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."

King of the Seas

 

Jeremy’s arrival

 

 

 

NANTUCKET - MAY 12TH, 1768

 

Prologue:

 

I ran straight downhill as fast as my long legs would carry me. The treacherous rain-slicked, cobblestone streets, littered with numerous steaming piles of horse droppings, didn't slow my frantic pace a bit. I had a very good reason for my terror. Simply put, I was running for my life.

Because of an unfortunate misunderstanding, I was being chased down the hill by an extremely agitated man. Unfortunately, my assailant was rapidly gaining ground by the minute. My pursuer was also carrying a very sharp and deadly whaler’s harpoon. Bile rose in my throat as I imagined the searing agony if my pursuer chose to hurl the weapon deep between my shoulder blades. I knew I had to find a place to hide – now.

Although the rain limited my visibility, I could see a long line of darkened ships tied up in a row along the ancient wooden jetty. Good, no sign of any crew on the deserted dock. I assumed they were all at the inn for their evening meal. I picked the third ship in the line at random, and quietly climbed the gangplank to the main deck. A wooden staircase led me below decks through an open hatchway.

I silently descended down the narrow stairway and found a large open storeroom containing numerous sets of canvas sails. I burrowed deep beneath a pile of the sails and tried to control the violent beating of my heart and the sounds of my frantic breathing.

As I lay there under a pile of the damp canvas, a thought crossed my mind- I have made a grave mistake, I should not have run away. I should have stayed with Betsy and explained that my pursuer was mistaken.

 

 

LONDON, THREE MONTHS EARLIER:

 

My name is Jeremy Whitehall. I was born and bred a gentleman in Wiltshire, England, although I’ve spent most of my twenty-two years living in London, the world’s greatest city in my humble opinion. I’ve been living a good life up until now, but to my intense dismay, I find myself being pressured into accepting a top-secret assignment to the colonies at the bidding of my detestable Uncle Rolland Crabb. I despised both my uncle and the abhorrent nature of my mission.

I was hoping the upcoming odious task wouldn't take too long to accomplish as my overriding ambition was to finish the job and get back to the delights of London as soon as I could. I had numerous friends of both sexes that would be waiting patiently for me to return. As a tall, handsome single male with above average intelligence, I knew I was on the guest list for most of the season’s dinner parties. And of course, I knew I would be missed daily at the club.

Unfortunately, my late father, William Whitehall, the Third, proved to be as inept at gambling as he was in running the family estate. This sad state of affairs caused me to be placed under the wing of my mother’s older brother, Rolland Crabb.  My uncle was the type of man who did not take kindly to fools or needy relatives.

Rolland Crabb was the managing partner of Halton, 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. He ruled the company with an iron hand, always on the lookout for the next penny to squeeze.

My uncle was furious. He had just received word that, in the future, the price for special wax candles from the Colonies was going up by more than double. In a world without electricity, candles were in very high demand. High-quality candles were one of the best-selling items for the trading company.

My job at the company was supposed to be as a special assistant to Rolland. In reality I was given the job of cleaning up whatever was currently bothering him the most. I spent the majority of my time just trying to stay out of his way. I was vaguely aware that there was some sort of problem brewing in the colonies. But I had no idea I was about to be dragged into the middle of the mess.

At our last meeting, my bitter old uncle had been very explicit and vulgar in his instructions. I sat in one of his old horsehair stuffed chairs pretending to listen to his grating voice, but in reality, I just wanted to get out of his office and back to my club.

His rant continued while I daydreamed of the pleasures waiting for me with my cronies at the Mayfair club. But when I heard him make reference to me leaving London for good, his voice rudely interrupted my thoughts.  He now had my full attention.

“Jeremy, I don’t give a rat’s droppings how you do it. You have two important tasks to achieve in Nantucket. No excuses are acceptable. Don’t even think about returning to London, ever again, unless you are successful with both of them. There will be nothing here for you.”

Surely, I must have heard him incorrectly. Banned to the wasteland of the colonies? I scrambled for an excuse.

“Uncle Crabb, I do think there are many other better-qualified staff members for this particular assignment. I have absolutely no knowledge of candles or Nantucket. 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.”

I had an uneasy feeling that I was starting to get the message of what “or else” meant.

 

 

I knew from our discussions that Rolland was fed up with being held to ransom by what he referred to as the blood-sucking ungrateful colonials in the colonies.  Every time he placed an order with Nantucket, his blood reached the boiling point. Uncle Crabb had obviously decided the time had come to put these impudent Yankees in their place, once and for all.

I didn't like my Uncle Rolland very much. Privately, I considered him to be a money-grubbing tightwad with no redeeming graces. He was a spiteful old man to boot. However, with no other income source outside of my job at the firm and a small monthly allowance, I had no choice but to listen carefully to my uncle’s instructions.

“After you arrive in Nantucket, 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. Be on the lookout for any of the suppliers who may be vulnerable so we can buy them out cheaply.”

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

“No! You’re a bloody 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.”

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

 

When my Hackney carriage drew to a stop in front of the club, I drew my cape around my shoulders, tipped the driver a sixpence, and stepped out onto the muddy road. A swarm of begging orphans quickly besieged me. I threw all my loose change into the air and entered the club to a chorus of – “Thank you, kind Sir.” I felt sorry for the little beggars. The streets of London were filled with them these days.

The doorman, Bentley, took my top hat and cape before escorting me to the member’s private gaming salon. The elegant 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. She stopped abruptly when she spotted me and excused herself from the men at the table, promising to return soon.

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. I was one of the very few people who knew Constance was, in fact, the majority owner of the club. Over time she had become a very wealthy woman.

I was fond of the lady, and possibly in the future, it could lead to something more. Connie was a beautiful, intelligent and lustful woman. I knew Constance wanted more, but right now my life was in too much of a turmoil to get involved in something long term.

She advanced with a wide, flirtatious smile on her face. I met her half way. She kissed me warmly on both cheeks before embracing me. We walked arm in arm back to my table and talked. She mentioned my trip to Nantucket first.

 “Jeremy, my heart was almost breaking. I thought you were going to leave for the new world without even saying goodbye.”

I hugged her tightly. “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 me 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’s no getting around it. My uncle is a vile and ruthless 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 me to give her more details. I trusted Connie, so I unloaded. I told her that Uncle Crabb expected me to lie, cheat, and steal information from the Nantucket 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?”

I knew Constance Kingman to be many things, but above all, she was a realist. She decided to speak her mind. She was worried about me. She thought I 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, all my friends had arrived, and the farewell party got started. We drank, we sang, we danced, and we ate. I just wanted to forget my problems for the night, but unfortunately, I couldn’t. I found myself looking for Connie again. I located her keeping a watchful eye on the gambling tables. I motioned for her to join me 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. Possibly then, 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. Now come with me. I have a farewell present for you.”

 She reached across and kissed me softly on my lips. Then she took my hand and led me slowly up the stairs to the small living quarters she maintained above the club. After another bottle of champagne, I spent the night with Connie and discovered her reputation as a lusty woman was greatly understated.

At the morning breakfast table, she said, “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.”

When we finished our meal, she kissed me, said goodbye and started to leave. I returned the kiss with a feeling of sadness. I didn’t want to leave, but I had little choice.

To avoid wagging tongues, I slipped out the side entrance of the club and made my way back to my lodgings. I still needed to pack my trunk. The Royal Mail ship, HMS TRENT, was due to sail on the morning tide.

As I traveled the cobblestone streets of London in the early morning darkness, I wondered if I would ever see Connie again.

 

 

Betsy Mitchell

 

The Royal Mail ship, RMS TRENT, glided gently to a full stop at the main wharf for the Town of Nantucket. We were arriving after a difficult Atlantic crossing, having left the Port of London some weeks ago. I stood at the rail and cast a jaundiced eye at the small weathered town, comparing it in my mind to the magnificent city I had left behind.

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

I learned from my readings that 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, in addition to their regular whaling activities, had branched out into building ships and specialty candle manufacturing.

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 two thousand 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.

According to my uncle, 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,  prices were skyrocketing around the world. This was the monopoly driving Uncle Rolland mad with envy. The monopoly he wanted to eventually control himself.

I had put down my book, thinking, I don’t like it, but my detestable mission is to help break the stranglehold of the whalers' monopoly, once and for all. I know Uncle Crabb is ruthless and won’t hesitate to cut me off if I don’t do as he’s ordered.

 

 

Now, with the boat docked in Nantucket, I set off to explore the waterfront. I wanted to assess the possibility of putting my uncle’s plan into action so I could return to the pleasures of London without delay. Just a short distance from the jetty, I spotted the Seafarer’s Inn on Water street. It appeared clean enough so I booked a single room then I changed into clothing more suitable for my mission before venturing out into the driving rain.

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

I knocked briefly on the old warped wooden door and entered. The interior light was dim, but I 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.

I 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 so engaged, I guarantee 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.”

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

I introduced himself and said I 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.”

I nodded my head and listened as she outlined the salary and other terms of the job. I thanked her and quickly accepted the position. At this point, I would have taken the job without pay. I wasn’t sure why I felt so nervous around her, especially when she kept smiling at me that way.

Evidentially, Betsy liked the looks of her new applicant because she told me to report for work the following day.

 

 

After returning to the Seafarer’s Inn, I unpacked my few belongings and joined a group of local sailors in the smoke-filled pub. I 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 whaling voyage. They were now drinking a quiet toast to four of their comrades who had died at sea.

When I 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.”

I bought several rounds of dark rum for the sailors, encouraging them to tell the story of their voyage. In particular, I 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 me about the gigantic rogue sperm whale that was creating havoc with the whaling fleet. He said all the seamen lived in constant fear of running afoul of the beast. Many men were refusing to sail.

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.”

I 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, I showed up early at the old brick building. Betsy Mitchell was already at her desk. She gave me 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 I was finding it difficult to concentrate.

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

For the next few weeks, I tried to concentrate on the spy mission that my Uncle Rolland Crabb had given me. It was clear to me 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 my greedy Uncle Rolland.

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

I had still not met Captain Mitchell in person. Betsy explained that her father was still 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 I could meet her father before he sailed on the Sea Rogue on May 13th for the North coast of Brazil.

Because Betsy was worried about the family business, she slowly started sharing her concerns with me just listening as a friendly ear. We had lunch together on a picnic table under the gnarled old apple tree almost every day. This particular day, Betsy was upset because she still hadn’t heard from her father.

“I hope nothing has happened to him, Jeremy. Boston is a rough place these days. He should have been back by now.”

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

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

 

Stowaway

 

MAY 12TH, 1768

 

I was running for my life.

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

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

I was trying out the softness of the new-mown hay and, just as a joke, had pulled Betsy down beside me. 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’m staying, Betsy, your father simply 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 me and kissed me full on the lips.

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

I swore I would return and then fled out into the rainy night. Her angry father was close on my heels.

 

I could almost feel the point of the harpoon on my 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. I took advantage of this sudden break by quickly turning into a darkened alleyway leading down to the docks. I started to search for a haven where I could hide from the wrath of my pursuer, but the docks were devoid of any piles of cargo or other shelter.

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

I descended into a large open storeroom containing numerous sets of canvas sails. I burrowed beneath a pile of the damp sails, lying very quietly, trying to control the violent beating of my heart and the sounds of my frantic breathing.

I 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 where I was hiding, he shouted: "Come out, you little weasel and face the music."

Although I was frightened, I tried to stifle my 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. I was exhausted from the events of the day. I didn’t want to take a chance to meet him again until he had cooled down long enough for me to explain what I was doing in the hayloft with Betsy.

I decided to stay in place until daybreak and then work out some plan to get things back to normal. I smiled at the memory of the unexpected and enthusiastic kiss I received from Betsy earlier. I pulled the canvas sail up over my head, held her silver locket gently in my right hand, and fell into a deep slumber.

 

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

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

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

I rapidly deduced that the man must be none other than the infamous Captain Mitchell, Betsy’s father. I was now stuck with him, aboard a ship loaded with harpoons, somewhere at sea. I was fairly confident that the good Captain hadn’t had more than a glimpse of me during my escape from the hayloft or during our chase. I 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 I knew I 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.”

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

I closed my eyes and prayed that the voyage would be a short one, although I had heard that many of the whaling expeditions could stretch out over several years. For a few moments, I contemplated throwing myself over the side.

 

Over the next few days, I managed to convince the Captain that my talents were best used aboard the ship as the purser. As purser, I 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 I could play chess, he was easily won over. I was duly appointed Purser for the ship.

After a week at sea, 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. I was on-deck standing beside Captain Mitchell, taking my turn at the helm. We hadn’t passed another vessel since leaving Nantucket. The salt air and the wind on my face almost made me forget my many troubles.

I loved the changing color of the sea as the ship drew closer to the Bahamas. The beautiful shades of emerald green reminded me of Betsy’s eyes. I was daydreaming about Betsy and didn’t hear the Captain talking to me.

 “Pay attention, you damned lubber!” The Captain barked.

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

“I said, I don’t like to spend too much time in Nassau, its a den of thieves and full of rogues and pirates too.”

“Are we in any danger, Captain?” 

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

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

“Those damned scavengers wait until the whaling ships have a full cargo of whale oils before they attack. We do all the work, and these blasted heathens take all the profits. But what they are really after is any ambergris we might have on board.”

“Ambergris, Captain?”

“Aye, the stuff’s worth a fortune. 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 of ambergris on top of the water. It’s even been known to float ashore sometimes.”

I was puzzled. “But why is it so valuable, Captain?”

“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’re spraying themselves with whale poop?”

 

We 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 me 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 if pirates and whalers 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 me 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.”

“Do you know why the whale attacked them?”

“Who can read the mind of a monster? Something seems to trigger the beast. Maybe if I ever get close enough, I’ll ask him, right before I drive my harpoon between his eyes,” said the Captain, laughing and crying at the same time.

I decided I should get the Captain back to the ship. As I was helping the inebriated man, he suddenly stopped walking. 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 in my hayloft, I’ll wring his neck without mercy.”

I just gulped and said nothing.

We 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 me he expected to be whale hunting within thirty days. I moved slowly up to the bowsprit at the front of the Sea Rogue and stared down at the surging white waters streaming off the hull.

I mused aloud, “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 our 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 me, almost treating me as a surrogate for his lost son. He entertained me almost every night with tales of his 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. But when all is said and done, I still love the sea and couldn’t picture living any other life.”"

I pressed the Captain to give me more detail about the pirate episodes. I wanted to know everything I could in case we had an encounter.

He told me 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, after you have a full load of oil aboard, they follow you like sharks from the whale hunting grounds. When the coast is clear, 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 leave one crew member to guard their vessel, Then, they pile into longboats, armed to the teeth. After they board, their crew takes command of your vessel first, then they transfer your oil to their ship.”

“Do they leave you alone then, Captain?”

The Captain shook his head. “No mercy from those bastards, Jeremy. After 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, we were in deep trouble until a British navy frigate showed up on the horizon and forced Black Bart and his ship, the Skeleton Lady, to flee the scene.”

I couldn’t help myself. After hearing about Black Bart, I scanned the horizon every few minutes, hoping that no sails would appear in the distance.

 

 

The next morning, we 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. We 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.”

I was apprehensive; I put Betsy’s locket around my neck for good luck. The action made me think of her once more. I decided that very soon, I would have to talk to the Captain about my feelings for Betsy and the unfortunate incident in the hayloft.

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

“Perhaps I should stay behind, Captain, and do a final inventory count?”

“Nonsense, lad. You can count barrels any time, but the chance to go on the hunt only comes on rare occasions. Get your bum in the boat.”

 

Our 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; I could see he was enjoying the hunt immensely.

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

I 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 me in the back of my mind. Something quite important.

Then it dawned on me. Memories of the men at the Seafarer’s Inn in Nantucket talking about their dead shipmates and Captain Mitchell telling me 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.

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

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

I couldn’t believe my eyes. The giant was close enough for me to have touched him from my seat. 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 kept his position alongside our boat, sheltering the young one with his bulk.

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

I was still holding the line tightly to prevent the harpoon from being released. While doing so, I found myself looking directly into the large eye of the whale as it swam alongside our boat. The returning gaze stunned me.

I felt like I was staring into the wisdom of an eternal sea. I could almost see the pain radiating from the ‘King of the Seas.’ In some subliminal way, it was as if the animal sensed that I had prevented the Captain from killing the baby whale.

With a giant flap of his tail, the King turned away from our boat, escorting the small whale into safer waters. The whale’s tail movement didn’t appear to intend to cause harm, but the unintended surge of the sea caused our small boat to rock violently from side to side.

Without warning, 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.

First he screamed with pain, then pleaded, " Forget about me, just don’t let the beast escape."

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

With the help of the crew, I got the Captain aboard and down to his cabin. It was a difficult task as he screamed in agony, going down the hatchway stairs. We doused the bleeding wound with rum, then bound it tightly with torn remnants of a bedsheet.

It took all my strength to get him up onto his bunk. The effort of hoisting the heavy-set man caused my shirt buttons to break loose under strain. Free of confinement, Betsy's engraved, heart-shaped locket hung loosely from my neck, in full view of the wounded man.

I tried to hide the locket, but recognition flashed in the Captain's eyes. His face glazed over with disgust, and he snarled, “Oh no, you’re the blackguard who chased my Betsy into the barn. I treated you like a son, and this is my repayment. May God curse you forever, Jeremy,”

I desperately tried to explain about the locket, but the Captain couldn’t hear me. He had passed out from the pain of his wound.  My heart ached from the words of his curse.

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

One morning, I awoke instantly aware of a foul odor in the cabin. There was no question now, the Captain’s wound was becoming infected with gangrene. I feared Captain Mitchell was close to death. As the day passed and that final moment drew closer, the Captain seemed to regain some of his old vigors. He slowly sat up on his bed and motioned me to come closer. His voice was low but still understandable.

"Jeremy, I know now that I misjudged you. I’m sorry for my mistake. You must forgive me for that terrible curse. I know my end is near, but I want you to promise me you will get the Sea Rogue safely back to Nantucket."

He groaned in pain. "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."

I grasped the Captain's hand and swore an oath that I would do everything in my power to do as he requested.  A short while later, Captain Richard Mitchell nodded and closed his eyes for the last time.  I tried to be stoic, but I couldn’t stop my tears from flowing.

 

The next morning the Sea Rogue hove to. It was a beautiful sun-filled day with calm seas. All hands assembled to witness Captain Mitchell’s mortal remains committed to the deep. I read a passage from the bible, then told the crew how fortunate they were to have had Richard Mitchell as their leader.

They were tough, hard men but many had tears flowing when we finally raised our sails and left our Captain behind.

After the burial, I returned to the Captain’s cabin intending to discard the foul-smelling bed linen, when I heard a tentative knock on the door. Freddie Langford, the sailing master, entered. He took his cap off. He looked nervous and unsure. He spoke in a respectful tone.

"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.”

I was overwhelmed at the idea of becoming the ship’s Captain, albeit temporarily, but I had promised to get the ship safely back to Nantucket. I thought about the proposal for a few minutes then went on deck to address the crew. I told them the pledge I made on the Captain’s deathbed to get the ship safely home, they cheered and to a man, they shook my hand.

 

The winds continued to blow fair, and the sea conditions were favorable for a very fast passage home. After a few more days, Freddie Langford reported that we were approaching the south-east corner of Andros Island in the Bahamas. I was checking the charts when the lookout yelled a warning.

 "Sail Ho, five points to starboard."

A mystery ship, under full sail, appeared to be rapidly overtaking our heavily laden Sea Rogue. When I trained the telescope on the vessel, I 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.

The intruder was rapidly closing the gap between our 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 our vessel. I knew the next one would be through our hull. As acting captain of an unarmed ship, I had no choice. I ordered the Sea Rogue to heave to and await her fate. I hoped I could reason with her Captain.

When the writing on the other ship’s bow revealed her to be the infamous Skeleton Lady under the command of Black Bart Upton, I felt a sense of dread. I recalled the story Captain Mitchell had told me about the deadly treatment of seamen captured by the vicious pirate. But I had no options. My crew only numbered twelve seamen, with few weapons to defend our 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 laughed as they boarded their small boats, armed to the teeth. Easy pickings awaited.

 

I was filled with remorse. I had promised Captain Mitchell on his deathbed to get the Sea Rogue safely back to port. Now I had two cutters, fully loaded with armed pirates, approaching quickly. I 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 His grin widened as they drew closer.

My crew was grabbing harpoons and whaling knives, probably in vain, because we were vastly outnumbered. Our situation was desperate. I took one of the remaining harpoons. I knew we were all dead men, but I planned to try and take Black Bart with me to a watery grave.

I learned a lesson that day. Even if a situation seems hopeless, there is always the possibility of a reprieve. Ours arrived without warning from a most unexpected quarter.

Moments before the first pirate cutter reached our side, the surface of the sea erupted in a giant, turbulent wall of water. A huge shape shot high into the air, hovering for seconds before falling with a resounding crash directly on top of the first pirate boat. The wooden craft was instantly smashed into splinters. The heavily armed pirates quickly sank beneath the waves, too encumbered to even attempt to swim.

The avenging beast then sounded a water spout and submerged completely under the second pirate boat, the one with Black Bart aboard. Everyone aboard the Sea Rogue waited in horrified silence, but nothing happened. Minutes passed. We prepared ourselves for being boarded, but before our eyes, the last pirate boat was propelled straight up in the air on the back of its attacker. It teetered there for an instant before receiving a devastating blow from the tail of the ‘King of the Seas.’

Although most of his men sunk without a trace, Black Bart had managed to stay afloat by seizing a damaged plank from the first pirate boat. He looked up at me and pleaded for me to throw him a line. But then the memory of the many innocent seamen condemned to death by this evil man intervened. I’m not a heartless man, but I stared back at Black Bart and slowly shook my head.

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

A few minutes after the carnage ended, the old giant sperm whale surfaced atop the debris-strewn ocean. He swam slowly on the surface, circling our ship several times. Again, I had an eerie feeling the King of the Seas was trying to communicate with me. It was almost as our giant savior was saying, “Now we’re even, the slate is clean.”

Finally, with one last lazy wave of his tail, the whale sounded and headed for the ocean deep. In a few more moments, the sharks left as well. Other than the floating debris, it was almost as if nothing out of the ordinary had taken place here that day.

 

 

I searched the surface of the water with my telescope, but nothing remained of Black Bart or his crew. When I trained the scope on the Skeleton Lady, I could see the ship was crewed by a single crew member. I quickly ordered a longboat lowered and, accompanied by four harpoon bearing shipmates, made my 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 I ordered the Jolly Roger flag lowered, we set off to explore the captured ship. The pirate ship was much larger than the Sea Rogue.

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

As we descended into the darkness, a wave of sickening odor almost forced our retreat. I found some cloth scraps hanging on the back of the hatch door. We used the scraps to cover our noses so we could continue 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 us. I 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 I ordered him to stay put. “Freddie, this man, and that sign is a warning. We have to find out what lies behind the door.”

Again, we used our heavy bladed harpoons to a good end. The ancient lock on the door finally broke, allowing us to enter the mysterious space behind the door.

The contents of the locked area were astounding. The accumulated loot of several seasons at sea flowed out of chests onto the deck itself. Gold, silver, diamonds, and jewelry of all kinds in abundance.

A King’s ransom, I thought to myself.

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. I told Freddie to open one of the bags and check out the contents while I tried to count the chests of coins. Freddie did so and returned to me 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.”

“Are you daft, Freddie?”

“No, Captain. Every one of these bags is full of ambergris.”

Freddie was right. The burlap 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, not totally unpleasant to the nose.

 

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

My crew was happy. After I described our findings, they knew they would be rich men from their share of the bounty I promised them. I knew the crew held me in high esteem because many of them were now calling me Captain Jeremy without hesitation.

I knew Black Bart wasn’t the only pirate operating in the area, so we maintained a continuous watch around the clock for any suspicious craft. The sailing master estimated ten more days at sea.  One night while we sailed smoothly under star-speckled skies, he passed on a rumor he had heard Nassau.

 “In addition to the value of the Skeleton Lady’s cargo, I hear there’s a large reward for the capture of Black Bart as well. We may not have his body, Captain, but having his ship should prove our claim without a doubt.”

I laughed at the sailor’s remarks, but as we drew closer and closer to Nantucket, my thoughts were heading in a more personal direction. I 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 my instructions fumigated the holds and painted every surface they could reach. They did the same with the Sea Rogue, so our two vessels made a grand sight when we sailed into the harbor at Nantucket, one year and two months after our departure. People on the docks scattered quickly with news of our arrival.

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

 “Did someone die, Sally?”

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

 “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.”

“What?”

“Yes, married 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." 

I tossed the shilling to the girl, turned, and ran back to the Sea Rogue. I gave Freddie Langford instructions to arm six crewmen with harpoons and meet me at the church. I had an idea, so I went below decks to arm myself with a secret weapon as well.

When I led my crew of harpooners crashing 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 me.

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

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

I laughed. “An untrue story as you can plainly see. Now get the hell away from the young lady so I can give her 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. And you, you slacker. Get your behind on the next boat to London. I’ll deal with you after my honeymoon.”

I guess my uncle didn’t realize he was dealing with a different individual than the one he sent from England to do his dirty work. A year at sea had toughened me considerably, both physically and mentally. I left London as a callow youth, but now I was a seasoned sea Captain. And a wealthy one to boot.

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

Uncle Rolland looked at me and realized I was in charge of the situation. He stared 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 my harpooners and me, another furtive glance at Betsy, and then again at the treasure. Finally, greed triumphed over lust. Rolland decided on the ambergris.

I ordered my harpooners to escort uncle Rolland back to the inn.  From there, he would be transferred to the waiting Royal Mail ship, which was due to sail on the morning tide back to London. I waited for a parting word, but he said nothing. Just clutched the ambergris and stared ahead.

 

Betsy ran across the church floor and threw herself into my waiting embrace. For several moments we remained that way before I reluctantly broke loose and talked to Reverend Malcolm Hornsby. “Reverend, you might as well tell these folks to go home. I’m sorry, but there won’t be a wedding here today.”

I took Betsy into the registry office and told her about her father’s accident. When Betsy started to cry, I held her tightly and told her of the vow I made to her father as he lay dying.

“I promised your father 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.”

Over the next several months, I worked side by side with Betsy to put the family business back on a firmer foundation. I 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. After securing agreement from the crew, I made sure a substantial sum went to Betsy’s bank in Boston.

With the business of RICHARD MITCHELL & SON running smoothly, I finally had to face up to my dilemma. My feelings for Betsy were intense and genuine, but I could never quite forget the beguiling memories of Constance Kingman back in London.

 

I faced a difficult choice. Stay in the Colonies, marry Betsy and start a new life or return to London and take up where I left off with Connie. It was a difficult choice. Betsy was sweet but naïve, where Constance was worldly and experienced. I felt I could be happy with either of the women in my life.

But each road led to a completely different life. I sat outside the Inn all night, smoking cigar after cigar until I finally made the decision that would impact the rest of my life. I 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 to turn 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.

 

The end

Visit https://www.amazon.com/author/wessnowden  for more books by Wes Snowden

Comments/reviews to: wessnowden98@gmail.com appreciated

 

 

 

 


Submitted: August 08, 2019

© Copyright 2020 easywriter. All rights reserved.

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