Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Under the Black Ensign - Chapter 5 - Our Pirate Hero Finally Steals a Boat

Time passes.  The Dutchman finally sinks four days after beaching itself on the shoal, and it takes another week for "the blacks" to recover from their ordeal enough to work.  But once they're hale and hearty again, "these blacks" work hard, hollowing out logs salvaged from the ship to make simple canoes, which when outfitted with Pacific-style outriggers under Bristol's direction, can be used as attack craft.  The Dutchman's sails are converted into a village of tents for everyone, and midshipman "Jim Campbell" gets her own quarters.

But for the first few days, she was reluctant to go far from her tent.  There was something terrifying about these blacks, an undercurrent of bitterness which she felt rather than saw.  But as she became used to seeing them and she saw that they had nothing but reverence for her, she grew bolder and went about with Bristol.  

Oddly enough, I can't tell whether or not any of the Sennarians have figured out Jane's gender.  They never interact with her 'on-screen,' and Amara only talks to Bristol.  Oh wait, Bristol calls her "my lady" in front of Amara at the end of the chapter.  Guess these gentlemen are well-behaved former galley slaves.  Or maybe they didn't find out until then, and Hubbard left out Amara's bug-eyed exclamation of "He's a whaaaa?"

At night, when she lay alone in her tent listening to the incessant thunder of the surf, she was sometimes afraid of the power which had been thrown into Bristol's hands.  He was tempered steel, physically and mentally, like a long Toledo blade.  Into his eyes had come a light which was exciting, but far from reassuring.  It was the clear, heady look of one who sees far beyond the horizon.

Ah, our hero is both the rebellious type and a visionary.  Suh-woon.

"The blacks" don't bother to try to hide themselves from any passing ships, and Bristol is hoping that someone will be stupid enough to come up and attack them.  This doesn't happen, but one afternoon an indeterminate amount of time later, a lookout spots a Spanish ship on the horizon, slowly sailing home.  Two hours later it's dusk, the ship is close to Bristol's island, and it's time to attack.

Now, the title of this chapter is "Bristol and His Crew Use Strategy."  And here I think we fall prey to the same problem underlining most if not all of Hubbard's work - he's not an expert on anything he writes about.  He can't convincingly write a super-scientist hero because the author doesn't understand science, he can't write a revolutionary doctor because the author doesn't know much about medicine, and so forth.  In this case, the brilliant strategy Bristol comes up with to capture the Spanish vessel is to, drumroll please, launch a night raid.  They'll never see that coming.  Because it's dark.

The poor Spaniards aren't expecting a bunch of attack canoes to launch from one of the islands they passed around sunset, and are oblivious as "Black hands" throw lines up to their vessel and "Black bodies" climb aboard.  Someone fires a pistol, another person shouts "Filibusteros!"  And I'll admit that I had to look this up in case Hubbard pulled a particularly funny translation fail, but it turns out the word "filibuster" is derived from a Spanish term (in turn picked up from the Dutch vrijbuiter) specifically describing 17th century Caribbean pirates preying on ships sailing to and from Spain's New World colonies.  So credit where it's due, Hubbard did his homework for once.  He never bothered to learn how radiation works, but he was willing to go the distance and use a more precise word than "piratas!" for this pulp story.

The actual battle for the ship lasts less than half a page.

Sailors tumbled out of the hatches.  An officer leaped from the rear cabin, pistols in hand.  He stood there, paralyzed by the sight that met his gaze.  A solid avalanche of black was sweeping down upon him.  He fired. A sword hacked him down.  The avalanche passed over his body and swept across the deck.

Note that the Sennarians disdained firearms when it came to selecting weapons, and all of the these towering warriors are swinging away with cutlasses.  It's not like muskets are doing the Spanish any good, and when Bristol drags a man out of the ship's cabins and demands his surrender, the captain (en Español) begs our hero not to kill him and says the ship is his.  And that's it, the cowering Spaniards are all herded together on the forecastle, "the blacks" are victorious and grinning at each other.  Three Sennarians died in the assault, no word on the Spanish casualties.

Bristol orders the dropped weapons be collected, then offers the Spanish a trade - they can have the canoes and the nearby island base and its supplies, while Bristol and his crew take the ship.  The captain was expecting to be executed, and can only stammer his praise of our hero's gallantry before being kicked off the boat.  And that's it.  Our hero has successfully stolen a ship, by which I mean a bunch of other fellas did the lifting while he made some dramatic demands in a fancy white shirt.

"Amara," said Bristol, leaning against the rail, "that was an excellent job.  Aboard this ship you'll probably find plenty of clothing and a full larder, as the Spaniard must have restocked before putting to sea.

"But if they didn't, and we just gave our prisoners all our old supplies before checking to see if we could have any replacements, boy is my face gonna be red."

Tell your men to find themselves what they want, and appoint me a watch to handle the sails until morning."

Amara saluted.  "Very good, Captain sir."

Bristol turned to Lady Jane.  "And I guess this makes full-fledged buccaneers out of us, my lady.  That first shot nicked me, thanks to this white shirt.  Let's go aft and tie it up."

As far as I can tell, this is not a euphemism for shtupping.  I mean, I've only skimmed the next chapter, but I can't find anything to suggest that our hero and the only female character in the story have surrendered to narrative convention and gotten together.  Maybe you couldn't be too obvious with that sort of thing in 1935.

Back to Chapter 4

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