The Black Buccaneer by Stephen W Meader
Little by little the Tiger pulled up to windward of the buccaneer and the men below in the gun deck could be heard cheering as their advance brought the black sloop more and more nearly opposite the yawning mouths of the Tiger's port carronades.
The shore was now less than half a mile distant. Though making all possible speed, the pirate schooner seemed to rise on the waves with a more sluggish heave than before. Job, watching her through the spyglass, turned to Isaiah Hawkes.
"Don't she look sort o' soggy to you?" he asked. "I can't quite make out whether that's a hole in her planking or--by the Great Hook Block! See there, now, when she lifts! One of our shots landed smack on her waterline. No wonder they're trying to beach her!"
A moment later the Tiger had hauled fairly abreast and the two schooners plunged along a bare hundred yards apart. Not a head showed above the high weather bulwark of the Revenge. Only the muzzles of her guns peered grimly from their ports in her black side. There was something sinister about this apparently deserted ship, lurching drunkenly shoreward, with her torn sails and broken rigging flapping in the breeze, and the pirate flag flying at her peak.
Job made a megaphone of his hands and raised his voice in a hail.
"Ahoy, Revenge!" he boomed. "Will you surrender peacefully, and haul down that flag?"
There was silence for a full ten seconds. Then a musket cracked and a bullet imbedded itself in the mainmast by Job's head.
"All right, boys," he said, without moving, "let 'em have it! Ready, port battery? Fire!" Jeremy and Bob, clinging side by side to the hatch-combing, felt the planking quiver under them at the series of mighty discharges, and saw the pirate schooner check and stagger like an animal that has received its death wound.
Only one of her guns was able to reply, the round-shot screaming high and wide. But on she went, and the steep beach below the dunes was very close now.
Captain Job stood by the hatchway. "All hands up, ready to board her," he ordered, and the crew, swarming on deck, ran to their places by the longboat amidships.
The Tiger was now in very shallow water, but Job waited till he saw the other craft strike. Then, "Bring her head to the wind, Hawkes!" he cried, "And over with the boat, lads! Lively now, or they'll get ashore!"
Hardly was the order given when the boat shot into the water. During the scramble of the seamen for places on her thwarts, Jeremy and Bob jumped down and crouched in the bows, unseen by any but those nearest them. Ten seconds after she hit the waves the boat was filled from gunwale to gunwale with sailors, armed to the teeth with pistols, cutlasses and boarding-pikes. Job, last to leave the deck, spoke a word to Hawkes, who remained in command, and jumped into the sternsheets.
"Now, give way!" he roared.
The eight stout oars lashed through the water and the boat sped shoreward like an arrow. Up in the bows the two boys clutched their weapons and waited. Neither one would have admitted that he was scared, though they were both shivering with something more than the cold. Besides his precious pistol, Bob was gripping the hilt of a murderous-looking hanger, which he had picked up from the pile on deck in passing. Jeremy had been able to secure no weapon but a short pike with a heavy ashen staff and a knife-like blade at the upper end. They peered over the bows in silence. The longboat was close to the Revenge's quarter now, but there was no sign of the pirates along her rail.
"Suppose they've got ashore?" asked Bob. "I don't see--"
"Down heads all!"
It was Job's voice, and the boys together with many of the seamen ducked instinctively at the words. As they did so there came a crash of musketry, followed by intermittent shots, and splinters flew from the gunwale of the boat. Jeremy heard a gasping cry behind him and a young sailor toppled backward from the thwart. He fell between the boys, and as they raised him in their arms he died.
Another seaman had been killed and three more wounded by the pirate volley, which had been fired from a distance of barely a dozen yards. Seeing the effect of their fusillade, the buccaneers rose cheering and yelling from behind the bulwarks of the sloop in the evident belief that they had succeeded in demoralizing the attacking force. But the speed of the boat had hardly been checked. In another instant the rowers shipped their oars and the gunwale scraped along the free-board of the schooner.
"A guinea to the first man up!" cried Job, himself reaching up with powerful fingers for a grip by which to climb.
There were no rope-ends hanging, and as the Revenge in her stranded position lay much higher forward than aft, the boys, standing in the bows, found themselves faced by smooth planking too high to scale.
Jeremy started back over the thwarts, but heard Bob calling to him and turned.
"Here's a place to board!" the Delaware boy was saying, and pointed toward the forward gun-port which stood open just beyond and above the bow of the longboat. In a twinkling Bob had straddled through the hole, with Jeremy close after him. It was dark in the 'tween-decks and the two boys made their way forward on tiptoe, waiting breathlessly for the attack they felt sure would come. But apparently all the buccaneers were busy above in the fierce fight that they could hear raging along the rail. They moved on, undeterred, till they reached the foot of the fo'c's'le ladder, where Jeremy feeling along the bulkhead, uttered an exclamation.
"This is their gun-rack," he said. "And here's a musket all loaded and primed! I'll take it along!"
The hatch cover had been drawn to, but Bob, trying it from beneath, decided it was not fastened. Both boys tugged at it and succeeded in sliding it back an inch or two, where it stuck.
The hubbub on deck was now terrific. They could hear, above the general outcry, an occasional sharply gasped command in Job's voice, or a snarling oath from one of the buccaneers, but for the most part it was a bedlam of unintelligible shouts with a constant undertone of ringing steel and the thud of shifting feet. Most of the firearms, apparently, had been discharged, and in the mêlée no one had time to reload.
Bob, straining desperately at the hatch-cover, spied Jeremy's pike-shaft, and thrusting it through the narrow opening, pried with all his strength. The hatch squeaked open reluctantly and the boys squirmed through on to the deck.
They gasped at the sight which met their eyes as they emerged. Both of them had confidently expected to find the pirates already beaten, and fighting with their backs to the wall. But such was far from being the case.
On the deck amidships lay two men from the Tiger, sorely wounded, while Job and two others stood at bay above them, swinging cutlasses mightily, and beating off, time after time, the attacks of a dozen fierce pirate hanger-men. A number of buccaneers had fallen but all who were unwounded were raging like a pack of dogs about the figures of Job and his two supporters.
"They can't get up!" cried Bob, "The men can't climb the side! Here, help me bring that rope!" It was a matter of seconds only before the boys had dashed across the deck and thrown a rope's end to the men below in the longboat. Then Jeremy turned and ran toward the waist. Another man was down now. Job and a single comrade were fighting back to back, parrying with red blades the blows of half a score of the enemy. Jeremy saw a gleam of yellow teeth between wicked lips, and a flash of light eyes in the thick of the assault. Then for a moment he had a glimpse of the whole face of Pharaoh Daggs, scarred and distorted with frightful passion--a cruel wolf's face--and even as he looked, the dripping sword-blade of the man with the broken nose plunged between the ribs of Job's last henchman. The wounded seaman staggered, leaning his weight against his captain, but still kept his guard up, defending himself feebly. Job hooked his left arm about the poor lad's body and backed with his burden toward the mainmast, slashing fiercely around him with his tireless right arm the while. When they reached the mast, Job leaned his comrade against it, set his own back to the wood, and battled on.
But now a cheer resounded, and the buccaneers, turning their heads, found themselves face to face with the rush of half a dozen men from the Tiger, while more could be seen swarming over the rail.
The knot of pirates broke to meet the attack, but some of them stayed. Daggs and three others, including the huge mulatto mate, closed in on Job, cutting at him savagely. The wounded sailor had fainted and slipped to the deck. Jeremy saw the saddle-colored mate step swiftly to one side, then come up from behind the mast, drawing a long dirk from his sash as he neared Job's back. He had lifted the knife and was stepping in for a blow, when Jeremy pulled the trigger of his musket. There must have been an extra heavy charge of powder in the gun, for its recoil threw the boy flat on the deck, and before he could regain his feet he saw a man close above him and caught the flash of a hanger in the air. Desperately Jeremy rolled out of the way, and none too soon, for the blade cut past his head with a nasty swish. He scrambled up and caught a boarding-pike from the deck as he did so. The pirate followed, hacking at him with his cutlass, and for seconds that seemed like hours the boy fought for his life, parrying one stroke after another, till the pike shaft was broken by the blows, and he was left weaponless. As he ducked and turned in despair, a man from the Tiger ran in and caught the buccaneer on his flank, finishing him in short order.
The deck was now full of struggling groups, for though a score of the longboat's crew had climbed aboard, the pirates were putting up a fierce resistance. Jeremy, panting from his encounter, cast about for a weapon and soon found a cutlass, with which he armed himself. He turned toward the mainmast foot once more, and to his joy discovered that his shot had taken effect. The mulatto had disappeared under the trampling mass of fighting men, and Job's tall figure still towered by the mast. It took the lad only a second, however, to realize that his Captain's plight was serious. The big Yankee was fighting wearily with a broken cutlass, and his face was gray beneath the red stream of blood that ran from a wound above his eye. Jeremy plunged into the ruck of the battle, careless now of danger. A sort of berserk rage possessed him at the sight of that wound. He hewed his way frantically toward the mast, and suddenly found Bob there beside him, cutting and lunging like a demon. He gasped out a cheer. But even as it left his throat, the Captain's arm flew up convulsively, then dropped out of sight in the mob.
"Job's down!" cried Bob wildly, but the New England boy's only reply was a half-choked sob.
Now the tables were turned of a sudden, for three stout sea-dogs from the Tiger, finishing their first opponents, dashed into the fray with a yell, and Daggs, hewing his way to the mast, turned to face the new attack with only two men left on foot to back him.
The fight was short and fierce. First one, then the other of the buccaneers went down before the furious assault of Job's seamen. At length only the pirate chief was left to battle on, terrible and silent, his face set in a ghastly grin, like the visage of a lone wolf fighting his last fight.
But the odds were too great. The men of the Tiger pressed in relentlessly till at last a dozen sword-points found their mark at once. And so died Pharaoh Daggs, violently, as he had lived.