was before her, the masts rising majestically into the blue skies at Portsmouth harbour.
“She is a beauty, isn’t she,” her husband said as he stepped out from the carriage, “One of the finest ships in the fleet, or so I’m told.”
“She is certainly a most beautiful craft, Angus,” Catherine said as she looked up at the high sides, “but is she a fit place for a lady to travel on? I have heard so many stories of these ships...”
“Captain Pickering has assured me that it is perfectly safe,” Sir Angus Holderness said as she took his wife by the arm, “And at any rate, you are not travelling alone. Miss Everdene is part of the company as well.”
Catherine smiled when she heard this. Hannah Everdene was the daughter of the Governor of Barbados, and was returning to her father after completing a Tour in the company of her governess - a stern, dark haired woman by the name of Miss Carr.
A second carriage drew up, and Hannah stepped out, placing her white gloved hand in that of the servant as she stopped out. “Lady Holderness,” she said as she took Catherine’s hands, “I am so glad we will be travelling together. I was afraid I would be left with Carr for the entire journey.” Her tightly curled blonde hair was hanging in ringlets down the side of her head as her dress flowed from the tightly cinched waist.
“Come,” the dark clothed Miss Carr said as she walked up behind her, “We must board. Sir Angus, Lady Catherine.”
As they boarded the ship they were saluted on board and met by the tall, grey haired Captain Jonas Pickering. “Sir and Lady Holderness,” he said as he stood in his uniform, “Welcome aboard. Smee here will show you to your quarters - I hope to provide a peaceful voyage to the West Indies.”
And so he did - the voyage itself passed uneventfully, with Catherine and Hannah spending most of the journey walking on the decks, while Lord Holderness played cards with the officers and Miss Carr simply watched.
It was the night they dropped anchor off the coast of Barbados that our tale really starts.
“I regret,” Captain Pickering announced as the party looked over the side of the deck at the island, the port visible, “that it will not be possible to take you to shore tonight. Will you do me the honour of joining me for dinner tonight instead?”
“Of course we will, Captain,” Angus said, “and we will go ashore tomorrow. Are you in agreement, Miss Everdene?”
“I would be delighted,” Hannah said quietly, “although I had hoped to be with papa tonight.”
“Such is the way of the sea, Miss Everdene. Miss Carr, will you join us?”
“Thank you,” Miss Carr said, “but I must beg to be allowed to be absent. I do not feel too well, and wish to be rested for the morning.”
“Of course - well, we will dine at eight.”
As the dinner table conversation subsided, Angus Holderness poured a glass of port and said “I understand there are pirates in the waters here, Captain?”
“Pirates,” Hannah said as she looked up, “I hope not.”
“Do not worry, Miss Everdene,” Captain Pickering said as he looked up, “the militia keep these waters clear of the worst of them. The one that seems to be the main problem, or so I am informed, is Cutthroat Collins.”
“I have never heard of him.”
“No - he is not as well known as Blackbeard or Bowey, but he is ruthless and usually strikes without warning. The last reports I had of him placed him near the Spanish Main, however, so with luck he will not bother us.”
“Well,” Catherine said as she stood up, the men standing with her, “I shall retire for the evening. Good night Captain.”
“I will go as well,” Hannah said as she rose, “I wish to be awake for meeting papa tomorrow.” The two ladies left the room, as Captain Pickering engaged Angus Holderness in small talk. Catherine walked Hannah to her cabin, wishing her a good night as she watched her friend entering the room.
Retiring to her own cabin, Catherine disrobed and put on a simple white nightdress, lacing the front before sitting at the mirror and starting to brush her long hair. As she sat there, she wondered about the tales that had reached her of the pirates in the far waters she was now in, and wondered what it would be like to meet one of them.
She sighed and closed her eyes, opening them again to be greeted by the sight of a tall, dark skinned man standing behind her, his white teeth flashing as he smiled. He was dressed in a white blouson.
“Whammmmmmm,” Catherine called out a s he stepped forward and clamped a calloused hand over her mouth, covering her lips and nose as she reached up and tried to pull it down. Her eyes widened as he slowly shook his head, not saying a word as he produced a knotted length of linen and held it in front of her mouth.
“You woudlmnnngggg,” Catherine started to speak as the hand was removed, only for the large knot to be pushed into her mouth and the band of cloth to be pulled tightly around her cheeks, before it was secured at the base of her neck. She felt her hands been pulled behind her back and rough rope been used to bind them together, forcing them against her back as she was lifted over the tall Nubian’s shoulder and carried out of the room.
As she was been carried down the corridor, Catherine’s eyes widened as she saw Hannah been carried out of her room by two more men, her mouth filled with cloth like hers, her hands behind her back and her ankles tied together with rope. They tried struggling and calling out, but to no avail as the three men carried them to a large window at the far end of the corridor and opened it.
Catherine felt a length of rope been tied round her waist, and as she was lowered feet first out of the window she saw a small rowboat below her, with two more men inside. She tried to struggle as she was slowly lowered down the rear of the boat, but it was no use - she was grabbed as her feet touched the rough wood and made to sit down, watching as Hannah was lowered down beside her.
“Prrtss?” Hannah said as she stared at Catherine over her cloth gag. Catherine could only nod as the three men climbed down the ropes and into the boat, before their crewmates started to quietly use the oars to propel them across the water. The women looked at the fast receding ship, the lights twinkling in the windows, and wondered what would happen when their kidnapping was discovered.
After what seemed an eternity, Catherine heard a shout of “Boat ahoy!” Turning her head, she was startled to see another boat on the water, black against the moonless sky, which their craft approached. To her horror, a net was lowered over the side as they approached, and the Nubian picked her up like a rag doll before placing her in it.
“LTTMGGGG,” she screamed as she felt herself been lifted up the side of the boat, and then deposited on the deck. As she looked up, she saw several rough and bearded faces looking down at her, with what she thought was only one thought in their mind.
“Leave the ladies be,” a deep voice called our, as Hannah was gently lowered on the deck next to Catherine. “While they are guests on our ship, they will be shown every courtesy.” The two women were made to stand up as the owner of the voice approached them.
He was dressed in a black silk shirt and tight pantaloons, with cuffed boots on his legs. Unlike his crewmen, he was clean shaven, but his blue eyes shined with steely determination.
“Take them below deck and secure them,” he said before turning away. “Ay Ay Captain,” the men replied as Catherine and Hannah were forced to walk into the doors at the end of the deck, and down to a cabin with two beds in it.
“Place them on there,” the man said as Catherine and Hannah were pushed down, Catherine watching as her ankles were tied together with rough rope, and both of them had their legs secured together, the rope pulling the skirts of their nightdresses in. They stared at the crewmen as they left, the Nubian smiling before he closed and locked the door.
They lay there for a few minutes, too scared to move at first, Eventually Catherine sat herself up and managed to get to her feet, hopping over and motioning to Hannah to get her mouth within reach of her fingers. After a few minutes, Hannah moved over as Catherine started to ease the cloth out of her friend’s mouth with her fingers.
“Who is he,” Hannah eventually said as Catherine eased the cloth from her mouth.
“Iddnnttknnnn. - I don’t know,” Catherine said as she eventually pushed the cloth out of her mouth. “I presume they are some sort of pirate crew, but which ones...”
“You are on the good ship Esmeralda, under the command of Captain Josiah Collins - at you service, ladies.” They turned to see the clean shaven captain standing there, a smile on his face.
“I demand you release us at once,” Catherine shouted back at him, “Do you know who we are?”
“You are Lady Catherine Holderness, and your lovely companion here is Miss Hannah Everdene, daughter of our fair governor. Is that close enough?”
Hannah and Catherine looked at each other, before Hannah said “how do you know that? Did word escape somehow?”
“Well, yes, but not in the way you intended. I believe you know my sister?”
He stepped to one side to allow a woman to walk in - dressed in a white blouson, tight pants and over the knee leather boots. Her hair flowed down the back of her neck, but both women recognised her instantly.
“Miss Esmeralda Collins, if you please - and thank you for arranging my return to my beloved brother here.”
“But... But you have been...!”
“Very very patient, my dear Miss Everdene,” Esmeralda said as she looked at the girl she had been escort to. “I was prepared to bide my time until an opportunity arose to be reunited with my brother and crew. I had been stranded in Britain for far too long - had your father not been posted here, I would have found another way, but this was too god to allow to pass.”
“So what are you intentions?” Catherine said as Hannah sat next to her, her head on Catherine's shoulder.
“Purely honourable, I assure you,” Captain Collins said with a smile, “We have sent word to your husband and your father, and they know our terms, Let us see what comes of that.”
Catherine and Hannah looked at each other, as the two pirates laughed and locked the door behind them as they left...
It is a matter of record that, two days later, Lady Catherine Holderness and Miss Hannah Everdene were found on a secluded beach near the harbour, staked out in the ground with cloths stuffed into their mouths as they lay there. It is also a matter of record that the ship Esmeralda sailed from the area, and enjoyed a fine career of plundering, with the Collins brother and sister rising in reputation and the price on their head.
In fact, they became so rich that they bought a second boat - one they named the Pearl of Great Price...