Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter
By John Baur
© 2015, all rights reserved
This is the first three chapters of the YA novel, “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter.” On sale soon!
Hampton, Virginia Colony
September 22, 1717
Chrissie blew gently on the tin flute, watching the tears running down her father’s face as he sang the popular ballad of lost love.
And when death takes his due, Eileen aroon!
What should her lover do? Eileen aroon!
Fly o’er the bounding main
Never to love again,
He paused, laughing, holding up a hand in protest while wiping the tears from his eyes with the other.
“Stop Chrissie, stop!” he said, laughing. “You know I can’t sing that all the way through without bawlin’ like a baby. Me, a man who’s sailed around the world and crossed the line six times, and I can’t make it through a simple song. You don’t want to spend your birthday watching your father blubber!”
Chrissie threw her arms around him.
“I thought you sounded fine, papa,” she said.
Then he pulled back and looked at her, a smile lighting his face.
“You played beautifully,” he said, then turned to her uncle, Joe O’Riley, and added, “It was a gift well given.”
“Well, she’s been using mine so much I thought it was time she had one of her own,” Joe said. “Now we can play some duets together, eh Chrissie?”
Chrissie nodded and looked around the room at the small gathering. Beside her father, there was her uncle Joe and Mrs. Garrity, the housekeeper who had raised Chrissie since the day the girl’s mother died giving birth to her. Her father, a merchant sailor, came and went; Joe and Mrs. Garrity had been the two constants in her life.
“Well,” Mrs. Garrity said with a smile, “are we ready for pudding?”
Everyone murmured in anticipation as Mrs. Garrity went to the kitchen. There was a hiss of steam, then the housekeeper emerged carrying a platter with a small steamed pudding, as perfect and round as a cannon ball.
“A masterpiece, Mrs. G!” Dan crowed. “I’ve dined with maharajas and eastern potentates – S’true, every word!” he added as the party smiled, “but I’ve never, in all me life of rovin’, ever seen a finer pudding, and that’s a fact!”
Mrs. Garrity beamed with pleasure, but before she could start serving a knock at the door interrupted her.
“Who could that be at this hour?” Mrs. Garrity grumbled as she crossed the room. She opened the door a crack and Chrissie could hear a voice from outside, though she couldn’t make out the words. Mrs. Garrity opened the door wider and gestured for the interloper to come in.
“You’ll find him at the table,” she told the man who stepped into the room.
He pulled off his cap and lowered his head as he stepped toward the table. He couldn’t have been anything but a sailor. He was short and wiry, his face bronzed, and his clothes and hair, though tidy, were faded from sun and salt. The few steps he took from doorway to table revealed a rolling gait that spoke of more time spent on a ship’s deck than on land.
“Pardon the intrusion, Dan – ma’am, – everyone,” he said. “But I’ve been asked to make the rounds and they only gave me the list an hour ago.”
“Silas!” said Dan, flustered. “Silas David, this is my family – Mrs. Garrity, the housekeeper, you’ve met. Joe O’Riley, my late wife’s brother, and this is my daughter, Mary Christine Warren. It’s her birthday today, her thirteenth. She’s become a lady! Pull up a chair!”
“I can’t, but many happy returns of the day miss,” he said, nodding in Chrissie’s direction. “I’ve two more calls to make. Just came by to offer Captain William’s compliments, Dan, and he wanted me to tell you we sail in three days.”
Chrissie stifled a groan. She’d known it was coming, but that didn’t make it any easier.
“Well,” Dan said to cover the uneasy silence. “At least you’ll have time to help us eat this delightful pudding, won’t you?”
The sailor gave Chrissie a glance, his eyebrow raised in frank appraisal, and she shrank from his gaze. Chrissie had noticed lately that boys her age in town tended to stare at her like big, dumb cows. But in David’s brief glance Chrissie felt something of the wolf licking his chops. Neither Dan nor Joe seemed to notice, but Mrs. Garrity gave a snort and pursed her lips in disapproval.
“Mr. David,” the housekeeper said, briefly pulling the newcomer’s glance away from Chrissie. “What is this ship you mention?”
“Oh, Gladys B. Dan’s to be ship’s carpenter and we sail in three days. She’s a beauty, Mrs. … I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name?” His eyes slipped back to Chrissie while he addressed the older woman.
“Garrity,” she snapped.
“Yes, yes, My pardon. Anyway, she’s a beauty,” he said with his eyes now fully on Chrissie.
“Not now, Silas,” Dan said.
“Well, yes, but the captain said …”
“I understand and you can tell him I got the message.”
Dan glanced sheepishly at his daughter, who simply stared at him, one eyebrow raised. He turned back to the sailor.
“Well, then, Silas, could you at least join us in a toast?”
He agreed, and soon four mugs of punch were raised, with Chrissie uncomfortably the center of attention.
“Chrissie, in thirteen years you’ve grown into a lovely young woman,” said her father, facing her across the table. “While I can’t claim credit for your upbringing, no father could be prouder of his daughter than I am of you. Ladies and gents, I give you Mary Christine Warren!”
“Mary Christine Warren,” the others said, raising their glasses and drinking. David drank with the rest, draining his tankard, which he set back down with a thump.
“And now, Dan, I really must go,” he said, aware he was the cause of the tension in the room but unsure quite why. “Miss Warren, I’m afraid I have other stops to make. Perhaps when we return in the spring I’ll be able to call on you. Until then, the best wishes of the day to you.”
She nodded, averting her eyes as her father showed the man to the door.
They ate the pudding in silence, then Joe helped Mrs. Garrity clear the table and the two went off to the kitchen. Dan stared down at the table in front of him.
“So Pa,” Chrissie said. “Where are you going this time, and when will you be back?”
Dan looked sheepish.
“I’m sorry. I wanted to tell you tomorrow morning, after your birthday.”
“I thought you were going to stay,” she said.
“I have stayed. I’ve been ashore four months this time, Chrissie. That’s a long time for me to stay anywhere. I have to make a living, darlin’. I’m a sailor. It’s what I do.”
Chrissie knew that. Her whole life had been punctuated by her father coming and going, starting even before she had been born.
“Don’t get me wrong, Pa,” she said. “I love Uncle Joe, he’s raised me since I was a babe. Him and Mrs. Garrity, they’re family, right enough. But you’re my pa, and you’re gone more than you’re ever home. Don’t you love me?”
“Never doubt that, Chrissie,” he said, his voice catching in his throat. “You’re all I have in the world, and that’s treasure enough for any man. But Hampton has never been my home. It was your mother’s home, and when I came ashore the first time, it was just another port I’d be sailing away from and maybe never see again. Who knew I’d come down the gangplank and get struck by lightning at the sight of her.”
Chrissie knew the story; she loved to hear how Kathleen O’Riley and Dan Warren had fallen in love at first sight. Within a week they had “an understanding.” Three weeks after that they’d been married. Three months after that Dan had sailed away, telling his bride he’d be back.
When he returned, racing down the gangplank to find her, he had been shocked to learn that he was both a widower and a father.
“That’s a sailor’s life, girl,” he said. “I’m a poorer man for it, but it’s all I know. But you know that wherever I go, the winds will always blow me back to you.”
“They’d better,” she said, “or I’ll come looking for you.”
“Ah, Chrissie, I believe you would,” he laughed. “I believe you could do anything. But never you fear. I’ll come home to you. Count on it.”
Farewell and a Meeting
September 25, 1717
Chrissie tried to squeeze all she could out of every moment with her father, but all too soon she was standing at the end of the gangway with him. Dan dropped his sea bag beside the gangplank and turned to her.
“Time’s a’wastin’, darlin’. I have to get aboard, and you’d best head home before Mrs. Garrity wonders what happened to you.”
“Can’t I stay with you a little longer?” she begged. “I’ll run straight home so she’ll never know I’m late.”
“Ah, Chrissie,” he said. “You know the docks aren’t a proper place for a young lady. And if you don’t know it, Mrs. G. certainly does, and won’t want you dilly-dallyin’ about with a broken down old sailor like me.”
Chrissie laughed at the thought of her strapping father, who was only in his early 30s, as a “broken down old sailor.”
The pier was alive with sailors coming and going, some calling out to old friends, others rushing off on last minute errands.
“Time to go,” Dan said. He held her out at arms length and said, “Let me have a look at you.”
She looked into his eyes – so much like the ones that looked out of the mirror at her – as he drank her in for a full minute. Then he lowered his arms and sighed.
“The prettiest girl in the colonies. I can’t wait to get home to see how much more beautiful you’ve become.”
“Why not stay and see for yourself?” she asked.
“We’ve talked this through. I’m a sailor, and it’s time to sail.”
He held her in a long embrace, then chucked her under the chin and smiled.
“Don’t you worry,” he said. “Seven months from now, maybe sooner, not more than eight, I’ll charge down that gangplank. You take care of your Uncle Joe while I’m gone, and don’t let Mrs. Garrity steal the silver.”
“Pa, we don’t have any silver,” she laughed, thinking of the tin utensils they used.
“Ah! She’s pinched it already, has she! I’ll have words with that woman when I get back, see if I don’t,” he said.
“Just get back, Pa. That’ll be good enough for me.”
She watched as he hoisted his sea bag over his shoulder, turned and marched up the gangway with a stride that suggested he owned the world. At the top, he saluted the man on deck and stepped aboard. Dropping his bag he looked back out at the pier, raising an arm and waving vigorously.
“So long Chrissie!” he shouted. “I’ll see you in the spring!”
With that, he disappeared into the ship. She watched for a few minutes before accepting that – yes, he was gone. And it was time for her to go, too. She began winding her way along the familiar path from the waterfront to her home.
Chrissie turned up an alley that ran alongside the Dolphin, a tavern popular with sailors. The alley was littered and smelled bad, but it was the most direct route home. Picking her way past the discarded crates and old barrels, she didn’t notice anything until she heard a burst of laughter ahead, followed by the sound of voices talking low, then another laugh.
Chrissie crept forward.
Suddenly, one of the voices snapped out angrily, and another cried out in surprise or pain.
Peeking around a crate, Chrissie saw three men, one sprawled on the ground. Another, a big man, had his back to her. Though he seemed to be the largest of the three, he was backing away cautiously from the third.
“How many times do I have to tell you?” hissed the third man, who was hidden by the big one. “We move when I say we do, and not before. That means we wait until we’re in the Caribbean to take the ship. Ya see?”
“Aye,” the fallen man said.
The third man, the one who seemed to be in charge, extended his hand, a smile breaking across his face almost instantly.
“Splendid,” he said. “Now make sure the others understand. No man moves before I say. Anyone even talks about our plans – I’ll lay stripes on his back meself!”
He pulled the first man to his feet and stepped back, giving Chrissie her first glimpse of them. The man who’d been knocked down was short and skinny, with thin, sandy hair. The big man was built like an ox, with a thick, bushy beard, coal black eyes and hair that ran in a long black braid down his back.
But there was something about the third man that held her eye. He was of medium height and build, with long dark hair tied in a pigtail and eyes that burned darkly out of a face that would have been handsome except for the leer that seemed to be a permanent feature. Unlike his comrades, who were dressed in common sailors’ slops, the man in charge wore a blue broadcloth coat over a white shirt and yellow waistcoat, and his head was covered with a tricorn hat with a long, orange feather.
“Then we understand each other?” he asked the two.
“Right Davy,” the smaller man said sullenly, his hand on his cheek where he’d been struck.
“Right who?” the man said, his voice cracking like a whip.
“I mean, aye Mr. Leech,” the smaller man said, cringing.
“That’s more like it,” the one called Davy said. “You can’t forget and slip. Until I give the order, I’m Mr. Leech, and we’re not brothers. We’ve never met.”
The two men bobbed their heads, murmuring agreement.
“Good. Then get aboard with ye, you’re running late. I’ll be there shortly. It wouldn’t do for us to show up at the same time and have people noticing us together,” Leech said.
They turned to go, and that’s when they spotted Chrissie. She froze, then turned – too late – to run. They were on her before she could retreat half a dozen strides, crowding her against the rough planking of the tavern wall.
The big man’s eyes blazed with anger, and the small one’s ran up and down her body with a cool look that made Chrissie’s skin crawl. But it was the middle man, Mr. Leech, who took command and turned her blood cold with a look.
“Well missy,” he said with a leer. “And what are you doing creeping through alleys and listening in on somethin’ that’s none of your business?”
Trouble in the Alley
The face that stared at Chrissie was untouched by human warmth, the eyes cold as a lizard’s. He smiled, but the smile was only a muscular twitch that pulled back the corners of his mouth, without any humor in it. Menace radiated from him like heat from the sun.
The smaller man stuck his face in, asking, “Spyin’ on us? Why?” His rancid breath hit her with physical force, and she pressed back harder to the wall.
“Spying? No, I … I’m waiting for my father. He’ll be here any second.”
“Then why were you listening to us?” Leech asked.
“I wasn’t … I didn’t … I was stretching my legs. I didn’t even see you.”
He leaned in towards Chrissie, pinning her with his stare.
Like a rabbit mesmerized by a snake, Chrissie was frozen. The man leaned towards her, blocking her in. His other hand reached out to her face, and she flinched as the nail of his outstretched finger traced the curve of her chin.
“These two men are shipmates of mine – good lads, practically choir boys. But some men don’t like being spied on. A person who heard something she shouldn’t might get more than her legs stretched, even if it’s a very pretty girl like you.”
The man grinned, an even viler expression than the simple smile had been. The smaller man gave a low chuckle, and turned to Leech.
“Can I have her?” he asked, wiping his lips with the back of his dirty sleeve. “She won’t speak to no one when I’m done wif her.”
“There’s no time,” Leech said. His eyes flicked up and down the alley as his hand stole to his coat pocket. Her eyes followed the movement and saw him start to withdraw a short, thin knife.
The back door of the tavern banged opened and an older woman leaned out and tossed a bucket of greasy water into the alleyway. She glanced up and shouted, “‘Ere now! None o’ that or I’ll call the constable!”
Leech’s head jerked toward the sound of the voice, but he kept one hand firmly on Chrissie’s shoulder. That was all she needed to keep him at the right distance. Chrissie’s knee shot up and connected with him in the way Uncle Joe had taught her, solidly between his legs. Leech let out a gasp and staggered back, tumbling into the larger man.
Chrissie ducked as the smaller man reached for her, turning away from his clutching hand and running the other way, past the startled barmaid and out into the crowded street a block up from the waterfront.
Heart pounding, she plunged into the crowd, weaving and ducking as fast as she could. At the corner she risked a look back. The smaller man had just made it to the head of the alley and was looking about, but hadn’t seen her. She forced herself to slow down as she turned right and walked uphill. She wanted to keep running, but knew she’d stand out more on the crowded street if she was the only running figure.
Halfway up the block she stepped back into a doorway and peeked down the street. The three men were nowhere to be seen. She leaned back against the doorframe and let out a long, shuddering breath, hands and knees trembling.
A sound behind her made her spin in alarm, her hands raised in defense. The door had opened and a voice said, “Excuse me, miss. Are you alright?”
The man behind her had a fringe of white hair and a clean-shaven face that looked in surprise over the top of spectacles. She finally recognized him as one of Hampton’s shopkeepers.
Chrissie tried to speak, but her head spun and her breath came in short gasps. The man held out a hand to steady her.
“What is it?” he asked.
“We’ve got to stop the ship!” she gasped.
“You’re Joe Riley’s girl, aren’t you? He’s your uncle? And Muriel Garrity is … your housekeeper?” he asked.
The man turned to a young girl peering nervously from behind the counter and said something to her, but Chrissie couldn’t tell what he was saying. The girl ran for the door, then the man turned back to Chrissie.
“I’ve sent for your uncle. Now, tell me what happened,” he said. “You’re in a state.”
Chrissie didn’t want to have to go over the story. She caught her breath, then started to rise.
“I’m fine; I have to go,” she said.
“Can’t you tell me what the problem is.”
“I have to go find my pa.”
“Well, let’s wait for your uncle, how’s that? I’m sure he’ll be here in no time.”
She wouldn’t listen as the man – Mr. Evans, that was his name, she remembered – pressed her to wait. But when she tried to get to her feet, she suddenly found her legs were like rubber. She sank back in the chair.
Don’t be silly, she argued with herself. You don’t have time for this. Those men are up to something bad, and it might be Pa’s ship.
Mr. Evans passed her a mug of water and she drank it down quickly. Then she took three deep breaths, shook her head and stood.
“Now, you just sit,” Mr. Evans said. “Your uncle or Mrs. Garrity will be here any minute. Let’s just wait for them.”
“Can’t!” she blurted as she raced for the door. “Have to find Pa!”
She was back on the street, taking the longer way around to avoid the alley and anyone who might still be lurking there. Turning the corner on the waterfront, she pelted toward where Gladys B. was docked.
But the ship was no longer tied up. It was moving slowly away from the pier, and as the tide built, it caught the current and began picking up speed.
Even as she watched, she could see sailors scurrying up the ratlines, sails blooming on the yards, snapping open with a crack as they caught the breeze. Chrissie stared and was rewarded by a glimpse of her father on the deck talking to someone. There was no mistaking the crown of golden hair over his broad frame. Then the ship began to turn and she could see who he was talking to.
A chill ran though her. Even at that distance she could see the man was wearing a blue coat, with a touch of yellow at the waist, and a black tricorn with a long, orange feather.
This is the first three chapters of the YA novel, “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter.” If you enjoyed it, send me your email address (at firstname.lastname@example.org) and I will update you when it goes on sale!