Chapter XXX
 

The gray November morning dawned damp and cold. In the sheer exhaustion that followed on their adventure of the night before, Jeremy and his father slept heavily till close to nine o'clock, when Tom wakened them. His face was haggard with watching, and he looked so worried that they had no need to ask him if Bob had come in.

It was a gloomy party that sat down to the morning meal. The youngest could eat nothing for thinking of his chum's fate. While his father still spoke hopefully of the possibility that the boy might have found a hiding place which he dared not leave, Jeremy could only remember the frightful, scarred visage of Pharaoh Daggs looming in the torchlight. He knew that Bob would find little mercy behind that cruel face, and he could not throw off the conviction that the lad had fallen into the clutches of the pirates.

All day, standing at the loopholes, they waited for some sign either of Bob's return, or, what seemed more probable, an attack by the buccaneer crew. But as the hours passed no moving form broke the dark line of trees above them on the slope.

At length the dusk fell, and they gave up hope of seeing the boy again, though on the other score their vigilance was redoubled. The night went by, however, as quietly as though the island were deserted.

It was about two hours after sunrise that Jeremy stole out to give fodder to the sheep, penned in the stockade ever since the first alarm. He had been gone a bare two minutes when he rushed back into the cabin.

"Look father," he cried. "In the bay--there's a sloop coming in to anchor!"

Amos Swan went to a northern loophole, and peered forth. "What is she? Can ye make her out? Seems to fly the British Jack all right," he said. Following the two boys, he hurried outside. Jeremy had run down the hill to the beach where he stood, gazing intently at the craft, and shading his eyes with his hand. After a moment he turned excitedly. "Father," he shouted, "it's the Tiger! I saw her only once, but I'd not forget those fine lines of her. Look--there's Job, himself, getting into the cutter!"

A big man in a blue cloak had just stepped into the stern sheets of the boat, and seeing the figures on the shore, he now waved a hand in their direction.

Sure enough, in three minutes Captain Job Howland jumped out upon the sand and with a roar of greeting caught Jeremy's hand in his big fist. "Well, lad," he laughed, "ye look glad to see us. Didn't know we was headed up this way, did ye? But here we be! Soon as the sloop was ready Mr. Curtis had a light cargo for Boston town, and he told me to coast up here on the same trip. He wants Bob home again. Why--what ails ye, boy?"

They were climbing the path toward the shack, when Job noticed the downcast look on Jeremy's face, and interrupted himself.

In a few words the boy told what had happened during the brief week they had been on the island.

"By the Great Bull Whale!" muttered the ex-buccaneer in astonishment. "Sol Brig's treasure, sure enough! And that devil, Daggs--see here, if Bob's alive, we've got to get him out of that!" He swung about and hailed the boat's crew, all six of whom had remained on the beach.

"Adams, and you, Mason, pull back to the sloop and bring off all the men in the port watch, with their cutlasses and small-arms. The rest of you come up here."

As soon as Job had shaken hands with Jeremy's father and brother, they entered the cabin.

"Now, Jeremy," said the skipper, "you say this craft is careened on the other side of the island, close to the place where Stede Bonnet landed us that time? How many men have they?"

"We don't know," the boy replied. "But I don't think Daggs had time to gather a big crew, and what's more, he'd figure the fewer the better when it came to splitting up the gold. I doubt if there's above fifteen men--maybe only fourteen now." He grinned as he thought of the big pirate who had attacked him in the woods.

"Good," said Job. "We'll have sixteen besides you, Mr. Swan, and your two boys. An even twenty, counting myself. If we can't put that crowd under hatches, I'm no sailorman."

The crew of the Tiger, bristling with arms and eager for action, now came up. Without wasting time Job told them what was afoot and they moved forward up the hill.

Once among the trees the attacking party spread out in irregular fan-formation, with Tom and Jeremy scouting a little in advance. The stillness of the woods was almost oppressive as they went forward. All the men seemed to feel it and proceeded with more and more caution. Used to the hurly-burly of sea-fighting, they did not relish this silent approach against an unseen enemy.

Clearing the ridge they came down at length to the edge of the beach, close to the old pirate anchorage, and Jeremy led the way along through the bushes toward the mouth of the reedy inlet. Working carefully down the shore to the place whence Bob and he had sighted the spars of the buccaneer, he climbed above the reeds and peered up the creek. To his surprise the masts had disappeared.

"She's gone!" he gasped.

Job and Tom looked in turn. Certain it was that no vessel lay in the creek!

"Perhaps they sighted the Tiger," suggested Jeremy. "If so, they can't have gotten far. They've likely taken the rest of the gold. And Bob must be aboard, too, if he's still alive."

As they turned to go back, one of the sailors who had walked down to the reeds at the edge of the creek, hurried up with a dark object in his fist. He held it out as he drew near and they saw that it was a pistol, covered with a mass of black mud, Jeremy saw a gleam of metal through the sticky lump, and quickly scraping away the mud from the mounting he disclosed a silver plate which bore the still terrible name "Stede Bonnet." The boy gave a cry of pleasure as he saw it, and thrust the weapon quickly into Job's hands.

"Look!" he exclaimed. "It's Bob's pistol. And there's only one way it could have gotten where it was. He must have thrown it from the sloop's deck as they went past, thinking we'd find it. See here! They can't be gone more than a few hours, for there's not a bit of rust on the iron parts. Maybe we could catch them, Job, if we hurry!"

Job turned to his men and called, "What say you, lads--shall we give them a chase?"

A chorus of vociferous "Ay, Ay's" was the answer.

"Here we go, then!" he shouted, and led the way back up the hill at a trot.

As they reached the ridge, Jeremy cut over to the left a little through the trees, so that his course lay past the treasure cleft. When he reached it he found just what he had expected--the shattered staves of the barrel lying open on the ledge, and several rough excavations in the dirt at the bottom of the chasm, where the buccaneers had searched greedily for more gold. The charred remnants of a bonfire, a few yards further down the cleft, showed that they had worked partly at night.

Leaving the ledge, the boy was hurrying back to join the main party when he came out upon an elevated space, clear of trees, from which one could command a view of the sea to the west and south. Involuntarily he paused, and shading his eyes with his hand, swept the horizon slowly. Then he gave a start, for straight away to the westward, in a gap between two islands, was a white speck of sail.

"Job!" he yelled at the top of his lungs. "Job!"

The big skipper was only a short distance away, and he came through the trees at a run followed by most of his men, in answer to Jeremy's hail. No words were necessary. The boy's pointing finger led their eyes instantly to the far-off ship. Job took a quick look at the sun and the distant islands, to fix his bearings, then set out for the northern inlet again, even faster than before.

As they came running down the slope toward the cabin, Amos Swan emerged, gun in hand, evidently believing that they were in full rout before the enemy.

"They've left the island," panted Jeremy, as he reached the door. "We saw their sail--we're going to chase them! We're sure, now, that Bob's aboard!"

His father looked relieved.

"Go--you and Tom!" he said. "I'll stay and mind the island."

Job, with a dozen of his men, was starting in the cutter, and had already hailed the Tiger to order the other boat sent ashore. Tom and Jeremy hurried into the cabin, and stuffing some clothes into Jeremy's sea-chest along with a brace of good pistols and a cutlass apiece, were soon ready to embark.