Chapter XXXIII
 

The boy was pale and haggard and so weak he could hardly stand alone, but he looked about him with an eager grin as Tom and Jeremy helped him toward the companion.

"Why," he gasped, "here's old Job! What's he doing up here!" as the latter strode aft to seize his hand.

"Ay, lad," laughed the big mariner, a mighty relief showing in his face, "we're all your friends aboard here. But how came those devils to let you off so easy? We figured we'd have to fight to get you, and mighty lucky to do it at that!"

The schooner had come into the wind again and was heading westward in pursuit of the pirate, now hidden in the murk ahead. Bob was helped to the cabin and propped up in a bunk while his friends hastened to get some dry clothes on him. A pull of brandy stopped his shivering.

"I thought none of you would ever see me alive," he said soberly. "But, Job, before I tell you all about it, are you sure you've lost sight of Daggs' sloop? They were worried about your shooting, and figured the only chance they had was to set me adrift and then get away in the dirty weather, while you were fishing me out. They'd never have given me up if that second shot hadn't mighty near gone through and through the old Revenge."

"The Revenge!" said Job. "I thought I knew the cut of that big mainsail, and she was painted black, too! Well, their trick succeeded. Just this minute we'd have no more chance of finding 'em than a needle in a haystack. But it may clear again before night, and then we'll see! Go ahead now and spin your yarn, my lad!"

And Bob, swigging hot tea and munching a biscuit, began once more to tell his story.

"After we separated, and started to run, up on the hill that night," he said, "I seemed to lose all my sense of direction for a while. I was scared for one thing, I'll freely admit. When I saw Daggs' face in the torchlight leaning over us, there by the treasure barrel, it frightened me pretty nearly out of my senses. So I started to run, without an idea of where I was going, and by the time I got my wits back, I couldn't tell just where I was, in the rain and the dark. I seemed to be right on top of the ridge, but I had zig-zagged several times, I remembered, and when I tried to figure which side of the hill I should go down, I couldn't for the life of me decide. Finally I said to myself, 'Here, don't be a fool! Which way was the wind blowing when we set out from the shack? Aha, it was north,' says I. 'Very well, then, this must be the way to the cabin--straight into the wind,' And down the hill I started, bearing over to my right, so as to come out just above the sheep-pen."

"But--" interrupted Jeremy, "when that storm came up the wind backed clear round into the south--"

"I know it now," Bob answered, "but I didn't then. I kept right on, tickled that I was out of it so well, and wondering where the rest of you had gotten to. Pretty soon I came to some low land that I didn't remember, but I saw a light off ahead and to my right, and decided that was the cabin. I blundered along through the trees till I was quite close, and then I discovered that the light came from a bonfire. I stopped for a second, puzzled, for I was sure I must be near the cabin. I wondered if the pirates had captured it. I stole up still closer and watched the light and presently a buccaneer walked in front of it.

"That was enough for me. I turned and started to run. And at about the third step I fell plump into the arms of a pirate. You see I had walked straight toward their part of the island by making that silly mistake.

"This fellow got a grip on my collar, and I couldn't break loose, though I'll warrant his shins are tender yet, where I kicked him. He hauled me down to the fire, and he and three others who were there looked me over. The one that had caught me was a big mulatto--as ugly-looking a customer as I ever saw. And the others were no lambs. I'll tell you, my hearties, Daggs has gathered up a pretty lot of rascals in this crew. Not one of 'em but looks as if he'd knife you for a copper farthing!

"These four by the fire wasted no time, but went through my pockets in a hurry. They took my pistol and were quarreling about dividing the goldpieces I had, when the rest of the crowd began to appear. They were all wet, and in a bad temper for a dozen other reasons. Plenty of curses came my way, but no one laid a hand on me, for they had a mighty fear of Pharaoh Daggs. When he finally came, he swore at them till they slunk around like whipped curs.

"He was in an ugly mood that night. Seemingly he was disappointed in the amount of treasure they had found. Besides that, they had come on one of their best men with his head beaten in, and you and your father had gotten clean away. Things looked black enough for me, I can tell you.

"Daggs and the mulatto, who is his mate, started in to question me, after they had grumbled awhile. They knew already how many of you there were at the cabin, but they asked about your guns and supplies. Of course, I didn't make the stronghold any weaker in the telling. When they had all the information they thought they could get out of me, they held a sort of council. Some wanted to go right over before light and attack the cabin. Others were for broaching a barrel of rum first, and making thorough preparations. Finally Daggs decided to put it off until they could get some pitch and dry grass ready, so as to set fire to the roof.

"It was nearly daylight by this time, and they started back through the reeds toward their sloop, leading me along with them. We travelled half a mile or so, down a crooked black trail only wide enough for one man at a time, and ankle deep in the mud of the swamp. When we reached the schooner they stuck a pair of handcuffs on me and put me down on the ballast. In spite of the filth and the cold I was so dog-tired that I tumbled on the nearest pile of old chains and went to sleep.

"I woke up late in the afternoon, and I don't think I was ever so stiff and uncomfortable and hungry in my life. I made my way over to the hatch and found I could reach the combing with my hands, so I pulled myself up, after a mighty hard tussle. Try it some time with your hands tied!

"Most of the pirates were forward in their bunks, but one who was keeping watch on deck took pity on me and gave me a couple of biscuits and a swig of water. He was more or less talkative, besides, and from him I learned that Daggs planned to start about midnight for your side of the island, carrying buckets of pitch and tinder, so as to roast you out.

"As you may imagine, this kind of talk nearly turned me sick with fear, and right in the midst of it Pharaoh Daggs came on deck.

"He had that empty sort of glare in his eyes that we used to see sometimes when he was drunk. Of course, he walked straight and even, but as he came over toward us, with his teeth showing and his eyes fixed on a point just above the pirate's shoulder, I almost yelled 'Look out!' If I had, it might have cost me my life right there. He walked along, light on his toes like a cat, till he stood two feet from us. Then, so fast I hardly knew what happened, he hit the other man on the chin with his fist. That was all. The man dropped with his head back against the rail. And Daggs went off, chuckling to himself but not making any noise. I don't think he saw me at all, for his attack was more like the work of a mad dog than of a man.

"I crept away and got below decks as fast as might be, and there I stayed hidden till after dark, when some of the buccaneers rousted me out. A keg of rum had been opened in the waist, and the liquor was going freely. Most of the crew were already drunk, but they had the sense to chain me by one leg to the foremast, and then made me run back and forth between them and the barrel. I was only too glad. No cannikin was skimped while I was at the spigot. I looked around and remembered some of the wild nights we had seen on the old Revenge. And then for the first time I realized that the deck I stood on was the same! They'd gotten hold of the old black sloop when she was auctioned at Charles Town, patched up her bottom and here she was--buccaneering once more! Where the gang of cut-throats aboard her were gathered, I don't know, but they put Stede Bonnet's famous crew to shame.

"Pharaoh Daggs was somewhere ashore with two of the crew till nearly midnight. When he returned, the rest were lying like pigs about the deck. He had sobered slightly--enough to remember the night's undertaking--but it was useless to think of rousing those sots to any sort of endeavor. He kicked one or two of them savagely with his heavy boot, too, but it got hardly more than a grunt from them.

"He stood there cursing for a minute, then came over and looked at the shackle that held me to the foremast-foot, and shook it to make sure it was solid before he went below. He had something done up in a cloth that he held mighty tenderly, and he seemed in a better humor.

"I curled up on the deck and by wrapping myself in a greatcoat which I found beside one of the drunken pirates, succeeded in keeping reasonably warm.

"When morning came Daggs and his mulatto mate managed to wake most of the men and forced them to get out and forage for wood and water, while they themselves crossed the ridge to reconnoitre. I think it was about two hours after sunrise when those of us who stayed aboard the sloop saw figures running down the hill. The buccaneers got out boarding-pikes and picked up cutlasses, but in a moment Daggs reached the side, out of breath with his haste.

"'There's a ten-gun schooner in the northern cove!' he cried. 'They're landing a boat now. We haven't any time to lose--the tide's past full already! Cut those moorings!'

"The hemp lines were slashed through with cutlasses and the men, with one accord, jumped to the push-holes. The sloop was on an even keel and just off the bottom. A few strong shoves started her down the creek.

"My hopes of escaping began to go down, for there I was, still chained to the fore-stick like a cow put out to grass. I looked around me in desperation, for I wanted to leave you some sign at least of my whereabouts. Then my eye fell on a little heap of small arms that had been thrown down near the forehatch. The pistols were useless to me, as I had no powder, but among them I saw the bright silver mountings of my own--the one that used to be Stede Bonnet's.

"We were drawing near the creek mouth, and those of the crew who were not at the poles were busy unfurling the sails. I picked the pistol up unobserved and waited till we were just hauling clear of the creek. Then I threw it overside and saw it strike in the mud. Did you find it?"

"Yes," said Jeremy. "That's how we knew for certain that you'd been captured."

"Well," the Delaware boy went on, "there's not much more to tell. The pirates made all sail to the southwest, but after we cleared the islands, there you were, roaring along in our wake. Daggs thought that the Revenge was a faster sailer than your craft, but he found he couldn't keep her as close to the wind on this tack. I don't think he wants to fight if he can help it, but he was getting desperate this afternoon before the weather began to thicken up. I heard him tell the mate he'd rather come to broadside grips than risk having you drop a shot through the black sloop's bottom with that bowchaser. Then the mist started to come over, and I guess Daggs saw his chance right away. He called the crew aft and told them what he was going to do, and a moment later I found myself being lowered in a boat into that wicked sea. I thought they were trying to drown me out of hand, till they gave me a piece of white cloth to wave. Then I got an inkling of their idea.

"Sure enough, no sooner was I fairly adrift than I saw you put over in my direction, and thinking Jeremy might be aboard, I gave him our old signal. It worked, and here I am safe enough. But meanwhile those devils have got off into the mist, and it'll be hard to follow them."

Job sat thoughtful, pulling at his pipe. He seemed to be cogitating some of the points in Bob's narrative, and the others kept silent, unwilling to interrupt him. At length he blew a great cloud of blue smoke toward the deck-beams above and turning to the boy, asked, "Did Daggs or any of the rest ever speak of the place where they were going?"

"They never talked about it openly," Bob replied, "but from words dropped now and then by the mulatto mate I figured they were heading down for the Spanish Islands. I don't think they intend putting in anywhere first, unless they land for water in one of those out of the way inlets along the Jersey coast."

Job nodded. "That's about as I thought," he answered. "So we'll hold on this tack till nightfall--we're just off the Kennebec, now--and then we'll run sou'-sou'east before the wind, to clear Cape Cod. Daggs--if he figgers as I would in his place--won't start to leeward right away, for he'd rather have us in front of him than behind. And unless I'm much mistaken he's in too much of a hurry to waste time in doubling back up the coast. All right Bob, lad, you'll be wanting sleep now, so we'll leave you. On deck with you, boys!"

And tucking the blankets about the drowsy youngster in the bunk, Job led the way to the companion.