Pictures from the past
Early evening. The Querida has cast her anchors in a remote bay to sell her cargo – to somebody who doesn’t ask too many questions… The Santa Corentina is as black as her crew, her past somewhat checkered, once a slaver, now running as a private trader. But they’ll take a cargo without asking who sold it.
As the crates are offloaded, Captain Blackwell’s eye wanders over the other ship, wondering a the fate that crewed this former slaver with only black men – and a few women. As he stands there, his eye is caught by a crewman manning the hoist; a giant he is, black as the inside of a boot, bald as overworn suede, and he hoists barrels and crates that would have required two normal men.
“Cap’n, we’re all offloaded. An’ we’ve the gold onboard. We’re good to weigh anchor.” Farrow, the Querida’s bos’un is clearly waiting for orders, so Captain Blackwell shakes his head and calls for the anchor to be weighed…
Port Royal, the sun is beating fiercely on the docks. Carlos Blackwell makes his way through the throngs, daughter, Billy and Farrow closely in tow. As he rounds a corner, he finds what he’s looking for: Jamieson’s ropery. Outside the house sits a black man splicing an end. Farrow is within quickly, eager to order what he needs to re-rig. Meanwhile, Captain Blackwell approaches the black roper, his daughter peeking curiously from behind his back, “Ye sailed on the Santa Corentina, didn’t ye?” “Might be, who’s askin’?”. The captain smiles and bows like a courtier, “Carlos Blackwell, at yer service. Captain of the good ship Querida.” “A codorean name, Querida, i’nt it? But aye, I recall ‘er. N’Gote’s the name. Why do ye ask?” The dashing captain puts his hat back on “I saw ye crewing the Santa Corentina.” Now the young Blackwell girl is tugging at her father’s coat, “Da, why’s the man got odd marks on ‘is face?” The black man smiles at the girl, “These are my tribe’s scars, young’un. They mark me a man an’ a hunter. They’re the marks of another world.” “Shush, little one,” says the captain, ”what became of the Corentina?” “Sent to the bottom by the Brotherhood – ne’ermind ‘er, ‘er heart was white to begin wit’.”
As the Blackwell girl sucks in breath to ask another question, Farrow comes back out, beaming. “All sorted, Captain. And we got a right decent price, too.” “Excellent,” the captain makes off with his small entourage in tow.
A few months later, the Querida puts into Port Royal again, less ragged than the last time. As usual, captain Blackwell takes the first party ashore. This time, though, he’s not looking for repairs, he’s wanting information. No daughter with him this time, he makes for the seedier parts of town, for The Mussel. At the door he meets a familiar face, “Note, wasn’t it?” “Close enough, N’Gote is the name I was given.” “Once a crewman on Santa Corentina, then a roper’s mate, now bouncer at The Mussel…” “Aye.” “Ye’re not wearing the iron collar anymore?” “Ne’er did – cut the man who was takin’ me to meet ‘er” “Good on ye, mate. Now, I’m looking for someone knows Ole One-Arm, might ye know summat ‘bout that?” “Aye, ye’re wantin’ to talk to Pretty Girl Alice. Within, tell ‘er N’Gote ses it’s allright.” “Aye, will do” Captain Blackwell doffs his hat and goes within.
Night has fallen on Port Royal and on The Mussel. Little light escapes from within, but that is generously made up for by the clouds of smoke and bursts of laughter that do make it into the street.
From the direction of the harbour comes a familiar face. The man is dressed for shore, his hair neatened and tied back, his swagger speaks of many days at sea. He doffs his hat to the huge black man standing beside the door, who grunts in greeting, “Blackwell - ‘s been awhile, hain’t it? What new?” “Aye, my very large black friend, ‘s been awhile. The news is good, the Querida is wallowing with cargo what needs selling. Why I came to The Mussel.” N’Gote grunts again, “Best ye watch yer step, then. There’s been taxmen about of late.” The captain nods affably and enters the tavern.
A few hours later, a commotion down the street. Uniforms, marching boots, clash of iron. Heading for The Mussel. N’Gote whistles a warning, and the fastest patrons are gone in an instant. He nods and guards his tongue as the taxmen enter The Mussel, N’Gote not far behind.
Within, all is chaos. Uniforms are dragging men in through the back door, people are shouting, guns are pointed here and there. In a corner booth sits the man called Blackwell, calmly drinking his ale and chatting to a pretty young woman.
Suddenly, a patron makes for the door, a uniform knocks him over the head, and battle is joined. It is all over in minutes. Traders, drinkers and others lie scattered all over the bar, others are clapped into irons, the barkeep bemoans the devastation, Blackwell is tied up alongside several others, and the uniforms are preparing to take off.
As the column exits the bar, an arm and a chair leg descend out of the darkness, connecting solidly with the uniform holding onto Blackwell. Another arm with a big black hand yanks the captain out of the column and down a side alley. The pursuit is short and confused, refuse and curses raining on the chasing uniforms until they abandon the hunt.
In a dark doorway, N’Gote cuts the captain’s bonds. “Ye need'nt ‘ave done that, ye know.” “Aye.” “But I thank ye nonetheless.” “Aye.” “Ye’ll be wanting to quit this town right soon, being very recognisable and all?” “Aye.” “I’ve a free berth as bos’uns mate, it’s yours if ye’ll have it.” “Aye, Cap’n”.
The two men make their way to the docks and soon after, the Querida quietly slips her moorings and sails off to sell her cargo elsewhere.