The Black Joke

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  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2009-09-01
  • Publisher: Emblem Editions
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The Black Jokeis a rousing sea story in the tradition of the great classic pirate tales. The time is the 1930s. The loot is bootleg liquor, not pirate gold. And the ship is the "Black Joke," the speediest, nimblest craft on the Newfoundland coast Jonathon Spence, owner and master. An unwelcome passenger enmeshes the boat and her crew (young Peter and Kye) in danger and near destruction...until the fiercely independent people of the island of Miquelon are caught up in the fate of the "Black Joke" and the cargo aboard her. From the eBook edition.

Author Biography

Farley Mowat was born in Belleville, Ontario, in 1921, and grew up in Belleville, Trenton, Windsor, Saskatoon, Toronto, and Richmond Hill. He served in World War II from 1940 until 1945, entering the army as a private and emerging with the rank of captain. He began writing for his living in 1949 after spending two years in the Arctic. Since 1949 he has lived in or visited almost every part of Canada and many other lands, including the distant regions of Siberia. He remains an inveterate traveller with a passion for remote places and peoples. He has twenty-five books to his name, which have been published in translations in over twenty languages in more than sixty countries. They include such internationally known works as People of the Deer, The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be, Never Cry Wolf, Westviking, The Boat That Wouldn’t Float, Sibir, A Whale for the Killing, The Snow Walker, And No Birds Sang, and Virunga: The Passion of Dian Fossey. His short stories and articles have appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, Maclean’s, Atlantic Monthly and other magazines.


Chapter 1
The Spences and the Ship

One wind­whipped summer day in the year 1735, a black­hulled ship came storming in from seaward toward the mountain walls which guard the southern coast of Newfoundland. All the canvas she could carry was bent to her tall spars, and she was closing on the rock­ribbed coast at such a furious pace it seemed inevitable she must meet destruction in the surf that boiled and spouted at the foot of the sea-cliffs.

Just over the horizon astern of her a squadron of French men-of­war was straining to overhaul the fleeing ship. Aboard the Frenchmen a hundred cannon were primed and loaded, waiting for the moment when the massed fire of the squadron could rip the black ship into fragments.

The fleeing vessel, sardonically namedBlack Jokeby her master, John Phillip, was one of the most notorious privateers in Atlantic waters, and for two years French merchant shipping bound for Canada had suffered her plundering. But on this summer day the vengeful French naval squadron had almost trapped her off the island of St. Pierre, and now she was running for her life.

In the waist of the privateer stood a young man named Jonathan Spence. Two months earlier he had been an ordinary seaman on an English ship which had crossed the Atlantic to fish on the cod­rich grounds of the eastern Newfoundland coast. Spence’s ship had been lying anchored in Acquaforte Harbour one day when the dawn light revealed the presence of a newcomer, a slim black vessel, lying across the narrow harbor entrance and commanding the anchored fishermen with her long brass cannon.

There was consternation in the fishing fleet as the officers recognized the infamousBlack Joke. The captains had no alternative but to obey Phillip’s “request” that their crews be mustered on the decks. And they could do nothing but look on miserably as he addressed the crews, promising good wages and high adventure in his service.

Phillip’s audience was attentive. In those days the crews of fishing ships were little better than slaves. And so, when Phillip’s bully­boat rowed away from the fleet, it carried the pick of the young and able fishermen; and amongst them was young Spence.

Jonathan Spence enjoyed his service with Phillip even though it was a life of hard sailing and occasionally of hard fighting. But Jonathan had a great desire to be his own master. He had already fallen in love with Newfoundland, wild and formidable as it was with its great inland mountains, sea­racked shores, and dark spruce forests. And he had made up his mind to settle on the island, never to return to England where starvation and a serf’s lot awaited him.

But a settler’s life on the much­frequented eastern shores was a precarious business at best, for the owners and officers of the English fishing ships considered the settlers to be intruders into their fishing preserves and the conflict between the two groups was often bloody.

Things were different on the south coast of Newfoundland. Here the deep fords and coves were so well protected by off­lying reefs and shoals that fishing vessels seldom ventured near them. Only a few men knew the secrets of that coast — and Captain John Phillip was one of them.

His knowledge served him well on the dayBlack Jokefled from the French squadron. He heldBlack Jokeupon her course even though the green hands in his crew were sure he was taking them all to their deaths. The massive sea­cliffs seemed close enough to touch, when suddenly a cleft opened in the rock wall ahead. It was a mere slit in the face of the mountains, but the black ship drove unhesitatingly into it and in an instant had vanished from the face of the gray ocean.

The slit, no more than a hundred yards wide, twisted and turned between thousand­foot walls until it ended a

Excerpted from The Black Joke by Farley Mowat
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