Saturday, 16 April 2011
Red Peter - Part 2
Red Peter Part II
By A. Hyatt Verrill
From Sea Stories magazine, March 1927. Digital capture by Philip Bolton Jr., Cathy Conrad and Doug Frizzle, April 2011.
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 offered to get a crew together and help him prey upon the freebooters themselves.
A SERIAL—PART II.
Pedro’s piratical henchman had no intention of attempting to secure his crew of cutthroats at St. Martin’s. Although the sea rovers were not infrequent visitors to the island—and were as a rule welcomed by the inhabitants as the good spenders that they were—still, it was by no means a buccaneers’ haunt. There were plenty of French filibusters in the town, but “One-eared” Jake had no use for these rascals. To be sure there was scarcely a buccaneer ship that did not include French corsairs in its crew, but dissensions between French and English shipmates were common and were often serious, and the scarred and villainous old pirate who had attached himself to Pedro would have none but his fellow countrymen in his crew.
So, having explained these matters to Pedro, he suggested that they should sail at once for Anegada where, he averred, he could secure a company of his former shipmates, all of whom had some real or imagined grievance against the buccaneer leaders and would gladly join this unique venture of pirating pirates.
“I be no navigator,” he declared, “but ‘tis naught of a sail to Anegada, an’, once we raise yon island, leave it to One-eared Jake to see ye safe through the reefs. Aye, cap’n, many’s the time I’ve steered craft ‘twixt the breakers an’ ne’er scratched paint. Come daybreak, we’ll up sail an’ be off, an’ with a fair wind we’ll be safe an’ snug to anchor inside the reefs by sundown next day. Aye, an’ blow me, cap’n, but ye’ll be havin’ a name for this tidy craft. What call ye her, cap’n?”
It had never occurred to Pedro to name the piragua, but often he had likened the swift, white-winged vessel to a sea gull, and so, as Jake explained that a name was essential, he at once declared that she should be the Gaviota. Jake shook his head. “Nay, I like not that,” he announced. “’Tis a Don’s name an’ naught of Don will do. Sink me, but ye’ll be no getting’ British seamen to ship along on a craft with a Spanish name. Nay, cap’n, heave the Dons’ lingo over and side an’ call her Sea Gull an’ be done with it.”
To Pedro’s mind the English equivalent of the Spanish name seemed harsh and cumbersome, but he realized that if he was to deal with English-speaking men and was to throw in his lot with the British, that Spanish had no place in his schemes, and so he assented and henceforth the piragua became the Sea Gull.
With the first faint saffron of dawn in the eastern sky, the huge lateen sail of the piragua was hoisted, and to the cool morning breeze the Sea Gull slipped out of St. Martin’s harbour and headed northward for the wave-beaten, low-lying isle of Anegada.
To the old buccaneer, who had sailed these seas countless times, there was no novelty about the voyage, and curling up on a shady spot on the deck, he snored away the hours. But to Pedro it was all a wondrous adventure, and time and time again he aroused his sleeping shipmate to ask questions regarding the green isles that rose from the sea before the piragua’s shearing prow and faded into the haze astern. Each time he expected to hear the old rascal declare that the land was their destination, but each time he was disappointed. There was Anguilla, Virgin Gorda, Tortola, and not until dawn of the next day broke, and under the rising sun a line of leaping foam about a low green shore was revealed, did Jake show the slightest interest.
“Aye, yonder ‘tis,” he declared as he shaded his pop eyes with a calloused, hairy hand. “Yonder’s Anegada, cap’n. Give me the helm an’ I’ll take the Sea Gull through yon breakers.”
Relinquishing the tiller, Pedro stared ahead into the dazzling light as each moment the plunging craft approached nearer and nearer to the breaking surf. To his eyes there was no break in that roaring, upflung barrier of foam and jagged, black reefs, and Jake, steering the Sea Gull straight for the thundering surf, seemed bent on destroying the craft. About the piragua the backwash boiled and hissed. The craft pitched and careened to the foam-capped waves, and on every side the fangs of coral showed between the white masses of broken water. But Jake never faltered. Peering ahead, he drove his craft into the maelstrom. With a hoarse bellow he ordered Pedro to trim sail and then, when it appeared inevitable that the piragua would be dashed to pieces, he suddenly shoved the helm hard over, the craft shot into the wind, and, an instant later, the breakers were astern and the Sea Gull was slipping toward shore through the tranquil waters of the reef-protected harbor.
The old buccaneer chuckled. “What think ye of that, cap’n?” he cried. “A snug harbor, eh?” An’ better guarded that with stoutest forts an’ great guns. Aye, an’ ye know not yon passage ‘twixt the reefs, ye’d ne’er win in, an’ ye can lay to that.”
Anchored within the barrier of the reefs were several vessels; two of them fairly large craft with two masts, square-rigged and known as the maritime parlance of those days as “sloops,” while the others were piraguas and so-called “barks.”
“Blow me, but we be in luck,” cried Jake as he glanced at these craft with an appraising eye. “See ye yonder sloops an’ the bark to leeward? They be buccaneer craft, cap’n. Aye, yonder sloop with the red flag an’ green cross be the Revenge—many’s the prize One-eared Jake has boarded from she—an’ t’other’s the Malice of Cap’n Mace. Aye, cap’n, we can pick an’ choose of a rare fine lot of lads ashore, I’ll be bound.”
And when, a little later, Pedro stepped ashore on this haunt of the sea rovers, he decided that Jake indeed had a rare fine lot from which to select his crew. Never had he seen a more villainous and disreputable-looking crowd of human beings. The village, straggling along just beyond reach of the sea, was built mainly of odds and ends of wreckage salvaged from the waves. Every other shack seemed a drinking place and the filthy, sandy streets were crowded with loud-voiced, blaspheming, roistering men and foul-tongued, slatternly women. Every race and color was there. Half-naked black Negro slaves toiled at rolling casks and barrels. Bold-faced negresses in gay bandannas and bedraggled clothes sat in doorways or glided, with swaying hips, along the lanes. Swarthy half-breeds, blond-haired Dutchmen, black-eyed Frenchmen, and burly British mingled and passed rude jests and roared out drunken songs, and everywhere were groups, haggling, bargaining, quarrelling over piles of merchandise being bartered by the corsairs just in from a successful foray.
Tossed down carelessly in piles were priceless silks, shimmering satins, brocaded velvets and sparkling jewels. Casks of the richest Spanish wines were broached in the streets and tipsy pirates drank the contents from golden chalices looted from Spanish churches. Doubloons, pieces of eight, onzas and golden guineas clinked and changed hands as the buccaneers disposed of their loot, and a moment later tossed their coins on sloppy tables and gulped down fiery rum or staked a fortune on the turn of a card. In one spot a crowd had gathered, and as Jake and Pedro approached, roars of hilarity arose from the knot of bewhiskered, bizarrely-clothed, heavily-armed men.
In the center of the group stood a huge, burly ruffian, red faced, blear-eyed, shaggy browed, with unshaven cheeks and a bulbous, battered nose. Upon his feet were immense jack boots of salt-incrusted, red Cordovan leather. His hairy legs were covered above the knees by flowing breeches of sky-blue satin, stained with tar, and caked with dirt. Over his shoulders was a coat of scarlet velvet, belaced with gold and showing ominous splotches of dried blood, and about his middle was a broad leather belt, through which silver-mounted pistols and a wicked Catalan knife were thrust. At his side dangled a heavy cutlass, and, perched rakishly on one side of his head, was a broad-brimmed, high-crowned felt hat with bedraggled plumes, drooping to his shoulders, covered with his matted, greasy hair.
Before him stood a huge cask of wine, and standing unsteadily on his wide-spread feet, he was dipping a pannikin into priceless liquor and with roars of laughter and fearful oaths was flinging the contents upon the onlookers.
“He be Cap’n Mace,” muttered Jake, as the two pressed through the throng and caught sight of the tipsy pirate. “A rare lad for passin’ of a joke, but a devil in his cups. Methinks——” At this moment the famous buccaneer chieftain noticed Pedro.
“Zounds!” he cried with a drunken leer. “Who have we here? Look at yon pretty boy, mates! A suckling babe comes to join the wolves in truth. Here, me beauty, come have drink to the health of the Brethren—an’ ye be weaned of suckling as yet.”
Pedro’s face flushed at the words and as the pirate’s jest was greeted with a roar of laughter and all eyes were turned in his direction, he drew back.
“An’ by the blood of Drake look ye who he has for wet nurse!” shouted Mace. “Sink me, but ‘tis no less’n One-eared Jake! Aye, a fine, pretty baby boy an’ a right proper nurse for he. Come an’ drink I say.”
Then, with a sudden scowl as Pedro made no move to obey, he lurched forward, his blear eyes gleamed wickedly, his lips drew back in a snarl and with an oath he hurled the pannikin of wine full in Pedro’s face.
Without hesitating, his hot blood aroused by insult, Pedro reached for his sword and sprang forward.
“Nay, stay!” cried Jake, grasping the youth’s sleeve. “Cross him not, cap’n. He be a murderous rascal an’ll cut ye down like ye was a dog. He be drunk an’ in jokin’ mood. Say naught ——”
Pedro wrenched himself free, and with drawn sword, utterly heedless of his comrade’s warning, forced his way forward. Instantly, as his purpose dawned upon them, the men about drew aside. All knew Mace’s temper and none wished to be within reach, once his berserk fury was aroused. But their love of a fight and lust for bloodshed partly overcame their fears, and, forming a ring about the two principals, they shouted with glee as they saw Mace whip out his heavy cutlass and crouch forward as Pedro approached.
“Oh ho!” he shouted in a thick voice: “So the young cockerel likes not the wine of Spain! Curse ye for a impudent dog. Think ye to match blades with Merry Mace?”
“Nay, with a drunken brawler,” replied Pedro. “I take not thy jests as such, nor came I here to be made the butt of thy ill-timed jokes.”
“Blast me, hear the baby prate!” shouted Mace, leaping with remarkable agility upon Pedro, and swinging a vicious blow.
But as old Don Ramon’s blade flashed up and the cutlass slithered on the Toledo steel and glanced harmlessly aside, a strange expression of mingled amazement and chagrin swept over the pirate’s drunk-flushed face.
The next second Pedro’s sword darted out. With a curse and a sharp cry Mace dropped his cutlass as blood spurted from his wrist, and a shout arose from the onlookers.
“First blood!” yelled one. “Sink us, but yon lad can handle sword in rare style!”
“Nay, ‘tis that Jerry be in cups!” cried another.
“Stow it—he ever fights best when middlin’ drunk,” declared a third.
“A scratch—naught else—bide ye till Jerry gets his wind,” yelled still another.
With a snarl of rage, Mace seized a pistol in his left hand and levelled it at his antagonist. But Pedro was as quick as the pirate. Had he been so minded he might easily have run the other through before he had time to draw his pistol; but Pedro had been taught by a Spanish grandee and gentleman and the old Don had ever told him that no cavalier would stoop to killing a disarmed enemy, and so he had waited until Mace had time to draw. But the old Don had never instructed him as to the code of honor to be followed when an antagonist drew a pistol and one had but a sword, and Pedro was thus thrown upon his own resources and primitive instincts.
And as primitive man knew nothing of swords or swordsmanship, but fell upon his enemies with cudgel or bludgeon, so Pedro, finding himself at a loss and reverting to instinctive rough-and-tumble methods, forgot all that Don Ramon had so painstakingly taught him. With a savage cry he leaped forward, swinging his sword, and brought the massive hand-wrought iron hilt crashing upon the tousled head of the pirate chief. No human skull could resist that blow. It thudded upon the buccaneer’s crown like a maul on a cask, the pistol roared harmlessly past Pedro’s shoulder, and with a smothered groan the redoubtable Mace sank limply to the wine-sodden sand.
For a tense instant, not a sound arose from the throats of the crowd, and then a mighty shout of wonder and approbation roared out.
Jake was tugging at Pedro’s sleeve. “Up anchor an’ set sail, cap’n,” he urged. “Blood an’ powder, but ‘tis no place to bide long. Ye’ve given mortal insult to Jerry Mace an’ he’s none to take an’ forgive. Better ye’d have kilt him an’ done with it. He’ll have your life for this, I’ll warrant.”
“Mayhap,” replied Pedro with a smile. “But to take mine life he must first learn better skill with sword than he has shown. Nay, I fear him not, Jake. And I would not take life of man save in self defense nor would I run through a tippler dazed with drink.”
“Sink me, but ye be a rare queer fish!” cried the pirate. “Be not a tipsy man as like to kill ye as one sober? Faith, ‘tis little difference I can see ‘twixt a-runnin’ of a man through an’ bashin’ of his pate with bludgeon.”
But the fellow’s words were scarcely heard by Pedro, for the crowd of roistering buccaneers had pressed close about him, praising, complimenting, lauding him, slapping him on the back, and one and all begging for an opportunity to join with him on whatever venture he had in mind, for every one appeared to take it for granted that he was a leader and was about to go forth on a buccaneering trip. And one and all appeared to feel heartily grateful to the youth for putting the bullying Captain Mace to sleep and temporarily, at least, ending his boisterous and unpleasant ways.
But Captain Jerry, as he was more commonly known, was not one to remain long unconscious from a tap on his hard head. Presently he stirred, took a deep breath, spat out a foul oath, and sat up, rubbing his tousled head ruefully and gazing about in a dazed, uncomprehending fashion. Instantly the crowd drew back, and Pedro, expecting the pirate chieftain to resume his attack, half drew his sword. But all the fight had been taken from Mace, and his head, though reeling and aching, had been cleared by the blow. Slowly and groggily he rose to his feet, and a sickly grin distorted his features. Then, extending his hand, he approached Pedro.
“No ill feelings, lad,” he cried. “Blood of Drake, but ye wield a ready blade. Aye, and with either end of sword. By Saint George, I know not if the hilt be not more deadly than the point! And I like ye the better for it, lad—‘twere mine own fault—I were a bit joyous and rough, mayhap. But sink me, my head do ache most amazin’.”
Pedro seized the fellow’s proffered hand, only too willing to accept his apology and be friends, while the buccaneers looked on in utter amazement, and Jake’s eyes bulged from their sockets at the unprecedented sight of the redoubtable Mace making overtures to an unknown stripling who had knocked the chieftain down as though a common ragamuffin.
“Ye be a fine strapping lad,” remarked Mace, glancing appraisingly over his late antagonist. “Aye, and a born fighter. Be ye in want of ship, come along of Jerry Mace and I warrant ye’ll make a tidy winnin’.”
“Nay, I need not ship,” replied Pedro, as Jake nudged him. “I have piragua of mine own, thank ye.”
The other’s eyebrows lifted. “Piragua, eh,” he muttered. “So ye be minded to go a-filibustering on your own account. Well, good luck an’ rich prizes to ye. An’ ‘tis a fine rare mate ye have—One-eared Jake—aye, sight of he alone will drive the Dons to surrender. And a piragua—well, many a buccaneer chief has won fame an’ fortune in worse craft—faith, mine first prizes were taken in open boats. Welcome to the Brethren, I say. And may I ask how be ye known?”
It was on the tip of Pedro’s tongue to blurt out his name, but in the nick of time he bethought himself of the buccaneers’ hatred of all things Spanish and with quick wit he replied: “Peter.”
“Peter!” repeated the other. “There be many a Peter ‘mongst the Brethren. How——”
“Blow me, but few with red hair like cap’n’s,” put in Jake. “Blood an’ powder, but thatch like of that’s as good as colors to masthead. ‘Tis ‘Red’ Peter ye be talkin’ with, Cap’n Mace.”
A vaguely puzzled expression crept over the buccaneer leader’s face at the one-eared pirate’s words. The fellow spoke as though Red Peter were a name to conjure with, as if all should know it, and he racked his brains trying to recall it, to remember ever having heard of a buccaneer bearing the nickname. But he was not one to let others think him ignorant or forgetful, and instantly, his expression changed and a look of recognition swept over his countenance.
“Zounds, yes!” he exclaimed. “I might have knowed it. Faith, I thought ye to be a older man, cap’n. And I though ye’d be commandin’ a bit larger craft than piragua. But I might have knowed Jake would ne’er be found along of other than a famed leader. Aye, ‘tis honor to be knocked silly by such as ye, Cap’n Peter—an’ I must have been sorry drunk not to a knowed ye.”
Somewhat confused at the turn of events and the buccaneer’s words, Pedro flushed and stammered, but whatever he said was drowned by the exclamations of surprise and sharp, indrawn breaths of the assembled freebooters as they heard the redoubtable Mace’s words and realized that the youth with Jake was such a notorious and famed chieftain that even Jerry Mace addressed him with respect.
Thus, without any effort on his part and solely by the ready wit and sheer bluff of his one-eared henchman, Pedro leaped to fame and won a name that was destined to become known throughout the length and breadth of the Caribbean and to every member of that strange, reckless organization—the Brethren of the Main.
One-eared Jake had never heard the well-known precept regarding a tide in the affairs of men, but being a thorough sailor, a wise man, and an experienced and canny old rascal, he never waited for a tide to turn before taking advantage of it. And so, deeming that Peter’s affairs were at flood tide, he decided that there was no time like the present for making advantageous use of it. As Mace, still a bit groggy from his liquor and Peter’s blow, stalked unsteadily out of sight, the one-eared pirate called to several of the buccaneers by name, and crooking his gnarled and calloused forefinger suggestively, and winking one protruding eye, beckoned for them to follow him. Then, pressing his way through the crowd with the villainous-looking scoundrels at his heels, he led Peter through devious and narrow alleys where stagnant, ill-smelling water filled the gutters and unhealthy-looking weeds sprouted from between the rough cobbles.
On either side were squalid huts of sun-baked mud and palm thatch, and from whose dark portals slatternly-brown women or tousle-headed, swarthy men peered forth, gazing at the little knot of buccaneers with dull, red-rimmed eyes. Turning to right and left along the miserable thoroughfares of the slums of the town, Jake and his party continued on their way until, descending a steep, hilly street with neglected, broken pavement, they came to a blank wall of stone. Along the top, some twelve feet above the roadway, the barrier was covered with a jagged row of broken bottles set in mortar. Here and there small openings that looked like loopholes pierced the wall. Dangling vines and gay-flowered creepers partly hid its half-crumbling masonry and the only opening visible, a tiny iron-studded door of massive wood, seemed not to have been opened for years.
Stepping toward this, Jake rapped peremptorily upon the timber with a pistol butt and presently, from within, came a gruff voiced speaking in words unintelligible to Peter.
“One-eared Jake an’ a crew of friends, matey,” replied the pirate. Almost instantly rusty hinges creaked, the door swung slowly outward, and Jake, Peter and their followers stepped through the aperture.
Peter glanced about. The door had already closed behind them and a villainous-looking old man, whose single eye glared balefully, was setting heavy iron bars in sockets to hold it more securely. Peter and his companions were in a small courtyard whose pavement of broken tiles, neglected flower beds filled with weeds, and ornate, though dry fountains, spoke of past beauty and an expenditure of wealth. Half hidden amid the tangle were moldy, broken statues. Piled in one corner of the wall was a heap of rusty iron, old cables, weathered cordage and discarded tackle. In another spot were several shattered sea chests. Empty wine kegs were scattered carelessly about, and in the center of the court two ornate brass cannon were mounted. These were the only objects that did not appear to have been neglected and uncared for for years.
Both were mounted on stout wooden carriages. Both were clean and polished; both were fitted with fresh ropes and lanyards. As Peter passed them, he noticed that both pieces were primed and ready for instant use, and that both were trained upon the portal through which he had come. Very evidently those who dwelt within the confines of the wall had no intention of being taken by surprise or by enemies forcing ingress through the little door, and Peter wondered why such precautions should be taken in a town where the wild buccaneers were welcome and no Don or other enemy of the freebooters would dare set foot.
Scarcely had these thoughts passed through his mind when the courtyard was crossed and Jake led the way into a low stone building that seemed a portion of the massive wall itself. In the semidarkness Peter could distinguish little of the furnishings or surroundings. He could see only that the room was low and windowless. The air within reeked of stale liquor, strong tobacco and decay. Near the center was a heavy, rough table and a number of low benches were standing about. Wine and rum barrels could be dimly seen. There was the dull glint of copper, brass and steel here and there, and from the shadows came the lowered, deep-throated rumble of husky voices from invisible speakers.
"Welcome to the rat hole,” cried Jake as he and his companions entered the place. “A fit name, think ye not, cap’n?”
Then, with a chuckle in his hairy throat, he added: “Aye, a hole in truth an’ more fittin’ for rats than for men, ye’ll be sayin’. But, sink me, ‘tis a snug, tidy spot for honest sailormen for to meet an’ swap yarns ‘twixt one an’ t’other an’ no swabs a-listenin’ as don’t be wanted. Aye, a rat hole ‘tis, but, by the bones of Drake, there’ll be no dyin’ like rats in trap in this hole, cap’n. Nay, ‘tis no trap—there be many a way out, though but one in—an’ a passin’ hard nut for crackin’ for them as might have minds for to crack it.
As he spoke, he kicked a couple of benches beside the table, waved his hand toward one with an unspoken invitation for Peter to be seated, and flung himself down on another, followed by the other buccaneers.
Hobbling across the courtyard, the old fellow, who had unbarred the gate, now entered, his shock head wabbling from side to side and up and down as though the neck were a loosely coiled spring, his one deep-set eye glancing to right and left, his drooling, bloated lips moving soundlessly, and his heavy shoes making an odd, shuffling, scraping sound on the rough stones underfoot.
“Rum for the lands an’ wine for cap’n,” cried Jake, as the old derelict of humanity halted before the table, standing somewhat shakily on his bowed legs, and with his bent back and outstretched, scrawny neck reminding Peter of a hungry vulture. “An’ mind, ‘tis the best wine ye be settin’ forth. Aye,” as the old rascal mumbled some question, “Aye, that from the Santa Maria, faith, there be naught too good for Cap’n Red Peter.”
With a movement so rapid and unexpected that Peter involuntarily shrank back, the old fellow swung about, thrust his unshaven, filthy face close to Peter’s and stared into his eyes. Then, with a harsh cackle and a toothless grin he nodded, wheeled and shuffled off into the shadows.
“He’ll know ye now, cap’n,” rumbled Jake. “Aye, even if he met ye in hell. He’s a rare un, this ol’ ‘Deadeye,’ a rare old rat in this hole of hisn. An’ ye can trust him, cap’n. Aye, no fear of his speakin’ aught he hears. An’ one on us as holds ill will ‘gainst them as ye’re minded to go cruisin’ for. Sink me, if ‘twa’nt Starling hisself as was after blindin’ an’ breakin’ of him, if I ben’t mistook!”
“Stow it, Jake,” cautioned one of the buccaneers, as the shuffle of Deadeye’s feet told of his approach. “He’ll be clean offn his head an’ he hears ye speakin’ of Starling’s name.”
As the old fellow reached the table and placed wine before Peter, and pannikins of rum before the others, Jake touched his arm.
“Who be them yonder?” he asked, lowering his voice to a hoarse whisper. “Who be them swabs I hears talkin’ in the shadows?”
“They be quite right, Master Jake,” replied the aged fellow, nodding his head to energetically that Peter half expected to see it roll off the shoulders onto the dirty table top. “’Tis ‘Black Tom’ and ‘Sil’er Heels.’”
“Sink me, they be the very ones we’re wantin’!” exclaimed Jake. Half turning his head, he called to the unseen men whose voices Peter had heard.
There was the scraping of benches on stone, the sound of footsteps, and two men appeared, as though evolved from the dusky, smoke-filled shadows. One was short, lithe, wiry and so dark of skin and beard that he might have been a Moor. The other was slender, tall, fair skinned and blond haired, with a cynical smile on his rather handsome face. Both were clad in long, flowing coats, that of the dark man bottle green, the other cardinal red. Both wore knee breeches and heavy jack boots, and both bristled with pistols and knives and wore heavy cutlasses at their sides. But whereas the dark man’s garments were frayed, stained and spotted with grease, and more ominous, dull-red patches, the other’s clothes were immaculate. But the item of apparel that was most noticeable, and that instantly caught Peter’s eyes, were the boots of the light-haired man. Of soft Cordovan leather with broad, flopping tops and huge buckles, yet they differed from all others of their sort inasmuch as the entire heels and backs seemed formed from polished silver. It was as evident how the wearer of these unique boots had won his nickname as why the swarthy, low-browed, black-bearded fellow had been dubbed Black Tom.
“Sit ye down, mates,” cried Jake, as the two appeared. “Blow me, but ‘twere no ill wind as blowed ye here. ‘Tis Cap’n Red Peter, ye see yonder. Aye, an’ ‘tis a cruisin’ along of him I’m goin’.”
Black Tom scowled and Silver Heels’ eyebrows lifted as they turned toward Peter and stared at him.
“Mayhap, mayhap,” mumbled the swarthy Tom, showing yellow fangs between his lips as he spoke. “But scuttle me, Jake, if I ever heard of a Cap’n Red Peter afore.”
“Nay, good friend,” put in Silver Heels, speaking in a soft, well-modulated voice and with his words twisting one corner of his mouth downward, “’Tis a strange thing for you to bring chance acquaintances to the Rat Hole.”
Instantly One-eared Jake straightened up. Hunching his broad shoulders, thrusting out his chin belligerently, and with an ugly glare on his face, he wheeled on the two.
“Stow that!” he hissed. “Since when have ye owned the Rat Hole or been nursemaid to One-eared Jake? An’ because ye ne’er heard of Cap’n Peter it but shows the sorry swabs ye be! By blood an’ powder, if ye’d know who Cap’n Red Peter be, go ye out an’ arsk Jerry Mace. Sink me for a bloody sojer, but ‘twas not an hour past as Cap’n Peter here was pummellin’ of Jerry mace with sword hilt like his head were a rum cask he’d been broachin’.”
“Aye,” growled the other buccaneers in chorus, and nodding affirmatively. “That he was, mates, an’ a rare, fine sight ‘twere.”
“An’ took his drubbin’ like a man, he did,” continued Jake. “Think ye Jerry Mace’d be the lad to be knocked about the gutter by one not his better an’ arterwards crave pardon for bein’ sodden with drink an’ shakin’ han’s with him as drubbed him? Red Peter in faith! Blow me, but ye be fair, fine buccaneers an’ ye ne’er heard of one as can handle both on ye with one hand, an’ that tied behind his back.”
A strange expression had swept over Silver Heels’ features as Jake spoke, and a look of amazement had filled Black Tom’s ugly face. That any man should have pitted himself against Jerry Mace and lived to tell the tale was almost beyond belief, and yet they had it on the strength of the word of Jake and the three others, and it could not be doubted. But still more incredible, the four were affirming that the man before them had not only worsted the redoubtable Mace, but the latter had even apologized for his behavior and had shaken hands with the victor and had parted on the best of terms.
Why had they never heard of such a buccaneer chieftain? For years they had been sailing the Caribbean in piratical craft. They had served under countless leaders and they knew many: Mace, Sharp, Penrose, Ogeron, Hedly, and scores of others personally. The deeds of L’Ollonais, Portugues, Montbars, Morgan and all the other famous corsairs were well known to them. But never had they heard mention of Captain Red Peter, and their looks of amazement changed to wonder, puzzlement and finally utter helplessness.
But whatever their thoughts, they were not men slow of wit. If Jake and his fellows knew of Red Peter and vouched for him it was enough, and with rough though sincere words of apology, they craved pardon of Peter and his companions for their ignorance.
“’Twould sarve ye well did cap’n crack yer thick skulls,” muttered Jake. “A castin’ question ‘gainst his name. But ye know now and all’s plain sailin’, so let’s be a-getting’ on our course and a squintin’ at our chart for to see where we be a-cruisin’, so to speak.”
Then, after interrupting his discourse long enough to gulp down a pannikin of raw rum, he proceeded to explain Peter’s purpose and his own ideas.
He mentioned how he had met Peter, how the latter had thrown himself into the mêlée and had, single handed, cut down a “round score,” as he declared, of his enemies, and how Peter, having a personal grudge against Captain Starling, was bent on hunting down and destroying the famous buccaneer. Very wisely he omitted all mention of Peter’s origin, his Spanish name or of the story Peter had related to him. To be sure, his original intention had been to tell the tale in its entirety, but the incident with Mace, Peter’s victory, and the chance mention of Red Peter and the manner in which it had been received by Captain Mace and the others had completely altered his plans.
He realized that, after the encounter with Mace, the newly bestowed nickname and Peter’s mythical reputation would be of far greater value than any other tale, either true or wholly imaginary, and he was not mistaken. At first Peter was several times on the point of interrupting Jake and blurting out the truth. But each time he attempted to speak the one-eared rascal kicked his shins under the table or gave him a warning scowl, and at last Peter kept silent, leaving everything to his henchman.
“’Tis no matter of ourn what cap’n holds ‘gainst Starling,” rumbled Jake. “An’ ‘tis no concernin’ of hisself what we have ‘gainst them as we holds ill will ‘gainst. Mayhap ye don’t all of ye hold ill will, but ‘tis all the same to my thinkin’. Faith, mates, do we owe ary cap’n of the Brethren aught? Not a brass farthin’, says I. An’ how does they get their loot? I’m arskin’ ye. Why, by robbin’ an’ murderin’, says I. Aye, an’ where’s the harm of robbin’ robbers? I’m arskin’ ye. None at all, ye’ll be sayin’! Faith, an’ ‘tis by that same argiment the Cap’ns be robbin’ the Dons. The Dons robs the Indians, says they, so why not rob the Dons. Likewise an’ by the same argiment why shouldn’t we be robbin’ the robbers what robs the robbers?
“An’ here be the chance for we, mates. Here be Cap’n Peter with a fine, fast piragua, the Sea Gull. And here be we all ready an’ hungerin’ for a fight, an’ fair famishin’ for good pieces of eight an’ doubloons an’ onzas; an’ there be the ships a-cruisin’ hither an’ yon with hatches bu’stin’ with loot from the Dons. Blow me, mates, but ‘tis a fine, lively time we’ll be havin’, a-fillin’ of our pockets an’ an evenin’ of old scores to once an’ the same time. Aye, I mind me the time I were marooned by Sharp, yonder on Oruba, an’ mayhap ye have not forgotten the flayin’ ye won from Gautier, Tom. An’ ye, Sil’er Heels, blow me, if I didn’t hear sutthin’ of Lithgow an’ ye as don’t set well in yer stummick. Aye, an’ ‘tis not the first time we been talkin’ a bit along the same course, mates, as ye knows. So here be the chance with a fine cap’n an’ a neat ship, so all hands as is willin’ for to jine just stand up.”
Instantly, all five of the ruffians leaped to their feet, and Jake grinned as they once more seated themselves.
“There ye be, cap’n,” he rumbled triumphantly. “Five fine lads, not countin’ of One-eared Jake, which makes six.”
“Yeah,” replied Peter, “six I can count upon, but is that not too few for our purpose? The pirates be well armed and most desperate fighters.”
At the word, pirate, Black Tom and Silver Heels glared, for odd as it may seem, the buccaneers, though out-and-out pirates, considered themselves far superior to ordinary corsairs. Stranger, too, here were six renegade buccaneers ready and willing to attack, rob and murder their former companions in crime, and yet they keenly resented having those former comrades dubbed pirates.
Peter was wonderfully quick of wit. He had already learned much and was rapidly acquiring more useful knowledge, and he did not miss the look of anger that crossed the faces of the others at his words. Without an instant’s hesitation he continued: “Yea, it is pirates I call them, for is it not better so? Surely you who are of the Brethren would not wish to speak of those we go forth to attack as fellow buccaneers. And if we but look upon them as pirates ‘tis a righteous deed to destroy them, is it not?”
Puzzled frowns furrowed the brows of some of the group. Black Tom’s hostile look faded from his dark eyes, Silver Heels’ mouth twisted in a wry smile, and Jake grinned broadly. The three seamen were dull-witted dolts and cared not a whit whether Peter called them and their fellows pirates, thieves, cutthroats or anything else, as long as there was to be fighting, bloodshed and loot; but they were a trifle puzzled to understand the fine distinctions without differences that Peter was making. Black Tom and Silver Heels were, however, far more intelligent, keener-witted men, and Silver Heels was, in fact, a gentleman born and an educated man.
He was not at all deceived by Peter’s words and knew perfectly well that the red-headed stranger had merely spoken as he had in order to appease the men, and that he looked upon them all as pirates. Indeed, his brains, working rapidly, had jumped to the conclusion that there was something hidden beneath the surface; that Jake’s tale was not the whole truth, even were it nothing but the truth, and that Peter was not the famed buccaneer leader the one-eared rascal would have them believe. Indeed, Peter’s unfortunate use of the word pirate had confirmed his suspicions, for no buccaneer chieftain would ever refer to his fellow freebooters as pirates. It mattered very little to him, however. He was a soldier, or rather a sailor of fortune, caring not a jot under whose flag he served, who he robbed or killed, nor what the right or wrong of the matter might be.
In a drunken brawl he had killed a man in England years before and had been forced to flee, disguised and penniless, from the land of his birth. Reaching the West Indies he had thrown in his lot with the buccaneers, and owing to the fact that he wore jack boots with spurs, having had no time to change his footgear the night of his flight, he had been nicknamed Silver Heels. Proud of this, he had ever afterward affected boots adorned with silver heels and had distinguished himself for bravery, recklessness, callousness and an utter disregard for discipline or the orders of his superiors.
Despite his fighting ability, for which he was welcome aboard any ship, he was forever getting into difficulties, and time and time again had been drummed out of his ship’s company in disgrace, or had met with even more drastic punishment. Ashore, he was a drunkard and spendthrift, a cynic, but ever a gentleman in his behavior. He possessed an insatiable curiosity, delighted in scandal and gossip, and liked nothing better than to have some secret knowledge which he could utilize as blackmail or otherwise to his own advantage.
So, having jumped to the conclusion that there was some mystery, or at least some secret back of Peter’s proposed cruise, and that the red-haired “captain” was not the person Jake claimed, Silver Heels then and there determined to learn the truth by fair means or foul. Not that the matter influenced his decision to join Peter and Jake. He was practically penniless and must needs replenish his pocketbook, so to speak, for he loved the good things of life, the riotous debaucheries of the buccaneers’ lairs, and fine raiment, and not a buccaneer captain would have him as a member of a ship’s company. Thus he was only too glad of the chance to go to sea—especially where good pickings were promised—and it pleased his cynical and warped nature to think of preying on the buccaneers themselves who had been his boon companions.
Black Tom, on the other hand, cared nothing whether Peter was a famed corsair or not. Jake, he knew, was an experienced rascal and had an almost uncanny power of smelling out profitable ventures, and he loved fighting and wild deeds for themselves. That he had fought with the buccaneers did not trouble him when it came to fighting against them. And as his fighting blood had often led to brawls aboard ship and resultant punishment, he held an abundance of grudges against many a buccaneer captain. So, Peter having cleared up the momentary trouble over the inopportune choice of the word pirate, Black Tom was perfectly satisfied, and his mouth drew into a leering grin, and he rubbed his hands in anticipation of wild times to come.
To the fresh morning breeze the Sea Gull heeled under the pressure of her great, lateen sail, flinging showers of spray from her sharp bows and burying her lee rail in the sparkling blue sea. From the masthead streamed a scarlet burgee bearing a somewhat crude representation of a gull in white, Peter’s colors as designed by One-eared Jake. Two brass carronades amidships flashed back the glint of the rising sun. The light sparkled and shone on pistol butts, musket barrels and cutlass hilts, as the score of picturesquely garbed, leather-faced, unshaven men stretched their arms, yawned prodigiously, and, easing cramped muscles, arose from where they had slept, curled on thwarts and floor boards, and peered about the wide-spreading Caribbean Sea.
In the bow, Silver Heels stood poised, one hand grasping the forestay, the other shading his eyes as he gazed steadfastly into the north. In the stern sat Peter, grasping the tiller. Jake was polishing the guns, and Black Tom, squatted forward, was busy over a charcoal brazier preparing breakfast for the hungry crew.
Anegada was many leagues astern. No sign of land broke the rim of the gently heaving sea and no sail lifted above the waves. For over a week the piragua had been cruising. She had tacked back and forth about the Virgins, had scoured the Windward Passage, had rounded Puerto Rico and had sailed under the lee of Santo Domingo. Ships in plenty had been seen. Lumbering British merchantmen, Dutch galleys, a French corvette, and two stately Spanish galleons, but no buccaneers’ craft had come within sight of those on the Sea Gull. Even the wild, reckless fellows under Peter’s flag had no thought of molesting French, Dutch or British ships, but as they saw the high, gilded poops, the lofty masts and the gaudy red-and-yellow flags of Spain’s plate ships their fingers itched, their eyes took on a fierce and savage look, and they licked their lips at thought of booty to be had for the taking.
Never before had they gone on a cruise when the galleons of Spain were not the prey they sought, and to pass them by with never a shot fired nor a cutlass unsheathed, did not suit them in the least. They growled and muttered, swore roundly, spat disgustedly into the sea, and declared, with foul oaths, that this was no sort of freebooting for their stomachs. Jake reasoned, swore, and threatened, pointing out that before they had shipped they had understood that they were to prey only on buccaneer ships. Calling them vile names he vowed he’d shoot down the first who failed to obey his or Peter’s orders. Alone it is doubtful if he could have restrained the men, but Silver Heels seconded him. Peter’s reputation as a swordsman and a fiery-tempered fighter had not been forgotten; and Black Tom, who ever followed in Silver Heels’ lead like a dog at his mater’s heels, suggestively primed his pistols and loosened the heavy cutlass in its scabbard at this side. Thus the difficulty was overcome, the men ceased their mutterings, and all watched expectantly for the quarry they sought.
But as the days slipped by and there was nothing to do but eat and sleep, and as presently provisions ran low, the men again grew restless, while the more superstitious declared that there could be no luck in hunting buccaneers and that misfortune was sure to follow them. It was very questionable if they could be controlled much longer, and Jake and Silver Heels, with Peter and Black Tom, watched every move of the almost mutinous rascals and kept weapons ready for instant use.
And now, as the sun rose once more above an unbroken sea and the men munched their slender rations of buccanned meat and thick, black coffee, their expressions were sullen and black.
“Sink me, but there be trouble brewin’,” Jake confided to Peter in a hoarse whisper. “An’ we no sight sail of buccaneer this day ‘tis open mutiny there’ll be.”
“Yea,” replied Peter. “I have mind——” His words were cut short by a shout from Silver Heels.
“A sail!” he cried from his vantage point on the plunging bow. “A sail, and by the cross of Saint George, a buccaneer ship, and I mistake not.”
Instantly all else was forgotten. The men dropped food and drink, and, leaping to rails and thwarts, shaded their eyes and peered at the horizon. Jake swarmed halfway up the rigging with the agility of a huge ape. Black Tom dropped the stew pan and scrambled to his crony’s side, and Peter, as excited as any, balanced himself on the after rail with the tiller betwixt his feet and gazed at the tiny fleck of white that had risen above the sparkling sea.
Rapidly and loudly opinions were passed, arguments grew hot and voices were raised, as the motley crew declared it was or was not a buccaneers’ vessel.
Jake slid back to the deck, shaking his head. “It do have a uncommon look of buccaneers,” he declared. “An’ Sil’er Heels has eyes like hawk. But yonder ship be boun’ to west’ard, an’ ye shift yer course a point, cap’n, we’ll be within hailin’ distance in an hour or two.”
Shifting his helm, as the men trimmed the immense yard with its lateen sail, Peter headed more to the west, and with this wind on her quarter, the piragua fairly tore through the water. Very rapidly the other ship rose to view, a two-masted craft with square sails forward and lug sail aft, a “sloop” in the parlance of the time. Below the cloud of canvas a high olive-green hull came into view with gun ports piercing the sides. And as the keen eyes of the watchers noted that the stranger’s stern was low and mounted a long gun where the ornate castle should be, a shout of joy arose from the twenty-odd hairy throats of those upon the Sea Gull.
“Blood of Drake, ‘tis buccaneer craft in truth!” cried Jake. “Sink me, but we’ll be havin’ a right merry time, lads.”
Peter was wildly excited. At last he was about to enter on his career of vengeance for his own and Don Ramon’s wrongs. Before him and rapidly approaching, was a ship of the hated corsairs, and his heart beat fast and hot blood surged through his veins as he thought of coming to grips with those upon the other ship. That he or his men might get the worst of the encounter; that he might be wounded or killed; that to attack a piratical ship swarming with reckless, daredevil fighters and provided with fully a dozen heavy guns was a hare-brained, almost mad undertaking, never occurred to him. He knew nothing of fighting with firearms, nothing of the buccaneers’ ways, but he held implicit trust and faith in Jake, and in his ignorance of the terrific odds against him he never doubted the outcome.
Now, from the other ship’s peak, fluttered a gaudy banner of orange and blue, bearing a lozenge-shaped emblem of red, and at sight of the flat a hoarse cry of mingled rage and delight came from Black Tom:
“’Tis Gautier, mates!” he screamed, baring his yellow fangs and with murder in his eyes. “Gautier, the accursed dog! Blood an’ murder, but ‘tis rare luck. Aye, fine rare luck, an’ a fine rare an’ merry time I’ll have, cuttin’ of his murderin’ heart out an’ floggin’ of him with hot irons. Aye, a right merry——“
“Stow it!” commanded Jake. “Mayhap ye owe him all that an’ more for the floggin’ he give ye, but belike ‘twas well merited an’ cap’n’ll have no torturin’ with his crew.”
Black Tom, industriously whetting a long-bladed knife upon his boot, spat out an oath, but before he could reply, Silver Heels spoke:
“You not be fighting Dons, Tom,” he reminded his satellite. “We be all Englishmen, and though Gautier is a Frenchman, those board his ship be British. Nay, Captain Peter and Jake be right. Fair fighting, yes, and loot, yes, but no torturing when we board yonder craft or others of the Brethren.”
With a growl Black Tom subsided for to him Silver Heels’ word was law. Though he glowered at the rapidly approaching sloop and longed in his heart to even scores with the man who had him so unmercifully flogged on one occasion, yet he realized that he must not overstep the bounds of fair fighting, and that he must refrain from inflicting unspeakable tortures on Captain Gautier, if by good fortune the buccaneer chieftain fell into his clutches.
Meanwhile, Jake had been giving rapid, curt orders as to the attack. “Belike,” he explained, “we’ll work close aboard so they cannot use their great guns. They know not yet the Sea Gull nor cap’n’s flag, an’ we’ll win ‘em by surprise. When I give the word, strike ‘twix wind an’ water with both carronades and then grapple, board an’ at ‘em.”
The two vessels were now almost within hailing distance, and as yet those upon the sloop were quite unaware of the identity or purpose of the Sea Gull. That she was not a Spanish vessel, Gautier and his men knew, despite the fact that her rig and hull seemed rather Spanish in cut and build. But the scarlet flag was strange to them. The men crowding the piragua spoke of no peaceful craft, and Gautier was suspicious. Stepping to his quarter-deck rail, he shouted across the intervening stretch of sea, hailing the piragua, and with his men ready and keeping the heavily-shotted long guns trained on the Sea Gull.
In reply to his bellow, Jake cupped his hands and returned the well-known answer of the Brethren: “From the seas.”
“Gautier was puzzled. If those in the piragua were members of the Brotherhood of the Main why had they not given their commander’s name? And if they were not fellow buccaneers why had they given the universally used hail, the maritime password or countersign of the freebooters? Scarcely knowing what to think, hesitating to fire on a craft that might be friendly, Gautier stopped to consider, and his indecision was his undoing. The swift, light piragua was sweeping toward the sloop. Already she was so close that the big guns of the buccaneers could not be depressed enough to strike the hull of the Sea Gull; and until their captain gave the word, Gautier’s men would not send a volley of musketry at the strangers. Before Gautier had made up his mind what course to pursue the piragua was within biscuit toss, and, recognizing One-eared Jake and Silver Heels, the pirate chieftain ripped out an amazed curse which was cut short by a shout from Jake.
“Strike yer colors!” he yelled. “Strike afore we sink ye!”
At the same instant the two carronades on the piragua roared out, and chain shot crashed through the quarter of the sloop, dismounting the after guns, killing the gunners at their posts, and disabling the steering gear. Before the smoke had cleared, the Sea Gull grated alongside the other vessel. Grapples were thrown, and, shouting, yelling, cursing like fiends, the crew of the piragua swarmed over the sloop’s rails, Jake and Peter in the lead, Silver Heels and Black Tom close at their heels, and the twenty wild fellows after them.
Harmlessly the sloop’s broadside had thundered out too late, bringing jeering cries of derision from Peter’s men as the flames and smoke belched from ports beneath their feet, and before the amazed buccaneers knew what had occurred, Peter’s men were on the decks, slashing, stabbing, pistoling; rushing hither and thither like demons, and seeming, to the surprised, dumfounded buccaneers, a full hundred strong.
Suddenly realizing at Jake’s hail that the strangers were enemies, Gautier had shouted orders to his men, and, whipping out cutlass and pistol, had leaped forward. Almost in Jake’s face his pistol had flashed, but with a swinging blow, Peter had struck the weapon up and the bullet tore through Jake’s hat. Dropping the useless pistol, the buccaneer chief lunged savagely with his cutlass at the red-haired youth whose blue-gray eyes shone with the glint of burnished steel. But the flashing, shimmering Toledo blade of Don Ramon met the cutlass in a shower of sparks and turned the heavy weapon aside as easily as though it had been a toy sword of wood. Instantly Gautier realized that here was no common, swashbuckling buccaneer; that the youth before him was a skilled swordsman, and quickly, as the truth dawned upon him, his tactics changed. Trained in the best schools of swordsmanship in France—for Gautier in his youth had been of the French aristocracy—there were few who could equal him with the rapier. But among the buccaneers fine swordplay had no place. It was cut, slash, and hack, and for years Gautier had had no call to put his skill into practice.
But now he was facing a swordsman as adept as himself, and though his weapon was a heavy, broad-bladed cutlass, he sprang back, and, abandoning his heavy blows and savage lunges, put all his skill and knowledge into play. Peter was almost as surprised at this sudden change of tactics as Gautier had been to find his enemy a master of the sword. But he had little time to marvel. He needed all his skill to keep his own skin whole, and, back and forth upon the decks, he and Gautier fought, parried and thrust, while all unheeded by the two, the battle raged, shouts rang out, pistols flashed, muskets roared, blades clashed and men fell dead and wounded.
Silver Heels, Black Tom, and One-eared Jake were having their hands full and were fighting as they had never fought before. Time and again they had boarded Spanish ships, had battled hand to hand with the Dons and had come off victorious. But now they were fighting, not against Spaniards, who were ever terrorized and awed by the buccaneers, but against their fellow buccaneers, against men of their own race, against men of reckless, brave and skilled in rough-and-tumble fighting as themselves. Until they had boarded the sloop they had not realized what this meant, how different it would be from fighting the Dons and truth to tell, had they known they would have thought twice or maybe thrice before joining Peter in his strange and rather mad undertaking.
But once having boarded Gautier’s ship and tackled the buccaneers, there was nothing to be done but fight, and fight to the very best of their ability, with every ounce of their strength.
At times it seemed as if they must be overcome, as if the score under Peter’s burgee must scramble back to the piragua and make the best of their way from the spot, but they were not the sort of men to retreat nor to acknowledge defeat. They had all to gain and nothing to lose—except life and limb which mattered nothing to them—and with redoubled fury they struck and shot and stabbed. The decks were slippery with blood. So dense was the powder smoke that the men battled in a foglike haze. Groans, shrieks and curses filled the air, and the combatants tripped and stumbled over dead and dying men. And through all the turmoil, the fearful carnage, Peter and Gautier fought, matching skill against skill, deft parries against secret passes; using every trick and device of the fencer’s art, as, heedless of their surroundings, they advanced and gave way, turning, pivoting, breaths coming hard, and eyes seeing nothing but each other.
Time and time again the Toledo rapier or the heavy cutlass had drawn blood. Time and again each had shifted weapon from right hand to left and back again, and yet neither seemed to have an advantage, and the duel seemed no nearer an end than at the start.
And then, behind Gautier’s shoulder, half visible in the pungent powder smoke, Peter caught sight of an evil, passion-distorted face. A face, hideous with blood and blackened with powder, a face in which reddened eyes gleamed with terrifying hate and savagery, whose narrow, cruel lips were drawn back over great, yellow fanglike teeth. The face of Black Tom—Black Tom with hand upraised, with bloodstained dirk ready to bury itself in the back of Gautier who had no thought of the danger behind him.
Scarcely realizing he did so, utterly unconscious of his act, Peter shouted a cry of warning to his antagonist.
Another man might have suspected treachery, might have thought Peter’s shout but a ruse to throw him off his guard, to cause him to turn his head and expose himself to the other’s thrust. But Gautier knew men. He knew that the youth, whose life he was seeking, was no cutthroat, no treacherous villain, but a gentleman. In Peter’s belt was a silver-mounted pistol, and had he been less than an honorable foe he would long ago have drawn the weapon and shot down his enemy, thus ending the duel then and there. Moreover, no ordinary ruffian possessed the knowledge of swordsmanship Peter had exhibited, while finally the look in Peter’s eyes, the ring of sincerity in his tones, convinced the French captain that danger lurked in his rear—that Peter’s warning was genuine.
Quick as a flash he wheeled, and not a second too soon! With the speed of lightning, Black Tom sprang. His knife swept down, the blade grazed Gautier’s shoulder, and, overbalanced by the force of his blow and lack of resistance to the murderous blade, he lurched forward and fell headlong upon the deck.
With a harsh cry, Gautier leaped toward him with upraised cutlass. But once more Peter intervened. Although he had saved his antagonist from Tom’s treacherous stroke, he had no mind to have Black Tom cut down while defenceless, and with a swift movement his blade shot out. It rang on the heavy cutlass, and with a quick twist of his wrist, Peter sent Gautier’s sword flying from his grasp.
Instinctively the buccaneer sprang back, expecting to be run through, but Peter, with rapier point at his disarmed enemy’s throat, was merely demanding that he surrender.
Gautier had no choice. A quick glance about told him that the ship was in the hands of the enemy, that the battle was over and that he was absolutely at Peter’s mercy.
“I yield,” he cried. “Aye, I yield to a better man than myself.”
“Sink me, if ye don’t,” shouted a husky voice, as Jake appeared through the dissipating smoke. “Ye yield to Cap’n Red Peter, an’ ye can lay to that.”
Black Tom had ruefully picked himself up and was still crouching, as if meditating whether to renew his attack on Gautier or not. Silver Heels was smilingly wiping the blood from his reddened blade, while the remaining members of Peter’s crew, who were not killed or disabled, were guarding the disarmed, beaten survivors of the sloop’s company or binding up one another’s wounds.
The fight was won. The freebooters had been overcome, and Peter’s heart swelled with pride as he realized that he had taken his first prize and had made a beginning at fulfilling his pledge to old Don Ramon.
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.