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English Steel and Spanish Passion

By Drake Williams and Warren Geiger

Don Alvarez de Perona de Sadista, thought the Spanish Main a Spanish lake until he met Terror's English steel!

THE gods frowned as Edward Terror and the Maid of Avon beat through the Mona Passage off the green land mass that was Hispaniola. The sea was sparkling blue and the sky was azure as the little Dutch-built merchantman bowled merrily over the waves. Her hold was fat with spices and cane and her destination was home, Cardiff, Wales.

"Aye, Duggley, a few more weeks and we'll be back home for good." With satisfaction in his black eyes and a smile on his tanned face, the master of the Maid of Avon spoke to his Somersetshire navigator.

"We've all made enough to settle us for life and live like barons, Edward," the massive, muscular navigator replied. "Although, to be truthful with you, I'm going to miss the tang of the sea and the good fortune that always seemed to be yours."

"We have been lucky in our voyages and now all that we need is for Lady Luck to hold with us across the Atlantic and, Duggley, we'll have never a need to press her again."

At that moment, from a stripe-shirted seaman high in the rigging there came a hail.

"Sail ho, three points off the starboard bow!" The tall, lean figure of Edward Terror straightened up from its recline against the taffrail. From the side pocket of his greatcoat, a thing of beauty in silver and blue, he withdrew a glass and mounted the mizzenmast ratlines. Hand-over-hand, he scrambled up the hemp to the crosstrees and slapped the eyepiece open. Bearing down upon them under a mighty press of sail was a large three-master. By her cut, and not by her ensign for she showed none, the Welshman saw that she was of Spanish build and her open gunports revealed sixteen cannon to a flank.

"I don't like her looks, Duggley," Edward said as he leaped to the poop deck. His heavy black brows were knit in thought as he slipped off his coat and flung it to one of his men. "She flies no flag and her gunports are open. These are pirate waters so let's clear for action until we can better understand her motive in bearing down upon us so."

In a trice the Maid of Avon was cleared of gear on her upper two decks and her puny armament of ten demi-culverins was run out. Cutlasses and pistols were readied on the quarterdeck and the equipage of the guncrews, rams, powder, balls, buckets, and fuses, was placed by the open ports.

"She's got the weather gauge of us, Edward," the blonde Duggley noted to his captain. "And, by the great bear, I believe she means us foul play."

Edward glanced at the rippling Cross of St. George flying at his own gaff and wondered what manner of foe this stranger on the seas could be. It would do him no good to flee because it was evident that the mighty scarlet stranger was more fleet of sail than his smaller vessel. Bought at Plymouth, the Maid of Avon was a captured prize from the great battle at Texel in 1653. She was fine for trade but even the renowned Dutch Admiral De Ruyter could never have made of her a formidable or speedy man-of-war. He must trust to luck and hope for the best.

"There's a flag running up her main-truck," the clear call of the lookout shrilled forth. '"She's Spanish!"

There brazenly slapping in the easterly breeze was the red and yellow banner of Castile. At that very moment a cotton-like puff of white blossomed from the Spaniard's bow and later the clap of a cannon shot carried across the rippled skin of the sea as a ball plummeted into the water beneath the Englishman's bowsprit and kicked up a miniature waterspout.

"The dog!"

Knowing her now for what she was, the temper of Edward Terror burnt red hot. He knew that Charles II of Spain felt that the Caribbean was, by Divine Right, the sole property of Spain; he also knew that any lone Englishman was fair bait for the greed of these pompous scavengers of the Main. But why, in God's name, should he, of all men, have to find himself target for these cruel hounds of the sea just when his whole future seemed assured? Blast their parents' passion, he could choose no other course but to fight and that might end eventually in defeat and destruction.

"Bring her more to starboard, Duggley," he shouted above the creak of the rigging and the pounding of the seas. "Lay her as close-hauled as possible on a line with that Spanish dog's bowsprit."

The Maid of Avon heeled around with her port flank deep in the rolling blue waves and with her yardarms almost parallel with her keel line. She bore straight as an arrow for the approaching foe.

"What do you intend, Edward?" The perplexed Duggley asked as he placed twin pistolets in his greatbelt and thrust a vicious looking cutlass into his baldric.

"Nothing more than bravado, old fella. It might serve to confuse their slow witted Castillian minds and give us a fair break to make a run for it if we can weather their first broadside."

When the powerful thirty-two gun foe swung around, as she must eventually do to bring her guns to bear, Edward Terror could then change his course to suit Fortune and, mayhap, break away before the Spaniard could again pick up speed. It was a long dangerous chance—but chance it was.

THE foam piled up at the bows of the two approaching vessels and then bubbled and trailed away on their flanks. The white wakes thus formed appeared to the wheeling hurricane birds overhead like unto twin arrows approaching one another. Inexorably the two mountains of sail pounded closer and closer. The masts and white expanse of her sheets grew enormous as the scarlet ship of Spain drew near. Her ratlines and foredeck were crowded with the corseleted figures of a numerous crew and the black snouts of cannon jutted ominously forth from the scroll work on her flanks.

"By the saints, Edward," Duggley exclaimed aghast. "The knave flies the pennant of the Vice-Admiral of the Caribbean Squadron!"

Indeed it was true and served to add fuel to the fires of hate that burned in the hot-tempered Welsh captain's mind. There, at her foremast tip, the sword and dragon of the Spanish West Indian Squadron Vice-Admiral flowed. It was a pennant whose import could well mean war between Spain and England if ever report of this coming action were received in the British Admiralty. It meant too that the Spaniard figured the battle as well as won and the English heretics already put to the sword.

"Duggley, this is as fine a sample of Spanish treachery as you're apt to ever see."

At last the Spaniard heeled around to starboard and the long gleaming line of her cannon revealed themselves yawning hungrily toward the smaller Maid of Avon. Then, with a thunderous crash, her flank erupted in orange flame and billowing white clouds of smoke. The Maid of Avon shuddered in every timber from the broadside. Ratlines parted, red swathes of destruction swirled across her decks and Edward Terror was dashed against a capstan.

As he arose, his left arm limp and bleeding at his side, he realized that all opportunity for escape was gone. The Maid of Avon shuddered to a stop upon the seas that were now turning lavender in the rays of the setting sun. Her mainmast had crashed to the deck and her waist was a mass of broken spars and tangled cordage,

"Fire!"

He heard Duggley's command ring out and then came the answer, a paltry coughing of four demi-culverins. As he stumbled across the mangled bodies of several of his crew and the ripped and scarred boards, a sudden thought occurred to him. The swine of Castile would never board his ship alive. Into the hold he raced, a demonic looking son of battle.

In the powder magazine he planted a long trailing fuse and ran it up to the poop deck hatch combing. There he passed it through and soon came from below himself. His broad-brimmed hat had been torn from his black head and his long curling hair flowed in the breeze as, hunched over and with right hand on rapier, he shouted for Duggley.

"I've run a fuse to the powder magazine and mean to blast the Maid of Avon to kingdom come before yonder Hell's children can ever board her."

The grim faced and soot-smeared Somersetshireman was taken aback.

"Aye, Edward, but what of us?" "We'll take to the longboat—what's left of us—and put our faith in the open sea rather than in the Spaniard's evil heart." He waved his hand toward the red ball of the setting sun. "Night will be upon us in a matter of minutes and, mayhap, we can make an island hereabouts afore the Spaniard can overtake us."

DUGGLEY went to prepare the long-boat on the starboard side away from the prying eyes of the foe and the one-sided battle thundered on. The great Spaniard had come up again on a different tack through the dispersing smoke and was presenting her unfired starboard guns for the coup-de-grace. This puny English heretic would get a second dose of Hell for his impudence in not surrendering to the Vice-Admiral of the Caribbean Squadron, Don Alvarez de Perona de Sadista. Then would come the boarding and each and every surviving English dog would feel the cold blade of the sword upon his neck. There should be some valuable cargo and, mayhap, some gold or other treasure aboard.

Night was falling fast as it is wont to do in the Indies when the San Nicolas, for that was the name of the scarlet Spaniard, bore in for another rain of lead. Duggley and Edward Terror could see her rails packed with grinning faces and could hear the vile mouthings and insults of the enemy's crew through the shattered larboard rail and bulwarks. The demi-culverins fired first and it was with glee that the men of the Maid of Avon saw a gunport below decks burst into livid flame and death. Then a great rolling roar swallowed every other sound in its enormity and four hundred pounds of lead tore into the shattered Englishman. Both the mizzen and the fore masts came rattling down with a tearing of sails and snapping of ropes. There were screams as more of Edward Terror's men fell to the reddened decks and the rolling clouds of smoke from the enemy's broadside swept and swirled around the stricken vessel.

"Edward, your chest," Duggley coughed through the smoke as he pointed to the Welshman's breast.

A Spanish ball had slashed across his front and left a raw gash six inches wide from nipple to nipple. The navigator hastily bound the bleeding chest with a huge strip of torn sail cloth and helped the begrimed merchant captain to his feet.

"I'll be all right, Duggley," he said as he arose, his face twisted in pain. "If the longboat's ready, let's set the fuse and be away. It's dark enough and those scum will soon be back to board."

The remainder of the crew, eight men, joined Duggley and their captain. Duggley lit the fuse at the poop deck hatch and the ten Englishmen slid down the ropes to the waiting and bobbing longboat. The skies were now black but the flames from the Maid of Avon's fires lighted the sea for many yards around. The powder-begrimed men in their tattered clothing, burdened with bandaged heads, arms and legs, pushed off from the hull of the once proud merchantman.

"Put up the sail, Gallat," the huge, blonde Duggley ordered as Edward Terror, wracked with pain from his torn left arm and bloody chest, lay silently in the sternsheets. "For the present, let's only try to keep the Maid of Avon between us and that Spanish hellhound. Once we're away in the night, we'll set our course by the stars for Puerto Rico. There should be some islands in that direction."

Meanwhile, the Spaniard had turned once again and was drawing alongside the shattered and burning hulk. She hove to at a safe distance and launched some cockboats with picked crews to board the vanquished Englishman. Although all was silent from the riddled merchantman but the crackling of her fires, the Spaniards were wary, for these Englishmen might still have strengt...

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