Thursday, 17 September 2009

Red Peter, Part 3



Red Peter Part III. Serial in five parts

By A. Hyatt Verrill

From SEA STORIES Volume XIV, APRIL, 1927, Number 2. Digital Capture by Doug Frizzle September 2009.

Pedro had been brought up on a lonely island in the Caribbean by his foster father, Don Ramon Ortega, 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," and, after a bloody battle, he shortly captured his first prize, the ship of the pirate captain, Gautier.

CHAPTER VII.

SINK me, but 'twere a merry fight!" exclaimed Jake, as he wiped the mingled grime, sweat and blood from his face and glanced approvingly about the littered, disordered decks. "Aye," he continued, "a pretty fight in truth. An' blow me, cap'n, but the best on it was the set-to twix' ye an' Gautier. Aye, an' ye saved me life, cap'n, that ye did, an' One-eared Jake owes ye twice for a-doin' of it. But," with a note of regret in his voice, "I were that busy with fightin' I ne'er had time to see the swordplay 'twixt ye two."

"And missed the sight of your ill-spent life," laughed Silver Heels. "By St. George, never have I seen prettier dueling."

"And never have I crossed sword with better man," declared Gautier, who was standing, with folded arms, awaiting the pleasure of his captors. "It irks me not to lose ship to Captain Red Peter, though 'tis strange to find Englishmen and buccaneers"—here he glanced meaningly at Jake and Silver Heels—"making war on ships of the Brethren."

Silver Heels' mouth twisted into a one-sided grin. "There be many strange things in this wicked world, Captain Gautier," he said, "and I misdoubt not, thy present plight is not the strangest turn of fate you will yet meet."

"Stow the fine talk, Sil'er Heels," growled Jake. "We ben't here for palaverin', but for takin' loot. Take ye men an' search the ship. T’ would be the most strangest thing of all if Gautier had no rich booty safe aboard."

Gautier laughed derisively. "Silver Heels told the truth for once," he announced, "and Fate has showed ye a bit of humor. Aye, strange as 'tis, Jake, there be naught of loot aboard ship."

"Ye lyin' hound," cried the one-eared sailor, an ugly look on his face. "Think ye we be babes to be taken in by that talk? Come, lads, to work with ye an' search the ship from keel to trucks."

"An' mayhap a touch of hot iron or a bit of flayin' alive'd bring a different tale from his mouth," suggested Black Tom.

"Silence," commanded Peter, for the first time showing his authority. "You art a murderous villain, Black Tom. Fie upon you for trying to stab a man in the back! And I'll have naught of torturing. Mayhap Captain Gautier speaks but the truth and has no booty. Speak but once more of such villainies and you leave my service."

With a sullen snarl, Black Tom followed after Silver Heels as he started aft toward the cabin on his search for riches.

"Sink me, cap'n, but ye have good luck," declared Jake, as the others walked away. "Here ye be, takin' of yer first prize an' now ye have a fine trim sloop for to go a piratin' of the Brethren with."

"Nay," contradicted Peter. "I have no mind to abandon my piragua. It has served us well and for mine purpose 'tis better than this ship."

Jake's eyes opened wide with surprise. "By the bone's o' Drake!" he exclaimed, "ye do be a rare, queer fish, cap'n. But," he continued, as an idea came to him, "sink me, if ye ben't right. Aye, the piragua be a right handy craft an' better for a-boardin' of them we wants to take than this here sloop. An' belike a few of the lads here be ready to jine with us. I'll have word with 'em."

Presently he returned, bringing word that four of Gautier's men were anxious to join Peter's forces, and thus the places of those who had fallen in the fight were once more filled. Then Silver Heels and Black Tom approached, looks of disappointment and chagrin on their faces, and reported that a few score pieces of eight, a dozen or two doubloons and a set of silver plate were the only valuables aboard the captured vessel.

Jake swore, fumed and threatened, declaring he was sure Gautier had treasure concealed somewhere, but Peter believed Gautier's statement that he had taken no prize since leaving port and that there was nothing in the way of loot aboard the sloop.

But if there was no treasure there was an abundance of food, drink and arms, as well as ammunition, and very rapidly these were transferred to the Sea Gull until the piragua could safely carry no more. Then the question arose as to the disposal of the captured vessel and her men.

Peter was at heart neither cutthroat, robber nor pirate, and though he had set out with the determination to destroy as many of the buccaneers as possible he could not bear the thought of butchering fellow men in cold blood or of leaving them to starve or go mad on some desert isle, as Silver Heels callously suggested. It was a far harder problem to solve than it would have been if Peter had been a real buccaneer and his prisoners Spaniards. In such cases, the freebooters took such of the captives as they desired as slaves and set the rest free on their ship, after disabling her, and left them to be picked up by some passing vessel of their countrymen or to make port however chance willed.

But Peter could do neither in the present case. He could not make slaves of Englishmen, even if he had been able to accommodate them upon his piragua, and it was quite evident that it would not do to leave Gautier and his men to be picked up by other rovers and thus spread the tale of Peter's undertaking and warn the buccaneers of the piragua.

For long they argued and discussed the matter. Silver Heels' suggestion having been discarded, and Black Tom's idea of slitting the throats of the captives not being considered, the entire solution of the matter was left to Jake and Peter. And it was the one-eared old villain who finally solved the puzzle.

"Set 'em ashore with food an' drink an' a few muskets," he said. "It'll not harm 'em nor hurt 'em an' 'twill give 'em a good rest for a bit. An' I know places whereon they'll not be likely to be found for many a month. Sink me, if I don't. Aye, a right pretty spot, just made for ye, cap'n. Aye, a tidy isle with sea birds thick as seeds in a gooseberry an' shellfish a-plenty on the shore, an' where never a ship stops for years on end."

So, taking Jake's advice, Peter detailed the necessary men to handle Gautier's vessel and, with the buccaneer captives and their commander safely locked under hatches, the two craft set sail for the "tidy isle," whose whereabouts only One-eared Jake knew. By daybreak the next day it was in sight, a tiny, wave-washed, barren rock some fifty acres in area and rising scarcely a dozen feet above the sea. Above it wheeled and soared countless sea birds, while thousands more sat on their nests on the rocks. There were stretches of shingle and little beaches where shellfish abounded, and in the hollows of the rocks, were pools of rain water. But there was not a tree, shrub or blade of grass upon the place, and Peter shuddered as he thought of being marooned on the miserable place for months, or maybe years. To be sure the men could not starve —eyen without firearms there was no danger of that with such an inexhaustible supply of birds and eggs—nor could they die of thirst and with the sails from their sloop they could erect shelters to protect themselves from sun and rain. In fact, the men who had expected to be most summarily dealt with, thought their lot was an enviable one, and even Gautier made no objections nor complaints. He was still in ignorance of Peter's motives in attacking him and could not understand this new development in freebooting whereby members of the Brethren attacked their fellows. But he was a man, who, through long years of buccaneering, had learned to take the worst of life along with the best. And as neither Peter nor his men offered an explanation he forbore to ask questions.

With plenty of food, a few casks of wine, ample ammunition, knives, axes, and a few muskets, as well as spars and sails and their chests of clothing, the prisoners were landed on "Aves Island," as Jake called it. Then, the sloop having been towed well out from land, she was scuttled and sunk. Silver Heels, Black Tom and a few others protested against this destruction, for they little liked their cramped quarters in the open piragua, and they saw in the buccaneer vessel a comfortable, well-found craft. But Jake silenced them, declaring that if they didn't like their captain's ways or the piragua they were quite welcome to go ashore and join Gautier and his men. Also he pointed out that as the piragua had brought them luck with their first venture they would be foolish to tempt Fate by shifting vessels, while last and by no means least, was the fact that the Sea Gull was unknown to the buccaneers and would create no suspicions, whereas Gautier's sloop, if manned by others than himself and men, would instantly arouse the suspicions of any buccaneer craft they might approach.

Superstitious and thoroughly believing in luck and ill luck, and also appreciating the truth of Jake's arguments, the men stopped grumbling, and with parting taunts to the marooned buccaneers sailed northward once more.

Three days later, with the bulk of Cuba looming on the horizon ahead, they sighted a good-sized vessel which Jake declared he believed was a buccaneer ship, and they rapidly bore down upon her. As they came within sight of her colors and saw the green flag with its white knot of ribbon, —Silver Heels ripped out an oath and Jake slapped his thigh.

"Sink me, cap'n, we be in for a pretty set-to!" he cried delightedly. "Yonder's the Malice of Cap'n Jerry Mace!"

"Mace!" reiterated Peter. "The fellow whose head I cracked with mine sword hilt back in Anegada?"

"Aye, the same," affirmed the other. "Faith, an' he'll be waitin' for to give ye warm welcome, an' ye can lay to that."

Silver Heels guffawed. "Think you to use hilt or point in this fight, captain?" he asked banteringly.

Peter grinned good-naturedly. "Mayhap both ere I be done," he replied.

"An' mayhap neither, if Jerry Mace be sober," growled Black Tom meaningly.

"Aye, there'll be many a lad tossed to the sharks ere this day's done," remarked Jake. "But all the more loot for them as comes through with whole skins, I'm sayin'."

And as Peter gazed at the stately, three-masted vessel rising and falling on the almost calm sea ahead, and saw the grim muzzles of a dozen cannon sticking from their ports, and the swarm of men upon the decks, he had a strange tingling feeling up and down his spine and was half minded to shift his helm and give up all thoughts of attacking the other craft. That he, with his few men and hand weapons, could successfully assault a heavily-armed ship alive with the brave and reckless buccaneers seemed beyond all reason. It was nothing less than suicidal, be felt; but he had successfully taken Gautier's vessel; he had sworn to attack every buccaneer he met, and real fear did not exist in his make-up. So, straight toward the freebooter he sailed, until presently, the burly figure of the redoubtable Mace appeared by the quarter gallery rail and a bellowed hail came across the water.

"From the seas," came back the answer and, thinking the piragua some craft of the Brethren, Mace waved his hand, his men hurried to braces. The yards were swung and the Malice rolled motionless upon the waves awaiting the arrival of the supposed friendly visitors alongside.

Idly wondering in a dull way who they might be, Mace leaned upon, the rail, watching the Sea Gull approach. The flag, fluttering from the masthead of the piragua, was as strange to him as it had been to Gautier, but it excited no suspicions in his mind, for as he was well aware, new commanders were constantly arising among the buccaneers, and with a few men were setting out in small craft under their own colors to prey upon the Dons. No doubt, he thought, the oncoming craft was one of these, and having started on his career in a piragua himself, he was somewhat curious to see what manner of man might be in command of this company in the swift craft sailing under the scarlet burgee with its white bird.

Then he started, contracted his bushy brows and stared. His gaze had fallen upon the red head of the piragua's captain. Was it possible that the stranger was the youth who had worsted him back in Anegada? Had not that youth mentioned that he commanded a piragua? To be sure; but there were many piraguas and not a few red-headed pirates; and seizing his glasses, Mace focused them on the occupants of the boat now close to his ship. Instantly he was convinced. There, beside the red-headed captain, stood One-eared Jake, and there, among the motley crew, were none other than Silver Heels and Black Tom.

With an oath, Mace slammed his glasses shut and then gave vent to a sinister chuckle. He was not one to forget an injury or an affront, as Jake had said. Though he had made the best of the situation, had declared that he held no ill will, and had half apologized to Peter at the time of the affair in Anegada, yet in his heart he had vowed that sooner or later he would even scores with "Captain Red Peter," as Jake had called him. Indeed, ever since he had boarded his ship and had put to sea with an aching, bandaged head, the whole affair had rankled in his heart. Never before had he been overcome in a duel, and to be knocked down with a sword hilt like a common ruffian or a barking cur, was an insult he could never forgive nor forget. Not until he had again crossed swords with Peter and had come off victorious could he set foot in buccaneers' haunts without fear of ridicule or ill-timed jests at his expense, and here Fate was playing into his hand and sending his enemy into his clutches.

It never occurred to him that those in the Sea Gull must have known whose ship they were approaching; that Jake, Tom, Silver Heels and the others must have recognized the well-known flag. But even if he had thought of this he would have judged that they had accepted his words at their face value and expected to be treated with courtesy and greeted like friends.

That they had any hostile intentions was also undreamed of, and so, rubbing his hands and smiling to himself at thought of how he would clap the men under hatches and force Peter to crawl and cower before him like a whipped dog, Mace made no move to guard his ship, gave no orders for his men to arm themselves. Merely calling his mate he gave instructions that the visitors were to be plied with drink until helpless and then tossed into the hold and the hatches secured over them. As a result, Mace's crew lined the rails, peering curiously but without the least suspicion at the piragua as it drew alongside, and calling out rude jokes and rough greetings to those members of the Sea Gull's crew whom they recognized with the lessening of the distance.

Had they been so minded, Peter and his men might have boarded the Malice and might have taken her without a show of effective resistance. But strange as it may seem, the buccaneers had certain ethics which they always respected, and unprincipled as Jake and the others were, they would have considered it treacherous and utterly villainous to have fallen upon the ship's company without warning. But like many another ethic of warfare, and of peace as well, they, like others, were quite willing to stretch a principle or a recognized rule to the breaking point if it would be of personal benefit to do so. So, not until the Sea Gull actually grated against the sides of the Malice, did Jake cry out, demanding that Mace and his men yield. And scarcely had the words left his lips before he and his men were swarming up the ship's sides with weapons drawn and ready. Jake's warning had come too late to be of any value to Mace's men. Indeed, the warning and the attack had been simultaneous, and even if they had had time, the men on the Malice could have done little. Not one held a musket or a loaded pistol, the ship's cannon could not be brought to bear upon the craft so close alongside. Before the import of Jake's words and the significance of the piragua's crew scrambling up with drawn weapons had really dawned upon them, Jake, Peter and the rest were on the decks, cutting, stabbing, striking, shouting, as the amazed, bewildered, utterly demoralized crew of' the Malice strove to defend themselves with cutlasses and knives or scurried to seize arms from the racks.

Even Mace was so absolutely dumfounded to find his expected prey transformed into the aggressors that, with drooping jaw and wide eyes, he stood gaping for a moment at the melee on the decks. Then, with a bellow of rage, he whipped out cutlass and pistol and leaped down the ladders toward the scene of battle. Peter had also caught sight of Mace and impetuously had rushed aft, feeling that as commander of his men, and as avenger of Don Ramon's wrongs, he was in duty bound to personally battle with the captains whose vessels he attacked. With sword drawn he gained the foot of the ladder just as Mace reached the upper end. With a savage snarl the buccaneer raised his pistol and fired but his bullet went wild, and casting the weapon aside, he leaped halfway down the ladder with swinging blade. Peter was at a tremendous disadvantage. From his higher stand, Mace could rain savage blows at his antagonist, while Peter could not reach above the other's legs without mounting the steps and exposing himself to Mace's furious onslaught. Grasping the rail, Peter strove to defend himself and advance, but each time was beaten back, and he soon realized that he must either retreat, with the hope of drawing Mace to the deck, or must be beaten. But aid came suddenly and from a most unexpected quarter. Jake, having neatly disposed of the Malice's mate and two men, had chased a third into the cabin. Having settled accounts with him there, he was about to rejoin his men on deck when he heard the blows and hard-drawn breaths of men in conflict just outside the cabin window. Peering out, he had seen a pair of booted legs upon the ladder before his eyes, while just below, Peter was thrusting and parrying upward.

Instantly Jake realized what was taking place. His captain, who had twice saved his life, was battling with some one above and was at a disadvantage, and such a thing was not to be thought of. A fair fight was quite all right, and under no circumstances would the one-eared rascal have interfered. But this was a different matter. From where he stood he could take no active part in the fight, and before he could make his exit from the cabin and gain the side of Peter, the latter might be overcome. But there, within arm's reach, were the sturdy booted legs. Thrusting out one huge, hairy paw, Jake seized an ankle and gave a quick jerk. With a yell and a curse, Mace came plunging head over heels down the ladder, almost knocking Peter over in his fall.

As he struck the deck, Mace's sword flew from his hand, and before he could rise Peter stood threateningly over him.

"Zounds!' but it seems you have an uncommon thick skull!" exclaimed Peter. "Aye!" he added as Mace reached quickly for his knife, "so uncommon thick I must try to crack it once again."

As he spoke he raised his sword and brought the hilt once more crashing down on the buccaneer's head. With a groan, Mace collapsed as Jake reached Peter's side.

"Sink me, but ye did use the hilt, lad!" cried the latter. "An' blow me if I didn't near split me sides with laughter to see he come tumblin' down to ye when I jerked the legs from under him."

"Then 'twas you who caused his fall!" exclaimed Peter, who had thought Mace's tumble wholly accidental.

"Aye, cap'n," assented Jake. "Faith, one good turn deserves another an' ye saved life of mine twice. Belike ye'd have saved yer own this time, but, by the bones o' Drake, I helped ye save it a bit the sooner."

CHAPTER VIII.

Peter could scarcely believe that the seemingly impossible had been accomplished, that the ship had been taken. But so completely had the buccaneers been surprised that the loss on both sides was small, and with far less bloodshed than when Gautier's vessel had been captured, the Malice was in the hands of Peter and his men.

And when Silver Heels reported that she was fairly bulging with loot all were in high spirits.

"Faith, cap'n," said Jake, "ye'H have to let the piragua go an' take this ship. Sink me, but there be that much treasure aboard as'll fill three of the Sea Gull."

"Can we not carry the booty to some spot and place it ashore and set forth in the piragua?" replied Peter, who was still averse to shifting his allegiance from his beloved piragua.

The one-eared pirate shook his head. "Nay, cap'n," he declared. "An' where would ye take it? To the Dons, belike, or to some den of the Brethren? Blow me, but I'd rather twiddle me thumbs in a Dons' prison with the hangman's noose a-danglin' outside ready for me neck than to sail the Malice into a lair of buccaneers without Jerry Mace in command. And by the bones of Drake, he'll never command ship more. Sink me, but ye clouted him a fair, pretty blow, cap'n—to crack his thick skull!"

"You mean he is dead?" queried Peter, who had not realized that his blow had ended Mace's career.

"Aye, that he be, deader'n salt beef," replied Jake, "an' a good deed I'm say-in', an' ye can lay to that, lad."

It cannot be said with truth that the death of the buccaneer troubled Peter greatly. He lived in an age when men's lives were cheap. All the short time he had been among his fellows and away from Don Ramon's island he had been constantly face to face with acts of violence, and, morever, he had set out with the expectation and intention of putting an end to as many of the hated buccaneers as he could. He had done his best to kill Mace the first time he had met him; he had been equally ready to run his sword through Gautier, and both men had done their best to let the life out of him. That Mace had survived that first meeting had been due, as had Gautier's survival, to Peter's code of honor as taught by Don Ramon; and as the blow he had dealt Mace had been in self-defense he was not at all sorry that he had killed his late antagonist. At any rate, it relieved him of all trouble as to the disposal of the buccaneer, captain.

"Mayhap you are right, Jake," he admitted. "Perchance, with this larger ship and her guns, we can take more of the buccaneers and destroy them more easily. You are a sailor and know best, Jake."

Jake chuckled. "Sink me, but ye take things easylike, lad," he exclaimed. "Faith, with the Malice we can take the the best of 'em. Twelve an' four guns she do have, an' a right pretty ship for speed an' handlin'. Aye, cap'n, 'tis a pity ye no have mind to turn buccaneer."

Peter's scowl warned Jake to say no more, and with a mumbled word of apology for the slip of his tongue he hurried off to give orders.

But with the acquisition of the Malice, new troubles confronted Peter. With but a handful of men he could not hope to handle the ship or bring her into action properly. Although many of the captured seamen expressed a willingness to serve under his colors he realized, as Jake pointed out, that a much larger number of men must be secured.

"Belike I can find a few 'mongst the islands," said Jake. "But 'tis risky business, settin' foot ashore where there be many buccaneers. Soon's they touch rum the lads' tongues'll wag an' we'll be in a fair pretty mess. Nay, methinks, an' ye leave it to One-eared Jake, I'll be headin' a course for Honduras. There'll be many a lad yonder as’ll be glad to give up cuttin' Campeche wood an' jine along with us."

So the piragua having been stripped of all she held, the prisoners were placed aboard her, her sails and rigging were destroyed; and with enough food and water to serve them for a few weeks, the captives were set adrift and the Malice headed into the west.

To Peter it seemed like parting with an old friend as the Sea Gull dropped astern, but his heart swelled with pride as he glanced aloft and saw his scarlet burgee floating from the towering masthead of the Malice, and realized that he now commanded a real ship; that sixteen heavy guns were there to help him wreak vengeance on the freebooters, and that no vessel would prove too powerful for him to attack henceforth.

The immense loot that had been found aboard Mace's ship—for she had just taken three rich prizes—impressed him little. He had very vague ideas as to money or riches, and so far had never needed nor desired wealth. But he realized that loot was what his men wanted, that gold was the lure that led them on and kept them with him, and that, by taking this ship with her precious cargo, he had won the steadfast faith of his men, and that their tales would bring others of the reckless free lances of the sea to join him. But he was troubled over one matter, the question of his birth and nationality. He seemed no nearer a solution of that than before, and he could not see how destroying the buccaneers would help him unravel the mystery. Being young, strong, and not given to worrying, this did not trouble him for long, however, and dismissing the matter as something that would be worked out at some future time, he gave all his thoughts to his cruise of vengeance.

Long before the Malice, which had been rechristened the Sea Gull, had raised the low-lying Honduras coast above the horizon, Peter had met and taken two more buccaneer vessels. One was a large sloop which had been sunk by the guns of Peter's vessel before the men could board her. The other was a bark, under a Captain Sawney, which had been so battered and shattered that she had foundered within a few moments after Jake and the men had secured the thousand pieces of eight and the few other valuables aboard. To be sure, both of these vessels were much smaller than the former Malice and had been taken at a disadvantage and completely surprised. But Peter's men were in high spirits and ready to attempt anything.

Anchoring back of some wooded islets, Jake was rowed ashore, and in an hour or two returned, bringing with him seven ragged, rough-looking scalawags who had been only too glad to desert the logwood camps and join Peter's company. With these fellows as guides, or rather as pilots, the ship sailed along the coast, coming to anchor off many a jungle-shaded, sluggish river or densely-wooded island where the logwood gatherers had their camps, and at each, picking up a few men, until at last the crew of the Sea Gull had been increased to seventy men. This, Jake declared, was an ample number, and Peter, as he looked upon the wild, half-savage faces, the bizarre costumes, the touseled heads and bewhiskered jowls of the assembly had some misgivings as to the wisdom of shipping such an aggregation of cutthroats.

"Aye, they do be a bit rough an' ready," admitted Jake, when Peter mentioned his thoughts. "But they be good lads an' ready to do your biddin', an' ye can lay to that."

But had Jake and Peter known of all that was taking place aboard the ship they would have been far from easy in their minds. Though they never suspected it, the seeds of mutiny had been already sown and were being carefully nurtured toward maturity.

Never once had Silver Heels or Black Tom showed outward signs of discontent or of being anything other than faithful officers, but despite their outward appearances and actions, neither of the two worthies was either satisfied or true to Peter. Both rascals were utterly unprincipled and had no thought or object in life save loot and the wild orgies it would bring, and their only purpose in joining Peter had been to replenish their exhausted purses. To be sure, both had grievances against certain buccaneer leaders, but they had felt that Peter's professed purpose of preying on the freebooters was merely an excuse and that he would attack and take any ship he met with equal impartiality.

When they found that he would not molest peaceful merchant ships, even those of Spain, they were thoroughly disgusted. Although considerable booty might be secured from captured buccaneers' ships, still it was nothing compared to the treasure to be had by taking the vessels of the Dons, while the risk was far greater. Sooner or later they knew, word of Peter's activities would spread among the Brethren, and the freebooters, if they did not set forth with a fleet to hunt Peter down, would be forewarned and would give a very different account of themselves than had those Peter had already attacked. And they had no desire to be present when their red-headed commander was worsted. Indeed, had it not been for Silver Heels' insatiable curiosity and his desire to learn the truth of the mystery that surrounded Peter, he would have commenced his underhanded activities much sooner. But despite the fact that he had been a member of the ship's company for many weeks he was no nearer a solution of the matter than on the night when he had first met Peter in the Rat Hole at Anegada, and he was beginning to despair of satisfying his curiosity or of obtaining information he could use to advantage before Peter's career should come to an untimely end.

So, very carefully and in such a way that it could not be traced to him, he had encouraged discontent among the men, had turned their thoughts to the greater wealth to be won, and the lesser risk in the winning, by pirating the Dons, until, when a few days out from Honduras, the wild lot of villains in the forecastle were quite ready to rise and demand that Peter should act in accordance with their desires. And when a heavily-laden galleon was sighted one morning and the Sea Gull held steadily on her course, they deemed the time ripe, and with lowering brows and sullen looks they massed on the deck, muttering and cursing in a manner so threatening that Jake and Peter on the high poop deck could not mistake their purpose. But they had made the great mistake which is so often made by ignorant men who attempt to start a revolt; they had no leader. In a body they could mill and mumble and swear and even threaten, but there was no one man to champion their cause, no one they could look up to and obey. And not one of the gang seemed anxious to step forward and state their case to the one-eared mate and the red-haired captain who were gazing superciliously at them from the high deck.

And neither Silver Heels nor Black Tom wished to be identified with the incipient rebellion. They were quite willing to take charge after the men had done the dirty work, and to profit by what might result from the discord they had sown, but until all danger was over and the day was won they had no intention of taking any risks.

"What want ye, ye dogs?" cried Jake presently, as the assembled men still hung together amidships and a low, confused growl arose from the seventy-odd throats.

"Blow me, but ben't the food to your likin' or the quarters dainty enough for your dirty carcasses? By the bones of Drake, mayhap 'tis milksops an' sweetmeats ye be missin', or silken hangin's to your beds, belike—ye swine what never knew better bed nor the gutters, nor better food nor wormy bread an' moldy bacon."

At his words, hands reached toward pistol butts and cutlass hilts, and the fumbling growls increased in volume, but still no man made a movement to step forward from the crowd.

"Speak up!" commanded Peter. "If you have grievance out with it. I wish no malcontented crew on ship of mine, and there be aught to right, then shall I right it."

A sneering laugh rang from the throat of a burly, broad-shouldered rascal whose bristling, tangled beard spread over his bare, hairy chest. "Fine words," he bellowed. "Fair, fine words in truth, but not words to take yon galleon nor put good pieces of eight in our pockets. Here we be, seventy soul an' three, with ship an' guns, an' a lettin' yon Don's ship wave her cursed flag of blood an' mustard in our faces like we was a Thames barge an' she king's cutter. An' ye no want trouble, Master Red Head, ye'll shift—"

A pistol shot rang out, and with a choking gurgle the words died on the fellow's lips as he crumpled to the deck.

"Belay that, ye scum!" bellowed Jake as he reloaded his smoking weapon. "Blood an' powder! Think ye ye be runnin' of this ship? An' ye'll mind yer tongues an' speak proper respectful hereafter, I warrant. Sink me, but there be more bullets where that come from for them as likes lead to help sink 'em to Davy Jones, an' ye can lay to that, ye dogs."

At the shot and the death of the be-whiskered pirate, the others had cowered back. Despite the fact that they were seventy to two—for they felt that Silver Heels and Black Tom would side with them—so cowed were they by the superiority of those in command, and so long accustomed to obedience that they did not even make a move to lift the body of their comrade from the spot where it sprawled hideously upon the deck. They would attack a ship or a fortified town; would throw themselves pell-mell to certain death at the hands of their enemies, would never stop to consider risks or consequences in battle, but they dared not brave the two men with cocked pistols who faced them on the quarter deck.

But they were not yet submissive, not yet ready to abandon their purpose, to give up their attempt to force Peter to attack the galleon that was now within plain sight. "Sil'er Heels!" they shouted in chorus. "Give us Sil'er Heels for cap'n! He'll lay the Don alongside, we warrant ye."

Instantly Jake wheeled with leveled pistol pointing at Silver Heels' breast.

"So that's the lay!" he cried. "Ye white-livered, murderin' hound! Sink me but I have mind to shoot ye down like the dog ye be!"

"Nay!" exclaimed Silver Heels, his mouth twisting to one side and his eyes fear filled. "Nay, Jake, I have naught to do with yonder dogs' demands. By the cross of St. George, I swear it!"

"Be not hasty!" cried Peter. "Mayhap there be nothing in the words of the men, and Silver Heels knew nothing of their mutinous plans."

"Mayhap," growled Jake, reluctantly lowering his weapon. "An' mayhap he be the rotten apple in the pile what spoils the lot. Blow me, if I ain't think-in' belike 'tis he an' yon precious Black Tom what's been puttin' of the men up to this."

"I swear you are wrong," declared Silver Heels. "Black Tom I will answer for, and we both are faithful, true men. Aye, we will gladly shoot down the first, low-lived dog who dares raise word or hand against Captain Peter."

"Fine feathers make fine birds," quoth Jake. "But sink me, if I'm think-in' fair words make fair men. Faith, cap'n, Sil'er Heels has ever been a trouble maker an' many's the loggin' he's won for it. An' ye say the word, we'll put he an' his crony ashore on some handy cay with a gang of yonder scum an' leave 'em be to fight it out 'twixt 'emselves."

Peter shook his head. "Nay, Jake," he replied. "If Silver Heels or any of the others be discontented and wish not longer to bide with me, then will I put within reach of friendly port and bid them go."

"Hear ye that, lads!" shouted Jake, again addressing the crowd that still remained on deck. "Naught could be fairer. Let them as wants to go buccaneerin' in other ships step aft an' ye'll be set safe ashore an' no hard feelin's."

But Silver Heels' declaration of fidelity to his commanders had been overheard. The men, whose dull wits could not see through his double dealing and deceit, were confused, disappointed and at a loss. Realizing that half a loaf is better than no bread, they instantly decided that the loot to be won by preying on the buccaneers' ships was preferable to being "on the beach" without a centavo to their names. So no member of the company stepped out at Jake's words. Then a tall, sinewy, logwood cutter spoke: "Beggin' yer pardon, cap'n," he cried, "might I be arskin' of a question—meanin' no harm an' no offense to no one, so to say?"

Peter nodded. "Aye," he replied, "but whether I give answer or not is another matter."

The fellow, somewhat embarrassed at his own boldness, cleared his throat and spat viciously over the rail.

"Jake, yonder," he began, "was a-tell-in' of us as how ye have grudge against the Brethren an' was a-piratin' of 'em. Now me an' me mates was a-thinkin' as we'd have chance to even old scores a bit by a j'inin' of ye, but we was minded as how ye'd be doin' buccaneerin' an' a-takin' of loot, too. Then, strike me blind, if we don't find ye a parsin' of yonder Don by without firin' of a shot, an' we says, says we, this ain't no fit buccaneer craft for we if we ben't takin' of prizes, says we. An' now me an' me mates'll be arskin' of ye why ye ben't takin' of Dons' ships an' loot, an' where, we're arskin' of ye, do we get our lay of swag if ye ain't, says I? An' I'd be arskin' of ye, too, what ye got against the Brethren, cap'n? An' if 'tis all on 'em ye have mind to set on, or sartin' of 'em?"

"I be no buccaneer," replied Peter, "and that you knew when you joined my ship. I have naught against the Dons and I molest them not, but there be booty aboard the buccaneers' ships an' to spare; aye more loot than aboard ships of Spain, and what we rob from the robbers is your gain. What I hold against the buccaneers is concern of mine own and has naught to do with you. But I mind not telling you that 'tis against all, but most against he that is known as Captain Starling."

"And now back to your kennels," snapped out Jake as Peter ceased speaking. "And thank your stars ye have a fine, fair cap'n, an' that yer misbegotten carcasses ben't danglin' to yardarm for darin' to threaten mutiny aboard of this ship."

Still glowering but obedient, the crew turned toward the bows, carrying their dead comrade with them and casting longing, hungry glances at the rapidly vanishing topsails of the galleon, now hull down on the horizon.

For a time the trouble was over. No doubt, as Jake told Peter, the men would mull the matter over, would argue among themselves, would discuss the pros and cons of the affair, and, as a result, would be divided and broken up; some still remaining discontented and wishing to follow the true buccaneer's life, others standing by their officers, while—so the one-eared rascal affirmed —if Silver Heels had had a part in the mutinous attitude of the men he would be cordially hated by them for deserting their cause at the critical moment and would have no further influence with them.

In a way, the experienced old pirate's prophecy was borne out. The men did not argue and discuss the matter and many, especially those who had been with Peter on the piragua and had won riches in the taking of Mace's ship, were loud in their avowals of faithfulness to Peter and Jake and declared they had never intended either mutiny or disobedience. Others, as Jake had foreseen, still grumbled and growled and threatened. But Jake had underestimated Silver Heels' influence and power. A few of the men were outspoken in their opinion of his disavowal of any part in the affair when called upon, but others, who had thought on the matter, had rightly come to the conclusion that Silver Heels had some good reasons for his seeming treachery, and still defended him.

"He be a rare wise old bird, do Silver Heels," declared one hoary old corsair. "Aye, mates, he had reason for a denyin' of sayin' aught to us or a knowin' of what we was after, an' ye can lay to that, I'm sayin'."

"Aye, blow me if he hadn't!" jeered a red-faced youth whose right shoulder, due to some wound or injury, projected forward and had won him the nickname of "Starboard-tack" Jack, "Aye, a right good reason—Jake's pistol muzzle at his breast."

A chorus of laughs mingled with growls of disapproval greeted the deformed man's sally.

"Aye," he continued, "an' mind ye what Jake was sayin'! That fair words don't make fair men! Scuttle me, but he might have added as brave boots don't make brave hearts, an' him with his sil'er heels an' crooked mouth a-gab-blin' like frighted woman an' most a-beggin' of Jake not to shoot him."

"Say that to Sil'er Heels, Jack," rumbled another man. "Faith, ye be the first to talk of he bein' coward.''

"Mayhap he be not—with a crowd of stout lads at his back," admitted Jack. "But, stiffen one, if he weren't scared when he see Jake's pistol aimin' at he, an' Bill a-lyin' there where he'd been shot down by that there same pistol."

"Ye're a babblin' fool," growled another. " 'Tis brains, not bravado, what tells. Belike Sil'er Heels knowed better'n to get kilt or hurted then. What good would it have done us, I'm askin' of ye, if he had? Nay, a dead leader's no use to none but the sharks, but a live un's a live un an' Sil'er Heels ain't done yet.''

Jack chuckled. "An' faith, if Sil'er Heels ben't blessed with more brains than bravado 'tis little he has to be blowed out of his skull when the time comes," he declared. "An' mark me well, mates, he'll be more use to the sharks than to we if he runs 'thwart the hawse of One-eared Jake or Cap'n Red Peter too often."

The retort to this was never uttered, for at this moment the cry of "sail!" was raised, and the men forgot all differences as they scrambled to vantage points, peering ahead at the distant ship.

CHAPTER IX.

To the men's delight she was soon identified as a buccaneer—a French ship, and the ill feeling between the French and British freebooters running high at that time, the men on Peter's vessel were almost as pleased at the prospect of attacking the Frenchman as though she had been a Spanish galleon.

But for once, Fate or luck was against Peter. The French captain, suspicious of any British vessel, whether buccaneer or merchantman, was taking no chances and was thoroughly prepared for anything when the Sea Gull came within hail. And the more he studied the ship flying the scarlet burgee, the more he disliked the appearance of the ready guns grinning from their ports and the rough-looking swarm of men upon the decks. When it was evident that the Sea Gull intended to run alongside, the French captain leaped to the rail of his lofty, gilded poop and roared out an order in broken English to "sheer off." Then, seeing this was disregarded, he suddenly shifted his helm, and running up into the wind, tacked. The maneuver was deftly executed and those on the Sea Gull, being absolutely unprepared for it, were unable to shift their course or trim sail until their vessel had swept past the Frenchman whose immense lateen sails enabled him to handle his craft much more quickly and easily than was possible with the square sails of Peter's vessel.

"Curse him for a frog-eating Frenchie!" cried Jake, as orders were shouted and the men rushed to braces and bowlines and he strove to bring the Sea Gull about. "Sink me if he ben't scared of lettin' of us alongside."

Had the French captain been sure that those on the Sea Gull had hostile intentions he might easily have sunk the ship with a broadside, but as yet there had been nothing to prove they were not friendly, and he had no desire to engage in battle if it was unwarranted. So, with every man ready to obey any order, the French buccaneer awaited the next move of the Sea Gull. It was not long in coming. Bringing the ship about in wonderfully quick time, Jake headed again for the French vessel, hoping to get at close quarters before the other could evade him, and to proclaim his intentions and pour in a broadside at the same instant. But once more the French freebooter out-maneuvered the one-eared pirate. He had noticed men at the ship's guns; he no longer doubted that she intended to attack him. Being a firm believer in the advantage of striking the first blow, he luffed his vessel, and as the Sea Gull swept by within a cable's length, he poured a broadside into her stern.

Fortunately for Peter and his ship the French gunners were poor shots, and in their excitement had failed to alter the original elevation of their pieces which had been trained for long range. As a result, the bulk of the metal went screeching over the heads of those on the Sea Gull, ripping through sails and rigging, carrying away a few spars, but doing little serious damage. One chain shot tore through the quarter gallery, disabling the rudder. Another struck the after gun, dismounting it and killing the gunners, and a third ripped along the Sea Gull's starboard side, carrying away the gun port bulkheads, knocking guns helter-skelter and effectually putting all but three of the starboard guns out of commission. Unmanageable, helpless and crippled, the Sea Gull swung into the wind. As she did so, thus bringing her port side toward the French vessel, her heavy guns thundered out and a terrific hail of shot was hurled at the other craft. But the broadside had come too late. The Frenchman had no desire to endanger his ship and men in an engagement that promised no returns in booty, and no sooner had he raked the Sea Gull with his battery than he bore off before the wind at topmost speed. As a result, the shot from Peter's heavy artillery hurtled harmlessly into the sea, only two reaching their mark, and these doing no greater damage than to carry away the ornate lantern on the Frenchman's poop and to knock ten feet of scroll work from her highly-decorated quarter.

Jake was fairly beside himself with rage. His pop eyes seemed about to burst from their sockets, his face was purple, he foamed at the mouth, and he swore and cursed until even the hardened men shrank back, as he gazed at the damage wrought, at the littered, wreckage-covered decks, and at the unhurt, rapidly vanishing, French ship.

It was bad enough to be beaten by a Frenchman, but to be crippled, put out of the running, and not even have a chance to get in a telling shot in retaliation, was more than the one-eared old reprobate could stand. Even Peter's arguments that they were lucky to have gotten off so easily were of no avail. Jake fumed and raged, driving the men to superhuman efforts to clear away the litter and repair the damage, swearing vengeance on the French captain and acting for all the world as though the Frenchman had been the aggressor and the Sea Gull an innocent, peaceful ship fired upon without provocation.

So maddened with rage was he that he gave orders as though he were in command, paid no heed to Peter and behaved altogether like a maniac. And when he turned on Peter, and quite forgetting who he was addressing, uttered a foul oath in response to a question, Peter's hot blood rose, and leaping forward, he drove his fist full into his mate's face. Jake staggered back, one pop eye half closed, blood streaming from his nose and amazement on his rage-distorted features.

But Peter's blow had brought him to his senses.

"Blow me, but ye done right, cap'n," he spluttered. "Faith, an' I crave pardon, but I was that beside meself I fair forgot I wasn't cap'n meself."

The men working madly at the wreckage had been too busy to see this momentary set-to between their commander and mate, but Silver Heels had taken it in and burst into a sneering laugh as Jake uttered his apology.

"Ye snickerin' popinjay!" snarled' Jake, turning on Silver Heels, and only too glad of a chance to vent his fury on some one. "Ye laugh, do ye! Belike, that'll straighten yer mouth for ye!"

As he spoke, he aimed a vicious blow at Silver Heels' face. But the fellow had expected it; had, in fact, purposely tried to excite Jake's anger. As Jake leaped at him he swung up his right hand, there was the flash of steel, and with a half inarticulate cry, the one-eared pirate staggered back, blood streaming from an ugly gash in the shoulder. Had it not been for his upraised arm which had foiled Silver Heels' stroke, the knife would have been plunged into Jake's breast, and his life would have sped then and there.

Peter had seen all. At the flash of the blade he had leaped forward, drawing his sword as he did so; but he was at too close quarters to use the steel. Quickly shifting his grip, he brought the hand-wrought iron hilt crashing onto Silver Heels' head, and despite the thick felt hat and the kerchief under it, the man went down like a felled ox.

Whether he was dead or merely stunned Peter neither knew nor cared. He had struck at Jake with intent to kill, and as yet Peter was not sure whether his mate had received a mortal wound or not. But his first glance at the gash assured him that Jake's time had not yet come, for the mate, swearing roundly and cursing Silver' Heels fluently, seemed quite as strong and sound as ever, despite the loss of blood dripping from the long, deep cut. By this time the men's attentions had been attracted to the quarter deck, and dropping their work, they had gathered about, some even climbing up the ladders to the poop to get a better view of what was going on.

And what they saw was decidedly disconcerting to some and quite to the liking of others. Silver Heels was stretched senseless on the deck, Jake, with blood flowing copiously from his sleeve, was being aided by Peter whose face bore an expression none had ever seen before, while Black Tom was crouching near the helm, lips drawn back, eyes glaring, and poised as if half minded to spring upon the captain and mate, and yet fearing to do so.

Disgruntled at having been beaten by the Frenchman and having no booty for their pains, malcontented as they were, the mutinous members of the crew saw, in the preoccupation of Peter and in Jake's wound, a chance to strike, despite the fact that Silver Heels, whom they had counted upon, was either dead or unconscious. Whipping out a pistol, the nearest fellow sprang up the last few steps to the deck, calling to the others to follow, and hurled himself toward Peter and Jake. Instantly the others were at his heels. A leader had been needed, a leader had arisen, and like snarling wolves, they followed him.

At the sound of footsteps and of growling voices, Peter and Jake wheeled and faced the oncoming cutthroats. With a curse, Jake drew his pistol with his left hand and fired and Peter's sword flashed from its scabbard. The leader's pistol fell clattering to the deck as Jake's bullet crashed through his arm, but the onrush was unchecked.

An instant more and Peter and Jake would have been overwhelmed—would have been borne down, torn to pieces. But before that instant passed, at the second when the foremost mutineer met Peter's sword, there was a thunderous explosion, a belching burst of flame and smoke from the starboard side of the poop. Before the amazed, half-blinded eyes of Peter and Jake, the oncoming pirates seemed to dissolve in air; seemed to be swept from before them like chaff. Where an instant before had been a murderous mob of shouting savage men, was now a hideous litter of dead and dying men, of severed limbs, of gruesome blood and shattered flesh. Half stunned by the explosion so near them, for a moment unable to understand what had occurred, Peter staggered back, wiping the pungent powder smoke from his smarting eyes and stared about. And then he knew. Beside the starboard carronade, stood two men, one a gnarled old villain, the other a younger man whose projecting right shoulder identified him as Starboard-tack Jack. From the grim muzzle of the bronze piece, wisps of smoke still drifted and the muzzle pointed inward across the decks!

With a grin, Starboard-tack Jack touched his forehead. "Scuttle me, cap'n, but I feared I'd aimed too far aft," he exclaimed, as he saw Peter and Jake were unhurt by the terrific blast from the carronade that he and his crony had wheeled about and had discharged into the mutineers in the nick of time.

"I be no gunner, as ye know, an' old Bart here, ain't much better. But I see 'twas no time for pickin' an' choosin' an' we took the chance. Blow me for a bloomin' sojer, but I'm think-in' there be few of 'em swabs left for to mutiny."

"Aye," cackled old Bartholomew. 'An' ye fair made a holy mess of yon decks, Jackie. 'Twill be takin' a shipload of holystones an' a sea of water to clean 'em up, lad."

"You saved our lives, men," cried Peter, stepping forward and grasping-the hands of the two faithful men. "And we'll not forget."

"That we won't, lad," declared Jake. "By the bones of Drake, 'twas a merry thought ye had."

"An' pity Sil'er Heels were not amongst 'em," put in old Bart. "Though," he added, with a glance at the still prostrate Silver Heels, "he do look uncommon dead. Mayhap, cap'n, ye cracked his skull as neat as ye served Jerry Mace."

Jack chuckled. "Do ye mind how I was sayin' as he'd be more use to the sharks than to we if he fouled cap'n's hawse?" he queried.

" ‘Tis all the likes of he be fitten for," mumbled Bart, as he stepped toward Silver Heels. "Come, Jackie lad, let's be not keepin' the sharks waitin'."

As they stooped to lift Silver Heels' body, old Bart started. "He ben't dead!" he exclaimed.

"Sink me, if he be," cried Jack. "Faith, cap'n, shall we heave him o'er side ere he knows he lives?"

"Nay," commanded Peter. "You be murderous rascals to give thought to such act. Take him below, secure him well, and when he recovers I will pass upon his case."

Jake shook his head a bit dubiously as the others lifted Silver Heels and carried him below.

"Belike 'tis a pity he wasn't tossed over, dead or alive," he muttered. "Mark me well, cap'n, 'twere better to have end of such as he. But," as an afterthought, "mayhap 'twere better yet to hang him to yardarm for 'tothers to see. An', sink me, where be that sea louse, Black Tom?"

Peter shook his head. "I know not," he replied. "Perchance amongst the crew."

But a search among the men revealed no sign of Black Tom's presence, and Jake declared he must have been blown to pieces along with half a dozen of the mutineers by the opportune discharge of the carronade.

As far as the uprising was concerned, all troubles were over. The men, awed and terrorized by the sudden and awful fate of their fellows, had lost all desire to assert themselves. Both faithful and rebellious men had retreated to the forward portion of the ship and stood silent, speaking in lowered tones, and anxiously awaiting the next move of Peter and Jake who, with old Bart and Starboard-tack Jack, were talking together on the poop. That swift punishment would be meted out to them, the mutineers were convinced, and their only concern was whether they would be marooned, forced to walk the plank, or summarily hanged.

Jake was all for making a terrible example of the rascals, and old Bart supported him, but Peter had other ideas and Jack agreed with him.

He pointed out that if the remaining mutineers were executed or marooned the ship would be left short-handed and might fall an easy prey to the first buccaneer's ship they met; for the Frenchman, having escaped, would unquestionably spread the news of the former Malice's attack upon him. From now on they might expect to find the freebooters prepared for battle whenever they were sighted. Moreover, he argued, the men had already received a wholesome lesson and a severe punishment, and those malcontents remaining would be only too willing to serve faithfully to save their lives. Finally, as he stated to the others, it would be almost impossible to identify the mutineers, for even Jack could not with certainty name them all and they were not likely to admit their part in the uprising.

"Them as talked the most be gone to their last port," said Jack. "An' with Sil'er Heels lyin' with cracked pate, an' trussed neat and tidy below, the lads'll not be makin' trouble more."

"Mayhap ye be right," assented Jake a bit reluctantly. "An' 'tis true we cannot be Ieavin' of oursel's short-handed. Aye, most of 'em's been that near hell they heard the flames roarin', an' belike they'll not be longin' for gettin' nearer."

So it was agreed that, for the present at least, the men should be left unpunished, and after a forcible harangue by Jake, they were ordered to work, repairing the neglected damages and scouring the "holy mess" as Bart had called the carnage on the poop, from the planks.

By evening the Sea Gull was once more under sail and on her way while the crew, many of whom had pictured their lifeless bodies floating on the sea or dangling from the yards ere sundown, used every effort to show their submissiveness and willingness to serve. Indeed, Jake with a chuckle, declared that he had never seen more nimble, obedient men and that, in his opinion, a mutiny followed by blowing a dozen men to bits might prove a desirable part of the daily routine of a ship.

In this, Jack and Bart were rather inclined to agree with him, for these two worthies lot had been vastly improved by the events of the memorable day. Bart had been given Black Tom's place as quartermaster, and Starboard-tack Jack had stepped into Silver Heels position as second mate. From ordinary seamen they had been transformed to officers, and Jack, feeling that his new position warranted it, had arrayed himself as befitted the occasion. With his malformed shoulder hunched forward he paced the high deck garbed in a long-skirted coat of wine color so smeared with dirt and grime that it appeared a dull brown, a tattered shirt of what had once been fine linen, wide breeches of black, banded with white, a black beribboned hat on his head and battered jack boots on his bare feet. Bart, who possessed no such resources in the way of a wardrobe, had contented himself by donning a flapping straw hat which was jammed over the gray bandanna tied about his gray head, thrusting his feet into almost soleless shoes with immense brass buckles, and adding a strip of scarlet rag as an auxiliary to the tarred marline that supported his dilapidated canvas breeches.

Silver Heels' case still remained unsettled. That he richly deserved death all agreed, but Peter, who had been taught and trained by a former grandee of Spain, felt that to execute an injured man would be a cowardly act and was for nursing the ringleader of the mutiny to health before passing sentence. Jack suggested as a compromise that he be marooned, while old Bart, with a toothless grin, hinted that if the captain should turn Silver Heels over to the crew there would be no further need of bothering their heads over his fate.

Finally a compromise was reached and it was agreed that until Silver Heels had fully recovered he should remain a prisoner, and that as soon as he was able to care for himself he should be placed in a small boat with a slender stock of food and water and set adrift off some uninhabited shore, thus leaving it to himself to remain marooned or pull for the nearest settlement. .

But the best-laid plans of the four in command of the Sea Gull were as apt to go awry as the plans of other men. At the change of watch, old Bart was sent below to see how the captive fared and to serve him food and water. A moment later, his cracked voice echoed through the ship in a high-pitched shout, his rapid footsteps clattered up the ladder, and with his disreputable hat flapping about his eyes and his tattered shirt flying, he came racing aft.

"He be gone!" he shrilled. "Gone, body an' soul. Aye, stab me if he ben't —belike the devil's tooken he!"

"Gone!" cried Jake. "Ye blatherin' scum of a madhouse how be he gone?"

Without waiting for a reply, the one-eared sailor dashed below with Peter. But old Bart was right. There was no trace of Silver Heels who, a short time before, had been lying securely bound, and apparently helpless from his wounded head, within the tiny cubbyhole of a lazarette. He had vanished as completely as though Satan had flown off with him, as Bart had said.

"By the bones of Drake, there be treachery aboard!" cried Jake. "He could never win away without help. Sink me, but I'll have the blood of them as has done this."

"Yea, he escaped not alone," agreed Peter. "Mayhap—yea that is it, Jake —Black Tom has had a hand in it. Methinks he was in hiding for this very purpose."

"Then strike me dead if I don't have 'em!" exploded Jake. "They have neither wings to fly nor fins to swim, an' they'll be still aboard. Sink me, but I'll rip the planks from timbers to find 'em!"

"Mayhap, if they be still aboard," said Peter. "But I misdoubt it, Jake. Seek first if a boat be not missing."

Jake's jaw dropped. "Blood an' powder!" he exclaimed. "I be a fair idiot, in truth."

Turning, he hurried on deck and rapidly made the rounds of the boats. But he did not have far to search. The wherry, which had been used in clearing away the wreckage of the battle, had been left in the water, trailing astern at the end of its painter, and as Jake grasped the line and drew it in the mystery was solved. The rope had been cut—the wherry was gone.

Disgustedly Jake dropped the severed rope, gazed about the dark sea and muttered an oath.

"Fair gone—the crooked-mouthed dog," he muttered. "Aye, an' that black sea louse with him, I'll warrant. Faith, cap'n, didn't I say 'twere better to have tossed him to the sharks this morn?"

"Scuttle me, Jake, but 'twould have but given the beasts their meal the sooner," remarked Jack. "An' they'll be gettin' twice the feedin' now. Yon wherry'll not live long in the blow that's comin', an' ye can lay to that."

"Aye, the devil'll have his own," mumbled old Bart, nodding his head. "He was a goin' to be set adrift in a boat anyhow, an' he's but saved us the bother."

"Yea," agreed Peter, "and his blood is not on mine hands. Look you, Jake, 'twill be a wild night as Jack says."

So fully occupied had they been with the escape of Silver Heels that they had not noticed the rising sea and increasing wind, but now that Jack had called attention to the weather, all could see that they were in for a blow, or perhaps a hurricane.

Shouting orders, Jake and the others routed up the crew. Men came racing across the decks and swarmed into the rigging; and hurriedly, feverishly, sails were stowed and reefed and all made snug. Before it was accomplished, the wind was screeching through the rigging, great black seas came surging out of the west to break in hissing foam, livid in the incessant greenish glare of lightning. Inky, shredded clouds scudded by so low that the dizzily rolling mastheads seemed to pierce them, and under almost bare poles, the Sea Gull raced through the night before the tempest.

Stanch, buoyant, well found as she was, the big ship strained, pitched, groaned and trembled, and all upon the Sea Gull knew that Silver Heels and Black Tom—or whoever had escaped with him—must have gone to death in the storm-lashed sea. No small boat could survive an hour, and with every sense, every ounce of their strength, all their seamanship, devoted to bringing the vessel in safety through the hurricane, those upon Peter's reeling, pitching ship gave no further thought to the wherry and its human freight.

CHAPTER X.

The Sea Gull safely weathered the storm, though driven far to the east, and a few days later, successfully attacked and took a buccaneer ship with no inconsiderable booty, though losses were heavy on both sides.

Weeks passed and grew into months, and still Peter and his men cruised, having many a battle, taking many a ship, and putting into out-of-the-way spots far from settlements of the Dons or haunts of the Brethren to refit and secure water and supplies. Several times, too, they visited ports wherein no buccaneer dared set foot, orderly, law-abiding isles and towns. And with incredible speed, considering the means of communication of the times, word of Peter's object, and stories of his deeds, spread far and near.

By the peaceful inhabitants, Peter was looked upon as a sort of hero, for, with the treaty of peace signed between Spain and England, the buccaneers were deteriorating into common pirates and more than one British and French ship had been taken by them. But the stories of the Sea Gull's activities and of Peter's deeds had also reached the ears of the freebooters, and every corsair craft kept a sharp lookout for the ship flying the scarlet flag with the white bird, and none were to be caught napping as in the early days of Peter's cruise. Several times he had been beaten in battle and had been driven off, and few of his original crew remained. Jake had come through it all unscathed, Starboard-tack Jack was still there, and old Bart was much the same as ever, aside from three fingers of his left hand which had been lopped off by a cutlass in the hand of a buccaneer.

The ship, too, had suffered. Her rigging had been shot away, repaired and replaced in a score of places. Her hull had been pierced by cannon shot and had been patched, but still Peter refused to desert the vessel that had served him so well, and in her stead make use of one of his prizes. And in this, Jake, who was not a little superstitious, heartily agreed with his captain. During the months that had passed the two had become the closest friends. In fact they were more like brothers; and while Jake was ever respectful and deferential to Peter in the presence of others, still, when by themselves, the two were on most intimate terms. And Jake had never forgotten that he owed his life to Peter. Though he had put in many a timely stroke and had fired many an opportune pistol shot in the nick of time to save Peter, he still vowed the score was not evened and never would be. Both Bart and Jack would also willingly have given their lives if need be for either their redheaded young captain or the villainous-looking, one-eared old pirate, and the four had piled up fairly comfortable fortunes in loot taken from the sea robbers whom they had robbed.

It was not strange that Peter should have saved, for he was no spendthrift and was a temperate man for his times, but it was little short of incredible that the other three should have put away a centavo of their booty. Jake had never thought of money or treasure except as a means to an unholy spree, and Jack, and even the ancient Bart, had always been as free with their gold as any of the freebooters. But under Peter's influence they had greatly changed in their ways. Moreover, for the first month or two, they had had no opportunity to spend their riches, even had they so desired, for the Sea Gull had given a wide berth to all spots where such pleasures as they craved were to be had. During that time they had contented themselves with gloating over their rapidly accumulating wealth and imagining the glorious debauch that it would buy when they reached port. But gradually, the saving habit grew upon them and they spent hours trying to calculate how much they would have at the end of six months and arguing over the best way to spend it.

Old Bart, to every one's amusement, vowed he was going to marry and settle down, "to spend me old age," as he put it.

"Belay!" Jake had cried, "Ye be a dodderin' derelict nigh a hundred year old now. Sink me, where think ye ye'd find woman to mate with a bag of skin an' bones like ye?"

The ancient pirate's eyes narrowed and his toothless gums showed in a wide grin. "Faith, Jake, me lad," he had cackled, "ye may be a fair fine sailor an' tidy hand with cutlass an' pistol, but ye know naught of woman. Nay, give the wooden figgerhead of a ship bags of good gold, or fill scarecrows' pockets with pieces of eight, an' ye'll not meet lack of lassies willin' to marry of 'em. An', ye crab-eyed old swab, I ben't old—mayhap a bit o'er three score—an' a long life an' a easy one is afore me bows."

Jack chuckled. "Aye, Bart," he exclaimed. "An' after ye be settled with the missus I'll be droppin' in for a bit of chat an' to dangle yer younkers on me knee!"

"Mayhap, mayhap;" nodded the old fellow, failing to note Jack’s wink and the banter in his tones. "Aye, an' I'm minded to name one of 'em after ye, an' mayhap t'others for Jake an' cap'n."

"Heaven have mercy on ye for a old simpleton! Mayhap they'd be all lassies!" roared Jake.

"Stab me if I thought of that," cried Bart, and mumbling to himself, he forgot all else in his efforts to think of some scheme for avoiding such a catastrophe.

As for Jake, he declared that he would purchase a ship and go trading. Jack vowed he'd sail for England and go to farming, while Peter's one thought was to use his wealth in traveling about in search of his birthplace and parents. In fact, with the passing of the days, he became more and more concerned over this matter. Destroying the buccaneers' ships and their crews was beginning to pale and seemed of little use, for, as he confided to Jake, there always seemed to be as many more, no matter how many he swept from the sea, and despite all his efforts, he had so far been unable to come to grips with the man he sought most of all—the redoubtable Starling.

Thus matters stood when the Sea Gull, being in need of supplies, put into Barbados and came to anchor in Carlisle Bay off Bridgetown.

There was no fear of buccaneers to make matters uncomfortable for Peter and his men here. Never had the Barbadians countenanced the freebooters, nor winked at their misdeeds as had the denizens of many other British isles, and Peter felt safe in entering the harbor and letting his sea-weary men ashore. But he had no intention of allowing them to make trouble by overdrinking and carousing. Knowing the ways of the rough fellows as well as any one by this time, he gave orders to Jake that the men should be given only such portions of their dues as might be safely spent. Of course, the rascals grumbled, for there were attractions, such as they sought, to be had in plenty in Bridgetown. But Peter's word was law, and the reputation he had earned —not to mention Jake's and Jack's— was such that the most blustering, swashbuckling, mutinous buccaneer on the Caribbean would think twice before showing open rebellion.

Leaving the ship in charge of old Bart and Jack, Peter went ashore with Jake. Scarcely had they stepped upon the quay when an officer in the king's uniform approached them.

"Sink me if he don't think we be pirates," exclaimed Jake.

"Nay, more likely some of our men have been overgay," muttered Peter.

"If I mistake not, you come from yonder ship, the Sea Gull," said the officer, barring their way while a gaping, curious crowd of white, black and colored onlookers gathered about the three.

Peter nodded in assent.

"And I judge that you, sir," he said to Peter, "be the captain."

"Aye, Captain Red Peter."

"Then, captain," continued the other. " 'Tis my orders to conduct you before his excellency, the governor."

"Did I not say he took we for pirates," exclaimed Jake in a hoarse whisper intended only for Peter's ears, but which was quite audible to all within a dozen paces.

"Nay, his excellency knows well who you be," the officer assured them. " ‘Tis his pleasure to have word with ye."

Curious to know why the governor should have summoned him, and how, indeed, his excellency had ever heard of him, Peter, with Jake striding by his side, followed the officer through Bridgetown's streets toward the government house.

The governor, a middle-aged man with twinkling eyes, soon appeared in the reception hall where the one-eared pirate, very ill at ease, and the redheaded young captain of the Sea Gull were waiting.

"So you be Captain Red Peter!" exclaimed the governor, extending his hand. "Zounds! but you are a mere stripling, captain. I thought, from tales that had reached mine ears, that I would see a grizzle-headed man. And yonder old sea dog," he continued, nodding toward Jake, "he, I take it, is your master-at-arms?"

"And my mate as well, your excellency," replied Peter. "A faithful man and true. He be known as One-eared Jake."

"A most fitting name, in truth," laughed the governor. "Though both it and its bearer savor mightily of piracy."

"Aye," burst out Jake. "An' afore cap'n here ran afoul of me, 'twere name an' face as were knowed far an' near 'mongst the Brethren an' with deeds ahind 'em as no man need be 'shamed on."

"No doubt, no doubt!" agreed the governor. "And if words I have heard be truth, much less to be ashamed of since joining Captain Peter. And now," he went on after seating himself, "for the purpose of mine audience with you, captain.

" 'Tis little passes in the Indies that comes not to mine ears in due time," he continued. "And from time to time word of your deeds has been brought hither. 'Tis no secret, I take it, that for some strange cause you have chosen to gather unto yourself a wild crew of rovers and with them have wrought havoc 'mongst the pirates, for such be the buccaneers to-day since our majesty the king has signed treaty of peace with Spain. Those who harass the Dons violate the pledge of friendship 'twixt their majesties and thereby are but common malefactors to be punished as the law decrees.

"But, though edicts have gone forth to this effect, and decreeing severe punishments for all pirates, yet the corsairs still sail and snap their fingers at law and treaties. Faith, 'tis little wonder. England has few ships and fewer men with which to patrol the seas; and those of her colonies in the West Indies —though I regret to say it—are much in secret sympathy with the pirates, and will do little or naught to bring them to justice. Aye, they be more likely to give warning to the rascals and afford them safe harbor, methinks. Yea, even from Jamaica, where Sir Henry Morgan rules with iron hand, rumor has it that pirate ships still set sail and that the ex-buccaneer reaps benefit to his purse thereby.

"But we of Barbados have no patience, nor feeling for the freebooters, and it had been in my mind, to equip a vessel to aid his majesty's forces in suppressing piracy upon the Caribbean. Then to me came word of your deeds, and by chance your ship—as though guided by Fate or Providence—dropped anchor off our port. Here then, captain, is my proposal—that you shall act for us and his majesty, continuing to prey upon the corsairs, but under royal warrant. 'Twill hamper you not at all and give unto you due authority for destroying the pirates, though perchance the glory, if aught there be, may redound more to mine own credit and that of England than to thyself. And there be another matter to consider. I know not if you destroy the pirates for sake of loot or merely for some whim of thy fancy, and it matters not a farthing to me. But with royal commission to prosecute thy strange warfare, there will be prize money and recompense for thyself and thy men as well. What think you, captain? Wilt join the forces of his majesty and sail under the banner of England?"

Peter was quite speechless with surprise at the wholly unexpected proposition of the governor, and Jake, for once, was too amazed even to blurt out a quaint oath. To sail with a royal commission, to fly the white ensign and become a member—if an irregular one— of England's naval forces; to be an accredited representative of Britain's power were honors Peter had never dreamed of. To accept the governor's proposal would not in the least interfere with his plans. It would give him prestige and standing. Any pirate who resisted him would be using force of arms against the British Crown, and he could freely visit any British or friendly port without fear. But how would his wild crew take it? How would Jake and the others like the change from a free lance to a British privateer? They had signed on with Peter, but not on a privateering vessel, and they had the right to say whether or not they would serve under royal commission.

But as far as Jake was concerned that worthy settled the matter before Peter could speak.

"Sink me!" he cried. "But who'd 'a' thought of seein' One-eared Jake a sailin' in king's ship an' a huntin' down of the Brethren? Bones of Drake!' That be a right merry jest, sir, blow me, if it ben't. An' fair fine for ye, cap'n. I warrant them as meets ye'll think twice afore firin' on the Sea Gull with the cross of St. George a-flyin' from her peak. An' belike ye'll be a-findin' out of who ye be, what with a visitin' the isles an' gov'nors, an' all."

His excellency, who had been listening to Jake's words with a smile, showed signs of interest as he spoke the last sentence.

"What's that?" he exclaimed. "You mean Captain Peter knows not his parentage?"

"Nor mine country," put in Peter before Jake could reply.

Then, in as few words as possible, he told his story to the governor, who listened intently to his account until he had ended.

"An amazing tale!" he exclaimed when Peter finished. "A most amazing and romantic tale, but after all, not so amazing. Many a youngster was left an orphan by the wild deeds of the buccaneers, and I fear much 'twill be passing hard for thee to find trace of thy origin. But, after all, what matters it? ‘Tis a man's deeds and life, not his birth, that count and, for all you know, 'tis as likely you be son of noble blood as of adventurer or seafarer. And it matters still less whether you be British, Spanish, French or Dutch. With royal warrant in thy pocket and under England's flag, English will you be if you accept mine offer, captain."

"Yea, I will accept," agreed Peter, "I was but thinking, would Jake and the others agree, and Jake takes to it as readily as he takes to ship's deck or smell of powder smoke."

So, four days later, when the Sea Gull's anchors were lifted and her sails spread and she bore outward from Carlisle Bay, the royal standard floated bravely from her peak and Peter bore the beribboned and besealed parchment that commissioned him to attack, capture and destroy all pirates and pirate craft wherever they might be met.

TO BE CONTINUED.

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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.