The Story of Roc, The Brazilian

 
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The Story of Roc, The Brazilian Short Pirate Story
The Story of Roc, The Brazilian

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The Story of Roc, The Brazilian
by Frank R. Stockton (1834 - 1902)

Having given the history of a very plain and quiet buccaneer, who was a reporter and writer, and who, if he were now living, would be eligible as a member of an authors' club, we will pass to the consideration of a regular out and out pirate, one from whose mast head would have floated the black flag with its skull and crossbones if that emblematic piece of bunting had been in use by the pirates of the period.

This famous buccaneer was called Roc, because he had to have a name, and his own was unknown, and "the Brazilian," because he was born in Brazil, though of Dutch parents. Unlike most of his fellow practitioners he did not gradually become a pirate. From his early youth he never had any intention of being anything else. As soon as he grew to be a man he became a bloody buccaneer, and at the first opportunity he joined a pirate crew, and had made but a few voyages when it was perceived by his companions that he was destined to become a most remarkable sea robber. He was offered the command of a ship with a well armed crew, of marine savages, and in a very short time after he had set out on his first independent cruise he fell in with a Spanish ship loaded with silver bullion; having captured this, he sailed with his prize to Jamaica, which was one of the great resorts of the English buccaneers. There his success delighted the community, his talents for the conduct of great piratical operations soon became apparent, and he was generally acknowledged as the Head Pirate of the West Indies.

He was now looked upon as a hero even by those colonists who had no sympathy with pirates, and as for Esquemeling, he simply worshipped the great Brazilian desperado. If he had been writing the life and times of Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, or Mr. Gladstone, he could not have been more enthusiastic in his praises. And as in The Arabian Nights the roc is described as the greatest of birds, so, in the eyes of the buccaneer biographer, this Roc was the greatest of pirates. But it was not only in the mind of the historian that Roc now became famous; the better he became known, the more general was the fear and respect felt for him, and we are told that the mothers of the islands used to put their children to sleep by threatening them with the terrible Roc if they did not close their eyes. This story, however, I regard with a great deal of doubt; it has been told of Saladin and many other wicked and famous men, but I do not believe it is an easy thing to frighten a child into going to sleep. If I found it necessary to make a youngster take a nap, I should say nothing of the condition of affairs in Cuba or of the persecutions of the Armenians.

This renowned pirate from Brazil must have been a terrible fellow to look at. He was strong and brawny, his face was short and very wide, with high cheek-bones, and his expression probably resembled that of a pug dog. His eyebrows were enormously large and bushy, and from under them he glared at his mundane surroundings. He was not a man whose spirit could be quelled by looking him steadfastly in the eye. It was his custom in the daytime to walk about, carrying a drawn cutlass, resting easily upon his arm, edge up, very much as a fine gentleman carries his high silk hat, and any one who should impertinently stare or endeavor to quell his high spirits in any other way, would probably have felt the edge of that cutlass descending rapidly through his physical organism.

He was a man who insisted upon being obeyed, and if any one of his crew behaved improperly, or was even found idle, this strict and inexorable master would cut him down where he stood. But although he was so strict and exacting during the business sessions of his piratical year, by which I mean when he was cruising around after prizes, he was very much more disagreeable when he was taking a vacation. On his return to Jamaica after one of his expeditions it was his habit to give himself some relaxation after the hardships and dangers through which he had passed, and on such occasions it was a great comfort to Roc to get himself thoroughly drunk. With his cutlass waving high in the air, he would rush out into the street and take a whack at every one whom he met. As far as was possible the citizens allowed him to have the street to himself, and it was not at all likely that his visits to Jamaica were looked forward to with any eager anticipations.

Roc, it may be said, was not only a bloody pirate, but a blooded one; he was thoroughbred. From the time he had been able to assert his individuality he had been a pirate, and there was no reason to suppose that he would ever reform himself into anything else. There were no extenuating circumstances in his case; in his nature there was no alloy, nor moderation, nor forbearance. The appreciative Esquemeling, who might be called the Boswell of the buccaneers, could never have met his hero Roc, when that bushy bearded pirate was running "amuck" in the streets, but if he had, it is not probable that his book would have been written. He assures us that when Roc was not drunk he was esteemed, but at the same time feared; but there are various ways of gaining esteem, and Rocís method certainly succeeded very well in the case of his literary associate.

As we have seen, the hatred of the Spaniards by the buccaneers began very early in the settlement of the West Indies, and in fact, it is very likely that if there had been no Spaniards there would never have been any buccaneers; but in all the instances of ferocious enmity toward the Spaniards there has been nothing to equal the feelings of Roc, the Brazilian, upon that subject. His dislike to everything Spanish arose, he declared, from cruelties which had been practised upon his parents by people of that nation, and his main principle of action throughout all his piratical career seems to have been that there was nothing too bad for a Spaniard. The object of his life was to wage bitter war against Spanish ships and Spanish settlements. He seldom gave any quarter to his prisoners, and would often subject them to horrible tortures in order to make them tell where he could find the things he wanted. There is nothing horrible that has ever been written or told about the buccaneer life, which could not have been told about Roc, the Brazilian. He was a typical pirate.

Roc was very successful in his enterprises, and took a great deal of valuable merchandise to Jamaica, but although he and his crew were always rich men when they went on shore, they did not remain in that condition very long. The buccaneers of that day were all very extravagant, and, moreover, they were great gamblers, and it was not uncommon for them to lose everything they possessed before they had been on shore a week. Then there was nothing for them to do but go on board their vessels and put out to sea in search of some fresh prize. So far Rocís career had been very much like that of many other Companions of the Coast, differing from them only in respect to intensity and force, but he was a clever man with ideas, and was able to adapt himself to circumstances.

He was cruising about Campeachy without seeing any craft that was worth capturing, when he thought that it would be very well for him to go out on a sort of marine scouting expedition and find out whether or not there were any Spanish vessels in the bay which were well laden and which were likely soon to come out. So, with a small boat filled with some of his trusty men, he rowed quietly into the port to see what he could discover. If he had had Esquemeling with him, and had sent that mild-mannered observer into the harbor to investigate into the state of affairs, and come back with a report, it would have been a great deal better for the pirate captain, but he chose to go himself, and he came to grief. No sooner did the people on the ships lying in the harbor behold a boat approaching with a big browed, broad jawed mariner sitting in the stern, and with a good many more broad backed, hairy mariners than were necessary, pulling at the oars, than they gave the alarm. The well known pirate was recognized, and it was not long before he was captured. Roc must have had a great deal of confidence in his own powers, or perhaps he relied somewhat upon the fear which his very presence evoked. But he made a mistake this time; he had run into the lion's jaw, and the lion had closed his teeth upon him.

When the pirate captain and his companions were brought before the Governor, he made no pretence of putting them to trial. Buccaneers were outlawed by the Spanish, and were considered as wild beasts to be killed without mercy wherever caught. Consequently Roc and his men were thrown into a dungeon and condemned to be executed. If, however, the Spanish Governor had known what was good for himself, he would have had them killed that night.

During the time that preparations were going on for making examples of these impertinent pirates, who had dared to enter the port of Campeachy, Roc was racking his brains to find some method of getting out of the terrible scrape into which he had fallen. This was a branch of the business in which a capable pirate was obliged to be proficient; if he could not get himself out of scrapes, he could not expect to be successful. In this case there was no chance of cutting down sentinels, or jumping overboard with a couple of wine jars for a life preserver, or of doing any of those ordinary things which pirates were in the habit of doing when escaping from their captors. Roc and his men were in a dungeon on land, inside of a fortress, and if they escaped from this, they would find themselves unarmed in the midst of a body of Spanish soldiers. Their stout arms and their stout hearts were of no use to them now, and they were obliged to depend upon their wits if they had any. Roc had plenty of wit, and he used it well. There was a slave, probably not a negro nor a native, but most likely some European who had been made prisoner, who came in to bring him food and drink, and by the means of this man the pirate hoped to play a trick upon the Governor. He promised the slave that if he would help him, and he told him it would be very easy to do so, would give him money enough to buy his freedom and to return to his friends, and this, of course, was a great inducement to the poor fellow, who may have been an Englishman or a Frenchman in good circumstances at home. The slave agreed to the proposals, and the first thing he did was to bring some writing materials to Roc, who thereupon began the composition of a letter upon which he based all his hopes of life and freedom.

When he was coming into the bay, Roc had noticed a large French vessel that was lying at some distance from the town, and he wrote his letter as if it had come from the captain of this ship. In the character of this French captain he addressed his letter to the Governor of the town, and in it he stated that he had understood that certain Companions of the Coast, for whom he had great sympathy, for the French and the buccaneers were always good friends, had been captured by the Governor, who, he heard, had threatened to execute them. Then the French captain, by the hand of Roc, went on to say that if any harm should come to these brave men, who had been taken and imprisoned when they were doing no harm to anybody, he would swear, in his most solemn manner, that never, for the rest of his life, would he give quarter to any Spaniard who might fall into his hands, and he, moreover, threatened that any kind of vengeance which should become possible for the buccaneers and French united, to inflict upon the Spanish ships, or upon the town of Campeachy, should be taken as soon as possible after he should hear of any injury that might be inflicted upon the unfortunate men who were then lying imprisoned in the fortress.

The Story of Roc, The Brazilian

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