The Diamonds of Saba Island

Submitted into Contest #67 in response to: Write about a pirate captain obsessed with finding a mythical treasure.... view prompt

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Adventure Historical Fiction Drama

The angry crew is gathering outside my cabin door. I hear the bosun’s powerful voice subdue the furious mob. He’s been appointed to deliver their ruling. “You’ve drawn the short straw, lad!” he says. “You’ll be leaving with the captain in five minutes.” The satiated crew retreats down the corridor, leaving me in peace to pack my belongings.

I scramble down the cargo netting and join Captain Trimble and his two officers in the long boat. They’re waiting for me amongst an untidy collection of their boxes and personal effects. Old Trimble lifts his gaze to scrutinise the assembled crew at the stern of The Mighty Seahorse. 

   “Good riddance!” he roars. “You mutinous scum!”

They cheer and return a volley of obscenities over the taffrail. 

Captain Trimble stands proud on our boat’s boards and defies the ocean’s swell. 

He lifts his right hand to eye level and points a crooked finger at each sailor in turn. With a final cursory flourish, he dismisses them en masse.

   “To Hell with the lot of you!” He’s made his point and resumes a position of command at the prow of our craft.

The bosun elbows his way the through the rabble on the stern deck. 

They clear space for him to approach the wooden rail.

There is a glint of sharpened steel and he brandishes a heavy blade.

Old Trimble narrows his beady eye as if he’s squaring up to his usurper.

The crew’s decision stands and the bosun hacks our boat’s tether. 

The limp rope tumbles down past three decks into the sea.

The bosun replaces the cutlass back in its scabbard. 

All is silent on The Seahorse, apart from the desolate creak of ancient timbers. 

Serpent-like, the umbilical line undulates on the water below our prow. 

With both hands, the bosun raises his trophy into the air and hurls it overboard.

It spins and flops, landing flat on the rolling water.

The sheath resists the sea’s merciless grasp; its cork interior holds the cutlass afloat. 

Mr Griswold, the second officer, swings our grappling hook toward the bobbing package. On his next attempt, he snags the weapon’s leather belt strap.

He hauls the rope in and draws it close to our vessel.

Our craft yaws sharply as Trimble lurches forward to grasp his prized cutlass. 

His gnarly fingers seize the hilt, he lifts it to his thin lips and mutters to himself.

   “May Satan’s fury take you all.”

We part company as if we are the cursed pariahs limping into the desert; a sacrifice made for the benefit of those left on board.

   The gap widens between the two vessels. We hear distant shouts and see activity on board. The crew are climbing the rigging and preparing to unfurl the sheets. They mean to depart as soon as possible with any wind that’s available. 


Captain Trimble takes a forward thwart seat and rummages through his cabin trunk. Without looking up, he commands Mr Urquhart to steady the helm and orders Mr Griswold and I to prepare the oars.

He extracts a brass compass, a rolled chart and a log-book. 

From inside his coat, Trimble draws a telescope and raises to his glittering eye. 

He scans the western horizon, consults his notes and determines a route. 

Raising his head from the paper work he points his arm westward. 

   “Mr Urquhart, take my line if you please.” 

The First Officer responds by adjusting the rudder and holds it steady on Trimble’s course. Meanwhile, Griswold and I pull on the oars and we head off to God knows where.

#

Talk is cheap on a long voyage and rumours about Trimble’s treasure were rife on the Seahorse.  I heard that Trimble had been commissioned as a privateer for the British Government.  His daring methods and expert seamanship led him to be very successful and he’d strayed into outright piracy. It was said that he trusted no one and had buried his entire fortune somewhere in the Lesser Antilles chain. 

   No one knows the name of the island and all the previous crew disappeared on their return to the Eastern Seaboard. There are whispers from Port Royal to Fort-de-France but with no living witnesses, the treasure exists in hearsay and gossip. It seems Trimble is right to be wary and he has few friends anywhere.

He crossed beyond the point where any government could defend his actions. 

Nowadays, the Captain’s only hope of redemption is to secure his fabled diamondsto serve as a bargaining chip in negotiations to avoid punishment.

#

With the world conspiring against him on one hand and his obsession about retrieving his diamonds on the other, Captain Trimble has pushed his crew to their limit. He was known as a taskmaster and commanded his ship with strict rules and harsh discipline. Urquhart and Griswold were quick to come down on transgressions and were fierce with the lash. The crew had been loyal as long as they saw a regular bonus beyond their monthly salary. However, the British customs officials had been pressing Trimble hard for six months. Trimble had spent more time evading capture than plundering booty and the payroll was five months behind. The officers were confronted by mass unrest and struggled to maintain order. Also, there was growing resentment about my presence and a suspicion that I’d brought bad luck on board.  The final catalytic element to bring about Trimble’s downfall was the weather. The Seahorse had been caught in the doldrums between Dutch Colonial Islands, and I was now trapped on board.

#

It was no accident that I ended up on The Seahorse although it was not of my choosing. I was well known in Virginia Beach as a cartographic draughtsman and I had acquaintances in every maritime gateway on the East Coast. One night I was celebrating with colleagues in Newport Harbour and, before I knew it, I woke up on board The Seahorse. Captain Trimble was vague about his area of activity but apparently I’d agreed to help him with a mapping issue. In retrospect it’s no coincidence that I am now accompanying Trimble following the insurrection.

#

The Seahorse had been out of sight for a day before we detect an easterly breeze. Thankfully, we can now stand down from hours of pulling on the oars. The two officers erect the boat’s mast, set the sail and maintain our progress. 

   Trimble beckons me with his finger to join him at the bow. I approach the captain and he indicates for me to take a seat opposite him. He’s gnawing a twist of salted beef and offers me some from his supply.

   “I expect you’re wondering where we are and where we’re going, lad?”

   “I reckon we’re heading for the Dutch Islands, sir.”

   “You’re a bright one, I’ll give you that,” he says and spits a mouthful of dark brown phlegm over the gunwale.

   “There are stories, sir,” I say and watch him fumble inside his jacket.

   “Aye, well.” He pulls out a folded razor. “Best not to listen to rumours, lad.”

Trimble looks me in the eye and pivots the blade out of the ebony handle guard. The tang clicks in his palm as he opens the cut-throat to its full extent. He offers the sharpened edge for me to inspect. 

   “Don’t be shy of my lady, you hear?” He smiles and nicks his finger on the toe. “Be respectful of her and she won’t do you no harm.”  The two officers chuckle behind me but smother their mirth when they catch the captain’s roving eye.

   “You’re old enough to use one of these, I take it?” 

I nod and he hands it to me. 

   “I want you to shave me.”

I handle the shiny object as if it’s a primed incendiary and he nudges toward me. He lifts a weathered hand to my ear. “I need you to remove the hair from under my tricorne,” he whispers, “and keep your mouth shut tight.”

My jaw sags. I turn my head and meet his acrid breath. It’s vinegar and salt-fish.

   “I’ll prepare the soap and a towel.” He hands me a whetstone. “You attend to her ladyship’s needs.” 

Trimble faces the prow and his two officers make pains to ignore our activity, preferring to skulk behind the full sail. As instructed, I trim down the top of his thatch and reveal Trimble’s tanned scalp. With every inch of stubble I remove, blue tattooed lines appear. I recognize the marks of my profession: contour lines, boundary symbols, magnetic north is indicated and more. The letters SABA appear beneath the artwork and a tiny VOC symbol, the emblem of the Dutch East India Company. 

   Trimble reaches up to examine my handiwork. His finger tips massage the smooth scalp and he grabs my wrist. “That’s enough for today, lad.” 

I close the blade and he stows it away. “She needs her rest too.” 

Trimble wraps a cloth around his hairless pate. “None shall see the way as I sleep,“ he says, and restores his tricorne to its familiar location.

I gather up the towel and shake it over the prow to lose the trimmings.

The captain leans forward to open a hinged case. He hands me writing tools and clean parchment. I set about my business. This is my purpose.

#

After two long days at sea the captain spies an island on the horizon. He checks his chart and sniffs the air as though he’s an aquatic blood hound. He scans the cloud line and mutters, “storm coming from the South-East.”

   Sure enough the sky darkens within the hour and he adjusts our line to compensate. We steer another new line and fast approach steep cliffs that plunge below the waves. I recognize the volcanic outcrop from the landscape’s precipitous contours. This island’s got a hazardous shoreline and only one place to beach our craft. With the forces of nature to our rear we are in danger of over shooting our destination. Trimble flies us close to the wind and we work hard to avoid either being capsized or smashing into Saba’s menacing basalt.

   The beach becomes visible round the headland, it’s a natural harbour and welcome safe haven. Griswold and I pull with all our might keep us on course. The surging waters try their damnedest to be or ruin. The bay is within reach and we hear the mast straining under the load. The gritty pumice kisses our craft’s keel and we leap into the shallows. The four of us work together to haul our craft up the steep sand. Every sinew is straining to drag our only lifeline to safety away from the vengeful tides. Above us, storm-swollen clouds lose their patience, and release a month’s worth of rain in vertical sheets. 

   We each grab as much as we can carry and head for the protection of an opening in the cliffs at the top of the shoreline. Water runs down the inside of the gloomy cave but we are grateful for the protection it offers. 

   Dry woody scraps are plentiful inside the chamber and I soon nurture a fire. Looking around the interior, I discover that we’re not the first visitors here. The walls are etched with a pattern of organised scratch marks; someone’s been counting the days. I lift my flickering oil lamp and discover a symbol I recognise. My fingers trace the letters V.O.C. that are carved into the rock. “Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie,” I whisper.

   A hand rests on my shoulder and there’s a waft of putrescent mackerel. I turn and see his dark eyes twinkle in the flame’s shimmering light. “Shush now.” He lifts a finger to his lips. “Not one word.”

   Urquhart and Griswold have dragged the casks and boxes into our shelter and they’ve dumped bundles of driftwood on the stony floor. 

   Trimble pulls out a bottle and hands it round. The two officers sup heartily and recount their early years at sea. Urquhart offers me a swig. Its paraffin fumes sear my nostrils. Griswold convulses with laughter when I abstain. I’m not falling for that trick again. If they want to pass out in this hole tonight, more fool them.

   Trimble searches amongst his boxes while I occupy myself with heating water and keeping warm. Trimble thrashes about in the gloom and shifts casks and boxes. He is bringing a new order to our new surroundings. 

   The two officers slide into a world of their own making as the liquor seeps into their veins. They’re oblivious to the storm passing away outside and forget my presence. I remove my sodden boots and watch the steam rise from the leather as they dry in front of the orange flames. Trimble has disappeared into the hidden realm of the cavernous interior. I tire of Urquhart’s tuneless singing and Griswold’s mirthless laughter and make my excuses. “Aye, go and have a sleep down inside there and pray for divine providence.”

I light my lantern and they howl with laughter as I turn away. Their raucous merrymaking echoes around the cave’s interior and follows me into the tunnel.     The walls are drier the further I wander inside and the sand is soft on my bare feet. The officers’ voices become lost in the labyrinthine passageways. There is a cool movement of air circulating that gives me goose bumps. My light startles a family of furry night dwellers and they scuttle for cover.

   I’m about to return to the crackling fire when I hear restrained voices. There is throaty chuckling too. Is it a conversation? The unhinged exchange is emanating from further inside the winding tunnel. I continue to feel my way forward in the darkness until I detect natural illumination up ahead. There, with his back to me, is Trimble silhouetted in a shaft of moonlight. The dust-flecked beam is peeping down a deep fissure in the bedrock above. He’s kneeling by his cutlass. Its merciless edge is glinting in the eerie spotlight. The captain is all of a quiver and chattering in staccato bursts. It sounds as though he’s conversing with a much-missed friend, a soul mate who he’s summoned back to life.

Trimble’s head darts left and he peers over his shoulder and I hear his nostrils sniff the air. The voices are silent now and I see his sharp eyes search the cavern. He hasn’t seen me and turns his attention back to the precious gems that he’s been playfully sliding between his grubby old fingers. The stones emit an unearthly pulsating white light, as if they’re alive. 

   Trimble eases the lid down and the shimmering glow disappears. He stashes the chest back in the ground and in a canine frenzy, he buries it under detritus.

He rises up from the earth and challenges the darkness for witnesses. I lower myself out of sight however I can hear his distinctive nasal inhalations as he probes the air. Trimble steps forward and swings his cutlass. He thrusts his blade into the darkness and jabs the air around him like a grey bearded loon.

   The moonlight’s power is diminishing and he relights his lantern. I hold my breath and can feel my throat tightening. He swings his lantern and casts deep shadows to my left and right. I feel the draught from his cutlass as it slices through the air above my head. Sparks fly when the tip hits the rocky ground. The captain curses and mutters under his breath. 

“Pay it no mind, Trimble,” he whispers. 

“Yes, pay it no mind, captain!” he roars. “Hah!”

With that, he heads off into the darkness in the opposite direction.

I follow at a distance. I dare not make a sound.

There’s another entrance from the beach.

When he reaches this second opening he pauses and swings his light in my direction. He searches back inside and casts shadows up and down the passage. Satisfied, he heads toward our boat and raises his cutlass. Clambering on board the inverted craft, he brings the point down with a heavy thump. The boards succumb to its merciless fury. Again and again he delivers splintering blows. He succeeds in rendering destruction to our means of escape.

I’ve no doubt that this is just for starters; a mere warm up exercise.

No one gets to share this treasure or feel its icy cold touch.

The comatose officers are next in line after this practice.

No government minister will measure its worth. 

No Customs official will assess its value. 

Nobody will ever see those sparkling jewels again, 

neither Urquhart nor Griswold, 

nor even, perhaps, myself.


The End


November 14, 2020 04:53

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4 comments

01:58 Nov 20, 2020

This story has a really great sense of tone, it really felt like I was reading a pirate story. I think you nailed the prompt too, especially with the detail of the captain's obsession. You went a bit heavy on the exposition, and I think it would have been smoother if you had given the character's backstory more gradually. At the beginning, it looks like you made a new paragraph for each sentence, if you still have time to edit, I would suggest re arranging that. Well done, this was a great story!

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Howard Halsall
02:33 Nov 20, 2020

Thanks for reading my story, Isabel. I appreciate your feedback & comments, especially regarding the back story. Not sure what’s going on with the formatting... I’ll have a look. :)

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V George
08:56 Nov 19, 2020

I like how the story progresses and the vivid description.

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Howard Halsall
09:55 Nov 19, 2020

Hey thanks for reading my story. I hope you enjoyed it :)

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