The Black Buccaneer by Stephen W Meader
A rough hand shook him awake. He was lying in a dingy bunk somewhere in the gloom of the cramped forecastle. "Come, young'un," growled a voice, strange to Jeremy, "you've slept the clock around! Cap'n wants you aft."
The lad ached in all his bones as he rolled over toward the light. As he came to a sitting position on the edge of the bunk, he gave a start, for the face scowling down at him looked utterly fiendish to his sleepy eyes. Its ugliness fairly shocked him awake. The man had a grim, bristly jaw and a twisted mouth. His eyes were small and cruel, so light in color that they looked unspeakably cold. The livid gray line of a sword-cut ran from his left eyebrow to his right cheek, and his nose was crushed inward where the scar crossed its bridge, giving him more the look of an animal than of a man. A greasy red cloth bound his head and produced a final touch of barbarity. To the half-dazed Jeremy there seemed something strangely familiar about his pose, but as he still stared he was jerked to his feet by the collar. "Don't stand there, you lubber!" shouted the man with the broken nose. "Get aft, an' lively!" A hard shove sent the boy spinning to the foot of the ladder. He climbed dizzily and stumbled on deck, looking about him, uncertain where to go. It must have been past noon, for the sun was on the starboard bow.
The Revenge was close-hauled and running southwest on a fresh west wind. Dave Herriot leaned against the weather rail, a short clay pipe in one fist and his bushy brown beard in the other. At the wheel was a swarthy man with earrings, who looked like a Portuguese or a Spaniard. Glancing over his shoulder, Jeremy saw most of the crew lolled about forward of the fo'c's'le hatch. Herriot looked up and called him gruffly but not unkindly, the boy thought. He advanced close to the sailing-master, staggering a little on the uneven footing.
"Now look sharp, lad," said the pirate in a stern voice, "and mind what I tell 'ee. There's nought to fear aboard this sloop for them as does what they're told. We run square an' fair, an' while Major Stede Bonnet and David Herriot gives the orders, no man'll harm ye. But"--and a hard look came into the tanned face--"if there's any runnin' for shore 'twixt now and come time to set ye there, or if ever ye takes it in yer head to disobey orders, we'll keel-haul ye straight and think no more about it. You're big and strong, an' may make a foremast hand. For the first on it, until ye get your sea legs, ye can be a sort o' cabin boy. Cap'n wants ye below now. Quick!"
Jeremy scrambled down the companionway indicated by a gesture of Herriot's pipe. There was a door on each side and one at the end of the small passage. He advanced and knocked at this last one, and was told, in the Captain's clear voice, to open.
Major Bonnet sat at a good mahogany table in the middle of the cabin. Behind him were a bunk, two chairs and a rack of small arms, containing half a dozen guns, four brace of pistols, and several swords. He had been reading a book, evidently one of the score or more which stood in a case on the right. Jeremy gasped, for he had never seen so many books in all his life. As the Captain looked up, a stern frown came over his face, never a particularly merry one. The boy, ignorant as he was of pirates, could not help feeling that this man's quietly gentle appearance fitted but ill with the blood-thirsty reputation he bore. His clothes were of good quality and cut, his grayish hair neatly tied behind with a black bow and worn unpowdered. His clean-shaven face was long and austere--like a Boston preacher's, thought Jeremy--and although the forehead above the intelligent eyes was high and broad, there was a strange lack of humor in its vertical wrinkles.
"Well, my lad," said the cool voice at last, "you're aboard the Revenge and a long way from your settlement, so you might as well make the best of it. How long you stay aboard depends on your behavior. We might put into the Chesapeake, and if there are no cutters about, I'd consider setting you ashore. But if you like the sea and take to it, there's room for a hand in the fo'c's'le. Then again, if you try any tricks, you'll leave us--feet first, over the rail." He leaned forward and hissed slightly as he pronounced the last words. Something in the eyes under his knotted gray brows struck deeper terror into the boy's heart than either Herriot's threat or the cruel face of the man with the broken nose. For that instant Bonnet seemed deadly as a snake.
Jeremy was much relieved when he was bidden to go. The sailing-master stood by the companionway as he ascended. "You'll bunk for'ard," he remarked curtly. "Go up with the crew now." The boy slipped into the crowd that lay around the windlass as unobstrusively as he could. A thick-set, bearded man with a great hairy chest, bare to the yellow sash at his waist, was speaking. "Ay," he said, "a hundred Indians was dead in the town before ever we landed. They didn't know where to run except into the huts, an' those our round-shot plowed through like so much grass--which was what they was, mostly. Then old Johnny Buck piped the longboat overside and on shore we went, firin' all the time. Cap'n Vane himself, with a dirk in his teeth and sword an' pistol out, goes swearin' up the roadway an' we behind him, our feet stickin' in blood. A few come out shootin' their little arrers at us, but we herded 'em an' drove 'em, yellin' all the time. At close quarters their knives was no match for cutlasses. So we went slashin' through the town, burnin' 'em out an' stickin' 'em when they ran. Our sword arms was red to shoulder that day, but we was like men far gone in rum an' never stayed while an Indian held up head. Then we dropped and slept where we fell, across a corp', like as not, clean tuckered, every man of us. Come mornin', the sight and smell of the place made us sober enough and not a man in the crew wanted to go further into the island. There was no gold in the town, neither. All we got was a few hogs and sheep. We left the same day, for it come on hot an' we had no way to clean up the mess. That island must ha' been a nuisance to the whole Caribbean for weeks."
Job Howland nodded and spat as the story ended. "Ye're right, George Dunkin," he said. "That was a day's work. Vane's a hard man, I'm told, an' that crew in the Chance was one of his worst." He was interrupted by a villainous old sea-dog with a sparse fringe of white beard, who sprawled by the hatchway. He cleared his throat hoarsely and spoke with a deep wheeze between sentences.
"All that was nowt to our fight off Panama in the spring of 'eighty," he growled. "We weren't slaughterin' Indians, but Spaniards that could fight, an' did. What's more, they were three good barks and nigh three hundred men to our sixty-eight men paddlin' in canoes. Ah, that was a day's work, if you will! I saw Peter Harris, as brave a commander as ever flew the black whiff, shot through both legs, but he was a-swingin' his cutlass and tryin' to climb the Spaniard's side with the rest when our canoe boarded. Through most of that battle we was standin' in bottoms leakin' full of bullet holes, a-firin' into the Biscayner's gun-ports, an' cheerin' the bloody lungs out of us! When we got aboard, their hold was full of dead men an' their scuppers washin' red. They asked no quarter an' on we went, up an' down decks, give an' take. At the last, six men o' them surrendered. The rest--eighty from the one ship--we fed to the sharks before we could swab decks next day. Eh, but that was a v'yage, an' it cost the seas more good buccaneers than ever was hanged. Harris an' Sawkins an' half o' their best men we left on the Isthmus. But out of one galleon we took fifty thousand pieces-of-eight, besides silver bars in cord piles. Think o' that, lads!"
A fair, stocky, young deserter from a British man-of-war--his forearm bore the tattooed service anchor--broke in, his eyes gleaming greedily at the thought of the treasure.
"That was in New Panama," he cried. "Do you mind old Ben Gasket we took off Silver Key last summer! Eighty years old he was, and marooned there for half his life. He was with Morgan at the great sack of Old Panama before most on us was born. An' Old Ben, he said there was nigh two hundred horse-loads o' gold an' pearls, rubies, emeralds and diamonds took out o' that there town, an' it a-burnin' still, after they'd been there a month. Talk o' wealth!"
The man with the broken nose raised himself from his place by the capstan and stretched his hairy arms with an evil, leering yawn. Every eye turned to him and there was silence on the deck as he began to speak.
"Dollars--louis d'ors--doubloons?" said he. "There was one man got 'em. Solomon Brig got 'em. All the rest was babes to him--babes an' beggars. Billy Kidd was thought a great devil in his day, but when he met Brig's six-gun sloop off Malabar, he turned tail, him an' his two great galleons, an' ran in under the forts. Even then we'd ha' had him out an' fought him, only that the old man had an Indian princess aboard he was takin' in to Calicut for ransom. That was where Sol Brig got his broad gold--kidnappin'. Twenty times we worked it--a dash in an' a fight out, quick an' bloody--then to sea in the old red sloop, all her sails fair pullin' the sticks out of her, an' maybe a man-o'-war blazin' away at our quarter. Weeks after, we'd slip into some port bold as brass an' there, sure enough, Brig would set the prisoner ashore an' load maybe a hundred weight of little canvas bags or a stack of pig-silver half a man's height. The very name of him made him safe. I'd take oath he could have stole the Lord Mayor o' London and then put in for his ransom at Execution Dock.
"We got good lays, us before the mast, but there never was a fair sharin' aboard that ship. One night I crawled aft an' looked in the stern-port. 'Twas just after we'd got our lays for kidnappin' the Governor o' Santiago--a rich town as you know. In the cabin sat ol' Brig, a bare cutlass acrost his lap, countin' piles o' moidores that filled the whole table. When a rope creaked the old fox saw me an' let drive with his hanger. Where I was I couldn't dodge quick, an' the blade took me here, acrost the face. Why he never knifed me, after, I don't know."
The scarred man stopped with the same abruptness that had marked his beginning. His fierce, light eyes, like those of a sea-hawk, swept slowly around the audience and lit on Jeremy. He reached forward, clutched the boy's shirt, and with an ugly laugh jerked him to his feet. "'Twas havin' boys aboard as killed Sol Brig," he rasped.
"They hear too much! Look at this young lubber"--giving him a shake--"pale as a mouldy biscuit! No use aboard here an' poverty-poor in the bargain! Why Stede don't walk him over the side, I don't see. Here, get out, you swab!" and he emphasized the name with a stiff cuff on the ear. Job Howland interposed his long Yankee body. His lean face bent with a scowl to the level of the other's eyes. "Pharaoh Daggs," he drawled evenly, "next time you touch that lad, there'll be steel between your short ribs. Remember!"
He turned to Jeremy who, poor boy, was utterly and forlornly seasick. "Here, young 'un," he said kindly, "--the lee rail!"