Resting her elbows on the railing of the ship, the girl peered into the water, hoping she wouldn’t see anything scary. The salt air tickled her nose as an involuntary shudder rippled through her, and she tried not to think about the slippery monsters lurking in the murky depths below the creaking ship. Her fear of watery creatures diminished during the daytime, but at night it stayed with her and left her feeling like a child who feared a phantom under her bed. The ocean was a deep, wet mass of unknowns, and the enormity of it frightened her, but Frederica Beauchamp had never been one to let fear hold her back.
Months before, she had left England on the Adelaide, a merchant ship bound for the colonies, leaving everything familiar to her behind, except for a trunk of her belongings and her best friend Cassandra. During the voyage, Cassandra had experienced seasickness most of the trip and had stayed below deck as much as possible. But Frederica thrived on the cool, brisk air rushing across her face as she peered out across the great, wide ocean, contemplating a future filled with exciting adventures.
Frederica found life on the Adelaide quite agreeable, and she’d become acquainted with many of the crew members because she asked numerous questions. All the ropes and the sails and riggings fascinated her, and though she was dying to climb up to the crow’s nest, she’d yet to find the courage to do so.
On this particular day, her daydreaming was cut short when, in the distance, a white square appeared, dipping in and out of view. On wobbly legs, she ran to find an officer. It was rare to see other vessels in the open sea, and when it occurred, the crew became nervous because they feared the other ship would be carrying pirates. And since they were sailing for the southern colonies, their route took them awfully close to the Caribbean, which was known to have pirate-infested waters.
The first mate was busy having a conversation with a midshipman, and Frederica did her best to wait patiently for it to end. But the longer the first mate ignored her, the closer the approaching ship came. Finally, she tugged at his sleeve.
He turned, making his annoyance clear with a roll of his eyes. “Yes, Miss Beauchamp. What is it now?”
Frederica knew the first mate lacked an appreciation for passengers, particularly those with a curious nature like her own. Tilting her chin haughtily, she proclaimed, “Pardon me, sir, but there is a ship approaching,” and she pointed to the dot on the horizon.
He squinted his eyes in the direction she indicated, then frowned. “Miss Beauchamp, if this is some sort of joke…”
“Whatever do you mean—a joke? Do you not see the white of the sails yon?”
“I do not.” Patronizingly, he asked the midshipman, “How about you, Davy, do you see it?”
Davy raised a hand over his eyes. “Nah, but then I can’t see a far ways.”
The first mate waved her off. “Run along, girl. Find something to occupy yourself with, and leave the men to their work.”
Inside, Frederica steamed at his dismissal of her, but she took a deep breath and tried again. “Sir, I am not playing. I see a ship on the horizon. Please alert the lookout!”
“I told you to quiet down,” the first mate snarled.
“Hmph! Fine, then I’ll alert the captain.”
“You will do no such thing! Now stop this ruckus, or I will have you detained.”
“Detain me? I am merely trying to save you from a possible ambush!” Her voice sounded high and shrill, even to her.
Just then, Cassandra tottered up on deck, her blonde hair whipping in the wind. “Frederica, I can hear you all the way down below. What is happening?”
“A ship is approaching and this fool will not order a lookout!”
Cassandra looked out to sea. “I don’t see anything…”
“But I do! Right there.” Frederica pointed again.
The first mate grabbed Frederica’s arm. “Enough!”
Adrenaline coursed through Frederica’s veins, and she spun around and slapped the officer across the cheek.
“That’s it, missy. I’ve had enough impertinence out of you.” The first mate snatched Frederica’s arms behind her and turned to Davy. “Clap her in irons.”
“Sir?” Davy asked, taken aback.
“You heard me!”
Davy ran to fetch restraints, and the first mate held Frederica tight.
“Let me go, you fool! There’s a ship and it’s gaining,” Frederica insisted.
“Please, sir. She has keen eyesight, always has. Let her go. You’ll see she’s correct,” Cassandra pleaded.
Davy returned and the first mate responded, “I will do no such thing. This young woman has caused more than her share of trouble, and she will learn her lesson.” He fastened the cuffs around her wrists and pushed her back towards Davy. “Take her down below. I will release her later, after she apologizes.”
Frederica clenched her fists, fuming at the unfair treatment, when a sailor from the other end of the ship called, “Ahoy! A ship!”
The lookout shimmied up the pole to the crow’s nest, where he held his spyglass to his eye. After mere seconds, he called down, “Aye. ‘Tis a ship. Better wake the captain.”
The crew appeared frozen, and the lookout hollered down again, “Step lively, mates!”
With that, three sailors bumped into each other, trying to alert the captain. The first mate and Davy rushed to the other end of the ship, leaving Frederica and Cassandra standing together.
“We have to get me out of these shackles,” Frederica said.
Cassandra nodded. “I don’t see the first mate. We need to get the key from him.”
“Let’s get closer so we can hear what’s going on.”
The two girls inched closer to the hubbub that was taking place amongst the crew. The other passengers who had come on deck were being told to go back below, and the captain finally appeared and called up to the lookout, “What sort of ship?”
It was several moments before the man called back, his voice wavering, “Pirates. It’s the Jolie Rouge.”
Cassandra’s hand flew to her throat. “Did you hear that?” she whispered to Frederica, who nodded back and shushed her friend.
“Are you quite sure?” the captain asked, clearly willing the news to be false.
Time seemed to stand still, until the lookout finally crowed, “Aye. ‘Tis the Jolie Rouge!”
The captain began shouting orders, and the smell of fear grew pungent in the air amidst the mass chaos that developed. From what Frederica had seen, the Adelaide’s passengers and crew would not pose much of a match for a pirate crew bent on violence and thievery.
Frederica stood, unmoving, in one spot, eyes glued to the horrible vessel that loomed larger on the horizon the closer it came. Cassandra threw her arms around Frederica and they huddled together, seeking comfort from the bedlam that ensued around them. As people screamed and bustled about in a panic, Frederica considered going below deck, but she remained frozen, a combination of horror and fascination running thick in her veins.
When the ship drew nearer, she was able to make out the image of an hourglass centered on the blood red flag. Her heart dropped like a stone when she absorbed its fateful message as it whipped atop the mast of the approaching ship. Your time has run out.
Before she knew it, the boom of cannon fire rang over the Adelaide’s bow, causing passengers to drop to a prone position on deck or race for cover below. Frederica prayed it was a warning shot and not the first of a deadly barrage. Pulse racing, she curled up in a corner of the aft deck next to Cassandra, trying to make herself as small as possible. The smell of gunpowder burned her nose, and smoke billowed in the air, choking her lungs. Wishing she could cover her ears, she shut her eyes instead and hummed a song from her childhood, willing away the terror closing in around her.
After what seemed like hours, Frederica heard the triumphant “woots” of the pirates hollering to one another as they boarded the Adelaide, pikes and pistols in hand. Her ears reverberated with the crashing sounds of the marauders smashing crates, their triumphant voices interspersed with shrieks of alarm.
Men dirty with soot rounded up her fellow passengers and herded them to one end of the ship. A pirate wearing a red Monmouth cap and a striped shirt grabbed her and Cassandra and shoved them into the group. When he released them, he flashed a wicked grin made all the more alarming by his one shiny gold tooth.
The acrid smell of fear filled the air, and a cacophony of shrieks and sobs rose above the din. Frederica attempted to squeeze to the middle of the sweaty group, but the throng of petrified passengers would not permit it. No one wanted to be at the front of the group. Hiding in the back was preferable, and the crowd had clearly adopted the motto, “Save yourself.”
“Frederica, I’m so frightened.” Cassandra trembled.
“Hush. It’s going to be alright,” Frederica said with more confidence than she felt. Shaking like a leaf, she hunched over and huddled as close to her friend as possible. If only she could keep the pirates from noticing them…
At that moment, a large, gruff-looking man appeared from behind the sails. The manner in which the other pirates deferred to him and taking into account his fancy dress, Frederica surmised he was their captain. He wore a dingy purple coat with a white ruffled shirt underneath, his breeches were tight, and his belly made an appearance long before the rest of him arrived. A grizzled, tobacco-stained beard fell to his chest, and his beady black eyes searched the group of passengers. He ordered his men to search them all, and the pirates snatched jewelry from the necks and hands of everyone wearing any. The captain himself commandeered one woman’s shoes and another’s scarf. Some of the lower ranking pirates took shirts or pants from some of the male passengers, leaving a few men huddling in their undergarments.
A gang of boisterous men came up from below deck, carrying handfuls of jewelry and coins. They grumbled amongst themselves, dissatisfied with the Adelaide’s meager treasure haul.
In contrast, the captain appeared quite satisfied as he raised an arm and immediately the pirates opened fire on the packed mass of passengers and the Adelaide’s crew. Cutlasses were drawn, and bodies fell all around Frederica’s feet.
Something heavy struck her in the head, and a curtain of black rolled in front of her eyes. She felt her body give way, and suddenly she was falling…
That was the last thing she remembered.