A Chapter from THE SOT-WEED FACTOR by John Barth


posted on this page 5 April 2021:


In less than a quarter of an hour the shallop and the brigantine,
sailing smartly on opposite reaches, were within cannon-range of each other.
Dozens of the brigantine’s passengers were crowded forward to see the
shallop, possibly the first vessel they’d met in weeks; they waved hands and
kerchiefs in innocent salutation. The pirates, every idle hand of whom was
similarly preoccupied, responded with a fearsome cry and fired a round into
the water dead ahead of their quarry. It was not until then, when the others
screamed and ran for cover, that Ebenezer began to guess in a general way
what was afoot: every one of the passengers he could see was female.

“Dear Heav’n!” he breathed.

The captain of the brigantine realized the shallop’s intention and came
about to run north before the wind, at the same time firing on the attacker;
but his defense came too late. Anticipating exactly such a maneuver,
Captain Pound had his crew already stationed to follow suit, and the shallop
was under way on the new course before the brigantine finished setting her
sails. Moreover, although the several square-rigged sails of the brigantine
were better for running before the wind than the fore-and-aft rig of her
pursuer, the shallop’s smaller size and lighter weight more than compen-
sated for the difference. Captain Pound ordered his men not to return the
musket- and pistol-fire; instead, taking the helm himself, he cut so close
under the brigantine’s stern that the name Cyprian, on a banner held by
carved oak cupids, was plainly legible on her transom. At the very moment
when the shallop’s bowsprit seemed about to pierce the victim’s stern, he
veered a few degrees to starboard; the cannoneer in the bow fired a ball
point-blank into the brigantine’s rudder, and the chase was over. The
Cyprian’s crew scrambled to take in sail before the helpless vessel capsized.
By the time the shallop came about and retraced her course the brigantine
was rolling under bare poles in the swell; the crew stood with upraised arms,
the first mate ran a white flag up the main halyards, and the captain, hands
clasped behind him, waited on the poop deck for the worst.

The pirates were beside themselves. They thronged to the rail, shouting
obscenities and making the lewdest gestures. It was all Boabdil could do
to bring the shallop alongside, so preoccupied were they all with their joy:
the Moor himself had stripped off all but his tall red headgear and stood
like a black nightmare at the helm. At length the grapples were made
fast, the sails struck, and the two ships lashed together along their beams,
so that they rode like mated seabirds on the waves. Then with shrieks and
howls the pirates swarmed over the rails, cursing and stumbling in their
haste. The Cyprian’s crew backed off in fright, but no one paid them the
slightest attention: indeed, Captain Pound had finally to force three of his
men at pistol-point to tie them to the masts. The rest had no thought for
anything but breaking open the companionway and cabin doors, which the
terrified passengers had bolted from inside.

Their savagery made Ebenezer blanch. Beside him where he stood near
the shallop’s foremast was the oldest member of the pirate crew, Carl, the
sailmaker a wizened, evil-appearing little man in his sixties with a short,
dirty beard and no teeth at all chuckling and shaking his head at the .scene.

“Is the ship full of women?” the Laureate asked him.

The old man nodded mirthfully. “She’s the whore-boat out o’ London.”
Once or twice a year, he explained, the Cyprian’s captain took on a load of
impoverished young ladies who were willing to prostitute themselves for
six months in the colonies, where the shortage of women was acute. The
girls were transported without charge; the enterprising captain received not
only their fares but in the case of girls with special qualifications such as
virginity, respectability, or extreme youth or comeliness a handsome bonus
as well from the brothel-masters who came to Philadelphia from all over
the provinces for the purpose of replenishing or augmenting their staffs. As
for the girls, some had already been prostitutes in London, others were
women rendered desperate by poverty or other circumstances, and some
simply hard-reasoning young serving girls bent on reaching America at any
cost, who found six months of prostitution more attractive than the
customary four-year indenture of the colonial servant

“Every pirate on the coast keeps his eye out for the Cyprian this time o’
year,” the sailmaker said. “There’s better than a hundred wenches behind
that door. Lookee there at Boabdil!”

Ebenezer saw the naked Moor push aside his shipmates and raise a huge
maul that he had found nearby, probably left on deck by the brigantine’s
carpenter. With one blow he splintered the door and dived headlong in-
side, the others close behind him. A moment later the air was split with
screams, and curses.

Ebenezer’s knees trembled. “Poor wretches! Poor wretches!”

This!” scoffed Carl the sailmaker, and cackled at the poet’s consterna-
tion. “‘Tis but a bloody prayer meeting, this is! Ye should have sailed last
year with old Tom Tew of Newport, as I did. One time we sailed from
Libertatia to the coast of Araby, and in the Red Sea we overhauled one o’
the Great Mogul’s ships with pilgrims bound for Mecca; a hundred gun she
carried, but we boarded her without losing a man, and what do ye think we
found? Sixteen hundred virgins, sir! Not a maidenhead more nor less!
Sixteen hundred virgins bound for Mecca, the nicest little Moors ye e’er
laid eyes upon, and not above a hundred of us! Took us a day and a night
to pop ’em all Frenchmen, Dutchmen, Portogeezers, Africans, and Eng-
lishmen, we were and ere we had done, the deck Iooked like a butcher’s
block. There is not the like o’ that day and night in the history of the
lickerish world, I swear’t! I cut a brace myself, for all I was coming on to
sixty little brown twins they were, and tight as a timber-hitch, and I’ve
ne’er got up the old fid since!”

He rambled on, but Ebenezer could not bear to hear him out. For one
thing, the scene on deck was too arresting for divided attention: the pirates
dragged out their victims in ones and twos, a-swoon or awake, at pistol-
point or by main strength. He saw girls assaulted on the decks, on the
stairways, at the railings, everywhere, in every conceivable manner. None
was spared, and the prettier prizes were clawed at by two and three at a
time. Boabdil appeared with one over each shoulder, kicking and scratching
him in vain: as he presented one to Captain Pound on the quarter-deck,
the other wriggled free and tried to escape her monstrous fate by scrambling
up the mizzen ratlines. The Moor allowed her a fair head start and then
climbed slowly in pursuit, calling to her in voluptuous Arabic at every step.
Fifty feet up, where any pitch of the hull is materially amplified by the
height, the girl’s nerve failed: she thrust bare arms and legs through the
squares of the rigging and hung for dear life while Boabdil, once he had
come up from behind, ravished her unmercifully. Down on the shallop the
sailmaker clapped his hands and chortled; Ebenezer, heartsick, turned away.

He saw Bertrand a little distance behind him, watching with undisguised
avidity, and recalled his plan. The time was propitious: every member of
the shallop’s crew except old Carl was busy at his pleasure, and even
Captain Pound, who normally stood aloof from all festivities, had found
the Moor’s trophy too tempting to refuse and had disappeared with her
into the brigantine’s cabin.

“Look sharp!” he whispered to the valet. “I’m going for the Journal now,
and then we’ll try to slip aboard the Cyprian!’ And ignoring Bertrand’s
frightened look, he made his way carefully aft to the doorway of Captain
Pound’s quarters. It required no searching to find what he sought: the
Journal lay in plain view on the table, its loose pages held fast by a fungus-
coral paperweight. Ebenezer snatched it up and scanned the first page
with pounding heart: a transcription of the Assembly’s convening, mean-
ingless to him. But on the recto


A Secret Historic of the Voiage Up the Bay of Chesapeake From
Jamestowne in Virginia, he read, Undertaken in the Yeer of Our Lord
1608 By Capt Jno Smith, & Faithfullie Set Down in Its Severall Parts By The Same
And Below, in an antique, almost illegible hand, the narrative
commenced, not as a diary at all but as a summary account, probably meant
as the initial draft of part of the author’s well-known Generall Historie of

Seven souldiers, six gentlemen, Dr Russell the Chirurgeon & my selfe did
embark from the towne of Kecoughtan, in Virginia in June of the present
yeer 1608,
To walk a wayless Way with uncouth Pace,
Wch yet no Christian Man did ever trace. . . .

Much farther than this the poet dared not read at the moment, but he
could not refrain from thumbing rapidly through the rest of the manuscript
in search of the name Henry Burlingame. It did not take long to find:
No sooner was the King asleep, he read on an early page, then I straightway
made for the doore, and wd have fulfill’d his everie wish, had not Ld Burlingame prevented me, and catching hold of my arme, declared, That he did protest my doing this thing. . . .

“Burlingame a Lord!” Ebenezer exclaimed to himself, and joyfully thrust
the manuscript into his shirt, holding it fast under the waist of his breeches.
He peeped out onto the deck. All seemed clear: the only man in a position
to spy him was the Moor in the Cyprian’s mizzenrigging, and he was
occupied with climbing down for further conquests, leaving his first quite
ravaged in the ratlines. The sun was setting; its long last rays lit the scene
unnaturally, from the side, with rose and gold.

“Hi ho, Master Eben!”

The Laureate quailed at the salute, which greeted him as soon as he
stepped out of Captain Pound’s cabin. But the voice was Bertrand’s.

“Stupid fellow! He’ll do me in yet!” He looked for the valet in vain on
the shallop’s deck: the sailmaker stood alone by the railing.

“Come along, Master Eben! Over here!” The voice came from the direc-
tion of the brigantine. Horrified, Ebenezer saw Bertrand standing in the
vessel’s stern, about to have at a plump lass whom he was bending over
the taffrail, Ebenezer signaled frantically for the man to come back, but
Bertrand laughed and shook his head. “They’ve asked us to join ’em!” he
called, and turned to his work.

For Ebenezer to slip aboard unnoticed was unthinkable in the face of
this defection. All over the Cyprian the debauch continued; the hapless
women, gilded by the sunlight, had for the most part abandoned hope,
and instead of running, submitted to their attackers with pleas for mercy
or stricken silence. The poet shuddered and fled to his cell in the rope-
locker, determined, since he could not make his escape, to take advantage
of the diversion to read through the precious manuscript. He borrowed
a lamp from the fo’c’sle, closed the heavy door, took out the Journal, and
lay on his bed of tattered sailcloth, where he read as follows:

Seven souldiers, six gentlemen, Dr Russell the Chinirgeon & my selfe did
embark from the towne of Kecoughtan, in Virginia, in June of the present yeer
To walk a wayless Way with uncouth Pace,
Wch yet no Christian Man did ever trace.
We took for the voiage a barge of three tonnes burthen, to the provisioning
whereof I earlie set the great Liverpooler Henry Burlingame, that I durst not
leave behind to smirch my name with slander & calumnie. Yet scarce had we
dropt Kecoughtan to Southward, then I found the wretch had play’d me false;
to feed the companie of fifteene men the summer long, he had supply’d one
meager sack of weevilie oats and a barricoe of cloudie water! I enquir’d of him,
Wd he starve us? Or did he think to make me turn tayle home? Wch latter hope
I knew, he shar’d with all the idle Gentlemen his fellows. Then I set them all
to short rations and fishing over the gunwhales, albeit I knew no means to cooke
a fish in the barge. The truth was, I reckoned on a landfall within two dayes, but
said naught of it, and what fish they caught I threw back in the Bay. I then
commenced instructing one & all in the art of sayles & tiller, wch matters the
souldiers took to readilie and the Gentlemen complayn’d of none lowder then
Ld Burlingame, that I had a-bayling water from the bilge.
This Burlingame wd say to his neighbour, What doth the Captain reck it if
we perish? What time he getteth in a pickle, we Gentlemen must grubb him out,
eke some naked Salvage wench ftieth down from Heaven to save his neck. By
wch he referr’d to Pocahontas, Powhcttans daughter, that some months past had
rescu’d me, and I saw, he meant to devill me through the voiage.
Next day we rays’d a cape of land, lying due North of Kecoughtan t and the
companie rejoyc’d thereat, inasmuch as there bellies all complctyn’d of meale &
clowdie water. We made straightway to shoar, whereupon we found a pair of
fearsome Salvages, arm’d with bone-poynt speares. I made bold to salute them,
and was pleas’d to learn, they spake a tongue like Powhatans, to wch Emperour
they declar’d them selves subject. The fiercenesse of these men was in there
paynt alone; they were but spearing fish along the shallows. Upon my entreatie,
they led us to there town and to there King, that was call’d Hicktopeake.
Then follow’d an adventure, wch I cannot well include among my Histories.
I shall set it down upon these privie pages, for that it shews afresh that. enmity
I spake of, betwixt Ld Burlingame & my selfe, wch led us anon to the verie doore
of Death. . . .

“Mercy!” Ebenezer cried, and turned the page.

This Hicktopeake, then, bade us well come to his Kingdom, the wch he did
call Accomack, and lay’d before us a sumptuous meale. I observed him, while
that we ate, and I sweare him to be the comliest, proper, civill Salvage we in-
counter’d. I din’d well, as is my wont, and also Walter the physician and the
souldiers, but our Gentlemen shew’d smalle appetyte for Salvage cookerie. Burlin-
game, in especiall, shew’d little stomacke, for a man of his corpulencie, and who
had been erst so lowd of his bellie. The meale done, Hicktopeake delivered him
selfe of a smalle speech, again bidding us well come to his towne, and offering to
replenishe our supplies ere we left him. It seem’d to me then, he shew’d a curious
eagernesse; that we shd tarrie somewhile with him, but I learn’d not the cause of it
at once.
On my enquiring of him, the extent of his Kingdom? Hicktopeake reply’d
onely that it was. of considerable breadth, and ran awaye up the countrie, untill
that the land grewe wider. This territorie he rul’d conjoyntlie with his Brother,
one Debedeavon, called by the Salvages, the Laughing King of Accomack. Debe-
deavons towne, we learn’d was farther inland, where he liv’d with his Queene in a
goodlie house. I ask’d then, Where was Hicktopeakes Queene? meaning no more
then a courtesie by my question. But seeing his face grewe all beclowded, I sought
to change the topick, and inquired, Why was Debedeavon cdl’d the Laughing
King? Whereupon, albeit I knew not why, Hicktopeakes wrath did but increase,
so that he was scarce able to contain him selfe. I sdwe no frute in farther inquirie,
and so held my peace, and smoak’d of the tobacco that was then past round.
Hicktopeake at length regayning somewhat of his controll, he did command
my partie to be given lodging for the night, and I consented, for that the skye was
lowing, and bade fowk weather. The Gentlemen and my selfe, were given place
in Hicktopeakes howse, that for all his being King, was but a single roome of large
dimension. All did forthwith set them selves to sleep, save Burlingame, who ever
hownds my steps, and sleeps not save when I sleep also. The King & I then
smoak’d many pipes beside the fyre, in silence. I knew well, he was desirous of
speaking farther to me, but that after the manner of the Salvage, he tarry’
d long
ere commencing. For this reason I yearn’d that Burlingame wd retyre, that we
might speake privilie, but this he w
d not maugre my hints & suggestions.
At last Hicktopeake spake, and talk’d a great while of trifling things, as is the
Salvages’ wont. Then he said, in substance (for I am here Englishing his speech),
Sir, ye doubtlesse mark me a batchelor, for that no wife attendeth me in my
house, or at my board, and farther, that upon thy enquirie, Where was my
Queene? I mayde thee no replie. Yet in this thou art mistaken. Queene have I in
sooth, and of surpassing comelinesse, that I have onely latelie had to wife. Yet
wife she is not, for is it not the first requirement of a wife, that she seeke not far-
ther than her wedded spouse, for her felicitie? But my Queene, she findeth me
deficient, though I mark my selfe a man in everie wise, and she goeth about un-
satisfy’d. And Queene she is not, for is it not the first requirement of a Queene,
that she doe naught but what will shewe the, greatnesse of her King? But my
Queene, from her dissatisfaction with my manlinesse, doth ever seek pleasure in
the howses of other men, thereby bringing disgrace upon my head; and stille she
goeth unsatisfy’d, by her own pronouncement. Now this is an evill thing, for that
not onely doth this woman dishonour my selfe, and keep me for ever wearie, but
also she fatigueth all the young men of my towne, and old as well. She is even as
is the leech, that having tasted bloud, can never drink his fille; or as the owle, that
devoureth all the myjce of the field, and goeth ye’t hungrie to her nest. My
Brother, Debedeavon, maketh. much of this matter, and laugheth at me still
(wherefor they call him, the Laughing King). A wife he hath, that he keepeth
well satisfy’d, and hence regardeth him selfe my better, as doe his people mine.
(Yet is his wife a mowse, and lightlie filtd, for that oft have I try’d her my own
selfe, the while my brother fish’d.) Therefore 1 aske of thee of the faire skinne
this, that ye assaye to please the Queene, or teach her to be pleas’d even with
that wch she hath alreadie, to the end that peace & honour may reign in my
towne, and my Brother mock me no farther. For I judge of thy dresse, thy strange
vessell, and thy manlie bearing, thou art no common man, but a doer of won-
Thus spake this Hicktopeake, and I heard him with amazement, for that most
men, that cd not satisfye there wives, were loath to own there deficiencie to an-
other man. Yet I did admire his truthfullnesse & candour, & his generositie, in
inviting my selfe to attempt what he cd not doe. With as much of grace as I cd
muster, I accepted Hicktopeakes offer, whereupon he shew’d me a doore of his
howse, the w oh he said, open’d upon the chamber of the Queene. Then he lay’d
him selfe down next the fyre and slept, onely fitfullie, as well a man might, that
hath granted leave to another to go in unto the wife of his bed.
No sooner was the King asleep, then I straightway made for the doore, and wd
have fulfil’d his everie wish, had not Ld Burlingame prevented me, and catching
hold of my arme, said, That he did protest my doing this thing. I enquird, Why
did he protest? seeing that I knew him for no Catholick Saint. Whereto he re-
ply’d, That be that as may, he purposed to doe the thing him selfe, for that I had
received the favours of Pocahontas, and had deflowr’d that same maide by scurril-
ous subterfuge, whereas he had enjoy’d naught of her, nor had layn with woman,
since that he set sayle from London. Moreover, he declar’d, That shd I refuse him
this favour (albeit he was in my debt for his scurvie life), he meant to noyse the
truth about my egg-plant receipt all over Jamestowne, and London as well.
Hereupon I told him, That he cd plough the Salvage Queene all he chose, I
car’d not, and said farther, That were she halfe the Messdina good Hicktopeake
made her out, it wd want more man then tenne of Burlingame, to pacifie her. This
said, I bow’d him to the doore, and joyn’d my mooring fellows at the fyre. Yet I
went not to sleep my owne selfe, but rested awake & smoak’d tobacco, thinking,
That in all probabilitie my nights adventures were not done.
At length Burlingame return’d, much out of humour, and upon my enquiring
of him, Was the Queen so lightlie pleas’d? he but broke wind at me, and seeing
the King stule slept, call’d her divers kinds of whoore & peddle-bumme. He wd,
he said, have gone into her, for that she had received him with friendlinesse enow,
but that when he stoode all readie to doe his carnall work, she had demanded of
him, Where was his monie? and he having naught to offer, save a parcell of to-
bacco, she straightway turn’d upon her bellie, and wd no more of him. Whereon
he had left her.
I did laugh greatlie at this tale, and said to him, that he wd ever fare iU in con-
quests of women, for that he was put off so lightlie. And it was a happie thing, for
both our heads, that Powhatan erst had set my selfe to pierce his daughters nether
armour, and not him. By way of answer, Burlingame but broke wind againe, and
said, That if I wish’d to make good my boasts, the doore was yet unlatch’
d, and
the Queene yet flatt upon the grownd. For him, he wd nothing farther of the
whoore, be she Queene or scullerie maide.
I hi’d me then without losse of time to the Queenes apartment, leaving
Burlingame at the fyre to stewe in his owne cowardice. Directlie my. eyes grewe
us’d to the dark, I made out the Queene her selfe, once more upon her back. She
was a passing comelie Salvage, I cd see, with gracious features, shapelie limbs, and a smalle flatt bellie, and her papps & other appurtenancies were such, as to whett any mans lust upon her directing me, in Salvage jargon, to doe my wille,…
I prick’d up like a doggs eare, at smelle of meate. I presented my selfe as Capt Jno
Smith of Virginia, deeming it a beastlie thing, to swive a woman without first ex-
changing cordialities. But to this she pay’d no heed at all, onely shew’d me, by cer-
taine movements, she mark’d such pleasantries a waste of time. Therefore I
hasten’d to undoe my selfe, and had clipp’d her on the instant, but that she stay’d my ardour; and pointing to that place, the wch she had in Salvage fashion pluck’d bald as a biskett & bedawb’d with puccoon paynt, she demanded first some payment, saying, That she was not wont to bestowe her charms for naught.
This troubled me not a whitt, for that I was us’d to dealing with both whoores
& Salvages. I fetch’d up my breeches, and withdrewe therefrom a fistfull of
bawbles, that ever charme the Salvage eye. These I gave her, but she flung them
awaye, and demanded something more. I gave her then a smalle charme, that I
had got from a dead Moor, the wch was said to have magick powers, but this
neither she deign’d to accept After that I offered the slutt a lewd figure done in
ivorie, a smalle coyne inscribed in filthie Arabick, and the pledge of twelve yardes
of Scotch cloth, to be deliver’d on the next boat from London all to no availe.
She wd have six lengths of wompompeag, she said, or nine of roanoke, for her
favours, and naught besides, for that her other lovers were wont to pay that
summe for her bodie, she being the Queene. I made replye, That I had no Sal-
vage monies on my person, nor meanes of acquiring any, but wd she grant me sat-
isfaction of my lust, I wd send her a pound Sterling from Jamestowne, enough
coyn to purchase a bakers dozen tarts in London. But the Queene wd none of my
pound Sterling, and rolling on her bellie, let goe a fart wd
had done honour to
Elizabeth her selfe. I did declare, That Capt Jno Smith was not put off so lightlie,
and when that she reply’d as before, I vow’d to have my fille of her regardlesse.
There is a saying amongst the worldlie French, that when a man cannot eate
thrush, he must perforce make doe with crowe. I tarry’d no longer, but straight-
way work’d upon the Queene that sinne, for wch the Lord rayn’d fyre upon the
Cities of the Playne. …
When that I had done, I drewe away and waited for the Queene to call
her bodie-guards to fetch me, wch I suppos’d she wd forthwith. For a space she lay a-panting on the grownd, and when at last she had her winde, tooke from her
necke tenne strings of wompompeag, wch she presented me. She then declared,
That she had got love enow that night, to give her payne till the new moone. So
saying, she felle into a swoone-like sleep, and I retired to the other roome, to chide
Burlingame for his want of fancie. This he took in his wonted ill humour, for that
I had the better of him yet againe. . .
I did sleep late into the daye, and when I woke, found Hicktopeake in his royall
chaire, with all his Lieutenants round about. He had bade them be silent, the
while I slept, and on my rowsing up came forward, and embraced me, and declared
I shd be second in rule over his towne, and have the comeliest Salvage of his tribe
to wife, for that I had restored his peoples peace. I enquired, How was that so? And
he made answer, That the Queene had come to him that dawne, and beggd for-
givenesse for her infidelitie, and swore that so satisfy’d was she of me, she never
wd gaine goe a-roving from the Kings bedstead. Onely, he said, he fear’d her re-
solve might not endure for long; it must needs have been by meanes of some un-
common virilitie I had pleased her, and I was leaving his towne anon.
With that I led him aside, and related to him privilie the simple trick I had
employ’d, assuring him, that he cd doe the thing as well as I. For so smalle was the puddle, any frogg seem’d greate therein. Hicktopeake had never heard of such a
practice (wch I had learnt from the scurvie Arabs) , and he listened in amazement.
Naught wd then suffice but he must put his learning to the test, and so he hi’d
him selfe apace from out the roome.
While that he was gone thus a-wooing, I gather’d together my companie, and
told them to make readie our vessell, for I design’d to sayle that selfe same morn-
ing, to take up the course of our explorations. They did set to at once, all save
Burlingame, that grows’d about the shoarline kicking pebbles, and we were neare
readie to sayle, when Hicktopeake came out from his howse. He embrac’d me
againe, this time more warmlie then before, and beggd me stay in his towne for
ever, as his Prince & successor. So had he woo’d the Queene, he said, she wd be
three days rysing from her bed, and costive the week. But I declined his offer,
saying, That I had business elsewhere to attend. After much debate he did re-
signe him selfe, and gave me leave to goe, presenting, me & my companie with all
manner of Salvage gifts, and food & water for our vessell.
Thus at last we did set sayle once more, and headed for the maine, and what-
ever lay before us. I was a trifle loath to goe, and wd fain have tarry’d some smalle space, for that Hicktopeake did declare to me his intention, of journeying to the towne of Debedeavon his Brother, and there so ploughing Debedeavons Queene, after the manner he had learnt, as to confound his Brother for ever. Whereupon he, Hicktopeake, shd be the Laughing King of Accomack. Wch forsooth were worth the witnessing. But the favour of Kings is a slipperie boone, lightlie granted & as lightlie forsworne, and I deem’d it more prudent to absent my selfe betimes, while that I was yet in his good graces, then to linger, and perchance weare out my welcome there in Accomack. . . .

Here ended the narrative, or what fragment of it Meech had brought
aboard. Ebenezer read it again, and a third time, hoping to find in it some-
thing to connect Henry Burlingame with his luckless namesake in the story.
But there was every indication that Captain Smith’s antagonist, who Henry
hoped would prove to be his ancestor, was not only childless but un-
married, and his future with the company of explorers was far from promis-
ing. With a sigh the Laureate assembled the pages of the Journal and con-
cealed it under his sailcloth bed, where no one was likely to find it. Then
he extinguished the lantern and sat for some while in the dark. The naked
sounds of rape, floating through the shallop’s fo’c’stle, conjured pictures clear
enough to make him shiver. Together with the story in the manuscript
which was as much a revelation to him as it had been to Hicktopeake
they forced his reverie willy-nilly into a single channel, and before long he
found himself physically moved by desire. He could not in honesty assert
that his pity for the Cyprian girls was unambiguous, or his condemnation
of their assault wholehearted; if he had been shocked by the spectacle,
he had also been excited by it, and so fascinated that no lesser business
than that of the Journal could have summoned him away. Indeed, the
sight of the young girl trapped in the rigging like a fly in a web, and of
Boabdil climbing leisurely up to envelop her like a great black spider, had
aroused him as its memory aroused him now.

It was abundantly clear to him that the value of his virginity was not a
moral value, even as he had explained to Bertrand one day on the Poseidon.
But the mystic ontological value he had ascribed to it seemed less convincing
now than it had seemed then. The recollection of Joan Toast’s visit to his
room,, for example, which was customarily dominated by his speech at her
departure or the hymn to virginity composed afterwards, stopped now at
the memory of the girl herself, sitting pertly on his bed, and would go no
farther. She had leaned forward and embraced him where he knelt before
her: her breasts had brushed like cool silk on his forehead; his cheek had
lain against the cushion of her stomach; his eyes had lingered close to The

From outside came another cry, a hard, high protest that trailed into
lamentation. There was an ancient ring to it, an antique sorrow, that put
the poet in mind of Philomela, of Lucretia, of the Sabine virgins and the
daughters of Troy, of the entire wailing legion of the raped. He went to
the companionway, and climbing it looked skyward at the stars. How
trifling was the present scene to them, who had watched the numberless
wars of men, the sack of nations, and the countless lone assaults in field
and alley! Was there a year in time when their light had not been dimmed,
somewhere on earth, by the flames of burning cities? That instant when he
stepped out on the deck, how many women heard in England, Spain, and
far Cipango the footfall of the rapist on the stair, or in the path behind?
The ranks of women ravished, hundreds and thousands and millions strong,
of every age and circumstance the centuries rang and echoed with their
cries; the dirt of the planet was watered with their tears!

The scene aboard the Cyprian was considerably less violent now, though
by no means tranquil. Around the masts her crew were still tied fast, and
watched the festivities in sullen silence; thus far none had been harmed.
The pirates, their first lust spent, had broken out the rum and were fast
succumbing to it. Already some lay senseless in the scuppers; others
sprawled with their prizes on the decks and cabin roofs, taking drinks and
liberties by turn, but no longer able to consummate their wooing; still others
had lost interest altogether in the women they danced, sang bawdy songs,
or played ombre under lanterns in the balmy air, almost as on any other
evening at sea. From the cabins came the sound of more carousing, but not
of violence: two girls, it seemed, were being obliged to perform some trick
against their will, and Ebenezer heard several women join in the general
laughter and encouragement.

“So lightly they accept their fate!” He thought again of the Trojan
widows, advised by Hecuba to resign themselves without protests to being
concubines and slaves.

The least enviable lot, so far as he could see, was that of seven ladies
trussed hip to hip over the Cyprian’s starboard rail in classic pirate fashion,
so that their heads and upper bodies hung over the somewhat lower shallop;
yet even these, despite the indignity and clear discomfort of their position,
were not entirely overwhelmed with misery. One, it is true, appeared to
be weeping, though she was not being molested at the moment, and
two others stared expressionless at their arms, which were lashed at the
wrist to the bottom of the balusters; but the others were actually gos-
siping with Carl the sailmaker, who smoked his pipe on the shallop’s deck
before them! At sight of Ebenezer, who came up beside him, they were
not in the least abashed.

“Oh dear,” said one, feigning alarm, “here comes another!”

“Ah, now, he seems a likely lad,” said her neighbor, who was older. “Ye’d
not do aught unchivalrous, would ye, son?”

Even as they laughed, a drunken pirate reeled up behind them.

“Ouch!” cried the one to whom he made his presence known. “Tell him,
Carl, ’tis not my turn! Hi! The wretch takes me for a roast of mutton! Tell
him, Carl!”

The sailmaker, by reason of his age, had some authority among his ship-
mates. “Have at some other, matey,” he advised. The pirate obligingly
moved to the tearful youngster on the end, who at his first touch gave a cry
that pierced Ebenezer to the heart.

“Nay, ye blackguard* don’t dare jilt me!” cried the woman first molested.
“Come hither to one that knows what’s what!”

“Aye, leave the child in peace,” another scolded. “I’ll show ye how ’tis
done in Leicestershire!” Aside to her companions she added, “Pray God
’tis not the Moor!”

“Ye asked fort,” said the pirate, and returned to his original choice.

“Marry, there’s a good fellow!” she cried, pretending pleasure. “‘Sheart,
what a stone-horse, girls!” To her neighbor she said in a stage whisper, ” Tis
not the Moor by half, but Grantham gruel: nine grits and a gallon o’ water.
Aie! Gramercy, sir! Gramercyl”

The other three were highly entertained.

“Your friend is yonder in the cabin,” Carl said to Ebenezer. “Hop to’t
if ye’ve a mind for the ladies, for we shan’t tarry here much longer.”

“Indeed?” Ebenezer shifted uncomfortably; the women were regarding
him with interest. “Perhaps I’d better see what mischief Bertrand is about.”

“Ah, ‘sblood, he doth not care for us,” one of the women said. “He likes
his friend better.” The rest took up the tease, even the one being wooed,
and Ebenezer beat a hasty retreat.

“I cannot fathom it,” he said to himself.

Though he had dismissed entirely the notion of stowing away aboard
the Cyprian and had little or no interest in his valet’s present activities, he
borrowed courage enough from those two motives to board the brigantine,
having first walked aft to escape the women’s remarks. He could not deny,
however, his intention to stroll bgck in their direction from the vantage
point of the Cyprian’s deck, at least out of curiosity. He climbed to the
rail and grasped the brigantine’s mizzen shrouds to pull himself over.
When by chance he happened to look aloft, the moonlight showed him a
surprising sight: high in the mizzen-rigging the Moor’s first conquest still
hung, forgotten by all; her arms and legs stuck through as though in stocks.
One could not judge her condition from below: perhaps she maintained
her perch out of fear, hoping to escape further assault; or it could be she
was a-swoon her position would keep her from falling. Neither was it im-
possible that she was dead, from the bite of her great black spider. Assuring
himself that only his curiosity wanted satisfying, but in a high state of
excitement nonetheless, Ebenezer swung his feet not to the deck of the
Cyprian but onto the first of the mizzen ratlines, and methodically, in the
manner of Boabdil, climbed skyward to the dangling girl. . . .

His ascent caused the shrouds to tremble; the girl stirred, peered down-
wards, and buried her face with a moan. The poet, positively dizzied with
desire, made crooning noises in her direction.

“I shall have at thee, lass! I shall have at thee!”

When he had got but halfway up, however, Captain Pound stepped out
from the cabin below, and the Moor ordered all hands back to the shallop.
The men responded with loud protests but nevertheless obeyed, taking
desperate final liberties as they went. Ebenezer doubled his rate of climb.

“I shall have at thee!”

But Boabdil’s voice came up from below. “You in the mizzen-rig! Down
with ye, now! Snap to’t!”

The girl was literally within reach, but to no avail. “Thou’rt a lucky
wench!” he called up boldly.

The girl looked down at him. In the moonlight, from the present dis-
tance, she bore some slight resemblance to Joan Toast, the recollection of
whom had fired his original desire. There was a look of horror on her face.

Weak with excitement, Ebenezer called out to her again: “A minute
more and I had split thee!”

She hid her face, and he climbed down. A few minutes later the pirates
had cast off the grapples and were doing their best to make sail. Looking
back over the widening stretch of ocean, Ebenezer saw the women of the
Cyprian untie their colleagues at the rail and set free the crew. Up in the
mizzen-rigging he could still discern the white figure of the girl, his desire
for whom, unsatisfied, began already to discommode him. The relief he
felt at the accidental rescue of his essence was, though genuine, not nearly
so profound a sensation as had been his strange possession in the rigging,
which he could not begin to understand. Surely,, he insisted, there was
more to it than simple concupiscience: if not, why did the thought
of the Moor’s attack, for example, make him nearly ill with jealousy?
Why had he chosen the girl in the ratlines instead of those along the rail?
Why had her resemblance to Joan Toast (which for that matter he
may only have fancied) inflamed rather than cooled his ardor? His whole
behavior in the matter was incomprehensible to him.

He turned away and made for his cell in the rope-locker, both to assure
himself of the safety of his precious manuscript and in some manner to
alleviate, if he could, his growing pain. Even as he lowered himself down
the fo’c’stle companionway a sharp, shrill female cry rang out through the
darkness from the brigantine’s direction, followed by another and a third.

“Their turn, now,” said someone on the shallop, and a number of the
pirates chuckled. The blood rushed from Ebenezer’s brain; he swayed on
the ladderway and found it necessary to pause a moment, his forehead
pressed against an upper rung.

“She’s but a whore; a simple whore,” he said to himself, and was obliged
to repeat the words several times before he could proceed with his descent.


Whether because he thought he had put it away for safekeeping before
boarding the Cyprian or because he was too drunk on returning to notice
its absence, Captain Pound did not disclose the loss of the Journal fragment
until after noon of the following day, by which time Ebenezer had found
an even better hiding-place for it. Thinking it imprudent to trust his valet
too far, he had waited until Bertrand went on deck that morning and
had then transferred his prize from under his pallet to a fold in the canvas
of a brand new sail which lay at the bottom of a pile of others on a large
shelf near at hand. Thus when in the afternoon he and Bertrand stripped
to the skin with the rest of the crew and stood by while Boabdil and the
Captain combed the ship, he was not alarmed to see them throw aside the
rag-beds in his cell: for them to unfold and refold every spare sail on the
shelf would have been unthinkable. After a two-hour search failed to dis-
cover the manuscript, Captain Pound concluded that someone from the
Cyprian had sneaked aboard to steal it. All that day and the next the pirates
raced to find the brigantine again, until the sight of Cape Henlopen and
Delaware Bay put an end to the chase and forced them back to the safety
of the open sea.

His loss made the Captain daily more sour and irascible. His suspicion
naturally fell heaviest on Ebenezer and Bertrand: though he had no reason
to believe that either had prior knowledge of the Journal’s presence on the
ship and no evidence that either had stolen it both had been seen aboard
the Cyprian, for example he nevertheless confined them to their cell again,
out of ill humor. At the same time he had the Moor lay ten stripes on the
sailmaker’s aged back as punishment for failing to see the thief: the flogging
could be heard in the rope-locker, and Ebenezer had to remind himself,
uncomfortably, that the manuscript was exceedingly valuable to the cause
of order and justice in Maryland. To Bertrand, who had nearly swooned
during the search of their quarters, he declared that he had thrown the
Journal into the sea for fear of discovery, and that old Carl was after all a
pirate whom any judge ashore would doubtless hang.

“Nonetheless,” he added resolutely, “should I hear they mean to kill or
torture anyone for’t, even that loathesome beast Boabdil, I shall confess.”
Whether he would in fact,, he did not care to wonder; he made the vow
primarily for Bertrand’s sake, to forestall another defection.

“Small difference whether ye do or no,” the valet answered, “Our time’s
nigh up in either case.” He was, indeed, perilously disheartened; from the
first he had been skeptical of Ebenezer’s plan to escape, and even that long
chance was precluded by their present confinement. In vain did Ebenezer
point out that it was Bertrand who, by his conduct aboard the Cyprian,
had spoiled their best opportunity to escape: such truths are never con-

Their prospects darkened as the day of the shallop’s scheduled rendez-
vous approached. They heard the crew in the fo’c’sle complain of the
Captain’s mounting severity: three had been put on short rations for no
greater crime than that Pound had overheard them comparing notes on
the Cyprian women; a fourth, who as spokesman for the group had in-
quired how soon they would put into some port, had been threatened with
keelhauling. Daily the two prisoners feared that he would take it into his
head to put them to some form of torture. The one bright happenstance of
the entire period, both for the crew and for Ebenezer, was the news that
the Moor, whom they had come to resent for executing the Captain’s orders,
had been blessed by one of his victims on the brigantine with a social

“Whether ’tis French pox or some other, I don’t know,” said the man
who had the news, “but he is sore as a boil oft and cannot walk to save him.”

Ebenezer readily assumed that it was the girl in the mizzen-rigging who
had been infected, for though Boabdil had assuredly not confined his exer-
cise to her, none of the other pirates showed signs of the malady. The
disclosure gave him a complexly qualified pleasure: in the first place he
was glad to see the Moor thus repaid for the rape, yet he quite understood
the oddity of this emotion in the light of his own intentions. Second, the re-
lief he felt at so narrowly escaping contagion himself, like the relief at
having his chastity preserved for him, failed to temper his disappointment as
he thought it should. And third, the presence of infection suggested that the
girl had not been virginal, and this likelihood occasioned in him the follow-
ing additional and not altogether harmonious feelings: chagrin at having
somewhat less cause to loathe the Moor and relish his affliction; disap-
pointment at what he felt to be a depreciation of his own near-conquest;
alarm at the implication of this disappointment,, which seemed to be that
his motives for assaulting the girl were more cruel than even the Moor’s,
who would not have assumed her to be virginal in the first place; awe at
the double perversity that though his lust had been engendered at least
partially by pity for what he took to be a deflowered maiden, yet he felt in
his heart that the pity was nonetheless authentic and would have been
heightened, not diminished, during his own attack on her, whereas the
revelation that she had not lost her maidenhead to Boabdil materially
diminished it; and finally, a sort of overarching joy commingled with relief
at a suspicion that seemed more probable every time he reviewed it the
suspicion that his otherwise not easily accountable possession by desire,
contingent as it had been on the assumption of her late deflowering
and his consequent pity, was by the very perverseness of that contingency
rendered almost innocent, an affair as it were between virgins. This mystic
yearning of the pure to join his ravished sister in impurity: was it not, in
fact, self-ravishment, and hence a variety of love?

‘Very likely,” he concluded, and chewed his index fingernail for joy.

How Captain Pound explained his dereliction, the Laureate never
learned. The six weeks ran their course; well after dark on the appointed
day the prisoners heard another ship saluted by the pirates, and the sound
of visitors brought aboard from a longboat. Whatever the nature of the
parley, it was brief: after half an hour the guests departed. All hands were
ordered aloft, and into the rope-locker came the sounds of the pirates mak-
ing sail in the gentle breeze. As soon as the shallop gained steerage-way the
acting first mate none other than the boatswain impressed from the
Poseidon, who had so rapidly and thoroughly adjusted to his new circum-
stances that Pound appointed him to replace the ailing Moor climbed
down into the fo’c’sle, unlocked the door of the brig, and ordered the
prisoners on deck.

“Aie!” cried Bertrand. “‘Tis the end!”

“What doth this mean?” the Laureate demanded.

“‘Tis the end! Tis the end!”

“’Tis the end o’ thy visit,” the boatswain grumbled. “I’ll say that much/’

“Thank Heav’n!” Ebenezer cried. “Is’t not as I said, Bertrand?”

“Up with ye, now.”

“One moment,” the poet insisted. “I beg you for a moment alone, sir,
ere I go with you. I must give thanks to my Savior.” And without waiting
for reply he fell to his knees in an attitude of prayer.

“Ah, well, then.” The boatswain shifted uncertainly, but finally
stepped outside the cell. “Only a moment, though; the Captain’s in foul spirits.”

As soon as he was alone Ebenezer snatched the Journal manuscript from
its hiding-place nearby and thrust it into his shirt. Then he joined Bertrand
and the boatswain.

“I am ready, friend, and to this cell bid Adieu right gladly. Is’t a boat
hath come for us, or are we so near shore? ‘Sblood, how this lifts my heart!”

The boatswain merely grunted and preceded them up the companionway
to the deck, where they found a mild and moonless mid-September night.
The shallop rode quietly under a brilliant canopy of stars. All hands were
congregated amidships, several holding lanterns, and greeted their ap-
proach with a general murmur. Ebenezer thought it only fit that he bid
them farewell with a bit of verse, since all in all they had, save for the past
six weeks, treated him quite unobjectionably: but there was not time to
compose, and all he had in stock, so to speak (his notebook having -been
left behind, to his great sorrow, on the Poseidon) was a little poem of
welcome to Maryland that he had hatched at sea and committed to
memory unhappily not appropriate to the occasion. He resolved therefore
to content himself with a few simple remarks, no less well turned for their
brevity, the substance of which would be that while he could not approve
of their way of life, he was nonetheless appreciative of their civil regard for
himself and his man. Moreover, he would conclude, what a man cannot
condone he may yet forgive: Many a deed that the head reviles finds
absolution in the heart
; and while he could not but insist, should they ever
be apprehended at their business, that their verdict be just, he could pray
nonetheless, and would with his whole heart, that their punishment be

But it was not his fortune to deliver himself of these observations, for
immediately upon reaching the gathering he and Bertrand were set upon
by the nearest pirates and held fast by the arms. The group separated into
a double column leading to the larboard rail, from the gangway of which,
illuminated by the flickering lanterns, the prisoners saw a plank run out
some six feet over the sea.

“Nay!” Ebenezer’s flesh drew up in goose bumps. “Dear God in

Captain Pound was not in sight, but somewhere aft his voice said “On
with’t.” The grim-faced pirates drew their cutlasses and held them ready;
Ebenezer and Bertrand, at the inboard end of the gauntlet, were faced
toward the plank, released, and at the same moment pricked from behind
with swords or knives to get them moving.

“From the first, gentlemen, I have been uncertain which of you is
Ebenezer Cooke,” said Captain Pound. “I know now that the twain of you
are impostors. The real Ebenezer Cooke is in St. Mary’s City, and hath
been these several weeks.”

“Nay!” cried the poet, and Bertrand howled. But the ranks of steel blades
closed behind them, and they were shortly teetering on the plank. Below
them the black sea raced and rustled down the freeboard; Ebenezer saw it
sparkle in tie flare of the lanterns and fell to his knees, the better to clutch
at the plank. No time for a parting song like that of Arion, whose music had
summoned dolphins to his rescue. In two seconds Bertrand, farther out-
board, lost his balance and fell with a screech into the water.

“Jump!” cried several pirates.

“Shoot him!” others urged.

“I’ God!” wailed Ebenezer, and allowed himself to tumble from the plank.

My review here: https://etepsed.wordpress.com/the-sot-weed-factor/#comment-2285

Book first published in 1960 and currently out of print.