The Black Buccaneer by Stephen W Meader
Jeremy realized that his life would be in danger if Daggs saw him coming on deck after what had just happened. He lay still, therefore, in spite of his desire to tell Bob what he had seen. The rest of the afternoon his imagination painted pictures of ironbound chests half-buried in the yellow beach sand of some lonely island far down in the tropics; gloomy caves beneath mysteriously waving palm trees--caves whose black depths shot forth a ruddy gleam of gold coin, when a chance ray of light came through the shade; of shattered hulks that lay ten fathoms down in the clear green water of some still lagoon, where pure white coral beds gave back the sleeping sunshine, and fishes of all bright colors he had ever seen or dreamed about swam through the ancient ports to stare goggle-eyed at heaps of glistening gems.
At last he must have slept, for Bob's voice in his ear brought him back to the dingy fo'c's'le of the Royal James with a start. The lantern was lit and most of the port watch were snoring heavily in their bunks after a hard day's work. Bob took off his shoes and trousers and climbed into the narrow berth beside his friend, who was now wide awake. "Listen, Bob," whispered the New England boy as soon as they were settled, "do you remember the things Daggs has said, off and on, about old Sol Brig--how there was always a lot of gold that the men before the mast never saw and how he must have saved it till he was the richest of all the pirates? Well, who would know what became of that money, if anybody did? Daggs, of course, the only man that's left of Brig's crew! I think Daggs knows, and what's more, I believe I saw the very chart that shows where it is." He went on to tell all he had seen that afternoon. Bob was as excited as he when he had finished. "We must try to get hold of that map or else get a sight of it!" he exclaimed. Jeremy was doubtful of the possibility of this. "You see," he said, "the key is on a string 'round his neck. The only way would be to break the chest open. It's big and heavy and we should raise the whole ship with the racket. Then, besides, I don't like to steal the thing, even though he is a pirate." Bob also felt that it would hardly be honest to break into a man's box, no matter what his character might be. "If we should just happen to see the chart, though," he finally explained, "why, we have just as much right to hunt for the treasure as he has, or any one else." Jeremy agreed to this solution of a knotty problem of honor and both boys decided that for the present they had no course in the matter but to wait for some accident to put the paper in their way. However, not to let any opportunities slip, they resolved to watch Pharaoh Daggs constantly while he was awake, in the hope of getting a second glimpse of the treasured document.
Jeremy had regained both strength and spirits when he tumbled out next morning. The pall of uneasiness which had hung over the ship all the day before had lifted and the men, sobered once more, went about their business as usual. The boys set themselves to the task of watching with much zeal. It was not so difficult as might be expected. They had always been aware of the presence of the man with the broken nose whenever he was on deck. His sinister eye was too unpleasant to meet without a shiver. Likewise they felt an instinctive relief when he went out of sight. For this reason it was no great matter for either lad that happened to be present to note the fact of the pirate's going below. Whenever he left the deck for anything he was shadowed by Bob or Jeremy as the case might be. For nearly three days the mysterious chest remained untouched. Of that the boys were sure.
The threatened storm that had roughened the sea on the day when Captain Manewaring met his sudden end seemed to have spent itself in racing clouds and gusts of wind. Fair weather followed and for forty-eight hours the James and her prize stood off the coast, heading up to the northeastward with the wind on the port quarter.
Bonnet had remained below, haggard and brooding, suffering from one of the spells of reaction that commonly followed his misdeeds. By night of the second day he cast off his gloom and came on deck, the old reckless light in his eye.
"Here, Herriot," he called, as he appeared, "we've got a rich prize in our fist and a richer one coming. Let's be gay dogs all tonight. Give the hands extra grog and I'll see you in the cabin over a square bottle when the watch is changed."
Before the mast the news was hailed with delighted cheering. A keg of rum was rolled out of the hold and set on the fo'c's'le table. Hardly had darkness settled before half the men aboard were drunk and the cannikins came back to the spigot in an unending procession. There was too much liquor available for the usual choruses to be sung. Most of the pirates swilled it like pigs and stopped for nothing till they could move no longer, but lay helpless where they happened to fall. Only a bare three men stayed sober enough to sail the ship. Jeremy thanked his stars for fair weather when he thought of the case they might have been in had the orgy occurred in a night of storm.
Next day a few of the crew woke at breakfast time. The rest snored out their drunken sleep below. Daggs came on deck as usual, to the outward eye quite his careless, ugly self. His two young enemies watched him closely, for they suspected that the drink he had taken had helped to Jeremy's previous discovery. As the hours went by, one after another of the buccaneers woke and dragged himself on deck to growl the discomfort out of him. By mid-afternoon Jeremy, going below, found all the bunks empty. He slipped behind a chest far up in the dark bow angle and waited for a signal from Bob. The boys had seen the man with the broken nose watching the decks uneasily for hours and suspected that he meant to go below as soon as the fo'c's'le was empty.
Jeremy must have been in his hiding place close to half an hour before he heard Bob's sharply whistled tune close outside in the gun deck. He ducked lower behind his box and presently heard steps descending the ladder. A guarded observation taken from a dark corner close to the floor disclosed the slouching form of Daggs standing by the table.
The buccaneer took a long time for his cautious survey of the fo'c's'le. Standing perfectly still he turned his body from the hips and gave the place a silent scrutiny before he set to work. He proceeded just as he had done before and quickly had the chest open and its contents spread upon the planking. He had just unrolled the chart when a shout from the hatch made him leap to his feet. "Sail ho!" was being passed from mouth to mouth above, and already there were men on the ladder. In a fever of haste, Daggs half-pushed, half-threw the chest under his bunk and shoved the loose clothes and small arms after it. The paper he still held in his hand. After a second of indecision, while he looked over his shoulder at the descending crowd of seamen, he thrust it in on top of the box and stood erect, flushed and swaying. The hands were preoccupied and none seemed to notice his act. There was a general scurrying of sailors to get out their cutlasses and pistols, and in the confusion Jeremy found an easy opportunity to crawl out of the hiding place and busy himself like the rest.
Going on deck a minute later, he found Bob and whispered a brief account of what he had seen. For the present there was much to be done on deck. They ran hither and thither at Herriot's commands, giving a hand at a rope or fetching something mislaid in the cabin. The James was under all her canvas and in hot pursuit of a large sloop, visible some three miles to leeward. The fleeing ship was driving straight to sea before the strong west breeze, her sails spread on both sides like the broad, stubby wings of a white owl. Bonnet had his jury spar swung to starboard from the foremast foot and bent the big jib to balance his main and foresail. Bowing her head deep into every trough as the waves swept by, the black sloop ran after her prey at dizzy speed. The crew gathered along the wet bows, silent, intent on the game in hand. They were drawing up perceptibly from moment to moment. At last they were within half a mile--five hundred yards--close astern. Aboard the enemy they could see a small knot of men huddled aft, working desperately at the breach of a swivel-cannon. Bonnet ordered Herriot to stand off to starboard for a broadside. But as the James swerved outward, a flare of fire and a loud report went up from her opponent's after part. For a moment it seemed that her cannon had been discharged at the pirate, but as they waited for the splash of the shot, a thick smoke grew in a cloud over the enemy's deck. The gun or a keg of powder had exploded. As soon as the buccaneers perceived it, they bellowed hoarse hurrahs and prepared to board. The gunners swarmed up from the port gun deck at the order and all lined up along the rail howling defiance at the merchantman. Jeremy saw that all were on deck and touched Bob's arm.
They made their way quietly below, and the New Englander went to Daggs' berth. From beneath it protruded the corner of the piece of paper. Both boys knelt eagerly over it as Jeremy pulled it into the light.
It was, as they had expected, a chart. The drawing was crudely done in ink, applied it seemed with a stick, or possibly with a very badly fashioned quill-pen. There was very little writing upon it, and this of the raggedest sort. To their intense disappointment it bore no name to tell where in the seven seas it might be. That the chart was of some coast was certain. A deep, irregular bay occupied the central part of the sheet. Two long promontories jutting from east and west nearly closed the seaward or southern end. The single word "Watter" was written beside a dot high up on the paper and a little northeast of the bay. An anchor, roughly drawn near the northern shore and a small cross between two parallel lines a short distance inland, completed the information given, except for a crossed arrow and letters indicating the cardinal points of the compass.
It required no great time for the two lads to examine every line and mark. They looked up and faced each other disappointed. Jeremy voiced the thought which both had. "How are we to know where the thing is?" he asked. Bob shook his head and looked glum. Then he seized the paper feverishly and turned it over. Its soiled yellow back gave no clue. Not even the latitude and longitude were printed. "Well," said Jeremy, finally, "one thing we can do, and that's remember exactly how it looks." He measured the length of the bay with the middle joint of his forefinger. "Three--four--and a bit over," he counted. "Anchorage in that round cove to the northwest." Then, measuring again, "And the cross is two finger-joints northwest of the anchorage. What those lines each side of it are I don't know, but I'll remember them. And that dot marked "Watter" is one and a half northeast of the mitten-shaped cove. There--I guess we've got it all by heart now." He had just finished speaking and both of them were still looking intently at the map when a fresh outburst of cheers and the beginning of a sharp musketry fire were heard above. Jeremy replaced the paper where he had found it and they hurried up to look out of the hatchway.
The two ships were now only half a cable's length apart, running side by side. Few shots were being returned by the merchantman and all her crew were keeping out of sight behind the solid rail.
"All hands to board her," Bonnet sang out and answering her tiller the Royal James swung over till the two sloops' sides met with a jar. They were fast in an instant and a score of whooping buccaneers swept over the rail. From a place of vantage the boys watched the short, bloody conflict that followed. It seemed that several of the enemy's crew, few as they were at the beginning, had been killed by the explosion of the gun. Only a half-dozen rose to meet the pirate onslaught. Not one asked for mercy, even after Herriot had shot down the captain, and the tide of sea-rovers rushed at and over the little handful of defenders in an overwhelming flood. There was no need of the plank this time. Every man fell fighting and died sword in hand. To the two young prisoners, already sickened with the sight of blood, this wholesale murder of a band of gallant seamen came as a revolting climax. They stared at each other, white-faced as they thought of the fate that threatened them and all honest men who fell into such ruthless hands. It was Bob's first sight of a hand-to-hand sea-battle, and as the last merchant sailor went down under the howling pack he fainted and tumbled into Jeremy's arms. When he came to his senses again the Yankee boy had propped him up behind the companion and was rubbing him vigorously. "I know how you feel," he said in answer to Bob's stammered apology. "It's all right and you've no call to be ashamed. I came near it myself." The Delaware lad, who had been almost as distressed at being guilty of swooning as at the pillage of the merchant sloop, felt a vast relief when he heard Jeremy's words, and quickly got upon his feet once more.
The pirates had cleared the enemy's deck of bodies and blood and now were taking an inventory of the sloop's cargo, if the shouts that came from her hold meant anything. She was a little larger than the James in length and beam, but had carried no armament other than the now damaged stern-chaser. The white letters at her stern declared her the Fortune of New Castle. From what Captain Bonnet said to his sailing-master as they returned over the rail, Jeremy gathered that she had been in light cargo and was not as rich a prize as the Francis.
The latter ship had now come up and was standing off and on waiting for orders. Bonnet had lost two men killed and several hurt in the fight, so that the crew of the Royal James, without the prize crew on board the Francis, now numbered scarce a dozen able-bodied men. The question of manning the newly captured sloop was finally settled by transferring to her George Dunkin and his seven seamen. Bonnet freed the men of the Francis who had been in chains, and set them to work their own ship under command of Herriot and another pirate. He undertook to sail the James himself, for by this time he was really an able skipper, despite the fact that he had taken to the sea so late in life. As the crew of the Francis lined up before going aboard, the notorious buccaneer faced them with a cold glitter in his eyes. For a while he kept them wriggling under his piercing scrutiny. Then he spoke, his voice even and dangerous.
"You will be under Mr. Herriot's orders. I think you are wise enough not to try to mutiny with him. But if you should undertake it, remember that no sooner does your sloop draw away to over one mile's distance than I will come after you and blow you out of water without parley. There are just enough sails left aboard your ship to keep headway in a light breeze. Over with you now!"
As darkness deepened the three sloops set out westward under shortened canvas, keeping so close that the steersmen hailed each other frequently through the night. Bob and Jeremy went to their bunks gloomy and subdued. But Jeremy's sorrows were lightened by the feeling that sometime, somewhere, he would find a use for the chart, the outline of which he had firmly fixed in his memory that afternoon. And wondering how, he fell asleep.