The Black Buccaneer by Stephen W Meader
The "salt horse" which was served out for breakfast aboard the Royal James made scant appeal to the Delaware boy's appetite. He hardly touched the portion which Jeremy offered him and kept up his pose of proud aloofness all the morning. It is scarcely a matter for wonder that he did not at once make friends with Jeremy. The latter's buckskin breeches and moccasins had been taken from him when he came aboard and he was now clad in his old leather tunic, a pair of seaman's trousers, which bagged nearly to his ankles, wrinkled, garterless wool socks and an old pair of buckled shoes, stuffed with rags to make them fit. His hair, never very manageable, had received little attention during the voyage and now was as wild and rough as that of a savage. It would have required a long second glance for one to see the fine qualities of grit and self-reliance in the boy's keen face.
The sloop was making great speed down the middle channel of the Bay, her canvas straining in a fine west breeze, and her deck canted far to leeward. No boy could long withstand the pleasure of sailing on such a day, and before noon the young stranger had given in to a consuming desire to know the names of things. Jeremy now had the whole ship by heart and was filled with joy at the opportunity of talking about her to one more ignorant than himself. Of course, he was as proud of the Royal James as if he owned her. How he glowed over his account of the battle with the brig! Nothing on the coast could outsail the sloop, he was sure. Indeed, it was with some regret that he admitted a hope of her being overtaken by the Delaware boy's friends, and he was divided between pride and despair as the day went on and no sail appeared to the north. By noon his new acquaintance was ravenously hungry, as was to be expected, and over their pannikins of soup the last reserve between them went by the board.
"Are you his son?" asked the dark-haired lad, nodding toward Herriot. Jeremy laughed and described his adventure from the beginning while the other marveled open-mouthed. "Are they holding you for ransom, too?" asked he, as the story ended. "No," replied Jeremy, "I reckon they knew as soon as they saw me that there wasn't much money to be gotten in my case. As I figure it, they didn't dare leave me on the island for fear I'ld have those three ships-of-war after them." Both boys laughed as they thought of the head-long flight of Stede Bonnet's company from a garrison of fifteen sheep.
"Well," said the Delaware boy, still chuckling, "you know most of my story already. My father is Clarke Curtis of New Castle. My own name is Bob. Father owns some ships in the East India trade and has a plantation up on the Brandywine creek. Last night I was at our warehouse by the wharves. Father was inside talking to one of his captains who had just come to port. I wanted to see the ship--she's a full-rigger, three or four times as big as this, and fast too for her burden. Well, I went down on the dock where she was moored. There was nobody around and no lights and she stood up above the wharf-side all dark and big--her mainmast is as high as our church steeple, you know--and I was just looking up at her and wondering where the watchman was, when four men came along down the wharf. I thought perhaps 'twas Father and some of his men. When they were quite close that biggest one, Herriot, stepped up to me and before I could shout he put his hand over my mouth and held me. They gagged me fast and then one of them gave a whistle, long and low. Pretty soon a boat came up to the dock and they grabbed me and put me in, spite of all I could do. They paddled along to another wharf and took aboard some more men and then started to row out as fast as they could. I guess those boats that came after us were from Father's ship. He must have missed me right away. So now old Bonnet or Thomas or whatever his name is thinks he's going to get a fat sum out of me. That's all of my story, so far. But there'll be another chapter yet!" Jeremy, for both their sakes, sincerely hoped that there might.
At sunset of that day the Royal James cleared Cape Henlopen and held her course for the open sea, while behind her in the gathering dusk the coast grew hazy--faded out--was gone. The two boys, sitting late into the first watch, shivered with that fine ecstasy of adventure that can come only in the shadowy mystery of star-lit decks and the long, whispering ripple of a following sea.
Jeremy, who twenty-four hours before had thought of the ship as a place of utter desolation, would not now have changed places with any boy alive. He knew, perhaps for the first time, the fulness of joy that comes into life with human companionship. That night two lads at least had golden dreams of a youthful kind. Ducats and doubloons, princesses and plum-cake, swords awave and cannon blazing, great galleons with crimson sails--no wonder that they were smiling in their sleep when George Dunkin held a lantern over the bunk at the change of the watch.