The two of them had eventually managed to get back to their room. His father had lost his front teeth and eventually lost his left eye, and had suffered fractures in several ribs and possibly his skull. Young John Chandagnac had lost most of the use of his right hand because of a heavy man's boot-heel, and for a month he walked with a cane, and it was a full year before his urine was quite free of blood. The bad hand, though he eventually regained nearly full use of it, provided a good excuse to quit that nomadic career, and through thinly disguised pleading he managed to secure travel money and lodging with a relative in England, and before his twenty-second birthday he had got a position as a bookkeeper with an English textile firm.


His father, in ever-worsening health, had single-handedly run the marionette show for another two years before dying in Brussels in the winter of 1714. He never even learned about the money that had become his, the money that could so dramatically have prolonged and brightened his life ... the money that had been cleverly stolen from him by his own younger brother, Sebastian. Chandagnac looked over his right shoulder, squinting at the eastern horizon until he thought he saw a faintly darker line that might have been Hispaniola. I was to have arrived there in about a week, he thought angrily, after establishing my credit with the bank in Jamaica. How long will it take now? Don't die, Uncle Sebastian. Don't die before I get there.


Chapter Two


Even in the twilight, with cooking fires beginning to dot the darkening beach, the harbor's mottling of shoals was clearly visible, and the boats rounding the distant corner of Hog Island could be seen to change course frequently as they kept to the darker blue water on their way in from the open sea to the New Providence settlement. Most of the settlement's boats were already moored for the night, out in the harbor or along the decrepit wharf or, in the cases of a number of the smaller craft, dragged right up onto the white sand, and the island's population was beginning to concern itself with dinner. At this hour the settlement's stench contended most strongly with the clean sea breeze, for added to its usual melange of tar-smoke, sulfur, old food and the countless informal latrines was the often startling olfactory spectrum of inexpert cooking: the smell of feathers burnt off chickens by men too impatient to pluck them, of odd stews into which the enthusiastic hand of the amateur had flung quantities of hijacked mint and cilantro and Chinese mustard to conceal the taste of dubious meats, and of weird and sometimes explosive experiments in the art of punch-making.


Benjamin Hurwood had taken his daughter and Leo Friend off the Carmichael four hours earlier, shortly after the ship was laboriously tugged, tacked and block-and-tackled into the harbor, and long before the pirates had begun the job of careening the vessel. He'd hailed the first boat that had come alongside andrdemanded that the men in it take them ashore, and he had not only been obeyed, but, it had seemed to Chandagnac, recognized too.


And now the Carmichael lay bizarrely on her side, tackles fastened to the mastheads, and relieving tackles strung under the keel and tied to solid moorings on the exposed side, fully half of her hundred-and-ten-foot length out of the water and supported by the sloping white-sand shore of a conveniently deep inlet a hundred yards south of the main cluster of tents; and Chandagnac was plodding up the beach in the company of the pirates, reeling from exhaustion as much as from the novelty of having a motionless surface underfoot, for the pirates had cheerfully assumed that as a new member of the crew he ought to do the work of two men.


"Ah, damn me," remarked the toothless young man who was stumping along next to Chandagnac, "I smell some lively grub." Chandagnac had gathered that this young man's name was Skank.


The ship behind them groaned loudly as her timbers adjusted themselves to the new stresses, and birds - Chandagnac supposed they must be birds - cawed and yelled in the dim jungle.


"Lively's the word," Chandagnac nodded, reflecting that, considering the flames, smells and shouting up ahead, it seemed that the dinner being cooked was not only still alive, but unsubdued.


To Chandagnac's left, visible above the palm fronds, was a rounded rock eminence. "The fort," said his toothless companion, pointing that way.


"Fort?" Chandagnac squinted, and finally noticed walls and a tower, made of the same stone as the hill itself. Even from down on the beach he could see several ragged gaps in the uneven line of the wall. "You people built a fort here?"


"Naw, the Spaniards built it. Or maybe the English. Both of them have took turns claiming this place for years, but there was only one man, a daft old wreck, on the whole island when Jennings came across the place and decided to found his pirate town here. The English think they've got it now - King George has even got a man sailing over here with a pardon for any of us as will quit wickedness and take up, I don't know, farming or something - but that won't last either."


They were in among the cooking fires now, weaving around clusters of people sitting in the sand. Many of these diners had barrels or upright spar sections to lean against, and they all shouted greetings to the new arrivals, waving bottles and charred pieces of meat. Chandagnac nervously eyed the firelit faces, and he was surprised to see that about one in three was female.


"The Jenny's moored over there," said Skank, waving unhelpfully. "They'll have got a fire going, and with luck scrounged some stuff to throw in the stewpot."


The ground still felt to Chandagnac as if it were rocking under his boots, and as he stepped over one low ridge of sand he swayed as if to correct his balance on a rolling deck; he managed not to fall, but he did knock a chicken leg out of a woman's hand.


Jesus, he thought in sudden fright. "I'm sorry," he babbled,


But she just laughed drunkenly, snatched another piece of chicken from an apparently genuine gold platter and mumbled something in a slurred mix of French and Italian; Chandagnac was pretty sure it had been a half-sarcastic sexual invitation, but the slang was too unfamiliar, and the tenses too garbled, for him to be certain.


"Uh," he said hurriedly to Skank as he resumed his lurching pace, "the Jenny?"


"That's the sloop we took your Carmichael with," said the young pirate. "Yeah," he added, peering ahead as the two of them crested another crowded, littered sand ridge, "they've got a pot of sea water on the fire and they're flinging some junk or other into it."


Skank broke into a plodding run, as did the rest of Davies' men. Chandagnac followed more slowly, peering ahead. There was a fire on the beach, and the cooking pot resting on the blazing planks was almost waist-high. He saw several chickens, headless and gutted but otherwise unprepared, arc out of the darkness and splash in, and then a man lurched up and dumped a bucket of some lumpy fluid into it. Chandagnac suppressed a gag, and then grinned as it occurred to him that he was less afraid of these people than he was of their food.


One stocky old fellow, bald but bearded like a palm tree, leaned over the fire and thrust his tattooed right arm into the stew and stirred it around. "Not hot enough yet," he rumbled. He Pulled out a soggy chicken, stepped away from the fire and bit off a wing. Wet feathers made a startling spectacle of his beard, and even over the general conversation Chandagnac could hear bones being crunched. "But it's getting savory," the man decided, tossing the devastated bird back into the pot.


"Let's have a song!" yelled someone. "While we wait."


Cheers followed, but then a lean, grinning figure stepped into the firelight. "Hell with songs," said Philip Davies, staring straight at Chandagnac. "Let's have a puppet show." The amused scorn in his voice made Chandagnac's face heat up.


Davies might have been joking, but the other pirates took up the idea eagerly. " 'At's right," shouted one man, his lone eye nearly popping from his head with excitement, "that lad from the Carmichael can work puppets! Christ! He'll do us a show, won't he?"


"He'll do it," belched one very drunken man sitting nearby. "He'll do it or I'll ... kick his arse for him."


All of them seemed to feel that this was the right spirit, and Chandagnac found himself thrust into the open area in front of the fire.


"Wha - but I - " He looked around. The drunken threat didn't seem to have been a joke, and he remembered the casualness of Chaworth's murder.


"You gonna do it or not, boy?" asked Davies. "What's the matter, your shows too good for us?"


A wide-eyed black man stared at Chandagnac and then looked around at his fellows. "He called me a dog, didn't he?"


"Hold it!" said Chandagnac loudly, raising his hands. "Wait, yes, I'll do it. But I'll need ... uh ... a lot of string, a stout needle, a sharp knife and a, say, three-gallon-jug-sized piece of very soft wood."


Several of the pirates who'd sat down leaped to their feet, shouting joyfully.


"Oh," Chandagnac added, "and a couple of bits of cloth'd be useful, and tacks, or small nails. And I see some bottles being passed around back there - how about a drink for the puppeteer?"


A few minutes later he was crouched over his crude tools near the fire, alternately working and taking swigs from a bottle of really very good brandy, and as he quickly whittled limb, torso, pelvis and head pieces out of a split section of palm bole, Chandagnac wondered what sort of show this audience would relish. Shakespeare seemed unlikely. There had been a couple of quick, vulgar dialogues his father would occasionally do in taprooms years ago, when he'd thought young John had gone upstairs to bed, and Chandagnac suspected that they'd formed part of the old man's professional repertoire back in the lean years before the German ban on live actors. If Chandagnac could remember them, those routines would probably go over well here.


With a deftness he would have claimed not to have anymore, he notched the fronts of the two little wooden heads, producing rough but accurate faces; next he cut small bands of cloth to serve as tacked-on hinges, and then bigger, more complicated shapes to be clothing. It took him no more than one more minute to tack it all together and then cut lengths of string and tack them onto the ears, hands, knees and backs of his two marionettes, with the other ends of each mannikin's strings connected to a cross he'd grip in one hand. Controlling two puppets at once meant he would have to dispense with a separately held stick to control each puppet's knees, but he had learned long ago how to use the stiffly extended first two fingers of each hand instead.


"Very well, here we go," he said finally, trying to seem confident, as his father had always advised when facing a potentially unruly audience, which this certainly was. "Everybody's got to sit down. Could one of you toss me that ... wrecked barrel there, please? Better than nothing for a set." To his surprise, one of them brought it over and set it down carefully in front of him. Chandagnac eyed the sprung, topless barrel for a moment, then kicked the whole front in, pulled away the broken stave ends and the one remaining hoop and then stood back. He nodded. "Our stage."


Most of the pirates had sat down and had at least stopped shouting, so Chandagnac picked up the control crosses and slid his fingers into the loops. He lifted the marionette whose legs were encased in crude trousers - "Our hero!" he said loudly - and then the one for whom he'd made a dress - "And a woman he encounters!"


His audience seemed to find this promising.


The female puppet was whisked into the open front of the barrel, and the male puppet began sauntering up from a yard away.


Chandagnac was acutely aware that he was standing on a beach on the wrong side of the world, in front of a crowd of drunken murderers. To be performing a puppet show under these circumstances seemed as weirdly inappropriate as May Day garlands on a gibbet ... or, it occurred to him, as dancing and playing musical instruments when getting into position to board a merchant ship and kill more than half of her crew.


From the direction of the other fires now came shambling into the firelight the oldest-looking man Chandagnac had seen since leaving England. His beard and long, ropy hair were the color of old bones, and his face was dark old leather stretched taut over a skull. Chandagnac couldn't guess the man's race, but when several of the pirates greeted the old man as "governor" and made room for him to sit down he guessed that this must be the "daft old wreck" Skank had mentioned, the one who'd been the island's only inhabitant when the pirates found the place.


The male puppet had walked up to the barrel and seemed about to go on past, but the female leaned out of the doorway-like opening and cocked her head. "Evening, sir," said Chandagnac shrilly, feeling like a fool. "Would you care to buy a lady a drink?"


"I beg your pardon?" Chandagnac had the other puppet say in a broad parody of an upper-class English accent. "I'm very hard of - "


"Please speak up, sir," the female puppet interrupted. "I don't hear very well."


" - of hearing."


"You say what, sir? Something you're fearing? I think I know what you're referring to, sir, and you needn't fear it with me. I can guarantee - "


"No, no, hearing, hearing."


"Herring? Hungry, are you? What about herring?"


"I say I'm very hard of it."


"Oh! Oh, well, splendid, sir, splendid, very hard of it, are you, well, let's get down to business and stop discussing fish, then, shall we - "


"It's a trap!" yelled one of the pirates from the audience. "She'll be leading him straight into the hands of a press gang! That's how the Navy got me!"


"With a woman?" called another pirate incredulously, "I just got a drink - and I didn't even down half of it before they clocked me in the head and I woke up in the ship's boat."

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