King of the Seas

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Booksie Classic
A young adventurer arrives in 18th century Nantucket, from London, on a secret mission for his scheming uncle. The goal of the mission? To try and take control of the entire New England candle manufacturing industry, now tightly controlled by a handful of whalers.

The plan goes badly astray when Jeremy meets the lovely daughter of the captain of the whaling ship "Sea Rogue." When the captain misconstrues Jeremy’s intentions towards his only daughter, the young man ends up an unwilling passenger on a year-long sea voyage to the whaling grounds off the coast of Brazil.

When Jeremy becomes captain of the “Sea Rogue” through circumstances beyond his control, he finds his ship and crew in deadly danger. Throw in an exciting combination of a rogue whale, bloodthirsty pirates, and a damsel in distress and you have an easy to read story that turns out to be truly a "Whale of a Tale."

Submitted: August 08, 2019

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Submitted: August 08, 2019

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KING OF THE SEAS

 

 

Jeremy’s arrival

NANTUCKET - MAY 12TH, 1768

 

Prologue:

 

Jeremy Whitehall was running straight downhill, as fast as his long legs would carry him. The treacherous rain-slicked, cobblestone streets, littered with numerous steaming piles of horse droppings didn't slow his frantic pace a bit. He had a very good reason for his terror. The young man was running for his life.

Jeremy was being chased down the hill by an extremely agitated man. His assailant was rapidly gaining ground by the minute. The pursuer was also carrying a very sharp and deadly whaler’s harpoon. Bile rose in Jeremey’s throat. He imagined the searing agony if his pursuer chose to hurl the weapon deep between his shoulder blades. He had to find a place to hide – now.

He could see a long line of darkened ships tied up in a row along the jetty. No sign of any crew. Jeremy assumed they were all at the Inn for their evening meal. At random, he picked the third ship in the line, and quietly climbing the gangplank to the main deck. A wooden staircase led him below decks through an open hatchway.

Jeremy quickly descended and found a large open storeroom containing numerous sets of canvas sails. He burrowed beneath a pile of the sails, lying very quietly, trying to control the violent beating of his heart and the sounds of his frantic breathing.

 

THIRTY DAYS EARLIER:

 

The Royal Mail ship, RMS TRENT glided gently to a full stop at the main wharf for the Town of Nantucket. She was arriving after a rough Atlantic crossing, having left the Port of London several weeks ago. A handsome young man, wearing the latest London fashionable dress, stood at the rail and cast a jaundiced eye at the weathered town, comparing it in his mind to the magnificent city he had left behind.

His name was Jeremy Whitehall. He was tall and slim and quite intelligent - for a twenty-year-old male, that is. Jeremy was here in Nantucket on a very secret mission for his Uncle Crabb. Because he detested both his uncle and the nature of his mission, he was hoping it wouldn't take too long to accomplish. He also wanted to get back to the delights of London as soon as he could.

At their last meeting before Jeremy departed London, his bitter old uncle, Rolland Crabb, had been very explicit and vulgar in his instructions.

“Jeremy, I don’t give a rat’s droppings how you do it. You have two important tasks to achieve. No excuses are acceptable. Don’t even think about returning to London, ever again, unless you are successful with both of them.”

Jeremy scrambled for an excuse. “Uncle Crabb, I do think there are many better-qualified staff members for this particular assignment. My schedule is terribly full at this time, as well.”

Uncle Crabb snorted, “Horse feathers!  You’re busy doing nothing, just wasting your life on drink, gambling, and vulgar women. It’s time for you to start performing, or else.”

 

Rolland Crabb was the managing partner of Hadwen, Barney & Crabb, one of England’s largest importers of general merchandise. Products came to the Company’s many warehouses from all parts of the world.

Crabb was furious. He had just received word that, in the future, the price for special wax candles from the Colonies was going up by over 100%. In a world without electricity, candles were in very high demand. One of the best-selling items for the trading company.

Rolland was fed up with being held to ransom by the blood-sucking ungrateful colonials in the colonies.  Every time he placed an order with Nantucket, his blood reached the boiling point. He decided the time had come to put these impudent Yankees in their place, once and for all.

Jeremy didn't like his Uncle Rolland very much. Privately, he considered his uncle to be a money-grubbing tightwad and a spiteful old man to boot. However, with no other income source outside of his job at the firm, he had no choice but to listen carefully to his uncle’s instructions.

“First, you’re to get inside one of their blasted candle factories. I don’t care how. Once inside, you must steal any specialized manufacturing secrets they might have. Second, you’re to try and find out if any of the suppliers are in trouble so we can buy them out cheaply.”

Jeremy yawned, “But, Uncle, wouldn’t be easier to pay the price increase and then gouge our customers as you’ve always done?”

“No! You’re an imbecile, Jeremy. We need a long-term strategy to keep these vampires from draining us dry. We are ending this, now. After we get a toehold in Nantucket, we’ll undercut all the remaining suppliers to the point of bankruptcy. Then we’ll be in total control of our sources of supply.”

Jeremy nodded his understanding. He knew what his uncle expected of him, but he didn’t have to like it. He shook hands and assured him he would do his best. Privately, he just wanted to get away from the old coot and join his friends for a going-away party at the exclusive Mayfair Club.

 

When his Hackney carriage drew to a stop in front of the club, Jeremy drew his cape around his shoulders, tipped the driver a sixpence, and stepped out onto the muddy road. A swarm of begging orphans quickly besieged him. He threw all his loose change into the air and entered the club to a chorus of – “Thank you, kind Sir.”

The room was thick with blue cigar smoke, but not thick enough to hide the shapely figure of Constance Kingman. As usual, she was flirting with a table of card players but abruptly stopped when she spotted him. She excused herself from the table, promising to return soon.

She advanced with a wide, flirtatious smile on her face, kissed him on both cheeks, and said, “Jeremy, my heart was almost breaking. I thought you were going to leave for the new world without even saying goodbye.”

In an era when women were expected to be seen and not heard, Constance was an anomaly. From outward appearances, her role appeared to be as a hostess for the club. Jeremy was one of the very few people that knew that Constance was in fact, the majority owner of the club. Over time she had become a very wealthy woman.

Jeremey was fond of the lady, and possibly, in the future, it could lead to something more. He knew Constance wanted more, but right now; Jeremy’s life was in too much of a turmoil to get involved.

“You know I could never leave without seeing you, Connie, my sweet. I came here for a party tonight, but I also need some advice. Can you stop for a few minutes and have a drink with me?”

Connie nodded and led Jeremy to a private table in a quiet corner of the club. She ordered a bottle of Champagne and two glasses. With the bubbling concoction served, she quietly asked, “How can I help, Jeremy?”

“I’m at a crossroads, Connie. There is no getting around it; My uncle is a vile man. He’s ordered me to do some things that I think are quite wrong. The problem is, if I don’t follow his instructions to the letter, he’s promised to dismiss me from the firm and discontinue any further allowances.”

Connie poured more Champagne and encouraged Jeremy to give her more details. Jeremy unloaded. He told her that Uncle Crabb expected him to lie, cheat, and steal information from the New World candle suppliers, with the ultimate goal of driving them all out of business.

“I believe in competition as much as the next fellow, Connie, but I don’t want to end up hating myself for being a rotter. What the hell do you think I should do?”

Constance Kingman was many things, but above all, she was a realist. She decided to speak her mind. She was worried about her friend. He was drifting without any definable goals in life.

“Jeremy, my love, you don’t have a choice. If you fail to do as your uncle says, you’ll end up here in London for the rest of your days. You’ll still be a gentleman but unfortunately, my dear, a penniless one. There is no future here for a gentleman without prospects. If you don’t make the trip to the colonies, I worry that you might end up as a drunken wastrel or worse.”

“You always give me good counsel, Connie. I’ll take it to heart.”

 

By this time Jeremy’s friends had arrived, and the farewell party got started. They drank, they sang, they danced, and they ate. Jeremy just wanted to forget his problems for the night, but he couldn’t. He found himself looking for Connie again. He located her keeping a watchful eye on the gambling tables. He motioned for her to join him at the bar.

“Connie, I’ve made my decision. I’ll go on the trip as instructed, and I’ll try and do as my uncle has ordered. But, I swear, I will do everything in my power to cause the least harm I can. Then at least, I’ll be able to live with my conscience.”

“I would expect no less of you, Jeremy. Your approach is a good compromise. I have a feeling that everything will work out in the end.” She reached across and kissed him softly, for the first time, on the lips.”

Jeremy returned the kiss with a feeling of sadness. He didn’t want to leave.

 “Never forget Jeremy, if you ever get in trouble, you’ll always have a true friend waiting for you on this side of the ocean.”

Jeremy was no longer in a party mood. He slipped out the side entrance of the club and made his way back to his lodgings. He needed to pack his trunk. The Royal Mail ship, HMS TRENT, was due to sail on the morning tide.

As he traveled the cobblestone streets in darkness, he wondered if he would ever see Connie again.

 

 

Betsy Mitchell

During his rough trip across the Atlantic, Jeremy stayed mainly in his cabin, devouring every scrap of information he could find about whaling and the role the town of Nantucket played in this immense industry. Although he was fascinated by the story of the candle industry, he still despised the idea of being a spy.

Nantucket in 1768 was the whaling capital of the world. Ships departed and arrived every day of the week. The voyages, sometimes stretching for years, combed the oceans of the world in a constant search for the elusive sperm whale. The by-products of these valuable mammals had made many of the Nantucket seafaring men extremely rich. Some of the ship Captains had branched out into building ships and specialty candle manufacturing, in addition to their regular whaling activities.

Some parts of the sperm whale, in particular, were very highly prized. The most valuable product by far was spermaceti, a waxy substance harvested from cavities inside the skull of the whale.  A large whale could contain up to 1,900 liters of this unique oil.

 It was the essential ingredient in the manufacture of the coveted “Spermaceti Candle.”  These specialized candles were very expensive because they burned with a clear white, smokeless flame.

The cunning sea Captains of Nantucket controlled the supply of the sought-after candles by tightly limiting the supply of spermaceti oil. They also controlled the specialized manufacturing process required to make the candles. By artificially creating a shortage of supply, demand, and prices both were skyrocketing around the world. This monopoly was driving Uncle Rolland mad with envy.

Jeremy Whitehall didn’t like it, but his mission was designed to try and break the stranglehold of the whalers' monopoly, once and for all. He knew Uncle Crabb was ruthless and wouldn’t hesitate to drive the local producers out of business at the first opportunity.

Now, having arrived in Nantucket, Jeremy set off to explore the waterfront. He wanted to assess the possibility of putting his uncle’s plan into action. He booked a single room at the Seafarer’s Inn on Water street, then changed into clothing more suitable for his mission before venturing out into the driving rain.

 

He wandered the maze of cobblestone streets, looking for the factory district. He soon found it as the town wasn’t that big. Jeremy could hardly believe his luck. The very first candle manufacturer he approached, had a "Help Wanted" sign posted in the grubby front window. It was an old red, two-story, brick structure sitting on the end of Straight Wharf. The faded sign on the roof read  RICHARD MITCHELL & SON.

He knocked briefly on the old warped wooden door and entered. The interior light was dim, but Jeremy could still make out the form of a very attractive young lady, sitting behind a roll-top desk. She looked up with a quizzical expression on her face. She was trying not to smile at the handsome young stranger, staring so intently at her.

Jeremy stammered, "Excuse me, Miss, would Mr. Mitchell or his son be available?"

She laughed, "Well, CAPTAIN Mitchell is down at the docks getting the Sea Rogue ready for her next whaling trip. If you go anywhere near him while he’s engaged, I guarantee you he’ll bite your head off."

“Would it be possible then, to have a word with Captain Mitchell’s son?”

The girl’s face saddened, “You would have to go and find Davy Jones Locker if you want to talk to our Ned, he was lost at sea two years ago.”

Jeremy felt himself blushing and getting more tongue-tied by the minute. The young lady took pity on him, “You can deal with me if you like. My name is Betsy Mitchell. I’m in charge when my father’s not here.”

Jeremy introduced himself and said he was looking for a job.

 

Betsy laughed again, “You certainly don’t look like a candle maker, so I assume you are applying for the job as our bookkeeper.”

Jeremy nodded his head and listened as she outlined the salary and other terms of the job. He thanked her and quickly accepted the position. He wasn’t sure why he felt so nervous around her, especially when she kept smiling that way.

Betsy liked the looks of the young man and told him to report for work the following day.

 

 

After returning to the Seafarer’s Inn, Jeremy unpacked his few belongings and joined a group of local sailors in the pub. He ordered a bowl of Nantucket fish chowder with a pint of ale, then sat listening to the conversations. A few of the men had just returned from a long voyage. They were now drinking a quiet toast to four of their comrades who had died at sea.

 Jeremy quietly asked how the men had died. A grizzled old salt replied, “It was yon bloody ‘King of the Sea’ agin, we had just stuck a small spermer with our ‘poon when he attacked our whaleboats. We don’t normally take the small ‘uns, but we were desperate.  Our holds was almost empty.”

Another joined in, “Aye, it was lucky any of us escaped from that killer to live to tell the tale.”

Jeremy bought several rounds of dark rum for the sailors, encouraging them to tell the story of their voyage. In particular, he was fascinated to hear about the creature they called ‘King of the Sea."

One of the crew was a black man who called himself, Dark Billy. He told Jeremy about the gigantic rogue sperm whale, which was creating havoc with the whaling fleet. He said all the seamen lived in constant fear of running afoul of the beast.

Dark Billy slurred, "Aye, it's only a matter of time before the beast starts attacking the main ship as well as the small whaleboats.” The others all nodded in agreement.

One of the men crossed himself, “I won’t be going back to sea. Too many dangers out there with the ‘King’ just waiting out there for us to show up.”

Jeremy was starting to see at least one reason for the shortage of spermaceti oil. Maybe the seafarers of Nantucket were telling a part of the truth. Some of the candle shortage could be legitimate, after all.

After a restless night, Jeremy showed up early at the old brick building. Betsy Mitchell was already at her desk. She gave Jeremy a complete tour of the operations. It soon became evident that Betsy was very knowledgeable about all aspects of the delicate art of spermaceti candle making, although Jeremy was finding it difficult to concentrate.

He was much more interested in Betsy’s fresh-scrubbed appearance and the delicate bone structure of her face than he was in the operations of the factory.

 

For the next month, Jeremy tried to concentrate on the spy mission that his Uncle Rolland Crabb had given him. It was clear to him that the daily operations of RICHARD MITCHELL & SON were badly impacted by the shortage of spermaceti oil. Betsy and her Father would be easy pickings for his greedy Uncle Rolland.

Jeremey swore to himself, “Not if I can help it.”

Jeremy had still not met Captain Mitchell in person. Betsy explained that her father was away on a trip to Boston to meet with his bankers. He was trying to line up desperately needed credit for his next voyage. Betsy said she hoped that Jeremy could meet her father before he sailed on the Sea Rogue on May 13th for the North coast of Brazil.

Betsy was worried about the family business. Gradually she started sharing her concerns with Jeremy. Almost every day they had lunch together on a picnic table under the gnarled old apple tree. This particular day, Betsy was upset because she hadn’t heard from her father.

In a friendly gesture of support, Jeremy took Betsy’s hand. He staggered from the combination of the jolt of electricity he felt and the rising of heat in his face. Betsy must have felt the surge too. She abruptly stood up and returned to her office.

Jeremy sat and tried to make sense of it all. Something about this vulnerable woman was getting to him. She roused far different feelings in him than Constance Kingman ever had. He resolved to spend more time with Betsy, in fact, to spend as much time as possible.

 

Stowaway

 

MAY 12TH, 1768

 

Jeremy was running for his life.

The extremely agitated man on the other end of the wicked whaler’s harpoon was Captain Richard Mitchell. He was closing in on Jeremy fast, and it was all because of a slight “misunderstanding.”

His daughter, Betsy, had been giving Jeremy a tour of the new family barn. She innocently suggested that Jeremy try the hayloft as a potential replacement for the expensive room he had at the Seafarer’s Inn.

Jeremy was trying out the softness of the new-mown hay and just as a joke, had pulled Betsy down beside him. Unfortunately, this was only moments before Captain Mitchell showed up. Obviously, the good Captain had badly misread the situation, because everything went downhill from there.

Betsy panicked, “Run, Jeremy, if my father gets his hands on his harpoon, he’ll kill you for sure.”

“I am staying, Betsy, your father misread the situation. Surely, I can explain everything to him. I don’t want to leave you right now.”

She shook her head violently, “When he’s in one of his rages, Papa won’t listen to reason, please for my sake, go now.” Betsy embraced him and kissed him full on the lips.

Before Jeremy departed, Betsy reached up, took a chain holding an engraved, silver heart-shaped locket from her neck then gently lowered it over his head. "Keep this with you, Jeremy. It will protect you and keep you from harm until it’s safe to return."

 Jeremy swore he would return and then fled the barn out into the rainy night. Her father was close on his heels.

Jeremy could almost feel the point of the harpoon on his backside, when, with a sudden oath, Captain Mitchell, slipped on the wet cobblestones and fell face-first onto a pile of recently deposited steaming horse droppings. Jeremy took advantage of this sudden break by quickly turning into a darkened alleyway leading down to the docks. He started to search for a haven where he could hide from the wrath of his pursuer, but the docks were devoid of any piles of cargo or any other shelter.

He could see a long line of darkened ships tied up in a row along the jetty. No sign of any crew. Jeremy assumed they were all at the Inn for their evening meal. At random, he picked the third ship in the line, and quietly climbing the gangplank to the main deck. A wooden staircase led him below decks through an open hatchway.

 Jeremy quickly descended and found a large open storeroom containing numerous sets of canvas sails. He burrowed beneath a pile of the sails, lying very quietly, trying to control the violent beating of his heart and the sounds of his frantic breathing.

Jeremy could hear Betsy's father cursing at the top of his lungs as he banged the side of each ship with his harpoon. When he paused beside the ship that was hiding Jeremy, he shouted: "Come out, you little weasel and face the music."

Jeremy was frightened but still had to try to stifle his laughter. Captain Mitchell smelled so bad from his unfortunate encounter with the horse droppings that the noxious odor was drifting aboard through the open portholes.

It took a long time before the angry Captain abandoned his search and left the dock. Jeremy was exhausted from the events of the day. He decided to stay in place until daybreak and then work out some plan to get back to Betsy.

Jeremy smiled at the memory of the unexpected and enthusiastic kiss he had received from Betsy earlier. He pulled the canvas sail up over his head, held her silver locket gently in his right hand, and fell into a deep slumber.

 

The gentle rocking motion kept lulling Jeremy back to sleep. Several more hours passed before he awakened to the pounding of footsteps on the deck above his head. In a panic, he rushed to the porthole, peered out and was horrified to find no sight of land in any direction.

Jeremy quickly climbed the wooden steps to the main deck where he collided directly with a rather large man. The man smelled faintly of “essence” of horse droppings.

“Who the hell are you, and what are you doing aboard my ship?” demanded the angry person.

Jeremy quickly deduced that the man must be none other than Captain Mitchell, Betsy’s Father. He was now stuck with him, aboard a ship at sea loaded with harpoons. Jeremy was fairly confident that the good Captain hadn’t had more than a glimpse of him during his escape from the hayloft. He decided to bluff it out.

 “Sorry, Captain, I came down to the ship late last night to sign on as a crew member, but no one was here. I just waited, and I guess I fell asleep.”

Captain Mitchell was painfully aware that he was sailing very shorthanded. Potential crew members were shying away from any possible exposure to the dangers posed by the rogue whale, ‘King of the Seas.’ Although the young man looked too well dressed to be an ordinary seaman, the captain decided to take a chance.

“All right you lubber, get below and sign the crew book. Mind you, this ain’t one of those pleasure cruises. You will work your backside off or get thrown overboard.”

Jeremy hurried below decks, signed the log and was shown his new berth in the forecastle or fo’c’sle as it was known to the seamen. Jeremy could hardly believe his eyes at the tiny space. The fo’c’sle was black and slimy with filth, very small and hot as an oven.

 Jeremy closed his eyes and prayed that the voyage would be a short one, although he had heard that many of the whaling expeditions could stretch out over several years.

 

Over the next few days, Jeremy managed to convince the captain that his talents were best used aboard the ship as the purser. As purser, he would be responsible for keeping track of all supplies as well as tallying up the barrels of oil from the whale hunt. Most of the men aboard were of the rough and ready sort except for the captain. He was an educated man.

 When The captain discovered that Jeremy could play chess, he was easily won over.

The Sea Rogue was running before the wind on a southeast course, bound for a stopover in Nassau. The captain wanted to top up his water and food provisions before the long run down to the whaling grounds off the coast of Brazil. Jeremy was on-deck standing beside Captain Mitchell, taking his turn at the helm. They hadn’t passed another vessel since leaving Nantucket. The salt air and the wind on his face almost made Jeremy forget his many troubles.

Jeremy loved the changing color of the sea as the ship drew closer to the Bahamas. The beautiful shades of emerald green reminded him of Betsy’s eyes. Jeremy was daydreaming about Betsy and didn’t hear the captain talking to him. “Pay attention, you damned lubber!” The captain barked.

 “Sorry, Sir, what did you say again?”

The captain continued, “I said, I don’t like to spend too much time in Nassau, it is a den of thieves and full of pirates too.”

“Are we in any danger, Captain?” Jeremy asked.

“Not at the moment. The real danger from those bastard pirates will be on the return voyage to Nantucket.”

 “Why do they pick the return voyage, Captain?”

Captain Mitchell explained that the pirates always tried to wait until the whaling ships had a full cargo of whale oils before they attacked. “We do all the work, and these blasted heathens take all the profits. But what they are after is any ambergris we might have on board.”

 The captain went on to tell Jeremy about this mysterious substance that was worth thousands of dollars an ounce.

“Aye, who would believe whale poop could be so valuable?” he explained. “The sperm whales put a slurry from their insides into the ocean. Sometimes it hardens into a ball on top of the water. It’s even been known to float ashore sometimes.”

Jeremy was perplexed. “But why is it so valuable, Captain?”

The captain replied, “It seems those French fellows can’t make their very expensive perfumes without the ambergris.” He laughed out loud, “I wonder how many of those fancy women know they are spraying themselves with whale poop.”

 

The ship approached New Providence Island in the early dawn. After rounding lighthouse point, the open harbor lay ahead, its sheltered waters dotted with sailing craft from all parts of the world. With the Sea Rogue safely secured to the main wharf in downtown Nassau, the captain invited Jeremy to join him later in the day for dinner at the Green Parrot Inn.

The small Inn, located on a side street off the waterfront, was neutral ground, although many fights had broken out when pirates and sea captains happened to find themselves dining at the same time. Fortunately, that night, the Inn was almost empty. As the evening progressed, Captain Mitchell consumed a very large quantity of dark rum. He started to get morose as he told Jeremy about the unfortunate death of Betsy’s brother, Jed.

“Aye, my Jed was a fine lad. He was in the leading whaleboat that morning. They had just harpooned a small spermer when the damned ‘King of the Sea’ rose out of the water and smashed Jed’s boat to splinters. My boy sank like a stone; he didn’t have a chance. I’ll destroy that beast if I ever get the chance.”

Jeremy was helping the inebriated Captain back to the ship when the captain suddenly stopped. He sobbed desperately, “My Jed’s gone, but I still have my wonderful daughter Betsy. She’s my treasure. If I ever find the bounder who was trying to do her wrong, I’ll wring his neck without mercy.”

 Jeremy just gulped and said nothing.

 

They left the Port of Nassau at daybreak bound for the whaling grounds off the northern coast of Brazil. With fair seas and favorable winds, Captain Mitchell told Jeremy he expected to be whale hunting within 30 days. Jeremy walked slowly up to the bowsprit at the front of the Sea Rogue and stared down at the surging white waters streaming off the hull.

He mused, “I wonder what dangers await us, out there in this vast and untamed ocean?”

 

Revenge of the King

 

It had taken the better part of a year, but the holds of the Sea Rogue were now almost full of old oak barrels containing different grades of processed whale oil. Despite ranging over a broad swath of ocean, no sightings of the infamous ‘King of the Seas’ had taken place.

Over time, Captain Mitchell had grown quite fond of the young Jeremy, entertaining him nightly with tales of adventures at sea over the years. "Aye lad, I have had some close calls with rogue whales, foul weather, and even a pirate encounter as well."

Jeremy pressed the captain to give more detail about the pirate episodes. 

Captain Mitchell told Jeremy that the worst pirate in these waters was the infamous, Captain “Black Bart” Upton, and his crew of cutthroat renegades. Upton was feared by every sailor because of his violent nature.

 Captain Mitchell spoke in a low voice. “Upton and his gang of thieves have a standard procedure. First, they follow you, like sharks, from the whale hunting grounds after you have a full load of oil aboard. They fire a cannon round across your bow to force you to heave to so the buggers can board your ship.”

“How do they manage that?”

“They pile into longboats, armed to the teeth. Their crew takes command of your vessel first, then they transfer your oil to their ship.”

“Do they leave you then, Captain?”

The captain shook his head. “No mercy from those bastards, Jeremy. When the oil is transferred, they cut everyone’s throat and sink your ship. Dead men tell no tales, aye, that’s their motto.”

The captain crossed himself and continued, “I was almost at their mercy once, homeward bound off the Bahamas, until a British navy frigate showed up on the horizon and forced Black Bart and his ship the Skeleton Lady to flee the scene.”

Jeremy couldn’t help himself. He scanned the horizon every few minutes hoping that no sails would appear in the distance.

 

The next morning, they sighted a school of sperm whales about half a mile off the starboard bow. Captain Mitchell was in a very good mood as was the crew. They were planning to turn northwards for home, this very day.

 “Jeremy, I haven’t had a chance to get one of these spermers by myself for a long time. The crew usually has all the fun. Come with me, and I’ll show you how an old salt does it.”

Jeremy was apprehensive; he put Betsy’s locket around his neck for good luck. The action made him think of her once more. He decided that very soon, he would have to talk to the captain about his feelings for Betsy and the unfortunate incident in the hayloft.

During his year at sea, Jeremy had seen the whaling crews taken on a dangerous “Nantucket Sleigh Ride” several times. The ride happened when a larger harpooned whale pulled the small whaleboats at high speeds sometimes for several miles. Jeremy prayed he wouldn’t have to endure one of the sleigh rides himself.

The small crew launched a whaleboat onto a choppy sea, then proceeded to chase the pod of sperm whales frolicking on the surface ahead. Captain Mitchell stood poised on the bow, razor-sharp harpoon held at the ready. The captain had a broad smile on his face; he was enjoying the hunt.

 "There's a small ‘un ahead, should be easy pickings. We’ll get this one, lad, then head for home."

 Jeremy spotted the small whale the captain was talking about. It was swimming slowly on the surface, dead ahead. Something about this whale’s small size kept nagging Jeremy in the back of his mind.

Then it dawned on him. Memories of the men at the Seafarer’s Inn in Nantucket talking about their dead shipmates and Captain Mitchell telling him about the death of his son, Jed. In both cases, the ‘King of the Seas had attacked the tiny whaleboats immediately after they harpooned a small whale.

Jeremey asked himself, “Is it possible, that the old sperm whale was only trying to protect the small ones in his herd from danger?”

Jeremy screamed, “Stop Captain!” just as the captain was going to hurl the harpoon deeply into the exposed flank of the small whale ahead. Jeremy grabbed the line attached to the harpoon, pulling back as hard as he could. Because the startled man turned his head at Jeremy’s warning, he didn’t see the monstrous sperm whale surge from the sea immediately between their boat and the baby whale.

It was obvious that the ‘King of the Seas was very old. He bore numerous scars of past encounters with the whaling fleet. His aged skin was a mottled gray and white and covered with barnacles. The whale swam alongside their boat, taking a protective stance over the young one.

Captain Mitchell yelled at Jeremy to release the rope. “Let me kill that damned monster. That’s the one that took the life of my son, Jed!”

Jeremy was still holding the line tightly to prevent the harpoon from being released. He found himself looking directly into the large eye of the whale as it swam alongside their boat. The returning gaze stunned him.

He had a deep feeling that he was staring into the wisdom of an eternal sea. He could almost feel the pain radiating from the ‘King of the Seas.’ In a way, it was as if the animal sensed that Jeremy had prevented the captain from killing the small whale.

With a giant flap of his tail, the King turned away from Jeremy’s boat, escorting the baby whale into safer waters. The whale’s tail movement was not intended to cause harm, but the unintended surge of the sea caused the small boat to rock violently from side to side.

Captain Mitchell lost his footing and fell backward. The weight of his fall, combined with the movement of the boat, caused the captain to land heavily on his right side, the razor-sharp harpoon lay directly under him.

He screamed with pain, "Oh Jeremy, forget me - just don’t let the beast escape."

When Jeremy spotted the blood rapidly pooling beneath the captain, he ignored the orders and yelled instructions to the boat crew to head back to the Sea Rogue as fast as possible. On the way he attempted, as best he could, to stop the flow of blood gushing from the captain’s side.

With the help of the crew, Jeremy got the captain aboard and down to his cabin. They doused the bleeding wound with rum, then bound it tightly with torn remnants of a bedsheet. Jeremy lifted the captain with great difficulty, trying to get him up onto his bunk. The effort of hoisting the heavy-set captain caused Jeremy's shirt buttons to break loose under strain.

Free of confinement, Betsy's engraved, heart-shaped locket hung loosely from Jeremy's neck, in full view of the wounded man. Recognition flashed in the captain's eyes. His last words before passing out from the pain of his wound were, “Oh no, you’re the blackguard who chased my Betsy into the barn. Curse you forever, Jeremy,” Jeremy tried to explain, but the captain was out cold.

 

For the next several days the captain alternated between episodes of raving delirium and moments when total sanity returned. Jeremy remained at the bedside, applying cool cloths to the raving man’s forehead. Even when the captain was asleep, Jeremy continued to talk to him about Betsy, what had happened in the hayloft, and his deep feelings for her.

Jeremy could tell from the foul odor that the captain’s wound was becoming infected with gangrene. He feared Captain Mitchell was close to death. As that final moment drew closer, the captain seemed to regain some of his old vigors. He slowly sat up on his bed and motioned Jeremy to come closer. His voice was low but understandable.

"Jeremy, I know I misjudged you. I’m sorry for that mistake, but I want you to promise me you will get the Sea Rogue safely back to Nantucket."

He groaned in pain and continued, "When you make it to port, you must try and help Betsy. Our business is in serious trouble. If it goes under, I don't know what will happen to my little girl."

Jeremy grasped the captain's hand and swore an oath that he would do everything in his power to do as the captain requested. Captain Mitchell nodded and closed his eyes for good.

 

The next morning the Sea Rogue hove to. All hands assembled to see Captain Mitchell’s mortal remains committed to the deep. Jeremy read a passage from the bible, then told the crew how fortunate they were to have had Captain Richard Mitchell as their leader.

After the burial, Jeremy was sitting in the captain’s cabin when he heard a tentative knock on the door. Freddie Langford, the sailing master, entered.

"Excuse me, Mr. Jeremy, we all know you ain't a real seagoing captain, but the crew has asked me to tell you that we all accept you as our leader aboard the Sea Rogue. We can handle the ship and find our way home, but all of the decisions the captain would have made must come from you.”

Jeremy was overwhelmed at the idea, but he had promised to get the ship safely back to Nantucket. He nodded his acceptance of the responsibilities and went on deck to address the crew. They cheered when he finished his speech.

The winds were fair, and the sea conditions were favorable for a very fast passage home. Freddie Langford reported that they were approaching the south-east corner of Andros Island in the Bahamas, when the lookout yelled, "Sail Ho, five points to starboard."

A mystery ship under full sail was rapidly overtaking the heavily laden Sea Rogue. When Jeremy trained the telescope on the vessel, he was stunned to see the Jolly Roger pirate flag streaming from her mainmast. The pirate ship was considerably larger than the Sea Rogue. Everything about its appearance reeked of malicious intent as it rapidly closed the gap between the ships.

Without warning, the pirate ship opened fire. The cannon shot bounced off the surface of the ocean only a short distance in front of Jeremy’s vessel. As acting captain of an unarmed ship, Jeremey had no choice. He ordered the Sea Rogue to heave to and await her fate.

When the writing on the other ship’s bow revealed her to be the infamous Skeleton Lady under the command of “Black Bart” Upton, Jeremey felt a sense of dread. He recalled the story Captain Mitchell had told him about the deadly treatment of seamen captured by the vicious pirate. But the novice captain had no options. His crew only numbered twelve seamen, with few weapons to defend the ship.

Aboard the Skeleton Lady, Captain “Black Bart” was chortling with glee. He had a fully laden victim in his gun sights, just waiting to be plucked. “Avast, ye blackguards, lower the boats. I want everyone aboard for the plunder.”

One of his crew said, “Who shall we leave aboard to man the helm, captain?”

“One man is more than enough,” said the captain, “leave old Rolly to man the ship; he’s too fat to fight anyway.”

 The pirate crew all laughed as they boarded their boats, armed to the teeth. Easy pickings awaited.

 

Jeremy was filled with remorse. He had promised Captain Mitchell on his deathbed to get the Sea Rogue safely back to port. Now he had two cutters, fully loaded with armed pirates, approaching quickly. He could see “Black Bart” standing in the bow of the leading boat. Sunlight sparkled off the pirate’s cutlass.

The pirate captain wore an evil grin on his weathered face. Jeremy’s crew were grabbing harpoons and whaling knives, useless because they were vastly outnumbered. The situation was desperate until their salvation from the pirate hordes arose without warning from an unexpected quarter.

The surface of the sea erupted in a giant, turbulent wall of water. A huge shape shot high into the air, before falling with a resounding crash directly on top of the first pirate boat, smashing it into splinters. Heavily armed men quickly sank beneath the waves, to encumbered to try to swim.

The avenging beast then turned and submerged completely under the second pirate boat. Everyone aboard the Sea Rogue watched in horrified silence as the last pirate boat was propelled straight up in the air before receiving a devastating blow from the tail of the ‘King of the Seas.’

The pirate captain pleaded with Jeremy to throw him a line. But then the memory of the many innocent seamen condemned to death by this evil man intervened. Jeremy stared at Black Bart and slowly shook his head.

The end was bloodthirsty, but Jeremy’s crew cheered when several dorsal fins surfaced indicating the arrival of some very hungry great white sharks. The pirate had caused the death of many innocent whalers over the years. Now, he and his men were about to taste the revenge of the sea.

A few minutes after the carnage, the old giant sperm whale surfaced atop the debris-strewn ocean. He swam slowly on the surface, circling Jeremy’s ship several times. Jeremy again had the feeling the ‘King of the Seas’ was trying to communicate with him.

It was almost as if the giant was saying, “Now we are even, the slate is clean.” Finally, with one last lazy wave of his tail, the whale sounded and headed for the ocean deep.

 

Jeremy searched the surface of the water with his telescope, but nothing remained of "Black Bart" or his crew. When he trained the scope on the Skeleton Lady, he could see the ship was crewed by a single crew member. He quickly ordered a longboat lowered and, accompanied by four harpoon bearing shipmates, made his way to the pirate ship.

Rolly, the last pirate alive, surrendered quickly to the superior force, allowing himself to be tied up first, then secured in the longboat. After Jeremy ordered the Jolly Roger flag lowered, he set off to explore the captured ship.

A heavy padlock secured the hatchway door to the lower cargo deck. Using one of the harpoons as a lever, Jeremy managed to force the lock. At first, he was hesitant about going below. “Black Bart” had such a reputation for savagery, anything might be waiting. He called to Freddie Langford, his sailing master, to bring two harpoons and a lantern and to join him for the search.

As they descended into the darkness, a wave of sickening odor almost forced their retreat. Jeremy found some cloth scraps hanging on the back of the hatch door. The men used the scraps to cover their noses and continued to investigate the hold.

The lantern cast a feeble light, but it was just strong enough to reveal the horror that lay in front of them. Jeremy gagged, and Freddie moaned, when the light beams fell on a mutilated corpse, nailed to the wall beside a thick oak door. The desiccated body had a sign hanging from its neck. The sign was handwritten in dried blood. It read: “HERE BE A THIEF.”

Freddie wanted to escape, but Jeremy ordered him to stay put. “Freddie, this man, and his sign are a warning. We have to find out what lies behind the door.”

Again, the two men used their heavy bladed harpoons to a good end. The ancient lock on the door finally broke, allowing Jeremy and Freddie to enter.

The contents of the locked area were astounding. The accumulated loot of several seasons at sea flowed out of chests onto the deck itself. “A King’s ransom,” Jeremy said to himself. Gold, silver, diamonds, jewelry of all kinds in abundance.

Obviously, “Black Bart” had felt the locked storage area, guarded by a macabre corpse, was safer than storing his plunder somewhere onshore.

At the far end of the hold, several shelves contained numerous heavy-duty, burlap bags. Jeremy told Freddie to open one of the bags and check out the contents. Freddie did so and turned to Jeremy with a stunned look on his face.

 “Jeremy, you won’t believe this, but these bags are worth more than all this stolen treasure and the value of this ship as well.”

 The bags held a substance far more valuable than gold. They were full of the dried ambergris in such high demand by the perfume makers of Paris. The lumps of ambergris emitted a strange marine like odor.

Jeremy assigned half the crew to the Skeleton Lady, and after they buried the old corpse at sea, he ordered her to take up a position astern of the Sea Rogue for the voyage back to Nantucket.

 

The men were happy; they knew they would be rich men from the share of the bounty promised to them by Jeremy. The crew all held Jeremy in high esteem. Many of them now calling him Captain Jeremy without hesitation.

The sailing master estimated ten more days at sea.  One night while they sailed smoothly under star-speckled skies, he remarked to Jeremy. “I hear there’s a large reward for the capture of “Black Bart” as well. We may not have his body, but having his ship should prove our claim without a doubt.”

 Jeremy laughed at the sailor’s remarks, but as they drew closer and closer to Nantucket, he was dreading the thought of having to tell Betsy about the death of her father.

 

 

 Home to Nantucket

 

The crew aboard the Skeleton Lady on Jeremy’s instructions fumigated the holds and painted every surface they could reach. They did the same with the Sea Rogue. The two vessels made a grand sight when they sailed into the harbor at Nantucket, one year and two months after their departure. People on the docks scattered with the news of the arrival.

When the two ships were tied safely up to the Nantucket main wharf, Jeremy left Freddie Langford in charge and headed up to the “Seafarer’s Inn. He wanted to get cleaned up before he went to see Betsy. As he headed up the cobblestone street, he heard the constant ringing of the central church bells. He stopped in the pub area of the Inn to ask a barmaid what the ringing was about.

Jeremy was concerned, “Did someone die?”

“Oh, no, Sir,” she said. “Although the situation is quite sad.”

Jeremy was also impatient, “Don’t keep me waiting, girl.  I’ve got a shilling for the news.”

The barmaid laughed, “What’s taking place is probably worse than death. Poor Betsy Mitchell is getting married today to some old geezer from London. They say he forced her into the marriage by taking over the debt of the family business. It was the only way she could keep the business afloat until her father returns from his voyage." 

Jeremy tossed the shilling to the girl, turned and ran back to the Sea Rogue. He gave Freddie Langford instructions to arm six crewmen with harpoons and meet him at the church. Jeremy went below decks to arm himself with a secret weapon as well.

 

When Jeremy and his crew of harpooners, crashed through the closed front doors of the church, Betsy was standing at the front of the church, her stricken face as white as the wedding dress she wore. Her expression turned quickly to joy when she realized it was Jeremy.

Standing beside her in a black rumpled, extremely old formal outfit was the familiar and detestable figure of Rolland Crabb.  The old man gasped when he saw Jeremy.

“I thought you were dead, lost at sea, they told me.”

Jeremy laughed. “An untrue story as you can plainly see. Now get the hell away from the young lady so I can give ger a hug.”

Crabb shook his head. “I’m not going anywhere until the debts owed to me by RICHARD MITCHELL & SON. Are paid in full either by marriage or by cash in hand.”

Jeremy opened the bag he was carrying and showed the contents to his uncle. “This should more than cover any debts owed, you old buzzard. If there is any marriage taking place today, it sure as Hell won’t be to you.”

Uncle Rolland looked back at Betsy, then looked at the fortune in ambergris that lay at his feet. As a trader, he knew how valuable the dried material was in Paris.  He had to make a choice. He looked at Jeremy and the harpooners, another furtive glance at Betsy and then again at the treasure. Greed triumphed over lust. Rolland decided on the ambergris. All he wanted was the business anyway.

Jeremy ordered the harpooners to escort Rolland Crabb back to the inn. He would be transferred to the waiting Royal Mail ship, which was due to sail on the morning tide back to London.

 

Betsy crossed the Church floor and threw herself into Jeremy’s warm embrace. For several moments they remained that way. Reluctantly, Jeremy turned to address Reverend Malcolm Hornsby.

 “Reverend, you might as well tell these folks to go home. There won’t be a wedding here today.”

He took Betsy into the registry office and told her about her father’s accident. When Betsy started to cry, he held her tightly and told her of the vow he had made to Captain Mitchell.

“I promised him I would look out for you and the family business, Betsy. I’ll do what I can to help you. Your future is very important to me.”

True to his word, Jeremy worked side by side with Betsy to put the family business back on a firmer foundation. He gradually liquidated the pirate’s treasure, ensuring at each step that all the crew received a fair share.

Because her father had died before the capture of the treasure, he theoretically was not entitled to a share. But after securing agreement from the crew, Jeremy made sure a substantial sum went to Betsy’s bank in Boston.

 

With the business of RICHARD MITCHELL & SON running smoothly, Jeremy finally had to face up to his dilemma. His feelings for Betsy were intense, but he could never quite forget the beguiling manner of Constance Kingman back in London.

Jeremy faced a choice. Stay in the Colonies, marry Betsy and start a new life or return to London and take up where he left off with Connie. It was a difficult choice. Betsy was sweet but naïve, where Constance was worldly and experienced.

Each road led to a completely different life. He sat outside the Inn all night, smoking cigar after cigar until he finally made the decision that would impact the rest of his life. He prayed it was the right one.

 

 

EPILOGUE

 

Betsy Mitchell and Jeremy Whitehall had a very happy marriage. They had a wonderful family of six healthy children. Jeremy never went whaling again. Instead, he and Betsy worked diligently and turned the small family business into the world-famous New England Candle Company. They were very generous with their vast wealth. In addition to numerous charities, they founded the Nantucket Marine University. This educational institute specialized in programs devoted to sustainable and humane whale harvesting.

Shortly after their marriage, Betsy and Jeremy returned to England. On that trip, Jeremy used a small part of his fortune to purchase control of the London based trading firm, Hadwen, Barney & Crabb. He used his ownership of the firm to ensure a system of fair-trading practices was in place for dealing with suppliers in the Colonies.

Uncle Rolland Crabb continued to work at the firm, as a clerk, until his death at the age of 94.

With some trepidation, Jeremy introduced his bride to Constance Kingman. He needn’t have worried, as the two had an instant rapport and, over the years, became very good friends.

After the final deadly rampage on the pirate boats, no sighting of the “King of the Seas” was ever reported again.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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