The Black Buccaneer by Stephen W Meader
The day came in dark with fog, which changed a little after noon to driving scud. The wind had gone around to the northeast and freshened steadily, driving the waves in from the sea in steep gray hills, quite different from anything Jeremy had before experienced. The sloop, under three reefs and a storm jib, began to make rough weather of it, staggering up and down the long slopes in an aimless, dizzy fashion that made Jeremy and Bob very unhappy. The poor young New Englander had to perform his regular tasks no matter how he felt within, but once the work was done he stumbled forward miserably and lay upon his bunk. Bob was too wretched to talk all day, and for the time at least cared very little whether he was rescued or keel-hauled.
Near nightfall Jeremy went aft to serve the Captain's supper, and as he returned along the reeling wet deck in the gathering dark, he stopped a moment to look off to windward. The racing white tops of the waves gleamed momentarily and vanished. He was appalled at their height. While the little vessel surged along in the trough, great slopes of foam and black water rose on either beam, up and up like tossing hillsides. Then would come the staggering climb to the summit, and for a dizzy second the terrified lad, clinging to a shroud, could look for miles across the shifting valleys. Before he could catch his breath, the sloop pitched down the next declivity in a long, sickening sag, and rocked for a brief instant at the foot, her masts swaying in a great arc half across the sky. Then she began to ascend. Shivering and wide-eyed, the boy crept to his bunk, where he fell asleep at last to the sound of screaming wind and lashing water.
At dawn and all next day the gale swept down from the northeast unabated. The fo'c's'le was thick with tobacco smoke and the wet reek of the crew, for only the steersman and the lookout would stay on deck. Bob, somewhat recovered from his seasickness, lay wide-eyed in his bunk and heard such tales of plunder and savagery on the high seas as made his blood run cold. When Jeremy came dripping down the ladder, early that afternoon, he found the Delaware lad staring at Pharaoh Daggs with a look of positive terror. The buccaneer's evil face was lit up by the rays of the smoky lantern, hung from a hook in one of the deck beams. He sat on the edge of the fo'c's'le table, his heavy shoulders hunched and a long clay pipe in his teeth. "That night," he was saying, "four on us went an' cut Sol Brig down from where they'd hanged him. We got away, down to the sloop an' out to sea with him. I didn't have no cause to love the old devil, but I'd ha' hated to have a ghost like his after me, so I lent a hand. We wrapped him up decent an' gave him sea-burial from his own deck, as he'd paced for thirty year. An' then," he said with a snarl and half-turning to face Jeremy, "we got them two boys on deck! Both of 'em said 'twas the other as told, so we treated 'em fair an' alike. We stripped 'em an' laid in deep with the cat till there wasn't no white skin left above the waist. Then we sluiced 'em with sea water. When they could feel pain again, we stretched 'em with rope an' windlass till one died. T'other was a red-headed, tough young devil, an' took such a deal of it that we had to brain him with a handspike at the last."
Even the crew were silenced for a little by this recital. Jeremy and Bob shivered in their places, hardly daring to breathe. Then a Portuguese spoke from the corner, his greedy little black eyes glittering in his swarthy face.
"Where wass da Cap'n's money--da gold 'e 'ada-not divide', eh?"
Daggs gave a little start and leaned forward scowling. "Who said he had any?" he asked savagely. "Sol Brig kept himself to himself. He never told secrets to any man aboard!" Then he turned and with a black frown at the two boys, climbed through the hatch into the howling smother outside.
Jeremy, always alert, saw one or two glances exchanged among the pirates before the interminable foul stream of fo'c's'le talk resumed its course, but apparently the incident of the scarred man's abrupt departure was soon forgotten.
As the storm continued, Bonnet and Herriot gave up their attempts to sail the Royal James and contented themselves with keeping her afloat. The gale was driving them southward at a good rate and they were not ungrateful as they reflected that it must have effectually put a stop to all pursuit. Toward night the wind went down a trifle, though the seas still ran in veritable mountain ranges. The dawn of the following day showed a clear sky to the north, and every prospect of fair weather. Before breakfast all hands were set to shaking out reefs and trimming sails, a task which the tossing of the sloop made unusually difficult. New halyards had to be fitted in some places. Otherwise the vessel herself had suffered but little. The brig's boat, towed astern all through the flight down the bay, had been swamped and cut loose on the first day of storm. However, as the Royal James had two boats of her own lashed on deck, this was not considered a real loss.
When the sun was high enough, Herriot took his bearings, and gave the helmsman orders to keep her headed west, a point north. The sloop made a long beat of it to starboard, thrashing up all night and most of the following day, before she sighted the Virginia Capes. Slipping through under cover of darkness, Bonnet resumed his rôle of sober merchantman and sailed the James up the Chesapeake under the British flag, with a fine air of honesty.
Jeremy and Bob regained their spirits as the low shores unrolled ahead and passed astern, with an occasional glimpse of a plantation house or a village at the water's edge. As every fresh estuary and arm of the bay opened on the bow, the lads hoped and expected that the sloop would enter. Bob thought the chances for escape or rescue would be much increased if they came to anchor in some harbor. Jeremy remembered the Captain's half-promise to free him when they reached the Chesapeake, and although he would have been loth to part from his new friend, he felt that he might render him better service ashore than in his company aboard the pirate.
It was two full days before the order was finally given to anchor. They had put into the mouth of a wide inlet far up on the Eastern shore, and Bonnet had her brought into the wind at a good distance from either side. The banks were high and wooded, and as far as the boys could see there was no sign of habitation anywhere about. Their minds were both busy planning some way of getting to land when Dave Herriot came up behind them and put a huge hand into the collar of each. "Come along below, lads," he said gruffly. They went, completely mystified, until the big sailing-master thrust them before him into the port gun deck. Then Jeremy understood. The old-fashioned arrangement of iron bars called the "bilboes" was fastened to the bulkhead at the bow end of the alleyway. It had two or three sets of iron shackles chained to it and into the smallest pair of these, meant for the wrists of a grown victim, he locked an ankle of each of the boys.
"Ye'll stay there a while, till we sail again," Herriot remarked as he departed. The lads stared at each other, too glum to speak. Bob was pale with rage at what he considered a dishonor, while the Yankee boy's heart was heavy as he thought of the opportunities for flight he had let slip on the voyage up the bay. Within half an hour after the anchor was dropped the young prisoners heard the creak of the davit blocks, and a moment later the splash of a boat taking water close to the nearest gun-port. Jeremy stretched as far as his chain would allow, and through a crevice saw four men start to row toward shore. There was some coarse jesting and laughter on deck, then one of the crew sent a "Fare ye well, Bill!" after the departing gig. The hail was answered by the voice of the Jamaican, Curley. Half an hour later the boat returned, carrying only three. Jeremy, straining at his tether, made out that Curley was not one of them. He sat down, thoughtful. "Well, Bob," he said at last, "whether it's about your ransom I can't say, but Bill Curley's been sent ashore on some errand or other--and to be gone a while, too, I figure."
They could do little but wait for developments. It was something of a surprise to both when Bonnet's voice was heard on the deck above, soon after, ordering the capstan manned. The anchor creaked up and to the rattle of blocks the sail was hoisted. They felt the sloop get under way once more. When one of the foremast hands brought them some biscuit and pork for supper, he told them it was Herriot's orders that they be left in irons for the present at least, and added, in response to Jeremy's query, that they were headed south under full canvas. The boys' thoughts were very bitter as they tried to make themselves comfortable on the bare planking. Fortunately, at their age it requires more than a hard bed to banish rest, and before the ship had made three sea-miles, care and bodily misery alike were forgotten in the heavy slumber of fatigue.