Chapter XI

When the gang of buccaneers had tumbled down the hatch after Jeremy's cry of warning, Job Howland, barely awake, had leaped to the narrow angle that made the forward end of the fo'c's'le, seizing a pistol as he went. Intrenching himself behind a chest, with the bulkhead behind him and on both sides, he had kept the maddened crew at bay for several moments. The pistol, covering the only path of attack, made them wary of approaching too close. When, finally, a half-dozen jumped forward at once, he pulled the trigger only to find that the weapon had not been loaded. In desperation he grasped the muzzle in his hand and struck out fiercely with the heavy butt, beating off his assailants time after time. This was well enough at first, but the buccaneers, who cared much less for a broken crown than for a bullet wound, pressed in closer and closer, striking with fists and marline-spikes. It was soon over. They jammed him so far into the corner than his tireless arm no longer had free play, and then bore him down under sheer weight of numbers. When he ceased to struggle they seized him fast and carried him to the deck.

Job was out of breath and much bruised but had suffered no lasting hurt. He saw Jeremy led forward, heard the men's cries and realized that the torture was in store for them both.

Unbound, but helpless to interfere, he saw the boy stretched on the deck and the rope attached to his arms and legs. He suffered greater agony than did Jeremy as the crew made ready to begin their awful work, for he had seen keelhauling before. And then suddenly Stede Bonnet was standing by the companion and the ringing shout that saved the boy's life struck on Job's ears. He could hardly keep from cheering the Captain then and there, but relief at Jeremy's delivery brought with it a return of his quick wits. He himself was in as great danger as ever.

He was facing aft, and his eye, roving the deck for a means of escape, lit on the brig's boat, which the pirates had tied astern after reboarding the sloop. She was trailing at the end of a painter, her bows rising and falling on the choppy waves. He waited only long enough to see that the Captain succeeded in freeing Jeremy, then drew a great breath and plunged over the side. Swimming under water, he watched for the towed longboat to come by overhead, and as her dark bulk passed, he caught her keel with a strong grip of his fingers, worked his way back and came up gasping, his hands holding to the rudder ring in her stern.

The hot, still days had warmed the surface of the sea to a temperature far above the normal, or he must certainly have become exhausted in a short time. As it was, he clung to his ring till near noon, when, cautiously peering above the gunwale, he saw the sloop's deck empty save for a steersman, half asleep in the hot sun by the tiller. With a great wrench of his arms the ex-buccaneer lifted himself over the stern and slipped as quietly as he was able into the boat's bottom. There he lay breathless, listening for sounds of alarm aboard the sloop. None came and after a few moments he wriggled forward and made himself snug under the bow-thwart. The boat carried a water-beaker and a can of biscuit for emergency use. After refreshing himself with these and drying out his thin clothing in the sun, he retreated under the shade of the thwart and slept the sleep of utter fatigue.

Late the next day he took a brief observation of the horizon. There was sandy shore to the east and from what he knew of the coast and the ship's course he judged they must be nearing the entrance to Delaware Bay. His long rest had restored to him most of his vigor and although he was sore in many places, he felt perfectly ready to try an escape as soon as the sloop should approach the land and offer him an opportunity.

As the night went on the Royal James made good speed up the Bay aided by a strong tide. A little while before light she came close enough to the west shore for Job to see the outlines of trees on a bluff. He figured the distance to be not above a mile at most. There was some question in his mind whether he should cut the painter and use the boat in getting away or swim for it. He decided that it would be better for him in most ways if the pirates still supposed him dead. So, quietly as an otter, he slipped over the gunwale, paddled away from the boat's side and set out for the land, ploughing through the water with a long overarm stroke.

Job had a hard fight with the turning tide before the trees loomed above his head and his feet scraped gravel under the bank. When at last he crept gasping out upon dry ground, it was miles to the southward of his first destination. Dawn had come and the early light silvered the rippling cross-swells and glinted on the white wings of the gulls. The big mariner shook the water from his sides like a spaniel, stretched both long arms to the warm sky, laughed as he thought of his escape and turning his gaunt face to the northward set out swiftly along the tree-clad bluffs.