Jane Eyre and Pirates

Aye, Mates!


There was no possibility of scrubbing the deck that day. We had been wandering, indeed, around the holds an hour in the morning; but since supper (Master Reed, when there were no pirate attacks, dined early) the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating, that further out-door work was now out of the question.

I was glad of it: I never liked scrubbing hard, especially on decks that looked like pig-sties: dreadful to me was the docking in the raw twilight, with nipped fingers and toes, and a heart saddened by the orders of mates, and humbled by the consciousness of my physical inferiority to the rest of the crew: Eliza, John, and Georgiana Reed.

The said mates Eliza, John, and Georgiana were now clustered round their Master in the bridge: she stood reclined on her wooden leg, and with her favorite pirates about her (for the time neither quarrelling nor drinking rum) looked perfectly happy. Me, she had dispensed from joining the group; saying, “She regretted to be under the necessity of plundering and killing; but that until she heard from Mate Bessie, and could discover by her own observation, that I was a mate in good earnest to acquire a more bloodthirsty disposition, a more pirate and vagabond manner — something heavier, dirtier, more pirately, aye, as it were — she really must exclude me from privileges intended only for fat, greasy, murderous pirates.”

“What does Mate Bessie say I have done?” I asked.

“Oiler Jane, I don’t like low rank mates or questioners, aye; besides, there is something truly forbidding in a sub-ranked mates taking up her Masters in that manner. Be seated somewhere; and until you can drink like a man, remain silent.”

A mess-room adjoined the bridge, I boarded in there. It contained a bottle of old rum: I soon possessed myself of a tall glass, taking care that it should be filled to the brim. I mounted into one of the ships’ hatches: gathering a cigar fag from my pocket, I sat smoking, like an old, dirty yankee; and, having drunk the whole glass at once, I was shrined in gloomy rum-deliciousness.

Layers of dust dry blood from foes shut in my view to the starboard; to port side were more worn-out panes of glass, protecting, but not separating me from the shark-filled sea. At intervals, while chugging more glasses of rum from the bottle, I studied the aspect of that agitated sea. Afar, it offered a pale blank of mist and cloud; near a scene of wet vastness and shark-infested darkness, with ceaseless rain sweeping away wildly before a long and lamentable blast.

I returned to my glass — Old Pirate’s Rum AYE: the brand thereof I cared little for, generally speaking – I was too drunk to read; But it brought me memories. They were those which treat of the haunts of sea-fowl; of “the solitary rocks and promontories” by them only inhabited; of the coast of Norway, studded with isles from its southern extremity, the Lindeness, or Naze, to the North Cape –

“Where the Northern Ocean, in vast whirls, Boils round the naked, melancholy isles Of farthest Thule; and the Atlantic surge Pours in among the stormy Hebrides.”

Nor could I pass unnoticed the memory of the bleak shores of Lapland, Siberia, Spitzbergen, Nova Zembla, Iceland, Greenland, with “the vast sweep of the Arctic Zone, and those forlorn regions of dreary space, — that reservoir of frost and snow, where firm fields of ice, the accumulation of centuries of winters, glazed in Alpine heights above heights, surround the pole, and concentre the multiplied rigours of extreme cold.” Of these death-white realms I remembered clearly: shadowy, like all the half-comprehended notions that float dim through pirate’s brains, but strangely impressive. The rum in this bottle connected to my already drunk mind, and gave significance to the rock standing up alone in a sea of billow and spray; to the broken boat stranded on a desolate coast; to the cold and ghastly moon glancing through bars of cloud at a wreck just sinking.

I cannot tell what sentiment haunted the quite solitary ship, with its inscribed broken mast; its hull, its two decks damaged by krakens, its low boards, stained from foes’ blood, and its newly-risen bow, attesting the hour of eventide.

The two ships becalmed on a torpid sea, I believed to be marine phantoms.

The fiend pinning down the thief’s pack behind him, I passed over quickly: it was an object of terror.

So was the black horned thing seated aloof on a rock, surveying a distant crowd surrounding a gallows.

With gallons of rum on my stomach, I was then drunk: drunk as a pig, at least in my way. I feared nothing but interruption, and that came too soon. The bridge door opened.

“AYE! ARG! Lady Faggotry!” cried the voice of John Reed; then he paused: he found the room apparently empty.

“Where the dickens is she!” he continued. “Lizzy! Georgy! (calling to his other mates) Joan is not here: tell Master she is run out into the rain — bad animal!”

“It is well I closed the hatch,” thought I; and I wished fervently he might not discover my hiding-stash of rum: nor would John Reed have found it out himself; he was not quick either of vision or conception; but mate Eliza just put her head in at the door, and said at once –

“She is in the hatch, to be sure, Jack.”

And I came out immediately, for I trembled at the idea of being dragged forth and have my rum stolen by the said Jack.

“Arg, what do you want, aye?” I asked, with awkward diffidence.

“Aye, ‘What do you want, Master Reed?'” was the answer. “I want you to come here, you rat;” and seating himself in a thief leg stump, he intimated by a gesture that I was to approach and stand before him.

John Reed was a pirate of fourteen years old; four years older than I, for I was but ten: large and stout for his age, with a dingy and unwholesome skin; thick lineaments in a spacious visage, heavy limbs and large extremities. He gorged himself habitually at mess, which made him bilious, and gave him a dim and bleared eye and flabby cheeks. He ought now to have been at other ship; but his Master had boarded him back in this ship for a month or two, “on account of his rum needs.” Mr. Miles, the First Mate, affirmed that he would do very well if he had fewer shots and kraken-pies sent him from the home-ship; but the Master’s heart turned from an opinion so harsh, and inclined rather to the more refined idea that John’s sallowness was owing to under-driking and, perhaps, to pining after home.

John had not much affection for his Master and mates, and an antipathy to me. He bullied and punished me; not two or three times in the week, nor once or twice in the day, but continually: every nerve I had feared him, and every morsel of flesh in my bones shrank when he came near. There were moments when I was bewildered by the terror he inspired, because I had no appeal whatever against either his menaces or his hook hand; the servants did not like to offend their young master by taking my part against him, and Master Reed was blind and deaf on the subject: she never saw him strike or heard him abuse me, though he did both now and then in her very presence, more frequently, however, behind her back.

Habitually obedient to John, I came up to his stump: he spent some three minutes in thrusting out his tongue at me as far as he could without damaging the roots: I knew he would soon strike, and while dreading the blow, I mused on the disgusting and ugly appearance of him who would presently deal it. I wonder if he read that notion in my face; for, all at once, without speaking, he struck suddenly and strongly. I tottered, and on regaining my equilibrium retired back a step or two from his stump.

“That is for your impudence in answering Master awhile since,” said he, “and for your sneaking way of getting behind hatches, and for the look you had in your eyes two minutes since, you rat!”

Accustomed to John Reed’s abuse, I never had an idea of replying to it; my care was how to endure the blow which would certainly follow the insult.

“What were you doing behind the Hatch?” he asked.

“I was drinking rum.”

“Show the bottle.”

I returned to the hatch and fetched it thence.

“You have no business to take our bottles of rum, aye; you are a dependent, Master says; you have no money; your father left you none; you ought to beg, and not to live here with Master’s pirates like us, and eat the same meals we do, and wear clothes at our Master’s expense. Now, I’ll teach you to rummage my bottles: for they ARE mine; all the house belongs to me, or will do in a few years. Go and stand by the hatchway, out of the way of the mirror and the hatches.”

I did so, not at first aware what was his intention; but when I saw him lift and poise the bottle and stand in act to hurl it, I instinctively started aside with a cry of alarm: not soon enough, however; the precious rum was flung, it hit me, and I fell, striking my head against the watertight door and cutting it. The cut bled, the pain was sharp: my terror had passed its climax; other feelings succeeded.

“Wicked and cruel!” I said. “You are like a murderer — you are like a slave-driver — you are like the yankees!”

“What! what!” he cried. “Did she say that to me? Did you hear her, mates Eliza and Georgiana? Won’t I tell Master? but first — ”

He ran headlong at me: I felt him grasp my hair and my shoulder: he had closed with a desperate thing. I really saw in him a tyrant, a murderer. I felt a drop or two of blood from my head trickle down my neck, and was sensible of somewhat pungent suffering: these sensations for the time predominated over fear, and I received him in frantic sort. I don’t very well know what I did with my hands, but he called me “Rat! Rat!” and bellowed out aloud. Aid was near him: mates Eliza and Georgiana had run for Master Reed, who was gone upstairs: she now came upon the scene, followed by first mate Bessie and her second mate Abbot. We were parted: I heard the words –

“Aye! Aye! What a fury to fly at Master John!”

“Did ever anybody see such a picture of piratery!”

Then Master Reed subjoined –

“Take her away to the red-hold, and lock her in there.” Four hands were immediately laid upon me, and I was borne upstairs.


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