The Black Buccaneer by Stephen W Meader
Meanwhile the Royal James was far up inside the Capes, sailing demurely along, the ports of her gun deck closed and the British colors fluttering from her top. Jeremy watched the shores they passed with deep interest. He wondered if there would be a chance for him to get away when they came to anchor. There was nothing but hardship in his lot aboard the sloop, now that Job was gone. He was unnoticed for the most part by the men of the crew, and when any of them spoke to him it was with a cuff or a curse. As for Captain Bonnet, he had relapsed into one of his black moods. Nothing brought him on deck or made him speak except to give Herriot monosyllabic commands.
Late the following day, after a slow progress along the Delaware shore, the sloop hove to in a wide roadstead and the anchor was run out. The steeples and shipping of a little town were visible by the water side, but no one put off to meet them. To the surprise of all, Bonnet himself came on deck, wearing a good coat and fresh ruffles and with his hair powdered. He ordered the gig lowered, then looked about the assembled crew and addressed them good-humoredly enough. "Now, my lads," said he, "I'm going ashore with a picked boat's crew to get what news there is about. You that go with me remember that you are of the Royal James, honest merchant coaster, and that I am Captain Thomas, likewise honest navigator. We'll separate into every tavern and ship-chandler's place along the wharves, pick up the names of all ships that are soon to sail, and their cargoes, and meet at the gig at eight bells. Herriot and you men aboard here, keep a strict watch. Daggs, I leave the boy in your charge. Don't let him out of your sight."
At the last words Jeremy's heart sank to his boots. He knew how futile would be any attempt to escape under the cold hawk-eyes of the man with the broken nose. As the gig put off from the sloop's side, the boy leaned dejectedly against the rail. Pharaoh Daggs slouched up to him. "Ah there, young 'un," said he with cynical jocularity, "just thinkin' o' leavin' us, were ye, when the old man took the gimp out o' ye?" The bantering note vanished from the man's voice. "I'ld like to break yer neck, ye young whelp, but I won't--not just yet!" He seemed to be licking his ugly chops at the thought of a future occasion when he might allow himself this luxury. Then he went on, half to himself it seemed. "Hm, Bonnet's a queer 'un! Never can tell what he'll do. Them eight men aboard that brig, now--never was a rougher piece o' piracy since Morgan's day than his makin' those beggars walk the plank. Stood there an' roared an' laughed, he did, an' pricked 'em behind till they tipped the board. An' then to stop us from drownin' a blasted little rat that'd tried to kill us all! Oh, he's bad, is Stede--bad!" Jeremy gave a start as this soliloquy progressed. He had wondered once or twice what had become of the prisoners taken aboard the brig. That attempted escape of Job's had cost dear in human life it seemed. And his own deliverance had been the mere whim of a mad-man! He shuddered and thanked God fervently for the fortune that had so far attended him.
There was a pause while the buccaneer seemed to regard him with a sort of crafty hesitancy. At length he spoke.
"See here, boy," he said, his voice sinking to a hoarse whisper, "how long had you been livin' on that there island?"
Jeremy looked up wonderingly. "Not long," he answered, "only a day or two, really."
"And you--nor none of yer folks--never went nosin' 'round there to find nothin', did yer? Tell me the truth, now!" Daggs leaned closer, a murderous intensity in his face.
"No," said Jeremy, squirming as the man's fingers gripped his shoulder.
The pirate gave him another long, piercing look from his terrible eyes, then released him and went forward, where he stood staring off toward the shore.
In his wretched loneliness the boy sank down by the rail, his heart heavier than it had ever been in his whole life. It might have been a relief to him to cry. A great lump was in his throat indeed and his eyes smarted, but he had considered himself too old for tears almost since he could walk, and now with the realization that he was near shedding them, he forced his shoulders back, shut his square jaw and resolved that he would be a man, come what might. Darkness settled over the river mouth. The form of Pharaoh Daggs in black silhouette against the gray of the sky sent a shudder through Jeremy. He recalled with startling distinctness the solitary man he had seen on the island the night of his capture. The two figures were identical. Pondering, the boy fell asleep.
It was some four hours later that he woke to the sound of hurrying oars close aboard. A subdued shout came across the water. The voice was Stede Bonnet's. "Stand by to take us on!" he cried. A moment later the gig shot into sight, her crew rowing like mad. They pulled in their oars, swept up alongside the black sloop, and were caught and pulled aboard by ready hands. "Cut the cable!" cried the Captain as soon as he reached the deck. The gig was swung up, the cable chopped in two and the mainsail spread, and in an incredibly short time the Royal James was bowling along down the roadstead. Hardly had she gotten under way when two long-boats appeared astern and amid shouts and orders to surrender from their crews, a scattered fusillade of bullets came aboard. No one on the sloop was hit, and as the sails began to draw properly the pirate craft soon left her pursuers far to the rear.
Jeremy, never one to watch others work, had lent a hand wherever he was best able, during the rush of the escape. When the sloop was well out of range and the excitement had subsided, he turned for the first time to look at a small group that had been talking amidships. Two of the figures were very well known to him--Bonnet and Herriot. The light of a lantern, which the latter held, fell upon the face of a boy no older than Jeremy, dressed in the finest clothes the young New Englander had ever seen.
The lad's face was dark and resolute, his hair black, smoothly brushed back and tied behind with a small ribbon. His blue coat was of velvet, neatly cut. Below his long flowered waistcoat were displayed buff velvet breeches and silk stockings of the same color. His shoes were of fine leather and buckled with silver.
In response to the oaths and rough questions of the two pirates, the lad seemed to have little to say. When he spoke it was with a scornful ring in his voice. The first words Jeremy heard him say were: "You'll understand it soon, I fancy. We are well enough known along the bay and my father, as I have said, is a friend of the Governor's. There'll be ten ships after you before morning." Herriot put back his head and roared with laughter. "Hear the young braggart!" he shouted. "Ten ships for such a milk-fed baby as he is!"
"Well, my lad," said the Captain, "you'll be treated well enough while we wait for the money to be paid. Here, Jeremy!" As the young backwoodsman came up, Bonnet continued, "Two boys aboard is bad business, for you're sure to be scheming to get away. However, it can't be helped, just yet, and mind what I say,--there'll be a bullet ready for the first one that tries it. Now get below, the pair of you."
Glad as he was to have a companion of his own age aboard, Jeremy, boylike, was too shy to say anything to the new arrival that night, and indeed the other boy seemed to class him with the rest of the pirates and to feel some repugnance at his company. So the two unfortunate youngsters slept fitfully, side by side, until broad daylight next morning.