After a year of high adventure, its time for one young woman to return home.
The stone floor upon which Anne lay was cold and hard and her cell stank of stale piss. The nausea was incapacitating. She had to lay completely still or else she would be sick. Was it morning yet? How long had she even been here?
In the vivid darkness that swam before her eyes, visions played in time with the distant crashing of the waves. One after the other they floated through her feverish brain, replaying the events of the last week. Then further back, to the green hills and valleys of her childhood. She had not spared thought for Ireland in a very long time. Why now?
As if responding to her thoughts, an iron door somewhere scraped open, and Anne heard the now familiar shuffle of that old cripple jailor. The shuffling got nearer until it was just outside her cell. Then stopped. The shutter snapped open, and Anne’s cell erupted in a brilliant light.
“Anne Bonny?” wheezed the disembodied voice.
“Aye.” croaked Anne, screwing up her face.
“You bin reprieved. You are free to go.”
Outside she could hear the joyful hubbub of Port Royal’s harbour. The creaking of timbers. The cries of sailors and seagulls, and the sea itself. These are the sounds of freedom.
“Your father Ma’am. The Guv’nor. He make arrangement. Pay your bail. You can go home,” then her faceless tormentor added with relish, “back to your husband.”
Anne struggled to her feet and spat on the floor while the room reeled around her. She steadied herself on the peeling plaster wall while a key turned in the rusty lock and the door opened to reveal a sardonically leering black face.
“One more thing, Ma’am,” he said, investing that last word with as much palpable irony as possible. “Your lover make request to see you one last time. Before dem hang.”
“My lover?” said Anne, breezing past him, “which one?”
* * * *
Some weeks earlier, and the sun was fast dropping towards the horizon, transmuting the sea into mercury and the sky into pale blue crystal tinged with pink.
The Revenge was moored just off Dry Harbour Bay. Nice and hidden. Only a hundred or so feet from the shoreline. Close enough for Anne to see the breeze gently tickle the palm trees.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” said Mary, turning to her beloved with the whole brilliance of the firmament in reflected in the blackness of her eyes, “So still.”
“A little too still if you be asking me.” said Anne, nervously scrying the horizon for any sign of trouble.
“Stop that nonsense right this instant and kiss me.” said Mary, swatting the spyglass out of Anne’s hand.
A quick check to see they were still alone on deck.
The rest of the crew had been drinking since noon, and by the muffled sound of crazed laughter and snatches of smutty verses they had no intention of stopping soon. It was safe. They shared a long and lingering kiss, each intoxicated on the other’s breath.
They were quite different, Anne and Mary. The former was quite the beauty; all freckles, curves and fiery curls. Mary on the other hand looked like a boy. Flat chested and straight hipped with a button nose and an impish smile. She dressed like a boy too; with waistcoat and breeches, her crow black hair cropped short in a man’s fashion.
The illusion must have been convincing, as none among the fourteen crew knew of her true identity, save Anne, and Jack too of course. Mary was forced to reveal herself to him after he grew jealous of the time Anne and Mary were spending together.
Anne remembered the night. Jack bursting into his private cabin, rum sotted and pistol drawn, only to discover the two in bed together. His face was a picture of rage, eyes rolling, mouth upturned. He would have executed the whelp there and then, but at the last instant she tore her shirt and showed him her breasts. Her little mounds. Her perfect white islets.
“You see,” she said, “no threat.”
Never has a man’s face sea-changed so fast.
“Y-you’re a woman?” he blustered, eyes a-bulge.
Of course, Jack kept their secret, and from thence forth he shared his bed with the pair of them. Oh how he sashayed about the ship in the days that followed! Like he’d seized the richest haul in The Spanish Main.
Mary wasn’t as fond of Jack as Anne was, but put up with the occasional spearing for Anne’s sake. She even enjoyed it some of the time.
Anne on the other hand had never felt such bliss. To have one lover inside you while eating the other. It was better than any earthly pleasure. Better even than the thrill of the chase.
And yet for that very love would she burn in the fires of hell. Of all the sins she had committed; from blasphemy to adultery, to piracy and murder. All could and would be forgiven on the Day of Judgement. All except the abomination against the flesh. To taste of Mary in those secret places, was to taste of Satan. She knew that. But to Hell with it. So to speak. Life was for the now.
“What ails you?” asked Mary, seeing the weather change in Anne’s deep green eyes.
“I can’t tell ye. Just a feelin’ is all.”
The great orb of the sun had melted into the sea now and the sky was streaked with fire.
“There!” said Anne, the monocular up against her eye again. “I told you so I did. Right there on the horizon look. Sails.”
“Lemme see,” said Mary, snatching the spyglass from Anne’s hand and scampering up the rigging for a better look.
“Aye. It’s a ship for sure.” Mary confirmed.
“I can’t see yet you daft fool.”
“Well it sure sees us,” muttered Anne “and it’s coming at us like it means business.”
There is a certain liminal moment, between the first sighting of a ship and the learning of it’s nature and intent, where fate is hung in the balance.
To spy a sail at sea is to stand upon a threshold. A gateway to the unknown. It could be fellow Brethren of the Coast come to swell their ranks, or it could be a merchant vessel ripe for plunder. Until it got close enough to read its ensign, it could be anything.
This could be the ship. The one that holds the great prize. Or it could be the other one. The ship of reckoning. The one that’s been a long time coming. The ship that spells their doom.
“It’s a sloop me thinks. A big one. It’s…. oh shit.”
“What is it?”
“Get the lads!” screamed Mary, tumbling down the rigging.
“What is it?”
They both knew that a Navy sloop of that kind and in this place could only mean one thing.
It was the pin that ruptured their bubble of bliss as the scene aboard ship erupted into chaos. Jack was first up on deck with a cocksure swagger, followed by his two favourite lackeys.
You could tell they had been drinking because Jack’s cocked hat was on sideways; a dandyish affectation brought about by the excessive consumption of rum punch. He was also still stubbornly holding a lime as if he’d much rather be below deck.
“What in the devil’ssh name is matter with you two?” he slurred.
“See for yourself!” cried Anne, thrusting the spyglass in his hand. Jack nonchalantly tossed the lime he was carrying and straightened his hat with one finger. He put the spyglass to his eye, the wrong way at first, then the right way, before offering his frank assessment of the situation.
Jack Rackham wasn’t the best pirate in the world. Far from it. He was a better drinker than a fighter and wasn’t the bravest or the brightest either. He wasn’t even the most handsome (that would be Mary) but he was hands down the best dressed pirate that had ever lived. Indeed, it was his fondness for dyed East Indian cloth that had earned him the nickname ‘Calico Jack’.
It was this sense of style and poise that first attracted Anne to Jack. In the dank squalor of the taverns of Nassau, he stood out from the motley collection of rogues like a parrot among the pigeons. A rare gallant among vagabonds. A coin in shit.
But you can’t get by on appearances alone in this line of work, and Anne hoped against hope that Jack was made of tougher mettle than she knew. You could tell the crew were all thinking the same thing too.
“Your orders Captain?” said one of them nervously.
“Lower the main sail” said Jack, rubbing his eyes and trying to shake the fog from his skull “Nice and easy like. Don’t give ‘em any reason to jitter. And ready that swivel gun. Wait till I give the signal, then cut anchor.”
“We’ll never outrun them Sir!” blurted Mary.
“We don’t need to outrun them boy,” spat Jack, “we just need to give ‘em the slip. We’ll lose ‘em over that there reef.”
Night was beginning to crash about them as the other ship drew alongside. A Sloop of War, with full twelve guns and bristling with Royal Marines. There must have been forty of them at least, all lined up on deck, muskets in hand, silhouetted against the last vestiges of day.
“Identify yourselves!” came the cry from the Navy ship.
“Ahoy!” cried Jack jovially, “We are countrymen! What gives?”
“You first mate.”
“Captain Barnett, of Jamaica.”
“Ahoy Captain, what can I do for ye?”
“I have in my hand, a letter of Marque signed by Governor Rogers. Therein is a list of names of those suspected of being, or of harbouring pirates. These are to be brought to justice, by orders of the King. And so I say again, your name?”
“Lie!” hissed Anne in Jacks ear, “say anything. We are just merchants!”
But something had changed in Jack’s face. A madness had entered his eyes. A look that Anne had seen before. Whether it was drink, or pride, she did not know, but something made him say, “My name is Jack Rackham, of Cuba.”
And with that, he let loose the swivel gun at the other ship, prompting a hail of return fire.
“Sever the anchor!” cried Jack though bilious clouds of smoke, but it was too late. A return shot from one of the enemy guns severed the boom, sending splinters of wood and screams in all directions. They were immobilised.
The grappling hooks began to clatter across the deck. In mere seconds they would be swarmed by two score swivel-eyed grunts of Empire.
Come and get it you cunts!” bellowed Anne, firing her flintlock into the void as Mary drew her cutlass. She was handy with a blade and would surely doubtless dispatch a redcoat or two before they met their end.
But something was wrong.
As the smoke cleared, Anne and Mary noticed they were alone on deck. The men, seeing the desperateness of the situation, had returned below to the solace of their bottles. The cowards.
The game was up.
* * * *
Anne followed that old cripple down the rotting white vaulted corridors of Port Royal jail.
Built as an enduring symbol of Spanish Imperial power in the New World, now ravaged by earthquakes and half sunken into the sea, the old fort had been used as a house of incarceration by the British since the capture of Jamaica half a century ago.
Further down into its disintegrating bowels went Anne, the cracks in the walls growing ever larger and the air growing thick with dank. Past cell after cell, each housing some unfortunate. Was Mary holed up here somewhere too? Was she even still alive?
Down and down she went.
When she finally reached Jack’s cell, her heart flew immediately to her throat. There he was. Shackled to the wall by his neck. His once fine clothes were all splayed and torn and soiled with the effluence of his own bowels. One leg was horrifically twisted and now faced the wrong way. An exotic bird with a broken wing.
“Ahoy there Johnny boy.” she whispered sweetly through the bars.
“Anne!” and a glimmer of hope flashed across the pirate’s face for a moment, before he slumped again, “you’ll know I hang in the morning.”
“Aye Jack. A short life. And a rich one. That’s what you always told me.”
“Aye. True that. And you?
“I’ve been reprieved. In spite of your testimony against me. Cheers for that.”
“You know how it goes.”
“Aye I do. No honour among thieves and all that.”
Jack’s gaze was again drawn back to the floor, as if the life cycle of the cockroach had taken on a profound new importance for him.
“How?” he said at last.
“I pled my belly.”
Jack started up from the floor and looked at her.
“Aye Jack. I’m quick with child. And yes it is yours. And a fine time I’ll have explaining that to my husband I tell you.”
Jack continued to stare.
“What else am I to do Jack?” she pleaded softly “Am I to go a pirating again? I’ve been pardoned. I’m going back to South Carolina to live a long and unhappy life as another man’s wife,” and then she added, “but at least I won’t be dead.”
“Anne,” he said finally, “you know, if things had been different – ”
“ Aye. But they’re not.”
She wasn’t going to let him. She wasn’t going to let him paint that picture again. The one of the future.
The one where they capture the great prize. More gold then they could possibly spend. And then the three of them, Jack, Anne and Mary, and a few other good souls too perhaps, would find an island somewhere.
There they would found The New Republic. Where all men and women of every colour and creed would be treated equal. A utopia. Fair and free. Where all may pursue their hearts desire according to his own wishes.
They would raise children. An entire progeny which would grow into a new nation that would endure against oppression for centuries to come. Their offspring would wield the greatest liberty of all people on God’s great green earth.
She would not let him tell that story, because it hurt too much. So instead she said, “It’s good to see you Jack. But if you had fought like a man you needn’t have to die like a dog.”
She could not bear to see the expression on his face, so turned instead and ascended the steps to the world above. Somewhere up there was a ship waiting for her. Waiting to carry her away from the underworld and back to South Carolina. Back to her old life.
She did not look back.