Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Red Peter

Red Peter
By A. Hyatt Verrill
Part 5 of 5 From June 1927 Issue of Sea Stories Magazine
Digitized by Doug Frizzle 2007 (if you can contribute missing sections contact me at frizzle@hfx.eastlink.ca)

Pedro had been reared on a lonely island in the Caribbean by his foster father, Don Ramon Onega, who found him as a baby, tied to a bit of washed-up driftwood. He knew nothing of his real parents or nationality, and when his foster father died he sailed away to discover what he could about his origin, also to carry out an oath of vengeance against the buccaneers who had ruined the old Don. He fell in with an ex-pirate named "One-eared" Jake, who with a crew of ruffians helped him prey upon the freebooters themselves. Pedro was dubbed "Red Peter". His fame spread and the governor of Barbados offered him a commission as a privateer under the royal standard of England. After a bloody encounter with the ship Adventure, Peter killed Captain Starling, and then was overcome with remorse because he believed him to be his own father.

AMONG the dead, wounded and living of the Adventure's crew there was no trace of either Silver Heels or Black Tom; which was not surprising, as, at the time of Peters victory, the two were cursing their luck in a filthy tavern in far-off Culebra. And neither was their absence a source of wonder to the victors of the battle, for not one among the Sea Gull's company dreamed that the two were other than dead, and lying at the bottom of the Caribbean Sea.
That the pair were not present was most fortunate for them and was by merest chance. Had they been able to know what was taking place on the Adventure they would have thanked their stars that they were safe out of it all, instead of cursing and grumbling at being ashore while Starling sailed the sea and was, for all they knew, putting an end to Peter's career.
And they had none to blame but themselves for their plight. Their consuming love of rum had been their undoing—as well as their salvation. Having gone ashore for a glorious spree when the Adventure touched at Culebra, they had made their debauch so glorious that they were dead to the world when Starling set sail. Having learned all they had to know of Peter and his movements, having no liking whatsoever for either of the two rascals, and not being a man to delay his plans for any one— especially when a British corvette unpleasantly near, made a hasty departure a bit imperative— Starling had not even searched for the precious pair in the dives of the port.
Not until two days after the Adventure had slipped away from Culebra, did Silver Heels and his crony recover their senses enough to realize that they are figuratively and literally upon the beach.
They could not even drown their regrets in fiery rum, for they were penniless, absolutely stripped bare. The dive keepers had seen thoroughly to that, and no one in the out-at-elbows town would loan them a brass farthing or stand treat for a glass of grog. Indeed, all whom they had considered and who knew them as members of Starling's crew, gave them the cold shoulder and looked askance at them, for the British sloop-of-war Avenger was in harbor, bound on a somewhat desultory search for a certain notorious pirate known as Captain Starling, and her bluejackets swarmed in the town. The inhabitants were, to be sure, not overparticular as to whom they dealt with nor whence came the and spices, the silks and satins, the jewels and plate that certain swift and heavily armed ships brought to their isle to barter for coin of the realm. But they had no mind to be caught harboring pirates, and, for all they knew, the names of Silver Heels and Black Tom might appear on the lists of “wanted” personages in possession of the warship's commander.
Even the two were a bit nervous, and like all men with guilty consciences, felt most uneasy lest one of the swaggering man-of-war's men might take summary possession of their persons and place them in the far-from-comfortable brig of the Avenger to await trial and probable death.
As a matter of fact, they might have joined the tars from the Avenger, and, at the jackies' expense, had their fill of liquor, for such inconspicuous figures in the ranks of piracy as themselves were absolutely unknown to the authorities, and as no suspicious craft was in the harbor, the officers of the warship never dreamed that there might be suspicious characters ashore.
So, huddled in their last refuge, a miserable, reeking den maintained by an equally miserable and even more reeking and filthy native of Portugal who had agreed to give them bed and board of sorts in exchange for the last of their decent raiment, the two awaited the departure of the Avenger, and occupied their time by cursing their luck, Starling, the warship, the British navy, the inhabitants of Culebra, Peter, Jake and all on the Sea Gall separately and collectively, though most fluently and vehemently when it came Peter's turn.
On him they blamed all their misfortunes and their present plight. If it hadn't been for him, argued Silver Heels, they might have sailed on a buccaneering vessel and have won good pickings. If it hadn't been for him, agreed Tom, they could have induced Jake and the others to do a little pirating. If it hadn't been for him, added Silver Heels, the mutiny would have succeeded and they would have been masters of a good ship and crew and pirate chieftains. And if it hadn't been for him, swore Tom, as a final and clinching argument, they wouldn't be kicking their almost-bare heels in a filthy hole in Culebra, for hadn't it been Peter whom they were after with Starling? And if they hadn't been with Starling they wouldn't have been on the beach at Culebra.
Of course, it was all most illogical and unreasonable, but they were neither logical nor reasonable men. Their minds were abnormal and sadly warped by rum, dissipation and the life they had led, and their grudge against Peter for having checkmated their nefarious plans, had grown into an obsession, a bitter, deadly hatred. And both swore —as they had sworn countless times before— by all things unholy that if they ever had the chance they would kill Peter, by inches if possible, but by some means at any rate.
This led Tom to devising the most atrocious and excruciating tortures he could think of, which he mentally applied to Peter and Jake, chuckling in glee as he thought of the enjoyment he would derive by putting them into actual practice. And as Tom had once served under Morgan, who was a past master in devilish devices for racking human souls and bodies, Tom's suggestions were enough to make an ordinary mortal's blood run cold. But even at that game, Silver Heels could outdo his crony. Tom's ideas of torture, while bloodthirsty and terrible enough, were a bit crude, as one might expect from a rough and unlettered seaman, and Silver Heels pointed out that under Tom's treatment, any man would succumb and die all too quickly to afford the satisfaction of witnessing agony they desired.
So, just to prove to Tom that he was the superior of the two, he enlightened his underling by describing means of keeping men in agony for days without danger of their finding solace in death. At last, even this cheerful means of passing time palled, and as they had by then worked themselves into a most bloodthirsty and exalted state of unrighteous desire to put their imaginary punishments into execution, and as there was little chance of Peter appearing to accommodate them, they commenced discussing more sensible and pressing matters, which were first, last and all the time, how to get clear of Culebra and find the object of their murderous desires.
In the midst of this the low-browed, vermin-infested proprietor of the place appeared, and vouchsafing the information that a piragua (A flatbottom sailing boat with two masts. Spanish, from Carib. ED) bound for the English islands was in port, hinted that his two guests had outstayed their welcome and that berths on the trading craft had best be sought without undo delay. At first Silver Heels and Tom demurred and blustered, for they saw neither a future nor a fortune, nor even the possibility of meeting Peter, as sailors on a piragua. But as the short-tempered and ill-favored proprietor suggestively whetted a most wicked-looking dirk on the palm of a calloused hand, and as the two scalawags had no weapon, they decided that discretion was the better part of valor, and adding the Portuguese to their comprehensive list of victims to be reckoned with later, made their way to the water front and the moored piragua.
They had no difficulty in securing berths, for the piragua's skipper was short handed, and he was so accustomed to shipping disreputable and villainous-appearing characters amid the riffraff that he picked up as crews, that, by comparison, Silver Heels and Black Tom appeared quite respectable.
As the craft sailed southward and the two learned more of the piragua's cargo and became better acquainted with her captain and the other members of her crew they decided that, after all, Fate had not dealt so badly by them, although in their change of heart they quite forgot to give any credit to Peter, despite the fact that it would have been just as reasonable as to have blamed him before.
And it was, moreover, largely owing to the memories of their early days under Peter's flag that led the two rascals to hatch out a scheme for still further bettering themselves. This was nothing less than to seize the piragua and go a-pirating themselves, and the plan was no sooner made than they put it into execution. That very night the following sharks feasted on the mortal remains of the piragua's skipper, who quite silently, and we trust, painlessly, died in his bed by a well-placed knife thrust from Tom.
A few moments after the captain's demise, the three remaining members of the crew awoke from a sound sleep to find themselves staring into the muzzle of the dead skipper's pistol in Silver Heels' hand, and gazing at a keen-edged knife held threateningly by Tom. Being by no means overparticular as to their means of livelihood, and placing no small valuation on their own lives, they took the only course open to them and agreed to join the murderers in their piratical venture. As Silver Heels and Tom possessed the only weapons aboard the craft, an old musket, a pistol and several knives, they felt quite capable of keeping their crew under their thumbs. But they realized that with such a meager armament and a mere nucleus of a crew that they could not hope to accomplish much in the way of taking prizes. But this was a difficulty which they were confident could be easily overcome. There were plenty of men who were willing to take their lives in their hands on the chance of winning booty by piracy, and as Tom and Silver Heels knew, both through hearsay and their own experience with Peter, many a famed corsair had commenced his career in a piragua or smaller craft. As far as armament went, that could be purchased, and the cargo of valuable commodities, and the late skipper's slender store of silver and gold, would provide the wherewithal.
To be sure, the heyday of the buccaneers was over and even the remnants of the Brethren, who had degenerated into out-and-out pirates, were being driven from pillar to post and hunted down by all the powers that held sway in the West Indies. Their old-time haunts had been broken up, Port Royal had been destroyed by an earthquake and Kingston had sprung into being as a law-abiding city. The Danes had refused longer to afford the freebooters refuge in their ports. St. Barts and St. Martins had turned the corsairs bag and baggage from their shores. Anegada no longer knew the uproarious songs and maudlin shouts of roistering, swashbuckling; filibusters.
The once-famous Rat Hole was crumbling to ruin, and old Deadeye had found business so dull that he no longer catered to members of the Brotherhood only, but was glad enough to welcome any and all wayfarers and visitors to his once-exclusive and secret den. But still there were many spots where the pirates held sway and made merry and laughed at kings, treaties and laws. On the Bay Islands and the Caymans, on many an outlying cay and at secluded spots on the Main, the remnants of the freebooters had safe harbors and safer lairs, while the Bahamas swarmed with them, and New Providence Island was openly, flagrantly, a pirates' stronghold.
And so, being no great distance from the Bahamas, Silver Heels and Tom headed northward, and in due course of time anchored in the pool of melted emeralds and sapphires that serves as the harbor of what is now Nassau, And, on their way, luck had smiled upon them. A Spanish bark, becalmed under the lee of Navassa, had fallen easy prize to the five on the piragua. At first sight of Silver Heels and his fellows the Spanish crew had leaped into their small boat and had rowed like mad for shore, leaving their well-laden craft to the pirates. Had they known that the piratical craft contained but five individuals, whose armament consisted of a useless, rusty musket, a far-from-accurate pistol and a few sheath knives, there is no doubt that they would have put up a stiff, and probably victorious stance. But as they had no means of ascertaining that the piragua was not swarming with men armed to the teeth, and, as they were firm believers that the old adage, regarding men who fight and run away surviving to fight on subsequent days, should have the ''who fight" omitted, they watched regretfully and thanked the saints for their own safety as Silver Heels and his men looted the captured craft.
At first the embryo pirates considered shifting vessels, but as a cursory examination proved that the Spanish bark was much the worse for age and wear, they contented themselves with transferring her somewhat valuable cargo, along with several firearms and cutlasses, to their piragua and then scuttling the ancient craft.
So, when the piragua cast anchor off New Providence, amid quite a fleet of other dishonest craft, Silver Heels and Black Tom felt that they were truly pirate chieftains and in a fair way to become infamous and accomplish great deeds.
As Silver Heels had anticipated, there was no trouble in securing enough unprincipled rascals to have manned the piragua twice over. Also, as he had surmised, he found no difficulty in disposing of the commodities which formed the cargo of the piragua, and that of the captured Spaniard, and the proceeds of the sale were quite ample to provide arms and ammunition for all his men, as well as necessary supplies for his intended cruise and a couple of brass carronades. Indeed, after all these essentials had been purchased, there was quite a tidy sum remaining, and Silver Heels, who believed a pirate captain should appear to the best advantage, arrayed himself to rival the famed lilies of the field and even secured a pair of boots whose heels were adorned in the fashion which had given rise to his nickname. Then, well stocked with food and a plentiful supply of liquid refreshments, the piragua bade farewell to New Providence and sailed off to prey upon any unfortunate craft that might come its way.
For the next few weeks Silver Heels was unfortunately most successful in his chosen career. He took a number of prizes, though careful to avoid conflict with vessels whose armament threatened any serious risk, and he even attacked and sacked a few fishing villages and defenseless towns along the coast. He cruised northward to the Carolinas and brought terror to the inhabitants, and, believing that what was worth doing at all was worth doing well, and realizing that dead men tell no tales, he left few of his victims living, but butchered one and all who fell into his clutches.
But the details of Silver Heels' nefarious career form another story and have little bearing on our present tale. With affluence he resumed his old dissipated habits, became beastly drunk when ashore, and grew so overbearing, ruthless and so generally execrable, that finally his own wild crew revolted, and, taking matters in their own hands, overpowered the two leaders. Instead of killing them out of hand, as they richly deserved, the mutineers very considerately decided to turn Silver Heels and Tom over to the authorities for punishment. No doubt their merciful decision was actuated more by personal benefit than by real humanity, for the fellows planned to reform and give up piracy and hoped to win pardon for past crimes by delivering their leaders over to the law.
But neither of the two rascals had the least desire to face a duly constituted court of justice, and had no intention of being placed behind prison bars, on hanging in chains as examples to other evildoers, if they could help it. Less resourceful and experienced villains might have despaired of escaping under the circumstances, but not so this precious pair. Two of the original crew of the piragua still remained on board, and one of these had been appointed jailer to the prisoners. To him Silver Heels spoke, reminding the fellow of the fact that while piracy might be forgiven by the authorities and pardon granted to repentant freebooters, yet murder was an unpardonable crime and that, should he and Tom come to trial, he would most certainly accuse the original crew of the piragua of murdering their captain.
He added, to clinch the matter, that as he and Tom would no doubt be convicted and executed anyway it would add nothing to their fate, and would give them supreme satisfaction, to know that at least two members of their mutinous crew were to be hanged along with them, and that, unless the fellows wished to share their own fates, they had best aid them to escape. Of course the threat might have had a very different result from that which Silver Heels had in mind. The jailer might have safeguarded his future and that of his fellow by slitting the throats of the captives and thus effectually silencing their tongues. But he and his mate were stupid, dull-witted rascals, and fear of what Silver Heels might divulge drove all other thoughts from their minds. As a result they agreed to aid the prisoners, but only to the extent of providing them with a knife and then leaving them to work out their own salvation.
This was quite satisfactory to the two and, with the weapon supplied them, they cut their bonds and were once more free. They realized, however, that to overpower nearly a score of armed men with a single knife would be an impossible feat, and so patiently awaited nightfall before attempting to escape. From the cubby-hole of a room where they were confined they had seen land not far away and had decided to slip into the sea under cover of darkness and trust to reaching shore through the shark-infested waters. Tom was an excellent swimmer, but Silver Heels could not swim a stroke— but this difficulty did not trouble him for long. Piled in one corner of the ill-smelling room were a number of odds and ends, among which were several wine casks, and plugging the bungs of two of these with rags torn from his garments, Silver Heels lashed the casks together with the ropes that had served as his bonds, thus providing a quite serviceable life raft.
Hardly had this work been completed when approaching footsteps sounded on the planks outside their prison. Crouching in a corner behind the door, Silver Heels waited with upraised knife, and as the portal swung open and a man stepped in, bearing a pannikin of water and a loaf of hard bread, the knife swept down. Without uttering a sound the man sank lifeless to the floor. But by thus murdering their jailer, who had been struck down by the knife he had handed the prisoners a few hours before, Silver Heels and Tom had not bettered themselves in the least. In fact they rather felt that they were farther from escape than ever, for as soon as the jailer's absence was noted by his fellows the crew would undoubtedly come in force to see why he was remaining so long in the company of the captives, and all the latter’s' plans would be upset.
Luck, however, was with the rascals. The craft was nearing land and the crew, none of whom were expert navigators, were far too busy conning the foam-crested reefs that encircled the island, and were far too intent on the problem of getting into harbor safely, to note the fact that one member of the company had not returned from his visit to the prisoners' quarters.
Thus it happened that no one appeared to interfere with the plans of Silver Heels and Black Tom, and the sun sank in the west and swift tropic night descended over sea and land before the vessel had passed through the maze of barrier reefs. Hesitating no longer, for by the sounds of the breakers Silver Heels and his crony knew they were close inshore, the two crept from their cell, and peering through the shadows, saw the men gathered forward and aft, leaving the midship’s deck deserted. Quickly the two stole to the rail. Silently Silver Heels, bearing; his improvised life raft, lowered himself over the side, and, followed by Tom, dropped into the sea with scarcely a splash. Rapidly they paddled toward the black mass that marked the island, but long before their feet touched bottom, shouts, cries and curses came to their ears from the direction of the vessel, to be followed a moment later by a faint crash.
What had happened they neither knew nor cared, and finding sand under their feet, they floundered onto the beach and seated themselves under the palms to rest from their exertions.
They had not the least idea where they were, but they were free and they knew that within easy reach was a good-sized settlement, for their craft had been making for port and from where they sat they could, see the riding lights of vessels and the twinkling lights of buildings. But they were by no means out of danger, at least to their own minds. No doubt, they reasoned, the crew would be on the watch for them and would use every effort to either make away with them in order to destroy the evidences of their own guilt or would again seize them and carry out their interrupted plans for bringing them to justice. Their only course, however, was to enter the town, find some safe refuge during the darkness, and lie low until the men had left the place. So, with this in view, they rose and strode off along the beach toward their goal.
Meanwhile, the crew of their vessel were having troubles of their own. Shortly after Silver Heels' and Tom's departure the men had found themselves surrounded by a cordon of fanged reefs, through which there seemed no channel, and in their extremity, had sent two men posthaste to bring Silver Heels aft to act as pilot.
Wild-eyed and cursing, the two had come racing back, crying that the prisoners had escaped and that the jailer had been murdered. In the excitement that followed this announcement the little ship had crashed upon a coral reef and was rapidly pounding to pieces. Realizing their craft was doomed, the men crowded into the small boats and pulled for shore. All thoughts of anything but saving their own lives and retaining their freedom had fled from their minds, and instead of desiring to meet their ex-captives, as Silver Heels and Tom had thought, they were only too anxious to avoid them.
They did not doubt that Silver Heels and Tom had reached shore in safety, and they felt equally certain that the two would lose no time in hurrying to the representatives of the law and telling a glib tale of being honest men whose crew had mutinied for the purpose of turning pirates. And as they knew that the first version of the story told would carry the most weight, they felt that already the eyes of the law were turned in their direction and that, if they landed at the town they would instantly be apprehended and imprisoned. Pulling to one side, they beached their boat at some distance from the port and separating, sneaked into the settlement by various and devious ways and sought hiding places among the dives and dens they knew.
So, each fearing the others, and trying to avoid detection or recognition, the leaders and the men of the wrecked pirate craft slunk through the dark shadows and lost themselves in the darker shadows and blacker holes of the seaport underworld.
No sooner had Silver Heels and Tom neared the town than they had recognized the spot where Fate had cast their lots as Anegada. But while this made I their task of finding a hiding place a bit easier, for they knew every hole and corner of the dilapidated town, still it was no great relief to them. In former I times they could have found no safer refuge, but they well knew that times had changed most rapidly and astoundingly since the day when they had sailed forth with Peter from Anegada's shores, and that the almost worthless bit of land on the borders of the Caribbean was now no pirates' lair, even though, for old time's sake, certain of its denizens might harbor-gentlemen of questionable pasts or presents who sought their hospitality. Moreover, there was another matter which troubled the two rascals greatly, and which filled their black souls with a strange mingling of fury, fear and murderous desires. Anchored in the harbor was a goodly ship which, somehow, to Silver Heels' experienced eyes had appeared, even in lithe darkness, oddly familiar. When, safely within the shelter of a miserable den, and with several pannikins of rum within him and a plentiful supply before him, he inquired casually what the ship was, he almost spilled the precious liquid in his astonishment. The vessel, so the dive keeper of evil repute informed him, was a British privateer known as the Sea Gull, whose captain, he added with an oath, was then in port en route to Barbados to report the destruction of a certain notorious pirate I known as Captain Starling.
This information, as I have said, produced mingled and far from pleasant emotions in the breasts of Silver Heels and Black Tom, although their informant, who was a comparatively recent addition to the population and knew nothing whatever of Silver Heels or Tom and had never even heard of them, was quite unaware of the import his words held for his two guests.
Here, at last, they were within reach of Peter, and, by good fortune and circumspection, they might be able to satisfy their long-standing grudge and avenge their imagined wrongs by waylaying him in some dark alley. Such thoughts brought a twisted smile to Silver Heels' lips and a wicked leer to Tom's features. On the other hand, the presence of Peter and his ship increased their peril a thousandfold. If they stirred abroad or visited any of their old haunts in search of the object of their murderous intentions they might run afoul of some member of Peter's crew who, they felt, would at once recognize them and spread the news of their presence to their undoing, for they felt quite sure that if Peter or Jake knew they were at Anegada there would be no hiding place that would escape the search that would be instituted.
These reflections caused most real and deadly fear to grip their hearts, and they wished most fervently that they were well away from Anegada. Finally, the knowledge that Starling had been worsted and that Peter still lived and had been victorious, filled the two with impotent but consuming fury, tempered a bit, however, with a feeling of satisfaction that Starling had been well repaid for his callousness and treachery in leaving them stranded at Culebra, for as usual with them, they quite overlooked the fact that his act had been their salvation. And with equal lack of reasoning power they forgot that, as far as Peter and his men were concerned, they were moldering bones at the bottom of the sea. And they need not have worried overmuch for fear of being recognized.
The once debonair and jaunty Silver Heels had aged rapidly, his face was bloated and lined with dissipation, and in his bedraggled finery and with a three-week stubble of beard covering cheeks and chin, no one but a very intimate acquaintance would have seen a resemblance to the Silver Heels of old. And Tom had changed even more. He had grown a bit corpulent with affluence. His raven hair was streaked with gray, and from the eyes down, his swarthy face was hidden by a bushy beard. He might almost have signed on as a member of Peter's crew without his old shipmates realizing who he was, but he was yet to learn this.
So, filled with the lust to destroy Peter, now he was within reach of their hands; fearful of being brought to justice if they made the attempt, and furious at thought of how Peter and Jake had come through everything unscathed, the two gulped down the fiery, raw rum. And as the liquor began to have its effect, a bit of their uncalled-for fear left them, and they began plotting and planning some means by which they might even scores with Peter.
It was evident to both that the most essential part of any program1 they might evolve was to learn Peter's whereabouts and if he were actually ashore. And it was equally necessary to determine these matters without delay, for anything they did must be done at once, and under cover of the night, for the Sea Gull might sail at dawn for all they knew.
"He most likely be at the Rat Hole," suggested Tom. "T’were there he went with Jake, an' Deadeye an' Jake be old cronies."
"Yea," agreed Silver Heels. "And would you have us walking into the Rat Hole and seating ourselves at table, and shouting to Deadeye for rum, with Red Peter and One-eared Jake alongside of us?"
"Nay, ye mistake me," replied Tom. "But 'tis passin’ darklike an' a lad might gain sight or sound of what's a-goin' on within the Hole without a-pokin' his head into the trap."
"Then, stab me; go and gain it," cried Silver Heels, "and get a pistol bullet or a sword thrust through your innards for your pains. You're a blundering fool, Tom. Nay, we'll steal forth and ask a question here and there and watch the Rat Hole like cats until the rats we seek come forth. Then a quick stroke in the back, and who'll be the wiser?"
"Yea, a fine plan—gain the rats be in yon hole," growled Tom. "An' belike, while we're a-waitin', they'll be a-walkin' free to quay an' a-pullin' safe to ship."
But as usual, Silver Heels had his way, and well fortified with Dutch courage, and a second keen-bladed knife, purchased with some of their remaining currency—for by some oversight the mutinous crew had not relieved them of their purses—the two conspirators started on their murderous errand. Tom would have felt far more at ease with a pistol in his belt, and Silver Heels would have felt far more at ease with a cutlass by his side. But as such weapons were quite beyond their means, and, as Silver Heels pointed out, a pistol shot would bring the town about their ears, they contented themselves with the two long-bladed knives, which were quite the best weapons for their purpose.
To avoid the danger of attracting overmuch attention, and to minimize risk, it had been agreed that the two should separate and make their ways to the vicinity of the Rat Hole by different routes, each asking information of Peter from any strangers they might meet and pretending to be members of his ship's company in search of their captain.
Of course, this was a tremendous risk, for they were unacquainted with the present members of the Sea Gull's crew and they might easily put then-queries to one of Peter's men who would instantly know they were lying and would suspect deviltry on their j part. But the rum had somewhat dulled Silver Heels usually keen intellect, and Tom was far too ignorant and dull-witted to have foreseen such a possibility.
As there was a chance that either one might learn that Peter was elsewhere than at the Rat Hole, it had also been agreed that the first to reach the appointed rendezvous should wait for fifteen minutes, and, if the other did not appear, retrace his steps to their lair, while if either did learn such news he was also to return and await the other, so that both might set forth again together.
Fortunately, to their minds, the miserable byways that did duty for streets were as dark as pockets and utterly lacking in street lamps, while all the buildings, with the exception of drinking places, dance halls and dives, were tightly shuttered and darkened for the night. Nevertheless, not a few persons were abroad, for it was not late, and as they sneaked through the shadows, Tom and Silver Heels met a number of men. Some, who to their eyes had the appearance of mariners, they avoided, while others, whom they deemed citizens, were questioned, but with little result. All knew that the Sea Gull was in port. All had heard of Starling's destruction, and all knew Captain Red Peter by reputation, but no one seemed to know whether, or not he was ashore, or if so, where he might be found.
But as they proceeded on their devious ways, both of the two rascals, finding that no one interfered with them or recognized them, became bolder, and presently they were swaggering along as brazenly as though they were honest seamen whose characters or identities no one could question. In fact, Tom became so courageous that, feeling the need of more refreshment, he pushed aside the flimsy, cloth-covered swinging door of a drinking place and entered the smoke-filled room, where fully a dozen men sat, noisily drinking and throwing dice.
No one gave him a second glance, and seating himself at a sloppy table, he called for grog. Then, as he looked up, all his bravado fled and he seemed paralyzed with terror. Entering the door was a man whose right shoulder hunched forward in a grotesque, unmistakable way, a man whom Tom knew instantly as Starboard-tack Jack.
Here, thought the swarthy rascal, was an end to it all, and as Jack stared about, accustoming his blinking eyes to the light, Tom loosened the knife at his belt and tensed his muscles preparatory to selling his life or freedom dearly. And then, to his utter amazement, Jack's eyes gazed full at him without the slightest sign of recognition. Stepping forward, Tom's former shipmate seated himself on the vacant stool across the tiny table from Black Tom. One could literally have knocked the rascal over with a feather. It was evident that Jack saw nothing familiar in the heavily bearded, rough-looking seaman opposite him, and when he spoke, Tom was forced to gulp down a huge draft of rum before he could find voice to reply.
"Sink me, but 'tis a black night, matey," remarked Jack as he called for his drink. "An' fitter to be settin’ here a-drinkin' than a-steerin' of a course-through them gutters with devil knows what to port an' starboard."
"Aye, a fair black night," Tom mumbled through his beard, and inwardly trembling for fear his voice might betray him. "An'," he went on, gaining courage as he saw his tones meant nothing to Jack, "where might ye be bound for, might I be askin' ye, that ye be a-navigatin’ yon gutters as ye say?"
Jack raised his liquor and gulped it down. "Here's to the king an' damnation to pirates," he chuckled. Then, setting down the empty pannikin, he rose. "Scuttle me, 'tis rotten rum," he declared, "but 'twill serve till I make port in the Rat Hole an' have a tot longside of cap'n.''
Hardly had he disappeared through the doorway when Tom leaped to his feet and hurried out. Here, indeed, had been rare luck. He had learned of Peter's whereabouts and had proved beyond question that he had no slightest cause to fear detection by any of Peter's men. Indeed, he felt convinced that even Jake, or Peter himself, would not recognize him, and highly elated at his two discoveries, he hurried on to the Rat Hole. But to his disappointment Silver Heels was not there, and swearing under his breath, he waited impatiently for his partner in crime to arrive.
Meanwhile Silver Heels had met with quite a different experience. Although, as he proceeded on his way, he had become somewhat more assured and had ceased to slink in the darkest shadows when any one approached, still he took no undo risks as had Tom. But, just as luck had been with Tom, so luck was turned against Silver Heels. As he passed a dance hall from whose open door the light streamed out, filling the street before it with a faint radiance, a man stepped from the place and his eyes fell full upon Silver Heels, skulking along the opposite side of the narrow street.
Mutual recognition was instantaneous. With wildly rolling eyes, old Bart staggered back into the dance hall, shrieking like a maniac, while Silver Heels, fairly chattering with deadly terror, rushed headlong from the spot, dodging through alleys, twisting and turning, seeking only to reach his lair before pursuers should be at his heels.
There, shaking, white, and striving to steady his nerves by means of unlimited rum, he was found by Tom when that rascal returned, as agreed, after his fruitless vigil by the Rat Hole. Convinced that he was unrecognizable himself, and puffed up with his own importance at what he had learned, he jeered at Silver Heels' terror, cursed him roundly for not keeping his appointment, and related his own experiences.
But for once Silver Heels failed to assert himself or to impress Tom with his superiority and to dominate him. He had been thoroughly frightened and had no doubt that Bart would report his presence and that Peter would hunt him down. The fact that Tom had conversed face to face with Jack gave him no consolation, and he momentarily expected to hear the tramp of feet outside and to see Peter's men burst in on him. And when, presently, a knock sounded on the door and the grumbling inn keeper shuffled across the dirty floor, Silver Heels sat paralyzed with fear and with eyes fixed in terror on the massive portal.
But as the bars were let down and the door swung back on its creaking hinges, Silver Heels drew a great breath of relief, and with a hoarse laugh, gulped down a huge draft of rum. Framed in the doorway, was a tiny, wizened man, sharp-eyed and with beaklike nose, whose tangled gray beard covered a greasy coat front and whose back bent under a heavy pack.
Shambling into the room, the Hebrew lowered his burden, and hunching his shoulders and rubbing his hands together in relief at being rid of his load, he nodded affably to Silver Heels and Tom, and in broken English begged a night's lodging, explaining that he was an itinerant peddler of gewgaws and notions and had just arrived on a merchant vessel from St. Thomas.
Nervous as Silver Heels was, there was no cause to fear the meek and harmless little Jew, and almost oblivious of his presence, the two continued to talk, though in subdued tones, while the peddler munched the coarse food and sipped the sour wine he had ordered.
Then, bowing and smiling, rubbing his hands, and apologizing for his intrusion, he withdrew to the kennel allotted him. leaving Silver Heels and Tom alone with the bulging canvas pack that stood leaning against the wall where the Hebrew had left it.
Yawning, the sleepy proprietor gathered up empty dishes and pannikins with a clatter, and again barring the door, swore softly at such late arrivals and shuffled off to his apartments.
As time passed and no alarm came to the two who still remained talking in the dimly lit room, Silver Heels regained his unwonted composure and, as his gaze wandered aimlessly about and fell upon the peddler's pack, a devilish scheme was hatched in his warped and fiendish brain.

Peter's victory had brought him little comfort. He had kept his vow to Don Ramon, had accomplished his steadfast purpose, but at terrible cost. The dying words of Starling had been enough to convince him that his search was over, that there was no longer any question of his nationality or identity. He was English and a pirate's son, the son of the very man who had ruined Don Ramon, and bitterly Peter pondered on the irony of fate that had brought him to the old don's isle to be reared by the man robbed of wife and home by his own father, and to be sent forth in the end to destroy that father. Better by far had he lived and died upon the pleasant islet where Don Ramon lay in peace beneath the waving palms. Aye, better by far to have fallen in battle without ever learning the terrible truth. It was blow enough to know that he was the offspring of the despicable, bloodthirsty, villainous old pirate; to be branded with the stigma of such blood; but a thousand times worse, utterly unbearable, to have the death of his parent on his hands. And the dying man had cursed him; cursed him with his last, choking breath as a parricide.
Utterly cast down, looking neither to left nor right, with head bowed upon his breast, Peter had walked, like one in a dream, across the bloodstained decks of the rapidly settling Adventure, and still in a semitrance, had made his way to the Sea Gull's cabin and had flung himself in a chair, his eyes vacant and staring.
Jake, filled with sympathy though he was, and with a kindly heart despite his rough and callous ways, was inarticulate in the face of his beloved captain's grief. The men, not knowing what had occurred, but sensing something was wrong, had stepped aside, speechless and wondering as Peter had stalked by them. And though Jake longed to be of some aid or comfort to Peter in his hour of sorrow he was utterly at a loss as to what to do or how to proceed. So, as there was much to be done and little time in which to do it, he roared out orders, cursed outrageously, and hustled his men about like a slave driver.
The Adventure, riddled by Jake's broadside, was fast sinking, and already the waves were slopping over her decks, but Jake, even at such a time, was not one to leave valuables go to the bottom of the sea, where they would be of no use to any one. And he had every reason to believe there was no inconsiderable booty aboard the captured ship, a suspicion which the prisoners reluctantly confirmed.
Before the treasure, which Starling had recently taken from a French ship he had sunk, had been transferred to the Sea Gull, the Adventure was awash, and only the forecastle and high stern were above the waves. To strip her of guns and furnishings was out of the question, and no one gave the least heed to the corpses floating about amid the litter of ropes, splinters and other debris confined by the submerged rails of the pirate ship.
But Jake felt that Starling, as Peter's father, should be given proper burial. Moreover, in a hurried glance about Starling's cabin, he had noticed the rich furnishings and the golden and silver utensils. So, ordering the men to secure the dead pirate's body and carry it aboard the Sea Gull, he hurried into the cabin, and, wrapping the objects of worth in a convenient rug, he turned lo leave. Then his eye fell upon the painting and, rough old rascal that he was, something in the sweet face of the pictured Virgin caused him to drop his burden, and jerking off his hat he stood regarding her.
"Sink me, 'twill ne'er do to leave ye to go down with the ship, miss," he muttered as he tiptoed a step nearer. "Faith, ye be uncommon like them picters an' idols what the dons do have in their churches. Aye, an' I mistake not, ye be the Blessed Virgin as the dons say, an' though I be no Papist meself, mayhap cap'n be, him bein' reared by the old don an' all. An' Starling here, what was his father belike, a-havin' of ye hangin' here."
As he spoke he was rapidly but very carefully cutting the canvas from its frame, and though his words were a bit uncouth they lacked nothing of reverence while the most devout churchman could not have rolled the picture more tenderly than he did. Then, again picking up his load of plate, and with the picture under his arm, he hurried from the cabin. Very near he came to losing his life by salvaging the painting, for as he emerged from the cabin and crossed the deck whereon Peter had dueled with Starling, the vessel lurched, her bow plunged down, and Jake leaped for the waiting boat.
Scarcely had the men bent to their oars when with a roar the imprisoned air burst through the after decks. Bits of planking, ornate scroll work and sections of rails flew high in air with the explosion, and weighted' down with her tons of ordnance, the Adventure dove like a plummet to the bottom of the Caribbean.
Jake found Peter still vacantly staring before him in his cabin, and ill at ease, not knowing what to say, shifting from one foot to the other, Jake cleared his throat.
Peter looked up, but with no trace of interest in his face.
"What is it, Jake?" he asked listlessly.
"The Adventure's gone down, cap'n," replied the other. "An' I'm thinkin' as we might be gettm' under way an' a takin' off of Bart an' tothers. An' I’d be askin' ye what we're to be doin' with them as we took pris'ners in yonder nest?"
"Yes, get Bart and his men aboard," replied Peter wearily. "And turn the prisoners free, but nail the guns in the fort. I have naught against those in the village and care not for spilling more blood."
"Aye, cap'n," replied Jake, turning to leave. Then, hesitatingly he added: "Will we be a-buryin' of Captain Starling, cap'n? I had he brung aboard here, cap'n."
"Yea," assented Peter after a moment's thought. "Have him prepared for burial—he was mine father. Oh, that I had never seen this day dawn, Jake, or that I had fallen in his stead!"
"Sink me, cap'n," exclaimed Jake, striving to find some words that might in a measure comfort Peter. "Mayhap ye be all aback an' a-driftin' to loo'ard, so to say. Faith, didn't I sail along of Starling for a passin' long while, an' I never heard on him havin' kith nor kin. An', beggin' of your pardon, cap'n, he were a most monstrous fair liar an' belike he said what he did without no manner of truth to his words."
Peter shook his head. "Nay, Jake," he declared. "I feel he but spoke too truly. Saw you not how he recognized the tattooed mark upon mine breast? And is it not plain? Look, Jake, is it not a starling that is shown there in the pattern?"
As he spoke he bared his chest, exposing the clear blue design that was indelibly imprinted upon the skin— a wreath surrounding a shield bearing the figure of a bird.
Jake bent near and with his fishy, protruding eyes, studied the tattooing, attentively.
"Aye," he muttered at last, loath to admit it though he was. "Aye, it do look uncommon like a starling, cap'n, blow me if it don't. But," he added, "sink me if it don't look as uncommon much like yon sea gull what ye bear on yer burgee, cap'n."
Peter made a sorry attempt to smile. "Nay, good friend," he said, "I fear me you but strive to bring me solace in my hour of sorrow, and I thank you for it. But both mine oath and mine search have been fulfilled, and ill, indeed, has been the fulfillment. Nay, Jake, there be no chance that I be not son of Captain Starling. From here I have mind to set sail for Barbados and there relinquish my commission to his excellency and go hence to the isle whence I set forth, there to live in solitude, as did Don Ramon, until mine death."
"Faith, cap'n, ye'll not be givin' up the sea?" cried the one-eared fellow anxiously. "Grant ye be son of Starling, 'tis no shame to ye. Belike he were honest man ere he took to piratin'. An' 'twas no fault of yourn he fell—an' ye not knowin' as who he were."
But Peter's mind was made up, and Jake turned to go, shaking his head sadly. Then he stopped, hesitated and took the roll of canvas from under his arm, "Here be somc'at I took from cabin of the Adventure," he said, placing the picture on the table before Peter. "Sink me, but I couldna' let the lass go down with the ship. Mayhap ye'd care for it, cap'n?"
Peter unrolled the canvas, and as the painting was revealed, a strange expression came over his face, and falling upon his knees, he murmured prayers, as years before he had prayed by Don Ramon's side before the tiny shrine in the old Spaniard's hut.
And Jake, hoary old cutthroat though he had been, dropped to his knees also. And though no words of prayer came from his lips, for he knew none, yet who can say that his thoughts were not in themselves a silent prayer as worthy of being heard and answered as though they had been spoken aloud in prescribed and stilted words?
A strange, a striking picture the two presented, as they knelt there in the cabin of the Sea Gull. Peter, his red head bowed, his garments still bloodstained, torn, disheveled. His breast with the tattooed symbols exposed, and Jake, begrimed with powder, bespattered with blood; his grizzled hair falling over his shoulders and hiding the scar that marked his missing ear, while before them lay the picture of the Virgin, and through the ornate stern windows the last rays of the sinking sun gleamed redly on timbers and paneling, and flashed like living flames from pistol butts and sword hilts in the kneeling men's belts.
When at last Peter rose a great change had come over him, and Jake, quick to notice it, looked a bit askance at the painting that, to his simple mind, had worked a miracle. Reverently, Peter fastened the canvas to the bulkhead at the after end of the cabin, where all who entered would at once behold it, and turning, spoke to Jake in his old tones and with the old-time look in his blue-gray eyes.
"Come. Jake," he said. "Night falls and there is much to be done. The past is past and we must attend to the present and the future. This night will we anchor oft" the village and on the morrow bury Captain Starling ashore ere we sail hence."
"Faith, cap'n, ye be setting of a true course," exclaimed Jake, immensely relieved at the change in Peter's demeanor.
"What's done canna' be undone, an' ye can lay to that, lad. Aye, we'll bury the past along of Cap'n Starling, an' set sail on a new course, sink me if we don't."
But though Peter was no longer morose and miserable, yet, as the Sea Gull bore eastward, leaving the pirate's lair, with its dead chieftain interred beneath the fort with its useless guns far astern, Jake found that Peter had not changed his plans for the future.
He had no further cause to sail the seas as a maritime knight-errant. He had no reason to travel far and wide in search of parents and country. Though he outwardly showed no trace of his sorrow, yet nightly he spent long hours on his knees before the smiling Virgin in his cabin, praying that the sins of him whom he deemed his father might be forgiven and that the dying man's curse might be lifted from himself. And his thoughts ever turned to the peaceful isle he had known in his youth and where he hoped to find peace once more, far from the strife and villainies of his fellow men.
But Peter was doomed not to carry out his purpose for many weeks to come. Long before the cloud-wreathed mountain summits of Jamaica loomed above the horizon, he fell in with a merchant brig, lying a helpless wreck upon the heaving sea, and from the survivors had a tale of inhuman freebooters who had wrought havoc in the Gulf. And as Peter still remained under the English flag, and felt in duty bound to serve that flag until he had been relieved of his commission, he swung his yards and squared away before the trade wind, combing the sea in search of pirates. That he found them, dealt summary vengeance and again headed for Jamaica, with his prisoners safely ironed in his hold, are matters of small importance to this tale. Of far greater importance is the fact that, by so doing, he was forced to remain for some time in Jamaica, until the captured rascals had been duly tried and condemned. Then, once more he headed eastward for Barbados.
One evening as he and Jake leaned upon the quarter-deck rails and watched the long trail of gleaming phosphorescence in the wake of the slowly moving ship, their thoughts turned to the past and they spoke of their first strange meeting.
"Aye, lad," muttered Jake, "do ye mind how ye thought ye was to St. Barts an' 'twas St. Martins ye was at?" The old fellow chuckled at the memory. "An' a fine navigator ye was in them days," he went on, "not knowin' naught of the isles. Aye, as fair innocent of life an' the sea as new-born babe."
"Yea." smiled Peter, his mind harking back to those days in the piragua. "But not so innocent that I was not fearful that you had evil designs upon me and mine piragua."
"Belike ye had reason enough," laughed Jake. "Faith, by the bones of Drake, I were an uncommon unholy buccaneer in them days. Aye, cap'n, little did One-eared Jake think the time'd come when he be a-sailin' under the cross of St. George as privateer, and a gloryin' at sendin' the Brethren to port. Blow me, lad, but life do be a most uncommon queer thing, sink me if it ben't.
"An'," he went on after a moment's silence, broken only by the soft lapping of the water under the stern and the gentle flapping of the half-filled sails, "I'll ne'er forget how ye fit Mace over to Anegada. Faith, I wonder does old Deadeye still live and do he keep the Rat Hole yonder. Blow me, cap'n, do ye mind how the old scarecrow stuck his face to yourn an’ stared at ye the night we first went there? Zounds, lad, wouldna' he be surprised for to see of us a-droppin' in on him again?"
"Yea, that he would." agreed Peter. "But belike he is dead and gone long ago—he was an aged rascal and near unto the grave then."
"Not so old, cap'n," declared Jake. "An' such as he do cheat the devil for long. Look at old Bart—faith he's old enough to have been granddad to Dead-eye, an' he a-talkin' of gettin’ spliced to some lass yet. An' do ye mind how I told ye Deadeye'd know ye, come what might, after he'd tooken the cut of yer canvas with that one stare? Blow me, I'll wager a doubloon to a ha'penny he'd know ye again, even though he be stone blind this day."
" 'Twere difficult to mistake me, with this red thatch," laughed Peter. "But I owe you much, Jake. If 'twould please your whim, most gladly will I shift mine helm and stop at Anegada ere making Carlisle Bay. And," he added before Jake could reply, "I have a passing fancy to set foot once more in that isle whence we started forth together, Jake."
So, easing off braces, the Sea Gull was headed more to the northward. Slipping past the bulk of Puerto Rico, and rounding St. Thomas, the ship passed through Sir Francis Drake Channel and, as he had done in the piragua so long before, Jake took the helm and in safety brought the Sea Gull through the guardian maze of reefs to the harbor of Anegada.
Little the place had changed since Peter and Jake, with Silver Heels and Black Tom and the others, had fared forth in the piragua. And Peter, with Jake acting like a schoolboy on a holiday, hurried along the narrow byways toward the lair of Deadeye. But there they found changes indeed. No longer did the vine-grown wall with its jagged line of broken bottles bar the way. No longer was it necessary to give the code signal of the Brethren to gain admittance. The wall had fallen to bits an places, the heavy portal was ajar and sagged on its hinges, and the court within was overgrown with weeds, while the old cannon in the center was marked only by a tangled mass of vines and shrubbery. But the familiar, low-ceiled room was there, and at sound of the footsteps of the two, old Deadeye hobbled forth to meet them, for visitors were all too few and he was hard put to it to keep soul and body together with the few pieces of eight he received for lodgings and drinks.
Much the same as ever he looked. A trifle older, a trifle grayer, but his one eye gleamed as balefully as the last time Peter had seen him, and no sooner did he fix the orb upon the two men than he recognized them.
"Stab me!" he cried in his harsh voice and hurried forward. "Aye, stab an' scuttle me if it ben't One-eared Jake an' Red Peter!"
"Aye, that we be, ye old son of a sea louse," exclaimed Jake, roaring with laughter and slapping Deadeye on his bony back until he coughed. "An' sink me, but it does me eyes good to see ye again, ye scuttlin' old crab."
"Welcome ye be, both on ye," chuckled the old fellow. "Faith, I thought ye both dead an gone long ago. But I might have know'd as how Jake here'd be boun' for to turn up, like the bad penny he be. Aye, an' I've heard tales of ye, cap'n; aye, tales of ye playin' merry hell with the Brethren, an' of how ye was a privateer."
"Then ye've no' heard all, ye old owl!" cried Jake. "Twill do ye good to know as how cap'n here has done for Starling."
"Praise be!" exclaimed Deadeye. "May his soul— " But Jake, realizing that any further words would be agony to Peter, cut the old fellow's sentence short by shouting for drinks as loudly as if Deadeye were stone deaf, along with his other defects.
"Faith, ye old scalawag, by the look of things ye're poor as a smoked herrin’. Here," he said, tossing a doubloon on the table, "stir yer stumps an' get ye out and buy some drink an' food what's fit an’ proper for Cap'n Peter."
The old fellow cackled gleefully. "Aye,'' he mouthed, as he pocketed the gold piece and limped off. "Poor I be, mayhap, but there still be bite to eat and drop to drink in the cupboard."
Presently he came hobbling back, a flagon in one bony hand, goblets in the other. "Here ye be, cap'n," he gurgled as he lifted the flagon and filled the goblets. "I mind ye liked it well afore — the wine o' the Santa Maria"
"Blow me for a blasted sojer!" cried Jake, hardly able to believe his eyes or tongue as he raised the goblet to his lips. " 'Tis the same in truth. Stiffen ye, Deadeye, ye do be a fair canny ol’ buzzard to have kept it waitin' for we." And the food which Deadeye managed to provide, from Heaven knows where, was a fitting repast to go with the rich old wine that years before had been looted from a captured galleon. And right heartily Peter and Jake ate and drank and chatted with Deadeye and told stories of their adventures.
Swiftly the hours sped. Darkness fell, and still the three sat in the Rat Hole, for to Peter it seemed; as though he were once again planning his career with One-eared Jake, while Jake, garrulous with the heady wine, had much to tell, and Deadeye, with nothing to do but listen, and proud of being honored by the famous privateer's presence —not to mention his interest in the gold he would receive for the evening's entertainment—would not consent to his guests' leaving.
He even begged them to remain throughout the night, and, as Peter was in a somewhat strange mood, and Jake was showing unmistakable evidences of being in no condition to navigate the dark byways of the town, the two accepted Deadeye's hospitable offer.
At once the old fellow hobbled off to prepare a suitable chamber for his guests, and Jake, slumped in his chair, had hard work to keep his pop eyes open. Then to their ears came the sound of footsteps, and into the taproom stepped Starboard-tack Jack.
"I thought I'd find ye here," he exclaimed, drawing up a chair. " 'Twere gettin' a bit late, cap'n, an' I feared some'at might have went wrong. An' I had mind for to set me eyes on old Deadeye once again meself. Scuttle me, but it's rotten drink they have in this stinkin' town since the Brethren have went from it. Belike Deadeye'll have some'at that's fit to wet an honest man's, gullet."
Jake sat up with a jerk, waved one long arm wildly and grinned. "Wine!" he roared in maudlin tones. "Wine of the Santa Maria, best in the worl', matey. Aye, none better. Red as blood an' smooth as grease. Aye, wine of Spain, laddie. Slush yer scuppers with it, Jackey. Aye, pipe up all han's." Then, breaking into hilarious song:
"Oh, it's me for the grapes what in sunny Spain grows.
For 'tis them as makes the red wine to warm me copper nose.
Aye, some be for the lily—"

His voice trailed off and ended in a resonant snore.
"Drunk as a sojer!" remarked Jack, filling the goblet that had dropped from Jake's hand, and quaffing off the wine.
"An’ I canna blame him," he added as he smacked his lips and wiped his mustache with his sleeve. "Scuttle me, cap'n, but a lad could die fair happy a-drownin' in this here wine."
"Yea, Jake is a bit befuddled," assented Peter. "But 'twill harm him not, and 'tis long since he has o'er-stepped the mark with drink. But I be glad that you came hither, Jack. I will bide the night here with Jake, and you can carry word to the ship that we will not be aboard ere dawn."
"Aye, aye, cap'n," agreed Jack. " 'Twould be passin' hard to get Jake under way, with sail trimmed and drawin', so to say. But belike, an' ye wish to sleep aboard the Sea Gull, I'll bide here with Jake."
"Nay, I will remain," declared Peter. "Tis long since I have slept ashore and I have humor on me to pass the night at the spot whence I first set forth with Jake. I— "
Hurrying footfalls interrupted him, and into the dim light burst old Bart, wild-eyed, toothless jaws moving wordlessly, and wrinkled face ashen under its coat of tan.
"Lord ha' mercy!" he squeaked, as though his throat were parched and dry. "Me time have come! I seed spirit!" Babbling, he flung himself, cowering, between Peter and Jack.
"Aye, I warrant ye did see spirits," chuckled Jack. "An' tasted 'em as well, ye old crow. Stop yer blabberin', ye drunken bag o' bones."
"Nay, nay, I ben't drunk," protested the old fellow. '"S'truth, I'd tooken but three swigs of rum. An' I seed him, that I did, the spirit o’ Sil'er Heels! Aye, wet an' drippin' with brine, he was, an' his eyes like coals, an' his cheeks eaten by fishes an' green as grass. Aye, a fearsome sight, cap'n."
"Belay, ye blitherin' idiot!" cried Jack, quite out of patience. "Ye seed nothin'. Ye're goin' crazy with years an' rum. Come along of me an' have end to such prattle."
"Yea, I warrant it were the rum was overstrong for your ancient head," laughed Peter. "I wager you'll see naught of Silver Heels or other spirits whilst Jack's convoying you to the ship."
Still muttering, still insisting that he had seen Silver Heels' ghost, and, each time he reiterated his story, adding further gruesome and wholly imaginary details, Bart, clinging tight as a limpet to Jack, left the Rat Hole and, peering furtively at every shadow started for the water front.
Convinced that Bart had been the victim of an hallucination caused by the vile rum served in the Anegada dives, Peter gave no further thought to the matter and did not even think it worth mentioning to Deadeye when the old innkeeper came thumping back and announced that the chamber was ready.
But Jake refused to be roused. He was dead to the world, and after vain efforts to awaken him, Peter and Dead-eye gave up in despair.
" 'Twill no’ be the first time he's bided in chair for the night," cackled the old fellow. "An' come he wakes, belike he'll find his way to bed. Leave him be, cap'n, 'tis not for the likes of ye to be bothcrin' o'er scum like of he."
So, realizing that Jake was as well off in his chair as elsewhere, Peter withdrew to his bedroom. But before he could retire, he heard voices from the taproom, and, thinking perhaps Jack or Bart had returned, he stepped to the doorway. The new arrival was no member of the Sea Gull's company, but a short, somewhat stocky man, swarthy skinned, and wearing a bushy, black beard streaked with gray.
He was dressed in greasy, ill-fitting garments much too small for his frame and upon his head was a battered hat, pulled low over his forehead. Resting near him against the wall where he had placed it, was a long and bulging pack. Evidently he was merely a wandering Hebrew peddler, and having no further interest in the visitor, Peter again withdrew to his room. But to Deadeye there was something vaguely familiar about the dark-skinned peddler. In the back of his mind lingered an impression of having met the fellow before, and he peered at him keenly with his penetrating, searching eye. But whether he had or had not met the man at some previous time made little difference. The Rat Hole was open to any and all wayfarers, and the Hebrew, in broken English, was merely asking for a chance to pass the night in some corner and to leave his pack where it stood. He had, he explained, arrived that night in a ship from St. Thomas. Somewhat hesitatingly, he drew several pieces of silver from his pocket and proffered one to Deadeye in payment for the accommodations he sought.
Deadeye had been on the point of letting the fellow remain free of charge, but he did not decline the silver, and, indicating a tiny closetlike room opening off the gallery as a place where the new guest might sleep, he limped away to his own long-delayed slumbers.

It was long past midnight, and in the deserted taproom of the Rat Hole, Jake still sprawled in the chair. His legs were outstretched, his hands hung limp, his head lolled to one side and he snored lustily. Faintly from the courtyard came the rustle of palm fronds in the night wind. Rats squeaked and scuttled along the rafters and in the roof. The guttering candle, which Deadeye had left upon the table in case Jake might wake and wish to find his room, cast a flickering light upon the smoke-blackened beams, the worn, uneven floor, the cobwebby ceiling and the heavily barred shutters and door.
About Jake's head flitted a small swarm of insects which, attracted by the light, had found their way into the room by crevices and openings through which no human being could have passed. Soft-winged moths brushed past his closed eyes. Hard-shelled beetles blundered against him. Huge wild cockroaches sought resting places on his shoulders and ran scuttling off. Midges, gnats and hordes of tiny winged creatures became hopelessly entangled in his hair and beard. And yet he slept on as though the rich old wine from the ill-fated Santa Maria had been an opiate.
Presently, from the cavernous blackness of a kennellike room off the gallery, came a new sound— a sound that sent the foraging rats scampering to cover —the creak of a loose board. Jake stirred uneasily. His head sagged over to the opposite side, his hand was raised unsteadily and he brushed away a too-inquisitive bug that had alighted upon his nose. Then once more his snores echoed through the room. Once more the rats ventured forth in search of crumbs, peering about with bright eyes, wiggling their long whiskers as though by some sixth sense they felt danger near, while the candle burned an inch nearer to its socket.
Again a board creaked, but this time less noisily, and once again the rats scurried to their dens.
Then faintly outlined in the black square whence had issued the telltale sound appeared a dim and ghostly outline; an indefinite shape; a form hunched, pressing close to the wall; a something more like the shadow of a man, than solid flesh and blood. But the waiting, watching rats knew it for what it was, and their keen eyes, piercing the darkness impenetrable to human eyes, could see that the lurking figure was bushily bearded; that the deep-set eyes were fixed upon the sleeping one-eared man in the chair, and that one hand grasped the haft of a murderous-looking knife.
Suddenly, with a loud buzz, a great black-and-gold beetle circled twice about the light and, with a resounding thud, plumped head-on into Jake's parrotlike nose.
With a start, Jake awoke. His protruding eyes slowly opened, and, with a murmured oath, he brushed the offending beetle from his ragged mustache.
"Curse ye!" he mumbled, quite oblivious to the fact that the unlucky insect had saved his life. "Can't a man have forty winks without ye runnin’ athwart me hawse an' a-dentin' of me figgerhead? Aye, cap'n—" Half turning his head, he stared stupidly at the empty chair where Peter had sat.
"Sink me!" he went on, winking his eyes in the glare of the almost burned-out candle and ruefully rubbing his stiff neck. "Faith, I must have been sleepin' a bit an' cap'n an' Deadeye's turned in. An', blow me, weren't Jackey here? Aye. he were. An' wasna old Bart a-babblin' as well, or was I dreamin'? Bones of Drake, the night must be near Spent, an' me a-snorin' here like the drunken sojer I be. Aye, well, 'tis too late now to be settin' course for me berth an',"—here he stifled a prodigious yawn and settled back in his chair '—"an', sink me, I wonder where Deadeye do be keepin' of that wine of the Santa Maria. Now a drop—"
He broke off as his closing eyes fell upon the long, bulging pack which still stood where the swarthy, bearded peddler had left it. With a puzzled frown he stared at it. "Sink me," he growled to himself, "that do be uncommon queer. Faith, be I still dreamin', I wonder? Twere not there when—” His mouth gaped, and rubbing his eyes, he sat bolt upright, for, to his befuddled eyes, the pack had appeared to move.
"Stab me!" he muttered. "It do be passin' queer. First yon bag where no bag were afore, an' then a-wigglin' like it were sack of cats to be drownded. Faith, do yon bag be there or be it the wine? An' if 'tis no' the wine an' it do be there, did me eyes see it move or was that the wine?" Rising unsteadily to his feet, he peered at the pack, regarding it first from one angle and then another, while, all unnoticed, the skulking shadow in the dark passageway crouched lower and silently drew a step nearer the room.
Up and down the grimy walls and across the web-draped ceiling, grotesque, enormous shadows' passed and moved, as the candle wick, floating in a pool of grease, flickered and flared, and the circling insects passed to and fro above it.
To Jake's eyes, still heavy with, the fumes of wine, the long and heavy pack seemed again to stir, as the flitting shadow of a moth passed over it.
"Belike 'tis naught but shadow," he ruminated, "but, sink me, 'tis uncommon like a sack. Blast it, what be it doin' here, anyhow, a-worry in' of a honest man?"
Half turning, he was about to sink once more into his chair to resume his interrupted slumbers, when his hand chanced to touch the cutlass at his side.
A low chuckle escaped his lips. "Faith," he exclaimed. " 'Tis easy matter to know if it be there or not. Gain yon wine have befuddled me eyes 'twill no be befuddlin' me sword."
Staggering a bit, he stepped forward, drawing his cutlass as he did so. Swaying slightly on his widespread feet, he lunged at the dimly visible pack.
As the blade sank into it a bloodcurdling scream echoed horribly through the room. At the same instant, the candle gave a final flicker and went out, leaving Jake dumfounded, his senses in a turmoil, in inky blackness.
But only for the fraction of a second. That fearful shriek was yet ringing in his ears when there was a swift rush, something brushed by him, and he felt a sharp twinge of pain in his left shoulder.
Instantly the last traces of his stupor left him. His brain cleared, every sense was on the alert, and, with a hoarse curse he leaped aside, swinging his weapon aimlessly, viciously. Here, at last, was something tangible, some human being attacking him. Striving to pierce the dense blackness, he strained eyes and ears, crouching a bit forward, sword gripped firmly, muscles tensed and ready to spring and strike at the slightest sound or the faintest darker blur that betrayed his unknown assailant's presence.
Now, from a distance, came the sounds of footsteps, the shouts of old Deadeye, and Peter's voice, while an almost imperceptible glimmer pierced the darkness, as the two, aroused by the agonized scream, hurried toward the taproom with Deadeye bearing a flaring candle.
And instantly, as the dim radiance from down the passage lightened the blackness, Jake's keen eyes caught a stealthy movement as though the shadow of a moth were passing slowly across the floor.
In a flash he leaped forward and his cutlass sung through the air. But it met with no resistance, and Jake, carried forward, overbalanced by the force of his stroke, lurched into the heavy table. With a terrific crash, table, chairs, empty goblets and Jake went down together.
Before he could rise, the shadow he had seen sprang like a gigantic spider from the floor with upraised knife. Jake's cutlass had clattered from his hand as he fell, his head had struck heavily against the table edge, and he was entangled in the furniture. But he was an old campaigner and had survived many a rough-and-tumble fight. Heavily built as he was, yet he was as agile as a cat, and every muscle had been trained through years to act in unison with his mind.
As the figure with upraised knife leaped at him, Jake twisted suddenly to one side, his feet shot out and upward and caught the other full in the stomach. A hollow groan came from the fellow's lips, the knife flew from his hand and struck quivering in the table, and he recoiled as though hurled from a catapult, staggering, his eyes rolling wildly, his arms waving helplessly.
It had all happened in a moment, in the few seconds that had sped while Deadeye and Peter rushed from their chambers to the taproom, and, as Jake's assailant reeled back, Peter sprang toward him with drawn sword.
But young and agile as Peter was, the one-eyed old proprietor of the Rat Hole was quicker. Still carrying, the candle, he whipped a knife from somewhere about his person. With a movement of incredible swiftness, a mere twist of the wrist it seemed, he hurled the weapon at the bushy-bearded fellow swaying and gasping in the center of the room. Unerringly as a rifle bullet, the knife flashed through the air, and half way to its horn haft buried its blade in the rascal's breast. Without a sound, the man sank lifeless in a heap upon the floor as Jake regained his feet.
"Be ye harmed, Jakey lad?" cried Deadeye anxiously, and without even glancing at the body sprawled at his feet. "Blood an' powder, what devil's mess be this?"
"Sink me if I knows," replied Jake, gazing about and ruefully feeling his injured arm and bruised pate. "Nay," he added as he satisfied himself his wounds were of no consequence. " 'Tis little I be harmed, a mere scratch in me arm an' a bash on me skull."
Deadeye stooped, and drawing the knife from the dead man's breast, wiped it carefully on his victim's coat.
"Scum!" he hissed, his single eye blazing with unspeakable hatred as he gazed at the face of the corpse. "I know ye now for what ye be, ye sneakin', murderin' devil's spawn. Aye, beard an' all I know ye, Black Tom."
"Black Tom!" cried Peter. "Nay, Deadeye, that cannot be. Black Tom died with Silver Heels in the tempest, as I told ye."
Jake bent down, lifted the right arm of the dead man and rolled back the sleeve to expose an elaborate mass of tattooing upon the sinewy, hairy arm.
"Sink me if 'tain't,” he exclaimed. "An devil knows how he come here, him what was drownded along of the wherry with Sil'er Heels."
"He came as a peddler hearing a sack and sought lodging for the night whilst you slept," explained Peter. "Were it he screeched so fearsomely?"
"A peddler with pack, eh!" cried Jake with a vile oath. "Sink me, cap'n, I warrant I spilled his gewgaws then. We'll have squint at his cargo."
Picking up the candle, Jake stepped to the pack, which had slipped from its upright position and was resting on its side. Stooping, he slashed the cord that held it closed, and jerked back the canvas to reveal its contents.
Amazed ejaculations burst from the lips of Peter and Deadeye. Within the sack were no ribbons and laces, no cheap jewelry and tawdry finery, but a corpse, the body of a man—Silver Heels!
Jake spat out an oath. " 'Tis as I thought," he growled, as he seized the end of the sack and dragged the covering from the dead man. "Aye, belike ye squealed at prick of steel, like the rat ye be," he exclaimed, spurning the body with his foot. "But ye'll ne'er squeal more, ye an' yer black mate."
"Aye, the dirty dogs, a-sneakin' here for to murder us in our beds," added Deadeye.
"Yea, 'tis well you slept here to interrupt their murderous plans, else none of us would have lived to see the morn," declared Peter. "For once, I rejoice that you were drunk, Jake."
"Aye, cap'n, but not overmuch drunk," qualified Deadeye. "Stab me, Jakey, ye done a good work this night. May ye be three days in Heaven ere the devil knows ye be dead."
Thus do Silver Heels and Black Tom pass from our story. Through the blundering, erratic flight of a lowly beetle, the two scalawags well-laid plans were shattered and the wizened Hebrew, lying stark and stiff in a squalid inn by the water front, was avenged.
And when old Bart heard the tale his triumph over Jack was complete.
"An' ye vowed 'twere drink as made me see Sil'er Heels," he cried, nodding his head and grinning widely. "An' cap'n, too," he went on. "Belike old Bart ben't the babblin' fool ye take him for, Jackey. An' ye a-settin' cross table from Black Tom an' not a-knowin of him, an' a-passin' words with he an' all! Aye, 'twere ye as was fair blind with the rum, I'm thinkin'. An' a-callin' of me crazy for because I vowed I'd seed ghost of Sil'er Heels! Well, well, it takes years to give sense to some lads, an' ye have much to learn from yer elders and yer betters, me laddie."
Down the islands the sea-weary ship sailed from Anegada. Past the little island whereon Peter had first set foot after leaving Don Ramon's isle. Past St. Martins with its memories of his meeting with faithful One-eared Jake. Past St. Kitts, glorious in frowning mountains and smiling cane fields, and so onward under the lee of Nevis, Guadeloupe, Dominica and Martinique. Ever southward, until far astern, the mountains of St. Lucia were but hazy spires of blue, and, over the sparkling sea ahead, rose the rolling green hills of Barbados.
Once again in Carlisle Bay the anchor splashed into the sapphire water. And once more Peter and Jake stepped upon the quay at Bridgetown and turned toward government house where Sir James Falconer awaited their coming. For swiftly word had spread that the Sea Gull was entering the port.
With words of praise he welcomed Peter, and listened, drinking in every word, as Peter told his tale, until, having ended, Peter handed his creased commission to his excellency.
"Zounds, but you tell a most amazing story!" exclaimed" Sir James. "A most astounding tale, indeed, captain. But there be certain matters that to me are not yet clear. Perchance, as Jake has said, Starling was not your father, and thus your grief has been for naught.
You say death sealed his lips before he uttered his final words. Were it not possible that he had other words in mind to utter, rather than those you deemed were on his tongue? But even if you are his son, what matters it? Starling, no doubt, was an honest seafarer before he took to pirating, and for years was no pirate, but a buccaneer. And before peace was signed with Spain there was no shame nor crime in buccaneering."
Peter smiled and shook his head. "You do much to cheer me, your excellency," he replied. "But beyond question he was mine parent, for instantly he knew the tattoo mark upon mine chest. But 'tis not that I am son of pirate that grieves me, but that he should have died by mine hand."
"What is that crest that you bear?" asked Sir James. "May I have sight of it, captain? I know the arms of many a family and I have no knowledge of the Starlings bearing such."
Peter turned back his shirt and bared his chest. Bending close. Sir James peered intently at the delicate blue device upon the fair skin. Then a cry of amazement came from his lips.
"Tis clear as day," he exclaimed, leaping to his feet in excitement. "Dolt that I was, not to have thought of it before. Captain, a miracle has been wrought! Starling was not thy father. Nay, thou art kin of my own! The crest of the Falconers is upon thy chest. 'Tis no thieving starling there, but a noble falcon!"
"You mean—" cried Peter.
"That you are Sir Charles Falconer, my cousin and heir to a most fair estate in England," interrupted Sir James as he grasped Peter's hand and trembled with emotion. "Yea, and Starling was but a scalawag uncle who stole you in your infancy to avenge a fancied wrong, and sailed with you from England to the Indies. To us came word of the loss of the ship on which he fled, with news that all on board had perished. But now 'tis clear that he escaped, and, calling himself Starling, turned buccaneer. And you were saved, to be restored to your own by a miracle."
Jake noisily cleared his throat. "Aye, sink me," he exclaimed. "Didn't I know 'twould be miracles as would happen? What with the lass I saved from yon Adventure a-smilin' so friendly like at Cap'n Peter. Aye, by the bones of Drake, I be fair minded to turn Papist meself."
Sir James burst into a hearty roar of laughter at the old sailor's words. "Who knows?" he said. "But 'twas through your hands and your deeds that the miracle has been wrought."
"Yea, and ye need not turn Papist, nor fare forth to face more perils, in order to win a place in England for your old age, Jake," cried Peter, slapping the one-eared fellow on the back. "With me to England shall you sail, and, as my most trusted friend and most faithful henchman, you shall share all that is mine. For all that I have I owe to a 'most unholy buccaneer’ whom it was my good fortune to meet."
Jake's pop eyes seemed strangely moist, and, wiping his rough sleeve across his unshaven lips, he spat viciously. "Faith, cap'n," he muttered, and his voice was oddly hoarse. "Sink me, but didn't I say I knowed ye were the lad to sign along with? Aye, first time I clapped me eyes on ye, back there to St. Martins. An' didn't I say as how we'd be a-buryin' of the past along with Starling, an' a-settin' of a new course? An', mayhap, cap'n," he added with a wistful expression on his face. "Mayhap, ye might be a-stoppin' in to Anegada for a spell, as we sails for England. I'm thinkin’ belike as old Deadeye might be havin’ a bit of that wine of the Santa Maria as we could be takin' along with us."


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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.