The Black Buccaneer by Stephen W Meader
A stiff easterly breeze whitened the gray seas next morning. It was cloudy and seemed to be getting ready for a blow. The pirate and her prize had drifted all night, bound together, and as day broke a tipsy lookout spied land to the westward. Herriot came on deck hastily at the call and himself went to the rail to heave the lead. The soundings showed a bare four fathoms of water. Bonnet was summoned and the crew, hardly recovered from their orgy, staggered about the deck preparing to get under way again. Seven men, under Dunkin, were told off to man the Francis. A dozen others were needed to plug her shot-holes before she was really seaworthy. This task being finally accomplished, the ropes were taken off, the sails run up and the two sloops, closehauled to starboard, set about beating off shore.
It was a terrible day for Jeremy and Bob. In the crew there was the regular fighting, swearing and vomiting that always followed a night of carousal. The fact that they were short-handed made the work harder and the grumbling louder than ever. The bow of the Royal James was partly shot away above the bits, and there was a full day's work for every hand that could be spared rigging canvas over the gap to prevent its taking in water in case of a storm. Meanwhile the fo'c's'le was in as filthy a state as could well be imagined. Herriot thrust his head down the hatch once during the morning and as he caught the sickening stench of the place he called the two boys, who had been up forward helping the patching.
"Here, young 'uns, get below and clean up," he ordered sharply, and handed each lad a bucket and a deck-brush. They filled the buckets and went below reluctantly. At first it was impossible for them to stay under hatches for more than five minutes at a time, so they took turns in running up for air and a fresh supply of water. Gradually the flooding they gave the place told in its atmosphere, and by noon they had put it into decent shape again. Hardly had Jeremy come on deck, weary and sickened with this task, when Captain Bonnet called to him from the companion. He made his way aft and entered the cabin. Bonnet had just resumed his place at the broad table. Opposite him and facing Jeremy was the big slouched figure of Captain Manewaring. "Bring the wine, Jeremy," said the buccaneer quietly, and without turning. He was looking with steady eyes at his guest. Jeremy went back along the passage to the wine-locker under the companion stairs and took from it two bottles of Madeira. As he was closing the cupboard door, Bonnet's voice cut the air like a knife. The two words he spoke were not loud, but pronounced with a terrible distinctness. "You lie!" was what he said.
Jeremy shivered and waited, listening. There was no reply loud enough for him to hear through the closed door of the cabin. After a moment he tiptoed back and before turning the knob listened again. Nothing but silence. He opened the door with a pounding heart and stepped into the room.
The two men sat motionless in their places. Bonnet held a cocked pistol in his right hand, its point covering the other man's head. On the table before Manewaring was a second pistol. His face was drawn and gray and a fine sweat stood upon his forehead. Jeremy shrank against the wall, hardly breathing, his two bottles clutched idiotically, one in each hand. The tense seconds ticked on by the cabin clock.
"Come--quick!" said the pirate, with a gesture toward the other pistol. Manewaring's hand appeared over the edge of the table and gave a trembling jerk toward the pistol-butt. Then it fell back into his lap. He gasped. A drop of sweat ran down his temple into his gray beard. Again the only sounds were the tick of the cabin clock, the wash of the seas outside and the hoarse breathing of the cornered man. At length he moved with a sort of shudder, whispered the name of his Maker and seized the butt of the pistol desperately.
Bonnet had raised his weapon, pointing to the ceiling. "I shall count three, then fire," said he in the same even voice.
"One----" But before he spoke again his opponent had jerked his muzzle down and fired. Bonnet must have seen the flash of the intention in his eyes, for he threw himself to the left at that instant, and the shot went crashing through a panel of the door. With the deliberate sureness of Fate the pirate took aim at his adversary, who whimpered and grovelled behind the table. Then he shot him. Jeremy's knees went limp, but he saved himself from falling and managed to set the bottles on the table.
Behind him as he staggered out, Stede Bonnet poured himself a glass of wine and drank it with a steady hand. The boy met a crowd of men at the head of the companion, but was too shaken to tell them what had happened. Herriot, going below, heard the details of the duel from the Captain's own lips. Under the sailing-master's orders the body of the dead man was carried out on deck, sewed into a piece of sailcloth and heaved over the rail without more ado. Jeremy made his way to his bunk and told Bob the story between chattering teeth.
There was silence on the ship that afternoon. Bonnet's action had sobered his rough company to the point where they ceased quarreling and talked in undertones, gathering in little knots about the slanted deck when not at work. The two boys were glad enough to be out of the way. Jeremy, tired and discouraged, sat on the bunk's edge, his shoulders hunched and his eyes on the floor. His young companion, who had more cause for hope, watched him with sympathetic eyes. He could see that the New England boy was too dejected even to try to plan their escape--the usual occupation of their hours together. Finally he reached over, a bit shyly, and gave him a friendly pat on the back.
"Brace up, Jeremy," he said. "You're clean tuckered out, but a rest and a nap'll help. Here, cover yourself up and I'll do your work tonight. Maybe I'll have a scheme thought up to tell you in the morning."
Jeremy cared little whether he slept or woke, for the events of the past days, coupled with the disappointment of not being set ashore as he had hoped, had brought even his determined courage to a low ebb. He was on the verge of a fever, and Bob's prescription of rest and sleep was what he most needed. Made snug at the back side of the berth, where little or no light came, he fell into a fitful slumber. Bob took a last look to see that his friend was comfortable and went on deck.
Pharaoh Daggs had taken a great deal of liquor the night before, as was his wont when grog was being passed. The rum he consumed seemed to affect him very little. No one ever heard him sing, though his cruel face, with its awful, livid scar, would lean forward and sway to and fro with the rhythm of the choruses. He could walk a reeling deck or climb a slack shroud as well, to all appearances, when he had taken a gallon as most men when they were sober. From Newfoundland to Trinidad he was known among the pirates as a man whose head would stand drink like a sheet-iron bucket. This reputation was made possible by the fact that he was no talker at any time, and when in liquor clamped his jaws like a sprung trap. Whatever effect the alcohol may have had upon his mind was not apparent because no thoughts passed his lips. The rum did go to his head, however. The instinctive effort of will that kept his legs steady and his mouth shut had no root in thought. Behind the veil of those light eyes, the brain of Pharaoh Daggs, drunk, was like a seething pit, one black fuddle of ugliness. To compensate for the apparent lack of effect of liquor upon him, the inward disturbance usually lasted long after the more tipsy seamen had slept around to clear heads.
Today he lolled with his sneering face toward the weather beam, a figure upon whose privacy no one would care to trespass. The sound of the shots and the tale of the duel had neither one awakened in him any apparent interest. Through the long afternoon till nearly five o'clock he slouched by the fo'c's'le. Then with a leisurely stretch he walked to the hatch, and peered down it. Wheeling about he scanned the deck craftily, looking at all the men in turn, before he descended the ladder.
In the half-light below he paused again, and seemed to send his piercing glance into every bunk, from the forward to the after bulkhead. Finally, satisfied that no one else was in the fo'c's'le, he went to his own sleeping place, on the port side, and kneeling beside the berth hauled a heavy sea-chest from beneath it.
Jeremy's light sleep was broken by a scraping sound close by. He opened his eyes without moving, and from where he lay could see a man busy at something opposite him. As the figure turned and straightened, he knew it for the man with the broken nose. The boy was instantly on the alert, for he had every reason to distrust Daggs. Without making a sound he worked nearer to the edge of the bunk and pulled the cover up to hide all but his eyes. The pirate hauled his chest out farther into the middle of the floor, where more light fell.
Then he knelt before it and unlocked it with a key which he took from about his neck. Jeremy almost expected to see a heap of gold coin as the lid was raised. He was disappointed. A garment of dark cloth, probably a cloak, and some dirty linen were all that came to view. The buccaneer lifted out a number of articles of seaman's gear and laid them beside him. After them came a leather pouch, quite heavy, Jeremy thought. The man raised it carefully and weighed it in his hand. It must have been his portion of the spoils taken on the voyage. However, this was not what he was after, it seemed, for a moment later it was laid on the floor beside the other things. Next he removed two pistols and a second pouch of the sort used for powder and shot. There was a long interval as he rummaged in the bottom of the box, under other contents which Jeremy could not see. At last the pirate stood up, holding a rolled paper tied with string. Another long moment he peered about him and listened. When he had reassured himself, he untied the string and opened the paper, a square document, perhaps a foot each way. It was discolored and worn at the edges, apparently quite old. What was inscribed on it Jeremy could not see, stare as he might. Daggs examined it a moment, then knelt, preoccupied, and spread it upon the floor. With one finger he traced a line along it, zigzagging from one side diagonally to the foot, his lips moving silently meanwhile. Then his other hand hovered above the document for a time before he planted his thumb squarely upon a spot near the top.
Jeremy's thoughts kept time with his racing heart. He watched every motion of the buccaneer with a fierce intentness that missed no detail. Daggs had been quiet for a full two minutes, a crafty gloating smile playing over his thin lips. Now once more he touched a place upon the sheet before him. "Right there, she'll be," he muttered. Then, after slowly rolling up the paper, he replaced it and locked the box. The eyes of the boy in the bunk gleamed excitedly, for he was sure now of the nature of the document. Beyond any reasonable doubt, it was a chart. "Solomon Brig's treasure!" he whispered to himself as the tall figure of the man with the broken nose clambered upward through the hatch.