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A Scoundrel in Silk © November 2017 by Jules Radcliffe.


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This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents are either the product of the authors’ imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, organizations, events or locales is entirely coincidental. All sexually active characters in this work are 18 years of age or older.


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First Edition November 2017



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A Scoundrel in Silk

By Jules Radcliffe


Dedication

To all my friends and fans who love the Pirates of Port Royal as much as I do!


Note

This story is written in UK English. It also contains grammar and spelling that are historical, obsolete, and dialectal. This is intentional and not error.




Jefferys’ map of the Caribbee Islands, now known as the Lesser Antilles


Chapter One

The Caribbee, 1661

Polly watched as the ship’s purser escorted Cornelius van Wyck, a gentleman of middle years, into the Batavia’s wardroom. Upon their first meeting yesterday, Polly had taken an instant dislike to the Dutch planter—and Polly always trusted his instincts. They had certainly not failed him on this occasion. Nevertheless, he would not idly offend Van Wyck. Not when there was so much at stake.

The older man was sallow, and his thin frame was topped by a pair of drooping shoulders, though his bony hands were incongruously large. Petulance marred his features, the expression of a man eager to find fault in everything.

Rumour had told Polly everything he needed to know about Van Wyck, right down to his nasty debaucheries. Though Polly seldom wholly believed salacious gossip, it usually had a kernel of truth. In this case, gossip had been entirely borne out by Van Wyck’s treatment of Titus, his manservant and slave. Unclenching hands that had unconsciously balled into fists at the sight of the vile planter, Polly took a deep breath. The memory of the swollen and bloody stripes across Titus’ arse was all too fresh in his mind.

Releasing his breath slowly, he twisted his mouth in a spurious smile as he rose from his seat. He made a beautiful leg, and was rightly pleased with the grace of his bow.

Jonkheer Van Wyck, a pleasure to meet you again,” he said, adopting his best mellifluous voice.

Ah, Sir Henry Polglase,” said Van Wyck, releasing the purser’s arm and making a bow of his own. “I see we are fobbed off by the captain. Geelvinck tells me he dines alone tonight.”

Captain Adriaenszoon is much occupied,” said the purser apologetically. “He would not be good company for the gentlemen.”

Polly gave Geelvinck a benign smile, though he had no more liking for the fawning purser than for Van Wyck. “’Tis no penance, jonkheer. I am content to break bread with the ship’s officers. They seem a fine lot to me.”

And the more men to dilute your loathsome company, Cornelius van Wyck, the better.

Van Wyck merely harrumphed, and went to the other side of the table where Titus held out a chair for him. Polly resumed his seat in a rustle of silk.

Tonight’s meal was more of the same as the previous night—fair, but not lavish. Not that Polly was complaining. During the dark days of the tyrant Cromwell, he had eaten far worse and gone to bed hungry more often than he cared to remember. Van Wyck appeared to have little appetite although, judging by his scrawny frame, this was habit rather than the mal de mer that afflicted many passengers on their first days of a voyage. Polly himself had suffered in his first week out from England, though he soon grew accustomed to life aboard ship. Now, even a rough sea did not unsettle his stomach. Polly made a hearty meal, refusing none of the dishes, not even the highly spiced stew that had him grabbing for his goblet to drown the fire.

Though he did not look directly at him once, Polly was acutely aware of Titus, a silent presence in the room. Irritation suffused him that the man was a mere servant—no, worse, a slave. Even in his shabby garments, Titus was regal, a prince amongst men, worthy of the highest esteem. It galled Polly almost beyond bearing that the Dutch planter used his slave as a toy for his perversions. At least he had managed to get Titus more or less out of Van Wyck’s clutches for this voyage. He swore that the slave would never—never—return to his master. Whatever that took to achieve.

Last night, Titus had been furious upon discovering Polly’s intention to enter the slave trade. Polly exerted every effort to charm him. Titus had softened, but he did not quite forgive. His tacit invitation to fuck was still most definitely withdrawn. Polly sighed. Chances were the man would be even more implacably angry after this meal. But one thing life had taught Polly was patience. He would use every ounce of persuasion, every scrap of charm in his armoury to convince Titus they ought to be lovers.

There was a loud clang as Mr Oudshorne, chief mate of the Batavia, dropped his knife. Polly glanced over in time to see Titus bend to retrieve it. The slave’s fine arse pressed against the rusty black cloth of his livery, and instantly Polly’s cock leapt to attention. He shifted in his seat, discreetly adjusting himself. How fortunate that the fashion is for loose breeches.

As Titus removed his plate, Polly’s skin tingled in anticipation, but Titus failed to bridge the few inches between them. Polly moved his hand so close he could feel heat from the other man, inviting contact. Titus merely shifted to keep his distance. Polly sighed to himself again. A pity that his venture had set the two of them at odds, but it was too late to change now. He was committed. And whilst he was strongly drawn to Titus, he knew better than to confide in a man he barely knew. Whatever his heart told him.

The officers lingered over the wine, a very tolerable Madeira. Hoping there were no insufferable Puritans amongst the Dutch sailors, Polly pulled a pack of cards from his pocket.

Does the company care for a game of lansquenet to pass the time?” he asked, shuffling them idly.

As he had hoped, Van Wyck’s face lit up. “An excellent suggestion, Sir Henry. I am most partial to the cards.”

Our captain holds not with the gambling,” said the chief mate, his accent thick. “But come in here, he will not. Still, we must keep to the small stakes.”

Polly laid the deck face down in front of the mate. “I am satisfied with a low stakes game, Mr Oudshorne, for I enjoy play for the sake of it. But I am somewhat addicted to the thrill of large bets. To win or lose a fortune upon the turn of a card—I confess not even a woman’s carnal delights stir my blood as much!”

Ah yes, this I understand,” said Oudshorne, cutting the deck and returning it to Polly. “Certes fucking a woman has its excitements, but one does not risk the French disease with the cards!”

And they fleece a man of every schelling they can,” said Van Wyck with a scowl. “For no return but soft dugs and a warm hole. At least when one games, one might recoup the money!”

The men around the table laughed, and Polly laughed along with them. He fished a handful of coins from his purse and threw a maravedí into the centre of the table. His stake was matched, and he began to turn up cards.

Polly won a little and lost more, but kept himself in the game. Money was passed back and forth between the men, and the bank changed hands many times. It was returned to Polly, and he laid out the deck, beaming when his card came up.

À moi le tout,” he said, passing the deck to Van Wyck before sliding the pool onto his pile.

Raking though his winnings, Van Wyck tossed his stake into the middle. Polly gave a rueful smile as he gestured towards the heap of silver and copper in front of the Dutch planter.

I see the luck is quite with you tonight, jonkheer,” he said.

A smug smile spread over Van Wyck’s lips as he shuffled the deck. “I am generally very lucky at the cards.”

Ah well, as the saying goes, unlucky at cards, lucky in love. I hope the ladies at our next port of call are fair!”

The jonkheer frowned. “Then you say I am unlucky in love?”

Hiding his smile, Polly raised an ironic brow. “I hear your suit with Governor Walrond’s daughter does not prosper.”

Gossip spreads fast,” said Van Wyck with displeasure. “You were not in the Barbadoes so long.”

Oudshorne laughed. “’Tis no secret, jonkheer. But the governor is a friend of England’s king, it is said. I think Miss Walrond will find herself a lord.”

Van Wyck laid down his stake with a decided snap. “With her dowry, she might well, if the man can stomach her rabbit teeth.”

Polly snorted as he tossed coins into the pool. “Rabbit teeth or no, I could use her dowry now! But I am confident Lord Somerhay will advance me a loan.”

Lord Somerhay?” asked Oudshorne. “The chief justice of Jamaica?”

Aye, he is Cousin Rupert’s godfather. I shall stay with him in Port Royal, and I hope to persuade him to invest in the Company of Royal Adventurers.”

You have not heard, then.”

Heard what, sir?”

Why, Lord Somerhay has left his post,” said Van Wyck. “The news came to us some weeks ago. Returned to England, I am told.”

But…he could only have arrived in January!” exclaimed Polly, shocked. “The king appointed him for three years!”

He abandoned Jamaica after two months,” said Oudshorne with a shrug. “The climate of the Indies is not for every man.”

Christos, what shall I do? I have no acquaintance in Jamaica.” Polly’s mouth drooped, his face a picture of bitter disappointment. He groaned, defeated. “I must return to Gambia, then. Will I find a ship sailing there at our next port of call, Mr Oudshorne?”

Oudshorne shook his head gravely. “Not unless you charter one, sir. Seldom do the trading ships go backwards. The winds blow to us from Africa; the sail is too difficult to be prosperous.”

Polly let his face fall. “Alas, I do not have the funds to charter a whole ship. Not without a loan.”

Then up to the Bahamas you must go. There you may find the ship to take you to Azores on her way back to Europe. In Azores, you will easily find another to take you down to Africa. The trip takes two months or so, if the weather is favourable.”

Two months, just to tell Captain Todde I could not get the money? A pox on that. Pray, how long to return to England, then, and back to Gambia? I can easily raise the funds at home.”

Oh, then you look at four, five months. If the weather is favourable.”

Of all the—! Mayhap the purchase of slaves is cursed, after all,” said Polly glumly.

Oudshorne favoured him with a little smile. “Mayhap, sir. ’Tis not a trade I relish, I confess. And now, I leave you, as must all here. We are for the watch.”

He scooped up his coins, and he and the rest of the officers trooped out, leaving Polly alone with Jonkheer Van Wyck. And Titus. Polly flicked him a glance, but the slave stood silent in his corner, his face still, as if carved from stone. Polly considered sending him from the room, but that action would certainly annoy Van Wyck. The man was too proud to pour his own wine. Setting aside his concern for Titus, Polly returned his attention to the cards.

Do you hold, jonkheer, or pass?”

I hold. Another two maravedís.”

Polly slid two copper coins over to match Van Wyck’s stake. He looked up to see Van Wyck’s eyes gleaming. Keeping his face blank, he settled back in his chair.

So, Sir Henry, your ship will languish in Gambia until you return from England? ’Twill be costly indeed.”

Nay, Captain Todde has orders to sail with the slaves I have already purchased if I am not returned after three months. But quite half our profit is gone, just like that.” He snapped his fingers. “Two thousand pounds, jonkheer, two thousand pounds,” he added mournfully.

There might be a way to still have it,” said the jonkheer as he turned another card. “Mayhap not all, but more than you have now.”

Oh? If you know a way, I’d be exceedingly grateful if you would share your knowledge with me.”

I will advance you the sum of four hundred pounds.”

You?” Polly’s tone was a combination of incredulity and puzzlement. “That is most generous, jonkheer, but I could not ask such a favour. You and I have no acquaintance—at least, not until we met yesterday.”

I do not intend to do you a favour, Sir Henry,” said Van Wyck with a rapacious smile. “You will share your profits with me.”

Polly gave Van Wyck a strait look. “You ask me to share our profits with a stranger? This venture is for Rupert and I to gain back some small part of what our family lost. I cannot agree to such a thing.”

But Sir Henry, the alternative is to lose two thousand pounds. I do not ask an equal share, a mere quarter of the net profit will suffice me.”

Certes it would suffice,” said Polly with a short laugh. “You would treble your investment.”

Think, if you will. You stand to lose two thousand pounds. If you go into business with me, you halve those losses. You then lose only five hundred pounds apiece. Surely that is not so much.”

I suppose not,” Polly mused. He smoothed his doublet sleeve as he considered the offer.

And I can help maximise those profits. I know where slaves sell for the highest prices, and which planters are willing to pay more. I know how to present slaves to their best advantage—how to conceal that they are ill, or weak—and drive up their prices. With my assistance, your profits will be that much greater. You may still make your two thousand, even after I take my quarter.”

A percentage then, and not a flat sum? I warn you, you share the risks as well as the gains.”

Van Wyck gave him a smug look—damn him, the man knew he had won. “Naturally. And I have an incentive to help increase your profits, for I increase my own as well.”


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