We assembled solemnly on the quarterdeck at 0955! Three canvas bundles lay on three separate wooden slides! It was a strange thing to think under the circumstances, but I noticed the careful and neat stitching Benney had used to sew the canvas shrouds together! At a time like this it was peculiar the thoughts that ran through one’s mind, possibly it was a diversionary thought, avoiding the sad duty I faced for as long as possible! I looked astern at our wake…the white water waiting to swallow up the dead! A sad day indeed! Jenkins, Jordan and Benney would do the actual burying detail, I had merely to read a few words from the Good Book over the unfortunate persons enclosed in the shrouds! I called the already silent crew to order!
“Men!………..(I paused, unsure of what to say!)…We are gathered to perform a solemn duty! A privileged duty! A sad duty! A duty demanded of us by the code of humanity, and the law of God!…….(I read a short verse from Revelations) …..These souls here departed, shall, with the grace of God, be accepted into his Divine Kingdom to live, immortally, with him!…I shall now read from the Bible, the word of God in the form of the “burial at sea” service!”
I looked around. All heads were uncovered!
“Let us pray!” All heads bowed as one!
“Heavenly Father……(I read the litany with choking emotion) …….accept unto thy boundless mercy, the souls of our dear departed, in the sure knowledge…(the words tumbled from my lips, I choked back tears, mainly of anger)…make their bodies as thy perfect body…..(As I continued to read…I got more and more angry….eventually, the litany was at an end)……..we commit their bodies to the deep…………Amen!”
All the crew stood in perfect silence as, one after the other, the canvas bundles were slipped over the stern, to disappear into the depths below! I felt emotionally drained!
“Men! This has been a sad duty! There may yet be more sad duties to perform! We have two days to prepare to avenge the poor souls we have just given into God’s keeping! I know, by past record, that you will give of your all when the time comes! I will be there with you to lead you in the fight of retribution to come! I want to find these barbarians…..AND SEND THEM TO HELL!….I ask no more than you do your duty, with honour and with pride! That is all! Crew may dismiss Mr Jordan! I would like to see you and Mr Jenkins and Number One in my cabin!”
“Aye aye sir!”
I walked to my cabin….salt tears in my eyes! My throat was choked with emotion! But I had an idea! Ten minutes passed, then the three Officers gathered as requested!
I looked at their faces….they too had wet eyes! I was glad I was not the only one! I looked into the black pools that were the eyes of Moses Samuels! I thought I knew his inner turmoil! That could well have been Dolores we had just committed to the depths!!
“Men…I have an inkling!…. A thought I would like your opinions on!….. A little girl, below decks in the sail locker, among the group of survivors…..has talked of hard labour for men and children meted out by the slaver gangs….her English is poor, like many of the other women and children…but it would seem, that hard labour was used for distinct times and days! I cannot find out what , or where, this work was undertaken, or what for ..…but….given that the Admiralty chart gives a huge tidal rise and fall of up to six fathoms around Palentenka….do you think its possible that the labour was used at the lowest tides….spring tides…to blast or dig a channel through the coral reefs….six hours per tide…with an hour or hour and half of “dead-water” would be sufficient, over a long period of time, to enable a channel to be cut or blasted with powder, through the reef…would it not? It might take a year…but it is not possible?”
There was a stunned silence! Disbelief!
Jordan was the first to speak!
“Captain! I cannot believe that they would stoop so low as to use children as hard labour! But…saying that….it could be done!!…Coral is a soft material, and would quickly re-grow if not kept trimmed…but it could be done, although it would be a huge undertaking surely?”
There were murmurings of assent!
“But…given a little persuasion……perhaps our “friend” might reveal, if in fact, it is what they did!” Jordan looked at Jenkins and Moses as he spoke.
“ Maybe!…But how do we “persuade” him? He hasn’t revealed anything of interest so far!” Jenkins interjected.
“Sir….what if we tell him that we know, from information given by the women below decks, that there is a channel!!!….that we now know where that channel is…and can dispense with his services! Then…when he is sufficiently worried about being thrown to the sharks because he can be of no further help….we can put the icing on the cake by telling him we are going to take him ashore with us and send him into the slaver stockade first! After sending the inhabitants a message telling them that their compatriot gave us the information about the access route through the coral! Maybe that would worry him sufficiently to make him cross over to our side….and give us all the information we need?”
“Hmmmm! …..What do you think Number One?”
“Is good idea Cap’n suh! It make ‘im talk mebbe!”
“And You Mr Jordan?”
“We can try it Captain! …He would certainly not like to be the one to tell his fellow cut-throats that he gave us the information on how to get onto the island would he! It would mean we would have to dispense with the element of surprise which is in our favour! But….…yes! Let’s try it! I will tell him that he will be joining Davy Jones at tea-time today, because we now have all the information we need about the access channel! We can then note if he gets nervous….that will denote that we’re right!!…or he will laugh at our stupidity….which will mean that we’re wrong! What do you think sir?”
“Its worth a try! Go to it men….Let’s see what he comes up with!!”
Could there be a channel????
(To be cont....................)