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SAILING AGAINST THE TIDE, Historical Fiction - Carol Busby


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This is the opening scene of my book about the pirate Anne Bonny. She was sentenced to be hanged but reprieved because she was pregnant. Thrown into prison in Jamaica, Anne then disappears from recorded history. My book is an imagining of her later life based on some of the many rumors that surround her.

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CHAPTER ONE

15 June 1721 – Spanish Town, Jamaica

Anne Bonny lifted her head off the slouch hat that covered a rock which acted as her pillow. It was raining and her side of the prison was dripping water on her. Slowly and awkwardly, she managed to get her heavily pregnant body standing, grabbing the hat as she went. She hobbled, her leg chains clanking, to the other side which was, for the moment, dry. The dirt and sand floor would get wet eventually and seep over if it rained enough. For now, however, it was the better spot. She began to sob, knowing that this babe, like the one born in Cuba, would be taken away from her, a knowledge made worse by the fact that it had saved her life. The British didn’t hang pregnant women. They waited until after the birth. Anne couldn’t imagine what after the birth would look like. She just wanted to survive this hellhole and the act of giving birth itself.

Then her waters broke, soaking that side of the cell. She had been measuring time by the growth in her belly. She wasn’t surprised then when the process started.

Maneuvering herself onto the floor, she put the hat back down onto a familiar rock on this side.

She was tired of being hungry, thirsty, covered in mud, and bitten by rats and fleas. And of being pregnant, even though it was the only thing between her and the hangman’s noose after being convicted of piracy.

She had lain down for about ten minutes, waiting for the pains to start, when she heard a voice at the entrance to her cell. She rolled a little and looked at the bars. There stood a guard and a man dressed in fancy clothes. She never did get used to being a side-show, but she also never let anyone know how it hurt.

“Yes, Sir Jonathan,” the guard she recognized as Williams was saying. “That is indeed the infamous female pirate Anne Bonny.”

She saw the other man snort. “How the mighty have fallen. Deservedly. I am Sir Jonathan Woolrich and you pirates brought a fever that killed my wife and son.”

Williams murmured something vaguely sympathetic.

“Killed my friend Mary Reade too, bastard,” Anne called out.

“She deserved it,” Woolrich said. “My wife and son didn’t. And the last ship you and your disemboweled partner took was mine. I lost over £1000 on that cargo.”

“Well then, glad to meet you,” Anne sneered.

“I’ll see you hanged if it’s the last thing I do.”

“Ye’re a coward, and I trust ye’ll rot in hell.”

Williams bowed slightly to Woolrich, who seemed reluctant to leave. “We must go, sir.”

Woolrich spat at Anne. “I hope you die in pain,” he said. “And lose the babe.”

She heard them walking away. She was staggered by the cruelty in his last remark.

The first labor pain hit and Anne groaned. She knew it would be a while, because of her previous birth. They hadn’t let her see the boy – just hustled him away. The pain never left her.

Anne managed to doze through the early contractions. Around midnight, her eyes popped open. The pains were worse and closer together. They took her breath away. Once she had it back, she screamed, which brought two guards running. One opened the cage door and ran to Anne’s side.

She panted. “Baby. Need midwife,” she said as she collapsed back onto the ground.

“How do you know?” one asked.

“This ain’t my first time, you idiot. Get me a midwife!” She never saw the guards leave.

A while later, she didn’t know how long, a woman came into the prison cell. “Oh my lord,” she exclaimed. “She can’t give birth in this filth. And look at her.”

“Master’s orders are she’s not to be moved so you’ll have to make do,” said Guard Williams, who had brought her to the cell. He re-locked the door and left.

Anne started to scream. Next thing she knew, there were kind hands on her telling her to roll onto her knees and pant. The midwife put out a clean sheet and Anne moved onto it.

Five hours later, Anne bore a healthy, bawling son. She collapsed, panting and relieved. “Can I see him?” she asked.

“I’m sorry, love, but my orders is no. You might get attached and there’s no point.” The midwife had cut the cord and was wrapping the baby in a clean towel.

“Please,” whispered Anne. “I had another who was taken before e’er I saw him. Can I just look?”

The midwife looked up and saw that the guards were gone. “All right. I hear you’re to be hanged so this will be your only chance.”

She handed Anne the baby boy. With tears running down her cheeks, Anne kissed the baby and whispered, “Ye’ve got my red hair.” She gently stroked the fuzz on the baby’s head with a finger. “Yer name is Jack. Not John but Jack. Whatever they call ye, it’s Jack. Like yer father, Captain Jack Rackham.”

Light was dawning when they heard the guards marching towards the cell a few minutes later. With tears streaming down her face, Anne gave the baby back to the midwife.

The guards came in. “Midwife, your work is done. Take the baby and leave.”

“I have to deliver the afterbirth, gentlemen, and only then will I leave. Mrs. Bonny is quite exhausted and will need rest.” The midwife stood defiantly before the guards.

“All right. We can give you a little time but not much.”

“Thank you.”

The midwife took as long as she dared to finish her duties. The guards remained outside the cell.

“Good luck to you, Madame,” she said as she took Jack away from his mother.

*  *  *

Anne laid on the sheet the midwife had brought with her head on her hat and her back to the cell door. She knew that any day they would come to hang her so she was as quiet and inconspicuous as possible, hoping to prolong the time while knowing full well they wouldn’t wait long. She was too famous.

It was dark three days later, about midnight, when she heard a key scrape the lock and the cell door open. She almost vomited with fear but held it in. A lantern shined around the cell.

“What do ye want?” she asked.

“I’ve come to take you home,” answered a voice she hadn’t heard for a long time.

“Father?” she asked as she rolled over. Her eyes widened. When she had been thrown out for marrying John Bonny, she had never thought to hear that voice again. I wonder if I’ve died and his voice has come to haunt me.

“Yes, Anne. It is your father. We’ve brought a pallet. If anyone sees us, they’ll think ye’ve died.”

Anne stared at him incredulously. “Where are you taking me?” she asked weakly.

“To my ship, Anne. Home to Carolina.”

Two men came over and, although she cringed at first, their hands were soft and they helped her up and lifted her onto a canvas pallet and covered her with the dirty sheet she’d given birth on. As they started towards the cell doors, Anne cried out, “Wait. My hat.”

The three men could barely see in the cell but when Anne pointed back to where she had been, they moved the lantern and saw a battered leather slouch hat. “That rag? Why on earth do you want that nasty thing?”

“It’s all I have left,” Anne said, continuing to point. “Get it.” Then she added, “Please.” Tears welled up in her eyes.

One of the men held onto her while the other got the hat which she tucked under the sheet. They carried her out of the prison and down a long walkway. It was dark with a new moon. Suddenly, someone called out: “Who goes there?” She recognized the guard William’s voice. As quickly as she could, she put the sheet over her face, letting her red hair spill out on one side.

Her father saw her actions and answered the guard. “Anne Bonny as was. Dead now so no one will be needing to set the noose.”

“Let me see ‘er,” William said as he approached the pallet. He pulled the sheet from her face and, recognizing it, gasped. “I weren’t told. Sorry. Where you taking her body?”

“Somewhere no one will find it and dig it up. Think she deserves that for all she’s been through.”

“Yeah. My shift’s done anyway and I have a large thirst.” They all laughed. “Go on,” Williams said as he turned and headed back towards the guard house.

The men rushed as fast as they could to the dinghy waiting to take Anne out to her father’s ship, Killarney.

The trip to South Carolina took four days. They hit a squall but nothing else to slow their progress. No ships followed.

Anne spent the time on a cot – a real luxury for a pirate – being attended to by the ship’s doctor. He cleaned and bandaged her open sores and checked on her recovery from childbirth. Anne told him about conditions in the prison. “Dear God, woman, it’s a miracle you’re alive. And that the babe survived.”

Anne started to cry and the doctor immediately apologized. “We men don’t really understand how having a baby affects a woman. I am sorry to have upset you.”

Anne blew her nose. “I had another, doctor. Also alive. Also given away. The first was easier. I was young and my life at sea wouldn’t allow for having a family. This baby was much more important. He saved my life. And he was Jack’s baby. All that’s left of Jack. Yet I’ll never see him again.”

“Can I get you anything?” the doctor asked.

“Yeah. A bottle of brandy – or rum. I’m not particular,” Anne niffed again. The doctor started to laugh, then realized she was serious.

He decided to bypass the captain and Mr. Cormac, Anne’s father. The cook was happy to provide the brandy and a glass.

 Anne was still weak when they landed in Charles Town, but at least she had her emotions in check.

“It’s nice to see a harbor again,” Anne mused.

Her father shot her a worried glance. “You aren’t even remotely considering going back to that life are you, my dear?”

“No, Father. That life has already ended for me and most of the others. I got out alive but most didn’t. With the British actively looking for them, they’ll soon be hanging on scaffolds.”

As they got closer, Anne’s keen eye looked over the ships in the harbor. “Lovely harbor, ‘tis. No wonder so many trade here.” She breathed deeply of the sea air then went below decks to fetch her slouch hat for the trip to her father’s plantation.

 

 

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It's a great idea for a book in general, and it's a great idea to begin the book with the birth. Maybe leave more to the reader's imagination.

In the first few sentences, for example, you don't need to describe her "heavily pregnant body" since it becomes clear by the end of the paragraph what state she is in. Leave the reader wondering here and just describe her "heavy body."

Also, as the above commenter said, the dialogue seems off at certain places. Too many details are given through the dialogue, when I think they could be better rendered through reported speech. For example, in the following, the reader might be given a somewhat broader context within which to situate the guard's reaction to the afterbirth:

Anne became aware that the midwife was trying to explain to the guard about the afterbirth, but he seemed to have no idea what she was trying to tell him. Finally, the midwife directed his attention to what was still happening between her legs, and he seemed to understand. He abruptly left the cell lest he be forced to witness more, shutting and locking the gate behind him.

Generally, of course, I prefer dialogue, but at certain moments reported speech seems to work better.

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