The Last Galley Impressions and Tales HTML version

The Blighting Of Sharkey
Sharkey, the abominable Sharkey, was out again. After two years of the Coromandel
coast, his black barque of death, _The Happy Delivery_, was prowling off the Spanish
Main, while trader and fisher flew for dear life at the menace of that patched fore-topsail,
rising slowly over the violet rim of the tropical sea.
As the birds cower when the shadow of the hawk falls athwart the field, or as the jungle
folk crouch and shiver when the coughing cry of the tiger is heard in the night-time, so
through all the busy world of ships, from the whalers of Nantucket to the tobacco ships of
Charleston, and from the Spanish supply ships of Cadiz to the sugar merchants of the
Main, there spread the rumour of the black curse of the ocean.
Some hugged the shore, ready to make for the nearest port, while others struck far out
beyond the known lines of commerce, but none were so stout-hearted that they did not
breathe more freely when their passengers and cargoes were safe under the guns of some
mothering fort.
Through all the islands there ran tales of charred derelicts at sea, of sudden glares seen
afar in the night-time, and of withered bodies stretched upon the sand of waterless
Bahama Keys. All the old signs were there to show that Sharkey was at his bloody game
once more.
These fair waters and yellow-rimmed, palm-nodding islands are the traditional home of
the sea rover. First it was the gentleman adventurer, the man of family and honour, who
fought as a patriot, though he was ready to take his payment in Spanish plunder.
Then, within a century, his debonnaire figure had passed to make room for the
buccaneers, robbers pure and simple, yet with some organized code of their own,
commanded by notable chieftains, and taking in hand great concerted enterprises.
They, too, passed with their fleets and their sacking of cities, to make room for the worst
of all, the lonely outcast pirate, the bloody Ishmael of the seas, at war with the whole
human race. This was the vile brood which the early eighteenth century had spawned
forth, and of them all there was none who could compare in audacity, wickedness, and
evil repute with the unutterable Sharkey.
It was early in May, in the year 1720, that _The Happy Delivery_ lay with her fore-yard
aback some five leagues west of the Windward Passage, waiting to see what rich,
helpless craft the trade-wind might bring down to her.
Three days she had lain there, a sinister black speck, in the centre of the great sapphire
circle of the ocean. Far to the south-east the low blue hills of Hispaniola showed up on
the skyline.