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Title: Blackbeard: Buccaneer
Author: Paine, Ralph Delahaye, 1871-1925
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Blackbeard: Buccaneer" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



[Illustration: THIS LEAN, STRAIGHT ROVER LOOKED THE PART OF A COMPETENT
SOLDIER]



BLACKBEARD BUCCANEER

_By_ RALPH D. PAINE

[Illustration]

          _Illustrated by
          Frank E. Schoonover_

          THE PENN PUBLISHING
          COMPANY PHILADELPHIA



          COPYRIGHT
          1922 BY
          THE PENN
          PUBLISHING
          COMPANY

          Blackbeard: Buccaneer

          Made in the U. S. A.



Contents



      I. THAT COURTEOUS PIRATE, CAPTAIN BONNET                         7

     II. THE MERCHANT TRADER, _PLYMOUTH ADVENTURE_                    21

    III. HELD AS HOSTAGES TO BLACKBEARD                               43

     IV. THE CAPTIVE SEAMEN IN THE FORECASTLE                         62

      V. RELEASING A FEARFUL WEAPON                                   79

     VI. THE VOYAGE OF THE LITTLE RAFT                                99

    VII. THE MIST OF THE CHEROKEE SWAMP                              114

   VIII. THE EPISODE OF THE WINDING CREEK                            132

     IX. BLACKBEARD'S ERRAND IS INTERRUPTED                          147

      X. THE SEA URCHIN AND THE CARPENTER'S MATE                     161

     XI. JACK JOURNEYS AFOOT                                         177

    XII. A PRIVATE ACCOUNT TO SETTLE                                 189

   XIII. OUR HEROES SEEK SECLUSION                                   203

    XIV. BLACKBEARD APPEARS IN FIRE AND BRIMSTONE                    217

     XV. MR. PETER FORBES MOURNS HIS NEPHEW                          232

    XVI. NED RACKHAM'S PLANS GO MUCH AMISS                           248

   XVII. THE GREAT FIGHT OF CAPTAIN TEACH                            260

  XVIII. THE OLD BUCCANEER IS LOYAL                                  274

    XIX. THE QUEST FOR PIRATES' GOLD                                 288



ILLUSTRATIONS


                                                                    PAGE

  THIS LEAN, STRAIGHT ROVER LOOKED THE PART OF A COMPETENT
    SOLDIER                                               _Frontispiece_

  THE BRAWN OF THESE LADS MADE THE PIKE A MATCH FOR A
    PIRATE'S CUTLASS                                                  83

  THE FIRST MATE LEAPED UP WITH A HORRIBLE YELL                      120

  JACK ALMOST BUMPED INTO THE DUGOUT CANOE                           129

  THEY CAPERED AND HUGGED EACH OTHER                                 164

  HE LOOMED LIKE THE BELIAL WHOM HE WAS SO FOND OF CLAIMING
    AS HIS MENTOR                                                    224

[Illustration]



Blackbeard: Buccaneer



CHAPTER I

THAT COURTEOUS PIRATE, CAPTAIN BONNET


THE year of 1718 seems very dim and far away, but the tall lad who
sauntered down to the harbor of Charles Town, South Carolina, on a fine,
bright morning, was much like the youngsters of this generation. His
clothes were quite different, it is true, and he lived in a queer, rough
world, but he detested grammar and arithmetic and loved adventure, and
would have made a sturdy tackle for a modern high-school football team.
He wore a peaked straw hat of Indian weave, a linen shirt open at the
throat, short breeches with silver buckles at the knees, and a
flint-lock pistol hung from his leather belt.

He passed by scattered houses and stores which were mere log huts
loopholed for defense, with shutters and doors of hewn plank heavy
enough to stop a musket ball. The unpaved lanes wandered between mud
holes in which pigs wallowed enjoyably. Negro slaves, half-naked and
bearing heavy burdens, jabbered the dialects of the African jungle from
which they had been kidnapped a few months before. Yemassee Indians clad
in tanned deer-skins bartered with the merchants and hid their hatred of
the English. Jovial, hard-riding gentlemen galloped in from the indigo
plantations and dismounted at the tavern to drink and gamble and fight
duels at the smallest excuse.

Young Jack Cockrell paid scant heed to these accustomed sights but
walked as far as the wharf built of palmetto piling. The wide harbor and
the sea that flashed beyond the outer bar were ruffled by a piping
breeze out of the northeast. The only vessel at anchor was a heavily
sparred brig whose bulwarks were high enough to hide the rows of cannon
behind the closed ports.

The lad gazed at the shapely brig with a lively curiosity, as if here
was something really interesting. Presently a boat splashed into the
water and was tied alongside the vessel while a dozen of the crew
tumbled in to sprawl upon the thwarts and shove the oars into the
thole-pins. An erect, graceful man in a red coat and a great beaver hat
roared a command from the stern-sheets and the pinnace pulled in the
direction of the wharf.

"Pirates, to be sure!" said Jack Cockrell to himself, without a sign of
alarm. "'Tis Captain Stede Bonnet and his _Royal James_. I know the
ship. I saw her when she came in leaking last October and was careened
on the beach at Sullivan's Island. A rich voyage this time, for the brig
rides deep."

The coast of South Carolina swarmed with pirates two hundred years ago,
and they cared not a rap for the law. Indeed, some of these rascals
lived on friendly terms with the people of the small settlements and
swaggered ashore to squander the broad gold pieces and merchandise
stolen from honest trading vessels. You must not blame the South
Carolina colonists too harshly because they sometimes welcomed the
visiting pirates instead of clapping them in jail. Charles Town was a
village at the edge of a wilderness filled with hostile Indians. By sea
it stood in fear of attack by the Spaniards of Florida and Havana. There
were almost no crops for food and among the population were many
runaways from England, loafers and vagabonds who hated the sight of
work.

The pirates helped them fight their enemies and did a thriving trade in
goods that were sorely needed. Respectable citizens grumbled and one
high official was removed in disgrace because he encouraged the pirates
to make Charles Town their headquarters, but there was no general outcry
unless the sea-rovers happened to molest English ships outside the
harbor.

It was Captain Stede Bonnet himself who steered the pinnace and cursed
his sweating sailors in a deep voice which went echoing across the bay.
He made a brave figure in his scarlet coat, with the brass guard of his
naked cutlass winking in the sun. His boat's crew had been mustered from
many climes and races, several strapping Englishmen, a wiry, spluttering
little Frenchman, a swarthy Portuguese with gold rings in his ears, a
brace of stolid Norwegians, and two or three coal black negroes from
Barbadoes.

They were well armed, every weapon burnished clean of rust and ready for
instant use. Some wore tarnished, sea-stained finery looted from hapless
prizes, a brocaded waistcoat, a pair of tasseled jack-boots, a plumed
hat, a ruffled cape. The heads of several were bound around with knotted
kerchiefs on which dark stains showed,--marks of a brawl aboard the brig
or a fight with another ship.

Soon a second boat moved away from the _Royal James_ and many people
drifted toward the wharf to see the pirates come ashore, but they left
plenty of room when the captain scrambled up the weedy ladder and told
his men to follow him. Charles Town felt little dread of Stede Bonnet
himself. He knew how to conduct himself as a gentleman and the story was
well known,--how he had been a major in the British army and a man of
wealth and refinement. He had left his home in Barbadoes to follow the
trade of piracy because he couldn't get along with his wife, so the
rumor ran. At any rate, he seemed oddly out of place among the dirty
rogues who sailed under the black flag.

He looked more the soldier than the sailor as he strode along the wharf,
his lean, dark visage both grim and melancholy, his chin clean shaven,
his mustachios carefully cropped. There were respectful greetings from
the crowd of idlers and a gray-haired seaman all warped with rheumatism
spoke up louder than the rest.

"Good morrow to ye, Cap'n Bonnet! I be old Sam Griscom that sailed bos'n
with you on a marchant voyage out of Liverpool. An' now you are a fine
gentleman of fortune, with moidores and pieces of eight to fling at the
gals, an' here I be, a sheer hulk on the beach."

Captain Stede Bonnet halted, stared from beneath heavy brows, and a
smile made his seamed, sun-dried face almost gentle as he replied:

"It cheers me to run athwart a true old shipmate. A slant of ill
fortune, eh, Sam Griscom? You are too old and crippled to sail in the
_Royal James_. Here, and a blessing with the gift."

The pirate skipper rammed a hand in his pocket and flung a shower of
gold coins at the derelict seaman while the crowd cheered the generous
deed. It was easy to guess why Stede Bonnet was something of a hero in
Charles Town. He passed on and turned into the street. Most of his
ruffians were at his heels but one of the younger of them delayed to pay
his compliments to a pretty girl whose manner was sweet and shy and
gentle. She had remained aloof from the crowd, having some errand of her
own at the wharf, and evidently hoped to be unobserved. Jack Cockrell
had failed to notice her, absorbed as he was in gazing his fill of
Captain Stede Bonnet.

The girl resented the young pirate's gallantry and would have fled, but
he nimbly blocked her path. Just then Jack Cockrell happened to glance
that way and his anger flamed hot. He was about to run after Captain
Bonnet and beg him to interfere but the maid's distress was too urgent.
Her blackguardly admirer was trying to slip his arm around her trim
waist while he laughingly demanded a kiss from those fair lips. She
evaded him and screamed for help.

There were lusty townsmen among those who beheld the scene but they
sheepishly stood in their tracks and were afraid to punish the insolent
pirate with his dirk and pistols. He was much taller and heavier than
Jack Cockrell, the lad of seventeen, who came of gentlefolk and was
unused to brawls with weapons. But the youngster hesitated no more than
an instant, although his own pistol lacked a flint and was carried for
show.

His quick eye spied a capstan bar which he snatched up as a cudgel.
Chivalry had taught him that a man should never reckon the odds when a
woman appealed for succor. With a headlong rush he crossed the wharf and
swung the hickory bar. The pirate dodged the blow and whipped out his
dirk which slithered through Jack's shirt and scratched his shoulder.
Undismayed, he aimed a smashing blow at the pirate's wrist and the dirk
went spinning into the water.

The rascal tugged at a pistol in his belt but it was awkward work with
his left hand and he was bewildered by this amazing attack. Before he
could clear for action, Jack smote him on the pate and the battle ended
then and there, for the pirate staggered back, missed his footing, and
toppled overboard with a tremendous splash.

Leaping to the edge of the wharf, Jack saw him bob to the surface and
strike out for shore. Then the doughty young champion ran to offer his
escort to the damsel in distress. But she had hastened to slip away from
this hateful notoriety and he saw her at the bend of the street where
she turned to wave him a grateful farewell.

He would have hastened to overtake her but just then Captain Stede
Bonnet came striding back in a temper so black that it terrified his own
men. His wrath was not aimed at Jack Cockrell, for he laid a hand upon
the lad's arm and exclaimed:

"A shrewd stroke, boy, and a mettlesome spirit! You struck him swift and
hard. 'Twould please me better if you had killed the dog."

Stede Bonnet waited with folded arms until the culprit had emerged from
the water. Jack Cockrell had punished him severely and there was no more
fight in him. His head was reeling, the blood ran into his eyes, and he
had swallowed much salt water. Captain Bonnet crooked a finger at him
and he obeyed without a word. For a moment they stood face to face, the
wretched offender trembling, the captain scowling as he said:

"And so you mistook a lady for a common serving wench, Will Brant? Would
ye have Charles Town rise and reeve the ropes about our necks? Is this
your promise of good behavior? Learn a lesson then, poor fool."

With the steel-shod butt of a pistol Stede Bonnet hit him squarely
between the eyes. He dropped without a groan and lay stretched out as if
dead. The captain kicked him once and carelessly shouted:

"Ho, men! Toss this squire o' dames into the pinnace to await our
return. And harkee, take warning."

Jack Cockrell felt almost sorry for his fallen foeman but the other
pirates grinned and did as they were told. It was a trifling episode.
Resuming his stroll to the tavern, Captain Bonnet linked Jack's arm in
his and fairly towed him along while the assorted scoundrels trooped
behind them. It was shocking company for a lad of the most respectable
connections but he felt greatly flattered by the distinction. The name
of Stede Bonnet had spread terror from the Capes of the Chesapeake to
the blue waters of the Caribbean.

"And so you were unafraid of this bullying Will Brant of mine," said the
captain, with one of his pleasant smiles. "You clipped his comb right
handsomely. And who may ye be, my brave young sprig?"

"I am John Spencer Cockrell, may it please you, sir," was the answer.
"'Twas a small thing to do for a lady. Your pirate would have been too
much for me in a fair set-to."

"Pirate? A poor word!" objected Captain Bonnet, his accents severe but
the bold eyes twinkling. "We are loyal servants of the King, sworn to do
mischief to his lawful enemies,--to wit, all ships and sailors of Spain.
For such a young gentleman adventurer as you, Master Cockrell, there is
a berth in the _Royal James_. Will ye rendezvous at the tavern and sign
your fist to the articles?"

Jack stammered that his kinfolk would never consent, at which Captain
Bonnet forbore to coax him but kept a grip on his arm as though they
were chums who could not bear to be parted. Down the middle of the
street paraded this extraordinary company, the seamen breaking into a
song which ran:

          "In Bristowe I left Poll ashore,
             Well stored wi' togs an' gold,
           And off I go to sea for more,
             A-piratin' so bold.
           An' wounded in the arm I got,
             An' then a pretty blow;
           Comed home I find Poll's flowed away,
            _Yo, ho, with the rum below!_"

Charles Town might be glad to get the pirates' gold but it seemed a
timorous welcome, for the merchants peered from their doorways like
rabbits when the hounds are loose, and nervous old gentlemen took cover
in the near-by alleys. Stede Bonnet knew how to keep his men in hand and
allowed only part of the company ashore at once. They were like
hilarious children out for a lark, capering outside the tavern to the
music of a strolling fiddler or buying horses on the spot and trying to
ride them. When they were pitched off on their heads the mirth was
uproarious.

In a field beside the tavern some townsmen were shooting at a mark for a
prize of a dressed bullock while a group of gentlemen from the
plantations were intent on a cock-fight in the tap-room. Here was rare
pastime for the frolicsome blades of the _Royal James_ and soon they
were banging away with their pistols or betting their gold-pieces on the
steel-gaffed birds, singing the louder as the bottle was passed. Captain
Stede Bonnet stayed prudently sober, ready for any emergency, his
demeanor cool and watchful while he chatted with old acquaintances.

He talked often with Jack Cockrell to whom he had taken a strong fancy,
and pressed the lad to dine with him. Jack was uneasy at being seen so
publicly with a notorious pirate but the experience was delightful
beyond words. The captain asked him many questions, twisting his
mustachios and staring down from his commanding height with an air of
friendly interest. He had found a lad after his own heart.

The seamen tired of their sport and sought new diversion. Some of them
kicked off their boots and clinched in wrestling matches for prodigal
stakes of gold and jewels. Others found girls to dance with them or
wandered off to buy useless trinkets in the shops. Jack Cockrell knew he
ought to be posting home to dinner but he was tempted to accept Stede
Bonnet's cordial bidding. Boyish friends of his hovered near and
regarded him as a hero. No pirate captain had ever deigned to notice
them.

Alas for Jack and his puffed-up pride which was doomed to a sudden fall!
There advanced from a better quarter of the town a florid, foppishly
dressed gentleman of middle age who walked with a pompous gait. He was
stout-bodied and the heat of the day oppressed him. Mopping his face
with a lace handkerchief or fanning himself with his hat, he halted now
and then in a shady spot. Very mindful of his rank and dignity was Mr.
Peter Arbuthnot Forbes, sometime London barrister, at present Secretary
to the Council of the Province.

He differed from some of his neighbors in that he abominated pirates and
would have given them short shift. A trifle near-sighted, he was quite
close to the tavern before he espied his own nephew and ward, Jack
Cockrell, in this shameful company of roisterers. The august uncle
blinked, opened his mouth, and turned as red as a lobster. Indignation
choked his speech. For his part, Jack stood dumfounded and quaking, the
picture of a coward with a guilty conscience. He would have tried to
steal from sight but it was too late.

Captain Stede Bonnet enjoyed the tableau and several of his wicked
sailors were mimicking the pompous strut of Mr. Peter Arbuthnot Forbes.
Poor Jack mumbled some explanation but his irate uncle first paid his
respects to Captain Bonnet.

"Shame to you, sirrah," he cried in a voice that shook with passion. "A
man of good birth, by all accounts, who has fallen so low as to lead
these vile gallows-birds! And you would entice this lad of mine to
follow your dirty trade?"

Captain Bonnet doffed the great beaver hat and bowed low in mocking
courtesy. He perceived that this fussy lawyer was not wholly a popinjay,
for it required courage to insult a pirate to his face. The reply was
therefore milder than expected.

"Mayhap I am painted blacker than the fact, Councilor. As for this fine
stripling who has so disgraced himself, the fault is mine. He risked his
life to save a maid from harm. The deed won my affection."

"The maids of Charles Town would need to fear no harm if more pirates
were hanged, Captain Bonnet," roundly declared Mr. Forbes, shaking his
gold-tipped cane at the freebooter.

"'Tis fortunate for me that you lack the power, my fat and petulant
gentleman," was the smiling response.

"Laugh while you may," quoth the other. "These Provinces may soon
proclaim joint action against such pests as you."

With a shrug, the Secretary turned to his crestfallen nephew and sharply
exclaimed:

"Home with you, John Cockrell. You shall go dinnerless and be locked in
your room."

The seamen guffawed at this and Jack furiously resented their ridicule.
He was on the point of rebellion as he hotly retorted:

"I am no child to be treated thus, Uncle Peter. Didn't you hear Captain
Bonnet report that I had proved myself a man? I trounced one of his own
crew, a six-foot bully with a dirk and pistols."

"A fig for that," rapped out Uncle Peter. "Your bully was drunk and
helpless, I have no doubt. Will you bandy words with me?"

With this his plump fingers closed on Jack's elbow which he used as a
handle to lead him firmly and rapidly away. Behind them pranced a limber
young negro who showed every tooth in his head. Jack heard the derisive
laughter of the pirates who had hailed him as a hero. His cup of
bitterness overflowed when it occurred to him that Captain Bonnet would
despise a lad who could be led home in custody of a dandified tyrant of
an uncle.



CHAPTER II

THE MERCHANT TRADER, _PLYMOUTH ADVENTURE_


RUBBING his ear which Mr. Peter Arbuthnot Forbes had soundly boxed
before releasing him, Jack marched along in gloomy silence until he was
conducted into his small, unplastered room. His uncle stalked out and
shot the ponderous bolt behind him. Passing through the kitchen, he
halted to scold the black cook as a lazy slattern and then sat himself
down to a lonely meal. Jack was a problem which the finicky, middle-aged
bachelor had been unable to solve. He had undertaken the care of the boy
after his parents had died in the same week of a mysterious fever which
ravaged the settlement. The uncle failed to realize how fast this
strapping youngster was growing into manhood. He disliked punishing him
and was usually unhappy after one of these stormy episodes.

Mr. Peter Forbes pecked at his dinner with little appetite and his plump
face was clouded. Shoving back his chair, he paced the floor in a
fidgety manner and, at length, opened the door of Jack's room. The
hungry prisoner was lounging upon a wooden settle, his chin in his hand,
while he sullenly stared at the wall. Always mindful of his manners, he
slowly rose to his feet and waited for another scolding.

"I wish we might avoid such scenes as these, Jack," sadly observed Uncle
Peter, his hot temper cooled. "No sooner do you leave my sight than some
new mischief is afoot."

"You do not understand, sir," impatiently protested the nephew. "In your
eyes I am still the urchin who came out from England clinging to his
dear mother's skirts. Would ye have me pass my time with girls or have
no other friends than snuffy old Parson Throckmorton, my tutor, who
tries to pound the Greek and Latin into my thick skull?"

"He is a wise and ripened scholar who wastes his effort," was the dry
comment. "Most of the lads of the town are coarse louts who pattern
after their ribald elders, Jack. They will lead you into evil courses."

"I shall always pray God to be a gentleman, sir," was the spirited
response, "but I must learn to fight my own battles. Were it not for
hardy pastimes with these other stout lads, think you I could have
cracked the crown of a six-foot pirate?"

Uncle Peter gazed at the boy before he spoke. Tanned and hard and
muscular, this was a nephew to be proud of, a man in deeds if not in
years, and there was unswerving honesty in the straight mouth and firm
chin. The guardian sighed and then annoyance got the better of his
affection as he burst out:

"Perdition take all pirates! You were cozened by this hell-rake of a
Stede Bonnet and thought it a rare pleasure! John Spencer Cockrell, own
nephew to the Secretary of the Colony!"

"I did but copy older men of fair repute," demurely answered Jack, a
twinkle in his eye. "Graybeards of Parson Throckmorton's flock traffick
in merchandise with the pirates and are mighty civil to them, I note."

"A vile business!" cried Uncle Peter. "It was decided at the recent
conference in Virginia that I should go to England as a delegate to lay
before His Majesty's Government such evidence as might invoke aid in our
campaign against the pirates. It was my intention to leave you in care
of Parson Throckmorton, Jack, but I have now resolved to take you with
me. And you will remain at school in England. No more of this boon
comradeship with villains like Stede Bonnet."

Poor Jack looked most unhappy at the tidings. It was not at all in
accord with his ambitions. Here was worse punishment than he had dreamed
his uncle could inflict. Dolefully he exclaimed:

"To live in tame and stupid England, locked up in a school? Why, I am
big enough to join the forays against the Indians, or to fight bloody
battles against the pirates if you really mean to chastise them. But I
cannot promise to attack Captain Bonnet. He is a friend of mine."

"You shall come to see him hanged," shouted Mr. Peter Arbuthnot Forbes,
very red in the face. "The merchant ship _Plymouth Adventure_ is
expected soon, and you and I shall take passage in her for Merry
England, thanking heaven to see the last of the barbarous Carolinas for
a time."

"Thank your own thanks, sir," grumbled Jack. "Captain Bonnet may be a
pirate but he is not nearly so heartless as my own uncle. He asked me to
dinner at the tavern. I am faint for lack of food. My stomach sticks to
my ribs. 'Tis a great pity you were never a growing boy yourself. For a
platter of cold meat and bread I will take my oath to chop you a pile of
firewood as high as the kitchen."

The gaoler relented and bustled out to ransack the pantry. Having
demolished a joint and a loaf, young John Spencer Cockrell was in a mood
much less melancholy. In fact, when he swung the axe behind the fence of
hewn palings, he was humming the refrain of that wicked ditty: "_Yo, Ho,
with the Rum Below!_" He was tremendously sorry that he had been
snatched away from the engaging society of Captain Bonnet and his wild
crew, and the future had a gloomy aspect, but even these grievances were
forgotten when he descried, in a lane which led past the house, the
lovely maid whose cause he had championed at the wharf.

She was Dorothy, only daughter of Colonel Malcolm Stuart who commanded
the militia forces of the Colony. Although she was the elder by two or
three years and gave herself the airs of a young lady, Jack Cockrell
hopelessly, secretly adored her. It was an anti-climax for a hero to be
serving out his sentence at the wood-pile and he turned his back to the
gate while he made the chips fly. But Dorothy had no intention of
ignoring him. She paused with a smile so winsome that Jack's heart
fluttered and he dropped the axe to grasp her outstretched hand. He
squeezed it so hard that Dorothy winced as she said:

"What a masterful man it is, but please don't crush my poor fingers. I
fled from those pirates at the wharf, Jack, instead of waiting to offer
you my most humble thanks. Will you accept them now? They come straight
from the heart."

For such a reward as this Jack would have fought a dozen pirates. Baring
his head, he murmured bashfully:

"A trifling service, Mistress Dorothy, and 'tis my devout hope that I
may always be ready in time of need."

"So?" she exclaimed, with mischief in her eyes. "I believe you would
slay a pirate each morning before breakfast, should I ask it."

"Or any other small favors like that," gallantly returned Jack.

"A proper courtier," cried Dorothy. "My father will thank you when he
returns from North Carolina. When I ventured to the wharf this morning
it was in hopes of sighting his armed sloop."

The dwelling of Mr. Peter Arbuthnot Forbes was at some distance from the
tavern which was on the sloping ground that overlooked the harbor, among
the spreading live-oaks and magnolias. Borne on the breeze came the
sounds of Stede Bonnet's pirates at their revels, pistol shots, wild
choruses, drunken yells. Jack was not disturbed although Mistress
Dorothy moved closer and laid a hand on his arm. Presently the tumult
ceased, abruptly, and now Jack was perplexed. It might mean a sudden
recall to the ship. Something was in the wind. The youth and the maid
stood listening. Jack was about to scramble to the roof of the house in
order to gaze toward the harbor but Dorothy bade him stay with her. Her
fair cheek had paled and she shivered with a vague apprehension.

This sudden stillness was uncanny, threatening. Soon, however, a trumpet
blew a long, shrill call to arms, and they heard one hoarse, jubilant
huzza after another.

"Have Stede Bonnet's pirates mustered to sack the town?" implored
Dorothy.

"I can speedily find out," replied her protector.

"Oh, I pray you not to leave me," she tremulously besought him.

"Captain Bonnet will wreak no harm on Charles Town," Jack assured her.
"I know him too well for that. You saw what he did to the base varlet
who annoyed you at the wharf,--felled him like an ox."

"If only my father were here, to call out the troops and rout this
rabble of sea rogues, Jack dear," was her fluttering prayer.

A little after this, the tumult increased and it was drawing nearer. It
was a martial clamor of men on the march, with the rattle of drums and a
loud fanfare of trumpets. Mr. Peter Arbuthnot Forbes came running out of
the house, all flustered and waving his hands, and ordered the two young
people indoors. The servants were closing the heavy wooden shutters and
sliding the bars across the doors.

Jack slipped out into the lane and hailed a neighbor who dashed past.
The news was babbled in fragments and Jack scurried back to blurt to his
uncle:

"An Indian raid,--the savages are within a dozen miles of Charles Town,
laying waste the plantations,--slaying the laborers. The militia is
called to arms but they lack a leader. Colonel Stuart is sorely missed.
Captain Bonnet called another boat-load of his pirates ashore, and they
march in the van to assail the Indians. May I go with them, Uncle Peter?
Must I play the coward and the laggard?"

"Nonsense, John Cockrell. These mad pirates have addled your wits. Shall
I let you be scalped by these painted fiends of Yemassees?"

"Then you will volunteer in my stead," shrewdly ventured Jack, with a
glance at Dorothy.

"Um-m. Duty and my official cares prevent," quoth the worshipful
Secretary of the Colony, frowning and pursing his lips. Dorothy smiled
at this and winked at Jack. Uncle Peter was rated a better lawyer than a
valiant man of war.

"Let us stand at a window," exclaimed the girl. "Ah, they come! My
faith, but this is a brave array. And Captain Bonnet leads them well."

She had never expected to praise a pirate but there was no denying that
this lean, straight rover in the scarlet coat and great cocked hat
looked the part of a competent and intrepid soldier. He was superbly fit
for the task in hand. Catching sight of Jack Cockrell and Dorothy Stuart
in the window, he saluted by raising the hilt of his cutlass and his
melancholy visage brightened in a smile.

Behind him tramped his men in column of fours, matchlocks across their
shoulders, bright weapons swinging against their thighs as they sang all
together and kept step to the beat of the drums.

          "But ere to Execution Bay,
             The wind these bones do blow,
           I'll drink an' fight what's left away,
            _Yo, ho, with the rum below_."

Behind these hardy volunteers straggled as many of the militia company
as had been able to answer the sudden call, merchants, clerks, artisans,
and vagabonds who seemed none too eager to meet the bloodthirsty
Yemassees. Their wives and children trailed after them to the edge of
the town, amidst tears and loud lamentations. The contrast did not
escape the eye of Mr. Peter Arbuthnot Forbes who reluctantly admitted:

"Give the devil his due, say I. These wicked brethren of the coast go
swaggering off of their own free will, as though it were to a frolic. I
will remember it in their favor when they come to hang."

A long roll of the drums and a lilting flourish by the pirate trumpeter
as a farewell to Charles Town and its tavern and its girls, and the
company passed from view. The lane was again deserted and silent and
Jack offered to escort Dorothy Stuart to her own home. As they loitered
across an open field, he cried in a fierce flare of rebellion:

"My good uncle will drive me too far. Let him sail for old England and
leave me to find my own career. Upon my soul, I may run away to join a
pirate ship."

Dorothy tried to look grave at this dreadful announcement but a dimple
showed in her cheek as she replied:

"My dear Jack, you can never be braver but you will be wiser some day.
Banish such silly thoughts. You must obey your lawful guardian."

"But did you see the lads in the militia company? Two or three of them I
have whipped in fair fight. And Uncle Peter wants to keep me tucked in a
cradle."

"Softly, Jack," said she, with pretty solicitude. "Stede Bonnet has
bewitched you utterly."

The stubborn youth shook his head. This day of humiliation had been the
last straw. He was ripe for desperate adventure. It would have made him
happy and contented to be marching against the Indians with Stede Bonnet
and his cut-throats, in peril of tomahawks and ambuscades.

Small wonder that poor Jack Cockrell's notions of right and wrong were
rather confused, for he lived in an age when might ruled blue water,
when every ship was armed and merchant seamen fought to save their skins
as well as their cargoes. English, French, Spanish, and Dutch, they
plundered each other on the flimsiest pretexts and the pirates harried
them all.

Still sulky, Jack betook himself to the rectory next morning for his
daily bout with his studies. Parson Throckmorton was puttering in the
garden, a shrunken little man who wore black small-clothes, lace at his
wrists, and a powdered wig. Opening the silver snuff-box he almost
sneezed the wig off before he chirruped:

"Ye mind me of Will Shakespeare's whining schoolboy, Master
John,--creeping like snail unwillingly to school. A treat is in store
for us to-day, a signal treat! We begin our Virgil. '_Arma virumque
cano._'"

"Arms and a man? I like that much of it," glowered the mutinous scholar,
"but my uncle makes me sing a different tune."

"He accepted my advice,--that you be educated in England," said the
parson.

"Then I may hold you responsible for this hellish thing?" angrily
declaimed Jack. "Were it not for your white hairs----"

He subsided and had the grace to apologize as they entered the library.
The tutor was an impatient old gentleman and the pupil was so
inattentive that his knuckles were sharply rapped with a ruler. A
blunder more glaring and the ruler came down with another whack. This
was too much for Jack who jumped up, rubbed his knuckles, and shouted:

"Enough, sir. I would have you know that I all but killed a big, ugly
pirate yesterday."

"So rumor informs me," rasped Parson Throckmorton, "but you will give
yourself no grand airs with me. Construe this passage properly or I must
tan those leather breeches with a limber rod."

This was too much for the insulted Jack who slammed down the book,
clapped on his hat, and tramped from the room in high dudgeon. Such
scurvy treatment as this was fairly urging him to a life of crime on the
rolling ocean. He wandered down to the wharf and wistfully gazed at the
lawless brig, _Royal James_, which swam at her anchorage in trim and
graceful beauty. A few men moved briskly on deck, painting the bulwarks
or polishing brass. Evidently Stede Bonnet had sent off word to be all
taut and ready to hoist sail for another cruise.

After a while the truant went homeward and manfully confessed to the
quarrel with Parson Throckmorton. Uncle Peter Forbes was amazingly mild.
There was no gusty outbreak of temper and, in fact, he had little to
say. It was in his mind to patch up a truce with his troublesome nephew
pending their departure for England. He even suggested that the studies
be dropped and advised Jack to go fishing in his canoe.

Several days later, Captain Bonnet and his pirates came back from their
foray against the Indians. They were a foot-sore, weary band, the
wounded carried in litters and several men missing. Their gay garments
were caked with mud, the finery all tatters, and most of them were
marked with cuts and scratches, but they pulled themselves together and
swaggered into Charles Town as boldly as ever to the music of trumpet
and drum. Stede Bonnet carried an arm in a sling. As he passed the
Secretary's house he cheerily called out to Jack:

"Ahoy, my young comrade! 'Twill please you to know that fair Mistress
Dorothy Stuart may sleep in peace."

"Did you scatter the savages, sir?" asked Jack, running out to shake his
hand.

"God bless ye, boy, we exterminated 'em."

The gratitude of Mr. Peter Arbuthnot Forbes was stronger than his
dislike and he came out to thank the captain in behalf of the citizens
of Charles Town. To his excited questions the pirate replied:

"There be old buccaneers from Hispaniola in my crew, may it please Your
Excellency,--fellows who hunted the Indians in their youth,--tracked 'em
like hounds through forest and bayou. Others served their time with the
log-wood cutters of Yucatan. They laughed at the tricks of these
Yemassees of the Carolinas."

One of the militia company broke in to say to Mr. Forbes:

"Your Honor's own plantation was saved from the torch by this doughty
Captain Bonnet. It was there he pulled the flint arrow-head from his arm
and was near bleeding to death."

Mr. Peter Forbes could do no less than invite the pirate into the house,
for the wounded arm had been rudely bandaged and was in sore need of
dressing. Jack fetched a tray of cakes and wine while his uncle bawled
at the servants who came running with soft cloths and hot water and
healing lotions. Captain Bonnet protested that the hurt was trifling and
carelessly explained:

"My own ship's surgeon was spitted on a boarding-pike in our last action
at sea and I have not found me another one. You show much skill and
tenderness, sir."

"The wound is deep and ragged. Hold still," commanded Mr. Peter Forbes.
"You have been a soldier, Captain Bonnet, commended for valor on the
fields of Europe and holding the king's commission. Why not seek pardon
and serve with the armed forces of this province? My services in the
matter are yours to command."

Stede Bonnet frowned and bit his lip. All he said was:

"You meddle with matters that concern you not, my good sir. I am a man
able to make my own free choice."

"Captain Bonnet does honor to the trade of piracy," cried the admiring
Jack, at which his uncle declared, with a wrathful gesture:

"I must remove this daft lad to England to be rid of you, Stede Bonnet.
You have cast a wicked spell over him."

"To England?" said the pirate, with a sympathetic glance at the boy. "I
would sooner lie in gaol."

"And reap your deserts," snapped Uncle Peter.

"No doubt of that," frankly agreed the pirate. "And what thinks the lad
of this sad penance?"

"I hate it," was Jack's swift answer. "Will you grant our merchant ship
safe conduct, Captain Bonnet?"

"What ship, boy? You have only to name her. She will go scathless, as
far as in my power."

"The _Plymouth Adventure_," replied Jack. "It would ruin my uncle's
temper beyond all mending to be taken by pirates."

"I pledge you my word," swore Stede Bonnet. "Moreover, if trouble
befall you by sea or land, Master Cockrell, I pray you send me tidings
and you will have a friend in need."

That night those who dwelt near the harbor heard the clank of a windlass
as the crew of the _Royal James_ hove the cable short, and the
melodious, deep-throated refrain of a farewell chantey floated across
the quiet water. With the flood of the tide and a landward breeze, the
brig stole out across the bar while the topsails were sheeted home. When
daylight dawned, she had vanished in the empty reaches of the Atlantic.

The brig sailed without Jack Cockrell. His shrewd uncle saw to that. It
was not by accident that a constable of the town watch loitered in the
lane by the Secretary's house. And Uncle Peter himself was careful not
to let the lad out of his sight until the beguiling Stede Bonnet had
left his haunts in Charles Town. Life resumed its routine next day but
the boy's whole current of thought had been changed. He was restless,
craving some fresh excitement and hoping that more pirates might come
roaring to the tavern green.

He found welcome diversion when the _Plymouth Adventure_, merchant
trader, arrived from London after a famous passage of thirty-two days to
the westward. Her master's orders were to make quick dispatch and return
with freight and passengers direct from Charles Town. Jack was given no
more leisure to brood over his own misfortunes. There were many errands
to be done for Mr. Peter Forbes, besides the chests and boxes to be
packed and stoutly corded. As was the custom, they had to supply their
own furniture for the cabin in the ship and Jack Cockrell enjoyed the
frequent trips aboard.

He found much to interest him in the sedate, bearded Captain Jonathan
Wellsby of the _Plymouth Adventure_, in the crew of hearty British tars
who feared neither man nor devil, in the battery of nine-pounders, the
stands of boarding-pikes, and the triced hammock nettings to protect the
vessel against hand-to-hand encounters with pirates. The voyage might be
worth while, after all. There were to be a dozen of passengers, several
ladies among them. The most distinguished was Mr. Peter Arbuthnot
Forbes, Secretary of the Provincial Council, who was accorded the
greatest respect and given the largest cabin.

It was an important event when the _Plymouth Adventure_ hoisted all her
bunting on sailing day and Charles Town flocked to the harbor with
wistful envy of the lucky people who were bound home to old England.
There were sad faces among those left behind to endure the perils,
hardships and loneliness of pioneers. Jack Cockrell's heart beat high
when he saw sweet Dorothy Stuart in the throng. He tarried ashore with
her until the boatswain's pipe trilled from the _Plymouth Adventure_ to
summon the passengers on board. Colonel Stuart, blonde and bronzed and
stalwart, escorted his winsome daughter and he praised Jack for his
deed of courage, telling him:

"There will soon be fewer pirates for you to trounce, I hope, my lad."

"The town will be a stupid place without a visit from the jolly rovers
now and then," honestly replied Jack, at which Colonel Stuart laughed
and his daughter suggested:

"With my brave knight in distant England, deliver me from any more
pirates."

Jack blushed and was both happy and sad when the dear maid took a flower
from her bodice and gave it to him as a token of remembrance. He
solemnly tucked it away in a pocket, stammered his farewells, and went
to join his uncle who waited in the yawl at the wharf. Once on board the
_Plymouth Adventure_, they were swept into a bustle and confusion.
Captain Jonathan Wellsby was in haste to catch a fair wind and make his
offing before nightfall. His sailors ran to and fro, jumping at the
word, active and cheery. Stately and slow, the high-pooped merchant
trader filled away on the larboard tack and pointed her lofty bowsprit
seaward.

The watches were set, ropes coiled down, and the tackles of the cannon
overhauled. The skipper paced the after-deck, a long telescope under his
arm, while the passengers lined the rail and gazed at the rude
settlement that was slowly dropping below the horizon. The sea was
tranquil and the breeze steady. The ship was clothed in canvas which
bellied to drive her eastward with a frothing wake. Safely she left the
outer bar astern and wallowed in the ocean swell.

The afternoon sun was sinking when a sail gleamed like a bit of cloud
against the southerly sky. Captain Wellsby held to his course and showed
no uneasiness. Soon another sail became visible and then a third, these
two smaller than the first. They might be honest merchantmen steering in
company, but the skipper consulted with his mates and the spy-glass
passed from hand to hand. The passengers were at supper in the cuddy and
their talk and laughter came through the open skylights.

Presently the boatswain piped the crew to quarters and the men moved
quietly to their battle stations, opening the gun-ports and casting
loose the lashings. The boys fetched paper cartridges of powder in
buckets from the magazine and the gunners lighted the matches of tow.
Cutlasses were buckled on and the pikes were scattered along the
bulwarks ready to be snatched up.

It was impossible to escape these three strange vessels by beating back
to Charles Town, for the _Plymouth Adventure_ made lubberly work of it
when thrashing to windward. She was a swift ship, however, before a fair
wind, and Captain Wellsby resolved to run for it, hoping to edge away
from danger if his suspicions should be confirmed.

Before sunset the largest of the strange sail shifted her course as
though to set out in chase and overhaul the deep-laden merchant trader.
Captain Wellsby stood near the tiller, his hands clasped behind him, a
solid, dependable figure of a British mariner. The passengers were
crowding around him in distressful agitation but he calmly assured them
a stern chase was a long chase and he expected to slip away under cover
of night. So far as he was aware, no pirates, excepting Stede Bonnet,
had been recently reported in these waters.

Here Mr. Peter Forbes broke in to say that the _Plymouth Adventure_ had
naught to fear from Captain Bonnet who had pledged his word to let her
sail unmolested. Other passengers scoffed at the absurd notion of
trusting a pirate's oath, but the pompous Secretary of the Council could
not be cried down. He was a canny critic of human nature and he knew an
honorable pirate when he met him.

It was odd, but in a pinch like this the dapper, finicky Councilor Peter
Arbuthnot Forbes displayed an unshaken courage as became a gentleman of
his position, while young Jack Cockrell had suddenly changed his opinion
of the fascinating trade of piracy. He had not the slightest desire to
investigate it at any closer range. His knees were inclined to wobble
and his stomach felt qualms. His uncle twitted him as a braggart ashore
who sang a different tune afloat. The lad's grin was feeble as he
retorted that he took his pirates one at a time.

The largest vessel of the pursuit came up at a tremendous pace, reeling
beneath an extraordinary spread of canvas, her spray-swept hull
disclosing an armament of thirty guns, the decks swarming with men. She
was no merchant ship, this was already clear, but there was still the
hope that she might be a man-of-war or a privateer. Captain Wellsby
looked in vain for her colors. At length he saw a flag whip from the
spanker gaff. He laid down the glass with a profound sigh.

The flag was black with a sinister device, a white blotch whose outline
suggested a human skull.

Captain Wellsby gazed again and carefully examined the two sloops which
were acting in concert with the thirty-gun ship. It was a squadron, and
the brave _Plymouth Adventure_ was hopelessly outmatched. To fight meant
a slaughter with never a chance of survival.

The passengers had made no great clamor until the menacing ship drew
close enough for them to descry the dreadful pennant which showed as a
sable blot against the evening sky. Two women fainted and others were
seized with violent hysteria. Their shrill screams were so distressing
that the skipper ordered them to be lugged below and shut in their
cabins. Mr. Peter Forbes had plumped himself down upon a coil of hawser,
as if utterly disgusted, but he implored the captain to blaze away at
the besotted scoundrels as long as two planks held together. The
Honorable Secretary of the Council had been too outspoken in his
opinions of pirates to expect kindness at their hands.

The sailors also expected no quarter but they sullenly crouched at the
gun-carriages, gripping the handspikes and blowing the matches while
they waited for the word. The pirate ship was now reaching to windward
of the _Plymouth Adventure_, heeling over until her decks were in full
view. Upon the poop stood a man of the most singular appearance. He was
squat and burly and immensely broad across the shoulders. What made him
grotesque was a growth of beard which swept almost to his waist and
covered his face like a hairy curtain. In it were tied bright streamers
of crimson ribbon. Evidently this fantastic monster was proud of his
whiskers and liked to adorn them.

The laced hat with a feather in it, the skirted coat of buff and blue
which flapped around his bow-legs, and the rows of gold buttons across
his chest were in slovenly imitation of a naval uniform. But there was
nothing like naval discipline on those crowded decks where half the crew
appeared to be drunk and the rest of them cursing each other.

Captain Jonathan Wellsby smothered a groan and his stern mouth twitched
as he said to his chief mate:

"God's mercy on us! 'Tis none other than the bloody Edward Teach,--that
calls himself Blackbeard! My information was that he still cruised off
the Spanish Main and refitted his ships in the Bay of Honduras."

"The madman of the sea," said the stolid mate. "A bad day for us when he
sailed to the north'ard. He kills for the pleasure of it. Now Stede
Bonnet loots such stuff as takes his fancy and----"

"He loves to fight a king's ship for the sport of it," broke in the
skipper, "but this murderer---- An unlucky voyage for the old _Plymouth
Adventure_ and all hands, Mate."

One of the women who had been suffered to remain on deck was close
enough to overhear the direful news. Her hands to heaven, she wailed:

"Blackbeard! Oh, my soul, we are as good as dead, or worse. Fight and
sink him, dear captain. What shall I do? What shall I do? If I had only
minded the dream I had the night before we sailed----"

Jack Cockrell sat down beside his uncle, a limp and sorry youth for one
who had offered to slay a six-foot pirate before breakfast to please a
pretty maid. With a sickly grin he murmured:

"This cockerel crowed too loud, Uncle Peter. Methinks I share your
distaste for piracy."



CHAPTER III

HELD AS HOSTAGES TO BLACKBEARD


TO discover the pestilent Blackbeard in Carolina waters was like a
thunderbolt from a clear sky. Captain Wellsby had felt confident that he
could beat off the ordinary pirate craft which was apt to be smaller
than his own stout ship. And most of these unsavory gentry were mere
salt-water burglars who had little taste for hard fighting. The master
of the _Plymouth Adventure_, so pious and sedate, was a brave man to
whom the thought of surrender was intolerable. From what he knew of
Blackbeard, it was useless to try to parley for the lives of his
passengers. Better it was to answer with double-shotted guns than to beg
for mercy.

The British tars, stripped to the waist, turned anxious eyes to the
skipper upon the quarter-deck while they quaffed pannikins of rum and
water and cracked many a rough jest. They fancied death no more than
other men, but seafaring was a perilous trade and they were toughened to
its hazards. They were facing hopeless odds but let the master shout the
command and they would send the souls of some of these pirates sizzling
down to hell before the _Plymouth Adventure_ sank, a splintered hulk, in
the smoke of her own gunpowder.

Captain Wellsby delayed his decision a moment longer. Something most
unusual had attracted his attention. A ball of smoke puffed from a port
of Blackbeard's ship, but the round shot splashed beyond the bowsprit of
the _Plymouth Adventure_ instead of thudding into her oaken side. This
was a signal to heave to. It was a courtesy both unexpected and
perplexing, because Blackbeard's habit was to let fly with all the guns
that could bear as the summons to submit. Presently a dingy bit of cloth
fluttered just beneath the black flag. It looked like the remains of a
pirate's shirt which had once been white.

"A signal for a truce?" muttered Captain Wellsby. "A ruse, mayhap, but
the rogue has no need to resort to trickery."

The two sloops of Blackbeard's squadron, spreading tall, square
topsails, came driving down to windward in readiness to fire their
bow-chasers and form in line of battle. The passengers of the _Plymouth
Adventure_, snatching at the chance of safety, implored the skipper to
send his men away from the guns lest a rash shot might be their ruin.
They prayed him to respect the precious flag of truce and to ascertain
the meaning of it. Mystified and wavering in his purpose, he told the
mates to back the main-yard and heave the ship to.

Upon his own deck Blackbeard was stamping to and fro, bellowing at his
crew while he flourished a broadsword by way of emphasis. The hapless
company of the _Plymouth Adventure_ shivered at the very sight of him
and yet there was something almost ludicrous in the antics of this
atrocious pirate, as though he were play-acting upon the stage of a
theatre. He had tucked up the tails of his military coat because the
wind whipped them about his bandy legs and made him stumble. The flowing
whiskers also proved bothersome, wherefore he looped them back over his
ears by means of the bows of crimson ribbon. This seemed to be his
personal fashion of clearing for action.

"There be pirates and pirates," critically observed Mr. Peter Forbes as
he stared at the unpleasant Blackbeard. "This is a filthy beast, Jack,
and he was badly brought up. He has no manners whatever."

"Parson Throckmorton would take him for the devil himself," gloomily
answered the lad.

And now they saw Blackbeard raise a speaking-trumpet to his lips and
heard the hoarse voice come down the wind with this message:

"The ship ahoy! Steady as ye be, blast your eyes, or I'll lay aboard and
butcher all hands."

He turned and yelled commands to the two sloops which now rolled within
pistol-shot. In helter-skelter style but with great speed, one boat
after another was lowered away and filled with armed pirates. They rowed
toward the _Plymouth Adventure_ and there were enough of them to carry
her by boarding. In addition to this, she was directly under the guns of
Blackbeard's powerful ship. One valorous young gentleman passenger
whipped out a rapier and swore to perish with his face to the foe, but
Captain Wellsby kicked him into the cabin and fastened the scuttle. This
was no time for dramatics.

"It looks that the old ruffian comes on a peaceful errand," said the
skipper, by way of comfort. But the hysterical ladies below decks
redoubled their screams and one substantial merchant of Charles Town
scrambled down to hide himself among them. Mr. Peter Arbuthnot Forbes
folded his arms and there was no sign of weakness in his pink
countenance. His dignity still sustained him.

As agile as monkeys, the mob of pirates poured over the bulwark,
slashing through the hammock nettings, and swept forward in a compact
mass, driving Captain Wellsby's seamen before them and penning them in
the forecastle. Having cleared the waist of the ship, they loitered
there until a few of them discovered the galley and pantry. They swept
the shelves and lockers bare of food like a pack of famished wolves.
Jack Cockrell looked at them from the poop and perceived that they were
a gaunt, ragged lot. The skins of some were yellow like parchment, and
fits of trembling overtook them. Something more than dissipation ailed
them.

With a body-guard of the sturdiest men, Blackbeard clambered up the
poop ladder and, with wicked oaths, told the skipper to stand forth.
Clean and trig and carefully dressed, Captain Jonathan Wellsby
confronted these savage, unwashed pirates and calmly demanded to know
their errand. It was plain to read that Blackbeard thought himself an
imposing figure. With a smirk and a grimace he bowed clumsily to a woman
on deck who had refused to desert her husband. He growled like a bear at
Captain Wellsby and prodded the poor man with his cutlass as he
thundered:

"You tried my patience, shipmaster, with your cracking on sail. A little
more and I'd ha' slit your throat. Blood an' wounds, would ye dare to
vex Blackbeard?"

Captain Wellsby faced him with unshaken composure and returned in a
strong voice:

"I beg no favors for myself but these helpless people, women amongst
them, came on board with my assurance of safety. They have friends and
kinsmen in Charles Town who will ransom them in gold."

Blackbeard's mien was a shade less ferocious as he cried:

"Gold? Can it cool a fever or heal a festering sore? A score of my men
are down and the others are tottering ghosts. Medicines I must have. A
foul plague on those ports of the Spanish Main which laid my fine lads
by the heels."

Jack Cockrell, who had retreated to the taffrail, decided that this
unkempt pirate was not so absurd as he appeared. There was the strength
of a giant in those hulking shoulders and in the long arms which bulged
the coat-sleeves, and the man moved with a quickness which made that
clumsy air deceptive. The beard masked his features but the eye was keen
and roving, and he had a trick of baring his teeth in a nasty snarl. He
uttered no more threats, however, and seemed to be anxiously awaiting
the reply of Captain Wellsby, who said:

"The few medicines and simples in my chest will not suffice your need.
Your ships are rotten with the Spanish fever."

"A ransom, shipmaster?" exclaimed the pirate. "'Twas in my mind when I
flew a white flag for parley. I will hold some of your fine passengers
as hostages while the others go in to rake Charles Town for medicines to
fetch back to my fleet."

"You will send my ship in?" asked the skipper.

"No! This _Plymouth Adventure_ is my good prize and I will overhaul the
cargo and sink her at my leisure. My ship will tack in to Charles Town
bar. Then let the messengers go in the long-boat to find the store of
medicines. Harkee, shipmaster,--two days, no longer, for their return!
Failing this, the hostages feed the fishes. Such sport 'ud liven the
hearts of my doleful seamen."

It was a shameful bargain, thus to submit to a pirate's whim, but the
wretched ship's company hailed it as a glad surprise. They had stood in
the shadow of death and this was a respite and a chance of salvation.
Captain Wellsby was heart-sick with humiliation but it was not for him
to take into his hands the fate of all these others. Sadly he nodded
assent. Jack Cockrell nudged his uncle and whispered:

"Why doesn't he sail in with his three ships and take what he likes? The
town lies helpless against such a force as this."

"Ssh-h, be silent," was the warning. "He is a wary bird of prey and he
fears a trap. He dare not attack the port, since he lacks knowledge of
its defenses."

Jack's cheek was rosy again and his knees had ceased to tremble. There
was no immediate prospect of walking the plank. To be captured by
Blackbeard was a finer adventure than strutting arm-in-arm with Captain
Stede Bonnet. It was mournful, indeed, that Captain Wellsby should have
to lose his ship but 'tis an ill wind that blows nobody good and the
voyage to England, which Jack had loathed from the bottom of his heart,
was indefinitely postponed. Such an experience as this was apt to
discourage Uncle Peter Forbes from trying it again.

There were sundry chicken-hearted passengers anxious to curry favor with
Blackbeard, who gabbled when they should have held their tongues, and in
this manner he learned that he had bagged the honorable Secretary of the
Provincial Council. The bewhiskered pirate slapped his thighs and roared
with glee.

"Damme, but he looks it! Alack that my sorry need of medicines compels
me to give quarter! Would I might swing this fat Secretary from a
topsail yard! And a rogue of a lawyer to boot! He tempts me----"

"I demand the courtesy due a hostage," exclaimed Mr. Peter Forbes.

"Ho, ho, you shall be my lackey,--the chief messenger," laughed
Blackbeard, showing his yellow teeth. "Hat in hand, begging medicines
for me."

The honorable Secretary was near apoplexy. He could only sputter and
cough. He was to be sent as an errand boy to the people of Charles Town,
at the brutal behest of this unspeakable knave, but refusal meant death
and there were his fellow captives to consider. He thought of his nephew
and was about to plead that Jack be sent along with him when Blackbeard
demanded:

"What of the boy? He takes my eye. No pursy swine of a lawyer could sire
a lad of his brawn and inches."

"I am Master Cockrell," Jack answered for himself, "and I would have you
more courteous to my worthy uncle."

It was a speech so bold that the scourge of the Spanish Main tugged at
his whiskers with an air of comical perplexity. The headstrong Jack was
keen enough to note that he had made an impression and he rashly added:

"'Tis not long since I knocked a pirate on the head for incivility."

Mr. Peter Forbes gazed aghast, with slackened jaw, expecting to see his
mad nephew cut down by the sweep of a broadsword, but Blackbeard merely
grinned and slapped the lad half-way across the deck with a buffet of
his open hand. Dizzily Jack picked himself up and was furiously scolded
by his uncle. Their lives hung by a hair and this was no time to play
the fool. For once, however, Jack was the wiser of the two. In an
amiable humor Blackbeard exclaimed:

"And so this strapping young jackanapes knocks pirates on the head!
There be lazy dogs among my men that well deserve it. You shall stay
aboard, Master Cockrell, whilst the juicy lubber of a lawyer voyages
into Charles Town. He may sweat an' strive the more if I hold you as his
security. Zounds, I'll make a gentleman rover of ye, Jack, for I like
your mettle."

It was futile for the unhappy uncle to argue the matter. He could only
obey the tyrant's pleasure and hope for a speedy return and the release
of the terrified passengers. The _Plymouth Adventure_ was ordered to
haul her course to the westward and jog under easy sail toward the
Charles Town bar. Blackbeard was rowed off to his own ship, the
_Revenge_, leaving his sailing-master and a prize crew. These amused
themselves by dragging the weeping women on deck and robbing them of
their jewels and money, but no worse violence was offered. Middle-aged
matrons and elderly spinsters, they were neither young nor fair enough
to be stolen as pirates' brides.

The _Revenge_ and the two sloops hovered within sight of the _Plymouth
Adventure_ and their sails gleamed phantom-like in the darkness. There
was little sleep aboard the captured merchant trader. Some of the
pirates amused themselves with hauling chests and boxes out of the
cabins and spilling the contents about the deck in riotous disorder. One
sprightly outlaw arrayed himself in a silken petticoat and flowered
bodice and paraded as a languishing lady with false curls until the
others pelted him with broken bottles and tar buckets. By the flare of
torches they ransacked the ship for provisions, cordage, canvas, and
heaped them ready to be dumped into boats.

Jack Cockrell looked on until he was too drowsy to stay awake and fell
asleep on deck, his head pillowed on his arm. Through the night the
watches were changed to the harsh summons of the pirate sailing-master
or his mate. Once Jack awoke when a seaman staggered into the moonlight
with blood running down his face. He was not likely to be caught napping
on watch again.

At dawn the _Plymouth Adventure_ was astir and the _Revenge_ ran close
aboard to watch Mr. Peter Arbuthnot Forbes and two prosperous merchants
of Charles Town bundled into the long-boat. Blackbeard shouted bloody
threats through his trumpet, reminding them that he would allow no more
than two days' grace for their errand ashore. Uncle Peter was deeply
affected as he embraced his nephew and kissed him on the cheek. Jack's
eyes were wet and he faltered, with unsteady voice:

"Forgive me, sir, for all the trouble I have made you. Never did I
expect a parting like this."

"A barbarous coast, Jack, and a hard road to old England," smiled the
Secretary of the Council. "Have a stout heart. By God's grace I shall
soon deliver you from these sea vermin."

The boy watched the long-boat hoist sail with a grizzled, scarred old
boatswain from the _Revenge_ at the tiller. It drove for the blue
fairway of the channel between the frothing shoals of the bar and made
brave headway for the harbor. Then the ships stood out to sea to go
clear of a lee shore and the captives of the _Plymouth Adventure_
endured the harrowing suspense with such courage as they could muster.
Should any accident delay the return of the long-boat beyond two days,
even head winds or foul weather, or if there was lack of medicines in
the town, they were doomed to perish.

Jack Cockrell endured it with less anguish than the other wretched
hostages. He had the sublime confidence of youth in its own destiny and
he had found a chum in a boyish pirate named Joseph Hawkridge who said
he had sailed out of London as an apprentice seaman in a ketch bound to
Jamaica. He had been taken out of his ship by Blackbeard, somewhere off
the Azores, and compelled to enlist or walk the plank. At first he was
made cook's scullion but because he was well-grown and active, the chief
gunner had taken him over as a powder boy.

This Joe Hawkridge was a waif of the London slums, hard and wise beyond
his years, who had been starved and abused ever since he could remember.
He had fled from cruel taskmasters ashore to endure the slavery of the
sea and to be kidnapped into piracy was no worse than other things he
had suffered. A gangling lad, with a grin on his homely face, he had
certain instincts of manliness, of decent conduct, although he had known
only men whose souls were black with sin. Heaven knows where he learned
these cleaner aspirations. They were like the reflection of a star in a
muddy pool.

It was easy for Jack Cockrell to win his confidence. Few of his
shipmates spoke kindly or showed pity for him. And their youth drew them
together. Jack's motive was largely curiosity as soon as he discovered
that here was one of Blackbeard's crew ready to confide in him. The two
lads chatted in sheltered corners of the deck, between watches, or met
more freely in the night hours. Jack shuddered at some of the tales that
were told him but he harkened breathless and asked for more.

"Yes, this Blackbeard is the very wickedest pirate that ever sailed,"
said Joe Hawkridge in the most matter-of-fact tones. "You have found him
merciful because he fears a mortal sickness will sweep through his
ships."

"You have curdled my blood enough for now," admitted Jack. "Tell me
this. What do they say of Captain Stede Bonnet? He chances to be a
friend of mine."

Joe Hawkridge ceased to grin. He was startled and impressed. Real
gentlemen like this young Cockrell always told the truth. Making certain
that they could not be overheard, Joe whispered:

"What news of Stede Bonnet? You've seen him? When? Did he cruise to the
north'ard? Has he been seen off Charles Town?"

"He came ashore not long ago, and invited me to dinner at the tavern
with him," bragged Jack. "And he coaxed me to sign in his ship."

"Yes, you'd catch his eye, Cockrell, but listen! What ship had he, and
how many men? God strike me, but I'll not tattle it. I'm true as steel
to Stede Bonnet. If you love me, don't breathe it here."

"There is no love lost betwixt him and Blackbeard?" excitedly queried
Jack.

"Mortal foes they be, if you ask Stede Bonnet."

Feeling sure he could trust this young Hawkridge, Jack informed him:

"Stede Bonnet flies his pennant in a fine brig, the _Royal James_, with
seventy lusty rovers. But what about him, Joe? Why does he hate this
foul ogre of a Blackbeard? Did they ever sail together?"

"'Twas in the Bay of Honduras. Captain Bonnet was a green hand at the
trade but zealous to win renown at piratin'. And so he made compact with
Blackbeard, to sail as partners. There was Stede Bonnet with a fine ship
and his own picked crew. By treachery Blackbeard stole the vessel from
him. Bonnet and his men were left to shift for 'emselves in a rotten old
hulk that was like to founder in a breeze o' wind."

"But they stayed afloat and took them a good ship," proudly exclaimed
Jack, with a personal interest in the venture.

"True, by what you say. D'ye see the _Revenge_ yonder, Blackbeard's tall
cruiser? The very ship he filched from Stede Bonnet by dirty stratagem
and broken oaths!"

"Then the powder will burn when next they meet?"

"As long as there's a shot in the locker, Jack. And Blackbeard's men are
ripe for mutiny. Let 'em once sight Stede Bonnet's topsails and----"

A gunner's mate broke into this interview with a cat-o'-nine-tails and
flogged Joe Hawkridge forward to duty. He ducked and fled with a
farewell grin at the nephew of the Secretary of the Council. Now all
this was diverting enough to keep Jack from bemoaning his fate, but the
other passengers counted the hours one by one and their hearts began to
drum against their ribs. They scanned the sea and the harbor bar with
aching eyes, for the two days were well-nigh spent and there was never a
sign of the long-boat and the messengers with the ransom of medicines
which should avert the sentence of death.

Sunrise of the second day brought them no comfort. The sea was gray and
the sky leaden, without the slightest stir of wind. The drifting vessels
rolled in a swell that heaved as smooth as oil. It was a calm which
presaged violent weather. Against her masts the yards of the _Plymouth
Adventure_ banged with a sound like distant thunder and the idle canvas
slatted to the thump of blocks and the thin wail of chafing cordage.

Captain Jonathan Wellsby was permitted the freedom of the poop by
Blackbeard's sailing-master who seemed a sober and competent officer.
They were seen to confer earnestly, as though the safety of the ship
were uppermost in their minds. Soon the pirates of the prize crew were
ordered to stow and secure all light sail and pass extra lashings about
the boats and batten the hatches. They worked slowly, some of them
shaking with fever, nor could kicks and curses and the sting of the
whistling cat make them turn to smartly. The sailing-master signaled the
_Revenge_ to send off more hands but Blackbeard was either drunk or in
one of his crack-brained moods. With a laugh he pulled a brace of
pistols from his sash and blazed away at the _Plymouth Adventure._

The two sloops of the pirate squadron had sagged down to leeward during
the night and were trying to work back to their stations when the dead
calm intervened. Their skippers had sense enough to read the weather
signs and had begun to take in canvas. On board of the _Revenge_,
however, there was aimless confusion, the mates making some attempt to
prepare the ship for a heavy blow while Blackbeard defied the elements.
His idea of arousing his men was to try potshots with his pistols as
they crept out on the swaying spars.

It was quite apparent that the sailing-master was sorely needed in the
_Revenge_, if order was to be brought out of this chaos, but he received
no orders to quit the _Plymouth Adventure_. He was a proper seaman, Ned
Rackham by name, who had deserted from the Royal Navy, after being
flogged and keel-hauled for some trifling offense. Rumor had it that he
was able to enforce respect from Blackbeard and would stand none of his
infernal nonsense.

"In this autumn season we may catch a storm from the West Indies, Mr.
Rackham," said Captain Wellsby. "The sea has a greasy look and this
heavy ground swell is a portent."

"The feel of it is in the air, shipmaster. There fell an evil calm like
this come two year ago when I was wrecked in a ship-of-the-line within
sight of Havana. Four hundred men sank with her."

"If my sailors were not penned in the fo'castle----" suggested the
merchant skipper.

"None o' that," was the stern retort. "This ship is a prize to
Blackbeard and so she stays, and you will sink or swim with her."

The morning wore on and the two days of grace had passed for those
doleful hostages in the _Plymouth Adventure_. They beheld the black flag
hoisted to the rigging of the _Revenge_ as a signal of tragic import,
but the bandy-legged monster with the festooned whiskers was not to
disport himself with this wanton butchery. The sky had closed darkly
around the becalmed ships, in sodden clouds which were suddenly obscured
by mist and rain while the wind sighed in fitful gusts. It steadied into
the southward and swiftly increased in force until the sea was whipped
into foam and scud.

Staunch and well-found, the _Plymouth Adventure_ went reeling off across
the spray-swept leagues of water, showing only her reefed topsails and
courses. The two pirate sloops vanished beyond the curtain of mist. When
last seen, one of them was dismasted and the other was laboring in grave
peril. The _Revenge_ loomed as a spectral shape while Blackbeard was
endeavoring to get her running free in pursuit of the _Plymouth
Adventure_. But slovenly, reckless seamanship had caught him unready.
His sails were blowing to ribbons, ropes flying at loose ends, and it
was with great difficulty that the vessel could be made to mind her
tiller.

Already the sea was rising in crested combers which broke with the noise
of thunder and the fury of the wind was insensate. Slowly the struggling
_Revenge_ dropped astern, yawing wildly, rolling her bulwarks under,
splintered spars dangling from the caps. She was a crippled ship which
would be lucky to see port again. It was to be inferred that Blackbeard
had ceased to cut his mirthful capers on the poop and that he would have
given bushels of doubloons to regain his sailing-master and men.

In the _Plymouth Adventure_ things were in far better plight, even with
the feeble, short-handed prize crew. Prudently snugged down in ample
time, with extra hands at the steering tackles, they let her drive. She
would perhaps wear clear of the coast and there was hope of survival
unless the tempest should fairly wrench her strong timbers asunder.

Lashed to the weather rigging, Captain Jonathan Wellsby wiped the brine
from his eyes and waved his arm at the helmsman, now to ease her a
little, again to haul up and thus thwart some ravening sea which
threatened to stamp his ship under. Sailing-Master Ned Rackham was
content to let the skipper con his own vessel in this great emergency.

The mind of Captain Wellsby was very active and he pondered on something
else than winning through the storm. He had been helpless while under
the guns of the _Revenge_, with the two sloops in easy call. Now the
situation was vastly different. He had been delivered out of
Blackbeard's clutches. And in the forecastle were thirty British seamen
with hearts of oak, raging to be loosed with weapons in their hands.
Peering into the gray smother of sea and sky, Captain Jonathan Wellsby
licked his lips hungrily as he said to himself:

"Not now, but if the storm abates and we float through the night, these
lousy picaroons shall dance to another tune."



CHAPTER IV

THE CAPTIVE SEAMEN IN THE FORECASTLE


JACK COCKRELL was seasick. This was enough to spoil any adventure.
Curled up under a boat, the spray pelted him and the wild motion of the
ship sloshed him back and forth. He took no interest even in piracy. Joe
Hawkridge, tough as whip-cord and seasoned to all kinds of weather, came
clawing his way aft while the water streamed from his thin shirt and
ragged breeches. The pirates of the prize crew had sought shelter
wherever they could find it. The waist of the ship was flooded with
breaking seas. A few of the larboard watch were huddled forward, close
to the lofty forecastle where they were stationed as sentries over the
imprisoned sailors of the _Plymouth Adventure_.

The commotion of the wind shrieking in the rigging and the horrid crash
of the toppling combers were enough to convince a landlubber that the
vessel was doomed to founder. But Joe Hawkridge clapped young Jack an
affectionate clout on the ear and bawled at him:

          "For his work he's never loth,
             An' a-pleasurin' he'll go,
           Tho' certain sure to be popt off;
            _Yo, ho, with the rum below!_"

Jack managed to fetch a sickly smile of greeting, but had nothing to
say. Joe snuggled down beside him and explained:

"I wouldn't dare sing that song if Blackbeard's bullies could hear me.
'Tis known as Stede Bonnet's ditty, for a fight or a frolic."

"By Harry, they can roll it out. My blood tingled when they chorused it
through Charles Town," said Jack, with signs of animation and a sparkle
in his eye. "Tell me truly, Joe. What about this pirate sailing-master,
Ned Rackham? He seems a different sort from your other drunken wretches.
He is more like one of Captain Bonnet's choosing."

"Gulled you, has he?" cried Joe. "I was afeard of that. And he's getting
on the blind side of your skipper. This Cap'n Jonathan Wellsby is brave
enough and a rare seaman, but he ne'er dealt with a smooth rogue like
Ned Rackham. He stays sober to plot for his own advantage. He will serve
Blackbeard only till he can trip him by the heels. Now listen well,
Jack, seasick though ye be. You will have to warn your skipper, Captain
Wellsby."

"Warn him of what? My poor head is so addled that I can fathom no plots.
How can Ned Rackham do us mischief while this infernal gale blows? He
toils with might and main for the safety of the ship."

"Yes, you dunce, and let a lull come," scornfully exclaimed the boyish
pirate. "What then? A fine ship this, and well gunned. She would make a
smackin' cruiser for Ned Rackham, eh? He hoists the Jolly Roger on his
own account and laughs at Blackbeard."

"Take our ship for his own?" faltered Jack, his wits confused. "I never
thought of that. Why, that means getting rid of us, of the passengers
and crew."

Joe passed a hand across his throat with a grimace that said more than
words.

"He has the ship's company disarmed and helpless, Jack. And pirates
a-plenty to work her till he recruits a stronger force. All hands of 'em
have a surfeit of Blackbeard's bloody whims an' didoes."

"And Captain Wellsby will be caught off his guard?" said Jack, shivering
at the aspect of this new terror.

"Can he do aught to prevent, unless he is bold enough to forestall it?"
answered the shrewd young sea waif. "Better die fighting than be slain
like squealin' rats."

"Recapture the ship ere Ned Rackham casts the dice," said Jack. "But it
means playing the hazard in the midst of this storm. How can it be done?
A forlorn venture. It can but fail."

"You are as good as dead if you don't," was Joe's sensible verdict.

Jack Cockrell forgot his wretched qualms of mind and body. The trumpet
call of duty invigorated him. He was no longer a useless lump. The color
returned to his cheek as he crawled from under the boat and shakily
hauled himself to his feet. Joe Hawkridge nodded approval and exhorted:

"A stiff upper lip, my gallant young gentleman. Steady she goes, an' not
too hasty. Ned Rackham is as sharp as a whetted sword. Ware ye, boy,
lest he pick up the scent. Fetch me word, here, beneath this
jolly-boat."

Jack stole away, staggering along the high poop deck until he could
cling to the life-line stretched along the roof of the great cabin.
There he slumped down and feigned helplessness, banged against the
bulwark as a dripping heap of misery or kicked aside by the pirates of
the watch as they were relieved at the steering tackles. From
half-closed eyes he watched Ned Rackham, a vigilant, dominant figure in
a tarred jacket and quilted breeches and long sea-boots. Now and again
he cupped his hands and yelled in the ear of Captain Wellsby whose beard
was gray with brine.

Jack saw that it was hopeless to get a private word with the skipper on
deck. The clamor of the storm was too deafening. The one chance was to
intercept him in the cabin when he went below for food and drink. Jack
dragged himself to the after hatchway which was shoved open a trifle to
admit air, and squeezed himself through. Before he tumbled down the
steep staircase he turned to glance at Captain Wellsby. Unseen by Ned
Rackham, the boy raised his hand in a furtive, beckoning gesture.

The pirates had taken the main room of the after-house for their own
use, driving the passengers and ship's officers into the small cabins or
staterooms. The air was foul below, reeking of the bilges, and the main
room was incredibly filthy. The pirates ate from dirty dishes, they had
scattered food about, and they kicked off their boots to sleep on the
floor like pigs in a sty.

Several of them were seated at the long table, bottle and mug in hand,
and the gloomy place was poorly lighted by a swinging whale-oil lamp.
Jack Cockrell crept unnoticed into a corner and was giddy and almost
helpless with nausea. It seemed ages before Captain Wellsby's legs
appeared in the hatchway and he came down into the cabin, bringing a
shower of spray with him. His kindly face was haggard and sad and he
tottered from sheer weariness. Passing through to his own room, a scurvy
pirate hurled refuse food at him, with a silly laugh, and others
insulted him with the foulest epithets.

He paid them no heed and they returned to their own amusements. Jack
Cockrell aroused himself to stumble after the skipper who halted to
grasp the lad by the shoulder and shove him headlong into the little
room. The door was quickly bolted behind them. A lurch of the vessel
flung Jack into the bunk but he managed to sit up, holding his head in
his hands, while he feebly implored:

"Did you note me wave my hand, sir, when I came below?"

"Yes, and I followed as soon as I could," answered the master of the
_Plymouth Adventure_. "There was the hint of secrecy in your signal,
Jack. What's in the wind?"

"I am the only passenger to win the confidence of one of Blackbeard's
crew," explained the lad. "This Joe Hawkridge is true to us, I'll swear
it. He is a pressed man, hating his masters. He bids me tell you that
Ned Rackham will seize the ship for his own as soon as ever the wind
goes down."

"Um-m, is he as bold as that?" grunted the skipper, rubbing his nose
with an air of rueful surprise. "No honor among thieves, Jack. I thought
him loyal to Blackbeard. I have considered attempting something of my
own when the weather permits but this news quickens me. This young imp
o' Satan that ye call Joe,--he will side with us in a pinch?"

"Aye, sir. And he knows this Ned Rackham well. There has been talk among
the pirates of rising against Blackbeard to follow the fortunes of
Sailing-Master Rackham. Here is the ship, as Joe says."

"It has a plausible sound," said Captain Wellsby. "My intention was to
wait, but I shall have to strike first."

"Can we fight in this storm, sir, even if we manage to release our
sailors?" asked Jack, very dismally.

"Not what we can, but what we must do," growled the stubborn British
mariner. "The shame of striking my colors rankles like a wound. God
helping me, we shall wipe out that stain if we drown in a sinking ship.
I talk to you as a man, Master Cockrell, for such you have proven
yourself. And who else is there to serve me in this adventure?"

"To set our sailors free, you mean, sir?" eagerly exclaimed Jack. "I
took thought of that. There is nobody but me, neither your mates nor the
passengers, who can pass among the pirates without suspicion. The knaves
have humored me, hearing the tale of the pirate I knocked on the head
and my braggart remark to Blackbeard. They have seen me about the decks
with Joe Hawkridge as my boon comrade. 'Tis their fancy that I am likely
to enlist."

"Well said, Jack," was the skipper's compliment. "Yes, you might make
your way for'ard without interference,--but the fo'castle hatches are
stoutly guarded. Again, should my brave fellows find exit, they are
weaponless, unready. Moreover, they have been crammed in that dark hole,
drenched by the sea, cruelly bruised by the tossing of the ship, and
weakened for lack of food and air."

"Granted, sir," sighed Jack. "But if some message could be smuggled in
to forewarn them of the enterprise,--would that brace 'em to the
assault?"

"Will ye try it, Jack?" asked the skipper, with a note of appeal in his
hearty voice. "I know not where else to turn. You take your life in your
hands but----"

The shipmaster broke off with a grim smile. It was absurd to prate of
life or death in such a strait as this. The boy reflected before he
said:

"If--if I fail, sir, Joe Hawkridge will try to pass a message in to the
men. You can depend on 't."

"A last resort, Jack. You vouch for him but I trust you far sooner. He
has kept sorry company."

"When is the best hour, Captain Wellsby?"

"Just before nightfall when the watches will be changing. I dare not
delay it longer than that. In darkness, my lads will be unable to find
the foe and strike hard and quick. Nor can they rush to lay hold of the
only weapons in their reach,--the pikes in the racks beside the masts.
Not a pistol or cutlass amongst 'em, and they must fight with these
wicked dogs of pirates who think naught of killing men."

"Let your lusty sailors once get clear, sir," stoutly declared Jack
Cockrell, "and they will play a merry game with those long pikes. Then I
am to slip the message written by your hand on a bit of paper?"

"That's it! I will command them to pound against the scuttle, three
raps, for a signal of response, and you must listen for it. Then it is
for them to stand ready, on the chance that you can slip the bar of the
hatch or the bolts on the door."

"But if they have to come out singly, sir, and the sentries are
ready-witted, why, your men may be cut down or pistoled in their
tracks."

"I am so aware," said Captain Wellsby, his honest features glum, "but we
cannot change the odds."

He found an ink-horn and quill and laboriously wrote a few lines on a
leaf torn from the back of a sea-stained log-book. Jack tucked it
carefully away and thus they parted company, perhaps to meet no more in
life. Through the waning afternoon, Jack stowed himself on deck and held
long converse with Joe Hawkridge when they met between the keel-chocks
of the jolly-boat. Because he shared not the skipper's feeling of
distrust, Jack sought the active aid of his chum of a pirate lad. It was
agreed that they should endeavor to reach the forecastle together when
the ship's bell tolled the hour of beginning the first night watch.

Joe hoped he might decoy or divert the sentries. If not, he had another
scheme or two. A gunner's mate of the prize crew had sent him to
overhaul the lashings of the battery of nine-pounders which were ranged
along the waist. With several other hands Joe had made all secure,
because the guns were apt to get adrift in such weather as this and
plunge to and fro across the deck like maddened beasts. Now Joe
Hawkridge had lingered, on pretext of making sure that one forward gun
could be fired, if needs be, as a distress signal should the ship open
her seams or strike upon a shoal.

He had satisfied himself that the tompion, or wooden plug which sealed
the muzzle was tight, and that no water had leaked through the wrapping
of tarred canvas which protected the touch-hole. Before replacing them,
he had made two or three trips to the deck-house amidships in which was
the carpenter's room. Each time he tucked inside his shirt as many
forged iron spikes, bolts, and what not as he could safely carry.

Unobserved, he shoved this junk down the throat of the nine-pounder and
wadded it fast with handfuls of oakum. He worked coolly, without haste,
as agile as a monkey when the ship careened and the sea spurted through
the cracks of the gun-ports. Well pleased with his task, he said to
himself, with that grin which no peril could obliterate:

"God alone knows how I can strike fire to a match and keep it alight,
but the sky shows signs of easier weather."

The fury of the storm had, indeed, diminished. It might be a respite
before the wind hauled into another quarter and renewed its ferocious
violence, but the air was no longer thick with the whirling smother of
foam and spray and the straining topmasts had ceased to bend like whips.
The ship was gallantly easing herself of the waves which broke aboard
and the rearing billows astern were not threatening to stamp her under.

It lacked almost an hour of nightfall when Jack Cockrell crept along the
poop and halted to lean against the timbered railing by the mizzen
shrouds. All he could think of was that Ned Rackham might seize upon
this sudden abatement of the gale to hasten his own wicked conspiracy
and so ruin the plan to restore the _Plymouth Adventure_ to her own
lawful company. This menace had occurred to Captain Jonathan Wellsby who
stood tense and rigid at the sailing-master's elbow, watching him from
the tail of his eye.

Relief o'erspread the skipper's worn features when he espied Jack
Cockrell who stood as if waiting for orders. A nod, a meaning glance,
and they understood each other. Striving to appear unconcerned, Jack
moved toward the forward part of the ship. He was aquiver with
excitement, and his breath was quick and small, but the sense of fear
had left him. Captain Wellsby had called him a man and, by God's sweet
grace, he would so acquit himself.

The pirates were swarming out of the cabin to taste the clean air and
limber their cramped muscles. The ship still wallowed as she ran before
the wind and it was breakneck work to clamber about. From the topsail
yards fluttered mere ribbons of canvas where the reefed sails had
bellied. Ned Rackham shouted for the watch to lay aloft and cut the
remnants clear and bend new cloths to keep her from broaching to.

Jack Cockrell's heart leaped for joy. At least a dozen of the most
active pirates would have to obey this order. This would remove them
from the deck for a precious interval of time. He slouched aimlessly
nearer the forecastle, stretching his neck to gaze up at the pirates as
they footed the ratlines and squirmed over the clumsy tops. Joe
Hawkridge joined him, as if by chance, and they wandered to the lee side
of the forecastle. There they were screened from the sight of the
sentries.

The wooden shutters of the little windows had been spiked fast on the
outside and Jack was at his wits' end to find by what means he might
slip the fateful message to the captive seamen. He dared not climb upon
the roof and seek for a crack in a hatchway. This would make him too
conspicuous.

Cautiously he stole around the massive structure and was all but washed
overboard when he gained the windward side where the water broke in
hissing cataracts. So great had been its force during the height of the
storm, that one of the shutters had been splintered and almost crushed
in. Clutching the bit of paper which was tightly rolled and wrapped in a
square of oiled linen, Jack pushed it through a ragged crevice in the
shutter.

It was gravely doubtful whether the men would discover the message in
the gloom of their prison. It might fall to the floor and be trampled
unperceived. And yet Jack Cockrell could not make himself believe that
deliverance would be thwarted. He said a prayer and waited with his ear
against the wall of the forecastle. There he leaned through an agonized
eternity as the slow moments passed. It was like the ordeal of a
condemned man who hopes that a blessed reprieve may save him, in the
last hour, from the black cap and the noose.

Up aloft the pirate seamen were slashing the torn canvas with their
dirks and casting loose the gaskets. Presently they began to come down
to the deck, one by one. Some whispered word must have passed amongst
them, because they drifted aft as by a common impulse although it was
not yet the hour to change the watch. Their gunner's mate, a gigantic
mulatto with a broken nose, went to the poop when Ned Rackham crooked
his finger and these two stood aside, beyond earshot of Captain Wellsby,
while they conferred with heads together.

"They will strike first," Jack whispered to himself.

The misty daylight had not darkened. The decks were not yet dusky with
the shadows which Jack had hoped might enable him to approach the
forecastle door in his brave endeavor to unbar it. The plans were all
awry. Tears filled his eyes. And then there came to his ear a muffled
knock against the other side of the forecastle planking.

Once, twice, thrice! The signal was unmistakable. A little interval and
it was repeated.

Softly the trembling lad tiptoed to the corner of the forecastle house
and peered around it to look for the sentries. Two of them had moved a
few yards away to join a group which gazed aft as if expecting a
summons from Ned Rackham on the poop. The third sentry leaned against
the forecastle door, a cutlass at his belt. He was a long, bony man with
a face as yellow as parchment from the Spanish fever and it was plain to
read that there was no great strength in him.

Faithful Joe Hawkridge sat astride the breech of the nine-pounder at
which he had been so busily engaged earlier in the afternoon. He
appeared to be an idler who merely looked on but he was watching every
motion, and that hard, canny face of his had, for once, forgot to grin.
Releasing a three-foot handspike from its lashing beside the
gun-carriage, he awaited the next roll of the deck and deftly kicked
this handy weapon. It slid toward the forecastle and Jack Cockrell
stopped it with his foot.

There was no time for hesitation. Snatching up the iron-shod handspike,
Jack rushed straight at the forecastle door. Just then the ship lurched
far down and he was shot headlong, like falling off the roof of a house.
He had the momentum of a battering-ram. The sentry yelled and drew his
cutlass with a swiftness amazing in a sick man. His footing was unsteady
or Jack would have spitted himself on the point of the blade. As he went
crashing full-tilt into the man the impact was terrific. They went to
the deck together and the handspike spun out of Jack's grasp. There was
no need to swing it on this luckless pirate for his bald head smote a
plank with a thump which must have cracked it like an egg.

Not even pausing to dart after the cutlass which had clattered from the
lifeless fingers, Jack spun on his heel and wrenched at the heavy bar
across the forecastle door and felt it slide from the fastenings. He
tugged it clear and swung himself up to the roof to draw the bolts which
secured the hatch. Rusted in their sockets, they resisted him but he
spied a pulley-block within reach and used it as a hammer.

All this was a matter of seconds only. The pirates grouped amidships had
been waiting for Ned Rackham's word from aft and they were muddled by
this sudden shift of action. The other sentries stared in foolish
astonishment. The brief delay was enough to let Jack Cockrell free the
hatch. While he toiled furiously, several pistols and a musket were
snapped at him but the flint sparked on damp powder in the pans and only
one ball whistled by his head.

Out of the forecastle hatchway and through the door, the enraged sailors
of the _Plymouth Adventure_ came rocketing like an explosion. They
stumbled over each other, emerging head or feet first, blinking like
owls in the daylight but with vision good enough to serve their purpose.
Their goal was the nearest stand of boarding-pikes at the foot of the
mainmast.

But as they came surging on deck, they were not empty-handed. In the
forecastle was a bricked oven for warmth in winter and for cooking
kettles of soup. This they had torn to pieces and every man sallied
forth with a square, flat brick in each hand and more inside his shirt.
Those who were first to gain the deck pelted the nearest pirates with
these ugly missiles. The air was full of hurtling bricks and the
earliest casualty was a stout buccaneer who stopped one with his
stomach.

Driven back in yelling confusion, the pirates found their firearms
almost useless, so drenched had the whole ship been by the battering
seas, but they were accustomed to fighting it out with the cold steel
and they were by no means a panicky mob. The fusillade of bricks held
them long enough for the merchant sailors to escape from the forecastle
and this was an advantage more precious than Captain Wellsby had hoped
for.

What the pirates required was a leader to rally them for attack. Quicker
than it takes to tell it, Ned Rackham had raced along the poop and
leaped to the waist at peril of breaking his neck. Agile, quick-witted,
he bounded into the thick of it, cutlass in hand, while he shouted:

"At 'em, lads! And give the dogs no quarter!"

With hoarse outcry, his gallows-birds mustered compactly while those who
had been in the cabin came scampering to join them. Curiously enough,
Captain Jonathan Wellsby had been forgotten. He was left alone to handle
the ship while the pirate helmsmen stood by the great tiller. To forsake
it meant to let the vessel run wild and perhaps turn turtle in the
swollen seas. And so the doughty skipper was, for the time, a looker-on.

And now with Ned Rackham in the van, it seemed that the British sailors
were in a parlous plight and that their sortie must fail. Craftily the
pirates manoeuvered to drive them back into the forecastle and there
to butcher them like sheep.



CHAPTER V

RELEASING A FEARFUL WEAPON


JACK COCKRELL sprawled flat upon the forecastle roof and knew not what
to do. He could lay hands on nothing to serve as a weapon and he bade
fair to be trapped like the sailors whose cause he had joined. With a
feeling of despair he let his gaze rove to the scrawny figure of Joe
Hawkridge who still bestrode the nine-pounder and took no part in the
fray. But Joe had no comfort for him, as a gesture conveyed. It had been
Joe's wild scheme to obtain the help of Jack and Captain Wellsby, at the
least, and so cast loose the gun and slew it around to rake the deck and
mow the pirates down. But the men were lacking for this heavy task, and
the sailors of the _Plymouth Adventure_ were too intent on fighting
against fearful odds to pay heed to Joe Hawkridge's appeals. He had even
skulked into the galley and was ready with a little iron pot filled with
live coals which was hidden under a bit of tarpaulin.

Ned Rackham was a young man and powerful, with a long reach and a
skilled blade. He fairly hewed his way into the ruck of the dauntless
sailors who had no more bricks to hurl. Several pirates were disabled,
with broken arms or bloody crowns, but the others crowded forward,
grunting as they slashed and stabbed, and well aware that Ned Rackham
would cut the laggards down should he detect them.

At the moment when there seemed no chance of salvation for the crew of
the _Plymouth Adventure_, Joe Hawkridge leaped from the gun and beckoned
Jack. The grin was restored to the homely, freckled visage and the salt
water gamin danced in jubilant excitement. Down from the forecastle roof
tumbled Jack Cockrell and went sliding across the deck, heels over head,
to fetch up in the scupper. Joe hauled him by the leg, close to the
wooden carriage of the gun, and swiftly told him what was to be done.

Obediently Jack began to loose the knots which secured the rope tackles
but it was a slow task. The wet had made the hemp as hard as iron and he
lacked a marlinspike. Joe dodged around the gun, saw the difficulty and
sawed through one rope after another, all but the last strand or two.
Then the lads tailed on to the breeching hawsers, which held the
carriage from sliding on its iron rollers, and eased the strain as well
as they could.

The ponderous mass was almost free to plunge across the deck. Joe
sweated and braced his feet against a ring-bolt while Jack Cockrell
found a cleat. Ned Rackham's men were moving forward, cut and thrust,
while the sailors grappled with them bare-handed and battled grimly
like mastiffs.

"The next time she rolls!" panted Joe Hawkridge as the hawser ripped the
skin from his palms.

"Aye, make ready to cut," muttered Jack.

The ship heaved herself high and then listed far down to starboard. Joe
slashed at the last strands of the tackles and yelled to Jack to let go
the hawser. Instead of discharging the nine-pounder, they were employing
the piece itself, and the carriage of oak and iron, as a terrible
missile. The moment of launching it was shrewdly chosen. The pirates,
still in compact formation as led by Ned Rackham, were directly abreast
of this forward gun of the main deck battery. The deck inclined at a
steep and giddy pitch. With a grinding roar the gun rolled from its
station. It gathered impetus and lunged across the ship as an instrument
of fell destruction. It was more to be feared than an assault of armed
men.

The warning rumble of the iron wheels as they furrowed the planking was
heard by the pirates. They turned from their game of butchery and stood
frozen in their tracks for a frightened instant. Then they tried to flee
in all directions. Their tarry pigtails fairly stood on end. Well they
knew what it meant to have a gun break adrift in a heavy sea. Two or
three who had been badly hurt were unable to move fast enough. The gun
crunched over them and then seemed to pursue a limping pirate, veering
to overtake him as he fled. He was tossed against the bulwark like a
bundle of bloody rags.

The gun crashed into the stout timbers of the ship's side and they were
splintered like match-wood. It rebounded as the deck sloped sharply in
the next wallowing roll, and now this frenzied monster of wood and iron
seemed fairly to run amuck. It was inspired with a sinister
intelligence, resolved to wreak all the damage possible. The pinnace,
the water barrels, the coamings of the cargo hatches, were smashed to
fragments as the gun turned this way and that and went plunging in
search of victims.

[Illustration: THE BRAWN OF THESE LADS MADE THE PIKE A MATCH FOR A
PIRATE'S CUTLASS]

Left to themselves, the seamen of the _Plymouth Adventure_ would have
risked their lives to cast ropes about the gun and moor it fast. But now
they were quick to see that the tide had been turned in their favor. The
pirates were demoralized. Some were in the rigging, others atop the
bulwarks, and only the readiest and boldest, with Ned Rackham in the
lead, had an eye to the task in hand, which was to regain possession of
the ship.

And now the boatswain of the _Plymouth Adventure_, a rosy giant of a man
from South Devon, shouted to his comrades to follow him. They delayed
until the runaway cannon crashed into another gun, and then they broke
like sprinters from the mark and sped straight for the mainmast, seeking
the rack of boarding-pikes. They ran nimbly, as men used to swaying
decks, and compassed the distance in a few strides.

Ned Rackham perceived their purpose and tried to intercept but his few
staunch followers moved warily, expecting to see that insensate monster
of a gun bear down upon them. The swiftest of the merchant sailors laid
hands on the pikes and whirled to cover their shipmates, until all hands
could be armed. Then the gun came roaring down at them but they ducked
behind the mast or stepped watchfully aside. Men condemned to death are
not apt to lose their wits in the face of one more peril.

These pikes were ashen shafts with long steel points and the merchant
seamen had been trained to use them. And the brawn of these lads made
the pike a match for a pirate's cutlass. Ned Rackham bounded forward to
swing at the broad, deep-chested boatswain. A wondrous pair of
antagonists they were, in the prime of their youth and vigor. The
pirate's cutlass bit clean through the pike shaft as the boatswain
parried the blow but the apple-cheeked Devonshire man closed in and
wrapped his arms around his foe. They went to the deck clutching for
each other's throats and the fight trampled over them.

Meanwhile Joe Hawkridge and Jack Cockrell, unwilling to twiddle their
thumbs, had rushed aft as fast as their legs could carry them. It was a
mutual impulse, to release such of the men passengers as might have a
stomach for fighting and also the ship's officers. Into the doorway
which led from the waist, the two lads dived and scurried through the
main cabin now clear of pirates. Locked doors they smashed with a
broadaxe found in the small-arms chest and so entered all the rooms.

The women passengers were almost dead with suffering, what with the
turbulence of the storm and the wild riot on deck. The lads pitied them
but had no time to console. Several of the men, merchants and planters
of some physical hardihood, begged for weapons and Joe Hawkridge bade
them help themselves from the spare arms which the pirates had left in
the great cabin. In another little room the boys found the mates,
steward, surgeon, and gunner of the _Plymouth Adventure_ and you may be
sure that they came boiling out with a raging thirst for strife.

"Harkee, Jack," said Joe before they climbed to the poop deck, "if the
pirates are driven aft, as I expect, they will make a last stand in this
cabin house which is like a fort. These 'fenseless women must be hidden
safe from harm. Do you coax 'em into the lazarette."

This was a room on the deck below, in the very stern of the ship where
were kept the extra sails and coils of rope and various stores. It was
the surest shelter against harm in such stress as this. Alas, Jack's
persuasions were vain. The frantic women were in no humor to listen, and
so the lads bundled them through the hatch as gently as possible and
for company gave them such male passengers as lacked strength or courage
to join the battle.

While they were thus engaged, two pirates came flying down the ladder
from the poop deck into the main cabin. They revolved like windmills in
a jumble of arms and legs. Close behind them, in a manner more orderly
came Captain Jonathan Wellsby who had tossed the one and tremendously
booted the other. They were the helmsmen whom he had replaced with his
own officers at the steering tackles, while his first mate had been left
in charge of handling the ship.

The skipper was now free to follow his own desires and he fell upon
those two stunned pirates in the cabin and trussed them tight with bits
of rope. Then he reloaded with dry powder all the pistols he could find
and made a walking arsenal of himself. The two lads who now joined him
needed no word of command. At his heels they made for the main deck and
the shout which arose from those British sailors, so sorely beset, was
mightily heartening.

Blazing away with his pistols, the skipper cleared a path for himself,
the pirates being taken aback when they were attacked in the rear. And
they were leaderless, for Ned Rackham had been dragged aside with the
marks of the boatswain's fingers on his throat and a sheath-knife buried
in his side. He was alive but nobody paid heed to his groans.

With the skipper in the thick of it, there was no danger of being penned
in the forecastle again. The pirates were crowded aft, step by step,
before the play of those wicked boarding-pikes. It would be hard to
match a sea fight like this, amid the spray and the washing seas, on a
deck that tipsily danced and staggered, with a truant gun smashing a
good ship to bits and the wounded screaming as they saw this horror
thundering at them. Captain Wellsby's men were at pains to drag their
helpless comrades to safety but the pirates were too callous and too
hard pressed to care for aught save their own worthless skins. They
fought like wolves but they lacked the gristle and endurance of the
stalwart sailors. Wheezing for breath, they ceased to curse and reeled
back in silence while the sailors huzzaed and seemed to wax the lustier.

As was bound to happen, the stubborn retreat broke into a rout. It was
every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost. The pirates fled
for the after cabin-house, there to take cover behind the timbered walls
and use the small port-holes for musketry fire. Thus they could find
respite and it would be immensely difficult to dislodge them.

The first mate of the _Plymouth Adventure_ and his own two helmsmen saw
what was taking place and they were of no mind to be cut off at the
stern of the ship. They footed it along the poop and the cabin roof as
the pirates were scampering inside and so gained the waist and were
with their comrades. The tiller deserted, the vessel careened into the
trough of the sea with a portentous creaking of spars and rending of
canvas.

The mainmast had been dealt more than one splintering blow by the
fugitive gun. This sudden strain, of a ship broached to and hurled
almost on her beam ends, was too much for the damaged mast. It broke
short off, a few feet above the deck, and the ragged butt ripped the
planks asunder as it was dragged overside by the weight of the towering
fabric of yards and canvas. One merciful circumstance befell, for the
tangle of shrouds and sheets and halliards ensnared the ramping monster
of a cannon and overturned it. Caught in this manner, the gun was
dragged to the broken bulwark and there it was held with the battered
carriage in air.

The mainmast was floating alongside the ship which it belabored with
thumps that jarred the hull. It was likely to stave in the skin of the
vessel and Captain Wellsby shouted to his men to hack at the trailing
cordage and send the mast clear before it did a fatal injury. A dozen
men risked drowning at this task while the others guarded the after
cabin lest the pirates attempt a sally. These besieged rogues were given
an interval in which to muster their force, organize a defense, and
break into the magazine for muskets and powder and ball.

Now Captain Wellsby was no dullard and he purposed to make short work of
these vile pirates. Otherwise his crippled ship might not survive the
wind and weather. He conferred with his gunner who had bethought
himself, by force of habit, to fetch from aft his powder-horn and
several yards of match, or twisted tow, which were wrapped around his
body, beneath the tarred jerkin.

"It grieves me sore to wreck yonder goodly cabin house," said the
skipper in his beard, "but, by Judas, we'll blow 'em out of it. Haul and
belay your pieces, Master Gunner, and let 'em have a salvo of round
shot."

Reckless of the musket balls which began to fly among them, the sailors
jumped for their stations at the guns. First they set aright that
capsized nine-pounder which had wreaked so much mischief and found that
it could be discharged, despite the broken carriage. Joe Hawkridge and
Jack Cockrell blithely aided to swing and secure it with emergency
tackles and Joe exclaimed, with a chuckle:

"This dose is enough to surprise Blackbeard hisself. 'Tis an
ironmonger's shop I rammed down its throat."

The gun was laid on the largest cabin port-hole just as it framed the
ugly face of a pirate with a musket while another peered over his
shoulder. Joe shook the powder-horn into the touch-hole and the gunner
was ready with the match which he had lighted with his own flint and
steel. Boom, and the gun recoiled in a veil of smoke. Through the cabin
port-hole flew a deadly shower of spikes and bolts while the framework
around it was shattered to bits. It was a most unhealthy place for
pirates. They forsook it instantly. And the musketry fire slackened
elsewhere. It was to be inferred that there was painful consternation in
the cabin.

With boisterous mirth, the sailors deftly turned other guns to bear and
were careful not to let them get adrift. The muzzles had been well
stopped against wetting by the sea and with a little dry powder for the
priming, most of them could be served. They could not be reloaded for
dearth of ammunition but Captain Wellsby felt confident that one round
would suffice.

Methodically the gun-crews aimed and fired one gun after another,
watching the chance between the seas that broke aboard. The solid round
shot, at short range, ripped through the cabin walls and bulkheads and
buried themselves in the frames and timbers of the ship's stern. A good
gunner was never so happy as when he saw the white splinters fly in
showers and these zealous sailormen forgot they were knocking their own
ship to pieces. They were on the target, and this was good enough.

The beleaguered pirates made no more pretense of firing muskets or
defying the crew to dig them out. Their fort was an untenable position.
At this sport of playing bowls with round shot they were bound to lose.
Captain Wellsby sighted the last gun himself. It was a bronze culverin
of large bore, taken as a trophy from the stranded wreck of a Spanish
galleon. With a tremendous blast this formidable cannon spat out a
double-shotted load and the supports of the cabin roof were torn
asunder. The tottering beams collapsed. Half the structure fell in.

It was the signal for the sailors of the _Plymouth Adventure_ to charge
aft and finish the business. They found pirates crawling from under the
wreckage. It was like a demolished ant-heap. In the smaller cabins and
other rooms far aft, which were more or less intact, some of the rascals
showed fight but they were remorselessly prodded out with pikes and
those unwounded were hustled forward to be thrown into the forecastle.
It was difficult to restrain the seamen from dealing them the death they
deserved but Captain Wellsby was no sea-butcher and he hoped to turn
them over to the colonial authorities to be hanged with due ceremony.

The badly hurt were laid in the forecastle bunks where the ship's
surgeon washed and bandaged them after he had cared for the injured men
of his own crew. Ned Rackham was still alive, conscious and defiant,
surviving a wound which would have been mortal in most cases. Whether he
lived or died was a matter of small concern to Captain Wellsby but he
ordered the surgeon to nurse him with special care.

The dead pirates were flung overboard but the bodies of seven brave
British seamen were wrapped in sailcloth to be committed to the deep on
the morrow, with a round shot at their feet and a prayer to speed their
souls. There were men enough to work the ship but she was in a
situation indescribably forlorn. It was possible to patch and shore the
cabin house and make a refuge, even to find place for the wretched women
who were lifted unharmed out of the lazarette. But the stout ship, her
mainmast gone by the board, the deck ravaged by that infernal catapult
of an errant gun, the hull pounded by the floating wreckage of spars,
would achieve a miracle should she see port again.

The combat with the pirates and their overthrow had been waged in the
last hour before the gray night closed over a somber sea. God's mercy
had caused the wind to fall and the waves to diminish in size else the
ship would have gone to the bottom ere dawn. Much water had washed down
into the hold through the broken cargo hatch and the gaps where the
runaway gun had torn other fittings away. The carpenter sounded the well
and solemnly stared at the wetted rod by the flicker of his horn
lantern. The ship was settling. It was his doleful surmise that she
leaked where the pounding spars overside had started the butts. It was
man the pumps to keep the old hooker afloat and Captain Wellsby ordered
his weary men to sway at the brakes, watch and watch.

Joe Hawkridge and Jack Cockrell, more fit for duty than the others, put
their backs into it right heartily while the sailors droned to the
cadence of the pump a sentimental ditty which ran on for any number of
verses and began in this wise:

          "As, lately I traveled toward Gravesend,
           I heard a fair Damosel a Sea-man commend:
           And as in a Tilt-boat we passed along,
           In praise of brave Sea-men she sung this new Song,
          _Come Tradesman or Marchant, whoever he be,
           There's none but a Sea-man shall marry with me!_"

Thus they labored all the night through, men near dead with fatigue
whose hard fate it was to contend now with pirates and again with the
hostile ocean. The skipper managed to stay the foremast and to bend
steering sails so that the ship was brought into the wind where her
motion was easier. The sky cleared before daybreak and the rosy horizon
proclaimed a fair sunrise. How far and in what direction the _Plymouth
Adventure_ had been blown by the storm was largely guesswork. By means
of dead reckoning and the compass and cross-staff, Captain Wellsby hoped
to work out a position but meanwhile he scanned the sea with a sense of
brooding anxiety.

Instead of praying for plenty of sea room, he now hoped with all his
heart that the vessel had been set in toward the coast. She was sinking
under his feet and would not live through the day. It was useless to
toil at the pumps or to strive at mending the shattered upperworks. The
men turned to the task of quitting the ship, and of saving the souls on
board. It was a pitiful extremity and yet they displayed a dogged,
unshaken fidelity. Only one boat had escaped destruction. The pinnace
had been staved in by the thunderbolt of a gun and the yawl, stowed upon
the cabin roof, was wrecked by round shot. The small jolly-boat would
hold the women passengers and the wounded sailors, with the hands
required to tend oars and sail.

Nothing remained but to try to knock together one or more rafts. Captain
Wellsby discussed it with his officers and it was agreed that the
able-bodied pirates should be left to build a raft for themselves,
taking their own wounded with them. This was more mercy than they had
any right to expect. The strapping young Devonshire boatswain, with his
head tied up, was for leaving the blackguards to drown in the forecastle
but the shipmaster was too humane a man for that.

It was drawing toward noon when the first mate descried land to the
westward, a bit of low coast almost level with the sea. In the light air
the sluggish ship moved ever so slowly, with canvas spread on the fore
and mizzen masts. Spirits revived and life tasted passing sweet. To
drift in the open sea upon wave-washed rafts was an expedient which all
mariners shuddered to contemplate. It was with feelings far different
that they now assembled spars and planks and lashed and spiked them
together on the chance of needing rafts to ferry them ashore from a
stranded ship.

Well into the bright afternoon the _Plymouth Adventure_ was wafted
nearer and nearer the sandy coast. Within a half mile of it a line of
breakers frothed and tumbled on a shoal beyond which the water deepened
again. The ship could not be steered to avoid this barrier. Her main
deck was almost level with the sea which lapped her gently and sobbed
through the broken bulwarks. With a slight shock she struck the shoal
and rested there just before she was ready to founder.

With disciplined haste, the jolly-boat was launched and filled with its
human freightage. The boatswain went in charge and four seamen tugged at
the sweeps. There were trees and clumps of bushes among the hillocks of
sand and a tiny bight for a landing place. The bulwark was then chopped
away so that the largest raft could be shoved into the water by means of
tackles, rollers and handspikes. It floated buoyantly and supported as
many as fifteen men, who did not mind in the least getting their feet
wet. Upon a raised platform in the centre of the raft were fastened
barrels of beef and bread and casks of fresh water.

The jolly-boat could hope to make other trips between the ship and the
shore but the prudent skipper took no chances with the weather. A sudden
gale might pluck the _Plymouth Adventure_ from the shoal or tear her to
fragments where she lay. Therefore most of the men, including
passengers, were embarked on the raft. Captain Wellsby remained aboard
with a few of his sailors and our two lads, Joe and Jack, who had not
attempted to thrust themselves upon the crowded raft.

The pirates were making a commotion in the forecastle, yammering to be
freed, but the skipper had no intention of loosing them until all his
people had safely abandoned ship. The jolly-boat made a landing without
mishap and returned to the wreck as the sun went down. More stores were
dumped into it, sacks of potatoes and onions which had been overlooked,
bedding for the women, powder and ball for the muskets, and other things
which it was necessary to keep dry.

Captain Wellsby got rid of the rest of his men on this trip, excepting
the gunner and carpenter, and these lingered with him as a kind of
body-guard pending the ticklish business of releasing the imprisoned
pirates and forsaking them to their own devices. The jolly-boat was
laden to the gunwales and Jack Cockrell held back, saying to Joe
Hawkridge:

"Why trouble the captain to set us ashore? Let us make a raft of our
own. The breeze holds fair to the beach and it will be a lark."

"It suits me well," grinned Joe. "If we wait to go off with the master,
and those sinful pirates see me aboard, I'll need wings to escape 'em.
They saw me serve the gun that was filled with spikes to the muzzle.
Aye, Jack, I will feel happier to be elsewhere when Cap'n Wellsby unbars
the fo'castle and holds 'em back with his pistols till he can cast off
in the jolly-boat."

"Yes, the sight of you is apt to put them in a vile temper," laughingly
agreed Jack, "and 'tis awkward for the master to bother with us. Now
about a little raft----"

"Two short spars are enough. There they lie. And the cabin hatch will do
for a deck. Spikes for thole-pins, and oars from the pinnace. Unlace the
bonnet of the jib for a sail."

"You are a proper sailorman, Joe. A voyage by starlight to an unknown
coast. 'Tis highly romantic."

They set to work without delay. Captain Wellsby had occupations of his
own and no more than glanced at them in passing. Jack insisted on
carrying a water breaker and rations, he being hungry and too busy to
pause for supper. They would make a picnic cruise of the adventure.
Handily Joe reeved a purchase and they hauled away until their raft slid
off the sloping deck to leeward. With a gay hurrah to Captain Wellsby,
they paddled around the stern of the ship and through the ruffle of surf
that marked the shoal.

In the soft twilight they trimmed the sail and swung at the clumsy oars,
while a fire blazing on the beach was a beacon to guide their course.
After a time they rested and wiped the sweat from their faces. The
progress of the raft was like that of a lazy snail. In the luminous
darkness they pulled with all their strength. The wind had died to a
calm. The sail hung idle from its yard. They heard, faint and afar, the
deep voices of the sailors in the jolly-boat as they returned to take
the skipper and his two companions from the ship on which a light
burned.

The lads shouted but there came no answering hail from the unseen boat.
They were perplexed to understand how their courses could be so far
apart. Presently the night breeze drew off the land, bringing with it
the scent of green things growing. Joe Hawkridge stared at the fire on
the beach and then turned to look at the spark of light on the ship. The
raft had drifted considerably to the southward. Anxiously Joe said to
his shipmate:

"The flood o' the tide must be setting us down the coast, in some crazy
current or other. Mayhap it runs strong through this race betwixt the
shoal and the beach with a slant that's bad for us."

"I noted it," glumly agreed Jack. "The jolly-boat passed too far away to
please me. And this landward breeze is driving us to sea."

"No sense in breaking our backs at these oars," grumbled Joe. "We go
ahead like a crab, with a sternboard. Think ye we can swing the raft to
fetch the ship?"

"After Captain Wellsby turns the pirates loose and quits her?" scoffed
Jack.

"I am a plaguey fool," cheerfully admitted Joe Hawkridge. "'Twould be
out of the frying-pan into the fire, with a vengeance."

"And no way to signal our friends," sadly exclaimed Jack. "We forgot
flint and steel. It looks much like another voyage."

"Straight for the open sea, my bully boy," agreed Joe. "And I'd as soon
chance it on a hen-coop."



CHAPTER VI

THE VOYAGE OF THE LITTLE RAFT


THESE sturdy youngsters were not easily frightened, and Jack Cockrell,
the landsman, was confident that wind and tide would change to send the
little raft shoreward. So tranquil was the sea that they rode secure and
dry upon the cabin hatch which was buoyed by the two short spars. Joe
Hawkridge was silent with foreboding of a fate more bitter than the
perils which they had escaped. He had seen a lone survivor of a crew of
pirates picked off a raft in the Caribbean, a grisly phantom raving mad
who had gnawed the flesh of his dead comrades.

They drifted quietly before the land breeze, beneath a sky all jeweled
with bright stars. The fire on the beach dimmed to a red spark and then
vanished from their wistful ken. They could no longer see the light on
the wreck of the _Plymouth Adventure_. Now and then the boys struggled
with the heavy oars and rowed until exhausted but they knew they could
be making no headway against the current which had gripped the derelict
raft. They ate sparingly of flinty biscuit and leathery beef pickled in
brine and stinted themselves to a few swallows of water from the wooden
breaker or tiny cask.

"Hunger and thirst are strange to ye, Jack," said young Hawkridge as
they lay stretched side by side. "Hanged if I ever did get enough to eat
till I boarded the _Plymouth Adventure_. Skin and bone I am. I'll not
call this a bad cruise unless we have to chew our boot-tops. A pesky
diet is leather. I've tried it."

"Truly, Joe?" cried Jack in lugubrious accents. "We may have more heart
when morning comes. A piping easterly breeze, such as is wont to come up
with the sun in Charles Town, and we can steer for the coast all taut
and cheery."

"I dread the sun, Jack. For men adrift the blaze of it fries them like
fish on a grid. A pint of water a day, no more, is the allowance. 'Twill
torture you, but castaways can live on it. They have done it for weeks
on end. Here's two musket balls in my pocket. I can whittle a balance
from a bit of pine and we must weigh the bread and meat."

"Two musket balls' weight of food for a meal?" protested Jack.

"Not a morsel more," was the grim answer. "Granted we be not washed off
this silly raft and drowned when a fresh breeze kicks up the sea, we may
hold body and soul together through five or six days."

"But some vessel will sight us, Joe, even if the plight is as dark as
your melancholy fancies paint it. And I thought you a light-hearted
mariner in danger."

"The sea is a cruel master and she hath taught me prudence," was the
reply. "A vessel sight us? I fear an empty sea so soon after the storm.
And honest ships will be loth to venture out from port if the word sped
that Blackbeard was cruising off Charles Town bar."

Jack Cockrell forsook the attempt to wring comfort out of his hardy
companion who refused to delude himself with vain imaginings. However,
it is the blessed gift of youth to keep the torch of hope unquenched and
presently they diverted themselves with chatting of their earlier
adventures. Jack was minded of his pompous, stout-hearted uncle, Mr.
Peter Arbuthnot Forbes, and wondered how he had fared, whether he had
set out to return to Blackbeard's ship with the store of medicines from
Charles Town when the great storm swooped down. Forgotten were Jack's
hot grievances against the worthy Secretary of the Council who had
sought to take a father's place. Piracy had lost its charm for young
Master Cockrell and meekly would he have obeyed the mandate to go to
school in merry England among sober, Christian folk.

"Tremendous odd, I call it," exclaimed Joe Hawkridge. "Here I was a
pirate and hating the dirty business. And my dreams were all of learnin'
to be a gentleman ashore, to know how to read books and such. Blow me,
Jack, we should ha' swapped berths."

"If my good uncle is alive I mean to commend you to his kindness,"
exclaimed Jack. "We must cleave together, and you shall have a skinful
of books and school and manners."

This pleased the young sea rover beyond measure and he diverted himself
with pictures of a cleaner, kindlier world than he had ever known. In
the small hours of the night, the twain drowsed upon their frail
platform which floated as a speck on the shrouded ocean. The waves
splashed over the spars as the breeze grew livelier and the piteous
voyagers were sopping wet but the water was not chill and they slept
through this discomfort.

Jack Cockrell dreamed of walking in a green lane of Charles Town with
lovely Dorothy Stuart. A wave slapped his face and he awoke with a
sputtering cry of bewilderment. The eastern sky was rosy and the sea
shimmered in the eternal beauty of a new day. Joe Hawkridge sat huddled
against the mast, chin and knees together, his sharp eyes scanning the
horizon. With a grin he exclaimed:

"The watch ahoy! Rouse out, shipmate, and show a leg! Turn to cheerly!
Holystone decks and wash down, ye lazy lubber."

Jack groaned and scowled as he rolled over to ease his aching bones. He
was in no mood for jesting. There was no land in sight nor the gleam of
a sail, naught but the empty waste of the Atlantic, and the wind still
held westerly.

"Let's have the beggarly morsel you miscall breakfast, Joe, and a swig
from the breaker. Are we bound across the main?"

"Straight for London River, and the school you prate about, my bucko,"
replied the scamp of a pirate. "Haul away on your belt and set the
buckle tighter. 'Twill ease the cursed hunger pain that gnaws like a
rat."

They munched the pittance of salty food which made the thirst the harder
to endure, and then watched the sun climb hot and dazzling. It was
futile to hoist the sail and so they pulled the canvas over them as the
heat became more intense. By noon, Jack was begging for water to lave
his tongue but Joe Hawkridge laughed him to scorn and swore to hit him
with an oar unless he changed his tune. Never in his life had Jack known
the lack of food or drink and he therefore suffered cruelly.

Worse than this privation was the increasing roughness of the sea. It
was a blithesome wind, rollicking across a sparkling carpet of blue,
with the little white clouds in flocks above, like lambs at play. But
the raft was more and more tossed about and the waves gushed over it
like foam on a reef. Through the day the castaways might cling to it but
they dreaded another night in which their weary bodies could not
possibly ward off sleep. Even though they tied themselves fast, what if
the raft should be capsized by the heave of the mounting swell? It was
the merest makeshift, scrambled together in haste as a ferry from the
wreck of the _Plymouth Adventure_.

No longer did Jack Cockrell bemoan his situation. Taking pattern from
his comrade in misery, he set his teeth to await the end as became a
true man of gentle blood. After all, drowning was easier than the slow
torments of hunger and thirst.

Every little while one of them crawled from under the canvas to look for
a ship. It was the vigilant Joe Hawkridge who, at length, discovered
what was very like a fleck of cloud on the ocean's rim, to the
southward. Afraid that his vision tricked him, he displayed no emotion
but held himself as steady as any stoic. Jack was wildly excited,
blubbering and waving his arms about. His hard-won composure was broken
to bits. But even though it were a ship, Joe well knew it might pass
afar off and so miss sighting this bit of raft which drifted almost
submerged.

Slowly the semblance of a wandering fragment of cloud climbed the curve
of the watery globe until Joe Hawkridge perceived, with a mariner's eye,
that it was, indeed, a vessel steering in their direction.

"Two masts!" said he, "and to'gallant-sails set to profit by this brave
breeze. A brig, Jack! Had she been a ship, my heart 'ud ha' been in my
throat. Blackbeard's _Revenge_ might be working up the coast, did she
live through the storm."

"A brig?" joyfully cried Jack. "Ah, ha, I see her two masts plainly,
with mine own eyes. And they soar too tall for a merchant trader. Her
sails, too,--she spreads them like great wings. Who else will it be than
Captain Stede Bonnet in the _Royal James?_"

"A shift of luck is due us, by the bones of Saint Iago," shouted Joe, in
a thrill of glad anticipation. "Watch her closely. You saw the brig in
Charles Town harbor. Bless God, this may well be Cap'n Stede Bonnet
yonder, an' perchance he cruises in search of Blackbeard to square
accounts with that vile traitor that so misused him."

"A sworn friend of mine is Stede Bonnet," proudly declared Jack
Cockrell, "and pledged to bear a hand when I am in distress. He will
land us safe in Charles Town, Joe,--unless,--unless we choose to go
a-piratin' with him in the _Royal James_----"

Jack's voice trailed off in tones of indecision so comical that his
comrade cried:

"Not cured yet, you big numbskull? 'Cause this fine Cap'n Bonnet is a
gentleman pirate? His neck will stretch with the rest of 'em when the
law overtakes him. Thirteen burly lads I saw swinging in a row at
Wapping on the Thames."

"I'll not argue it," sheepishly mumbled Jack. "However, we'll find a
safe deliverance aboard this _Royal James_."

They clung to the swaying raft while the water washed over their knees
and watched the two masts disclose themselves until they fancied they
could not be mistaken. No other brig as powerful as this had been
reported cruising in the waters of Virginia and the Carolinas. By a
stroke of fortune almost incredible they had been saved at the very
brink of death. The brig was steering straight toward them, hauled to
take the wind abeam, and she would be up before sunset.

Shading his eyes with his hand, Joe Hawkridge suddenly uttered a curse
so fierce and wicked that it was enough to freeze the blood. He clutched
Jack's shoulder for support as though shorn of all his strength and
hoarsely gasped:

"Not two masts but three! See it? She lifts high enough to show the
stump of the foremast with head-sails jury rigged. 'Twas the storm made
a brig of her!"

"Then she may be Blackbeard's ship?" faltered Jack, in a whisper.

"Remember when the gale first broke and we parted company?" was the
reply. "The _Revenge_ lost her fore-topmast ere the swine could find
their wits."

"Aye, Joe, but this may be some other vessel."

"She looks most damnably familiar," was the reluctant admission. "A
great press of sail,--it fooled me into thinking her Stede Bonnet's
brig."

Gloomily they waited until the black line of the hull was visible
whenever the raft lifted on the back of a wave. This was enough for Joe.
He recognized the graceful shear of the flush deck which had been
extended fore and aft to make room for a heavier main battery. Even at
a distance, a sailor's eye could read other signs that marked this ship
as the _Revenge_.

"The devil looks after his own," angrily exclaimed Joe. "I'd ha' wagered
my last ducat that she was whirled away to founder. Blackbeard boasts of
his compact with Satan. I believe it's true."

"Shall we pull down our mast and pray that he passes the raft as a piece
of wreckage?" implored Jack.

Mustering his wits to meet this new crisis, Joe Hawkridge cried
impatiently:

"No, no, boy! This way death is sure, and most discomfortin'. If it
suits Blackbeard's whim to pick us up, there is a chance,--a chance, I
say, but make one slip and he will run us through with his own hand."

"We must arrange our tale of the wreck, Joe, to match without flaw.
Quick! What have we to say?"

"A task for a scholar, this," grinned the sea urchin. "If it's not well
learned, we'll taste worse'n a flogging. Where be his prize crew of
pirates, asketh Blackbeard. Answer me that, Jack."

"The _Plymouth Adventure_ was driven upon a shoal and lost," glibly
affirmed the other lad who had rallied to play at this hazardous game.
"Her boats were stove up. We left the pirates building a raft for
themselves and trusted ourselves to this poor contrivance, hoping to
gain the coast."

"Good, as far as it goes," observed the critical Joe.

"And it veers close to the truth. About the ship's company? What say
you?"

"There I hang in the wind," confessed Jack. "Blackbeard would have flung
'em overboard, I trow. Have a shot at it yourself."

"Well, leave me to answer that when the time comes. That we may agree,
suppose we say Ned Rackham needed the sailors to work the ship and so
spared 'em. Hanged if we can make it all true as Gospel."

"But if Blackbeard searches for the wreck, or if some of those pirates
rejoin him, Joe----"

"But me no more buts," snapped the sea rover. "We be jammed in a
clove-hitch, as the seaman's lingo hath it. Take trouble as it comes
and, ware ye, don't weaken."

They stared at the oncoming ship, dreading to be rescued and even more
fearful of being passed by. Disfigured though she was by a shattered
foremast, the _Revenge_ made a gallant picture as she leaned to show the
copper sheathing which flashed like gold. Her bow flung the crested seas
aside and Joe Hawkridge muttered admiringly:

"A swift vessel! She carries a bone in her teeth. A telescope can sight
us soon. Steady the raft, Jack, whilst I wriggle up this mast of ours
and wave my shirt."

"A hard choice," sighed Jack. "Now we well know what it means to be
betwixt the devil and the deep sea."

They saw the _Revenge_ shift her course a couple of points as the sheets
were eased off. A little way to windward of the raft, she hove to while
a small boat was hoisted out. Curiosity prompted Blackbeard to find out
who these castaways were and from what ship they had drifted. It
occurred to Joe Hawkridge that he might be in quest of tidings of the
two sloops of his squadron which no longer kept him company. Jack
Cockrell's teeth chattered but not with cold as the boat bobbed away
from the side of the _Revenge_. Presently Joe recognized the pirate at
the steering oar as a petty officer who had often befriended him.

This fellow's swarthy, pockmarked face crinkled in a smile as he
flourished his broad hat and yelled:

"Stab my gizzard, but here's the London 'prentice-boy a-cruisin' on his
own adventure."

"Right-o, Jesse Strawn," Joe called back. "My bark is short-handed. I
need lively recruits. Will ye enlist?"

The boat's crew laughed at this as they reached out to lay hold of the
raft while the two lads leaped aboard. Joe Hawkridge carried it off with
rough bravado as though glad to be among his pals again. They eyed Jack
Cockrell with quizzical interest and he did his best to be at ease,
permitting Joe to vouch for him as a young gentleman with a taste for
piracy who had won Blackbeard's favor in the _Plymouth Adventure_. They
were plied with eager questions regarding the fate of the merchant ship
and Ned Rackham's prize crew. It was a chance to rehearse the tale as
they had concocted it, and it seemed to hang together well enough to
satisfy these simple rogues.

In his turn, Joe Hawkridge demanded to know the gossip of the _Revenge_.
The storm had sobered Blackbeard, it seemed, and he had displayed the
skill of a masterly seaman in bringing them safely through. In toiling
for their own lives, the men had forgotten their brawls and plots and
guzzling. And the great wind had blown the ship clear of Spanish fever.
There were no new cases and the invalids were gaining strength. Fresh
food and sweet water were needed and the opinion was that Blackbeard now
steered for an old rendezvous of his on the North Carolina coast where
his sloops would meet him if they were still afloat.

Jack Cockrell found his courage returning as he clambered up the side of
the _Revenge_ and followed Joe aft to the quarter-deck. Unless they
bungled it, there was a chance that they might escape when the pirates
made their landing on the coast to refresh themselves and refit the
ship. The mate on watch greeted them good-humoredly enough and bade them
enter the cabin where the captain awaited them. Jack was all a-flutter
again but he managed to imitate Joe's careless swagger.

Blackbeard lounged at his ease in a huge chair of carven ebony which
might have been filched from some stately East Indiaman or a ship of the
Grand Mogul himself. He had flung off his coat and the sleeves of a
shirt of damask silk were rolled to the elbow. Instead of the great,
mildewed sea-boots he wore slippers of crimson leather embroidered with
threads of gold. Gorgeous cushions, pieces of plate, costly apparel
strewed the cabin in barbaric confusion.

What the two lads gazed at, however, was this bizarre figure of a despot
who held the power of life and death. It was one of his quieter
interludes when he laid aside the ferocious and bombastic play-acting
which made it hard to discover whether he was very cunning or half-mad.
The immense beard flowed down his chest instead of being tricked out in
gaudy ribbons. He was idly running a comb through it when his small,
rum-reddened eyes took in the two lads in dripping clothes who were
shoved toward him by the sentry guarding the hatch.

Blackbeard let a hairy hand stray to clutch one of the pistols kept on
the table beside him. Jack Cockrell gulped and stole a frightened glance
at Joe Hawkridge who winked and nudged him. There was some small comfort
in this. Spellbound, they stared at the pistol and then at the pirate's
massive forearm on which a skull and cross-bones was pricked in India
ink. At this moment Jack earnestly wished himself back on the raft. The
barrel of the pistol looked as big as a blunderbuss.

With a yawn, Blackbeard reached for a silver bowl of Brazil nuts,
cracked one of them with the pistol-butt and roared for the black cabin
boy who came running with a flask of Canary wine and a goblet. Jack
Cockrell's sigh of relief sounded like a porpoise coming up for air. He
was not to be shot at once. Suddenly Blackbeard exclaimed, in that
husky, growling voice of his:

"I saw you rascals through the glass before I came below. What of the
ship I left ye in? Briefly now, and no lies."

Together the lads pieced out the narrative as they had hastily prepared
it. The vital thing was to watch lest they tell a word too much. Jack
stumbled once or twice but his comrade covered it adroitly, and they did
not betray themselves. The sweat trickled into their eyes but the heat
of the cabin was excuse for this. Blackbeard studied them intently,
munching Brazil nuts and noisily sipping his wine.

"The _Plymouth Adventure_ stranded yester-eve?" said he. "Know ye the
lay of the coast where the wreck lies? What of the shipmaster and Ned
Rackham? Were they able to fix the shoal by reckoning?"

"No, sir," readily answered Joe Hawkridge. "'Twas strange land to all
hands."

From a chest Blackbeard hauled out a dog-eared chart of parchment and
unrolled it upon the table. The boys foresaw his intention and feared
the worst. Presently they heard him mumble to himself:

"A small wind setting from the west'ard,--twenty-four hours of drift
for the lads' raft,--a dozen leagues, I call it."

He looked up from the chart to ask:

"The wreck was lodged fast in smooth water and holding together?"

"Aye, but in peril of working off and sinking like an iron pot,"
answered Joe. "For this reason the people were in haste to quit her."

"Her own crew made for the beach, I have no doubt," shrewdly pursued
Blackbeard, "but my men 'ud stay by the wreck and watch the weather ere
they shoved off. Trust the food and drink and plunder to hold 'em."

He lumbered to the hatch and called up to the mate on watch. While they
conferred, Joe Hawkridge whispered to his perturbed companion:

"He will hunt for the wreck, Jack. But unless the wind changes, he can't
beat in to the coast with his fore-topmast gone."

"A merciful delay," muttered Jack. "I worry not so much for Captain
Wellsby and his people. They will hide themselves well inland when they
make out the _Revenge_, but what of you and me?"

"'Tis a vexing life we lead. I will say that much, Master Cockrell."



CHAPTER VII

THE MIST OF THE CHEROKEE SWAMP


THE dark cloud of anxiety was lightened a trifle by the fact that
Blackbeard displayed no ill temper toward the two young castaways.
Having obtained such information as they chose to offer, he roughly told
them to go forward and join the crew. Whether or no, Jack was impressed
as a pirate and it may have amused Blackbeard to recruit by force the
nephew of the honorable Secretary of the Provincial Council. For his
part, Jack was grateful to be regarded no longer as a hostage under
sentence of death. With Joe as an escort who knew the ropes, he went on
deck and was promptly kicked off the poop by the mate.

They first found food and quenched their raging thirst with water which
had a loathsome smell. Joe reported to the chief gunner and begged the
chance to sleep for a dozen hours on end. This was granted amiably
enough and the pirates clustered about to ask all manner of curious
questions, but the weary lads dragged themselves into the bows of the
ship and curled up in a stupor. There they lay as if drugged, all
through the night, even when the seamen trampled over them to haul the
head-sails and tack ship.

When, at last, they blinked at the morning sky, it dismayed them to find
the breeze blowing strong out of the southeast and the _Revenge_
standing in to the coast under easy sail. They looked aft and saw
Blackbeard at the rail with a long glass at his eye. The whole crew was
eager with expectation and the routine work went undone. The ship had
been put about several hours earlier, Joe learned, and was due soon to
sight the shore unless the reckoning was all at fault.

So cleverly had Blackbeard calculated the drift of the boys' raft that a
little later in the morning a lookout in the maintop called down:

"Land, ho! Two points off the starboard bow she bears."

"The maintop, ahoy!" shouted Blackbeard. "Can ye see a vessel's spars?"

"'Tis too hazy inshore. But unless my eyes play me tricks, a smudge of
smoke arises."

Jack Cockrell nervously confided to Joe:

"That would be Captain Wellsby's campfire on the beach."

"Trust him to douse it," was the easy assurance. "I feel better. Blow
me, but I expect to live another day."

"Answer me why," begged Jack. "I am like a palsied old man."

"Well, you know this bit o' coast, how low it sets above the sea.
Despite the haze, a man aloft could see a ship's masts and yards before
he had a glimpse of land."

"Then the wreck of the _Plymouth Adventure_ has slid off the shoal and
gone down, Joe?"

"Yes, when the wind veered and stirred a surf on the shoal. She pounded
over with the flood-tide and dropped into fifteen fathom."

"Then we are saved, for now?" joyfully exclaimed Jack.

"Unless we're unlucky enough to find some o' those plaguey pirates
afloat on a raft or makin' signals from the beach."

The _Revenge_ sailed shoreward until those on board could discern the
marching lines of breakers which tumbled across the shoal. The smudge of
smoke had vanished from the beach. The lookout man concluded that the
haze had deceived him. Blackbeard steered as close as he dared go, with
a sailor heaving the lead, but there was no sign of life among the
sand-dunes and the stunted trees. And the _Plymouth Adventure_ had
disappeared leaving no trace excepting scattered bits of floating
wreckage.

The pirate ship headed to follow the coast to the northward, on the
chance that Ned Rackham's prize crew might have made a landing
elsewhere. To Jack Cockrell the gift of life had been miraculously
vouchsafed him and he felt secure for the moment. Joe's theory seemed
plausible, that the pirates had abandoned the _Plymouth Adventure_ in
time to avert drowning with her, and were driven away from the bight and
the beach by Captain Wellsby's well-armed sailors.

"Do they know Blackbeard's rendezvous in the North Carolina waters,
Joe?" was the natural query. "Are they likely to make their way thither,
knowing that honest men will slay them at sight?"

"The swamps and the murderous Indians will take full toll of 'em, Jack.
I believe we have seen the last of those rogues, but I'd rest better
could I know for certain."

"Meanwhile this mad Blackbeard may be taken in one of his savage
frenzies and shoot me for sport," said young Master Cockrell, for whom
existence had come to be one hazard after another.

"He seems strangely tame, much like a human soul," observed Joe. "I
ne'er beheld him like this. He plots some huge mischief, methinks."

And now the ship's officers drove the men to their work but they were
less abusive than usual. They seemed to reflect Blackbeard's milder
humor and it was manifest that they wished to avoid the crew's
resentment. Joe Hawkridge was puzzled and began to ferret it out among
his friends who were trustworthy. They had their own suspicions and the
general opinion was that Blackbeard was in great dread of encountering
Captain Stede Bonnet in the _Royal James_. It seemed that the _Revenge_
had spoken a disabled merchant ship just after the storm and her skipper
reported that he had been overhauled by Stede Bonnet a few days earlier
and the best of his cargo stolen. Blackbeard had been seized with
violent rage but had suffered the ship to proceed on her way because of
his own short-handed condition.

With a prize crew lost in the _Plymouth Adventure_, including
Sailing-Master Ned Rackham, and the two sloops of the squadron missing
with all hands, the terrible Blackbeard was in poor shape to meet this
Captain Bonnet who hated him beyond measure. As if this were not gloomy
enough, there were men in the _Revenge_ eager to sail under Bonnet's
flag and to mutiny if ever they sighted the _Royal James_. It behooved
Blackbeard to press on to that lonely inlet on the North Carolina coast
and avoid the open sea until he could prepare to fight this dangerous
foeman.

It surprised Jack Cockrell to see how quiet a pirate ship could be. The
ruffians were bone-weary, for one thing, after the struggle to bring the
vessel through the storm. And the scourge of tropic fever had left its
marks. Moreover, the rum was running short because some of the casks had
been staved in the heavy weather and Blackbeard was doling it out as
grog with an ample dilution of water. There was no more dicing and
brawling and tipsy choruses. Sobered against their will, some of these
bloody-minded sinners talked repentance or shed tears over wives and
children deserted in distant ports.

The wind blew fair until the _Revenge_ approached the landmarks familiar
to Blackbeard and found a channel which led to the wide mouth of
Cherokee Inlet. It was a quiet roadstead sheltered from seaward by
several small islands. The unpeopled swamp and forest fringed the shores
but a green meadow and a margin of white sand offered a favorable place
for landing. As the _Revenge_ slowly rounded the last wooded point, the
tall mast of a sloop became visible. The pirates cheered and discharged
their muskets in salute as they recognized one of the consorts which had
been blown away in the storm.

Blackbeard strutted on his quarter-deck, no longer biting his nails in
fretful anxiety. He had donned the military coat with the glittering
buttons and epaulets and the huge cocked hat with the feather in it. He
noted that the sloop, which was called the _Triumph_, fairly buzzed with
men, many more than her usual complement. No sooner had the ship let her
anchor splash than a boat was sent over to her with the captain of the
sloop who made haste to pay his compliments and explain his voyage. He
was a portly, sallow man with a blustering manner and looked more like a
bailiff or a tapster than a brine-pickled gentleman of fortune.

Blackbeard hailed him cordially and invited him into the cabin. The boat
waited alongside the _Revenge_ and the men scrambled aboard to swap
yarns with the ship's crew. Jack Cockrell hovered near the group as
they squatted on their heels around a tub of grog and learned that the
_Triumph_ had rescued the crew of the other sloop just before it had
foundered. There were a hundred men of them, in all, crowded together
like dried herring, and part were sleeping ashore in huts of boughs and
canvas. No wonder Blackbeard was in blither spirits. Here was a company
to pick and choose from and so fill the depleted berth-deck of the
_Revenge_.

Finding the poop deserted, Joe Hawkridge ventured far enough to peer in
at a cabin window. Blackbeard was at table, together with his first
mate, the chief gunner, the acting sailing-master, and the captain of
the sloop. They were exceeding noisy, singing most discordantly and
laughing at indecent jests. Suddenly Blackbeard whipped two pistols from
his sash and fired them under the table, quite at random.

The first mate leaped up with a horrible yell and clapped a hand to the
calf of his leg. Then he bolted out of the cabin, which was blue with
smoke, and limped in search of the surgeon. Joe Hawkridge dodged aside
but he heard the jovial Blackbeard shout, with a whoop of laughter:

"Discipline, damme! If I don't kill one of you now and then, you'll
forget who I am."

Inasmuch as none of the other guests dared squeak after this episode, it
was to be inferred that they were properly impressed.

[Illustration: THE FIRST MATE LEAPED UP WITH A HORRIBLE YELL]

In a little while the mate returned with his leg neatly bandaged,
announced that it was a mere flesh wound, and sat down as though nothing
out of the ordinary had occurred to mar the festive occasion. Through
the rest of the day, boats were passing between the ship and the sloop
in a convivial reunion. Supper was to be cooked on the beach in great
iron kettles and a frolic would follow the feast. The sloop had rum
enough to sluice all the parched gullets aboard the _Revenge_.

Jack Cockrell had no desire to join this stupid revel but he was eager
to get ashore to discover what opportunity there might be to escape. But
the wiser Joe Hawkridge counseled patience, saying:

"Wait a bit. We'd be as helpless as any babes should we take to our
heels in this ungodly wilderness. Is there a town or plantation near
by?"

"I know not," ruefully confessed Jack. "Charles Town lies to the south,
and Virginia to the north. There my knowledge fetches up short."

"And leagues of morass to flounder through, by the look of this coast,"
said Joe. "We be without weapons, or food, or----"

"I am a hot-headed fool, I grant you that," broke in Jack. "Now bestow
your sage advice."

"You will not be allowed to go ashore, for one thing, Master Cockrell.
Blackbeard has no notion of letting you get away from him to betray this
rendezvous and stir the colonies to send an expedition after him.
Steady the helm, Jack, and watch for squalls. If I can read the signs,
there is trouble afoot. And we must seek our own advantage in the nick
of time."

"But these wild sots no longer think of mutiny and the like, Joe. They
are content to let the morrow go hang."

"S-s-s-h, 'ware the master of the sloop," cautioned Joe. "He makes for
the gangway, the big lump of tallow."

They moved away while Captain Richard Spender clumsily descended into
his boat, his broad face flushed, his breath asthmatic. He had a piping
voice absurd for his bulk and the two lads amused themselves with
mimicking him as the boat pulled in the direction of the sloop. So safe
against surprise did Blackbeard regard himself in this lonely anchorage
that no more than a dozen men were left aboard to keep the ship through
the night. Among these was Jack Cockrell, as his comrade had foreseen.
It therefore happened that they remained together, for Joe had
volunteered to join the anchor watch. In a melancholy mood the two lads
idled upon the after deck.

The sun dropped behind the dark and tangled forest and flights of herons
came winging it home to the islets in the swamps. On the sward by the
silver strand the throng of pirates had stilled their clamor while a
rascal with a tenor voice held them enraptured with the haunting refrain
of:

          "Sweet Annie frae the sea-beach came,
             Where Jockey's climbed the vessel's side:
           Ah! wha can keep her heart at hame,
             When Jockey's tossed aboon the tide?

          "Far off 'till distant realms he gangs,
             But I'se be true, as he ha' been;
           And when ilk lass around him thrangs,
             He'll think on Annie's faithful een."

Forlorn Jack Cockrell had homesick thoughts and felt hopeless of loosing
the snares which bound him. All that sustained his courage was the
sanguine disposition of Joe Hawkridge, whose youthful soul had been so
battered and toughened by dangers manifold on land and sea that he
expected nothing less. Listening to the pirate's moving ballad, they sat
and swung their legs from the ship's taffrail while their gaze idly
roved to the green curtain of undergrowth which ran lush to the water's
edge to the northward of the beach.

It was Joe who called attention to a floating object which moved inside
the mouth of the small, tidal creek that wandered through the marshy
lowlands. In the shadowy light it could easily be mistaken for a log
drifting down on the ebb of the tide. This was what the lads assumed it
to be until they both noticed a behavior curious in a log. The long, low
object turned athwart the current at the entrance of the creek and shot
toward the nearest bank as though strongly propelled.

Joe lifted the telescope from its case in front of the wooden
binnacle-box and squinted long at the edge of the creek. Crude though
the glass was, he was enabled to discern that the object was, in truth,
a log, but evidently hollowed out. Rounded at the ends, it held two men
whose figures so blended into the dusk that they disclosed themselves
only when in motion.

"A pirogue," said Joe, "and fashioned by Indians! What is the tribe
hereabouts? Have ye a guess?"

"Roving Yemassees, or men of the Hatteras tribe," answered Jack. "Yonder
brace of savages will be scouts."

"Aye, but there'll be no attack 'gainst this pirates' bivouac, right
under the guns of the ships. The Indians are too wise to attempt it."

"Look, Joe! Hand me the glass. Those two spies have quitted the pirogue.
'Tis quite empty. They may lay up all night to creep closer and keep
watch on the camp."

"Right enough, by Crambo! If we could but gain yon cypress canoe, and
steal along the coast by sail and paddle----"

"'Tis the chance we prayed for," eagerly exclaimed Jack. "Dare we swim
for it?"

"Not with a boat just coming off from shore. What if we try it in the
night and find the pirogue gone?"

"We are stranded for sure, and Blackbeard will kill us."

Baffled, they strained their eyes until the shore stood black in the
starlight, but as long as the dusk lingered they fancied they could
descry the empty pirogue. The ship's boat which presently drew alongside
contained Blackbeard himself and Captain Dick Spender of the _Triumph_
sloop, besides several officers of the two vessels. They withdrew into
the cabin and there was prolonged discussion, lasting well toward
midnight.

It was a secretive session, with trusted men of the boat's crew posted
to keep eavesdroppers away from the hatches and windows, nor was there
any loud carousing. Some business was afoot and Jack wondered whether it
might concern the trouble which Joe had sworn was brewing under the
surface. A circumstance even more suspicious was that three of the
sailors from the boat were called into the cabin. Joe Hawkridge knew
them as fellows loyal to Blackbeard through thick and thin. Drunken
beasts, as a rule, they were cold sober to-night.

As quietly as they had come, the whole party dropped into the boat and
returned either to the beach or to the sloop which rode at anchor two
cable-lengths away. The _Revenge_ floated with no more activity on her
darkened decks. The few men of the watch drowsed at their stations or
wistfully gazed at the fires ashore and the mob of pirates who moved in
the red glare. Jack Cockrell and Joe Hawkridge felt no desire for sleep.
As the ship swung with the turn of the tide, they went to the side and
leaned on the tall bulwark where they might catch the first glimpse of
the shore with the break of day.

Meanwhile they busied themselves with this wild scheme and that. Sifting
them out, it was resolved to swim from the ship at the first
opportunity. If they could not find the Indian pirogue, Joe would try to
get into the pirates' camp by night and possess himself of an axe, an
adze, a musket or two, and such food as he could smuggle out. Then, at a
pinch, they could hide themselves a little way inland and hew out a
pirogue of their own from a dry log. After hitting upon this plan, the
better it seemed the more they thrashed it over.

Unluckily it occurred to them so late in the night that they feared to
attempt it then lest the dawn might overtake them while they were
swimming. 'Twas a great pity, said Joe, that their wits had hung fire,
like a damp flint-lock, for this was the night when the pirates would be
the most slack and befuddled and it would be precious hard waiting
through another day. Jack glumly agreed with this point of view.

It was so near morning, however, that they lingered to scan the shore.
Then it was observed that a pearly mist was rising from the swamp lands
and spreading out over the water. It was almost like a fog which the
morning breeze would dispel after a while. Rolling like smoke it hung so
low that the topmast of the sloop rose above it although her hull was
like the gray ghost of a vessel.

"No sign of wind as yet," said Joe, holding up a wetted finger, "and
that red sunset bespoke a calm, hot day. This odd smother o' mist may
stay a couple of hours. Will ye venture it with me, Jack?"

"Gladly! Over we go, before the watch is flogged awake by the bos'n's
mate."

They crept aft to the high stern and paid out a coil of rope until it
trailed in the water beneath the railed gallery which overhung the huge
rudder. Joe belayed his end securely and slid over like a flash,
twisting the rope around one leg and letting himself down as agile as a
monkey. Without a splash he cast himself loose and Jack followed but not
so adroitly. When he plopped into the water the commotion was like
tossing a barrel overboard, but nobody sounded an alarm.

They clung to the rusty rudder chains and listened. The ship was all
quiet. Then out into the mist they launched themselves, swimming almost
submerged, dreading to hear an outcry and the spatter of musket balls.
But the veiling mist and the uncertain light of dawn soon protected the
fugitives. It was slow, exhausting progress, hampered as they were by
their breeches and shoes which could not be discarded. They tried to
keep a sense of direction, striking out for the mouth of the creek in
which the pirogue had been moored, but the tide set them off the course
and the only visible marks were the spars of the ship behind them and
the sloop's topmast off to one side.

[Illustration: JACK ALMOST BUMPED INTO THE DUGOUT CANOE]

Jack swam more strongly and showed greater endurance because he had the
beef and had been better nourished all his life than the scrawny young
powder boy who was more like a lath. Now and then Jack paused to tread
water while his shipmate clung to his shoulder and husbanded his waning
strength, with that indomitable grin on his freckled phiz. Of one thing
they were thankful, that the tide was bearing them farther away from the
pirates' camp, which was now as still as though the sleepers were dead
men.

"Blood and bones, but I have swum a league a'ready," gurgled Joe during
one of the halts.

"Shut your mouth or you'll fill up to the hatch and founder," scolded
Jack. "I see trees in the mist. The shore is scarce a pistol shot away."

"I pray my keel scrapes soon," spluttered the waterlogged Hawkridge as
he kicked himself along in a final effort.

Huzza, their feet touched the soft ooze and they fell over stumps and
rotted trunks buried under the surface. Scratched and beplastered with
mud, they crawled out in muck which gripped them to the knees, and
roosted like buzzards upon the butt of a prostrate live-oak.

"Marooned," quoth Joe, "to be eaten by snakes and alligators."

"Nonsense," snapped Master Cockrell, who had hunted deer and wild-fowl
on the Carolina coast. "We can pick our way with care. I have seen
pleasanter landscapes than this, but I like it better than Blackbeard's
company."

There was no disputing this statement and Joe plucked up spirit, as was
his habit when another arduous task confronted him. Cautiously they made
their way from one quaking patch of sedge to another or scrambled to
their middles. There came a ridge of higher ground thick with brambles
and knotted vines and they traversed this with less misery. A gleam of
water among the trees and they took it to be the creek which they sought
to find. Wary of lurking Indians, they wormed along on their stomachs
and so came to the high swamp grass of the bank.

They swam the creek and crept toward its mouth. Jack was rooting along
like a bear when he almost bumped into the dugout canoe which had looked
so very like a stranded log. It was tied to a tree by a line of twisted
fibre and the rising tide had borne it well up into the marsh. Here it
was invisible from the ship and only a miracle of good fortune had
revealed it to the lads in that glimpse from the deck at sundown.

They crawled over the gunwale and slumped in the bottom of the pirogue,
which was larger than they expected, a clumsy yet seaworthy craft with a
wide floor and space to crowd a dozen men. Fire had helped to hollow it
from a giant of a cypress log, for the inner skin was charred black.
Three roughly made paddles were discovered. This was tremendously
important, and all they lacked was a mast and sail to be true
navigators.

Something else they presently found which was so unlooked for, so
incredible, that they could only gape and stare at each other. Tucked in
the bow was a seaman's jacket of tarred canvas, of the kind used in wet
weather. Sewed to the inside of it was a pocket of leather with a
buttoned flap. This Jack Cockrell proceeded to explore, recovering from
his stupefaction, and fished out a wallet bound in sharkskin as was the
habit of sailors to make for themselves in tropic waters. It contained
nothing of value, a few scraps of paper stitched together, a bit of
coral, a lock of yellow hair, a Spanish coin, some shreds of dried
tobacco leaf.

Carefully Jack examined the ragged sheets of paper which seemed to be a
carelessly jotted diary of dates and events. Upon the last leaf was
scrawled, "_Bill Saxby, His Share_," and beneath this entry such items
as these:

          "Aprl. ye 17--A Spanish shippe rich laden. 1 sack
               Vanilla. 2 Rolls Blue Cloth of Peru. 1 Packet
               Bezoar Stones.

          "May ye 24--A Poor Shippe. 3 Bars of Silver. 1
               Case Cordial Waters. A Golden Candle-stick. My
               share by Lot afore ye Mast."

Joe Hawkridge could neither read nor write but he had ready knowledge
of the meaning of these entries and he cried excitedly:

"Say the name again, Jack. Bill Saxby, His Share. Strike me blind, but I
was chums with Bill when we lay off Honduras. As decent a lad as ever
went a-piratin'! A heart of oak is Bill, hailin' from London town."

"But what of the riddle?" impatiently demanded Jack. "Whence this Indian
pirogue? And where is Bill Saxby?"

"He sailed with Stede Bonnet, bless ye," answered Joe. "These two men we
spied in the canoe last night were no Indians. _They were Cap'n Bonnet's
men._ Indians would ha' hid the pirogue more craftily."

"But they came not along the coast. Did they drop down this creek from
somewhere inland?"

"There you put me in stays," confessed Joe. "One thing I can swear. They
were sent to look for Blackbeard's ships. And I sore mistrust they were
caught whilst prowling near the camp. Else they would ha' come back to
the canoe before day."



CHAPTER VIII

THE EPISODE OF THE WINDING CREEK


THE singular discovery of Bill Saxby's jacket was like a shock to drive
all else out of their minds. Now they found that it had been thrown over
a jug of water and a bag of beef and biscuit stowed in the bow. This
solved one pressing problem, and they nibbled the hard ration while
debating the situation. It was agreed that they could not honorably run
away with the pirogue if it really belonged to Stede Bonnet's men, who
must have come on foot along the higher ground back of the coast and
descended the creek in the canoe stolen or purchased from Indians met by
chance.

Granted this much, it was fair to conjecture that Captain Bonnet's ship
was in some harbor not many leagues distant and that he knew where to
find Blackbeard's rendezvous, at Cherokee Inlet.

"'Tis your job to stand by the pirogue, Jack," suggested Hawkridge, "and
I will make a sally toward the pirates' camp afore they rouse out."

"Go softly, Joe, and don't be reckless. Why not lie up till night before
you reconnoitre?"

"'Cause the mist still hangs heavy and I'm blowed if I dilly-dally if
good Bill Saxby has come to grief."

"Supposing he has, you cannot wrest him single-handed from Blackbeard's
crew."

"Well, if I can but slip a word of comfort in his ear, it'll cheer him
mightily, unless his throat be cut by now," was the stubborn response.
"Sit thee taut, Jack, old _camarada_, and chuck the worry. Care killed a
cat. These rogues yonder in the camp won't _molest me_ if I walk boldly
amongst 'em."

"What if you don't return?" persisted Jack. "How long shall I wait here
with the pirogue?"

"Now what the deuce can I say to such foolish queries? If things go
wrong with me and Bill and his mate, you will have to cruise alone or
hop back to the _Revenge_."

With a laugh and a wave of the hand, the dauntless adventurer leaped
from the nose of the canoe, nimbly hauled himself into a tree, and then
plunged into the gloomy swamp where he was speedily lost to view. Jack
Cockrell settled himself to wait for he knew not what. Clouds of midges
and mosquitoes tormented him and he ached with fatigue. Soon after
sunrise the mist began to burn away and the mouth of the creek was no
longer obscured by shadows. In the glare of day Jack thought it likely
that the canoe might be detected by some pair of keen eyes aboard the
_Revenge_.

To move it far might imperil Joe Hawkridge and Bonnet's two seamen
should they come in haste with a hue-and-cry behind them. Jack paddled
the pirogue up the creek and soon found a safe ambuscade, a stagnant
cove in among the dense growth, where he tied up to a gnarled root. Then
he climbed a wide-branching oak and propped himself in a crotch from
which he could see the open water and the two vessels at anchor. Clumps
of taller trees cut off any view of the beach and the camp but he dared
stray no farther from the pirogue.

Tediously an hour passed and there was no sign of Joe Hawkridge. He had
a journey of only a few hundred yards to make, and Jack began to imagine
all kinds of misfortune that might have befallen him, such as being
mired beyond his depth in the swamp and perishing miserably. The
sensible conclusion was, however, that he had tarried among his
shipmates in the camp with some shrewd purpose in mind.

A little later in the morning, Jack's anxious cogitations were diverted
by the frequent passage of boats between the _Revenge_ and the sloop
which was anchored nearer the beach. One of these small craft was
Blackbeard's own cock-boat, or captain's gig, which he used for errands
in smooth water, with a couple of men to pull it. Jack was reminded of
that secret conference in the cabin and Joe's conviction that some
uncommon devilment was afoot. It appeared as though "Tallow Dick"
Spender, that unwholesome master of the _Triumph_ sloop, had been chosen
as the right bower.

And now there arose a sudden and riotous noise in the camp. It was not
the mirth and song of jolly pirates a-pleasuring ashore but the
ferocious tumult of men in conflict and taken unawares. Perched in the
tree, Jack Cockrell listened all agog as the sounds rose and fell with
the breeze which swayed the long gray moss that draped the branches. He
heard a few pistol shots and then was startled to see a spurt of flame
dart from a gun-port of the sloop. The dull report reached him an
instant later. He could see that the gun had been fired from the
vessel's shoreward battery. It meant that Blackbeard was making a target
of some part of the camp. Another gun belched its cloud of smoke.

The noise died down, save for intermittent shouts and one long wail of
anguish. Presently a boat moved out past the sloop. A dozen men tugged
at the oars and others stood crowded in the stern-sheets. Jack caught
the gleam of weapons and thought he recognized the squat, broad figure
of Blackbeard himself beside the man at the steering oar. Behind this
pinnace from the _Revenge_ trailed two other boats in tow. They passed
in slow procession, out between the vessels. The boats which the pinnace
towed were not empty. Instead of sitting upon the thwarts, men seemed to
be strewn about in them as if they had been tossed over the gunwales
like so much dunnage.

Jack rubbed his eyes in amazement and watched the line of boats turn to
follow the channel which led out of the sheltered roadstead to the sea
beyond. When they vanished beyond a sandy island, the lad in the
live-oak tree said to himself:

"My guess is that Blackbeard has put a stopper on all talk of mutiny by
one bold stroke. A bloody weeding-out, and in those two boats are the
poor wretches who were taken alive. Alas, one of 'em may be Joe
Hawkridge unless he be dead already. He talked too much of Stede Bonnet
aboard the ship. And there were sneaking dogs in the crew who spied on
their comrades. We saw them enter the cabin last night."

There was no getting around the evidence. It fitted together all too
well. Jack sadly reflected that, beyond a doubt, he had seen the last of
gallant, loyal Joe Hawkridge. Left alone with the pirogue, which he
could not paddle single-handed, it was folly to think of trying to
escape along the coast. And to wander inland, ignorant of the country,
was to court almost certain death. Nor could he now expect mercy from
Blackbeard, having deserted the ship against orders and known to be a
true friend of Captain Stede Bonnet.

The most unhappy lad could no longer hold his cramped station in the
tree and he decided to seek the canoe and find the meagre solace of a
little food and water. He was half-way to the ground when he clutched a
limb and halted to peer into the swamp. Something was splashing through
the mud and grass and making a prodigious fuss about it. Then Jack heard
two voices in grunts and maledictions. Fearing the enemy might have
tracked him, he stood as still as a mouse in the leafage of the oak.

Out of the swamp emerged a young man with a musket on his shoulder.
Behind him came one very much older, gaunt and wrinkled, his hair as
gray as the Spanish moss that overhung his path. They reached the edge
of the creek and then turned down to halt where the pirogue had been
left. At failing to find it there, they argued hotly and were much
distressed. Jack Cockrell's fears were calmed. These were no men of
Blackbeard's company, but good Bill Saxby and his mate. He called to
them from his perch and they stood wondering at this voice from heaven.

In a jiffy Jack had slid down and was beckoning them. They hurried as
fast as they could pull their feet out of the muck, and were overjoyed
to jump into the hidden canoe. There they sat and thumped Jack Cockrell
on the head by way of affectionate greeting. The younger man had a
chubby cheek, a dimple in his chin, and blue eyes as big and round as a
babe's.

"Bill Saxby is me," said his pleasant voice, "and a precious job had I
to get here. Joe Hawkridge told me of you, Master Cockrell."

"Where is Joe?" cried Jack, dreading to hear his own opinion confirmed.

"Marooned, along with two dozen luckless lads that were trapped like
pigeons----"

"'Twas more like turtles all a-sleepin' in the sand," the old man
croaked in rusty accents. "A few was sharp awake and they fought pretty
whilst the rest rallied, but they got drove with their backs to the
swamp and a deep slough. Then the sloop turned her guns on 'em and they
struck their colors."

"And Joe Hawkridge sided with his friends, of course," said Jack.

"Would ye expect aught else of him?" proudly answered Bill Saxby. "He
searched us out where we lay trussed like fowls, all bound with ropes.
We blundered fair into the camp last night, and old Trimble Rogers here,
his legs knotted with cramps, couldn't make a run for it. They saved us
for Blackbeard's pleasure but he had other fish to fry."

"What then?" demanded Jack.

"'Twas Joe Hawkridge that ran to cut our bonds when the fight began. And
he bade us leg it for the pirogue and carry word to you. A pledge of
honor, he called it, to stand by his dear friend Jack, and he made us
swear it."

"Bless him for a Christian knight of a pirate," said Jack, with tears in
his eyes. "Was he hurt, did ye happen to note?"

"We hid ourselves till the prisoners were flung into the boats. I marked
Joe as one of 'em, and he was sprightly, barring a bloody face."

"Marooned, Bill Saxby?" asked Jack. "What's your judgment on that
score? It cannot be many leagues from here, or the ship would have
transported them instead of the boats."

"These barren islands lie strung well out from the coast, Master
Cockrell. Waterless they be, and without shelter. Blackbeard's fancy is
to let the men die there----"

"An ancient custom of buccaneers and pirates," put in old Trimble
Rogers, with an air of grave authority. "I mind me in the year of 1687
when I sailed in the South Sea with that great captain, Edward
Davis,--'twas after the sack of Guayaquil when every man had a greater
weight of gold and silver than he could lug on his back----"

Bill Saxby interrupted, in a petulant manner:

"Stow it, grandsire! At a better time ye can please the lad with your
long-winded yarns,--of marching on Panama with Henry Morgan when the
mother's milk was scarce dry on your lips."

"I cruised with the best of 'em," boasted the last of the storied race
of true buccaneers of the Spanish Main, "and now I be in this cheap
trade of piratin'. The fortunes I gamed away, and the plate ships I
boarded! Take warnin', boy, and salt your treasure down."

"This Trimble Rogers will talk you deaf," said Bill Saxby, "but there's
pith in his old bones and wisdom under yon hoary thatch. Cap'n Bonnet
sent him along with me as a rare old hound to trail the swamps."

In a vivid flash of remembrance, Jack Cockrell saw this salty relic of
the Spanish Main among the crew which had disported itself on the tavern
green at Charles Town,--the old man sitting aside with a couple of stray
children upon his knees while his head nodded to the lilt of the fiddle.
And again there had been a glimpse of him trudging in the column which
had followed Stede Bonnet, with trumpet and drum, to attack the hostile
Indians. Jack's heart warmed to Trimble Rogers and also to young Bill
Saxby. They would find some way out of all this tribulation.

"Whither lies Captain Bonnet's stout ship?" eagerly demanded Jack.

"On this side the Western Ocean," smiled Saxby. "We shall waste no time
in finding her. We had better bide where we are a few hours, eh,
Trimble?"

"Aye, and double back up the stream in the canoe to spend the night on
dry land and push on afoot at dawn. If we wait to sight Blackbeard's
boats come in from sea, 'twill aid us to reckon how far out they went
and what the bearings are."

"So Captain Bonnet may sail to pick off those poor seamen marooned,"
exclaimed Jack.

"He is not apt to leave 'em to bleach their bones," said Bill Saxby.
"And when it comes to closing in with Blackbeard, they will have a
grudge of their own."

They made themselves as comfortable as possible on the bottom of the
pirogue. Now and then Jack climbed the live-oak to look for the return
of the boats. There was no more leisure for the pirates left in the ship
and the sloop. Evidently Blackbeard had been alarmed by the tidings that
two of Stede Bonnet's men had been caught spying him out and had made
their escape in the confusion. The sloop was now listed over in shoal
water and Bill Saxby ventured the opinion that they intended to take the
mast out of her and put it in the _Revenge_.

"Along with most of her guns, I take it," said Trimble Rogers. "What
with losing all those men, in one way or another, this Blackbeard, as
Cap'n Ed'ard Teach miscalls hisself, must needs abandon the sloop. The
more the merrier, says I, when we come at close quarters."

Jack asked many curious questions, by way of passing the time. The old
man was easy to read. He had been a lawless sea rover in the days when
there was both gold and glory in harrying Spanish towns and galleons,
from Mexico to Peru. The real buccaneers had vanished but he was too old
a dog to learn new tricks and he faithfully served Stede Bonnet, who had
a spark of the chivalry and manliness which had burned so brightly in
that idolized master, Captain Edward Davis.

As for this blue-eyed smiling young Bill Saxby, he had been a small
tradesman in London. Through no fault of his own, he was cruelly
imprisoned for debt and, after two years, shipped to the Carolina
plantations as no better than a slave. For all he knew, the girl wife
and child in London had been suffered to starve. He had never heard any
word of them. As a fugitive he had been taken aboard a pirate vessel.
There he found kindlier treatment than honest men had ever offered him,
and so grew somewhat reconciled to this wicked calling.

On one of the occasions when Jack left these entertaining companions to
visit his high sentry post in the tree, he surmised that all hands had
been summoned on the vessel and lifting out her mast. He could see two
boats plying back and forth and filled with men. He lingered because
something else caught his interest. A little boat was putting out from
the seaward side of the _Revenge_ and it fetched a wide circuit of the
harbor. This brought the ship between it and the sloop so that its
departure would be unobserved by the toiling crew.

Two men were at the oars and a third sat in the stern. At a distance,
Jack guessed they were bound to one of the nearest islands, perhaps in
search of oysters or crabs, but after making a long sweep which carried
the boat out of vision of the sloop and the beach, it swung toward the
shore, a little to the northward of the mouth of the creek. The errand
had a stealthy air. Jack Cockrell started and almost fell out of the
tree. He had been mistaken in his fancy that Blackbeard was in the
pinnace which had towed the prisoners out to be marooned. This was none
other than the grotesque fiend of a pirate himself, furtively steering
his cock-boat on some private errand of his own.

As soon as he was certain of this, Jack fairly scurried down the tree,
digging his toes in the bark like a squirrel, and tumbling head over
heels into the pirogue. Breathing rapidly, he stuttered:

"The--the devil himself,--in that little w-wherry of his,--c-coming
inshore. He must ha' seen the canoe. He is in chase of me."

"Go take a look, Bill," coolly remarked old Trimble Rogers, who was busy
slapping at mosquitoes. "A touch o' the sun has bred a nightmare in the
lad."

Bill Saxby swarmed up the live-oak like a limber seaman with fish-hooks
for fingers and he, too, almost lost his balance at what he saw. He
waved a warning hand at the canoe and then put his fingers to his lips.
Down he came in breakneck haste and urged the others to haul their craft
farther up into the sedge. He was plucking green bushes and armfuls of
dried grass to fling across the gunwales.

Satisfied that the canoe was entirely concealed, they crouched low. The
old man was more concerned with the pest of insects and he reached out
to claw up the sticky mud with which he plastered his face and neck like
a mask. This seemed to give him some relief and his comrades were glad
to do the same. Bill Saxby was attentive to the priming of the musket,
which he passed over to Trimble Rogers, saying:

"You are the chief gunner, old hawk. But hold your fire. I'm itching to
know what trick this Don Whiskerando is up to."

"Fair enough," muttered the old man. "Cap'n Bonnet 'ud clap me in irons
if I slew this filthy Ed'ard Teach and robbed him of that enjoyment.
I'll pull no trigger save in our own defense."

They heard the faint splash of oars. Soon the little cock-boat came
gliding around the bend of the shore and floated into the mouth of the
creek. Bill Saxby raised himself for a moment and ducked swiftly as he
whispered:

"He is not lookin' about but motions 'em to row on up the stream."

"Then our canoe is not what he's after?" murmured Jack.

"'Tis some queer game. Were he hunting us, he'd fetch along more hands
than them two. Hush! Let him pass."

The little boat came steadily on, the tide helping the oars. It sat very
low in the water, oddly so for the weight of three men. Blackbeard,
hunched in the stern, held a pistol in one hand while the other gripped
the tiller. This was not in fear of danger from the shore because he
kept his eyes on the two seamen at the oars and it was plain to see that
the pistol was meant to menace them.

The boat passed abreast of the pirogue so artfully concealed in the
pocket of a tiny cove. The intervening distance was no more than a dozen
yards. Old Trimble Rogers wistfully fingered the musket and lifted it to
squint along the barrel. Never was temptation more sturdily resisted.
Then his face, hard as iron and puckered like dried leather, broke into
a smile. The idea pleased him immensely. They would follow Blackbeard
and watch the chance to take him alive. He who had trapped his own men
in camp was now neatly trapped himself, his retreat cut off. Tie a
couple of fathom of stout cord to his whiskers and tow him along by
land, all the way to Stede Bonnet's ship. There the worthy captain could
bargain with him at his own terms, silently chuckled the old buccaneer.

They held their breath and gazed at the fantastic scoundrel who had made
himself the ogre among pirates. He had discarded the great hat as
cumbersome and his tousled head was bound around with a wide strip of
the red calico from India. Still and solid he sat, like a heathen idol,
staring in front of him and intent on his mysterious errand. The unseen
spectators in the pirogue scanned also the two seamen at the oars and
felt a vague pity for them. Unmistakably they were sick with fear. It
was conveyed by their dejected aspect, by the tinge of pallor, by the
fixity with which they regarded the cocked pistol in Blackbeard's fist.
Jack Cockrell knew them as abandoned villains who had boasted of many a
bloody deed but the swarthy, pockmarked fellow had been in the boat
which had saved the two lads from the drifting raft. This was enough to
awaken a lively sympathy.

Trimble Rogers gripped Jack's shoulder with a strength which made him
wince and pointed a skinny finger at the boat. The fate of the two
seamen did not trouble him greatly. Those who lived by violence should
rightly expect to die by it. The sea was their gaming table and it was
their ill luck if the dice were cogged. Just then Bill Saxby stifled an
ejaculation. He, too, had discovered the freightage in the cock-boat,
the heavy burden which made it swim so low.

It rested in front of Blackbeard's knees, the top showing above the
curve of the gunwales. It was a sea-chest, uncommonly large, built of
some dark tropical wood and strapped with iron. Old Trimble Rogers'
fierce eyes glittered and he licked his lips. He leaned over to whisper
in Bill Saxby's ear the one word:

"_Treasure!_"



CHAPTER IX

BLACKBEARD'S ERRAND IS INTERRUPTED


BLACKBEARD'S deep-laden boat was rowed on past the pirogue and turned to
follow the channel of the sluggish stream. Bill Saxby thrust aside the
cover of grass and boughs and shoved the log canoe out of the cove. So
crooked was the course of the creek that the boat was already out of
sight and by stealthy paddling it was possible to pursue undetected. Old
Trimble Rogers had forgotten his lust to slay Blackbeard. His gloating
imagination could picture the contents of that massive sea-chest after a
long cruise in southern waters.

It was foolish to attempt to surprise Blackbeard while afloat in the
creek. In a race of it, the handy cock-boat could pull away from the
clumsier pirogue manned by two paddles only, for Trimble Rogers was
needed to steer and be ready with the musket. This was their only
firearm, which Bill Saxby had snatched up during the flight from the
camp. At the same time he had lifted a powder-horn and bullet pouch from
a wounded pirate.

"If I do bang away and miss him," grumbled Trimble Rogers, "he's apt to
pepper us afore I can reload."

"But you forswore shootin' him," chided Bill Saxby, between strokes of
the paddle.

"Show me a great sea-chest crammed wi' treasure and I'd put a hole
through the Grand High Panjandrum hisself," replied the ancient one.
"Aye, Bill, there be more'n one way to skin an eel. We'll lay aboard
this bloody blow-hard of a Cap'n Teach whilst he's a-buryin' of it. Here
may well be where he has tucked away his other plunder. What if we bag
the whole of it?"

"One more fling, eh, Trimble, and more gold than ye lugged on your back
from Guayaquil," grinned young Bill.

They had spoken in cautious tones and now held their tongues. The
paddles dipped with no more than a trickle of water and the canoe hugged
the marsh. They were close to the next bend of the stream and the sound
of the oars in the cock-boat was faintly audible. As the tallest of the
three, the old man stood up after swathing his head in dried grass, and
gazed across the curve of the shore. By signs he told his companions
that Blackbeard was bound farther up the stream.

They waited a little, giving their quarry time to pass beyond another
turn of the channel. Jack Cockrell was embarked on the most entrancing
excursion of his life. This repaid him for all he had suffered. His only
regret was that poor Joe Hawkridge had been marooned before he could
share this golden adventure. However, he would see that Joe received a
handsome amount of treasure. Trimble Rogers was muttering again, and
thus he angrily expounded a grievance:

"A thief is this Cap'n Teach,--like a wild hog, all greed and bristles.
'Tis the custom of honest buccaneers and pirates to divide the spoils by
the strict rule,--six shares for the commander, two for the master's
mate, and other officers accordin' to their employment, with one share
to every seaman alike. Think ye this bloody pick-purse dealt fairly by
his crew? In yon sea-chest be the lawful shares of all the woesome lads
he marooned this day. An' as much more as he durst skulk away with."

"Easy, now, old Fire-and-Brimstone," warned Bill, "or that temper will
gain the upper hand. Don't spoil the show by bombardin' Blackbeard with
that cross-eyed musket."

Now here was young Master Cockrell, a gentleman and a near kinsman of a
high official who had sworn to hang every mother's son of a pirate that
harried Carolina waters. And yet this godly youth was eager to lay hands
on Blackbeard's treasure so as to divide it among the pirates who had
been robbed of it. It was a twisted sense of justice, no doubt, and a
code of morals turned topsy-turvy, but you are entreated to think not
too harshly of such behavior. Master Cockrell had fallen into almighty
bad company but the friends he had made displayed fidelity and readiness
to serve him.

"How far will the chase lead us?" he inquired.

"Did you men come down this same creek in the pirogue?"

"Aye, in this very same mess o' pea soup and jungle," answered Bill
Saxby. "Two miles in from the coast, at a venture, was where we stumbled
on the canoe and tossed the Indians out of it. Beyond that the water
spreads o'er the swamp with no fairway for a boat."

Once more they paddled for a short stretch and then repeated the
stratagem of hauling into the dense growth of the mud-flat and pausing
until the cock-boat had steered beyond the next elbow of the stream. It
became more and more difficult to avoid the fallen trees and other
obstructions, but Blackbeard was threading his course like a pilot
acquainted with this dank and somber region. The pirogue ceased to lag
purposely but had to be urged in order to keep within striking distance.

Twice they were compelled to climb out and shove clear of sunken
entanglements or slimy shoals. But when they held themselves to listen,
they could still hear the measured thump of oars against the pins, like
the beat of a distant drum in the brooding silence of this melancholy
solitude. They had struggled on for perhaps a mile and a half, in all,
when Trimble Rogers ordered another halt. He was perplexed, like a hound
uncertain of the scent. From the left bank of the creek, a smaller
stream meandered blindly off into the swamp. Into which of these
watercourses had Blackbeard continued his secret voyage?

Again they listened, and more anxiously than ever. The tell-tale thump
of the oars had ceased. The only sounds in the bayou were the trickle of
water from the tidal pools, the wind in the tree-tops, the rat-tat-tat
of a woodpecker, and the scream of a bob-cat. With a foolish air of
chagrin, Trimble Rogers rubbed his hoary pate and exclaimed:

"Whilst Bill and me were a-paddlin' this hollow log down-stream, we took
no heed of a fork like this yonder. With the sun at our backs to guide
us, we knew we was makin' easterly to fetch the coast. What say, Bill?"

"Cursed if I know. Spin a coin. The treasure has slipped us."

"Rot me if it has!" snarled the old man. "We'll push on as we are, in
the bigger stream. That stinkin' ditch on my left hand looks too weedy
and shallow to float a boat."

"It makes no odds. A gamester's choice," amiably agreed Bill.

They paddled with might and main, flinging caution to the winds. Jack
Cockrell was well versed in handling one of these dugout canoes and his
stout arms made Bill Saxby grunt and sweat to keep stroke with him. When
the craft grounded they strove like madmen to push it clear. Trimble
Rogers tore the water with a paddle, straining every sinew and
condemning Blackbeard to the bottomless pit in a queer jargon of the
Spanish, French, and English tongues. It required such a lurid
vocabulary to give vent to his feelings. He was even more distressed
when he sighted the clump of gum trees near by which he and Bill had
purloined the pirogue. Beyond this the creek was impassable.

"Throwed a blank! Wear ship and drive back to the fork o' the waters,"
shouted the old man. "Hull down an' under though he be, we'll nab yon
_picaro_, with his jolly treasure. _Rapido, camaradas! Vivo!_"

To make haste was easier said than done but the sluggish current was now
in their favor and there was no more than a half mile to traverse under
stress of furious exertion. The heavy canoe crashed through obstacles
which had delayed the upward journey and they knew where to avoid the
worst of the shoals. What fretted them was the fear that Blackbeard
might have buried the sea-chest and descended the creek while they were
engaged in this wild-goose chase. But this seemed unlikely and,
moreover, old Trimble Rogers was the man to nose out the marks of the
landing-place and the trail which must have been left.

Where the two streams joined, the pirogue turned and shot into the
smaller one. To their surprise it presently widened and was like a tiny
lagoon, with the water much clearer as if fed by springs. The view was
less broken and there were glimpses of dry knolls in the swamp and
verdure not so noxious and tanglesome. Along the edge of this pretty
pond skimmed the pirogue while Trimble Rogers keenly scanned every inch
of it for the imprint of a boat's keel. A hundred yards and the water
again narrowed to a little creek. Impetuously the canoe swung to pass
around a spit of land covered with a thicket of sweet bay.

There, no more than a dozen feet beyond, was the captain's cock-boat
from the _Revenge_. Its bow had been pulled out of the water which
deepened from a shelving bank. The boat was deserted but above the
gunwale could be seen the iron-bound lid of the massive sea-chest. Those
in the pirogue desired to behold nothing else. They were suddenly
diverted by a tremendous yell which came booming out of the tall grass
where it waved breast-high on the shore of the stream. A pistol barked
and the ball clipped a straggling lock of Trimble Rogers' gray hair.

Driving his two seamen before him, Blackbeard rushed for his boat as
fast as the bandy legs and clumsy sea-boots could carry him. In fancied
security he had explored the nearest knoll. And now appeared this
infernal canoe, surging full-tilt at his treasure chest.

Things happened _rapido_ enough to glut even an old buccaneer. The
consternation in the pirogue prevented any thought of checking headway
with the paddles. This hollowed cypress log, narrow beamed and solid at
both ends, still moved with a weighty momentum. Its astounded crew were
otherwise occupied. Blackbeard appeared to have the advantage of them.
Jack Cockrell ducked to the bottom of the canoe. Bill Saxby's eyes of
baby blue were big and round as saucers as he wildly flourished his
paddle as the only cudgel at hand.

With a whoop-la, old Trimble Rogers leaped to his feet, the long musket
at his shoulder. Before he could aim at the savage, bushy figure of
Blackbeard, the prow of the pirogue crashed into the side of the
cock-boat, striking it well toward the stern. The ancient freebooter
described a somersault and smote the water with a mighty splash, musket
and all. Blowing like a grampus, he bobbed to the top, clawing the weeds
from his eyes but still clutching the musket. Nobody paid his misfortune
the slightest heed.

The water deepened suddenly, as has been said, where the current had
scoured the bank. With the nose of the little boat pulled well up in the
mud, the stern sloped almost level with the surface of the stream. The
blunt, slanting bow of the pirogue banged into the plank gunwale and
slid over it. The force of the blow dragged the cock-boat to one side
and wrenched it free of the shore. It floated at the end of a tether but
the bow of the canoe pressed the stern under and tipped it until the
water rushed in.

Listed far over, the sea-chest slid a trifle and this was enough to push
the gunwale clear under. The boat filled and capsized, what with the
weight of the chest and the pressure of the canoe's fore part. Down to
the oozy bed sank Blackbeard's treasure.

The arch-pirate himself came charging out of the marsh-grass in time to
witness this lamentable disaster. His hoarse ejaculations were too
dreadful for a Christian reader's ears. Dumfounded for an instant, he
gathered his wits to fire another pistol at the pirogue. The ball flew
wild, as was to be expected of a marksman in a state of mind so
distraught. He had overlooked those two poor seamen of his who had been
impressed to bury the treasure, after which they were presumably to be
pistoled or knocked on the head. Dead men told no tales. Doomed
wretches, they were quick to snatch from this confusion the precious
hope of life.

The pockmarked fellow, who was powerfully built, whirled like a cat as
he heard Blackbeard's pistol discharged just behind him. There was no
time to draw and cock another pistol. The seaman fairly flew at the
pirate captain's throat. Down they toppled and vanished in the grass
together. A moment later Blackbeard bounded to his feet, a bloody dirk
in his hand. He had done for the poor fellow who lay groaning where he
fell. Terrified by this, the other seaman wheeled and fled to the bank
of the creek, seeking the pirogue as his only refuge.

He leaped for it but his feet slipped in the treacherous mud and his
impetus was checked so that he tumbled forward, striking the solid side
of the dugout with great force. He was splashing in the water but his
exertions were feeble. Either the collision had stunned him or he was
unable to swim. Bill Saxby and Jack Cockrell were trying to swing the
canoe clear of the boat and effect a landing. Trimble Rogers had rescued
himself from the creek and was ramming a dry charge into his dripping
musket. Blackbeard was a deadly menace and their attention was fixed on
him.

When they endeavored to lend a hand to the helpless seaman he had sunk
beneath the surface of the roily stream. They saw him come up and turn a
ghastly face to them, but he went down like a stone before a hand could
clutch at him. A few bubbles and this was the end of him. Jack Cockrell
hesitated with a brave impulse to dive in search of him although he knew
the bottom was a tangle of rotted trees, but just then Bill Saxby yelled
to him to follow ashore with a paddle for a weapon. The luckless seaman
was already drowned, this was as good as certain, and Jack jumped from
the pirogue.

Blackbeard had halted his onrush and he wavered when he beheld stout
Bill Saxby within a few strides of him and long Trimble Rogers galloping
through the grass with his musket. Another pistol shot or two would not
stop these three antagonists and a buffet from one of those hewn paddles
would dash out a man's brains. The most ferocious of all pirates for
once preferred to run away and live to fight another day. His boat
denied him, he whirled about to plunge through the tall, matted grass.
He was running in the direction of the dry knoll whence he had
appeared.

Infuriated by the fate of the two seamen, Trimble Rogers made a try at
shooting him on the wing but the musket ball failed to find the mark. It
was necessary to hunt him down for the sake of their own safety. They
might have gone their way in the pirogue but this would have been to
abandon the sea-chest without an effort to drag it up or fix its
location.

Now it might seem an easy matter for these pursuers, two of them young
and active, to run down this fugitive Blackbeard, encumbered as he was
by middle age and dissipation. They put after him boldly, with little
fear of his pistols. In this dense cover he would have to fire at them
haphazard and he was unlikely to tarry and wait for them. They saw him
in glimpses as he fled from one grassy patch to another, or burst out of
a leafy thicket, the great beard streaming over his shoulders like
studding-sails, the red turban of calico a vivid blotch of color.

Nimble as they were, however, they failed to overtake him. This was
because he was familiar with this landscape of bog and hummock and pine
knoll. Jack Cockrell fell into a hidden quagmire and had to be fished
out by main strength. Bill Saxby was caught amidst the tenacious vines,
like a bull by the horns, and old Trimble came a cropper in a patch of
saw-tooth palmetto. They straggled to the nearest knoll after Blackbeard
had crossed it. Then he followed a ridge which led in the direction of
another of these dry islands.

The pursuers halted to gaze from this slight elevation. There was not a
solitary glimpse of the crimson turban. Trimble Rogers plowed through
the prickly ash, short of wind and temper, with the musket again ready
for action. His language was hot enough to flash the powder in the pan.

"Lost him a'ready, ye lubbers, whilst I fetched up the rear?" he
scolded. "Leave the old dog to find the trail. I be hanged if I take him
alive for Stede Bonnet. What say, Bill? Skin and stuff him for a
trophy----"

"First catch the slippery son o' Satan," tartly answered Bill. "He hides
away like a hare. You can track him, no doubt, Trimble, but the sun will
be down ere long. I'll not pass the night in this cursed puddle of a
place."

Just then Jack Cockrell roved far enough to find on the knoll a small
pit freshly dug, with a spade and pick beside it. Like excited children,
his two comrades ran to inspect the hole which Blackbeard's seamen had
dug ready for the treasure chest. Then they scattered to explore the
knoll in search of signs to indicate where previous hoards might have
been buried. Trimble Rogers scouted like a red Indian, eager to find
traces of upturned earth, or the leaf mould disturbed, or marks of an
axe on the pine trees as symbols of secret guidance. It was a futile
quest, possibly because the high spring tides, when swept by easterly
gales, had now and then crept back from the coast to cover the knoll and
obliterate man's handiwork.

Like a hunter bewitched, the gray buccaneer was absorbed in this rare
pastime until Bill Saxby exclaimed:

"Is there no wit in our addled pates? Quit this dashed folly! What of
the treasure chest that was spilled from the boat?"

"It won't take wings. Wait a bit," growled Trimble. "_Madre de Dios_,
but there must be more of it here. This truant Cap'n Teach knew the road
well. Did ye mark how he doubled for the knoll, like a fox to its hole?"

Jack Cockrell ended the argument when he spoke up, with a shamefaced
air:

"We are three heartless men! One of the seamen is drowned, rest his
soul, and we could not save the poor wretch. But the other fellow was
stabbed and lies in the grass near the stream. For all we know, there
may be life in him."

"Heartless? 'Tis monstrous of us," cried Bill Saxby. "This greed for
pirates' gold is like a poison."

They hastened to retrace their steps. The wounded seaman was breathing
his last when they reached his side. They could not have prolonged his
life had they remained with him. Jack Cockrell stroked his damp forehead
and murmured:

"Farewell to ye, Jesse Strawn. Any message before you slip your cable?"

There was a faint whisper of:

"Scuppered, lad! Take warnin' and avast this cruel piratin' or you'll
get it. A few words from the Bible 'ud ease me off."

To Jack's amazement, the veteran sinner of the lot, old Trimble Rogers,
fumbled in his breeches and withdrew a small book carefully wrapped in
canvas. Solemnly he hooked behind his ears a pair of huge, horn-rimmed
spectacles and knelt beside the dying pirate. In the manner of a priest
the buccaneer intoned a chapter of Holy Writ which he appeared to know
by rote. Then he said a prayer in a powerful broken voice. Silence
followed. The others waited with bared heads until Trimble said:

"His soul has passed. Shall we give the poor lad a decent burial?"

"His grave is ready. He helped dig it himself," said Bill Saxby. "And
may his ghost be a torment to the fiend that slew him."

It seemed a fitting suggestion. In the freshly made treasure pit on the
knoll they laid the dead pirate and used the spade to cover him. Jack
Cockrell had a sheath knife with which he fashioned a rude cross and
hacked on it:

          JESSE STRAWN
           A. D. 1718

"Aye, his ghost will flit to plague this Cap'n Teach," said Trimble
Rogers. "We can leave Jesse Strawn to square his own account. Now for
the sea-chest, though I misdoubt we can fish it up."



CHAPTER X

THE SEA URCHIN AND THE CARPENTER'S MATE


FOR the sake of a treasure sordid and blood-stained, it would seem
shabby to overlook the fate of hapless Joe Hawkridge marooned along with
the hands of the _Revenge_ who were suspected of plotting mutiny. His
behavior was courageous and unselfish, for he could have fled back into
the swamp when Blackbeard's wily attack threw the camp into tumult. From
a sense of duty he flung himself into the fray. What friends he had in
the ship were those of the decenter sort who were tired of wanton
brutalities and of a master who was no better than a lunatic.

When the sloop opened fire with her guns, it was time to surrender.
Unhurt save for a few scratches and a gorgeous black eye, Joe was
dragged to the beach and thrown into a boat. Promptly the armed pinnace
took them in tow, as arranged beforehand. Several of the prisoners had
visited this rendezvous at Cherokee Inlet during a previous cruise and
had some knowledge of the lay of the coast. Five or six miles out were
certain shoals of sand scarcely lifted above high tide, so desolate that
nothing whatever grew upon them nor was there any means of obtaining
fresh water.

"A pretty fancy,--to cast us where he can enjoy the sight of it when the
ship sails out," said one of them who held a wounded comrade in his
arms.

"Some trading vessel may sight us in the nick o' time," hopefully
suggested Joe. "Never say die!"

"Trust most honest skippers to give the Inlet a wide berth," was the
lugubrious reply. "This harbor was used by pirates afore Blackbeard's
time. I was a silly 'prentice-boy, same as you, Joe, wi' Cap'n Willum
Kidd when we lay in here to caulk his galley for the long voyage to
Madagascar."

"A poor figger of a pirate was that same Kidd," spoke up another. "He
ne'er scuttled a ship nor fought an action. An' his treasure was all in
my eye. What did he swing for, at Execution Dock? For crackin' the skull
of his gunner with a wooden bucket."

"They can't h'ist this Cap'n Teach to the same gibbet any too soon to
please me, Sam," croaked a horse-faced rogue with two fingers chopped
off. "He's gone and murdered all us men, as sure as blazes."

Joe Hawkridge held his peace and wondered what had become of his
partner, Jack Cockrell, waiting alone in the pirogue. In the infernal
commotion at the camp, Joe had failed to note whether Bill Saxby and
Trimble Rogers had betaken themselves off or had been among those
killed. There was the faint hope that these trusty messengers might find
their way back to Captain Stede Bonnet's ship and so hasten his coming.

The boats crept over the burnished surface of the harbor and passed the
nearest islands which were green and wooded. Beyond them shone the
gently heaving sea, with the distant gleam of a patch of sandy shoal
ringed about with a necklace of surf. It was remote enough from any
other land to daunt the strongest swimmer. The boats kept on until they
had rounded to leeward of this ghastly prison. There was no means of
resistance. The captives were driven ashore by force of arms, carrying a
few of their wounded with them.

With emotions beyond the power of speech, they stared at the pinnace as
the oars splashed on the return journey to the _Revenge_. Joe Hawkridge
wept a little, perplexed that men could be so cruel to their own
shipmates. And yet what could be expected of pirates debased enough to
be Blackbeard's loyal followers? Recovering from their first stupor, the
twenty able-bodied survivors began to ransack the strip of naked sand on
which they had been marooned. It was no more than an acre in extent. A
few small fish were found in a pool left by the falling tide and perhaps
a hundred turtle eggs were uncovered during the afternoon. This merely
postponed starvation.

There was not much bickering. In the shadow of certain death, these
outlaws of the sea seemed to have acquired a spirit of resignation which
was akin to dignity. They had lost the game. In their own lingo, it was
the black spot for all hands of 'em. With the coolness of night they
revived to bathe in the surf which made their thirst less hard to bear.
There was not much sleep. Men walked in restless circles, looking up at
the stars, muttering to themselves, or scanning the sea which had known
their crimes and follies.

[Illustration: THEY CAPERED AND HUGGED EACH OTHER]

Joe Hawkridge scooped out a bed for himself in the sand and dropped off
to sleep by spells, with dreams of ease and quiet ashore and learning to
be a gentleman. It was daylight when shouts startled him. The other
derelicts were in a frenzy of agitation. They capered and hugged each
other, and made unearthly sounds. Joe brushed the sand from his eyes and
saw a small vessel approaching the tiny island. Her rig was made out to
be that of a snow, which was very like a brig, the difference being in
the larger main-topsail and the absence of a spanker or after
steering-sail.

Such trading craft as this snow came coasting down from Salem and other
New England ports to Virginia and the Carolinas laden with molasses,
rum, salt, cider, mackerel, woodenware, Muscavado sugar, and dried
codfish. They bartered for return cargoes and carried no specie,
wherefore pirates like Stede Bonnet seldom molested them excepting to
take such stores as might be needed and sometimes actually to pay for
them. They were the prey of miscreants of Blackbeard's stripe who
destroyed and slew for the pleasure of it.

This trim little snow was making to the southward in fancied security,
having picked up a landfall, as the marooned pirates conjectured. No
doubt her master had failed to receive warning that Blackbeard was in
these waters and he was running his risk of encountering other
marauders. He must have seen that there were people in distress on the
tide-washed strip of sand. The snow shifted her helm and fired a gun.
The marooned wretches could scarce credit their amazing good fortune but
a grave, slow-spoken fellow who had been a carpenter's mate in the
_Revenge_ thought the rejoicing premature.

"When that God-fearin' skipper takes a look at us, he will sheer off and
clap on sail, lads. For shipwrecked sailors you are a pizen lot o' mugs.
The only blighted one of ye what's the leastwise respectable is me."

Here was a terrible misgiving which clouded the bright anticipations.
They were, indeed, an unlovely cargo for the little trading vessel to
take on board. One of them whipped out a pair of scissors and hastily
sawed at his unkempt whiskers while his comrades stood in line and
waited their turn. Others discarded gaudy kerchiefs and pistol-belts, or
kicked off Spanish jack-boots. Scraps of gold lace were also unpopular.
But they could not get rid of scarred faces and rum-reddened noses and
the other hall-marks of their trade.

To their immense relief, the snow displayed no signs of alarm but sailed
as close as the shoaling water permitted and dipped her colors. The
pirates flattered themselves that they were not as frightful as the
carpenter's mate had painted them. And this New England shipmaster was
a merciful man who would not leave his fellow mortals to perish. They
saw a boat lowered from the snow and into it jumped half a dozen
sailors, soberly clad in dungaree, with round straw hats on their heads.
With a gush of gratitude, the pirates swore to deal courteously by these
noble merchant mariners and to repay them in whatever manner possible.

Out into the murmuring surf rushed the mild-mannered rascals, eager to
grasp the boat and haul it up. It was Joe Hawkridge, hovering in the
background, who raised the first cry of astonishment. His voice was so
affrighted that it quavered. Before the boat was half-way from the
vessel, he perceived that these were no sedate seamen from the
Massachusetts Colony, even though they were in dungaree and round straw
hats. He was gazing at some of Ned Rackham's evil pirates whom he had
last beheld on the shattered deck of the _Plymouth Adventure_ where they
had been left to build a raft for themselves!

The devil had looked after his own. They had floated away from the
stranded ship and instead of landing on the beach had been rescued by
this unfortunate snow whose crew had been disposed of in some violent
manner. This much Joe Hawkridge comprehended, although his mind was
awhirl. He was better off marooned. He had helped to turn the guns of
the _Plymouth Adventure_ against these very same men when they had been
blown out of the after cabin and the ship retaken by Captain Jonathan
Wellsby.

Whatever other plans they had in store, the first business would be to
kill Joe Hawkridge. This was painfully obvious. He retreated still
farther behind his companions and had a confused idea of digging into
the sand and burying himself from view. The discovery that these were
Blackbeard's pirates in the boat created general confusion but there was
no fear of instant death. It was a situation excessively awkward for the
marooned company but nevertheless open to parley and argument.

By hurried agreement, the carpenter's mate, Peter Tobey by name, was
chosen as spokesman. Before he began to talk with the men in the boat,
Joe Hawkridge called to him in piteous accents and begged him to step
back in rear of the crowd for a moment. Tobey shouted to the boat to
wait outside the surf and not attempt a landing.

"What's the row, Joe?" he asked, with a kindly smile. "'Tis a
disappointment for all of us,--this tangle with Rackham's crew,--but why
any worse for you?"

"I can't tell it all, Peter, but my life is forfeit once they lay hands
on me."

"What tarradiddle is this? As I remember it in the _Revenge_, when all
hands of us were cruisin' together, ye had no mortal enemies."

"It happened in the _Plymouth Adventure_," answered Joe. "There be men
in yon boat that 'ud delight in flayin' me alive. I swear it, Peter, by
my mother's name. Give me up, and my blood is on your head."

The boy's words carried conviction. The stolid carpenter's mate pondered
and knitted his bushy brows.

"I never did a wilful murder yet," said he. "Mallet and chisel come
readier to my fist than a cutlass. Bide here, Joe. Let me get my
bearings. This has the look of a ticklish matter for the lot of us. I
shall be keepin' a weather eye lifted for squalls."

In mortal fear of discovery by the men in the boat, Joe flattened
himself behind a palmetto log which had drifted to the other side of the
island. Here he was hidden unless the boat should make a landing. The
carpenter's mate waded out to join his companions who were amiably
conversing with Ned Rackham's pirates. They had all been shipmates
either in the _Revenge_ or the _Triumph_ sloop and there was boisterous
curiosity concerning the divers adventures while they had been apart.
Rackham's crew had been reduced to eighteen men when they were lucky
enough to capture the snow, it was learned. With this small company he
dared not go pirating on his own account and so had decided to rejoin
Blackbeard.

"Is Ned Rackham aboard the snow?" asked Peter Tobey of the boat's
coxswain.

"He is all o' that, matey, though the big bos'n of the _Plymouth
Adventure_ shoved a knife in his ribs to the hilt. He is flat in a bunk
but he gives the orders an' it's jump at the word."

"A hard man to kill," said Peter Tobey. "Take me aboard. 'Tis best I
have speech with him. Let the people wait here on the cay. They can
stand another hour of it."

There was fierce protest among the marooned pirates but the carpenter's
mate gruffly demanded to know if they wished to be carried into the
harbor and turned over to Blackbeard. This gave the mob something to
think about and they permitted the boat to pull away from them without
much objection.

"A rough joke on you lads, I call it, to be dumped on this bit o'
purgatory," said the coxswain to Peter Tobey. "The great Cap'n Teach
must ha' been in one of his tantrums."

"It had been long brewing, as ye know," answered the carpenter's mate.
"These men with you in the snow 'ud sooner follow Ned Rackham,
flint-hearted though he be, than to rejoin the _Revenge_."

"Not so loud," cautioned the coxswain. "We'll see which way the cat is
going to jump. Us poor devils is sore uneasy at findin' how you were
dealt with."

"What of the master and crew of the snow?" asked Tobey. "Were they
snuffed out? That 'ud be Rackham's way."

"No, we set 'em off in a boat, within sight of the coast. Ned Rackham
was too shrewd to bloody his hands, bein' helpless in this tub of a snow
which could neither fight nor show her heels if she was chased."

Few men as there were aboard the snow, they were smartly disciplined and
kept things shipshape, as Peter Tobey noted when he climbed on deck. A
few minutes later he was summoned into the small cabin. Propped up in
the skipper's berth, Sailing-Master Ned Rackham had a pinched and
ghastly look. He was a young man, with clean-cut, handsome features, and
a certain refinement of manner when he cared to assume it. The rumor was
that he was the black sheep of an English house of some distinction and
that he had enlisted in the Royal Navy under a false name.

"What is this mare's-nest, my good Tobey?" said he as the carpenter's
mate stood diffidently fumbling with his cap. "Marooned? Twenty men of
you on a reef of sand? Were ye naughty boys whilst I was absent?"

"No more than them I could name who planned to go a-cruisin' in the
_Plymouth Adventure_," doggedly replied Peter Tobey who resented the
tone of sneering patronage.

"Fie, fie! You talk boldly for a man in your situation. Never mind! Why
the honor of this visit?"

"To make terms, Master Rackham. If us twenty men consent to serve
you----"

"You babble of terms?" was the biting interruption. "I can leave you to
perish on the sand, as ye no doubt deserve, or I can carry you in with
me, when I report to Captain Teach."

"But there's another choice, which hasn't escaped you," persisted the
intrepid carpenter's mate. "Enlist us in your service and you'll have
nigh on forty men. This snow mounts a few old swivels and you must ha'
found muskets in her. With forty men, Master Rackham, there's no
occasion to bow to Blackbeard's whimsies. You can h'ist the Jolly Roger
for yourself and lay 'longside a bigger ship to take and cruise in. I've
heard tell of a great buccaneer that started for himself in a pinnace
and captured a galleon as tall as a church."

Ned Rackham's eyes flashed. Indeed, this was what he had in mind. This
score of recruits would make the venture worth undertaking. Men were
essential. Given enough of them to handle the snow and a boarding party
besides, and he would not hesitate to shift helm and bear away to sea
again.

"You will sign articles, then?" he demanded.

"Aye, I can speak for all, Master Rackham. What else is there for us?
Hold fast, I would except one man. He must be granted safe conduct, on
your sacred honor."

"His name, Tobey?"

"That matters not. Pledge me first. He has no more stomach for piracy
and will be set ashore at some port."

"A pig in a poke?" cried Rackham, with an ugly smile. "If I refuse,
what?"

"You will have sulky men that may turn against you some day."

"And I can leave you to rot where you are, with your nonsense of 'making
terms,'" was the harsh rejoinder.

"But you won't do that," argued Peter Tobey. "Your own fortune hangs on
enlisting us twenty lads. You bear Blackbeard no more love than we do."

Ned Rackham was making no great headway with this stubborn carpenter's
mate who was playing strong cards of his own.

"A drawn bout, Tobey," said he, with a change of front. "No more backing
and filling. You ask a small favor. Fetch your man along, whoever he may
be. He shall be done no harm by me."

"Even though he made a mortal enemy of you, Master Rackham?"

"Enough, Peter. I have many enemies and scores to settle. You have my
assurance but I demand the lad's name."

"Not without his permission," declared Tobey. "Set me ashore and I will
confer with him."

Grudgingly Rackham consented, unwilling to have a hitch in the
negotiations. In a somber humor, the carpenter's mate returned to his
impatient comrades on the island. They crowded about him and he briefly
delivered the message, that they were desired to cruise under Ned
Rackham's flag. This delighted them, as the only way out of a fatal
dilemma. Then Tobey went over to sit down upon the palmetto log behind
which Joe Hawkridge still sprawled like a turtle. The anxious boy poked
up his head to say:

"What cheer, Peter? A plaguey muddle you found it, I'll bet."

"Worse'n that, Joe. Rackham wouldn't clinch it with his oath unless I
told him your name. I plead with him for safe conduct."

"I'd not trust his oath on a stack o' Bibles, once he set eyes on me,"
exclaimed Joe. "As soon put my fist to my own death warrant as go aboard
with him."

"That may be," said Peter Tobey, "but you will have friends. You can't
expect us to refuse to sail on account o' you."

"Leave me here, then," cried the boy. "I'll not call it deserting me.
Take your men aboard the snow. Tell Ned Rackham you have the fellow
amongst 'em who implored the safe conduct. Pick out some harmless lad
that was saucy to Rackham in the _Revenge_, a half-wit like that
Robinson younker that was the sailing-master's own cabin boy. He was
allus blubberin' that Rackham 'ud kill him some day."

"No half-wit about you," admiringly quoth the carpenter's mate. "But,
harkee, Joe, you will die in slow misery. Better a quick bullet from
Rackham's pistol."

"Find some way to send off a little food and water, Peter, and I will
set tight on this desert island. And mayhap you will dance at the end
of a rope afore I shuffle off."

"A hard request, Joe," replied the puzzled Tobey. "Unless I can come off
again with some of our own men, how can it be done? Let Rackham's crew
suspect I am leaving a man behind and they will rout you out."

"And they all love me, like a parson loves a pirate," grinned Joe. "I
shot 'em full of spikes and bolts from a nine-pounder in the _Plymouth
Adventure_."

"I shall use my best endeavor, so help me," sighed Peter Tobey. "What
for did I ever quit carpenterin' to go a-piratin'? 'Tis the worst basket
of chips that ever was."

"No sooner do I crawl out of one hole than I tumble into another," very
truthfully observed Joe Hawkridge. "Insomuch as I've allus crawled out,
you and me'll shed no more tears, Peter. There's a kick in me yet."

The disconsolate carpenter's mate returned to his fellow pirates and
bade them go off to the snow. First, however, he extracted from every
man the solemn promise that he would not divulge the secret of Joe
Hawkridge's presence nor reveal the fact that he had remained behind.
They were eager to promise anything. Several of them stole over to tell
him furtive farewells. They displayed no great emotion. The trade they
followed was not apt to make them turn soft over such a tragic episode
as this.

When the snow was ready to take her departure, with almost forty
seasoned pirates to seek their fortunes anew, the wind died to a calm
and the little vessel drifted within easy vision of the sandy island
through a long afternoon. Peter Tobey tormented himself to find some
pretext for smuggling food and water ashore. He invented a tale of a
precious gold snuff-box which must have fallen out of his pocket and
begged permission to go and search for it. But Ned Rackham sent up word
that he had no notion of being delayed by a fool's errand, should a
breeze spring up. He was not at all anxious to linger so close to
Cherokee Inlet whence Blackbeard might sight the spars of the snow and
perhaps weigh anchor in the _Revenge_.

Soon after dark the sails filled with a soft wind which drew the snow
clear of the coast. Peter Tobey had been mightily busy with an empty
cask. In it he stowed meat and biscuit and a bag of onions, stealthily
abstracted from the storeroom while his own companions stood guard
against surprise. This stuff was packed around two jugs of water tightly
stoppered. Then Peter headed up the cask with professional skill and
watched the opportunity to lower it from the vessel's bow where he was
unseen.

The wind and tide were favorable to carrying the cask in the direction
of the little patch of sea-washed sand upon which was marooned the
solitary young mariner, Joe Hawkridge. The carpenter's mate saw the cask
drift past the side of the snow and roll in the silvery wake. Slowly it
vanished in the darkness and he said to himself, in a prayer devoutly
earnest:

"That boy deserves a slant o' luck, and may the good God let him have it
this once. Send the cask to the beach, and I vow to go a-piratin' never
again."



CHAPTER XI

JACK JOURNEYS AFOOT


IT is often said that a thing is not lost if you know where it is. This
was Jack Cockrell's opinion concerning that weighty sea-chest which had
splashed to the bottom of the sluggish stream in the heart of the
Cherokee swamp. With young Bill Saxby and eager old Trimble Rogers he
hastened from the grave of the pirate seaman whom they had buried on the
knoll and fetched up at the shore where the pirogue had been left.
Beside it floated Blackbeard's boat filled with water.

Having cut two or three long poles, they sounded the depth and prodded
in the muddy bed to find the treasure chest. It had sunk no more than
eight feet below the surface, as the tide then stood, which was not much
over the head of a tall man. The end of a pole struck something solid,
after considerable poking about. It was not rough, like a sunken log,
and further investigation with the poles convinced them that they were
thumping the lid of the chest.

"D'ye suppose you could muster breath to dive and bend a line to one o'
the handles, Master Cockrell?" suggested Trimble Rogers. "Here's a coil
of stout stuff in Cap'n Teach's boat what he used for a painter."

"The bottom of the creek is too befouled," promptly objected Jack, "and
I confess it daunts me to think of meeting that drownded corpse down
there. Try it yourself, if you like."

"I be needed above water to handle the musket if Blackbeard sneaks back
to bang at us with his pistols," was the evasive reply. The mention of
the corpse had given old Trimble a distaste for the task. To his
petulant question, Bill Saxby protested that he couldn't swim a blessed
stroke and he sensibly added:

"What if you did get a rope's end belayed to a handle of the chest? Even
if the strain didn't part the line, we couldn't heave away in this tipsy
canoe. And I am blamed certain we can't drag the chest ashore lackin'
purchase and tackles."

"The smell o' treasure warps my judgment," grumpily confessed Trimble
Rogers. "We ain't properly rigged to h'ist that chest from where she
lays, and that's the fact."

"Give us the gear and we'd have it out and cracked open as pretty as you
please," said Bill. "Set up a couple o' spars for shears, stay 'em from
the bank, rig double blocks, and grapplin' irons for a diver to work
with----"

"Which is exactly what Cap'n Teach will be doin' of when he finds his
ship again," lamented the buccaneer.

"He will be some time findin' his ship afoot," grimly chuckled Bill.
"We have naught to smash his boat with, but we'll just take it along
with us."

"If we make haste to report to Captain Stede Bonnet," spoke up Jack
Cockrell, "he may make sail in time to give Blackbeard other things to
think on than this treasure chest. And it is my notion that the need of
fitting the _Revenge_ for action is too urgent to spare a crew to
attempt this errand."

"We shall have it yet," cried Trimble, much consoled. "And Stede
Bonnet'll blithely furnish the men and gear. For a mere babe, Master
Cockrell, ye leak wisdom like a colander. Our duty is to tarry no longer
at this mad business."

"The first sound word I've heard out of the old barnacle, eh, Jack?"
said Bill Saxby. "We must be out of this swamp by night and layin' a
course for Cap'n Bonnet and the _Royal James_."

"Whilst you empty Blackbeard's boat of water so we can tow it, let me
make a rude chart," was Jack's happy idea. "Some mishap or other may
overtake us ere we get the chance to seek the treasure again. And our
own memory of this pest-hole of a swamp may trick us."

Bill Saxby's tattered diary supplied a scrap of paper and Jack dug
charred splinters from the inside of the canoe which enabled him to draw
a charcoal sketch or map. It traced the smaller stream from the fork
where it had branched off, the stretch in which it widened like a tiny
lagoon or bayou, and the point of shore just beyond which the pirogue
had unexpectedly rammed Blackbeard's boat. A cross designated the spot
where the treasure chest had sunk in eight feet of water.

The knoll and the grave of Seaman Jesse Strawn were also indicated, with
the distance estimated in paces and the bearings set down by the
position of the sun.

"There," said Jack, well pleased with his handiwork, "and once we are
aboard ship, I can make fair copies on parchment, one for each of us."

"Thankee, lad," gratefully exclaimed Trimble Rogers who now had
something to live for. "'Twas a fond dream o' mine, when I sailed wi'
the great Cap'n Edward Davis in the South Sea, some day to blink at a
chart what showed where the gold was hid."

They were, indeed, recovered from the intoxication of treasure and
recalled to realizing the obligation that was upon them. They had
swerved from it but now they pressed forward to finish the appointed
journey. The canoe moved down to the fork of the waters with the light
cock-boat skittering in its wake and perhaps the unhappy Blackbeard,
stranded in the swamp, hurled after them a volley of those curses for
which he was renowned. Once Jack Cockrell laughed aloud, explaining to
his laboring comrades:

"Captain Teach will be combing the burrs from his grand beard when he
boards his ship again. He may get hung by the chin in a thicket."

"He's sure to spend this night in the swamp, blast him," earnestly
observed Bill, "and the mosquitoes'll riddle his hide."

"And may Jesse Strawn lose no time in hauntin' him," said Trimble
Rogers.

There was an hour of daylight to spare when they had ascended the larger
creek as far as the canoe could be paddled. There they disembarked and
hid the dugout and the cock-boat in the overhanging bushes where they
could be found again in case of a forced retreat. Bill and Jack burdened
themselves with the sack of food and the water jug while the old
buccaneer set out in the lead as a guide. It was irksome progress for a
time, but gradually the ground became drier and the foliage was more
open. Dusk found them safely emerged from the great Cherokee swamp and
in a pleasant forest of long-leaf pine with a carpet of brown needles.

In fear of Indians, they dared not kindle a fire and so stretched
themselves in their wet and muddy rags and slept like dead men. What
awakened Jack Cockrell before sunrise was a series of groans from
Trimble Rogers who sat with his back against a tree while he rubbed his
legs. Ashamed at being heard, he grumpily explained:

"Cord and faggot 'ud torment me no worse than this hell-begotten
rheumatism. I be free of it in a ship but the land reeks with foul
vapors. It hurt me cruel at Cartagena in the year of----"

"But can you walk all day, in such misery as that?" anxiously
interrupted Jack.

"If not, I'll make shift to crawl," said the old sea dog.

It was apparent to Jack and also to Bill Saxby that the ordeal of the
swamp had crippled their companion whose bodily strength had been
overtaxed. They debated whether to try to return to the coast and risk a
voyage in the canoe but Trimble Rogers swore by all the saints in the
calendar that he was done with the pestilent swamp. He would push on in
spite of the rheumatism. His hardy spirit was unbroken. And so they
resumed the march, the suffering buccaneer hobbling with the musket as a
staff or with a strong arm supporting him.

Halts were frequent and progress very slow. Now and then they had
glimpses of the blue sea and so knew that they held the course true. It
had been reckoned that two days would suffice to bring them to the bay
in which Stede Bonnet's ship was anchored. By noon of this first day,
however, it was plainly evident that Trimble Rogers was done for. He
uttered no complaints, and withheld the groans behind his set teeth, but
his lank body was a-tremble with pain and fatigue. Whenever he sank down
to rest they had to raise him up and set him on his legs again before he
could totter a little way farther.

"What say, Jack, to slingin' him on a pole, neck and heels?" suggested
Bill Saxby. "Can we make him fast with our belts?"

"And choke him to death? In Charles Town I saw Captain Bonnet's pirates
carry their wounded in litters woven of boughs."

The suffering Trimble put a stop to this by shouting:

"Avast wi' the maunderin' nonsense! Push on, lads, and leave this old
hulk be. Many a goodly man have I seen drop in the jungle. What matters
it? Speed ye to Cap'n Bonnet."

"Here is one pirate that won't desert a shipmate," declared Bill Saxby.
"And how can we push on without you, old True-Penny, to lay your nose to
the trail? I took no heed o' the marks and landfalls."

"Like a sailor ashore, mouth open and eyes shut," rasped the buccaneer
of Hispaniola.

"Methinks I might find my way in this Carolina country," ventured Jack
Cockrell. "It would be easier for a landsman like myself than for Bill
who is city-bred and a seaman besides."

"More wisdom from the stripling," said Trimble. "Willing as I be to die
sooner than delay ye and so vex Stede Bonnet, it 'ud please me to live
to overhaul that sea chest of Blackbeard's."

"I'll stand by this condemned old relic," amiably agreed Bill Saxby. "Do
you request Cap'n Bonnet to send a party to salvage us, Jack."

"He will take pleasure in it, Bill. Before I go let me help you find
shelter,--dry limbs for props and a thatch of palmetto leaves."

"Take no thought of us," urged Trimble. "Trust me to set this lazy oaf
to work. Now listen, Jack, and carefully. Cap'n Bonnet's ship waits in
the Cape Fear River, twelve leagues to the north'ard of us. You will
find her betwixt a bay of the mainland and a big-sized island where the
river makes in from the sea. There will be a lookout kept and I can tell
ye where to meet a boat."

With a memory as retentive as a printed page, the keen-eyed old wanderer
described the landscape league by league, the streams and their
direction, the hills which were prominent, the broad stretches of
savannah or grassy meadow, the belts of pine forest, the tongues of
swamp which had to be avoided. Jack was compelled to repeat the detailed
instructions over and over, and he was a far more studious pupil than
when snuffy Parson Throckmorton had rapped his knuckles and fired him
with rebellious dreams of piracy. At length, the buccaneer was willing
to acknowledge:

"Unless an Indian drive an arrow through the lad's brisket, Bill, I can
trust him to find our ship. Best give him the musket."

"Me shoulder that carronade and trudge a dozen leagues?" objected Jack.
"I travel light and leave the ordnance with you."

They insisted on his taking more than a third of the food but he
refused to deprive them of the water jug. There would be streams enough
to slake his thirst. It was an affectionate parting. Bill Saxby's
innocent blue eyes were suffused and his chubby face sorrowful at the
thought that they might not meet again. Trimble Rogers fished out his
battered little Bible and quoted a few verses, as appeared to be his
habit on all solemn occasions. Jack Cockrell knew him well enough by now
to find it not incongruous. Among this vanishing race of sea fighters
had been many a hero of the most fervent piety. Their spirit was akin to
that of Francis Drake who summoned his crew to prayers before he cleared
for action.

And in this wise did Master Jack Cockrell set out to bear a message from
comrades in dire distress. Moreover, in his hands were the lives of Joe
Hawkridge and those other marooned seamen, as he had every reason to
believe. It was a grave responsibility to be thrust upon a raw lad in
his teens who had been so carefully nurtured by his fretful guardian of
an uncle, Mr. Peter Arbuthnot Forbes. Jack thought of this and said to
himself, with a smile:

"A few weeks gone, and I was locked in my room without any dinner for
loitering with Stede Bonnet's pirates at the Charles Town tavern. My
education has been swift since then."

He was expectant of meeting no end of peril and hardship and he fought
down a sense of dread that was not to his discredit. But it was so
decreed that he should pass secure and unmolested. At first he went too
fast, without husbanding his strength, and loped along like a hound
whenever the country was clear of brushwood. This wore him down and he
failed to watch carefully enough for his landmarks. Toward the end of
the day he became confused because he could not discern the sea even by
climbing a tree. But he tried to keep bearing to the northeast until the
sun went down. Afraid of losing himself entirely and ignorant of the lay
of the land by night, he made his bivouac in a grove of sycamore
saplings and imagined Indians were creeping up whenever the leaves
rustled.

This fear of roaming savages troubled him next day as he wearily trudged
through this primeval wilderness unknown to white settlers. It spurred
him on despite his foot-sore fatigue and he was making the journey more
rapidly than old Trimble Rogers, for all his cunning woodcraft, had been
able to accomplish it. Almost at the end of his endurance, the plucky
lad discerned the sheen of a broad water in the twilight and so came to
the Cape Fear River.

He had worried greatly lest he might have veered too far inland but
there was the wooded bay and the fore-land crowned with dead pines which
had been swept by forest fire. And out beyond it was the island, of the
size and shape described by Trimble Rogers, making a harbor from the sea
which rolled to the horizon rim.

But no tall brig, nor any other vessel rode at anchor in this silent and
lonely haven. Jack had been told precisely where to look for it. He had
made no mistake. Some emergency had caused Captain Stede Bonnet to make
sail and away.

A king's ship or some other hostile force might have compelled him to
slip his cable in haste, reflected Jack as he descended to the shore of
the bay. It was most unlike the chivalrous Stede Bonnet to abandon two
of his faithful seamen without an effort to succor them. Endeavoring to
comfort himself with this surmise, the sorely disappointed boy paced the
sand far into the night and gazed in vain for the glimmer of a fire or
the spark of a signal lantern in a ship's rigging. He could not bear to
think of the dark prospect should no help betide him.

Some time before day he was between waking and sleeping when a queer
delusion distracted him. Humming in his ears was the refrain of a song
which was both familiar and hauntingly pleasant. It seemed to charm away
his poignant anxieties, to lull him with a feeling of safety. He
wondered if his troublesome adventures had made him light-headed. He
moved not a muscle but listened to this phantom music and noted that it
sounded louder and clearer instead of fading away. And still he refused
to believe that it was anything more than a drowsy mockery.

At length a vagrant breeze brought him a snatch of this enjoyable
chorus in deeper, stronger volume and he leaped to his feet with a
shout. It was no hallucination. Lusty seamen were singing in time to the
beat of their oars, and Jack Cockrell knew it for the favorite song of
Stede Bonnet's crew. He could distinguish the words as they rolled them
out in buoyant, stentorian harmony:

          "An' when my precious leg was lopt,
             Just for a bit of fun
           I picks it up, on t'other hopt,
             An' rammed it in a gun.
           'What's that for?' cries out Ginger Dick,
             'What for? my jumpin' beau?
           Why, to give the lubbers one more kick,'
            _Yo, ho, with the rum below!_"



CHAPTER XII

A PRIVATE ACCOUNT TO SETTLE


THE ship's boat was bound into the bay, probably to lie there for
daybreak, and Jack Cockrell rushed down to the beach where he set up
such a frantic hullabaloo that the sailors ceased singing and held their
breath and their oars suspended. They had come to look for Bill Saxby
and Trimble Rogers, but this was a strange voice. It was so odd a
circumstance that several of them hailed the shore with questions loud
and perplexed.

"Master John Cockrell, at your service," came back the reply. "Captain
Bonnet knows me. I am the lad that clouted a six-foot pirate of yours
for being saucy to a maid in Charles Town."

This aroused a roar of laughter and there were gusty shouts of:

"Here's that same Will Brant in the boat with us. He shakes in his boots
at the sound of ye."

"What's the game, lad? Have ye taken a ship of your own to scour the
Main?"

Jack ignored this good-natured badinage and, in dignified accents, told
them to come ashore and take him off to the _Royal James_. In this
company he had a reputation to live up to as a man of parts and valor.
They let the boat ground on the smooth sand and one of them lighted a
torch of pitch-pine splinters. The fine young gentleman who had strolled
arm-in-arm with Stede Bonnet to the tavern green was a ragged scarecrow
and bedaubed with red clay and black mud. This aroused their sympathy
before he told them of his escape from the _Revenge_ and his adventures
with Bill Saxby and the crippled buccaneer. In their turn they explained
how Captain Bonnet had sent them down the river to await the return of
the two men who were now stranded in the wilderness two days' march
distant.

"And why did your captain shift the brig from her anchorage off the
island?" asked Jack.

This amused the boat's crew who nudged each other and were evasive until
the master's mate who was in charge went far enough to say:

"A sloop came in from the Pamlico River. Our ship sought a snugger
harbor, d'ye see? There was some private business. We loaded the sloop
with hogshead of sugar, and bolts of damask, and silver ingots. His
Excellency, Governor Eden, of the North Carolina Province, turns an
honest penny now and then."

"The Governor of this Province is a partner in piracy?" cried Jack.

"Brawl it not so loud, nor spill it to Cap'n Bonnet," cautioned the
master's mate. "I confide this much to stave off your foolish questions
when ye board the ship."

There was no reason to tarry in the bay and the boat pulled out to
follow the course of the river and return in haste to the brig _Royal
James_ in her more secluded harbor. The news that Blackbeard was at his
old rendezvous within easy sail to the southward eclipsed all other
topics. And when it was learned that he had lost the two sloops of his
squadron, there was fierce delight. Although the _Revenge_ was a larger
vessel and more heavily manned and gunned, they were hilariously
confident of victory. It was a burning grudge and a private quarrel, and
fuel was added to the flame by the tidings that a score or more of
seamen had been mercilessly marooned to perish because of their
suspected preference for Captain Stede Bonnet.

When Jack Cockrell caught sight of the shapely brig as she loomed in the
morning haze, it seemed as though years had passed since he had
enviously watched her pass out over the Charles Town bar. Presently he
spied the soldierly captain on the quarter-deck, his spare figure all
taut and erect, his chin clean-shaven, his queue powdered, his apparel
fresh and in good taste. A ship is like her master and the watch was
sluicing down decks or setting up the rigging which had slackened with
the heavy dew. Jack felt ashamed to let himself be seen. This was no
place for a ragamuffin.

Captain Bonnet strode to the gangway and stared down at this bit of
human flotsam. He was quick to recognize his boyish friend and admirer
and ordered the men to lower a boatswain's chair and lift Master
Cockrell aboard. Jack was, indeed, so stiffened and sore and weary that
he had been wondering how he could climb the side of a ship.

"Tut, tut, my son, bide your time," exclaimed Stede Bonnet as they met
on deck. "Tell it later. The master's mate will enlighten me."

He led the way into the cabin which was in order and simply furnished.
One servant brewed fragrant coffee from Arabia while another made a room
ready for the guest and fetched clean clothing from the captain's chests
and a tub of hot water. And as soon as the grateful Master Cockrell had
made himself presentable, he was invited to sit down at table with the
captain and enjoy a meal of porridge and crisp English bacon and fresh
eggs from the ship's hen-coop in the long-boat and hot crumpets and
marmalade. And this after the pinched ration of mouldy salt-horse and
wormy hard-bread! Captain Bonnet lighted a roll of tobacco leaves, which
he called a _cigarro_, and puffed clouds of smoke while Master Cockrell
cleaned every dish and lamented that his skin felt too tight to begin
all over again.

He was now in a mood to relate his strange yarn, from its outset in the
ill-fated merchant trader, _Plymouth Adventure_. Eagerly he begged
information concerning her people after their shipwreck, but Captain
Bonnet had been cruising far offshore to intercept a convoy of rich
West Indiamen from Jamaica for the old country.

"I will make it my duty to set you ashore at Charles Town, Master Jack,"
said he, "and I pray you may find your good uncle alive and still vowing
to hang all rogues of pirates."

"But I must sail with you, sir, till you have saved Joe Hawkridge and
his shipmates and blown Blackbeard out of water."

"Rest easy on that," exclaimed Stede Bonnet. "Those affairs are most
urgent. My ship will drop down the river to-day, with the turn o' the
tide, and heave to long enough to land a party, six men, to go in search
of Trimble Rogers who is the apple of my eye. I shall not ask you to
join them, but you can give directions and pen a fair map, I trow."

"Gladly would I go," replied Jack, "but my poor legs wobble like your
valiant old buccaneer's. And my feet are raw."

"You have proved yourself," was the fine compliment. "I judged ye aright
when we first met."

Soon the deck above them resounded to the tramp of boots and the thump
of sheet-blocks as the brisk seamen made ready to cast the ship free.
She was in competent hands and so Stede Bonnet lingered below to enjoy
talking with the youth whose manners and breeding were like his own. In
a mood unusually confidential he confirmed Jack's earlier impressions,
that he was a pirate with a certain code of honor which reminded one of
Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest who robbed the rich and befriended the
poor. Touching on his mortal quarrel with Blackbeard, he revealed how
that traitorous ruffian had proposed a partnership while he, Stede
Bonnet, was a novice at the trade. The plot all hatched to take Bonnet's
fine ship, the _Revenge_, from him, Blackbeard had disclosed his hand at
the final conference when he said, with a sarcastic grimace:

"I see, my good sir, that you are not used to the cares and duties of
commanding a vessel, so I will relieve you of 'em."

As soon as Captain Bonnet had mended his fortunes and had the goodly
brig _Royal James_ to cruise in, his ruling purpose was to regain the
_Revenge_ from Blackbeard and at the same time wreak a proper
punishment.

"So now if we can trap this black-hearted Teach before he flits to sea,"
said Stede Bonnet, "you will see a pretty engagement, Master Cockrell.
But first we must find the score o' men that he marooned. It will be a
deed of mercy, besides affording me a stronger crew."

The brig was soon standing down the river while the landing party broke
out an ample store of provisions and powder and ball, with canvas for a
tent. The plan was for them to pitch a camp near the shore of the bay to
which they could fetch back Trimble Rogers and Bill Saxby and there wait
for their ship to return and take them off. They were ready to go ashore
when Captain Bonnet's navigator ordered the main-topsail laid aback and
the brig slowly swung into the wind. The delay was brief and no sooner
was the boat cast off than the _Royal James_ proceeded on the voyage to
Cherokee Inlet.

Clumsy as those sailing ships of two hundred years ago appear to modern
eyes, their lines were finely moulded under water and with a favoring
wind they could log a fair distance in a day's run. It goes without
saying that this tall brig was shoved along for all she was worth before
a humming breeze that made her creak, and during the night she was
reckoned to be a few miles to seaward of the sandy islands which
extended like a barrier outside of Cherokee Inlet. Jack Cockrell stood a
watch of his own, dead weary but with no thought of sleep until he could
hear the lookout shout "Land ho!"

This cry came from aloft soon after dawn. The brig moved toward the
nearest of these exposed shoals while her officers consulted a chart
spread upon the cabin roof. They were wary of running the ship aground
with Blackbeard no more than a few miles distant. So bare were these
yellow patches of sand that showed against the green water that a group
of men on any one of them would have been easily discernible. The _Royal
James_ coasted along outside of them under shortened sail but discovered
nothing to indicate a party of marooned seamen.

"But they must be out here somewhere," cried Jack Cockrell, in great
distress.

"They ought to be, for no trading vessel would take 'em off," replied
the puzzled Captain Bonnet. "And if they were towed out in boats as ye
say, Jack, these islands must ha' been where they were beached."

"But you won't give up the search, sir, without another tack past those
outermost shoals?"

"Oh, we shall rake them all, but Blackbeard may have changed that
crotchety mind of his and taken the men back to his ship."

"I fear I have seen the last of my dear Joe Hawkridge," exclaimed Jack.

"From what you tell me, the young scamp is not so easily disposed of,"
smiled Captain Bonnet. "I must haul out to sea ere long. 'Tis poor
business to let Blackbeard glimpse my spars and so take warning."

This was sad news and Jack walked away to hide his quivering lip. To
examine the islands again was a forlorn hope because already it seemed
certain that nothing alive moved on any of them. The brig passed them
closer than before as she made a long reach before turning out to sea.
It was the intention to sail in to engage Blackbeard very early the next
morning and meanwhile he would be vigilantly blockaded.

Even Jack Cockrell, hopeful to the last, was compelled to agree with the
crew of the brig that not a solitary man could be seen on these sea-girt
cays and it seemed useless to send off a boat to explore them one by
one. There would have been some stir or signal, even if men were too
weak to stand. The air was clear and from the brig's masts it was
possible to sweep every foot of sandy surface. Here was another mystery
of the sea. It occurred to Stede Bonnet to ask:

"You took it for granted they were marooned, Jack, when the boats passed
from your sight and you were hidden in the tree in the swamp. What if a
quicker death were dealt 'em?"

"That may be, sir."

The brig was leaving the coast astern. Jack moped by himself until his
curiosity was drawn to a group of seamen upon the forecastle head who
were talking loudly and pointing at something in the water, well ahead
of the ship. One vowed it was a big sea-turtle asleep, another was
willing to wager his silver-mounted pistols that it was a rum barrel,
while a third announced that he'd stake his head on its being a mermaid
or her husband. The after-deck brought a spy-glass to bear and perceived
that the thing was splashing about. The tiller was shifted to bring it
close aboard and soon Captain Bonnet exclaimed that it was, indeed, a
merman a-cruising with a cask!

Jack Cockrell scampered to the heel of the bowsprit to investigate this
ocean prodigy. And as the cask drifted nearer he saw that Joe Hawkridge
was clinging to it. There was no mistaking that dauntless grin and the
mop of carroty hair. A handy seaman tossed a bight of line over his
shoulders as he bobbed past the forefoot of the brig and he was yanked
bodily over the bulwark like a strange species of fish. Flopping on deck
he waved a skinny arm in greeting and then Jack Cockrell rushed at him,
lifted him bodily, and dragged him to the cabin.

"What ho, comrade!" said the dripping merman. "Blast my eyes, but I was
sick with worry for you. I left you in that swamp----"

"And I thought you dead, Joe. For the love o' heaven, tell me how you
fared and what----"

Captain Bonnet interfered to say:

"I treated you more courteously than this, Jack. Let us make him
comfortable."

Accepting the rebuke, Jack bustled his amazing friend into a change of
clothes and saw that he was well fed. Little the worse for his watery
pilgrimage, Joe Hawkridge explained at his leisure:

"Ned Rackham took the others away in the snow, as I tell ye, Cap'n
Bonnet, and there was I in the doleful dumps. Prayers get answered and
miracles do happen, for next day there come a-floatin' to the beach a
cask full of grub and water. Good Peter Tobey, the carpenter's mate, had
a hand in launchin' it, no doubt, but the Lord hisself steered the
blessed cask. Well, while I set a-giving thanks and thinkin' one thing
an' another, I figgered that when I'd ate all the grub and swigged the
water, I was no further along."

"And so you thought you would trust the Lord again," suggested Captain
Bonnet.

"Aye, sir, that was it. By watchin' the tides I reckoned I might drift
to another island and so work to the coast, taking my provisions with
me. There was some small line in the cask that Peter Tobey had wrapped
the stores in, and I knotted a harness about the cask that I could slip
an arm in, and off I goes when the tide sets right. But some kind of a
dratted cross-current ketched me and I'm sailin' out to sea, I finds,
without compass or cross-staff. Bound to get to London River, eh, Jack,
same as we started out on the silly little raft."

"Whew, this adventure was bad enough," cried Jack, "but when you saw Ned
Rackham's pirates in the boat, and you couldn't run away,--I wonder,
honest, Joe, you didn't die of fright."

"What for? This is no trade for a nervous wight. And now for a bloody
frolic with Blackbeard's bullies."

"There is a share of his treasure for you, Joe, as soon as we can go
find it," gleefully announced Master Cockrell. "I have the chart drawn
all true with mine own hand. Let me get it."

While the two lads pored entranced over the map of the branching creek
and the pine-covered knoll, the crew of the _Royal James_ were
overhauling weapons and clearing the ship for action. It disappointed
them to lack the twenty men whom they had expected to find marooned but
this made them no less eager for battle. Concerning Ned Rackham, there
was no feud with him or grudge to square and he could go his way in the
little trading snow without fear of molestation from Stede Bonnet.

Under cover of night the _Royal James_ worked back to the sandy islands
and anchored in the channel. One of her boats had ventured within sight
of the Inlet for a stealthy reconnaissance and reported that the
_Revenge_ was still in the harbor. Captain Bonnet was considering his
plan of attack. He said nothing about it to Jack Cockrell and his chum,
the merman, and they greedily listened to the gossip of the petty
officers or thrashed out theories of their own.

To sail boldly into the harbor was a ticklish risk to run as there was
no pilot aboard who knew the inner channel and the depths of water. All
the gunners were in favor of attempting it because they yearned to
settle it with crashing broadsides. But the battered, hairy sea-dogs who
had fought it out in hand-to-hand conflicts on the Caribbean were for
leaving the brig in safe water and sending fifty men in boats to board
the _Revenge_ at the first break of day.

In the midst of the fo'castle argument, Captain Bonnet sent for Jack
Cockrell and told him:

"You are to keep out of harm's way, my young gamecock. I have undertaken
to deliver you to your esteemed uncle with arms and legs intact, and
your head on your shoulders."

"But I am lusty enough to poke about with a pike or serve at a gun
tackle," protested the unhappy Master Cockrell.

"I expect you to obey me," was the stern mandate. "You will have
company. This Joe Hawkridge is to stay with you."

"But he is a rare hand in a fight, Captain Bonnet. You should have seen
him in the _Plymouth Adventure_."

"The boy is weak and all unstrung, though he carries it bravely, Jack.
And Blackbeard's men would take special pains to kill him as a
deserter."

By this humane verdict the two lads were shielded from peril, as far as
it lay within Stede Bonnet's power. They should have felt grateful to
him but on the contrary it made them quite peevish and they sulked by
themselves up in the bow of the ship until it was time to eat again.
Then their gnawing appetites persuaded them to forgive their considerate
host.

The pirates moved about the deck until far into the night while the
sparks flew from cutlass blades pressed to the whirling grindstone. Tubs
were filled with hand-grenades and fire-pots, the deck strewn with sand,
the magazine opened and powder passed up. Stede Bonnet was careful to
see for himself that all things were in order. At such times he was a
martinet of a soldier.

Anxiously he watched the weather signs, as did every seasoned sailor on
board. It bade fair to be a bright morning with an easterly air and this
would carry the brig into the harbor with the minimum danger of
stranding if the lead were cast often enough. Joe Hawkridge and Jack
Cockrell were of some assistance in explaining the marks and bearings of
the channel, and Captain Bonnet consulted them over the chart unrolled
upon the cabin table. He had made up his mind to sail the brig in and
risk the hazards of shoal water. When he went on deck, Jack thought of a
topic as thrilling as this imminent duel between ships and he remarked
with joyous excitement:

"Now, Joe, as soon as ever Blackbeard gets his drubbing, we beg a boat
and men and gear of Captain Bonnet and go up the creek to fish out the
treasure chest and dig in the knoll."

"Hook your fish before you fry 'em," replied the sagacious
apprentice-boy. "This scrummage with the _Revenge_ will be no dancin'
heel-and-toe. A bigger ship, more guns and men, and a Blackbeard who
will fight like a demon when he's cornered. Crazy though he may be, he
is the most dangerous pirate afloat."



CHAPTER XIII

OUR HEROES SEEK SECLUSION


AN hour before dawn the anchor was aweigh and the _Royal James_ drifted
ahead like a shadow, in between the outer islands where the fairway was
wide and safe. Her gun-ports were open and every man was alertly at his
station. It was a silent ship excepting when an officer passed an order
along. Joe Hawkridge began to feel more sanguine of winning against
odds. He had never seen such iron discipline as this in the bedlam
aboard the _Revenge_. Stede Bonnet knew how to slacken the reins and
when to apply the curb. His men were loyal because he dealt out justice
as well as severity.

"The captain says we must go below when the action commences, Joe,"
dismally observed Jack Cockrell.

"It goes against the grain but we will not dispute him," was the sage
reply. "We needn't be idle. You can lend a hand with the powder or pass
the water buckets to douse the fire if she gets ablaze. And there's the
wounded to carry into the cockpit and the blood to mop up, and----"

"Enough o' that," cried Jack, getting pale about the gills. "You take it
like a butcher!"

"What else is it, you big moon-calf? Set me safe ashore in that Charles
Town of yours, and I hope ne'er to see another weapon barring a spoon
and a knife to cut my vittles."

"There is sense in that," agreed young Master Cockrell.

Smartly handled, the brig crept in as far as she dared go without more
light by which to avoid the shallower water. The anchor was dropped to a
short cable and buoyed ready to slip. It was estimated that the distance
from Blackbeard's ship was somewhat more than a mile. The stars faded
and the cloudless sky began to take on a roseate hue. The light breeze
which had breathed like a cool zephyr through the night was dying in
languid catspaws. Gradually the dark outline of coastal swamp and forest
was uncurtained. And eager eyes were able to discern the yellow spars
and blurred hull of the _Revenge_ against the gloomy background.

Stede Bonnet's brig was, of course, pricked out much more sharply with
the seaward horizon behind her. To her crew, in this hushed morning,
there came a prolonged, shrill note that was like the call of a bird. It
trilled with a silvery sweetness and was repeated over and over again.

"A bos'n's pipe," said Captain Bonnet, a hand cupped at his ear.
"Blackbeard has sighted us and is mustering his crew."

So faint was the breeze that the command was given to man two boats and
take a hawser from the brig to tow her through the inner channel. Before
they were in motion, however, the pearly mist began to roll out of the
Cherokee swamp as if a great cauldron were steaming. The weather favored
it, heat in the air and little wind. The mist seemed also to rise from
the water, hanging low but as thick as a summer fog. It shrouded the
coast and Blackbeard's ship and crept out across the harbor until the
brig was enveloped in it.

"'Twas like this when we swum ashore and found the pirogue, Cap'n
Bonnet," said Joe Hawkridge. "A curious kind o' white smother from the
swamp."

"And how long did it hang thus?" was the impatient query.

"When the sun was well up, sir, it seemed to burn away like. It has the
same look as the fever-breedin' vapors of Darien and Yucatan."

Captain Bonnet called his boats back and was in an ugly humor. There was
no towing the brig through this bothersome fog which obscured every mark
and left a man bewildered. And instead of surprising Blackbeard
unprepared, he would now have time to make his ship ready. However,
Stede Bonnet was not a man to wring his hands because a well-laid scheme
went wrong. Without delay the crew was assembled in the waist and he
spoke to them from the break of the poop.

"We shall make this weather serve our purpose, lads. Fill the boats,
every man to his billet. The mates will see to it that the oars are
well muffled. Silence above all things. Nimbly now."

There was no need to say more. They fathomed the strategy which would
enable them to approach Blackbeard's ship unheard and unseen and then
swarm over her side in a ferocious onslaught. Cheerily they took stock
of their weapons, drank a health from a tub of stiff grog, and lined up
for Captain Bonnet's inspection. They wore clean clothes, the best they
could find in their bags, as has always been the sailor's habit when
going into action. The ship was left in charge of the navigator with a
few men who were the least stalwart or experienced in such desperate
adventures as this.

Stede Bonnet went in command of the largest boat to lead the party and
single out Blackbeard as his own particular foe. There was a large
chance that he might not return and he therefore left instructions for
the disposal of the brig, advising the navigator to take her to Charles
Town and there sue for the king's pardon in behalf of those on board. He
shook hands with Jack Cockrell and Joe Hawkridge, bade them be careful
of their own safety, and with no more ado took his place in the boat.
The flotilla stole away from the brig, sunburned, savage men with bright
weapons for whom life was like a throw of the dice, and the pearly fog
concealed them when they had passed no more than a cable-length away. So
skilfully was the sound of the oars deadened that you would not have
guessed that boats were moving across the harbor.

"Blackbeard fights like a tiger but trust Cap'n Bonnet to outwit him,"
said Joe Hawkridge, who stood at the brig's rail with Jack at his elbow.

"It will be mighty hard waiting," was the tense reply. "We shall know
when they find the _Revenge_. They are not apt to miss her, with a
compass in the captain's boat."

"Aye, there'll be noise enough. Plaguey queer, eh, Jack, to be a-loafin'
with nothing to see, like your head was wrapped in a blanket. They ought
to fetch alongside Blackbeard in a half-hour. Go turn the sand-glass in
the cabin."

They fidgeted about in aimless fashion and fell into talk with the
navigator, or artist, as he was called, a middle-aged man who had been a
master mariner in the slave trade. He told them a yarn or two of the
Guinea coast but he, too, was restless and left them to stump up and
down the deck and peer toward the shore. Jack dodged into the cabin to
watch the sand trickle into the bottom of the glass. Never was a
half-hour so long in passing.

A yell from Joe Hawkridge recalled him to the deck. He listened but
heard no distant pistol shots or the hoarse uproar of men in mortal
combat. Joe raised a warning hand and told him to stand still. There
came a faint splash. It might have been a fish leaping but Joe insisted
that it was made by a careless oar. Jack heard it again and then fancied
he caught the softened beat of muffled oars close at hand.

"They lost the course. The fog confused 'em," said he, in great disgust.

"But why come back to the ship?" demanded Joe. "They could lay and wait
for the fog to lift a little. And I told Cap'n Bonnet to bear to the
north'ard if in doubt and find the shore of the swamp. Then he could
coast back to the beach and so strike the _Revenge_."

"Well, here they come, Joe, and there is sure to be a good reason.
Mayhap the fog cleared to landward and they intend to tow the brig in,
after all."

Just then the foremost boat became visible and behind it was the vague
shape of another. The puzzled lads stared and stared and the hair
stiffened on their scalps for sheer horror. These were not the boats
from the _Royal James_. They were filled with Blackbeard's own pirates
from the _Revenge_!

The explanation was simple enough. Joe Hawkridge read it at a glance.
Blackbeard was not the drunken chuckle-head that Stede Bonnet had
assumed him to be. He, too, had taken advantage of the fog to attempt to
carry the enemy by stealth. The wit of the one had been matched by the
other. And the two flotillas had gone wide enough in passing to escape
mutual discovery. In a way it was a pirates' comedy but there were two
spectators who foresaw a personal tragedy. They fled for the cabin and
scuttled through a small door in a bulkhead which admitted them to the
dark hold of the ship.

It was their purpose to hide in the remotest nook that could be found.
Falling over odds and ends of cargo they burrowed like rats and stowed
themselves behind a tier of mahogany logs which had been taken out of
some prize or other. They were in the bottom of the ship, upon the rough
floor covering the stone ballast. Then these frightened stowaways found
respite to confer in tremulous whispers.

"This is the very dreadfulest fix of all, Joe. I had a fair look at
Blackbeard himself, in the stern of the boat,--red ribbons in his
whiskers, and his sash stuck full of pistols."

"That old rip isn't an easy man to mistake, Jack. Now the fat _is_ in
the fire," replied the Hawkridge lad who, for once, appeared
discouraged. "Cap'n Bonnet is a vast sight happier than us. He gets the
_Revenge_ without strikin' a blow."

"But Blackbeard gets _us_," wailed Master Cockrell. "And I helped to
chase him through the swamp after we rammed the pirogue into his wherry
and capsized the treasure chest. Do you suppose he knew me just now?"

"Those little red eyes of his are passing keen. But didn't ye tell me of
smearing your face with mud that day to fend off the mosquitoes? It may
ha' disguised you."

"A little comfort in that, Joe, but to be found in Stede Bonnet's brig
bodes ill enough. Of a truth we be born to trouble as the sparks fly
upward ever since we joined the pirates. What is your advice?"

"To stay hid below and pray God for another shift o' fortune," piously
answered Joe. "There is no fear of Blackbeard's rummagin' the hold at
present. He must decide if he'll fight the _Revenge_ or give her the
slip. And whilst him and his men are busied on deck, I can make bold to
search for stores fit to eat. Cap'n Bonnet allus had a well-found ship.
Blast it, Jack, my hearty, stock us up and we could lie tucked in the
forepeak for a month o' Sundays."

"But the rats and the darkness and the stinks, and to be expecting
discovery," was Jack's dreary comment.

"It would ha' looked like a parlor to me when I was on that barren cay
and sighted Ned Rackham's rogues coming off from the snow," said the
other stowaway. He was beginning to recuperate from the shock.

They were in a mood for no more speech but sat in this rayless cavern of
a hold and strove to hear any sounds which might indicate the course of
events on deck. There was no hubbub of firearms nor the cries of wounded
men. It was foolish to assume that the dozen seamen who had been left to
keep the ship would attempt resisting Blackbeard's mob of pirates all
primed for slaughter. When quietude seemed to reign all through the ship
Joe Hawkridge whispered this opinion:

"If his fancy was to deal with 'em later, he would pitch the lot down
here in the hold. Failing that, Jack, he has offered 'em the chance to
enlist. Being so few, they can't plot mischief, and he has lost the
hands he left aboard the _Revenge_."

"But I thought all this crew was true as steel to Stede Bonnet, Joe."

"Many a man'll change his mind to save his life," was the reply. "And
these lads aren't what you call Cap'n Bonnet's picked men. As for the
navigator, Blackbeard needs him to fill Ned Rackham's berth."

Soon Joe Hawkridge told Jack to stay where he was. Now was the time to
explore the lower part of the ship. Squeezing his comrade's hand in
farewell, Joe crawled aft to make his way to a rough bulkhead which
walled off a storeroom built next to the cabin. The boys had passed
through it in their headlong flight below. Here was kept the bulk of the
ship's provisions. Joe Hawkridge had learned of the storeroom through
helping the steward hoist out a barrel of pork.

With his heart in his throat the venturesome lad groped like a blind
man, grievously barking his shins and his knuckles, until he bumped into
the timbers of the bulkhead. Inching himself along, he came to the small
door which had been cut into the hold to connect with the main hatch. He
had slipped the iron bar behind him during his flight with Jack
Cockrell. Pulling the door ajar he wormed through into the storeroom
which was also dark as midnight. His fingers touched what seemed to be
a tierce of beef but he had no tools to start the head or the hoops. In
the same manner he discovered other casks and barrels but they were
utterly useless to him. Here was food enough, he reflected, if a man had
teeth to gnaw through oak staves.

Now and again he had to cross to the other door which led into the cabin
passageway and press his ear against a plank to make certain against
surprise. Up and down the dark room he blundered, refusing to admit
himself beaten. The first bit of cheer was when his foot struck a round
object as solid as a round shot and he picked up a small Dutch cheese.
This renewed his courage and he ransacked the corners on hands and
knees. Blackbeard's treasure chest was not half so precious as a side of
salted fish which he ran down by scent, saying to himself:

"With this rancid cheese and the slab o' ancient cod, ye could smell my
course a league to wind'ard."

In a crumpled sack he found a few pounds of what seemed to be wheat
flour, by the feel and taste of it. Poor stuff as it was, dry and
uncooked, he added it to his stock.

"Rubbishy vittles," he sighed. "They may keep a man alive but he'll
choke to death a-swallowin' of 'em."

Water was the desperate necessity and it was not to be sought for in the
storeroom. There was rum enough, the place reeked with it, but to
thirsty throats it was so much liquid fire. Joe was resolved not to
return to Jack Cockrell without a few pints of water if reckless
enterprise could procure it. Was the cabin still empty? He stood for a
long time and listened but there was not a sound beyond the door of the
passageway. Taking his courage in both hands he pushed at the door and
it creaked open on rusty hinges. Light as a feather he moved one foot in
front of the other, halted, advanced another step, and so entered the
large cabin in which Stede Bonnet had lived with a Spartan simplicity.

What Joe coveted was the porous jar or water-monkey which hung suspended
in a netting above the table. It was kept filled, he knew, in order to
cool the tepid water from the casks. A heavenly sight it was to him to
see the drops sweating on its rounded sides. He snatched it down and was
about to make a swift retirement, but still spread upon the table he
noted the chart of the Carolina and Virginia coasts which he had pored
over with Stede Bonnet. This he delayed to roll up and tuck under one
arm, not that he expected to employ it himself, but to make cruising
more difficult for Blackbeard.

This bit of strategy held him a moment too long. He shot a glance over
his shoulder, alarmed by a tread on the companion ladder. Horrified he
beheld a pair of Spanish boots with scarlet, crinkled morocco tops, and
they encased bandy legs which were strong and thick. What saved the
miserable young Hawkridge was that the occupant of these splendid boots
paused half-way down the ladder to shout a profane command or two in
those husky accents so feared by all lawful shipmen.

Before that sable beard came into his field of vision the lad was in
full stride, running like a whippet, chart under one arm, water-jar
under the other. He checked himself to ease the door behind him just as
the truculent captor of the _Royal James_ brig reached the foot of the
ladder and let his gaze rove about the cabin. Sinking to the floor of
the storeroom, Joe was afraid that for once he was about to swoon like a
silly maid at sight of a mouse. As he had truly said, this pirating was
no trade for a nervous man. Never mind, a miss was as good as a mile.
Thankful for the darkness that closed around him, he slung the
water-monkey over his shoulder in its hammock of netted cord, pushed the
side of codfish inside his shirt, poked the chart into his boot-leg, put
the cheese in the sack atop the flour, and was freighted for his journey
through the hold.

This he accomplished after great difficulty and had to whistle and wait
for a response before he could be sure of Jack Cockrell's whereabouts.

"What luck, Joe?" was the plaintive question. "I'd sooner starve than be
left alone in this dungeon."

"Behold the dashing 'prentice-boy with another hairbreadth escape to his
credit," replied the hero. "Be thankful for your dinner 'cause
Blackbeard all but made a mouthful of me."

"You saw him, Joe?"

"Up to the middle of him, and that was a-plenty. Don't ask me. I had a
bad turn."

"I feel sick, too," said Jack. "The smell of this vile bilge-water
breeds a nausea, and, whew, 'tis worse than ever."

"Bilge, my eye! You sniff the banquet I fetched ye. Here's a prime
cheese that was hatched when Trimble Rogers was a pup."

Jack offered a feeble apology and felt revived after a pull at the
water-monkey. What they craved most was a spark of light, the glimmer of
a candle to lift this appalling gloom which pressed down like a visible
burden. With nothing to do but discuss the situation from every slant
and angle of conjecture, it was Joe Hawkridge's theory that Stede Bonnet
would not rest content with regaining the _Revenge_ but would come out
to attack the brig as soon as the wind favored. His hatred of Blackbeard
was one motive but there was a point of honor even more compelling.

"He called you his guest, Jack," explained Joe, "and I never did see a
man so jealous of his plighted word when once he swore it. He took
obligation to set you safe in Charles Town, d'ye see? And powder smoke
won't stop him."

"Will Blackbeard tarry for a fight, Joe?"

"Not to my notion. He knows well this brig is no match for the
_Revenge_, knows it better than did Cap'n Bonnet, what with all the
heavy metal slung aboard from the sloop. And what does Blackbeard gain
by having this brig hammered into a cocked hat? Fate tricked him
comically with this swappin' about of ships."

"And will he linger on this coast? Oh, Joe, if he goes for a long
cruise, what in mercy's name becomes of us two?"

"A long cruise, it looks like, shipmate. In the _Revenge_ he could laugh
at the small king's men-o'-war commissioned to hunt him down. He was
ready to slap alongside any of 'em. Now 'tis different. As another flea
in his ear, I stole the only chart of these waters. To the south'ard
he'll turn, and I will bet that rampageous cheese on it."

"Clear to the Bay of Honduras?" said Jack.

"As far as that, at a guess. Or he may skirt the Floridas to look for
Spanish prizes and put in at the Dry Tortugas which is a famous
rendezvous for pirates of the Main. He will be hot to fit himself with a
bigger ship, by capture or by some knavish trick such as he dealt Cap'n
Bonnet."



CHAPTER XIV

BLACKBEARD APPEARS IN FIRE AND BRIMSTONE


HERE was a tragic predicament from which there was no release. Jack
Cockrell was firmly convinced that Blackbeard must have recognized him
that day in the swamp while Joe felt no less certain that he was marked
for death because he had been one of the party of marooned mutineers.
The hope of prolonging their existence by means of raiding the storeroom
had ebbed after Joe's investigation. Such provisions as had been broken
out of bulk were kept in lockers and pantries on deck where they were
convenient to the galley and forecastle. It was realized also that their
twittering nerves could not long withstand the darkness and suspense
once the brig had put out to sea. Joe Hawkridge had nothing more to say
about enduring it a month o' Sundays.

While the brig remained at anchor they clung to the thought that Captain
Stede Bonnet might intervene in their behalf. It did bring them a gleam
of solace to imagine him hoisting sail on the _Revenge_ and crowding out
to rake the brig with his formidable broadsides. And yet they were in
doubt whether the _Revenge_ was fit to proceed at once, what with all
the work there had been to do, rigging a new foremast, caulking leaky
seams, repairing the other ravages of the storm.

These pitiable stowaways had no means of telling one hour from another
until, at length, they heard over their heads the faint, musical strokes
of the ship's bell on the forecastle head. This led them to believe that
the fog had cleared else Blackbeard would not have revealed the vessel's
position. And lifting fog meant a breeze to sweep it away from the
harbor.

"Eight bells she strikes, the first o' the forenoon watch," said Joe.
"We have been cooped in this black pit a matter of three hours a'ready."

"No more than that?" groaned Jack. "It seems at least a week. We must
divert ourselves in some wise. What say if I learn you a bit o' Latin?
And you can say over such sea songs as come to mind, for me to tuck in
my memory."

"Well said, my worthy scholar. 'Tis high time we bowled ahead with my
eddication as a proper gentleman."

Jack began to conjugate _amo_, _amas_, _amat_, and the pupil droned it
after him but the verb _to love_ recalled a black-eyed lass who had
stolen his heart in the Azores and he veered from the Latin lesson to
confide that sentimental passage. So Jack hammered nouns of the first
declension into him until they grew tired of that, and then the sea waif
played his part by reciting such fo'castle ballads as "_Neptune's Raging
Fury_; _or The Gallant Seaman's Sufferings_," and "_Sir Walter Raleigh
Sailing in the Lowlands_."

This was better than the slow agony of waiting in silence, but Joe
spoiled it by turning lovelorn and Jack bemourned fair Dorothy Stuart of
Charles Town whom he would never greet again, and they sang very softly
together a verse of "_The Maid's Lamentation_" which went like this:

          "There shall be no Scarf go on my Head,
             No Comb into my Hair,
           No Fire burn, no Candle light
             To shew my Beauty fair,
           For never will I married be
             Until the Day I die,
           Since the Seas and the Winds
             Has parted my Love and me."

This left them really in worse spirits than before, and they drowsed off
to sleep, and no wonder, after such a night as they had passed.
Accustomed to broken watches, Joe Hawkridge slept uneasily with one ear
open. Once or twice he sat up, heard Jack's steady snores, and lay down
again. It was the ship's bell which finally brought him to, and he
counted the strokes.

"Five bells, but what watch is it?" he muttered anxiously. "How long was
I napping? Lost track o' the time, so I have, and can't say if it's
night or day."

He sat blinking into the darkness and then had an inspiration. So
staunch and well-kept was the brig that the deck seams were tight and no
light filtered through. Joe left his hiding-place and groped along to
where he thought the main hatch ought to be. Gazing upward he saw a
gleam like a silvered line between the coaming and the edge of the
canvas cover which was battened with iron bars. This persuaded him that
the day had not yet faded, and he concluded that he had heard the bell
strike either in the afternoon watch or the second dog watch of early
evening.

This he imparted to Jack, after prodding him awake. They mulled it over
and agreed that Captain Bonnet must have found the _Revenge_ unready to
weigh anchor or he would have engaged the brig ere this. Perhaps there
was not breeze enough for either vessel to move. Another hour of this
stressful tedium and they heard a sound of sharp significance. It was
the lap-lap of water against the vessel's side. No more than the
thickness of the planking was between them and this tinkling sea, and
Joe exclaimed, in an agitated whisper:

"A breeze o' wind! Gentle it draws, but steady, like it comes off the
land at sundown."

"The same as it did when we were blown offshore on the little raft,
after we quitted the _Plymouth Adventure_," replied Jack.

"Blackbeard will take advantage of it to make for the open sea. There be
three things offered us, Master Cockrell, to starve or go mad in this
blighted hold, to sally on deck and beg mercy, which means a short
shift, or to climb out softly in the night and try to swim for it."

"Swim to what, Joe?"

"Swim to the bottom, most likely. But we might fetch one o' them cays or
the coast itself if he steers close in to find smooth water. 'Tis the
worst odds yet but I'd sooner drown than tarry in this vessel. One
miracle was wrought when the cask came driftin' to the beach to save me,
and who knows but the Lord can spare another one for the salvation of us
poor lads that mean to do right and forsake piratin'."

As they expected, there came soon the familiar racket of making sail and
trimming yards and the clank of the capstan pawls. Then the anchor
flukes scraped and banged against the bow timbers. The vessel heeled a
little and the lapping water changed its tune to a swash-swash as the
hull pushed it aside. The brig was alive and in motion.

"She makes no more than two or three knots," observed Joe, after a
little while. "Ye can tell by the feel of her. The wind is steady but
small."

"Then he can't go clear of the islands till long after night,"
thankfully returned Jack.

Joe made another trip to crane his neck at the main hatch. The bright
thread of daylight had dimmed. He could scarce discern it. The lads
occupied themselves with reckoning the distance, the hour, and the
vessel's speed. Now that Joe had satisfied himself that the end of the
day was near, he knew what the ship's bell meant when it was struck
every half-hour. They would await the passing of another hour, until two
bells of the first watch, by which time they calculated the brig should
be in the wide, outer channel between the seaward islands.

The plan was to emerge through the forepeak in the very bows of the ship
where a scuttle was let into the deck. There they might hope to lower
themselves to the chain stays under the bowsprit and so drop into the
sea. They would be washed past the ship, close to her side, and into the
wake, and there was little chance of drawing attention. True it was that
in this hard choice they preferred to swim to the bottom if so it had to
be.

They crouched where they were hid, waiting to hear the fateful signal of
two bells. It struck, mellow, clear, and they were about to creep in the
direction of the forepeak. But Joe Hawkridge gripped his comrade's arm
and held him fast. A whispered warning and they ceased to move. Behind
them, in the after part of the ship, gleamed a lantern. It illumined the
open door of the bulkhead which walled off the storeroom. And in this
doorway, like a life-sized portrait, grotesque and sinister, set in a
frame, was the figure of Blackbeard.

He advanced into the hold and the cowering stowaways assumed that he had
come to search them out. The impulse was to dash into the forepeak and
so plunge overboard, flinging away all caution, but before their
palsied muscles could respond, the behavior of Blackbeard held them
irresolute and curious. He had turned his back to them and was shouting
boisterously to others to follow him. Seven men came through the
doorway, one after the other, hanging back with evident reluctance. It
was impossible to discern who they were, whether officers or seamen.
Every one carried in his arms what looked to be a tub or an iron pot.
These they set upon the dunnage boards which covered the ballast and
made a flooring in the hold.

Blackbeard bellowed at them to squat in a circle, which they meekly did.
He was in one of his fiendishly mirthful humors, rumpling his beard,
strutting to and fro, laughing in senseless outbursts. At such times his
men were most fearful for their lives. What sort of an infernal pastime
he had now concocted was beyond the imagination of the lads who were
concealed a dozen yards away. He was not hunting them, this much was
plain, and it seemed wise to be quiet and avoid drawing attention to
themselves.

They saw Blackbeard ignite a torch at the lantern and poke it into one
pot after another. Flames began to burn, blue and green and yellow, and
lurid smoke rolled to the deck-beams overhead. Amid this glare and reek
of combustibles, Blackbeard waved his torch and tremendously proclaimed:

"Come, lads, we be all devils together, with a hell of our
own,--brimstone fires and pitch. Now, braggarts, see how long ye can
bear it. 'Tis a foretaste of what's in store for all hands. At this game
I'll outlast ye, for, harkee, I sold my soul to the Old Scratch as is
well known."

[Illustration: HE LOOMED LIKE THE BELIAL WHOM HE WAS SO FOND OF CLAIMING
AS HIS MENTOR]

He stirred his infernal pots and the greasy smoke rolled upward in
choking volume. The brimstone fumes were so vile and noxious that the
victims of this outlandish revel soon gasped and wheezed. But they dared
not object nor move from their places among the villainous pots.
Blackbeard enjoyed their sufferings, taunting them as milksops and
poltroons who could not endure even this taste of Gehenna. He himself
appeared to be unaffected by it, lurching from one man to another,
whacking them with the burning torch or playfully upsetting them. In the
gaseous pall of smoke he loomed like the Belial whom he was so fond of
claiming as his mentor.

Finally one of his involuntary guests toppled over in a faint.
Blackbeard was kind enough to haul him to the door and boot him through
it. A second man dragged himself thither. A third found voice to
supplicate. The witch-fires still smoked and stewed in the pots and
Blackbeard had proved that he was the toughest demon of them all.

The two stowaways watched this demented exploit in sheer wonderment. The
fumes were not dense in their part of the hold and they could breathe,
but they well-nigh strangled in trying to refrain from coughing. The
fires of tar and brimstone and what not cast so much light that they
dared not betray themselves by crawling toward the forepeak. The upright
beams between the keelson and the deck threw black shadows over them and
they were in no great peril of detection so long as they stayed
motionless.

Joe Hawkridge had heard gossip of this extraordinary amusement as a kind
of initiation for hands newly joining Blackbeard's ship. He therefore
read it that these unfortunates were some of Stede Bonnet's men who had
been captured with the brig. They had been allowed to enlist and were
being taught to respect their new master.

Jack Cockrell had hugely admired young Joe for his ready wit and
coolness in other crises of their mutual fortunes but now came a moment
in which the astute sea urchin surpassed himself. It was not too much to
say that he displayed absolute genius with the sturdy Master Cockrell to
aid and abet him. Joe clawed in the dark until he found the sack with a
few pounds of wheat flour in it. A quick whisper and his comrade grasped
the great idea. They took no thought of a sequel. They would trust to
opportunity. Hastily they rubbed the flour into their shirts and
breeches. They covered their faces with it and lavishly sprinkled their
hair. They looked at each other in the shadow of the beams and were
pleased with their handiwork.

Another whispered consultation and Joe possessed himself of the
cannon-ball of a cheese while Jack grasped the side of salt-fish by the
tail. They resembled two whitened clowns of a pantomime but in spirit
they were as grimly serious as the menace of death could make them.

Blackbeard was dancing clumsily, like a drunken bear, and deriding with
lewd oaths the two or three tortured survivors of his brimstone
carnival. In a high, wailing voice which rose to a shriek there was
borne to him the words:

"Ye dirked poor Jesse Strawn and left him rotting in the swamp. I was a
true and faithful seaman, Cap'n Teach."

A deeper voice boomed out, filling the hold with unearthly echoes:

"I am the shade of the master mariner whom ye did foully murder off
Matanzas and there is no rest for me ten fathom down."

The apparitions flitted out of the shadow and were vaguely disclosed in
the flickering glare from the brimstone pots. The smoke gave them a
wavering aspect as though their shapes were unsubstantial. Blackbeard
stood beholding them in a trance of horror. With an aimless finger he
traced the sign of the cross and his pallid lips moved in the murmur:

"_The ghost o' Jesse Strawn! For the love of God, forbear._"

It was a petition as pious as ever Christian uttered. Forgotten was his
wicked counterfeit of the nether region. Again the shrill voice wailed:

"Pity poor Jesse Strawn. I'll haunt ye by land and sea, Cap'n Teach.
Swear by the Book to let that treasure chest lie at the bottom of the
creek else I tear your sinful soul from your body."

The terrible Blackbeard was incapable of motion. Huskily he muttered:

"I'll ne'er seek the chest, good Jesse Strawn, an' it please you to pass
me by."

The two spectres moved forward as the one of the deeper voice declaimed:

"Doomed I was to find no rest till I overtook your ship, Ed'ard Teach.
Each night you'll see me walk the plank from your quarter-deck."

The unhappy Blackbeard gibbered something and would have fled as the
spirits approached him. But those bandy legs tottered and before he
could turn the awful visitants were upon him. One raised a round shot
above his head, or so it appeared to be, and smote him full upon the
crown. The other whirled a flat bludgeon and hit him on the jaw. With
the smell of brimstone was mingled the pungent flavor of ripe cheese and
salt-fish. Blackbeard measured his length, and the ghost of Jesse Strawn
delayed an instant to dump a pot of sizzling combustibles over him.

Then the spirits twain made for the cabin at top speed. Several of the
crew had rushed down to harken to the strange disturbance. They
scattered wildly at the first glimpse of these phantoms, being
superstitious sailormen with many a wicked deed to answer for. It
flashed into Joe Hawkridge's mind that all the men of the watch might be
chased below, the hatches clapped on them, and the mastery of the brig
secured. Blackbeard was absent for reasons best known to himself and his
pirates lacked leadership. A brace of ghosts could put them to panic
rout. And, no doubt, that wailing message of dead Jesse Strawn had
carried like the cry of a banshee.

The poop was deserted in the twinkling of an eye, even to the pair of
helmsmen and the officer of the watch. Against the sky of night the
unwelcome phantoms were wan and luminous while the groans which issued
from them were enough to curdle the blood of the brawniest pirate. He
who had been Jack Cockrell in mortal guise was quick to slide the cabin
hatch closed and fasten it. For the moment they had captured the armed
brig _Royal James_ and as ferocious a crew of rascals as ever scuttled a
merchantman.

Joe Hawkridge glided to the taffrail and peered over the stern. A boat
was towing behind the ship. It had been left there for taking soundings
or pulling the brig's head around while she was still in the shoaler
waters near the coast. This was better than Joe had dared anticipate.
Feeling his way along the rail, he found the end of the rope which was
belayed around a wooden pin. Heaven be praised, they would not have to
swim for it! He beckoned his comrade to say in his ear:

"They will soon find their wits. It 'ud be foolish to try scaring 'em
under hatches now that the jolly-boat floats so handy. There's hard
cases amongst 'em that will begin shooting at us presently. Down the
rope ye go, Jack. I'll stand by and give 'em another dose of poor Jesse
Strawn."

Over the rail flew the stouter phantom of the two and slid like a white
streak, fetching up in the boat with a most earthly and substantial
thump. With a farewell wail the other ghost flung a limber leg over and
shot down so fast that his hands were scorched. To such pirates as
beheld this instant vanishment, these disturbing spirits floated off
into space. Jack cut the rope with his knife and the boat dropped back
in the shining wake. They shoved out two heavy oars and fairly broke
their hearts in pulling dead into the wind where the brig would have to
tack to pursue them.

The rattle of the oars and the discovery of the shorn rope's end must
have convinced the pirates who ran aft that they had been tricked by
mortal beings like themselves. A musket spat a red streak of fire.
Blocks whined as the braces were hauled to change the brig's course. In
the light breeze she responded awkwardly and soon hung in stays.
Meanwhile the jolly-boat was slowly working to windward while two
frightened lads tugged and swung until the flour turned to paste on
their dripping faces.

Before the brig began to forge ahead, the boat was invisible from her
decks. This was evident because the spatter of musket-fire ceased. Soon
the fugitives heard Blackbeard's harsh voice damning all hands. That
thick skull of his had not been cracked by the impact of the solid
cheese and he had been released from his brimstone inferno. The ghosts
rested on their oars. They could watch the glimmering canvas of the brig
and see what her procedure might be. Soon she filled away and forsook
the attempt to find the boat. Blackbeard had wisdom enough to avoid
blundering about and putting the brig aground in a chase so elusive as
this.

"Farewell, ye hairy son of Tophet," said Joe Hawkridge, waving his hand
at the disappearing vessel. "And here's hoping I set your whiskers
ablaze when I turned the pot over 'em."

"Did you hear him swear not to touch the treasure chest, Joe? That was a
master stroke of yours."

"Aye, it was bright of me. But he thinks different now. He knows we made
a booby of him."

"But we learned one thing,--he hasn't recovered the treasure yet,"
suggested Jack.

"He is such a powerful liar that I don't know as the ghost o' Jesse
Strawn could budge the truth out of him. However, it was comfortin' to
hear him swear it on his marrow-bones. I fetched away the navigation
chart, the one I poached from the cabin table. It gives us the lay o'
the coast."

"What ho and whither bound?" was Jack's question. "Here is a sail wound
round a sprit beneath the thwarts."

"The wrong wind to head for Cap'n Bonnet and the _Revenge_. This
swag-bellied jolly-boat handles like a firkin. We had best wait for day
and then decide the voyage."

"Nothing to eat and no water, Joe. All I can find is an empty pannikin."

"You're a glutton," severely exclaimed young Hawkridge. "After the
banquet I served in the hold!"

What Master Cockrell said in reply sounds as familiar and as wistful
to-day as when he spoke it two hundred years ago.

"I have had enough of wandering and strange adventures, Joe. I want to
go home."



CHAPTER XV

MR. PETER FORBES MOURNS HIS NEPHEW


IT seems a long time, in the course of this story, since the honorable
Secretary of the Council, Mr. Peter Arbuthnot Forbes, was forced to sail
in to Charles Town from the _Plymouth Adventure_ on that most
humiliating errand of finding medicines for Blackbeard's fever-smitten
rogues. For the sake of his own dear nephew and the other hostages
detained on board, he had endeavored to perform his bargain and was
returning across the bar when the threatening clouds and other portents
of a violent storm caused the seamen to lose heart. They put about and
drove back into the harbor for shelter in the very nick of time.

These were pirates from Blackbeard's crew, it may be recalled, with his
grizzled, scarred boatswain at the tiller. They had felt safe enough to
swagger and ruffle it through the streets of Charles Town and to terrify
the people. Their worthless lives were protected by the hostages who
waited in fear and trembling. The town seethed with indignation and was
hot with shame. There would be no more of the friendly traffic with
pirates.

It was fully believed that the wretched Blackbeard would be as good as
his word in allowing no more than two days' grace. Therefore when Mr.
Peter Forbes came back in the boat to inform his neighbors that he had
been unable to reach the ship, it was sadly taken for granted that those
helpless passengers had been put to death. Forthwith the pirates of the
boat's crew were seized and thrown in gaol. There they lay in double
irons until the Council met and ordered them to be tried. In accordance
with the verdict the six seamen and the boatswain were promptly hanged
by the neck from the same gallows at White Point hard by the town. And
the people no longer shivered at the name of Blackbeard nor feared his
vengeance. Their fighting blood was thoroughly aroused.

Not long after this, there arrived from England a new Governor of the
Province, a man of honor and resolution who approved what had been done.
This Governor Johnson proceeded to organize the town for defense,
building batteries on Sullivan's Island, recruiting the seafaring men in
the militia, and seeking to obtain merchant vessels which could be
employed as armed cruisers. Learning that the Governor of North Carolina
was in a corrupt partnership with pirates, he sent messages to Virginia
to solicit coöperation.

This activity made much work for Secretary Peter Forbes who forsook his
intention of going to England to beg the coöperation of his Majesty's
Government against the plague of pirates. Dapper and plump and
important as of yore, his florid face was clouded with sorrow and he
seemed a much older man. He mourned his nephew, Jack Cockrell, as no
more and felt as though he had lost an only son. Every angry word he had
ever addressed the lad, every hasty punishment inflicted, hurt him
grievously.

It was a solace to talk with winsome Dorothy Stuart because hers was the
bright optimism of youth and she held so exalted an opinion of Jack's
strength and courage that she refused to abandon hope. And the fact that
he had confided to her his rash intention of running away and signing as
a pirate sooner than be transported to school in England, persuaded her
that he might be alive.

"From what you saw yourself, Mr. Forbes," said she, "when Blackbeard
boarded the _Plymouth Adventure_ with his dreadful men, our Jack won his
fancy."

"So it appeared, Dorothy. The boy boasted of knocking a tall pirate on
the head, and he read this monster of a pirate more shrewdly than I.
Yes, Blackbeard took it with rough good humor. But Jack would ne'er
consent to sail with him. 'Twas that confounded Stede Bonnet with his
gallant air that turned the lad's head. He cast a glamor over this trade
of murder and pillage."

"Be that as it may," returned Dorothy, with a sigh and a smile, "I
confess to a romantic admiration for this bold Captain Bonnet. He wears
an air of mystery which is most becoming. We must not blame poor Jack."

"No, no, I am done with all that," hastily exclaimed Uncle Peter. "All I
dare hope is that when Blackbeard is captured, we may learn what fate
befell the boy. It makes the torture worse to have him vanish without
trace."

"And yet I have faith the sea will give him back to us, Mr. Forbes. He
will find you a chastened guardian, not so apt to box his ears."

Uncle Peter was so distressed by this gentle raillery that the girl
begged pardon and vowed that she would never again offend. It so
happened that they were sitting together in Parson Throckmorton's garden
a day or so after this when a friend came running in with tidings the
most unexpected and incredible. A negro slave had come from a plantation
a few miles inland and he bore a letter written by none other than
Captain Jonathan Wellsby of the _Plymouth Adventure_. It narrated how he
and the survivors of his ship had journeyed that far after weeks of
suffering and frequent skirmishes with Indians. They were compelled to
rest and take shelter before undertaking the last stage of the journey.

Councilor Peter Forbes was magically changed. He shed his dignity and
threw his hat in air. Clasping Miss Dorothy's slender waist, he planted
a kiss on her damask cheek. Parson Throckmorton was ramming snuff into
his nostrils, his wig all awry, while he sneezed trumpet blasts of
rejoicing.

"Survivors? _Kerchooh!_ God bless me, that lusty stripling will be
amongst them,--_kerchooh_,--he can survive anything but Greek and
Latin,--_kerchooh_,--I will spare the rod in future."

"I told you so, Uncle Peter Forbes," laughed Dorothy.

"Not so fast," quoth he, in a mood suddenly sobered. "Captain Wellsby
includes no list of those in his party."

"But, of course, one of them is _sure_ to be Master Jack," she insisted.

"I am a selfish man and a laggard officer of the Crown," he exclaimed
with air of great self-reproach. "There are women in that company and
wounded men, no doubt. We must take them clothing, horses, food, a
surgeon."

He bustled off to the Governor's house to find that energetic gentleman
absent at Sullivan's Island. Acting for him, the Secretary of the
Council sent the town crier to summon all good citizens to the tavern
green. In the space of an hour the men and supplies were assembled and
with Mr. Forbes in command the band of mercy made haste to reach the
plantation. During the march there was a buzz of anxious surmise. Was
this one and that alive or dead? Had the hostages been slain and were
these the sailormen of the _Plymouth Adventure_ who had been set adrift
by Blackbeard? Councilor Forbes winced at hearing such talk as this, but
his heart beat high nevertheless, so confident was he that he was about
to behold his manly nephew.

There was loud cheering when they came to the cleared land of the indigo
fields and saw a tattered British ensign fluttering from the log
stockade which enclosed the huts of the overseer and his laborers. In
the gateway appeared the stalwart figure of Captain Wellsby in ragged
garments and with a limping gait. Other men crowded behind him and
responded with huzzas which were like a feeble echo. The friends from
Charles Town rushed forward to embrace them, loudly demanding to know
where the rest were.

"We fetched the women safe through," answered Captain Wellsby whose eyes
were sunken and the brown beard streaked with gray. "Twelve good men of
my crew are dead, and three of the gentlemen passengers. The swamps took
toll of some and the Indians slew the others. We were besieged a
fortnight by the Yemassees,--a hard experience all of it, and wondrous
luck to have escaped----"

Councilor Forbes delayed while his companions entered the huts to attend
the invalids. He struggled to ask a question but his voice was beyond
control.

"I understand," kindly spoke the shipmaster. "Your lad is not with us,
nor can I say if he be dead or alive."

"The Indians carried him off?" weakly inquired the uncle.

"No, he was never seen after we abandoned ship. Your Jack and a chum of
his from Blackbeard's crew were for making the beach on a small raft of
their own contrivance. This was after nightfall, Councilor, and what
with a land'ard breeze and a crotchety set of the tide amongst the
shoals, they floated out to sea."

"On a small raft," muttered Mr. Forbes, "and a vast ocean. I know of no
ship voyaging to or from these ports which might have found them."

"I was in hopes of hearing news of the lads from you," sorrowfully said
the shipmaster. "There is the chance, tiny though it be, that they were
sighted by some vessel bound to foreign parts, across the Western
Ocean."

The uncle shook his head in a manner profoundly dejected. There were
duties which summoned him and he choked down his own grief, turning from
the sympathetic mariner to minister to those in distress. Horse litters
were soon ready for the exhausted but heroic women who had been kept
alive by the devotion of the noble British seamen in accordance with the
traditions of the merchant service. Those unable to walk farther were
placed in carts. Clothed and fed, the sailors were in blithe spirits and
talked of going to sea again as soon as they could find a ship.

In the crowd which met them on the outskirts of the Charles Town
settlement was Dorothy Stuart. She scanned the straggling column and
then ran from one cart to another. It was impossible to convince her
that Jack Cockrell was not there. But when she heard from Uncle Peter
the news that Jack was missing but not surely dead, her faith burned
anew, triumphant over fact and reason.

"See how the great storm came to save him from Blackbeard," she cried,
her hand nestling in Uncle Peter's arm. "And look how he came unscathed
through that bloody battle with the pirates in the _Plymouth Adventure_.
Why, a cruise on a raft is merely a frolic after all that."

"I would not discourage your dear dreams, sweet maid," was the gentle
response. "And may they be truer than my own forebodings."

Charles Town was more than ever resentful when it learned from these
poor people how the pirate sailing-master, Ned Rackham, had plotted to
get rid of them and how mournful had been their sufferings after the
shipwreck. The one boat left to them had been too rotten to send along
the coast and they had plunged into a wilderness almost impassable.

Meanwhile Governor Johnson, stirred by this episode, had received word
that the province of Virginia was both ready and anxious to join in an
expedition against Blackbeard. Governor Spottswood of Virginia would be
outfitting such craft as he could get together in the James River while
he awaited a reinforcement from Charles Town.

The best vessel available for immediate use was a small brigantine, the
_King George_. There was no lack of eager seamen when Councilor Forbes
and Colonel Stuart proclaimed the muster on the tavern green. Among
those selected were several of Captain Jonathan Wellsby's sailors who
were primed to fight even though there was not much flesh on their
bones. He himself was a forlorn mariner who had lost his good ship and
found no joy in life. With a grim smile of gratitude he accepted the
invitation to go as master of the _King George_, with Colonel Stuart as
a sea soldier to drill the men and lead them in action.

It was while they were slinging guns aboard the brigantine that some of
the men happened to notice a small boat coming into the harbor under a
rag of sail. At first it was taken for a fishing craft and there was no
comment until it was quite close. Then they saw that it was a ship's
jolly-boat much the worse for wear, with only two occupants. These were
half-naked lads, burned black to the waist, with a queer kind of canvas
head-gear as a protection against the sun.

The boat was steered to pass under the stern of the _King George_ and
the crew was unable to fathom if these were pirates or victims of
another shipwreck. Captain Wellsby solved it by shouting:

"Both your guesses are right! One is the pirate younker that served our
cause in the _Plymouth Adventure_ and t'other is Master Jack Cockrell!"

One of the Charles Town volunteers heard only the word _pirate_ and
growled, with an oath:

"One o' Blackbeard's spawn? We'll make precious short work of him. Hand
me a musket and I will save trouble for the hangman."

"Here, stop that," said Captain Wellsby, beckoning his own men. "You old
_Adventure_ hands know better. Quell these lubbers. If there's to be
hostile feeling ashore I shall take this lad aboard under my own
protection."

During this argument the sea-worn pilgrims in the jolly-boat had
recognized the shipmaster and were joyfully yelling at him. In response
to his gesture, they pulled down the sail and rowed to the gangway of
the brigantine. There was no need to fear the wrath of the Charles Town
seamen, because the _Adventure_ hands stood by as a guard while they
explained how this young Joe Hawkridge had valiantly helped to turn the
tide of battle against the prize crew of pirates. And there was such a
rousing welcome for Master Cockrell that all else was forgotten. His old
shipmates fairly mobbed him.

"I will fire a gun and hoist all the bunting to signal the town," cried
the skipper, his face shining. "And presently I'll send you to the wharf
in my own boat, but first tell me, boys, who took you off the little
raft and whence come you in this ship's boat?"

"Blackbeard rescued us. And we borrowed the boat from him," demurely
answered Jack, watching the effect of this bombshell of a sensation.

"_Blackbeard!_" echoed the bedazed shipmaster and the others chimed it
like a chorus.

"Aye, old Buckets o' Blood hisself," grinned Joe Hawkridge. "We had him
tamed proper when we parted company. First we chased him through a swamp
till his tongue hung out and left him mired to the whiskers. Then for
another lark we scared him in his own ship so he begged us on his knees
to forbear. We learned Cap'n Ed'ard Teach his manners, eh, Jack?"

This was too much for the audience which stood agape. A dozen voices at
once implored enlightenment. With a lordly air for a youth whose costume
was mostly one leg of his breeches, Master Cockrell reproved them to
wit:

"Captain Stede Bonnet was more courteous to our distress when we sailed
with him. He gave us a thumping big breakfast."

"Right-o," declared Joe. "'Tis our custom to spin strange yarns for
clothes and vittles in payment."

The men scampered to the galley and pantry but refused to let Captain
Wellsby carry these rare entertainers into the cabin. Graciously they
sketched the chief events, omitting all mention of the treasure chest,
and Jack explained in conclusion:

"And so I was stricken homesick, like an illness, and Joe had his fill
of pirates, too. The wind was wrong to rejoin Captain Bonnet in the
Inlet harbor after we shipped as ghosts in the jolly-boat, and we had a
mariner's chart of the Carolina coast and----"

"But what did you do for subsistence?" broke in Captain Wellsby.

"Food and water?" answered Joe. "Oh, we landed when the thirst plagued
us too bad. And there was rain to fill a bight of the sail and a
pannikin to save it in."

"And we lived on oysters mostly," said Jack, "and Joe killed a fat
opossum with a club, and we caught some fish in a net which I knotted
from a ball of marline that was in the boat. And we foraged for pawpaws
and persimmons."

"And whenever the breeze was fair we put to sea again," said Joe, "and
it was a long and weary voyage, though not so many leagues on the
chart."

The captain's boat was ready and they tumbled in, two wayfarers of the
sea who were as lean and sun-dried as the buccaneers of old Trimble
Rogers' fond memories. Hardships had seasoned and weathered them like
good ash staves. On the wharf was Uncle Peter Forbes and Governor
Johnson and a concourse of townspeople drawn by the joyous signals flown
from the brigantine. Jack looked in vain for Dorothy Stuart and was
thankful that her welcome was deferred. Shears and a razor and
Christian raiment would make him look less like a savage from the coast
of Barbary.

Uncle Peter wasted a vast deal of pity, thinking the castaways too weak
and wasted to walk. Jack strode along with him, the crowd at their
heels, and soon had the plump Councilor puffing for breath. They
insisted on taking Joe Hawkridge with them although he was for seeking
lodgings at the tavern. He was one of the household, declared Mr.
Forbes, while Jack warned him to beware of impertinence lest he be
sentenced to chop wood for the kitchen fire.

The neighbors and friends, as curious as they were joyful, were barred
from the house while the lads talked and Uncle Peter carefully made
notes of it all. It was too much for him to realize that Jack was
sitting there lusty and laughing and with the dutifully respectful
manner as of yore, in spite of the man's part he had played to the hilt.
Of all the exploits, that which most fascinated Mr. Peter Forbes was the
chase after Blackbeard's sea-chest weighty with treasure and the
discovery of the knoll in the Cherokee swamp where he might have buried
other booty. Here was a picaresque romance which allured the methodical
barrister and Councilor and he was as boyishly excited as his nephew. He
examined the chart which Jack had copied from his rude sketch made on a
piece of bark and this raised a question which he was quick to ask:

"What of Bill Saxby and this old bloodhound of a Trimble Rogers? As
soon as Stede Bonnet could get the _Revenge_ to sea, I have no doubt he
sailed to Cape Fear River to get these pirate comrades of yours and the
seamen he left to find them. Once aboard, they would urge Bonnet to
return to Cherokee Inlet and let them go hunt the treasure."

"That may be, but we can trust them to deal fair by us," replied Jack.

"Possibly," was the skeptical comment. Mr. Forbes was not too ready to
believe in honest pirates.

"I'm not sure Cap'n Bonnet had a mind to bother with this treasure
hunting," suggested Joe Hawkridge. "Leastwise, he may ha' put it off to
an easier day. He has friends that keep him well informed, such as the
Governor of North Carolina at Bath Town. And all this flurry against
piratin', here and in Virginia, 'ud be apt to make Cap'n Bonnet wary of
bein' trapped on the coast."

"Joe is full of wisdom, as usual," said Master Cockrell. "And if
Blackbeard has cruised to the Spanish Main, as we suspect, the treasure
may lie undisturbed for a while."

"Concerning Blackbeard, the evidence then in hand warranted your
conclusions," was Uncle Peter's judicial comment, "but I have received
later information. The rumor is, and well-founded, that he turned his
ship and made for the Pamlico River with the intention of obtaining
pardon from the false and greedy Governor Eden. This would baffle our
plans against him, or so he would assume. And it would enable him to
remain within convenient distance of his treasure."

"Would this Province and Virginia respect such a pardon as that?"
queried Jack.

"Not in the case of Blackbeard," snapped the Councilor, "because we know
it would be violated as soon as this treacherous villain could safely
return to his piracies."

"Then Joe and I will enlist in the _King George_ brigantine," cried
Jack. "Captain Wellsby tells me she will sail for Virginia inside the
week."

Uncle Peter was about to make violent protest but he checked himself and
his emotions were torn betwixt pride and yearning affection. He could
not bear to let his nephew go so soon to new perils, but what right had
he to try to shield him when the public duty called? It was idle to
pretend that Jack was too young and tender to embark on such service as
this. He was fitter for it than some of the other volunteers. And so the
unhappy Uncle Peter walked the floor with his cheeks puffed out and his
hands clasped behind him and said, with a tremulous sigh:

"I swore to treat you no more as a child, Jack. 'Tis right and natural
for you to desire to go in the _King George_ as a fighting man tried and
true. As for Joe Hawkridge, I have acquainted the Governor with his
merits and his pardon is assured."

"Thankee, sir," returned the reformed young pirate. "A respectable life
is what I crave, and the parson for company."

"It sounds almost pleasant to me, including the parson," admitted Jack,
"as soon as we shall have settled this matter with Blackbeard."



CHAPTER XVI

NED RACKHAM'S PLANS GO MUCH AMISS


THE armed brigantine had been out several days on the voyage to Virginia
when a vessel was sighted hull-down. Captain Wellsby and Colonel Stuart
decided to edge over and take a look at the stranger although they were
not anxious to engage an enemy of heavier metal. If, however, this
should happen to be Blackbeard in the _Revenge_ they were in no mood to
avoid him, despite the odds. After an hour of sailing in a strong
breeze, it was seen that this other vessel was a small merchantman which
shifted her course as though to shake off pursuit.

"They take us for a pirate," chuckled Captain Wellsby. "I have no wish
to scare 'em, poor souls. They will feel easy as soon as we bring the
wind abeam."

He was about to give the order when Joe Hawkridge, gunner's mate, called
to Jack Cockrell standing his watch at the helm:

"Remember the snow I told ye of? Yonder is the same rig and tonnage,
alike it as peas in a pod."

Jack spoke to the shipmaster who summoned Joe to the quarter-deck. The
boy was confident that this was the New England coasting vessel in which
Ned Rackham and his pirates had appeared off Cherokee Inlet and had
carried the marooned seamen from the sandy cay.

"A brown patch in the big main-topsail, and the bowsprit steeved more'n
ordinary," said Joe. "Tit for tat, Cap'n Wellsby. Your men can have the
fun of jamming them in the fo'castle. And you won't find me or Jack
helpin' these picaroons to break out."

"No fear of that," sternly spoke the shipmaster. "They shall make their
exit with a taut rope and a long drop when I deliver them in Virginia."

It was to be gathered that the bold Ned Rackham had failed in his
desperate enterprise of capturing a larger ship and that he was probably
cruising up the coast in hopes of rejoining Blackbeard. The snow had too
few guns to cope with the _King George_ brigantine which could throw a
battering broadside. As soon as identification was certain, Captain
Wellsby hauled to windward to hold the weather gauge and Colonel Stuart
called the men to quarters. The _Plymouth Adventure_ hands were
disappointed that they would be unable to pay their own grudge. They had
no doubt that Ned Rackham would strike his colors without a battle.

The _King George_ ran close enough for Captain Wellsby to shout through
the trumpet:

"The snow ahoy! Send your men aboard or I'll sink you. No tricks,
Rackham. Lively, now."

They saw the men running to cut the boat lashings and struggle to
launch the boats from the deck. Ned Rackham, handsome and debonair,
stared coolly at the brigantine but gave no sign that he had heard the
ultimatum. With a shrug he walked across the poop, glanced up at the
British ensign which flew from his main truck, and made no motion to
pull it down.

"Blow your matches, boys," roared Colonel Stuart from his station in the
waist of the _King George_. "Five minutes' grace, no more."

Captain Wellsby said to wait a little. The pirates were endeavoring to
quit the snow. And presently Rackham appeared to change his own purpose.
No longer ignoring the _King George_, he doffed his hat in a graceful
flourish and bowed with a mocking obeisance. Then he strolled to the
cabin hatch and went below, presumably to get a change of clothing or
something of the sort. But he failed to reappear and his men were in a
frenzy of haste, with one boat already in the water.

So incensed was Colonel Stuart by the insolent refusal of Ned Rackham to
strike his colors in token of surrender that he gave orders to fire at
the mainmast and try to bring it down. An instant before the starboard
battery thundered, the snow seemed to fly upwards in a tremendous
explosion. The masts were flung out of her and the hull opened like a
shattered basket. So violent was the shock that men were thrown to the
deck of the _King George_ and she quivered as though her bows had
rammed a reef. Black smoke spouted as from a crater and debris rained
down on a boiling sea.

A few survivors, scorched or half-stunned, were clinging to bits of
wreckage and wailing for succor. Where the snow had floated was a
discolored eddy, broken timbers, a lather of dirty foam. Captain
Jonathan Wellsby picked himself up, rubbed a bump on his head, and gazed
wildly at the tragic scene. Collecting his wits, he exclaimed:

"That 'ud be like Ned Rackham, to blow up the ship sooner than be taken
and hanged. More than likely he had the train all laid to the powder
barrels."

"He saved us a lot of trouble," said Colonel Stuart as he climbed to the
poop. "A fellow of iron will and courage, this Rackham, by all accounts.
I have conceived a respect for him."

"I forgive him his sins," replied the skipper. "Now, lads, boats away,
and fish up those dying wretches."

Joe Hawkridge emitted a jubilant whoop and dived over the rail without
waiting for a boat. He had caught a glimpse of a feeble swimmer whose
square, solid features and bushy brows were familiar. It was Peter
Tobey, the carpenter's mate, who had befriended him on the cay and who
had set adrift that miraculous cask of food and water. A few strokes and
Joe was at his side, clutching him by the neck-band and towing him
toward the _King George_ like a faithful retriever. Ropes were flung to
them and Joe saw his good friend safely aboard before he went up the
side.

The carpenter's mate was both burned and bruised but his hurts were not
grievous and he was able to drag himself aft with Joe as a crutch.

"My own particular prize, sir, by your gracious leave," said Joe
Hawkridge, addressing Captain Wellsby. "This is Mr. Peter Tobey, a poor,
faint-hearted pirate like me. May I have him to keep, sir?"

"Bless me, but there will be no pirates left to hang," was the quizzical
reply. "Master Cockrell has adopted you, and now I am ordered to be kind
to Bill Saxby and Trimble Rogers if I meet up with 'em."

"That's the whole list, sir. Ask Jack Cockrell. You can string the rest
of the bloody pirates to the yardarm, for all we care. Do I get
exemption for this Peter Tobey?"

"What is your verdict, Colonel Stuart?" asked the captain.

"I heard the tale from Hawkridge," answered the brusque but generous
soldier. "The carpenter's mate has won my allegiance. What say you in
your own behalf, Peter Tobey?"

The blistered, singed survivor touched a hand to his forehead and
respectfully responded:

"A carpenter by trade and nature, and allus was. I never see one happy
day a-piratin' nor did I shed the blood of any human creatur'. With a
bench and tools, you will find me a proper handy man in Charles Town."

"That clinches it," cried Colonel Stuart. "I should call it a crime to
hang an artisan like Peter Tobey. Your prize is awarded you, Hawkridge.
See that he is well cared for."

"The first booty that ever was handed me from a sinkin' ship," said Joe.
"Come along, Master Tobey, and roll into my bunk."

"Verily I was castin' bread upon the waters when I gave that cask to the
wind and tide," devoutly murmured the carpenter's mate as he limped
below with his new owner.

No more than a dozen other pirates were rescued alive and several of
these expired soon after they were lifted aboard the brigantine. This
was the only sensational incident of the coastwise voyage to the James
River. Comfortably quartered, with no more work than was wholesome, Jack
Cockrell and Joe Hawkridge thought it a holiday excursion after their
previous adventures at sea.

In the roadstead of the James were two men-of-war, small frigates flying
the broad pennant of the Royal Navy. A conference was held in the cabin
of the senior officer, to which Captain Wellsby and Colonel Stuart were
invited. The latest advices made it seem certain that Blackbeard still
lurked off the coast of the Carolinas. Planters had reported seeing his
ship in Pamlico Sound and it was also learned that he had been in
communication with the disloyal Governor Eden at Bath Town. A letter had
been intercepted, in handwriting of the Governor's secretary, and
addressed to Captain Teach, which included these words:

"_I have sent you four of your men. They are all I can meet with about
town. Be upon your guard._"

This was readily construed to mean that Blackbeard was in haste to
recall such of his crew as had strayed ashore. At the council of war in
the frigate's cabin, a proclamation was read. It offered a handsome
reward for the capture of Captain Edward Teach, dead or alive, and
lesser rewards for other pirates.

It was the decision that the two frigates were unhandy for cruising
inshore. Therefore officers and men would be chosen from them to fill
the complements of two sloops, light and active craft which would be
unhampered by batteries of cannon. They would be employed for boarding
Blackbeard's ship while the Charles Town brigantine _King George_ should
convoy them and engage in the attack if the depth of water should
permit. The naval officer selected to command the sloops was Lieutenant
Maynard who went off to the _King George_ to inspect her and make a call
of courtesy.

He was especially cordial to Master Cockrell and Gunner's Mate Joe
Hawkridge, laying aside the stiff dignity of naval rank. To his
persuasive argument that they enter the royal service with promise of
quick promotion, they turned a deaf ear although they were wonderfully
taken with him. He was a gentle, soft-spoken young man with a boyish
smile who blushed when pressed to talk of his own exploits against the
Spanish, the Dutch, and the French in Britannia's wooden walls. His own
questions were mostly about Blackbeard's fighting quality. Would he make
a stand against disciplined tars who were accustomed to close in,
hammer-and-tongs? Joe Hawkridge answered to this:

"I ne'er saw him in action against a king's ship, and all his wild
nonsense is apt to delude ye into thinkin' him a drunken play-actor. But
you will never take him alive, so long as those bandy legs have strength
to prop him up."

"I look forward to meeting him with a deal of pleasure. It may be my
good fortune to measure swords with him," observed Lieutenant Maynard.

Joe Hawkridge was puzzled by this gentle fire-eater with the complexion
of a girl. Nothing could have been more unlike the ramping, roaring
pirates of Blackbeard's dirty crew who tried to terrify by their very
appearance. After the lieutenant had returned to his frigate, Jack
Cockrell remarked:

"A most misleading man, Joe. You cannot picture him seeking the bubble
reputation at the cannon's mouth, as Will Shakespeare saith."

"Blackbeard will bite him in two," replied Joe. "He is too pretty to be
risked in such a slaughter pen. I own up to feelin' squeamish on my own
account, hardy pirate though I be."

"This Lieutenant Maynard is welcome to measure swords with Blackbeard,"
said Jack, "and I shall not quarrel with him for the honor. Pick me a
pirate with a wooden leg, Joe, or one that still shakes with Spanish
fever."

"My only chance of getting out with a whole skin is to lug a sack of
flour under one arm and play the ghost o' Jesse Strawn."

Expeditiously the brigantine and the two sloops sailed out of the James
River to head for the North Carolina coast and first rake the nooks and
bays of Pamlico Sound. There was no intention of offering Blackbeard
fair odds in battle. With men and vessels enough it was resolved to
exterminate him, like ridding a house of rats or other vermin. If he had
gone out to sea, then the pursuers would wait and watch for his return
to his favorite haunts in these waters. There was every reason to
believe, however, that he was concealed inshore, within easy distance of
his friend Governor Eden.

Failing to find him in Pamlico Sound, it was debated whether to cruise
farther to the southward. Now Master Jack Cockrell and his chum had said
nothing to the officers concerning the treasure in the Cherokee swamp.
They felt bound in honor not to reveal it without the consent of Bill
Saxby and old Trimble Rogers who were partners in the enterprise.
Moreover, Lieutenant Maynard and the Virginia officers would feel bound
to turn the treasure over to the crown or its representatives. Governor
Eden of North Carolina would undoubtedly claim it as found within his
territory and this meant that he would steal most of it for himself.

It thrilled the lads when Colonel Stuart told them that this Provincial
squadron would cruise as far as Cherokee Inlet before working to the
northward again. Information had led the officers to believe that
Blackbeard had lost many men by desertion while his ship lay at Bath
Town and near by. They had been roving about the plantations and making
a nuisance of themselves and seemed ready to quit their red-handed
despot of a master. In this event he might have sought his old
hiding-place at the Inlet sooner than risk a clash with the force which
had been sent after him and of which he had been warned by Governor
Eden.

Lieutenant Maynard scouted in advance with the two sloops because there
was small danger of their getting aground and they could be moved along
with oars if the wind failed. The brigantine kept further offshore but
within signaling distance. She was running within sight of the
scattering barrier of low islands when Captain Wellsby summoned Joe
Hawkridge and informed him:

"You will act as pilot, Joe, once we fetch sounding on the Twelve Fathom
Bank. The chart is faulty, as ye know, and me and my mates are in
strange waters with a'mighty little elbow-room. You know the marks, I
take it."

"Aye, sir, I do that," answered Joe. "Then I stays aboard ship and miss
the chance to go pokin' about with a cutlass? I'm all screwed up to
terrible deeds, Cap'n Wellsby, after a spell o' mortal fear. And who
takes care of Master Cockrell if he goes in a boat?"

"His own lusty right arm, Joe. Avast with your melancholy. We must first
catch this Blackbeard."

Presently Joe Hawkridge footed it up the main shrouds to scan the sea
ahead and try to get a glimpse of that sandy bit of exposed shoal on
which he had been marooned. This would enable him to find the entrance
to the outer channel and so con the brigantine in from seaward. While he
shaded his eyes with his hand against the glare of the morning sun, one
of the sloops hoisted a string of bright signal flags and fired two
guns. The other sloop was seen to lower her topsail and wait for the
_King George_ to come up.

Joe Hawkridge climbed higher and found a perch where he could discern
the spars of a vessel etched almost as fine as threads against the azure
horizon. He was almost certain that the ship he saw was very close to
that tiny cay of which he had such unhappy knowledge. Soon he was able
to perceive that the vessel's sails were furled. This was an odd place
for an anchorage. His conjecture was confirmed when the _King George_
passed close to the nearest sloop and Lieutenant Maynard shouted:

"Stranded hard and fast! And she is deucedly like Blackbeard's brig."

Scampering to the deck, Joe Hawkridge mustered his gun's crew as Jack
Cockrell came running up to say:

"Trapped on the very islet where he cast you and the other pirates! His
chickens have come home to roost."

"Call me no pirate or I'll stretch ye with a handspike," grinned Joe.
"'Tis a plaguey poor word in this company. Aye, Cap'n Ed'ard Teach has a
taste of his own medicine and he will get a worse dose this day than
ever he served me."



CHAPTER XVII

THE GREAT FIGHT OF CAPTAIN TEACH


YES, there was Blackbeard's ship hard in the sand which had gripped her
keel while she was steering to enter the Cherokee Inlet. There was no
pearly vapor of swamp mist out here to shroud her from attack. The air
was clear and bright, with a robust breeze which stirred a flashing surf
on the shoals. Under lower sails, the two sloops watchfully crept nearer
until their crews could examine the stranded brig and read the story of
her plight. She stood on a slant with the decks sloped toward the enemy.
This made it impossible to use her guns with any great effect.

Captain Wellsby tacked ship and kept the _King George_ well away from
the cay, as Joe Hawkridge advised. With an ebbing tide, it was unsafe to
venture into shallower water in order to pound Blackbeard's vessel with
broadsides. Lieutenant Maynard came aboard in a small boat and was quite
the dandy with his brocaded coat and ruffles and velvet small-clothes.
One might have thought he had engaged to dance the minuet. Colonel
Stuart met him in a spick-and-span uniform of His Majesty's Foot,
cross-belts pipe-clayed white as snow, boots polished until they shone.
Such gentlemen were punctilious in war two hundred years ago.

"Your solid shot will not pound him much at this range, my good sir,"
said the lieutenant. "With his hull so badly listed toward us, you can
no more than splinter the decks while his men take shelter below."

"I grant you that," regretfully replied the soldier. "And case-shot will
not scatter to do him much harm. Shall I blaze away and demoralize the
rascals whilst you make ready your boats?"

"Toss a few rounds into the varlets, Colonel Stuart. It may keep them
from massing on deck. One boat from your ship, if it please you, with
twenty picked men. I shall take twenty men from each sloop as boarders."

"Sixty in all?" queried the colonel. "Why not take a hundred?"

"They would be tumbling over one another,--too much confusion. This is
not a large vessel yonder. We must have room on deck to swing and cut."

"I will have my men away in ten minutes, Lieutenant Maynard," crisply
replied the blonde, raw-boned Scotsman with a finger at his hat-brim in
courteous salute. He proceeded to call the men by name, strapping, sober
fellows who had followed the sea amid the frequent perils of the
merchant service. Jack Cockrell was the only landsman and he felt
greatly honored that he should be included. Gone was his unmanly
trepidation. Was he more worthy to live than these humble seamen who
fought to make the ocean safer for other voyagers, who were true kinsmen
of the Elizabethan heroes of blue water? He tarried a moment to wring
Joe Hawkridge's hand in farewell and to tell him:

"If I have ill luck in this adventure, old comrade,--do you mind
presenting my best compliments, and--and a fond farewell to Mistress
Dorothy Stuart?"

"Strike me, Jack, stow that or you'll have me blubberin'," said Joe.
"Bring me a lock of Cap'n Teach's whiskers as a token for my lass in
Fayal if ever I clap eyes on her again. And you'd best take this heavy
cutlass which I whetted a-purpose for ye. 'Twill split a pirate like
slicin' an apple."

With this useful gift in his hand, Master Cockrell swung himself into
the boat where Colonel Stuart stood in the stern-sheets. Perhaps he,
too, was dwelling on a fair maid named Dorothy who might be left
fatherless before the sun climbed an hour higher. The sloops were moving
nearer the cay under sail and oar, trailing their crowded boats behind
them. Blackbeard had hauled two or three of his guns into such positions
that he could open fire but the sloops crawled doggedly into the shoal
water and so screened their boats until these were ready to cast off for
the final dash.

It was a rare sea picture, the stranded brig with canvas loose on the
yards and ropes streaming, her listed decks a-swarm with pirates in
outlandish, vari-colored garb, the surf playing about her in a bright
dazzle and the gulls screaming overhead. The broad, squat figure of
Blackbeard himself was never more conspicuous. He no longer strutted the
quarter-deck but was all over the ship, menacing his men with his
pistols, shifting them in groups for defense, shouldering bags of
munitions, or heaping up the grenades and stink-pots to be lighted and
thrown into the attacking boats.

It was his humor to adorn himself more elaborately than usual. Under his
broad hat with the great feather in it he had stuck lengths of tow
matches which were all sputtering and burning so that he ran to and fro
in a cloud of sparks and smoke like that Evil One whom he professed to
admire. He realized, no doubt, that this was likely to be his last
stand. The inferno which he was so fond of counterfeiting, fairly yawned
at his feet.

And now the sloops let go their anchors while from astern of them
appeared the three boats of the assailants. They steered wide of each
other to seek different parts of the pirate brig and so divide
Blackbeard's force. The boats of Colonel Stuart and Lieutenant Maynard
were racing for the honor of first place alongside. Blackbeard trained
two guns on them, filled with grape and chain-shot, and one boat was
shattered but it swam long enough for the cheering men to pull it to the
brig and toss their grapples to the rail which was inclined quite close
to the water. They were in the surf which broke against the ship, but
this was a mere trifle.

Most of them went up the side like cats, leaping for the chains and
dead-eyes, slashing at the nettings, swinging by a rope's end, or
digging their toes in a crack of a gun-port. Forward they were pouring
over the bowsprit, vaulting like acrobats from the anchor stocks, or
swarming up the stays. It seemed beyond belief that they could gain
footing on the decks with Blackbeard's demons stabbing and hacking and
shooting at them, but in such manner as this was many a great sea fight
won in the brave days of old.

Lieutenant Maynard gained his lodgment in the bows amid a swirl of
pirates who tried to pen him in front of the forecastle house. But his
tars of the Royal Navy were accustomed to close quarters and they
straightway made room for themselves. Chest to chest and hand to hand
they hewed their way toward the waist of the ship where Colonel Stuart
raged like the braw, bonny Highlander that he was. Almost at the same
time, the third boat had made fast under the jutting stern gallery and
its twenty men were piling in through the cabin windows like so many
human projectiles.

In the _King George_ brigantine, Captain Jonathan Wellsby fidgeted and
gnawed his lip, with a telescope at his eye, while he watched the
conflict in which he could scarce distinguish friend from foe. He could
see Blackbeard charge aft to rally his men and then whirl back to lunge
into the mêlée where towered Colonel Stuart's tall figure. The powder
smoke from pistols and muskets drifted in a thin blue haze. Joe
Hawkridge was fairly shaking with nervousness as he said to the
skipper:

"There'll be no clearing the decks 'less they down that monster of a
Cap'n Teach. And he has more lives than a cat. See you my dear crony,
Master Jack?"

"No, I cannot make him out in that mad turmoil," replied Captain
Wellsby. "Nip and tuck, I call it, Joe."

This was the opinion forced upon Lieutenant Maynard as he saw the
engagement resolve itself into a series of bloody whirlpools, his seamen
and the pirates intermingled. He won his way past the forecastle into
the wider spaces of the deck, with only a few of his twenty tars on
their feet. Colonel Stuart was hard pressed and the boarders who had
come over the stern had as much as they could do to hold their own. Thus
far the issue was indecisive.

Jack Cockrell had kept close to the colonel, and felt amazement that he
was still alive. His cheek was laid open, a bullet had torn his thigh,
and a powder burn streaked his neck, but he felt these hurts not at all.
It was a nightmare from which there seemed no escape. He saw Blackbeard
rush at him with a raucous shout of:

"The scurvy young cockerel! He will ne'er crow again."

Colonel Stuart sprang between them, blades clashed, and they were swept
apart in another wave of jostling combat. A moment later the colonel
slipped and fell as a coal-black negro chopped at him with a broken
cutlass. Jack Cockrell flew at him and they wrestled until a hip-lock
threw the negro to the deck, where the colonel made him one pirate less.

Formidable as these outlaws were, they lacked the stern cohesion which
had been drilled into the sailors of the Royal Navy and likewise learned
in the hard school of the merchant service. Very slowly the odds were
shifting against Blackbeard's crew. It was unmistakable when Lieutenant
Maynard cut his way through to join Colonel Stuart, while the third
group of boarders was advancing little by little from the after quarter.
This meant that the force was gradually uniting in spite of the furious
efforts to scatter it.

And now there came an episode which lives in history two centuries after
that scene of carnage on the decks of the stranded brig. It has
preserved the name of a humble lieutenant of the Royal Navy and saved it
from the oblivion which is the common lot of most brave men who do and
dare when duty beckons.

Blackbeard was bleeding from a dozen wounds and yet his activity was
unabated. He was like a grizzly bear at bay. His men began to believe
that his league with Satan, of which he obscenely boasted, had made him
invulnerable. He was all that he had proclaimed himself to be, the
wickedest and most fearsome pirate of the Western Ocean. And all the
while, the slender, boyish Lieutenant Maynard, sailor and gentleman, had
one aim in mind, and that was to slay Captain Edward Teach with his own
hand. Nor was he at all content until he had cleared a path to where the
hairy pirate was playing havoc with his broadsword.

With a loud laugh in mockery, Blackbeard snatched a loaded pistol from
one of his men and fired at this foppish young officer who presumed to
single him out. The ball chipped Maynard's ear and he dodged the pistol
which was hurled at his head. It was curious to note a lull in the
general engagement, a little interval of suspense while men regained
their breath or tried to staunch their wounds. They were unconsciously
awaiting the verdict of this duel between their leaders. Jack Cockrell,
for instance, finding himself alone by some chance, leaned against a
stanchion and heard his own blood drip--drip--on the deck.

It was a fleeting respite. Blackbeard swung his sword, with the might of
those wide shoulders behind it. The lieutenant stepped aside like
lightning and the bright weapon whistled past his arm. Then they went at
each other like blacksmiths, sparks flying as steel bit steel. Dexterity
and a cool wit were a match for the pirate's untamable strength. Gory,
snarling, Blackbeard shortened his stroke to use the point. The
lieutenant dropped to one knee, thrust upward, and found a vital spot.

Blackbeard stood staring at him with wonder in his eyes. Then those
thick, bowed legs gave way and he toppled like a tree uprooted. He
passed out quietly enough, with no more cursing, and in this last moment
of sensibility his thoughts appeared to wander far to his youth as a
brisk merchant seaman out of Bristol port, for he was heard to mutter,
with a long sigh:

"A pretty babe as ever was, Mollie, and the mortal image of its mother."

To his waist the sable beard covered him like a pall and one corded arm
was flung across his breast and it showed the design of the skull and
cross-bones pricked in India ink. Then as if the dead leader had issued
the command, the surviving pirates began to fling down their weapons and
loudly cry for quarter. They need not have felt ashamed of the
resistance they had made up to this time, but now the delirium of combat
had slackened and Blackbeard was no more. One or two of his officers
were alive and they knew that the game was lost. Reinforcements could be
sent from the sloops and the brigantine as soon as they were signaled
for. And there was no flight from a stranded ship. Blackbeard had been
able to infuse them with his own madness. Better chance the gallows than
no quarter.

Here and there a few of the most desperate dogs of the Spanish Main who
had followed Blackbeard's fortunes a long time, refused to surrender but
they were either shot down or overpowered. Captain Wellsby was sending
off two boats from the _King George_ with his surgeon, and the sloops
were kedging in closer to the cay with the rising tide. Half the seamen
were beyond aid and of the pirates no more than twenty were alive. Jack
Cockrell was thankful to have come off so lightly, and he consoled
himself with the notion that a scar across his cheek would be a manly
memento. Colonel Stuart had been several times wounded but 'tis hard
killing a Highlander.

It was Lieutenant Maynard's duty to offer public proof that he had slain
none other than the infamous Blackbeard, wherefore he made no protest
when his armorer hacked off the head of the dead pirate. There was no
feeling of chivalry due a fallen foe, valiant though his end had been.
This horrid trophy was tied at the end of a sloop's bowsprit, to be
displayed for the gratification of all honest sailormen who might behold
it in port. It was not a gentle age on blue water and Captain Edward
Teach had been the death of many helpless people during his wicked
career.

Lieutenant Maynard announced that he would take the two sloops into Bath
Town, before proceeding to Virginia, as they were overcrowded vessels
and the survivors of the boarding party needed proper care ashore. It
would also afford the unscrupulous Governor Eden of North Carolina an
opportunity to see his friend, Captain Teach, as a pirate who would
divide no more plundered merchandise with him.

The brigantine _King George_ was ready to escort them into Pamlico
Sound, after which she would sail for Charles Town. Before the
departure from the entrance of Cherokee Inlet, the stranded vessel was
set afire and blazed grandly as the funeral pyre of Blackbeard's stout
lads who would go no more a-roving.

Never was a nurse more devoted than Joe Hawkridge when his comrade was
mercifully restored to him. Jack was woefully pale and weak but in
blithe spirits and thankful to have seen the last of Blackbeard.

"Hulled in the leg and a damaged figger-head," said Joe, as he sat on
the edge of the hero's bunk. "Triflin', I call it, when I expected to
see you come aboard feet first wrapped in a bit o' canvas."

"I don't want to talk about it, Joe. Let's find something pleasant. Ho
for Charles Town, and the green trees and a bench in the shade."

"And a tidy little vessel after a while, you and me and the Councilor
a-pleasurin' up the coast with men and gear to fish up the treasure
chest."

"And you believe that Blackbeard never got back to the Inlet to save the
treasure for himself?" asked Jack.

"Not the way his ship was headed when she struck the shoal."

The brigantine was well on her way to Charles Town when Captain Wellsby
found that Master Cockrell could be carried into the comfortable main
cabin to rest on a cushioned settle for an hour or two at a time. It was
during one of these visits, when Joe Hawkridge was present, that the
skipper remembered to say:

"Here is a bit of memorandum which may entertain you lads. Lieutenant
Maynard had Blackbeard's quarters searched before the brig was burned.
Some valuable stuff was found, but nothing what you'd call a pirate's
treasure."

The lads looked at each other but kept their own counsel and Captain
Wellsby went on to explain:

"There was a private log, Blackbeard's own journal, with a few entries
in it, and most of the leaves torn out. I made a copy of what could be
read, for the late Captain Teach was a better pirate than scrivener.
Here, Jack, you are the scholar."

Jack read aloud this extract, which was about what might have been
expected:

"_Such a day! Rum all out,--our company somewhat sober. A confusion
amongst us,--rogues a-plotting--great talk of separation. So I looked
sharp for a prize. Took one, with a great deal of liquor on board, so
kept the company hot, very hot. Then all things went well again._"

"That sounds familiar enough to me," was Joe Hawkridge's comment. "And
the rest of his writing will be much like it."

"Not so fast," exclaimed Captain Wellsby. "Scan the next page, Jack.
'Twill fetch you up all standing. Not that it puts gold in our pockets,
for we know not where to search, but I swear it will make your eyes
sparkle and your mouth water."

Trying to hide his excitement, Jack saw a kind of rough inventory, and
it ran like this:

          "Where I Hid Itt This Cruse:

          1 Bag 54 Silver Barrs. 1 Bag 79 Barrs & Peaces of
               Silver.

          1 Bag Coyned Gold. 1 Bag Dust Gold. 2 Bags Gold
               Barrs.

          1 Bag Silver Rings & Sundry Precious Stones. 3
               Bags Unpolyshed Stones.

          1 Silver Box set with Diamonds. 4 Golden Lockets.

          Also 1 Silver Porringer--2 Gold Boxons--7 Green
               Stones--Rubies Great & Small 67--P'cl Peaces of
               Eight & Dollars--Also 1 Bag Lump Silver--a Small
               Chaine--a corral Necklace--1 Bag English Crowns."

Captain Jonathan Wellsby listened to this luscious recital with an air
of mild amusement. He was of a temper too stolid and sensible to waste
his time on random treasure hunting. Blackbeard might have chosen his
hiding-place anywhere along hundreds of leagues of coast. He could
understand the agitation of these two adventurous lads to whom this
memorandum was like a magic spell. Of such was the spirit of youth.

"Any more of it?" demanded Joe Hawkridge.

"The next page was ripped out of the journal," answered the skipper.
"What cruise did he mean? If it was this last one, he may have hid it on
the Virginia or Carolina coast."

Master Cockrell gave it as an excuse that he had sat up long enough and
would return to his bunk. He was fairly bursting for a conference with
Joe, and as soon as they were alone he exclaimed:

"It may be the sea-chest! What do you think?"

"A handsome clue, I call it, something to warm the cockles of your
heart," grinned the sea urchin. "Aye, Jack, I should wager he wrote that
down whilst he lay at anchor in Cherokee Inlet."

"It seems shabby of us to keep the secret from Captain Wellsby, but
there is an obligation on us----"

"To Bill Saxby and the old sea wolf," said Joe. "We'll not forget this
trump of a skipper when it comes to splittin' up the treasure."

"I am anxious for Captain Bonnet and his crew," remarked Jack. "With
this crusade against pirates afoot, our friends may be hanged before we
see them again."



CHAPTER XVIII

THE OLD BUCCANEER IS LOYAL


SORROW mingled with rejoicing when the _King George_ brigantine sailed
into Charles Town harbor. The sea fight off Cherokee Inlet had taken a
heavy toll of brave seamen and there were vacant chairs and aching
hearts ashore, but the fiendish Blackbeard had been blotted out and
would no more harry the coast. Small and rude as was this pioneer
settlement, it was most fair and attractive to the eyes of young Master
Cockrell and Joe Hawkridge. In the house of Uncle Peter Forbes they
rested at their ease and planned sedate careers for themselves.

Even the treasure ceased to be uppermost in their lively discussions. It
could wait a while. They were no longer under the spell of its
influence. This different world in which they now dwelt so contentedly
made their adventures seem like shadowy figments with precious little
romance in them. And neither lad expressed any great anxiety to go
exploring the noisome Cherokee swamp and to challenge the ghost of
Blackbeard.

Without a sign of rebellion, Jack returned to his books and lessons in
Parson Throckmorton's garden. The learning already acquired he began to
pass on to Joe Hawkridge, who was a zealous pupil and determined to
read and write and cipher without letting the grass grow under his feet.
It was this young pirate's ambition to make a shipping merchant of
himself, and Councilor Forbes found him employment in a warehouse where
the planters traded their rice, resin, and indigo for the varied
merchandise brought out from England. Jack aspired to manage his uncle's
plantation and to acquire lands of his own and some day to sit in the
Governor's Council.

Of a Sunday morning he went to the little English church, dressed in his
best and using a cane, for he limped from the wound in his thigh. Joe
Hawkridge walked with him, careful to banish his grin, and sat in the
Councilor's pew where he paid proper attention to the prayers and
responses. This caused some gossip but the ocean waif was winning his
way to favor by dint of industry, a shrewd wit, and his perennial good
humor.

Frequently they escorted fair Dorothy Stuart home from church. She was
fonder than ever of stalwart Master Cockrell because the colonel had
told her he would have been a dead man had not the lad intervened to
save him from the stroke of a negro pirate. Alas, however, it was not
that sentimental devotion for which the lovelorn Jack yearned, and he
confided to Joe that his existence was blighted. This evoked no sympathy
from the fickle Hawkridge, who was forgetting his black-eyed lass in the
Azores and was already a slave to Dorothy Stuart. She laughed at them
both and was their true friend, tender, and whimsical and anxious for
their welfare. It was a valuable chapter in their education.

One morning while Joe was at work in the warehouse near the harbor, he
heard a commotion in the street and was about to run out when his
employer came in and explained:

"Two pirates captured,--just as I happened to pass. The knaves landed
from a boat in broad daylight, unaware that Charles Town has mended its
loose habit toward such gentry."

"What will be done with 'em?" quickly asked Joe, with an unhappy
premonition.

"They were recognized as two of Stede Bonnet's old hands that used to
resort to the tavern. Soldiers of the Governor's guard have been sent
for to drag them to the gaol."

Joe hastened out but slackened his pace to lag behind the crowd of
idlers who were jostling the prisoners along with hoots and jeers. Yes,
there was the tall, gaunt frame and gray head of old Trimble Rogers
whose mien was so forbidding and masterful that the mob forbore to
handle him too roughly, unarmed though he was. At his elbow trudged
chubby Bill Saxby, gazing about him with those wide blue eyes in which
was not a trace of guile. Joe realized that for him to intercede would
make matters worse. He was a reformed pirate on probation and was known
to have sailed with Blackbeard himself.

Therefore he darted into another street and sped to find Jack Cockrell,
who chanced to be at home. They rushed into the room where Uncle Peter
Forbes was writing at his desk and informed him that their two staunch
comrades had come ashore to find them and were already in custody and
something must be done to save them from the wrath of Governor Johnson,
who had a mortal distaste for pirates still at large. The Councilor
calmed the perturbation by assuring them:

"I have already spoken to His Excellency in behalf of these two men
should they appear in this port. He was not wholly pleased but promised
clemency should they offer to repent and if I gave surety for the
pledge."

"They will be ready to live as respectable as Joe," impetuously declared
Master Cockrell. "I'll go bail on it. Bill Saxby is a tradesman by
nature and if you will lend him enough money to set himself up as a
linen-draper and haberdasher, Uncle Peter, he can live happily ever
after."

"And old Trimble Rogers has sailed his last cruise under the Jolly
Roger, Councilor," put in Joe Hawkridge. "His timbers are full o' dry
rot and he seeks a safe mooring."

"There seems no end to the bad company you drag me into," quoth Uncle
Peter. "My hat and broadcloth cloak, Jack, and let us fare to the gaol
and see what these awkward visitors have to say. After that I will
attend upon the Governor."

In better spirits the anxious lads followed the dignified Secretary of
the Council to the strongly built gaol on the edge of the town. In a
very gloomy cell behind iron bars they found the luckless brace of
pirates, shackled hand and foot. Bill Saxby took it like a placid
philosopher but the ancient buccaneer was spitting Spanish oaths and
condemning the hospitality of Charles Town in violent terms. He quieted
instantly at sight of his young friends and the harsh, wrinkled visage
fairly beamed as he shouted:

"Our _camaradas_, Bill. Here they be, to haul us out of this filthy
hole! I forgive the unmannerly folks that allus used to welcome us."

They shook hands through the bars while Uncle Peter stood aside. He felt
that his official station forbade his joining this fraternal reunion. In
the narrow corridor he chatted with the gaoler to pass the time while
Bill Saxby was explaining to the lads:

"We was in duty bound, in a manner of speakin', to run you down as soon
as possible and make a report. Eh, Trimble?"

"Aye, Bill, to see what was to be done about the treasure. We wouldn't
have 'em think we had run off with it. D'ye see, Master Cockrell, me and
Bill took Cap'n Bonnet into our confidence. He is an honorable man and
to be mentioned along with the great Cap'n Ed'ard Davis what I was
shipmates with in the South Sea and at the sack of----"

"Stow it, grandsire," cried Bill. "I don't want to linger in gaol while
you spin that long-winded yarn. Tell the lads what they want to know."

"If I weren't chained to the wall, Bill, I'd put my fist in your eye,"
severely retorted the veteran. "As I was a-sayin', Cap'n Bonnet was all
courtesy and allowed the treasure belonged to us and he was ready to
help find it."

"We told him we had to join up with our gentleman partner, Master
Cockrell, and win his consent," said Bill, "afore we put our hooks on
that blessed sea-chest."

"Which is exactly how I felt about you," Jack told them and he was
greatly touched by this proof of their unbending fidelity. "But how did
you manage it to reach Charles Town?"

"Cap'n Bonnet hove to outside the bar last night," explained Trimble
Rogers, "and gave us a handy boat to sail in with."

The wary Joe Hawkridge took alarm at this and put a finger to his lips.
It was unwise to parade the fact that Stede Bonnet cruised so near. His
Excellency, the Governor, was anxious that he should share the fate of
Blackbeard. Jack Cockrell had no fear that his Uncle Peter would be a
tale-bearer. His private honor would forbid because this interview with
the two lads was a privileged communication. What made Jack a trifle
anxious was the presence of the gaol keeper in the corridor. He was a
sneaking sort of man, soft of tread and oily of speech and inclined to
curry favor with those in authority.

Councilor Peter Forbes had tactfully withdrawn this person beyond
earshot but he began to edge toward the cell. Old Trimble Rogers tried
to heed Joe's cautionary signal but what he meant to be a whisper was a
hoarse rumble as he explained:

"Cap'n Bonnet sends word he will be off this coast again in thirty days.
He will come ashore hisself, to Sullivan's Island to get the answer,
whether you are to go with us, Master Cockrell, to Cherokee Inlet."

Jack glanced at the gaol keeper but he was a dozen feet away and deep in
talk with Mr. Forbes. There was no sign that this confidence had been
overheard. Bill Saxby scolded the buccaneer for his careless speech but
the old man had been a freebooter too long to be easily tamed. With
artful design, Jack led him away from this dangerous ground and
suggested:

"You are done with pirating? And will you both be ready to stay ashore
in Charles Town after this,--this certain errand is accomplished?"

"I swear it gladly and on my own Bible," answered Trimble Rogers.

"Swear it for me," said Bill Saxby.

Mr. Forbes interrupted and told the lads to go home and await his
conference with Governor Johnson. It proved to be a session somewhat
stormy but the upshot was a pardon conditioned on good behavior. The
convincing argument was that these men had been faithful to Master
Cockrell through thick and thin and had saved him from perishing in the
Cherokee swamp. Moreover, it might be an inducement to others of Stede
Bonnet's crew to surrender themselves and forsake their evil ways.

No sooner were these two pirates released from gaol than they found an
active friend in Mr. Peter Forbes. He went about it quietly, for obvious
reasons, but he felt under great obligation to them for their goodness
to his nephew. Just at this time one of the shop-keepers became a
bankrupt because of unthrifty habits and too much card-playing. Through
an agent, Peter Forbes purchased the stock of muslins and calicos, of
brocades and taffetas, calash bonnets, satin petticoats, shoe-buckles,
laces, and buttons. And having given his promissory notes for said
merchandise, Bill Saxby proudly hung his own sign-board over the door.

There was a flutter among the ladies. Here was a noteworthy sensation,
to be served by an obsequious pirate with innocent blue eyes who had
sailed the Spanish Main. A few days and it was evident that William
Saxby, late of London, would conduct a thriving trade. He was fairly
enraptured with his good fortune and congenial occupation and took it
most amiably when Jack Cockrell or Joe Hawkridge sauntered in to tease
him. He was a disgrace to Stede Bonnet, said they, and never had a
pirate fallen to such a low estate as this.

Trimble Rogers was in no situation to rant at smug William, the linen
draper. The old sea wolf who had outlived the most glorious era of the
storied buccaneers, had a few gold pieces tucked away in his belt and at
first he was content to loaf about the tavern, with an audience to
listen to his wondrous tales which ranged from Henry Morgan to the great
Captain Edward Davis. But he had never been a sot or an idler and soon
he found himself lending a hand to assist the landlord in this way or
that. And when disorder occurred, a word from this gray, hawk-eyed rover
was enough to quell the wildest roisterers from the plantations.

Children strayed to the tavern green to sit upon his knee and twist
those fierce mustachios of his, and their mothers ceased to snatch them
away when they learned to know him better. Sometimes in his leisure
hours he pored over his tattered little Bible with muttering lips and
found pleasure in the Psalmist's denunciation of his enemies who were
undoubtedly Spaniards in some other guise. He puttered about the flower
beds with spade and rake and kept the bowling green clipped close with a
keen sickle. In short, there was a niche for Trimble Rogers in his old
age and he seemed well satisfied to fill it, just as Admiral Benbow
spent his time among his posies at Deptford when he was not bombarding
or blockading the French fleet off Dunkirk.

Jack Cockrell halted for a chat while passing the tavern and these two
shipmates retired to a quiet corner of the porch. The blind fiddler was
plying a lively bow and a dozen boys and girls danced on the turf.
Trimble Rogers surveyed them with a fatherly aspect as he said:

"They ain't afeard of me, Jack, not one of 'em. Was ever a worn out old
hulk laid up in a fairer berth?"

"None of the sea fever left, Trimble? What about Captain Bonnet? He is
due off the bar two days hence. My uncle frowns upon my sailing with him
to seek the treasure. He insists that I steer clear of pirates."

"And that's entirely proper, Jack. I look at things different like, now
I be a worthy citizen. 'Tis better to fit out a little expedition of our
own, if we can drag silly Bill out of his rubbishy shop."

"Oh, he will come fast enough after a while. We are all tired of the sea
just now," said Jack. "What about Captain Bonnet and meeting him at
Sullivan's Island to pass the word that we must decline his courteous
invitation?"

"I shall tend to that," answered the retired buccaneer, "And from what
gossip I glean in the tavern, Cap'n Bonnet had best steer for his home
port of Barbadoes and quit his fancy piratin'. This fractious Governor
has set his heart on hangin' him. And Colonel Stuart is up and about
again and has ordered the _King George_ to fit for sea. 'Tis rumored he
has sent messages to the north'ard for Lieutenant Maynard to sail
another cruise in his company."

"Then be sure you warn Stede Bonnet," strongly advised Jack. "I would
not be disloyal to the Province or to mine own good uncle, but one good
turn deserves another."

Two days after this, Trimble Rogers vanished from the tavern and found
Jack's canoe tied in a cove beyond the settled part of the town. It was
in the evening of this same day that Jack was reading in his room by
candle-light when a tap-tap on the window shutter startled him. He threw
it open and dimly perceived that Dorothy Stuart stood there. Her face
was white in the gloom and she wore a dress of some dark stuff. At her
beckoning gesture, Jack slipped through the window and silently led her
into the lane.

"Oh, Jack, I have been so torn betwixt scruples," she softly confided.
"And I hope I am not doing wrong. If I am disloyal to my dear father,
may I be forgiven. But I have made myself believe that there is a
stronger obligation."

"It concerns Stede Bonnet," murmured Jack, reading the motive of this
secret errand.

"Yes, you are bound to befriend him, Jack, on your honor as a
gentleman."

"He has been warned to keep clear of Charles Town, Dorothy. Trimble
Rogers has gone off to meet him."

"But it is worse than that. The keeper of the gaol, Jason Cutter, was
closeted with my father this morning. I heard something that was said.
Soldiers have been sent to Sullivan's Island."

"To capture Captain Bonnet?" wrathfully exclaimed Jack. "Did Colonel
Stuart go with them? Does he know why Stede Bonnet risks putting into
this harbor in a small boat? It is to do a deed of pure friendship and
chivalry."

"All my father understands is what the gaoler reported," replied
Dorothy, "and the Governor acted on this evidence. No, he did not go
with the troops but sent a major in command."

"Too late for me to be of service, alas! If they take Captain Bonnet
alive, he will most certainly hang. And Bill Saxby and Trimble Rogers
will be embroiled in some desperate attempt to aid his escape from
gaol."

"I am a dreadful, wicked girl to be thus in league with pirates," sighed
Mistress Dorothy, "but I confess to you, Jack dear, that it would grieve
my heart to see this charming pirate wear a hempen halter."

"My rival, is he? So I have found you out," flared Jack, pretending vast
indignation. "Nevertheless, I shall still be true to him."

"And to me, I trust," she fondly replied. "Oh, I feel so thankful that
faithful Trimble Rogers is keeping tryst. He will hear the soldiers
blundering about in time to make Captain Bonnet take heed and shove
off."

Jack walked home with her, very glad of the excuse, but with jealousy
rankling in his bosom. It was not a lasting malady, however, and he had
forgotten it next morning when he went early to the tavern to look for
Trimble Rogers. There he found the major of the detachment at breakfast
with an extraordinary story to tell. He had made a landing on Sullivan's
Island after dark and deployed some of his men to patrol the beach that
faced the ocean. The squad which remained with him had surprised a man
lurking amongst the trees. Pursued and fired at, he had led them an
infernal chase until they burst out upon the open beach. There they
heard the sound of oars and voices in a boat which was making in for the
shore. The hunted man raised his voice in one stentorian shout of:

"Pull out to sea, Cap'n Bonnet. And 'ware this coast. The soldiers are
on my heels. Old Trimble Rogers sends a fare-ye-well."

The boat was wrenched about in a trice and moved away from the island,
soon disappearing in the direction of the bar. The major's men had shot
at it but without effect. When they had rushed to capture the fugitive
who had shouted the warning, they found him prone upon the sand. There
was not a scratch on him and yet he was quite dead. The prodigious
exertion had broken his heart, ventured the major, and it had ceased to
beat. His body would be prepared for Christian burial because of the
esteem in which he was already held by many of the townspeople.

To Jack Cockrell and Joe Hawkridge it was sad news indeed but
tender-hearted Bill Saxby mourned like one who had lost a parent. He
closed the shop for a day and hung black ribbons on the knob. They
agreed that the end had come for Trimble Rogers as he would have wished
it, giving his life in loyal service to a friend and master. And perhaps
it was better thus than for the creeping disabilities of old age to
overtake him.

"He knew he was liable to pop off," said Bill, "with the rheumatism
getting closer to his heart all the time. And he told me, did Trimble,
that his share of the treasure was to go to the poor and needy of the
town. Orphans and such was Trimble's weakness."



CHAPTER XIX

THE QUEST FOR PIRATES' GOLD


A SMALL sloop was making its leisurely way up the Carolina coast with a
crew of a dozen men all told. The skipper was Captain Jonathan Wellsby
who was taking this holiday cruise before sailing for England to command
a fine new ship in the colonial trade. In the cabin were Jack Cockrell
and Joe Hawkridge, Councilor Peter Arbuthnot Forbes, and that brisk
young linen draper William Saxby. In the forecastle were trusty seamen
who had sailed in the _Plymouth Adventure_. The sloop's destination was
Cherokee Inlet and she was equipped with tackle and gear for a peculiar
kind of fishing.

For once they made a voyage without fear of pirates. Safely the sloop
passed in by the outlying cay where the charred bones of Blackbeard's
brig were washed by the surf. An anchorage was found in the bight where
the _Revenge_ had tarried, close by the beach and the greensward of the
pirates' old camp. After diligent preparation all hands manned a boat
which pulled into the mouth of the sluggish creek. With axes to clear
the entanglements and men enough to shove over the muddy shoals the
boat was slowly forced up-stream and then into the smaller creek at the
fork of the waters.

Uncle Peter Forbes was as gay as a truant schoolboy. This was the lark
of a lifetime. The two lads, however, were uneasy and depressed. To them
this sombre region was haunted, if not by ghosts then by memories as
unhappy. They would not have been surprised to see Blackbeard skulking
in the tall grass, his head bound in red calico, his pistols cocked to
ambush them. And, alas, old Trimble Rogers was not along to protect them
with his musket. He had lived and dreamed in expectation of this quest.

"We'll find no treasure, nary a penny of it," dolefully observed Joe
Hawkridge who had actually begun to shiver.

"Of course we can find the sea-chest, you ninny," scolded Jack.

"Dead or alive, Cap'n Ed'ard Teach flew away with it afore now," was
Joe's rejoinder. "He was a master one at black magic."

"Don't chatter like an idiot," spoke up Uncle Peter who was wildly
brushing the mosquitoes from a sun-blistered nose. "My faith, I cannot
understand how you lads got out of this swamp alive. It breeds all the
plagues of Egypt."

They came to the tiny lagoon and rounded the bend beyond which the
pirogue had capsized Blackbeard's cock-boat. There was nothing to
indicate that any human being had visited this lonely spot since that
sensational encounter. No trees had been cut down to serve as purchases
for lifting the sea-chest from its oozy hiding-place. It was agreed that
some traces would have remained if Blackbeard had been at work here
before his death.

A camp was made upon the higher ground of the knoll and the party went
about its task with skill and deliberation. Jointed sounding rods of
iron were screwed together and the exact position of the spot determined
from Jack Cockrell's chart and description. But neither he nor Joe
Hawkridge could be coaxed into lending more active assistance. They were
afraid of disturbing the bones of the drowned seaman who had fled from
Blackbeard's bloody dirk. Jack had seen him go down and it was not a
pleasant recollection. And so these two heroes who had faced so many
other perils without flinching were content to putter about
half-heartedly and let the others exert themselves.

All one day they prodded and sounded but struck only sunken logs. What
gave them more concern than this was the discovery that the slender
rods, sharpened to a point, could be driven through one yielding stratum
after another of muck and ooze. Through myriad years the decaying
vegetable matter of this rank swamp had been accumulating in these
layers of muck. There was no telling how deep down the weight of the
sea-chest might have caused it to settle.

Mr. Peter Forbes began to lose his youthful optimism and took four men
to go and dig in the knoll while the others continued to search for the
chest. The wooden cross still stood above the grave of Jesse Strawn and
the long-leaf pines murmured his requiem. Having selected at random a
place where he thought treasure ought to be, the worthy Councilor
wielded a shovel until he perspired rivers.

"Confound it, Blackbeard must have left a scrap of paper somewhere to
give us the proper instructions," he complained. "'Tis the custom of all
proper pirates. Look at the trouble he has put us to."

"I helped search the cabin afore the brig was set afire," replied one of
the seamen, "and all the writin' we found was in the bit of a book with
the leaves tore out, same as Cap'n Wellsby made a fair copy of."

"That explains it," cried Uncle Peter. "I have no doubt the vile
Blackbeard destroyed his private note of where he hid it, just to make
the matter more difficult for us honest men."

This was plausible, but it failed to solve the riddle. A day or two of
impatient digging and the portly Secretary of the Council was almost
wrecked in mind and body, what with insects and heat, ague and fatigue.
The ardor of his companions had likewise slackened. The boat's crew
swore that the condemned sea-chest must have sunk all the way to China.
Joe Hawkridge still argued that Blackbeard had whisked it away in a
cloud of smoke and brimstone. The unhappy Mr. Peter Forbes suggested:

"What say you, lads, to dropping down to the sloop for a respite from
this accursed swamp? There we can take comfort and discuss what is to be
done next."

Captain Jonathan Wellsby, who was a stubborn man, urged that they fish
once more for the sunken chest before taking a rest, and this was agreed
to. The sounding rods were plied with vigor and, at length, one of them
drove against some solid object deep in the mud. It was more unyielding
than a water-soaked log. The iron rod was lifted and rammed down with a
thud which was like metal striking against metal. The explorers forgot
the torments of the swamp. Uncle Peter Forbes was in no haste to flee
the mosquitoes and the fever.

The sailors began to rig the spars and tackle as a derrick set up on the
bank of the creek, with grapple hooks like huge tongs to swing out over
the water and grope in the muddy depths. Absorbed in this fascinating
task, they were startled beyond measure to hear the _thump, thump_ of
thole-pins sounding from somewhere below them in the swamp. It was no
Indian pirogue. Only a ship's boat heavily manned could make that
cadenced noise of oars. Bill Saxby bade the men be silent while he held
a hand at his ear and harkened with taut attention. The mysterious boat,
following the winding channel of the creek, was drawing nearer. Voices
could be heard, a rough command, a curse, a laugh.

"No honest men, I warrant," growled Captain Jonathan Wellsby, ready to
take command by virtue of long habit. "Who else can they be but pirates,
plague 'em. And they are betwixt us and the sea. All hands ashore and
look to your arms. Lively now."

They were bewildered and taken all aback. In this holiday excursion
after Blackbeard's treasure the party had reckoned only with dead or
phantom pirates. There was some confusion, while Bill Saxby bawled at
the seamen as addle-pated lubbers. Deserting their boat, they scrambled
to cover in the tall grass while those busy with the derrick gear rushed
to catch up muskets and powder-horns.

The strange boat was steadily forging up-stream and presently it was
disclosed to view no more than a cable-length away. It was a pinnace
filled with ruffianly fellows, more than a score of them. No merchant
seamen these but brethren of the coast, freebooters who were
gallows-ripe. Bill Saxby was quick to recognize two or three of them as
old hands of Blackbeard's crew who must have deserted their leader in
time to escape his fate. Presumably they had recruited others of their
own stamp to go adventuring in the Cherokee swamp. They could have only
one purpose. The very sight of them was enough to explain it. They were
in quest of treasure like bloodhounds trailing a scent.

Against such a force as this, discretion was the better part of valor. A
ferocious yell burst from the pinnace and a flight of musket balls
whistled over the heads of the fugitives who had so hastily abandoned
their operations with the derrick and gear and the boat. Stout Bill
Saxby and his comrades, finding concealment in the swamp, primed their
muskets and let fly a volley at the pinnace which was an easy target. A
pirate standing in the stern-sheets clapped a hand to his thigh and sat
down abruptly. Another one let go his oar to dangle a bloody hand.

The pinnace drifted with the tide and stranded on a weedy shoal while
the blue powder smoke hung over it like a fog. For the moment it was a
demoralized crew of pirates, roaring all manner of threats but at a loss
how to proceed. The other party took advantage of this delay to beat a
rapid retreat along the path which led to the knoll where the camp was
pitched. Upon this higher ground they might hope to defend themselves
against a force which outnumbered them. They ran at top speed, bending
low, hidden from observation, avoiding the pools and bogs.

The pirates were diverted from their hostile intentions as soon as they
caught sight of the tall spars and tackle, and the boat with its
sounding rods and other gear. With a great clamor they swarmed out of
the pinnace and began to investigate. This gave the refugees on the
knoll a little time to make their camp more compact, to wield the
shovels furiously and throw up intrenchments, to cut down trees for a
barricade, to fill the water kegs, to prepare to withstand an assault or
a siege.

The sun went down and the infatuated pirates were still exploring the
creek, convinced that they could straightway lay hold of the treasure
they had come to find. They kindled a fire on the bank and evidently
intended to pass the night there. This mightily eased the minds of the
toilers upon the knoll. Their predicament was still awkward in the
extreme but the fear of sudden death had been lifted. And it seemed
possible that these bothersome pirates might conclude to leave them
alone.

It went sorely against the grain, however, to be driven away from the
precious sea-chest when it was almost within their grasp, to have to
scuttle from this crew of scurvy pirates. Jack Cockrell was for making a
sortie by night, gustily declaiming to his companions:

"The sentries will be drunk or drowsy. I know these swine. A well-timed
rush and we can cut 'em down and pistol the rest. Didn't they open fire
on us from the pinnace?"

"Aye, Jack, and we'll fight to save our skins," said the cool-headed
Captain Wellsby, "but 'tis a desperate business to attack yon
cut-throats, even by night, and there will be men of us hurt and killed.
Blackbeard's gold is not worth it."

"Right sensibly put," declared Mr. Peter Forbes. "We had best spend this
night in felling more trees and notching logs to pile them breast high.
If these pirates find the sea-chest, they will leave us unmolested. If
they fail to find it, they may conclude that we have already discovered
the treasure. In that event, they will storm the knoll and give us no
quarter."

"It would be rank folly to surrender," said stout Bill Saxby. "There be
men in the pinnace who have no love for me nor for the two lads. 'Twas a
shrewd suspicion of theirs that Blackbeard had played secret tricks in
this Cherokee swamp, what with his excursions in that little cock-boat."

Keeping vigilant watch, they labored far into the night until the camp
on the knoll was a hard nut to crack, with its surrounding ditch and
palisade of logs behind which a man could lie and shoot. Now and then it
might have been noted that Jack Cockrell and Joe Hawkridge conferred
with their heads together as though something private were in the wind.
As soon as they were relieved from duty, some time before the dawn, they
stole very softly away from the knoll and groped along the path which
led to the creek. Curiosity and the impetuous folly of youth impelled
them to reconnoitre the pirates' bivouac.

"We may hear something worth listening to," whispered Jack, "and perhaps
we can crawl close and steal some of their arms."

"None of that," chided young Hawkridge. "I am a man of goodly station in
Charles Town and I would go back with a whole hide."

"You have grown too respectable," grumbled Jack. "Here is the chance for
one last fling----"

His words stuck in his throat. A gurgle of horrified amazement and he
tumbled headlong into the grass with a bare, sinewy arm wrapped around
his neck. He fought to free himself but the breath was fairly choked out
of him. Joe Hawkridge was desperately thrashing about in the swamp,
gasping and snorting, his cries also smothered. In a twinkling they were
captives, their arms tightly bound behind them, the stifling grip of
their necks unrelaxed. Weakened almost to suffocation, the two lads
could make no lively resistance. Jack uttered one feeble shout for help
but subsided when those strong fingers tightened the clutch on his
windpipe.

The assailants made no sound. Not a word was uttered. There were several
of them, for the helpless prisoners were picked up bodily and lugged
along by the head and the heels. They expected to be taken into the
pirates' camp, believing they had been surprised and overpowered by an
outlying sentry post. It was an old game, reflected Joe Hawkridge, to
hold them alive as hostages. But he was vastly puzzled when these silent
kidnappers, deftly picking their way in the darkness, took a direction
which led them away from the bank of the creek. They had forsaken the
trampled path and were proceeding through the trackless swamp whose
pitfalls were avoided by a sort of sixth sense.

A mile of this laborious, uncanny progress and the bearers dumped their
burdens and paused to rest. The two lads dizzily crawled to their feet
and peered at the shadowy figures surrounding them. They heard a
guttural exclamation and words exchanged in a strange, harsh tongue.

"Indians, blow me!" hoarsely whispered Joe, his throat sore and swollen.

"Comrade ahoy!" croaked Jack. "No pirates these, but Yemassees. Do they
save us for the torture?"

"God knows. 'Tis a sorry mischance as ever was. I'd sooner meet up with
Blackbeard's ghost. Are ye badly hurt?"

"Like a man hanged by the neck, Joe, but no mortal wounds. Had we minded
Uncle Peter we would be safe in the sloop by now. One more day of
hunting that filthy treasure undid us."

The half dozen Yemassees squatted about them, talking in low tones, and
offered no further violence. Presumably they were waiting for daybreak,
having conveyed their prisoners beyond all chance of rescue. The two
lads shivered with fear and weariness. They were bruised and breathless
and the thongs which tightly bound their wrists made their arms ache
intolerably. Bitter was the regret at invading this baleful Cherokee
swamp when they might have remained safe from all harm in pleasant
Charles Town.

Sadly they watched the eastern sky grow brighter while the gloom of the
desolate swamp turned wan and gray. The Indian captors became visible,
brown, half-naked men wearing leggings and breech-clouts of tanned
deerskin. Two of them carried muskets. They were not made hideous by
war-paint, as Jack Cockrell was quick to note. He said to his companion:

"A hunting party, Joe. They were spying on our camp, like enough, or
keeping watch of the pirates. No doubt they wonder why white men come to
fight one another in the swamp."

"They will wish to find out from us," was the hopeful reply. "They seem
a deal more curious than bloodthirsty. A stout heart, say I, and we may
weather it yet."

Soon the lads were roughly prodded ahead and went stumbling and
splashing through the marshy verdure and slippery ooze until they came
to higher ground and easier walking. Upon this ridge they descried the
camp of the Yemassees--huts fashioned of poles and bark and boughs, a
freshly killed deer hanging from a tree, smoke rising from beneath a
huge iron kettle, plump, naked children scampering in play with several
barking dogs, the squaws shrilly scolding them. Several warriors lazily
emerged from the huts, yawning, brushing the long black hair from their
eyes.

They moved more actively at perceiving the procession which approached
from the swamp. Two or three ran back to the largest shelter and
presently a big-bodied, middle-aged man strode out, his mien stern and
dignified, his rank denoted by the elaborate fringed tunic of buckskin
and the head-dress of heron plumes. He shouted something in a sonorous
voice. The hunting party hastened forward, dragging the two English lads
by the elbows and flinging them down at the feet of the chief. He stood
with arms folded across his chest, scowling, formidable.

Then he spoke a few words of broken English, to the astonishment of the
captives. He mentioned the names of settlements on the Cape Fear River
where, it was inferred, he had been on friendly terms with the
colonists. His manner was not so much hostile as questioning. In Charles
Town both Joe and Jack had learned the common phrases of the Indian
tongue such as were used among the merchants and traders. Pieced out
with signs and gestures, they were able to carry on a halting dialogue
with the chief of this small band.

They were able to comprehend that he hated pirates above all other men.
He recognized the name of Blackbeard and indicated his great joy that
this eminent scoundrel had met his just deserts. Many times the
freebooters of the coast had hunted and slain the Indians for wanton
sport. And perhaps the word had sped of that expedition of Captain Stede
Bonnet out of Charles Town when he had exterminated the Yemassees who
had set out to harry and burn the near-by plantations. The two uneasy
lads felt that they still stood in the shadow of death unless they could
persuade the chief that they were not pirates, that they were in no way
to be confused with the crew of blackguards which had ascended the creek
in the pinnace.

The chief delayed his judgment. Two young men lifted the huge kettle
from the fire. It was steaming with a savory smell of stewed meat. The
captives were invited to join the others in spearing bits of venison
with sharpened sticks. Chewing lustily, with a noble appetite, Joe
Hawkridge confided:

"My spirits rise, Jack. An empty belly always did make a coward of me.
How now, my lusty cockerel? Shall we flap our wings and crow?"

"Crow we must, or have our necks wrung as pirates," said Jack, gnawing a
bone. "Which one of us shall make the first oration?"

"The nephew of the Councilor, of course," cried Joe, "with his cargo of
Greek and Latin education. Make a power of noise, Jack."

And now indeed did young Master Cockrell prove that all those drudging
hours with snuffy Parson Throckmorton had not been wasted. Standing in
an open space, clear of the crowd, he addressed the chief in loud and
impressive language. The gist of it was that he and his friends were the
sworn foes of all pirates and especially anxious to rid the world of
such vermin as those that had come into the Cherokee swamp in the great
ship's boat and were encamped on the bank of the creek.

This other peaceful party entrenched on the knoll were honest,
law-abiding men of Charles Town who would harm no one. They had come in
search of pirates' gold. If the chief of the Yemassees would join forces
with them and smoke the pipe of peace, they would drive those foul
pirates out of the Cherokee swamp. And should the gold be found, it
would be fairly divided between the godly men of Charles Town and their
Indian allies. To bind this bargain Master Cockrell and Master Hawkridge
were ready to pledge their honor and their lives.

It was a most eloquent effort delivered with much gesticulation. The
Yemassee braves set in a circle and grunted approval. They liked the
sound and fury of it. Jack hurled scraps of Homer and Virgil at them
when at a loss for resounding periods. The chief nodded his
understanding of such words as _pirates_ and _gold_ and actually smiled
when Jack's pantomime depicted the death of Blackbeard on the deck of
his ship. _Gold_ was a magic word to these Indians. It would purchase
muskets and powder and ball, cloth and ironmongery and strong liquors
from the white men of the settlements.

The chief discussed it with his followers. During the lull Joe
Hawkridge said, with a long sigh of relief:

"My scalp itches not so much, Jack. The notion of having it twisted off
with a dull blade vexed me. Ye did wondrous well. The mouth of Secretary
Peter Forbes would ha' gaped wide open."

"Much sound and little sense, Joe, but methinks it hit the target. I
took care to sprinkle it with such words as yonder savage could bite
on."

"If we find no gold, the fat may be in the fire again, but it gives us
time to draw breath."

They rubbed their chafed wrists and sat on the ground while the savages
held a long pow-wow. The chief was explaining the purport of Master
Cockrell's impressive declamation. There was no enmity in the glances
aimed at the English lads. It was more a matter of deliberation, of
passing judgment on the truth or the falsity of the story. It was plain
to read that the Yemassees desired to lay greedy hold of Blackbeard's
gold. They were like children listening to a fairy tale. The fat little
papooses crawled timidly near to inspect the mysterious strangers and
scrambled away squealing with delicious terror.

The hours passed and the verdict was delayed. Two young braves stole
away into the pine woodland on some errand, at the behest of the chief.
It was after noon when they returned. With them came a dozen Yemassee
warriors from another hunting camp, strong, quick-footed men in light
marching order who were armed with long bows and knives. The chief spoke
a few words and mustered his force. All told he had more than thirty
picked followers. The English lads were told to move with them.

In single file the band flitted silently along the ridge and plunged
into the swamp. The prisoners were closely guarded. At the slightest
sign of treachery the long knives would slither between their ribs. This
they well knew and their devout prayer was that their friends on the
knoll might not commit some rash act of hostility and so ruin the
enterprise. With heart-quaking trepidation they perceived at some
distance the rude barricade of logs and the yellow streaks of earth
hastily thrown up.

The cautious Yemassees concealed themselves as though the swamp had
swallowed them up. The chief made certain signs, and the lads understood
his meaning. Jack Cockrell ripped a sleeve from his shirt and tied it to
a stick as a flag of truce. Joe Hawkridge advanced with them, the
stalwart chief between them, his empty hands extended in token of peace.
The ambushed Yemassees, lying in the tall grass, were ready to let fly
with musket balls and flights of arrows or to storm the knoll.

A sailor on sentry duty gave the alarm and the lads saw a row of heads
bob above the logs, and the gleam of weapons. Then Captain Jonathan
Wellsby moved out into the open and was joined by Mr. Peter Forbes.
They stood gazing at the singular spectacle, the bedraggled runaways who
had vanished without trace, the odd flag of truce, the brawny, dignified
savage making signs of friendship. The men in the stockade were ordered
to lay down their arms. They came running out to cheer and wave their
hats.

Mr. Peter Forbes was torn betwixt affection and the desire to scold his
flighty nephew. They met half-way down the slope and Jack hastened to
explain:

"Before you clap us in irons as deserters, Uncle Peter, grant a parley,
if you please. Our lives hang by a hair."

"God bless me, boy, we thought the pirates had slain you both,"
spluttered Uncle Peter, a tear in his eye. "What means this tall
savage?"

"A noble chief of the Yemassees who used us with all courtesy," said
Jack.

Captain Wellsby had drawn Joe Hawkridge aside and was swiftly
enlightened concerning the alliance with the Indians. Presently they
were holding a conference, all seated together in the shade of a tree. A
tobacco pipe of clay, with a long reed for a stem, was lighted and
passed from hand to hand. The chief puffed solemnly with an occasional
nod and a grunt. It was agreed, with due ceremony, that the pirates
should be attacked in their camp and driven away. The Yemassee warriors
would make common cause with the Englishmen. As a reward, Blackbeard's
treasure was to be fairly divided, half and half.

The chief raised his voice in a long, deep shout of summons and his band
of fighting men emerged from their ambush in the swamp. There was no
reason for delaying the movement against the pirates. The Yemassees were
eager for the fray. They were about to advance through the swamp,
cunningly hidden, while the Englishmen followed at a slower pace to
spread out on the flanks. Just then there was heard a sudden and riotous
commotion among the pirates at the creek. It was a mad, jubilant uproar
as though some frenzy had seized them all. Bill Saxby leaned on his
musket and listened for a long moment.

"The rogues have fished up the sea-chest, by the din they make," said
he. "We left that sounding rod a-stickin' in the mud. They save us the
trouble, eh, Captain Wellsby?"

The skipper laughed in his beard and floundered ahead like a bear. Jack
Cockrell passed the word to the chief that the gold was awaiting them.
Like shadows the Yemassees drew near the creek and then, full-lunged,
terrific, their war-whoop echoed through the dismal Cherokee swamp.
Nimble Jack Cockrell was not far behind them, his heart pumping as
though it would burst.

He was in time to see four lusty pirates swaying at a rope which led
through the pulley-blocks of the spars that overhung the creek as a
tall derrick. They were hoisting away with all their might while there
slowly rose in air a mud-covered, befouled sea-chest all hung with weeds
and slimy refuse. Two other pirates tailed on to a guy rope and the
heavy chest swung toward the bank, suspended in air.

At this moment the screeching chorus of the Indian war-whoop smote their
affrighted ears, followed by the discharge of muskets. These startled
pirates let go the tackle and the guy rope and, with one accord, leaped
for the pinnace which floated close to the bank. The weighty sea-chest
swinging in air came down by the run as the ropes smoked through the
blocks. It had been swayed in far enough so that it fell not in the
water but upon the edge of the shore between the derrick spars. The
rusty hinges and straps were burst asunder as the treasure chest crashed
upon a log and cracked open like an egg.

Out spilled a stream of doubloons and pieces of eight, a cascade of gold
and silver bars, of jewels flowing from the rotten bags which had
contained them. In this extraordinary manner was the hoard of the
departed Blackbeard brought to light. The unfortunate pirates who had
found the spoils tarried not to gloat and rejoice. They appeared to have
urgent business elsewhere. In hot pursuit came the ravening Yemassees,
yelling like fiends, assisted by the reinforcements of Captain Jonathan
Wellsby.

What saved the lives of these panic-smitten pirates was the dramatic
explosion of that great treasure chest when it fell and smashed upon the
log. Indians and Englishmen alike forgot their intent to shoot and
slaughter. They rushed to surround the bewitching booty, to cut capers
like excited urchins.

"Share and share," roared Captain Wellsby, shoving them headlong. "Half
to the Yemassees and half to us. Our word is given. Stand back, ye
lunatics, while we do the thing with order and decency."

Already the pinnace was filled with cursing pirates who saw that the
game was lost. Some of them had left their weapons in camp, others fired
a few wild shots, but those who had any wit left were tugging at the
oars to make for the open sea.

"After 'em," roared Bill Saxby. "Follow down the creek to make sure they
do not molest our sloop."

A score of men, Indians included, jumped into the boat and pulled in
chase, no longer on slaughter bent. The only thought in their heads was
to despatch the errand and return to squat around the treasure chest.
Jack Cockrell and Joe Hawkridge remained to help scoop up the coin and
jewels and stow them in stout kegs and sacks. The stoical chief of the
Yemassees was grinning from ear to ear as he grunted:

"_Plenty gold. Good! Hurrah, boys!_"

Arm-in-arm Jack Cockrell and Joe Hawkridge danced a sailor's hornpipe
upon the splintered lid of Blackbeard's sea-chest while they sang with
all their might:

          "For his work he's never loth,
           An' a-pleasurin' he'll go,
           Tho' certain sure to be popt off,
          _Yo, ho, with the rum below._"


THE END

[Illustration]

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Notes:

Obvious punctuation errors repaired.

Page 34, "Steve" changed to "Stede" (Stede Bonnet frowned)

Page 77, "than" changed to "them" (rally them for attack)

Page 85, "arsensal" changed to "arsenal" (arsenal of himself)

Page 306, "Yemasses" changed to "Yemassees" (The Yemassees were eager)





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