19th of July
When first I was put in this place, I feared I would ne’er see the Sun, nor breathe Free Air again. I feared I would ha’ my neck stretched ere a Week had passed. In Truth I was somewhat stunned that the Cap’n o’ the Coast GuardShip what took us did not hang every man Jack of us from the yardarm, and send us with our Ship to Davy Jones, with a Curse to chase us down to Hell. Sure and he had evidence enow to know our Crimes and our Guilt.
Now that I ha’ been here three days, I fear only that tiresome hours, without any employment, amusement, or e’en punishment, will pile up so high they smother me. So, to avoid this fate, I ha’ requested paper and pen from my captors, so that I may follow the lead o’ me Cap’n, Damnation Kane, who doth keep the log faithfully.
So here be me log.
They did capture us on July the 15th, four days ago. They made it back to shore in two or three hours, with us all manacled and sitting on the stern deck o’ that thundering steel Hell-ship. That devil’s boat made thirty, forty knots, without sail nor oar. At least that many! Methinks I did not need to do what I did, and give them the Grace’s heading. Sure and they could ha’ found us as easy as they took us, as easy as they brought us back.
They kept us from talking on the ship, tho speeches were made with the eyes. If O’Flaherty could ha’ killed me with his glare, I would ha’ been spared these empty days in this cell, aye. Burke, as well. Tho the opposite do be true, too: if my hands had been free, them two mutineers would lie flat wi’ wrung necks and black tongues by now. Aye, and perhaps a puling pissbucket of a rapist, as well, tho that tub o’ maggoty fishguts Shlocksir be barely worth the effort to strangle. But he be worth it, na’theless. He cried, the suety fop, like a bairn without his mam’s teat to fill his mouth. Fair made me sick.
We made the Keys ere night fell, and they put us into three cells at the fortress. And they took off the manacles, and left us unguarded. Ha! The minute the door shut behind the guard, I took hold o’ that damned O’Flaherty and flung him into the bars, head-first. He reeled back, stunned and bleeding, but he be an Irishman, and he put up a fight, aye. But tho he be the stronger, I be younger and faster. And smarter and prettier, while we be talking on it, ha ha! Burke he would ha’ come to his man’s aid, but he were in another cell, as was Carter, who might ha’ done the same. Burke roared at me, laying on the curses like mortar on a wall, until Kelly, me good mate Kelly, took it in his mind that Burke should be hushed, and then he made it so, wi’ but three good blows of those cannonballs he calls fists. Burke be paid back for what he did to Kelly back in Ireland, when Burke took the Bosun’s Whistle from Kelly.
O’Flaherty took a bit more convincing, but soon enow he was down for a wee nap, too, and sleeping like a babe, aye. I could ha’ strangled him then, but I had cooled a mite. Too, I felt that killing a man while in gaol and about to be tried for my life would be somewhat rash. I but gave him a kick in the teeth to remember me by. Then I spoke wi’ the men.
“Listen, all o’ ye,” I said. “I don’t give a fig for who ye would ha’ for Cap’n o’ this crew, or if ye think ye be a crew at all. I say we be the men o’ the Grace o’ Ireland, and o’ the blood o’ Old Erin herself. We be the wolves o’ the Irish seas, sons o’ Lugh and Cormac, Cuchulain and Fionn MacCumhaill. Aye?” They growled and grumbled an Aye to that. Then I lowered my voice and looked every man in the eye. “Men o’ Ireland ha’ nothing to say to the men o’ the law. Not to the gaolers, not to the judges, not to the headsman, if it come to that. Nothing but our names, that they may remember us, and a curse for them to choke on. Be we agreed?”
And they agreed, every man. Then the guards came in, saw O’Flaherty and Burke unconscious on the floors, and asked after the events leading to such a state. And the men, they did me proud. Not a damned word did they give those bastards. Naught but a hard stare and a few mouthfuls o’ spit cast to the floor at their feet. Good men, they are. All but Shlocksir, o’ course. He opened his gob and drew breath to squeak like the bilge rat he be. But Arthur Gallagher, old Lark, as we call him for his singing, Lark threw a punch, quick as a fox, into Shlocksir’s ballocks, and knocked the traitorous air right out o’ him, without the guards bein’ any the wiser.
In an English prison, they’d ha’ every man of us flogged for fighting. Here they mere posted a man outside our cells to watch us. The men grew confident at that, for sure and we’d all expected the flogging, and the air eased somewhat. We stayed silent for an hour or more, glaring at the guard. Then Lark started singing. Soon enough we’d all joined in, and we sang down the moon and up the sun.
Then they came for us. Manacled, led into a great beast of a wagon, like a tinker’s house on wheels, but with two long benches the only furniture in it. Half the men in one wagon, half in another just like the first, and they drove us to another gaol. This’n be larger, but with smaller cells. The cell where I lay now and write these words be three paces by four, with two bunks stacked on one wall. I share with Lochlan O’Neill, him the men call Salty for the white in his hair and whiskers and his thirty years before the mast, which ha’ pickled and tanned his hide with sun and sea air. Salty be a fine bunkmate, aye, quiet and thankfully free o’ stench. Sure and these bitty cells might weigh on many a man, but for tars like us, who would sleep six men in hammocks in this same space when the ship be full o’ cargo and the weather bad abovedecks, this be a fine cabin for two.
Naturally I figured that once we met the local Inquisition, they’d drag us out o’ these fine quarters and lock us in the dankest pit they had. These cells must be the reward they hold out for waggling your tongue, I thought. That and the food, which is better than what I’ve eaten on most voyages once the fresh grub be gone. Yet they ha’ not taken these luxuries away. Not yet.
They do not torture, either. Or they be right slow in getting to it. That first full day, they came for each o’ us, three at a time, tho they put one man into one room, sitting at table with two men dressed like merchants, with open coats and neck-scarves, clean white shirts and shoes which shone. They asked us questions for an hour or two. And that’s all: they but asked. They did not even strike us. Not even Salty, tho he told us later in the galley (Aye, the gaol has a galley, where all the prisoners sit and eat together.) that he had cursed them till his tongue was raw. But nothing, naught but question after question. Soon I found I could simply ignore them as they blathered on at me. Made me feel quite like a married man, ha ha.
Nay: my difficult hour came when I had to face my Cap’n, my friend and the man I had betrayed, when I gave his ship to these men with their soft hearts and their thunder-guns. Cap’n Kane came the second day we were in the small cells. The guards summoned me out and brought me to the main portcullis, at the end o’ the corridor lined by our cells, and there, two paces from the bars, stood my Cap’n, his brow thundrous and his eyes flashing lightning.
I made my report, and he responded as a cap’n should. Enough said o’ that. I am right glad that he be wise enow to see where fault truly lies, for while I ha’ surely sinned, I be no cursed mutineer. I ha’ failed. But I did not betray.
Then, yesterday, a man came to us, starting with myself, and said he be our lawyer, name of McNally. He said he were engaged by Cap’n Kane. He bore proof, a note in the Cap’n’s hand which instructed us to listen to this man’s advice, and I did so. McNally heard the whole tale from my lips, tho he knew much of it from the Cap’n, including my own hand in our capture and in protecting the virtue of our hostages from the yot. Instead o’ callin’ me traitor for giving up the Grace, McNally told me this was a good thing, that my actions were – laudable, I think he said. He complimented us too on not speaking to the law in our questioning sessions, which earned a laugh from me. “Does anyone?” I asked him. “Why? For fear of their foul breath?”
But now McNally says I need to talk to them, and tell them everything. He says the law needs a sacrifice, a patsy, he called it. Someone to point the finger of justice at and proclaim There be the guilty one! A trophy for the wall, that’s all it is. But McNally says we must give them this. And what’s more, he says that the Cap’n has ordered it so, has ordered us to talk to these bastards, these – they’re not English, but they might as well be for the way they treat us. Not cruel, no, but like we be beneath them, like dirt, or spittle under their bootheel which must be scraped off and washed away. As tho we be filth to be cleansed, instead of men. Aye, they be English, in truth. They be West English, that’s what they be.
And I am to confess to these West English? To the law? Aye, Nate ordered it, I believe McNally’s word on that. I see the Cap’n’s reasons, too. If we talk, it be O’Flaherty and Burke, Carter and Shlocksir wi’ the noose about their necks. Them what led, and them who did the killing. And for their mutiny against my Cap’n and friend, they should do the Devil’s dance at the end of a rope, aye, for certain sure, and I’d watch ’em and smile, for what they done.
But he wants me to talk to the law. He wants me to cooperate, and turn on my fellow pirates. Aye, it be an order, but we’re not on ship. And curse me for it, but Cap’n’s been wrong afore – ne’er should ha’ hired on that Shlocksir, ne’er should ha’ whipped him just for trying on that girl. Turned the men against him, and look at us now.
I don’t know what to do.
20th of July
McNally came back again today. He told me the men be waiting on me to talk. All except for Shlocksir. That whoreson be singing hymns from the choir loft, all about his innocence and all our evil ways, how we forced him to do it all against his will. Figures that even in saving his own greasy skin, he comes out a coward and a weakling.
McNally told me too that the West English all but promised that if we tell the tale, and if it be true, then we’d go free. He says they don’t believe Shlocksir, for the witnesses from the land-grabs and the yot tell a tale somewhat different from the one that poxy bastard be spinning. A tale what our story will line with right fine, methinks. McNally’s not sure about me, nor Kelly. I was on the yot, with a cutlass, and Kelly broke in doors for the land-grabs. We may have to stay in here. Tho he swears we will not swing for what we done, even if they hold us to our crimes.
After he left, I had other visitors. The two lasses we took off the yot, who Kelly and me stood guard over. They came to – to thank us. For protecting them. Christ.
I’ll talk. There be good men in this crew, in this gaol, and they shouldn’t be here. Perhaps I can talk them out of here, even if I can’t find my own way to freedom.
26th of July
No need to write in this of late. I been busy reciting my lessons for the West English, and I don’t want to recount that tale. Damn me, but they want to hear the same story over and over and over, like wee bairns at bedtime. “Tell us again, Uncle Ian, about the yot. Tell us the one about when the Coast Guard caught ye.” My tongue be tired of it.
But it worked. The men’ll be released today, all but Kelly and me, and the four bastards who be our scapegoats, our sacrificial lambs. Tho really, they be more weasels and mongrels. Our sacrificial mongrel-weasels. They be staying here.
McNally says, and the West English agree, that if Kelly and me agree to stand in court and testify against the four mongrel-weasels, we’ll be set free, too. We’ll plead guilty to theft and the like, and leave wi’ time served and parole that would keep us here in Florida. West England, says I, whate’er flowery name they write on the map.
Be it too much? To stand before a magistrate, point my finger, put the noose on them myself? I sailed with those men, whate’er they done. Carter was a good man, too, a good tar, and Burke ha’ fought many a battle for us. O’Flaherty, too, standing side by side with me with lead flying and steel singing. Can I do that to them? Can I kill them with the law?
27th of July
Aye, I can. Hurts to write. With the men gone and Kelly elsewhere, Burke and O’Flaherty caught me in the galley and tried to beat me to death. Did a fair job of it, too. And all the while cursing me for opening my gob to the law.
Damn them anyway, I be no coward. If I clap shut now, they’ll think they beat a fear into me. I’ll not have that.
I’ll tell myself we’re on ship. They be mutineers, and I be the first mate. I’d be the one to tie the knot on their necks and cast them off the yardarm, asea. So aye, I’ll do it here, too. For my Cap’n, and my – is it honor? Is it? Do I have any of that? Will I still, after I do this, after I help the English to kill Irishmen?
I know not. I know nothing. It all hurts.