Chapter VII
 

Bright summer weather hovered over the Atlantic as the Revenge ploughed smartly southward. Jeremy grew more accustomed to his new manner of life from day to day and as he found his sea-legs he began to take a great pleasure in the free, salt wind that sang in the rigging, the blue sparkle of the swells, and the circling whiteness of the offshore gulls. He was left much to himself, for the Captain demanded his services only at meal times and to set his cabin in order in the morning. In the long intervals the boy sat, inconspicuous in a corner of the fore-deck, watching the gayly dressed ruffians of the crew, as they threw dice or quarrelled noisily over their winnings. He was assigned to no watch, but usually went below at the same time as Job Howland, thus keeping out of the way of Daggs, the man with the broken nose. As Howland was in the port watch, on deck from sunset to midnight, Jeremy often took comfort in the sight of his loved stars wheeling westward through the taut shrouds. He would stand there with a lump in his throat as he thought of his father's anguish on returning to the island to find the sheep uncared for and the young shepherd vanished. In a region desolate as that, he knew that there was but one conclusion for them to reach. Still, they might find the ashes of the pirate fire and keep up a hope that he yet lived.

But the boy could not be unhappy for long. He would find his way home soon, and he fairly shivered with delight as he planned the grand reunion that would take place when he should return. Perhaps he even imagined himself marching up to the door in sailor's blue cloth with a seaman's cloak and cocked hat, pistol and cutlass in his belt and a hundred gold guineas in his poke. Not for worlds would he have turned pirate, but the romance of the sea had touched him and he could not help a flight of fancy now and then.

Sometimes in the long hours of the watch, Job would give him lessons in seamanship--teach him the names of ropes and spars and show how each was used. The boy's greatest delight was to steer the ship when Job took his trick at the helm. This was no small task for a boy even as strong as Jeremy. The sloop, like all of her day, had no wheel but was fitted with a massive hand tiller, a great curved beam of wood that kicked amazingly when it was free of its lashings. Of course, no grown man could have held it in a seaway, but during the calm summer nights Jeremy learned to humor the craft along, her mainsail just drawing in the gentle land breeze, and her head held steadily south, a point west.

One night--it was perhaps a week after Jeremy's capture, and they had been sighting low bits of land on both bows all day--Dave Herriot came on deck about the middle of the watch and told Curley, the Jamaican second mate, he might go below. He set Job to take soundings and, himself taking the tiller, swung her over to port with the wind abeam. Jeremy went to the bows where he could see the white line of shore ahead. They drew in, steering by Job's soundings, and by the time the watch changed were ready to cast anchor in a small sandy bay. Herriot came forward, scowling darkly under his bushy eyebrows, and rumbling an occasional oath to himself. The sloop, her anchor down and sails furled, swung idly on the tide. The men were clearly mystified as the sailing-master started to give orders. "George Dunkin," he said, "take ten men of the starboard watch, and go ashore to forage. There be farms near here and any pigs or fowls you may come across will be welcome. You, Bill Livers," addressing the ship's painter, "take a lantern and your paint-pot and come aft with me. All the rest stay on deck and keep a double lookout, alow an' aloft!" The forage party slipped quietly off toward the beach in one of the boats. The remainder of the crew looked blankly after the retreating Bill Livers.

"Hm," murmured Job, "has Stede Bonnet gone clean crazy?"--and as Herriot let the painter down over the bulwark at the stern--"Ay, he's goin' to change her name, by the great Bull Whale!"

An hour before dawn the crew of the long-boat returned, grumbling and empty-handed. Herriot appeared preoccupied with some weightier matter and scarcely deigned to notice their failure by swearing. There was no singing as the anchor was raised. A sort of gloom hung over the whole ship. As she stole out to sea again, the men, one by one, went aft and leaned outboard, peering down at the broad, squat stern. Jeremy did likewise and beheld in new white letters on the black of the hull, the words Royal James. Next day in the fo'c's'le council he learned why the renaming of the Revenge had cast a pall of apprehension over the crew. There were low-muttered tales of disaster--of storm, shipwreck, and fire, and that dread of all sailors--the unknown fate of ships that never come back to port. Apparently the rule was unfailing. Sooner or later the ship that had been given a new name would come to grief and her crew with her. Pharaoh Daggs cast an eye of hatred at Jeremy and growled that "one Jonah was enough to have abroad, without clean drownin' all the luck this way," while the crew looked black and shifted uneasily in their places.

The bay where they had anchored overnight must have been somewhere on the eastern end of Long Island, a favorite landing place for pirates at that time. All day they cruised along the hilly southern shore. The men seemed unable to cast off the gloom that had settled upon them. Stede Bonnet sat in his cabin, never once coming on deck, and drinking hard, a thing unusual for him. Jeremy, who saw more of him than any of the foremast hands, realized from his gray, set face that the man was under a terrible strain of some sort. He told Job what he had seen and the tall New Englander looked very thoughtful. He took the boy aside. "There'll be mutiny in this crew before another night," he whispered. "They'll never stand for what he's done. If it comes to handspikes, you and I'd best watch our chance to clear out. Pharaoh Daggs don't love us a mite."

But the mutiny was destined not to occur. An hour before noon next day the lookout, constantly stationed in the bows, gave a loud "Sail ho!" and as Dave Herriot re-echoed the shout, all hands tumbled on deck with a rush.