Chapter IX

As she cleared the side of the waterlogged merchantman, the Royal James began to move. Her sails which had been left flapping during the close fighting, now filled with a bang and she went away smartly on the starboard tack. Job had dragged Jeremy aft and the two were huddled at the tiller, partially screened by the mainsail, when a howl of consternation broke out aboard the brig. Few if any of the firearms were still loaded, or they might have been shot to death, out of hand. As it was, the sloop had drawn away to a distance of nearly a quarter of a mile before any effort was made to stop her.

Then a single cannon roared and a round shot whizzed by along the tops of the waves. When the next report came, Jeremy could see the splash fall far astern. They were out of range.

The two runaways now felt comparatively safe. It was certain that the brig was too badly damaged to give chase even if she could keep afloat. Jeremy felt a momentary pang at the thought of leaving even that graceless crowd in such jeopardy, but he remembered that they had the brig's boats in which to leave the hulk, and his own present danger soon gave him enough to occupy him.

Job lashed the tiller and going to the lanyard at the mainmast, hauled down the black flag. Then they both set to work cleaning up the deck. The three dead men were given sea burial--slipped overboard without other ceremony than the short prayer for each which Jeremy repeated. The gunner who lay in agony in his berth had his wound bound up and was given a sip of brandy. Then the lank New Englander went below to get a meal, while Jeremy sluiced the gun decks with sea water.

Night was falling when Job reappeared on deck with biscuit and beans and some preserves out of the Captain's locker. There was little appetite in Jeremy after what he had witnessed that day, but his tall friend ate his supper with a relish and seemed quite elated at the prospect of the voyage to shore. He filled a clay pipe after the meal and smoked meditatively awhile, then addressed the boy with a queer hesitancy.

"Sonny," he began, "since we picked you up, I've been thinkin' every day, more an' more, what I'd give to be back at your age with another chance. Piratin' seemed a fine upstandin' trade to me when I begun,--independent an' adventurous too, it seemed. But it's not so fine--not so fine!" He paused. "One or two or maybe five years o' rough livin' an' rougher fightin', a powerful waste o' money in drink an' such, an' in the end--a dog's death by shootin' or starvation, or the chains on Execution Dock." Another pause followed and then, turning suddenly to Jeremy--"Lad, I can get a Governor's pardon ashore, but 'twould mean nought to me if my old days came back to trouble me. You're young an' you're honest an' what's more you believe in God. Do you figger a man can square himself after livin' like I've lived?" The boy looked into the pirate's homely, anxious face. He felt that he would always trust Job Howland. "Ay," he answered straightforwardly, and put out his hand. The man gripped it with a sort of fierce eagerness that was good to see and smiled the smile of a man at peace with himself. Then he solemnly drew out his clasp-knife and pricked a small cross in the skin of his forearm. "That," said he, "is for a sign that once I get out o' this here pickle I'll never pirate nor free-trade no more."

The wind sank to a mere breath as the darkness gathered and Jeremy stood the first watch while his tired friend settled into a deep sleep that lasted till he was wakened a little after midnight. Then the boy took his turn at sleeping.

When the morning light shone into his eyes he woke to find Job pacing the deck and casting troubled looks at the sky. The wind was dead and only an occasional whiff of light air moved the idly swinging canvas. A tiny swell rocked the sloop as gently as a cradle.

"Well, my boy, we won't get far toward shore at this gait," said Job cheerfully as Jeremy came up. "Except for maybe three hours sailin' last night, we've made no progress at all. I've got some porridge cooked below. You bring it on deck an' we'll have a snack."

The meal finished, they turned to the rather trying task of waiting for a breeze. About noon Job climbed to the masthead for a reconnaissance and on coming down reported a sail to the east, but no sign of any wind. The sky was dull and overcast so that Job made no effort to determine their bearings. They figured that they had drifted a dozen or more sea-miles to the west since the battle, and were lying somewhere off the little port of New York.

The day passed, Job amusing Jeremy with tales of his adventures and old sea-yarns and soon night had overtaken them again. This time the boy had the first nap. He was roused to take his watch when Job saw by the stars that it was eight bells, and, still yawning with sleep, the lad went to stand by the rail. Everything was quiet on the sea, and even the swell had died out, leaving a perfect calm. There was no moon. The boy's head sank on his breast and softly he slid to the deck. Drowsiness had overcome him so gently that he slept before he knew he was sleepy.