Prologue
 

A very famous pirate of his day was Captain Robertson Keitt.

Before embarking upon his later career of infamy, he was, in the beginning, very well known as a reputable merchant in the island of Jamaica. Thence entering, first of all, upon the business of the African trade, he presently, by regular degrees, became a pirate, and finally ended his career as one of the most renowned freebooters of history.

The remarkable adventure through which he at once reached the pinnacle of success, and became in his profession the most famous figure of his day, was the capture of the Rajah of Kishmoor's great ship, The Sun of the East. In this vessel was the Rajah's favorite Queen, who, together with her attendants, were set upon a pilgrimage to Mecca. The court of this great Oriental potentate was, as may be readily supposed, fairly a-glitter with gold and jewels, so that, what with such personal adornments that the Queen and her attendants had fetched with them, besides an ample treasury for the expenses of the expedition, an incredible prize of gold and jewels rewarded the freebooters for their successful adventure.

Among the precious stones taken in this great purchase was the splendid ruby of Kishmoor. This, as may be known to the reader, was one of the world's greatest gems, and was unique alike both for its prodigious size and the splendor of its color. This precious jewel the Rajah of Kishmoor had, upon a certain occasion, bestowed upon his Queen, and at the time of her capture she wore it as the centre-piece of a sort of a coronet which encircled her forehead and brow.

The seizure by the pirate of so considerable a person as that of the Queen of Kishmoor, and of the enormous treasure that he found aboard her ship, would alone have been sufficient to have established his fame. But the capture of so extraordinary a prize as that of the ruby--which was, in itself, worth the value of an entire Oriental kingdom--exalted him at once to the very highest pinnacle of renown.

Having achieved the capture of this incredible prize, our captain scuttled the great ship and left her to sink with all on board. Three Lascars of the crew alone escaped to bear the news of this tremendous disaster to an astounded world.

As may readily be supposed, it was now no longer possible for Captain Keitt to hope to live in such comparative obscurity as he had before enjoyed. His was now too remarkable a figure in the eyes of the world. Several expeditions from various parts were immediately fitted out against him, and it presently became no longer compatible with his safety to remain thus clearly outlined before the eyes of the world. Accordingly, he immediately set about seeking such security as he might now hope to find, which he did the more readily since he had now, and at one cast, so entirely fulfilled his most sanguine expectations of good-fortune and of fame.

Thereafter, accordingly, the adventures of our captain became of a more apocryphal sort. It was known that he reached the West Indies in safety, for he was once seen at Port Royal and twice at Spanish Town, in the island of Jamaica. Thereafter, however, he disappeared; nor was it until several years later that the world heard anything concerning him.

One day a certain Nicholas Duckworthy, who had once been gunner aboard the pirate captain's own ship, The Good Fortune, was arrested in the town of Bristol in the very act of attempting to sell to a merchant of that place several valuable gems from a quantity which he carried with him tied up in a red bandanna handkerchief.

In the confession of which Duckworthy afterward delivered himself he declared that Captain Keitt, after his great adventure, having sailed from Africa in safety, and so reached the shores of the New World, had wrecked The Good Fortune on a coral reef off the Windward Islands; that he then immediately deserted the ship, and together with Duckworthy himself, the sailing-master (who was a Portuguese), the captain of a brig The Bloody Hand (a consort of Keitt's), and a villainous rascal named Hunt (who, occupying no precise position among the pirates, was at once the instigator of and the partaker in the greatest part of Captain Keitt's wickednesses), made his way to the nearest port of safety. These five worthies at last fetched the island of Jamaica, bringing with them all of the jewels and some of the gold that had been captured from The Sun of the East.

But, upon coming to a division of their booty, it was presently discovered that the Rajah's ruby had mysteriously disappeared from the collection of jewels to be divided. The other pirates immediately suspected their captain of having secretly purloined it, and, indeed, so certain were they of his turpitude that they immediately set about taking means to force a confession from him.

In this, however, they were so far unsuccessful that the captain, refusing to yield to their importunities, had suffered himself to die under their hands, and had so carried the secret of the hiding-place of the great ruby--if he possessed such a secret--along with him.

Duckworthy concluded his confession by declaring that in his opinion he himself, the Portuguese sailing-master, the captain of The Bloody Hand, and Hunt were the only ones of Captain Keitt's crew who were now alive; for that The Good Fortune must have broken up in a storm, which immediately followed their desertion of her; in which event the entire crew must inevitably have perished.

It may be added that Duckworthy himself was shortly hanged, so that, if his surmise was true, there was now only three left alive of all that wicked crew that had successfully carried to its completion the greatest adventure which any pirate in the world had ever, perhaps, embarked upon.