The Green Flag and Other Tales HTML version

Captain Sharkey
When the great wars of the Spanish Succession had been brought to an end by the Treaty
of Utrecht, the vast number of privateers which had been fitted out by the contending
parties found their occupation gone. Some took to the more peaceful but less lucrative
ways of ordinary commerce, others were absorbed into the fishing fleets, and a few of the
more reckless hoisted the Jolly Rodger at the mizzen, and the bloody flag at the main,
declaring a private war upon their own account against the whole human race.
With mixed crews, recruited from every nation, they scoured the seas, disappearing
occasionally to careen in some lonely inlet, or putting in for a debauch at some outlying
port, where they dazzled the inhabitants by their lavishness, and horrified them by their
On the Coromandel Coast, at Madagascar, in the African waters, and above all in the
West Indian and American seas, the pirates were a constant menace. With an insolent
luxury they would regulate their depredations by the comfort of the seasons, harrying
New England in the summer, and dropping south again to the tropical islands in the
They were the more to be dreaded because they had none of that discipline and restraint
which made their predecessors, the Buccaneers, both formidable and respectable. These
Ishmaels of the sea rendered an account to no man, and treated their prisoners according
to the drunken whim of the moment. Flashes of grotesque generosity alternated with
longer stretches of inconceivable ferocity, and the skipper who fell into their hands might
find himself dismissed with his cargo, after serving as boon companion in some hideous
debauch, or might sit at his cabin table with his own nose and his lips served up with
pepper and salt in front of him. It took a stout seaman in those days to ply his calling in
the Caribbean Gulf.
Such a man was Captain John Scarrow, of the ship _Morning Star_, and yet he breathed a
long sigh of relief when he heard the splash of the falling anchor and swung at his
moorings within a hundred yards of the guns of the citadel of Basseterre. St. Kitt's was
his final port of call, and early next morning his bowsprit would be pointed for Old
England. He had had enough of those robber-haunted seas. Ever since he had left
Maracaibo upon the Main, with his full lading of sugar and red pepper, he had winced at
every topsail which glimmered over the violet edge of the tropical sea. He had coasted up
the Windward Islands, touching here and there, and assailed continually by stories of
villainy and outrage.