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Calico Jack and Constance Part 1

Short story By: Steven Hunley
Action and adventure

A rum smuggler meets the lighthouse keeper's daughter

Submitted:Aug 11, 2010    Reads: 41    Comments: 1    Likes: 0   

Calico Jack and Constance
Steven Hunley
To: Constance: a raven-haired Portuguese beauty
The sea was an angry monster intending to devour his ship. The blackness of night, the tide, the very wind in its sails, or lack of it, were conspiring against Captain Jack, betting he would not make port. A conspiracy of nature was plotting to thwart him. He stood alone at the helm while his mate Smee peered landward through the spyglass, searching for the light that would point to the entrance of the harbor.
A million darts of rain pelted the Sirocco, and had to be wiped from the glass.
"Well Smee, is it there?"
"No sign Captain, no sign."
It wasn't the answer he wanted.
"Damn your eyes Smee, keep a sharp lookout, or we'll be dashed on the rocks!
"Aye aye,"
"Where is Old Ben anyway and what about our deal?"
Captain Jack was worried. Ben, the lighthouse keeper had made a deal and was a man of his word. No matter the risk he would keep it. To help Jack make the entrance and thread his way between treacherous rocks, he would aim the light just so, at a certain angle and no other.
"Old frail Ben is a man of his word, and he'll keep to it," he'd told Smee when they left Nantucket, and headed home after dropping two longboats of rum on the beach, "Or my name isn't Calico Jack."
But that was then. Now was now, and both were worried. The seas made them worry, the waves were all wrong, and with the new moon there was no light at all. Even the wind was against them. What they wanted was home, and it wasn't sure they were going to get what they wanted. Ben's light would usually point their course in safety. But his light refused to shine.
How different this stormy night was from the sunny day when Jack and Ben first met at the Boar's Head Inn. The two would hardly compare.
Introductions at the Boar's Head
When Jack walked into the Boar's Head he walked in with a strut, with a certain degree of insolence, as if he owned the place. Having just moved a load of rum from Jamaica to Nantucket he was "in the pocket" as he called it and in fine fettle as well.
"Drinks all around," he shouted, and took a chair by Ben, striking a conversation with the old man immediately, and a friendship just as fast. Each recognized each other as seafaring men at once by as they call it, the cut of their jib.
"So you're the man who keeps the light out there on the point. It's saved me more time than once, you're light has. Innkeeper, another rum here for the man who keeps the light, we sailors owe him more than one drink, and you may lay to that!"
"Why thankee Captain, my name is Ben."
Jack looked at him closely. He was tall but frail, and had a consumptive cough. His handkerchief, for he used a kerchief, was brown-stained, most probably with his blood. His beard was as grey as his head, and around the mouth, tobacco- stained. He had a beguiling smile, considering he was missing most of his teeth, and beside him, propped up in the corner, a stick.
Jack concluded, after talking to him, that there was one place on him that wasn't stained, and would never stain, and that place was his soul. Sincerity was no stranger to old Ben, and he was all in all, a man who could be trusted. In Jack's profession trust was a rare jewel, and fetched high value. For these reasons, and for a thousand others, he took to him immediately.
"Ye must come home with me and sup, my daughter can cook wondrous things, her mother was Portuguese, and passed her many a secret. Aye, she knows a thing or two about a kitchen!"
Jack laughed, for it was no secret he liked eating, though you couldn't tell by the look of him.
He was tall and moved with a certainty, a deliberateness which put the ladies at their ease. He was dark, and beneath his black brows were piercing eyes of gunmetal blue. They'd seen many a woman's bosom, but as yet, not one of their hearts. It was the one thing he lacked, though you wouldn't notice it from afar, 'cause he kept that part of him hid, and being a smuggler, he was good at such things, at hiding valuable things… like his heart.
"I will, I'll eat with you. It will be a pleasure I'm sure it will."
"Let's cast off then. It's getting dark and she'll be in the kitchen directly."
The two men set off down the cobbled street, then onto the well trod path that led up and about, onto the point, and neither one knew just then, though they were walking to the lighthouse, that the path they set their feet upon in such good humor would lead them both to treasure.
At this point dear reader, that's a secret to be kept strictly between you and I. But remember, andkeep in mind, that all treasures are not gold. Some are worth far more.
Bens' Lighthouse on the Point
They walked over the last rise and saw the lighthouse below. It was white-washed brick with a Spanish tile roof and though cleared on the side for the light, the other end had an oak tree nearby, and hanging from it, a swing. Behind that was a vegetable garden. It didn't seem much from the outside, and wasn't pre-possessing. Smoke was streaming from the chimney and when they approached they noticed the smell of cinnamon and dough in the air.
"Ah," said Ben, his eyes brightening, "Smell that? That would be our desert."
They entered through a wide oak door, where red geraniums were growing in a pot.
"She's all about color, my daughter is," Ben explained, "see here."
The room was well lit from the windows that let in the sun with no squabble. Bright hand-painted plates decorated the walls, all in a pattern. Others graced the mantel piece. Jack saw at once that it showed a woman's touch. There were seafaring things about to be sure. Shiny brass ships' lanterns hung from the beams overhead, and here was a compass, or there on the wall, a harpoon from a whaler. Bits of lacquered rope wound round the stairway banisters that led up to the light. It was bright and comfortable and it felt like home. That's what Jack liked about.
"Here," directed Ben, "sit ye by the fire. And have a spot of Drambuie. It will warm you up."
So they sat and they drank and got comfortable. For a stranger's house it was the most comfortable house Jack had ever been in. Everything seemed to be in its place, even him.
Just as he was getting lost in his thoughts, a bell rang and shook him from his reverie.
"What's that?"
"Ah, that will be our supper I reckon. It's the ship's bell from the Mary Dear announcing supper. When she went down near Cape Hatterus, I bought her bell and mounted it in the kitchen! I'm a bit hard of hearing you know, but that bell, I can hear from anywhere around. It will do us no good to be late now, and would make my Constance cross if we were. Let's away at once!"
A Dutch door led to the kitchen, and when Ben flung the top portion open, a woman was revealed placing cutlery on the table. By the time Ben opened the bottom half, our captain had taken her measure.
She was a small but well built craft. She had wild dark hair, tied back, and beneath her dark brows, even darker eyes, that flashed when she looked up and beheld him. He understood at once that they were dangerously engaging eyes, as dark and explosive as the black powered that primed the silver mounted pistols he used in his work and they were aimed straight at him.
He blinked first.
"I'm Captain Calico Jack," he offered, "and your father has invited me to dinner."
"Ah yes. It seems every man he invites here is either a Captain or a sea dog. Which one you are, I'll be deciding."
"Pay her no mind,' said Ben, "It's the Portuguese in her. I married her mother, God rest her soul, when I was on leave in the Azores. The Portuguese speak their mind."
"Yes Father and I'll be speaking my mind to you in a minute if you both don't sit down immediately to your supper!"
"Aye aye,' he answered, and took his seat. What could Jack do but follow?
The table, when he noticed the table, was set like no other.
The glasses looked to be crystal, the cutlery all neat in a row, and linen napkins were folded into shapes like pyramids or cones. It was unlike any table he had ever seen, and the food!
The food was a story in itself.
For a sailor used to eating rotten beef and hard tack, it looked a treat. What lay before him and looked so good was a Portuguese sopa or stew that was a red soupy sauce with a green mint leaf floating on top like a boat. She handed him some bread and broke off a piece.
"Here," she offered, "it's to sop up the juice."
She filled his glass with deep dark red homemade wine, and watched his expression. She saw he was pleased with its taste.
Then they ate.
Constance looked at Jack. When he was addressing her she'd often look down, and pretend she'd missed his remark. He wasn't saying much anyway, so that was no loss. But when addressing her father, she'd steal a glance her and there.
She noticed at first the color of his eyes. They were innocent and blue, yet they were calculating eyes, the kind that took a girl's measure without her consent. She didn't know if she liked that or not. She couldn't gauge his height either, as she'd missed it at first, and now he was sitting down.
But when he passed her a plate, she noticed he was well mannered and always said please and thank you. She liked that.
One other thing she noticed while they were passing plates and that was his hands. They were well shaped, and she noticed they were not course or rough. They were not the hands of a common seaman.
"Perhaps he's a captain after all."
She imagined, if only for a second, what those hands might feel like should they happen to brush against her cheek. The thought made her tingle. Then she drew back and hardened her heart. It would never do to think of such things. The men she knew weren't like that; it was more than just a brush against a cheek they were after. So she withdrew her feeling and hardened her heart like that of Damascus steel.
All this time, when she was looking away, and talking to her father, Jack was making note of her.
He listened attentively to what she said and how she said it.
"This girl is fast, that she is, as fast running as quicksilver."
He liked a person who thought well and quick. Thinking fast was something he admired in a woman.
For desert, and the Captain loved desert, she'd made an amazing bread pudding and served it with a layer of lemon pudding on top. He'd never had anything finer.
In the end, he was satisfied with the meal, but unsatisfied with the woman. He wanted to know more and would have asked her directly, but she disappeared as quickly as she appeared saying she had sewing to attend to. When she walked from the room he noticed something about her gait, a kind of a limp that disturbed him.
"Let's sit by the fire and talk," Ben suggested.
"Oh, yes, that would be good."
He planned to find out everything he needed to know from Ben. After they sat down, before he could utter a single word, Ben said,
"I see you noticed she's lame. I spied that look when you saw her walk away. She has her problems. She wasn't always that way you know, poor girl. Here's how it happened."
Ben pulled his chair closer and lowered his voice.
"Two years ago she was courted by an English officer stationed nearby at the fort. He was a slick one he was, and she fell for him hard and heavy as an anchor. I saw right through the lad and objected. She ran off one night in December, to meet him at the inn. They planned to elope to Jamaica, then leave for England together. That's what he told her his plans were.
She arrived at the inn, and he wasn't there. So she waited in a chair by the fire. Hours later he hadn't shown up, still she waited, thinking if she moved she'd miss him. The fire grew smaller but she waited. It grew cold in the room but she refused to move.
Earlier that day he'd shipped out with his company on the return ship to Bristol, and went back to his wife. He never even left her a note…the bastard.
A man from his company happened to go by the inn, and when he saw her he recognized her from when she'd visited him in the officer's quarters. He took pity on her and told her the truth.
She was shattered. It broke her heart it did. She cried for hours, and when she finally got up she couldn't walk the same, and never has since. The doctor has seen her, but doesn't seem to be able to help."
He pulled his chair even closer and looked at Jack closely. A tear shown in his eye.
"They don't know whether the problem is here," and he pointed at his ankle, "or there," he said motioning to his head, "maybe a little of both."
Neither of them said anything then, they just stared into the fire and shared the silence together.
Embroidery and Teardrops
When Constance entered her room she decided to block all thought from her mind of the stranger who was in her house. She picked up some embroidery and worked on a scene that was not quite finished. It was the point of land with the lighthouse and the clouds and ocean beyond, all done up in silken colors. Now it was time to stitch a saying of some sort. Outside it was starting to sprinkle. Raindrops tapped softly on the window pane. She worked a minute unconsciously as she watched the leaves from the oak tree outside drift by, and felt for some reason, even though her life was stable, and she prized her stability she did, that somehow she had something in common with the leaves.
Snapping out of reverie, she looked down to check her spelling, there was a C and an A and a L and an I and a C and a what was this? An O? She threw down the circle of embroidery and burst into tears. It rolled along the floor like a child's hoop and came to rest in the corner. The sun in its wisdom broke through the clouds and made patterns of the running raindrops on the window pane match the ones her salty tears had etched on her face. Both ran together, like two children playing in the rain hand in hand. Only when the tears and children were exhausted, she fell back on her pillow and drifted off to sleep.


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