The Black Buccaneer by Stephen W Meader
The boys and their luggage were on their way to Wilmington in the family chaise before dawn, and it was scarce seven o'clock when they bade farewell to the old colored serving-man and clambered aboard the four-horse coach that connected in Philadelphia with the mail coach for New York.
The coaches of that day were cumbersome affairs, huge of wheel, and with ridiculously small bodies slung on wide strips of bull's hide which served for springs. The driver's box was high above the forward running gear. There were as yet no "seats on top," such as were developed in the later days of fast stage-coach service.
In one of these rumbling, swaying conveyances the boys rode the thirty miles to Philadelphia, crossing the Schuylkill at Gray's Ferry about noon. They had barely time for a bite of lunch in the White Horse Tavern before the horn was blown outside and they hurried to take their places in the north-bound coach. Along the cobbled streets of the bustling, red-brick town they rumbled for a few moments, then out upon the smooth dirt surface of the York Road, where the four good horses were put to a gallop.
The Delaware, opposite Trenton, was reached by six o'clock, and there the half-dozen passengers left the coach and were carried across on a little ferry boat, rowed by an old man and his two sons. They spent the night at an Inn and next morning early boarded another coach bound northeast over the sparsely settled hills of New Jersey. The road was narrow and bad in places, slackening their speed. Twice the horses were changed, in little hamlets along the way. In the late afternoon they crossed the marshy flats beyond Newark and just after dusk emerged on the Jersey side of the Hudson. A few lights glimmered from the low Manhattan shore. The quaint Dutch-English village which was destined to grow in two hundred years to be the greatest city in the world, lay quiet in the gathering dark.
The ferry was just pulling out from shore, but at the sound of the coach horn it swung back into its slip and waited for the passengers to board.
A gruff Hollander by the name of Peter Houter was the ferryman. He stood at the clumsy steering-beam, while four stout rowers manned the oars of his wide, flat-bottomed craft. Approaching the steersman, Bob asked where in the town he would be likely to find the Captain of a merchantman then taking cargo in the port. The Dutchman named two taverns at which visiting seafaring men could commonly be found. One was the "Three Whales" and the other the "Bull and Fish."
Landing on the Manhattan shore, the boys shouldered their luggage and trudged by ill-lighted lanes across the island to the East River. As they advanced along the dock-side, Jeremy distinguished among the low-roofed houses a small inn before which a great sign swung in the wind. By the light which flickered through the windows they could make out three dark monsters painted upon the board, a white tree apparently growing from the head of each. "The Three Whales," laughed Jeremy, "and every one a-blowing! Let's go in!"
It was an ill-smelling and dingy room that they entered. A score of men in rough sailor clothes lounged at the tables or lolled at the bar. Two pierced tin lanterns shed a faint smoky light over the scene. Bob waited by their baggage at the door, while Jeremy made his way from one group to another, inquiring for Captain Ghent of the Indian Queen. Several of the mariners nodded at mention of the ship, but none could give him word of the skipper's whereabouts.
As he was turning to go out he noticed a man drinking alone at a table in the darkest corner. His eyes were fixed moodily on his glass and he did not look up. Jeremy shivered, took a step nearer, and almost cried out, for he had caught a glimpse of a livid, diagonal scar cutting across the nose from eyebrow to chin. It was such a scar as could belong to only one man on earth. Jeremy retreated to a darker part of the room and watched till the man lifted his head. It was Pharaoh Daggs and none other.
A moment later the boy had hurried to Bob outside and told him his news. "If we can find Ghent," said Bob, "he will be able to summon soldiers and have him placed under arrest."
They hastened along the river front for a hundred yards or more and came to the "Bull and Fish." A man in a blue cloth coat was standing by the door, looking up and down the street. He gave a hail of greeting as they came up. It was Captain Ghent.
"I was just going down to the "Three Whales" thinking you might have stopped there," he said. Bob told him their news and the skipper's face grew grave. "Better leave the bags here for the present," he suggested and then, after a moment's quiet talk with the landlord, he led the way toward the other tavern. On the way he stopped a red-jacketed soldier who was patrolling the dock. After a word or two had been exchanged the soldier fell in beside them, and just as they reached the inn door two more hurried up.
"Come in with me, Jeremy, and point out the man," said Captain Ghent.
The lad's heart beat like a triphammer as he entered the tavern once more. A silence fell on the room when the three soldiers were observed. Jeremy crossed toward the dark corner. The table was empty. He looked quickly about at the faces of the drinkers, but Daggs was not there. "He's gone," he said in a disappointed voice.
The innkeeper came forward, wiping his hands on his apron. "That fellow with the scar?" he said. "He went out of here some five minutes ago."
"Which way?" asked Ghent. But no one in the room could say.
They passed out again, and Ghent smiled reassuringly at the boys. "Well," he said, "like as not he'll never cross our path again, so it's only one rogue the more unhung."
Jeremy failed to find much comfort in this philosophy, but said no more, and soon found himself snugly on board the big merchantman, where his bunk and Bob's were already made up and awaiting them.
It was good to hear the creak of timbers and feel the rocking of the tide once more. Jeremy lay long awake that night thinking of many things. At last he was on the final lap of his journey. The Indian Queen's cargo would be stowed within a day or two and she would start with him toward home. He thought with a quiver of happiness of the reunion with his father. Had he quite given up hope for his boy? Jeremy had heard of such a shock of joy being fatal. He must be careful.
He thought of the evil face of the broken-nosed buccaneer. What was Daggs doing in New York? Just then there was a faint sound as of creaking cordage from beyond the side. Jeremy's bunk was near the open port and by leaning over a little he could see the river. Barely a boat's length away, in the dark, a tall-masted, schooner-rigged craft was slipping past on the outgoing tide, with not so much as a harbor-light showing.