Part 3 out of 4
he had a long, drooping mustache that curled down below his chin.
He wore a fine, feathered hat, and his long black hair hung down
upon his shoulders.
All this Tom Chist could see in the moonlight that glinted and
twinkled upon the gilt buttons of his coat.
They were so busy lifting the chest from the boat that at first
they did not observe that Tom Chist had come up and was standing
there. It was the white man with the long, plaited queue and the
gold earrings that spoke to him. "Boy, what do you want here,
boy?" he said, in a rough, hoarse voice. "Where d'ye come from?"
And then dropping his end of the chest, and without giving Tom
time to answer, he pointed off down the beach, and said, "You'd
better be going about your own business, if you know what's good
for you; and don't you come back, or you'll find what you don't
want waiting for you."
Tom saw in a glance that the pirates were all looking at him, and
then, without saying a word, he turned and walked away. The man
who had spoken to him followed him threateningly for some little
distance, as though to see that he had gone away as he was bidden
to do. But presently he stopped, and Tom hurried on alone, until
the boat and the crew and all were dropped away behind and lost
in the moonlight night. Then he himself stopped also, turned, and
looked back whence he had come.
There had been something very strange in the appearance of the
men he had just seen, something very mysterious in their actions,
and he wondered what it all meant, and what they were going to
do. He stood for a little while thus looking and listening. He
could see nothing, and could hear only the sound of distant
talking. What were they doing on the lonely shore thus at night?
Then, following a sudden impulse, he turned and cut off across
the sand hummocks, skirting around inland, but keeping pretty
close to the shore, his object being to spy upon them, and to
watch what they were about from the back of the low sand hills
that fronted the beach.
He had gone along some distance in his circuitous return when he
became aware of the sound of voices that seemed to be drawing
closer to him as he came toward the speakers. He stopped and
stood listening, and instantly, as he stopped, the voices stopped
also. He crouched there silently in the bright, glimmering
moonlight, surrounded by the silent stretches of sand, and the
stillness seemed to press upon him like a heavy hand. Then
suddenly the sound of a man's voice began again, and as Tom
listened he could hear some one slowly counting. "Ninety-one,"
the voice began, "ninety-two, ninety-three, ninety-four,
ninety-five, ninety- six, ninety-seven, ninety-eight,
ninety-nine, one hundred, one hundred and one"--the slow,
monotonous count coming nearer and nearer; "one hundred and two,
one hundred and three, one hundred and four," and so on in its
Suddenly he saw three heads appear above the sand hill, so close
to him that he crouched down quickly with a keen thrill, close
beside the hummock near which he stood. His first fear was that
they might have seen him in the moonlight; but they had not, and
his heart rose again as the counting voice went steadily on. "One
hundred and twenty," it was saying--"and twenty-one, and
twenty-two, and twenty-three, and twenty- four," and then he who
was counting came out from behind the little sandy rise into the
white and open level of shimmering brightness.
It was the man with the cane whom Tom had seen some time before
the captain of the party who had landed. He carried his cane
under his arm now, and was holding his lantern close to something
that he held in his hand, and upon which he looked narrowly as he
walked with a slow and measured tread in a perfectly straight
line across the sand, counting each step as he took it. "And
twenty-five, and twenty-six, and twenty- seven, and twenty-eight,
and twenty-nine, and thirty."
Behind him walked two other figures; one was the half-naked
negro, the other the man with the plaited queue and the earrings,
whom Tom had seen lifting the chest out of the boat. Now they
were carrying the heavy box between them, laboring through the
sand with shuffling tread as they bore it onward. As he who was
counting pronounced the word "thirty," the two men set the chest
down on the sand with a grunt, the white man panting and blowing
and wiping his sleeve across his forehead. And immediately he who
counted took out a slip of paper and marked something down upon
it. They stood there for a long time, during which Tom lay
behind the sand hummock watching them, and for a while the
silence was uninterrupted. In the perfect stillness Tom could
hear the washing of the little waves beating upon the distant
beach, and once the far-away sound of a laugh from one of those
who stood by the ship's boat.
One, two, three minutes passed, and then the men picked up the
chest and started on again; and then again the other man began
his counting. "Thirty and one, and thirty and two, and thirty and
three, and thirty and four"--he walked straight across the level
open, still looking intently at that which he held in his
hand--"and thirty and five, and thirty and six, and thirty and
seven," and so on, until the three figures disappeared in the
little hollow between the two sand hills on the opposite side of
the open, and still Tom could hear the sound of the counting
voice in the distance.
Just as they disappeared behind the hill there was a sudden faint
flash of light; and by and by, as Tom lay still listening to the
counting, he heard, after a long interval, a far-away muffled
rumble of distant thunder. He waited for a while, and then arose
and stepped to the top of the sand hummock behind which he had
been lying. He looked all about him, but there was no one else to
be seen. Then he stepped down from the hummock and followed in
the direction which the pirate captain and the two men carrying
the chest had gone. He crept along cautiously, stopping now and
then to make sure that he still heard the counting voice, and
when it ceased he lay down upon the sand and waited until it
Presently, so following the pirates, he saw the three figures
again in the distance, and, skirting around back of a hill of
sand covered with coarse sedge grass, he came to where he
overlooked a little open level space gleaming white in the
The three had been crossing the level of sand, and were now not
more than twenty-five paces from him. They had again set down
the chest, upon which the white man with the long queue and the
gold earrings had seated to rest himself, the negro standing
close beside him. The moon shone as bright as day and full upon
his face. It was looking directly at Tom Chist, every line as
keen cut with white lights and black shadows as though it had
been carved in ivory and jet. He sat perfectly motionless, and
Tom drew back with a start, almost thinking he had been
discovered. He lay silent, his heart beating heavily in his
throat; but there was no alarm, and presently he heard the
counting begin again, and when he looked once more he saw they
were going away straight across the little open. A soft, sliding
hillock of sand lay directly in front of them. They did not turn
aside, but went straight over it, the leader helping himself up
the sandy slope with his cane, still counting and still keeping
his eyes fixed upon that which he held in his hand. Then they
disappeared again behind the white crest on the other side.
So Tom followed them cautiously until they had gone almost half a
mile inland. When next he saw them clearly it was from a little
sandy rise which looked down like the crest of a bowl upon the
floor of sand below. Upon this smooth, white floor the moon beat
with almost dazzling brightness.
The white man who had helped to carry the chest was now kneeling,
busied at some work, though what it was Tom at first could not
see. He was whittling the point of a stick into a long wooden
peg, and when, by and by, he had finished what he was about, he
arose and stepped to where he who seemed to be the captain had
stuck his cane upright into the ground as though to mark some
particular spot. He drew the cane out of the sand, thrusting the
stick down in its stead. Then he drove the long peg down with a
wooden mallet which the negro handed to him. The sharp rapping
of the mallet upon the top of the peg sounded loud the perfect
stillness, and Tom lay watching and wondering what it all meant.
The man, with quick-repeated blows, drove the peg farther and
farther down into the sand until it showed only two or three
inches above the surface. As he finished his work there was
another faint flash of light, and by and by another smothered
rumble of thunder, and Tom, as he looked out toward the westward,
saw the silver rim of the round and sharply outlined thundercloud
rising slowly up into the sky and pushing the other and broken
drifting clouds before it.
The two white men were now stooping over the peg, the negro man
watching them. Then presently the man with the cane started
straight away from the peg, carrying the end of a measuring line
with him, the other end of which the man with the plaited queue
held against the top of the peg. When the pirate captain had
reached the end of the measuring line he marked a cross upon the
sand, and then again they measured out another stretch of space.
So they measured a distance five times over, and then, from where
Tom lay, he could see the man with the queue drive another peg
just at the foot of a sloping rise of sand that swept up beyond
into a tall white dune marked sharp and clear against the night
sky behind. As soon as the man with the plaited queue had driven
the second peg into the ground they began measuring again, and
so, still measuring, disappeared in another direction which took
them in behind the sand dune where Tom no longer could see what
they were doing.
The negro still sat by the chest where the two had left him, and
so bright was the moonlight that from where he lay Tom could see
the glint of it twinkling in the whites of his eyeballs.
Presently from behind the hill there came, for the third time,
the sharp rapping sound of the mallet driving still another peg,
and then after a while the two pirates emerged from behind the
sloping whiteness into the space of moonlight again.
They came direct to where the chest lay, and the white man and
the black man lifting it once more, they walked away across the
level of open sand, and so on behind the edge of the hill and out
of Tom's sight.
Tom Chist could no longer see what the pirates were doing,
neither did he dare to cross over the open space of sand that now
lay between them and him. He lay there speculating as to what
they were about, and meantime the storm cloud was rising higher
and higher above the horizon, with louder and louder mutterings
of thunder following each dull flash from out the cloudy,
cavernous depths. In the silence he could hear an occasional
click as of some iron implement, and he opined that the pirates
were burying the chest, though just where they were at work he
could neither see nor tell.
Still he lay there watching and listening, and by and by a puff
of warm air blew across the sand, and a thumping tumble of louder
thunder leaped from out the belly of the storm cloud, which every
minute was coming nearer and nearer. Still Tom Chist lay
Suddenly, almost unexpectedly, the three figures reappeared from
behind the sand hill, the pirate captain leading the way, and the
negro and white man following close behind him. They had gone
about halfway across the white, sandy level between the hill and
the hummock behind which Tom Chist lay, when the white man
stopped and bent over as though to tie his shoe.
This brought the negro a few steps in front of his companion.
That which then followed happened so suddenly, so unexpectedly,
so swiftly, that Tom Chist had hardly time to realize what it all
meant before it was over. As the negro passed him the white man
arose suddenly and silently erect, and Tom Chist saw the white
moonlight glint upon the blade of a great dirk knife which he now
held in his hand. He took one, two silent, catlike steps behind
the unsuspecting negro. Then there was a sweeping flash of the
blade in the pallid light, and a blow, the thump of which Tom
could distinctly hear even from where he lay stretched out upon
the sand. There was an instant echoing yell from the black man,
who ran stumbling forward, who stopped, who regained his footing,
and then stood for an instant as though rooted to the spot.
Tom had distinctly seen the knife enter his back, and even
thought that he had seen the glint of the point as it came out
from the breast.
Meantime the pirate captain had stopped, and now stood with his
hand resting upon his cane looking impassively on.
Then the black man started to run. The white man stood for a
while glaring after him; then he, too, started after his victim
upon the run. The black man was not very far from Tom when he
staggered and fell. He tried to rise, then fell forward again,
and lay at length. At that instant the first edge of the cloud
cut across the moon, and there was a sudden darkness; but in the
silence Tom heard the sound of another blow and a groan, and then
presently a voice calling to the pirate captain that it was all
He saw the dim form of the captain crossing the level sand, and
then, as the moon sailed out from behind the cloud, he saw the
white man standing over a black figure that lay motionless upon
Then Tom Chist scrambled up and ran away, plunging down into the
hollow of sand that lay in the shadows below. Over the next rise
he ran, and down again into the next black hollow, and so on over
the sliding, shifting ground, panting and gasping. It seemed to
him that he could hear footsteps following, and in the terror
that possessed him he almost expected every instant to feel the
cold knife blade slide between his own ribs in such a thrust from
behind as he had seen given to the poor black man.
So he ran on like one in a nightmare. His feet grew heavy like
lead, he panted and gasped, his breath came hot and dry in his
throat. But still he ran and ran until at last he found himself
in front of old Matt Abrahamson's cabin, gasping, panting, and
sobbing for breath, his knees relaxed and his thighs trembling
As he opened the door and dashed into the darkened cabin (for
both Matt and Molly were long ago asleep in bed) there was a
flash of light, and even as he slammed to the door behind him
there was an instant peal of thunder, heavy as though a great
weight had been dropped upon the roof of the sky, so that the
doors and windows of the cabin rattled.
Then Tom Chist crept to bed, trembling, shuddering, bathed in
sweat, his heart beating like a trip hammer, and his brain dizzy
from that long, terror-inspired race through the soft sand in
which he had striven to outstrip he knew not what pursuing
For a long, long time he lay awake, trembling and chattering with
nervous chills, and when he did fall asleep it was only to drop
into monstrous dreams in which he once again saw ever enacted,
with various grotesque variations, the tragic drama which his
waking eyes had beheld the night before.
Then came the dawning of the broad, wet daylight, and before the
rising of the sun Tom was up and out of doors to find the young
day dripping with the rain of overnight.
His first act was to climb the nearest sand hill and to gaze out
toward the offing where the pirate ship had been the day before.
It was no longer there.
Soon afterward Matt Abrahamson came out of the cabin and he
called to Tom to go get a bite to eat, for it was time for them
to be away fishing.
All that morning the recollection of the night before hung over
Tom Chist like a great cloud of boding trouble. It filled the
confined area of the little boat and spread over the entire wide
spaces of sky and sea that surrounded them. Not for a moment was
it lifted. Even when he was hauling in his wet and dripping line
with a struggling fish at the end of it a recurrent memory of
what he had seen would suddenly come upon him, and he would groan
in spirit at the recollection. He looked at Matt Abrahamson's
leathery face, at his lantern jaws cavernously and stolidly
chewing at a tobacco leaf, and it seemed monstrous to him that
the old man should be so unconscious of the black cloud that
wrapped them all about.
When the boat reached the shore again he leaped scrambling to the
beach, and as soon as his dinner was eaten he hurried away to
find the Dominie Jones.
He ran all the way from Abrahamson's hut to the parson's house,
hardly stopping once, and when he knocked at the door he was
panting and sobbing for breath.
The good man was sitting on the back-kitchen doorstep smoking his
long pipe of tobacco out into the sunlight, while his wife within
was rattling about among the pans and dishes in preparation of
their supper, of which a strong, porky smell already filled the
Then Tom Chist told his story, panting, hurrying, tumbling one
word over another in his haste, and Parson Jones listened,
breaking every now and then into an ejaculation of wonder. The
light in his pipe went out and the bowl turned cold.
"And I don't see why they should have killed the poor black man,"
said Tom, as he finished his narrative.
"Why, that is very easy enough to understand," said the good
reverend man. "'Twas a treasure box they buried!"
In his agitation Mr. Jones had risen from his seat and was now
stumping up and down, puffing at his empty tobacco pipe as though
it were still alight.
"A treasure box!" cried out Tom.
"Aye, a treasure box! And that was why they killed the poor
black man. He was the only one, d'ye see, besides they two who
knew the place where 'twas hid, and now that they've killed him
out of the way, there's nobody but themselves knows. The
villains--Tut, tut, look at that now!" In his excitement the
dominie had snapped the stem of his tobacco pipe in two.
"Why, then," said Tom, "if that is so, 'tis indeed a wicked,
bloody treasure, and fit to bring a curse upon anybody who finds
"'Tis more like to bring a curse upon the soul who buried it,"
said Parson Jones, "and it may be a blessing to him who finds it.
But tell me, Tom, do you think you could find the place again
where 'twas hid?"
"I can't tell that," said Tom, " 'twas all in among the sand
humps, d'ye see, and it was at night into the bargain. Maybe we
could find the marks of their feet in the sand," he added.
"'Tis not likely," said the reverend gentleman, "for the storm
last night would have washed all that away."
"I could find the place," said Tom, "where the boat was drawn up
on the beach."
"Why, then, that's something to start from, Tom," said his
friend. "If we can find that, then maybe we can find whither they
went from there."
"If I was certain it was a treasure box," cried out Tom Chist, "I
would rake over every foot of sand betwixt here and Henlopen to
"'Twould be like hunting for a pin in a haystack," said the Rev.
As Tom walked away home, it seemed as though a ton's weight of
gloom had been rolled away from his soul. The next day he and
Parson Jones were to go treasure-hunting together; it seemed to
Tom as though he could hardly wait for the time to come.
The next afternoon Parson Jones and Tom Chist started off
together upon the expedition that made Tom's fortune forever. Tom
carried a spade over his shoulder and the reverend gentleman
walked along beside him with his cane.
As they jogged along up the beach they talked together about the
only thing they could talk about--the treasure box. "And how big
did you say 'twas?" quoth the good gentleman.
"About so long," said Tom Chist, measuring off upon the spade,
"and about so wide, and this deep."
"And what if it should be full of money, Tom?" said the reverend
gentleman, swinging his cane around and around in wide circles in
the excitement of the thought, as he strode along briskly.
"Suppose it should be full of money, what then?"
"By Moses!" said Tom Chist, hurrying to keep up with his friend,
"I'd buy a ship for myself, I would, and I'd trade to Injyy and
to Chiny to my own boot, I would. Suppose the chist was all full
of money, sir, and suppose we should find it; would there be
enough in it, d'ye suppose, to buy a ship?"
"To be sure there would be enough, Tom, enough and to spare, and
a good big lump over."
"And if I find it 'tis mine to keep, is it, and no mistake?"
"Why, to be sure it would be yours!" cried out the parson, in a
loud voice. "To be sure it would be yours!" He knew nothing of
the law, but the doubt of the question began at once to ferment
in his brain, and he strode along in silence for a while. "Whose
else would it be but yours if you find it?" he burst out. "Can
you tell me that?"
"If ever I have a ship of my own," said Tom Chist, "and if ever I
sail to Injy in her, I'll fetch ye back the best chist of tea,
sir, that ever was fetched from Cochin Chiny."
Parson Jones burst out laughing. "Thankee, Tom," he said; "and
I'll thankee again when I get my chist of tea. But tell me, Tom,
didst thou ever hear of the farmer girl who counted her chickens
before they were hatched?"
It was thus they talked as they hurried along up the beach
together, and so came to a place at last where Tom stopped short
and stood looking about him. "'Twas just here," he said, "I saw
the boat last night. I know 'twas here, for I mind me of that
bit of wreck yonder, and that there was a tall stake drove in the
sand just where yon stake stands."
Parson Jones put on his barnacles and went over to the stake
toward which Tom pointed. As soon as he had looked at it
carefully he called out: "Why, Tom, this hath been just drove
down into the sand. 'Tis a brand- new stake of wood, and the
pirates must have set it here themselves as a mark, just as they
drove the pegs you spoke about down into the sand."
Tom came over and looked at the stake. It was a stout piece of
oak nearly two inches thick; it had been shaped with some care,
and the top of it had been painted red. He shook the stake and
tried to move it, but it had been driven or planted so deeply
into the sand that he could not stir it. "Aye, sir," he said, "it
must have been set here for a mark, for I'm sure 'twas not here
yesterday or the day before." He stood looking about him to see
if there were other signs of the pirates' presence. At some
little distance there was the corner of something white sticking
up out of the sand. He could see that it was a scrap of paper,
and he pointed to it, calling out: "Yonder is a piece of paper,
sir. I wonder if they left that behind them?"
It was a miraculous chance that placed that paper there. There
was only an inch of it showing, and if it had not been for Tom's
sharp eyes, it would certainly have been overlooked and passed
by. The next windstorm would have covered it up, and all that
afterward happened never would have occurred. "Look, sir," he
said, as he struck the sand from it, "it hath writing on it."
"Let me see it," said Parson Jones. He adjusted the spectacles a
little more firmly astride of his nose as he took the paper in
his hand and began conning it. "What's all this?" he said; "a
whole lot of figures and nothing else." And then he read aloud,
"'Mark--S. S. W. S. by S.' What d'ye suppose that means, Tom?"
"I don't know, sir," said Tom. "But maybe we can understand it
better if you read on."
"'Tis all a great lot of figures," said Parson Jones, "without a
grain of meaning in them so far as I can see, unless they be
sailing directions." And then he began reading again: "'Mark--S.
S. W. by S. 40, 72, 91, 130, 151, 177, 202, 232, 256, 271'--d'ye
see, it must be sailing directions-- '299, 335, 362, 386, 415,
446, 469, 491, 522, 544, 571, 598'--what a lot of them there be
'626, 652, 676, 695, 724, 851, 876, 905, 940, 967. Peg. S. E.
by E. 269 foot. Peg. S. S. W. by S. 427 foot. Peg. Dig to the
west of this six foot.' "
"What's that about a peg?" exclaimed Tom. "What's that about a
peg? And then there's something about digging, too!" It was as
though a sudden light began shining into his brain. He felt
himself growing quickly very excited. "Read that over again,
sir," he cried. "Why, sir, you remember I told you they drove a
peg into the sand. And don't they say to dig close to it? Read
it over again, sir--read it over again!"
"Peg?" said the good gentleman. "To be sure it was about a peg.
Let's look again. Yes, here it is. 'Peg S. E. by E. 269 foot.'"
"Aye!" cried out Tom Chist again, in great excitement. "Don't you
remember what I told you, sir, 269 foot? Sure that must be what I
saw 'em measuring with the line."
Parson Jones had now caught the flame of excitement that was
blazing up so strongly in Tom's breast. He felt as though some
wonderful thing was about to happen to them. "To be sure, to be
sure!" he called out, in a great big voice. "And then they
measured out 427 foot south-southwest by south, and they then
drove another peg, and then they buried the box six foot to the
west of it. Why, Tom--why, Tom Chist! if we've read this aright,
thy fortune is made."
Tom Chist stood staring straight at the old gentleman's excited
face, and seeing nothing but it in all the bright infinity of
sunshine. Were they, indeed, about to find the treasure chest? He
felt the sun very hot upon his shoulders, and he heard the harsh,
insistent jarring of a tern that hovered and circled with forked
tail and sharp white wings in the sunlight just above their
heads; but all the time he stood staring into the good old
It was Parson Jones who first spoke. "But what do all these
figures mean?" And Tom observed how the paper shook and rustled
in the tremor of excitement that shook his hand. He raised the
paper to the focus of his spectacles and began to read again.
"'Mark 40, 72, 91--'"
"Mark?" cried out Tom, almost screaming. "Why, that must mean
the stake yonder; that must be the mark." And he pointed to the
oaken stick with its red tip blazing against the white shimmer of
sand behind it.
"And the 40 and 72 and 91," cried the old gentleman, in a voice
equally shrill--"why, that must mean the number of steps the
pirate was counting when you heard him."
"To be sure that's what they mean!" cried Tom Chist. "That is
it, and it can be nothing else. Oh, come, sir--come, sir; let us
make haste and find it!"
"Stay! stay!" said the good gentleman, holding up his hand; and
again Tom Chist noticed how it trembled and shook. His voice was
steady enough, though very hoarse, but his hand shook and
trembled as though with a palsy. "Stay! stay! First of all, we
must follow these measurements. And 'tis a marvelous thing," he
croaked, after a little pause, "how this paper ever came to be
"Maybe it was blown here by the storm," suggested Tom Chist.
"Like enough; like enough," said Parson Jones. "Like enough,
after the wretches had buried the chest and killed the poor black
man, they were so buffeted and bowsed about by the storm that it
was shook out of the man's pocket, and thus blew away from him
without his knowing aught of it."
"But let us find the box!" cried out Tom Chist, flaming with his
"Aye, aye," said the good man; "only stay a little, my boy, until
we make sure what we're about. I've got my pocket compass here,
but we must have something to measure off the feet when we have
found the peg. You run across to Tom Brooke's house and fetch
that measuring rod he used to lay out his new byre. While you're
gone I'll pace off the distance marked on the paper with my
pocket compass here."
Tom Chist was gone for almost an hour, though he ran nearly all
the way and back, upborne as on the wings of the wind. When he
returned, panting, Parson Jones was nowhere to be seen, but Tom
saw his footsteps leading away inland, and he followed the
scuffling marks in the smooth surface across the sand humps and
down into the hollows, and by and by found the good gentleman in
a spot he at once knew as soon as he laid his eyes upon it.
It was the open space where the pirates had driven their first
peg, and where Tom Chist had afterward seen them kill the poor
black man. Tom Chist gazed around as though expecting to see some
sign of the tragedy, but the space was as smooth and as
undisturbed as a floor, excepting where, midway across it, Parson
Jones, who was now stooping over something on the ground, had
trampled it all around about.
When Tom Chist saw him he was still bending over, scraping away
from something he had found.
It was the first peg!
Inside of half an hour they had found the second and third pegs,
and Tom Chist stripped off his coat, and began digging like mad
down into the sand, Parson Jones standing over him watching him.
The sun was sloping well toward the west when the blade of Tom
Chist's spade struck upon something hard.
If it had been his own heart that he had hit in the sand his
breast could hardly have thrilled more sharply.
It was the treasure box!
Parson Jones himself leaped down into the hole, and began
scraping away the sand with his hands as though he had gone
crazy. At last, with some difficulty, they tugged and hauled the
chest up out of the sand to the surface, where it lay covered all
over with the grit that clung to it. It was securely locked and
fastened with a padlock, and it took a good many blows with the
blade of the spade to burst the bolt. Parson Jones himself lifted
the lid. Tom Chist leaned forward and gazed down into the open
box. He would not have been surprised to have seen it filled
full of yellow gold and bright jewels. It was filled half full of
books and papers, and half full of canvas bags tied safely and
securely around and around with cords of string.
Parson Jones lifted out one of the bags, and it jingled as he did
so. It was full of money.
He cut the string, and with trembling, shaking hands handed the
bag to Tom, who, in an ecstasy of wonder and dizzy with delight,
poured out with swimming sight upon the coat spread on the ground
a cataract of shining silver money that rang and twinkled and
jingled as it fell in a shining heap upon the coarse cloth.
Parson Jones held up both hands into the air, and Tom stared at
what he saw, wondering whether it was all so, and whether he was
really awake. It seemed to him as though he was in a dream.
There were two-and-twenty bags in all in the chest: ten of them
full of silver money, eight of them full of gold money, three of
them full of gold dust, and one small bag with jewels wrapped up
in wad cotton and paper.
"'Tis enough," cried out Parson Jones, "to make us both rich men
as long as we live."
The burning summer sun, though sloping in the sky, beat down upon
them as hot as fire; but neither of them noticed it. Neither did
they notice hunger nor thirst nor fatigue, but sat there as
though in a trance, with the bags of money scattered on the sand
around them, a great pile of money heaped upon the coat, and the
open chest beside them. It was an hour of sundown before Parson
Jones had begun fairly to examine the books and papers in the
Of the three books, two were evidently log books of the pirates
who had been lying off the mouth of the Delaware Bay all this
time. The other book was written in Spanish, and was evidently
the log book of some captured prize.
It was then, sitting there upon the sand, the good old gentleman
reading in his high, cracking voice, that they first learned from
the bloody records in those two books who it was who had been
lying inside the Cape all this time, and that it was the famous
Captain Kidd. Every now and then the reverend gentleman would
stop to exclaim, "Oh, the bloody wretch!" or, "Oh, the desperate,
cruel villains!" and then would go on reading again a scrap here
and a scrap there.
And all the while Tom Chist sat and listened, every now and then
reaching out furtively and touching the heap of money still lying
upon the coat.
One might be inclined to wonder why Captain Kidd had kept those
bloody records. He had probably laid them away because they so
incriminated many of the great people of the colony of New York
that, with the books in evidence, it would have been impossible
to bring the pirate to justice without dragging a dozen or more
fine gentlemen into the dock along with him. If he could have
kept them in his own possession they would doubtless have been a
great weapon of defense to protect him from the gallows. Indeed,
when Captain Kidd was finally brought to conviction and hung, he
was not accused of his piracies, but of striking a mutinous
seaman upon the head with a bucket and accidentally killing him.
The authorities did not dare try him for piracy. He was really
hung because he was a pirate, and we know that it was the log
books that Tom Chist brought to New York that did the business
for him; he was accused and convicted of manslaughter for killing
of his own ship carpenter with a bucket.
So Parson Jones, sitting there in the slanting light, read
through these terrible records of piracy, and Tom, with the pile
of gold and silver money beside him, sat and listened to him.
What a spectacle, if anyone had come upon them! But they were
alone, with the vast arch of sky empty above them and the wide
white stretch of sand a desert around them. The sun sank lower
and lower, until there was only time to glance through the other
papers in the chest.
They were nearly all goldsmiths' bills of exchange drawn in favor
of certain of the most prominent merchants of New York. Parson
Jones, as he read over the names, knew of nearly all the
gentlemen by hearsay. Aye, here was this gentleman; he thought
that name would be among 'em. What? Here is Mr. So-and-so.
Well, if all they say is true, the villain has robbed one of his
own best friends. "I wonder," he said, "why the wretch should
have hidden these papers so carefully away with the other
treasures, for they could do him no good?" Then, answering his
own question: "Like enough because these will give him a hold
over the gentlemen to whom they are drawn so that he can make a
good bargain for his own neck before he gives the bills back to
their owners. I tell you what it is, Tom," he continued, "it is
you yourself shall go to New York and bargain for the return of
these papers. 'Twill be as good as another fortune to you."
The majority of the bills were drawn in favor of one Richard
Chillingsworth, Esquire. "And he is," said Parson Jones, "one of
the richest men in the province of New York. You shall go to him
with the news of what we have found."
"When shall I go?" said Tom Chist.
"You shall go upon the very first boat we can catch," said the
parson. He had turned, still holding the bills in his hand, and
was now fingering over the pile of money that yet lay tumbled out
upon the coat. "I wonder, Tom," said he, "if you could spare me a
score or so of these doubloons?"
"You shall have fifty score, if you choose," said Tom, bursting
with gratitude and with generosity in his newly found treasure.
"You are as fine a lad as ever I saw, Tom," said the parson, "and
I'll thank you to the last day of my life."
Tom scooped up a double handful of silver money. "Take it.
sir," he said, "and you may have as much more as you want of it."
He poured it into the dish that the good man made of his hands,
and the parson made a motion as though to empty it into his
pocket. Then he stopped, as though a sudden doubt had occurred to
him. "I don't know that 'tis fit for me to take this pirate
money, after all," he said.
"But you are welcome to it," said Tom.
Still the parson hesitated. "Nay," he burst out, "I'll not take
it; 'tis blood money." And as he spoke he chucked the whole
double handful into the now empty chest, then arose and dusted
the sand from his breeches. Then, with a great deal of bustling
energy, he helped to tie the bags again and put them all back
into the chest.
They reburied the chest in the place whence they had taken it,
and then the parson folded the precious paper of directions,
placed it carefully in his wallet, and his wallet in his pocket.
"Tom," he said, for the twentieth time, "your fortune has been
made this day."
And Tom Chist, as he rattled in his breeches pocket the half
dozen doubloons he had kept out of his treasure, felt that what
his friend had said was true.
As the two went back homeward across the level space of sand Tom
Chist suddenly stopped stock-still and stood looking about him.
"'Twas just here," he said, digging his heel down into the sand,
"that they killed the poor black man."
"And here he lies buried for all time," said Parson Jones; and as
he spoke he dug his cane down into the sand. Tom Chist shuddered.
He would not have been surprised if the ferrule of the cane had
struck something soft beneath that level surface. But it did not,
nor was any sign of that tragedy ever seen again. For, whether
the pirates had carried away what they had done and buried it
elsewhere, or whether the storm in blowing the sand had
completely leveled off and hidden all sign of that tragedy where
it was enacted, certain it is that it never came to sight
again--at least so far as Tom Chist and the Rev. Hilary Jones
This is the story of the treasure box. All that remains now is
to conclude the story of Tom Chist, and to tell of what came of
him in the end.
He did not go back again to live with old Matt Abrahamson.
Parson Jones had now taken charge of him and his fortunes, and
Tom did not have to go back to the fisherman's hut.
Old Abrahamson talked a great deal about it, and would come in
his cups and harangue good Parson Jones, making a vast
protestation of what he would do to Tom--if he ever caught
him--for running away. But Tom on all these occasions kept
carefully out of his way, and nothing came of the old man's
Tom used to go over to see his foster mother now and then, but
always when the old man was from home. And Molly Abrahamson used
to warn him to keep out of her father's way. "He's in as vile a
humor as ever I see, Tom," she said; "he sits sulking all day
long, and 'tis my belief he'd kill ye if he caught ye."
Of course Tom said nothing, even to her, about the treasure, and
he and the reverend gentleman kept the knowledge thereof to
themselves. About three weeks later Parson Jones managed to get
him shipped aboard of a vessel bound for New York town, and a few
days later Tom Chist landed at that place. He had never been in
such a town before, and he could not sufficiently wonder and
marvel at the number of brick houses, at the multitude of people
coming and going along the fine, hard, earthen sidewalk, at the
shops and the stores where goods hung in the windows, and, most
of all, the fortifications and the battery at the point, at the
rows of threatening cannon, and at the scarlet-coated sentries
pacing up and down the ramparts. All this was very wonderful,
and so were the clustered boats riding at anchor in the harbor.
It was like a new world, so different was it from the sand hills
and the sedgy levels of Henlopen.
Tom Chist took up his lodgings at a coffee house near to the town
hall, and thence he sent by the postboy a letter written by
Parson Jones to Master Chillingsworth. In a little while the boy
returned with a message, asking Tom to come up to Mr.
Chillingsworth's house that afternoon at two o'clock.
Tom went thither with a great deal of trepidation, and his heart
fell away altogether when he found it a fine, grand brick house,
three stories high, and with wrought-iron letters across the
The counting house was in the same building; but Tom, because of
Mr. Jones's letter, was conducted directly into the parlor, where
the great rich man was awaiting his coming. He was sitting in a
leather-covered armchair, smoking a pipe of tobacco, and with a
bottle of fine old Madeira close to his elbow.
Tom had not had a chance to buy a new suit of clothes yet, and so
he cut no very fine figure in the rough dress he had brought with
him from Henlopen. Nor did Mr. Chillingsworth seem to think very
highly of his appearance, for he sat looking sideways at Tom as
"Well, my lad," he said, "and what is this great thing you have
to tell me that is so mightily wonderful? I got
what's-his-name--Mr. Jones's-- letter, and now I am ready to hear
what you have to say."
But if he thought but little of his visitor's appearance at
first, he soon changed his sentiments toward him, for Tom had not
spoken twenty words when Mr. Chillingsworth's whole aspect
changed. He straightened himself up in his seat, laid aside his
pipe, pushed away his glass of Madeira, and bade Tom take a
He listened without a word as Tom Chist told of the buried
treasure, of how he had seen the poor negro murdered, and of how
he and Parson Jones had recovered the chest again. Only once did
Mr. Chillingsworth interrupt the narrative. "And to think," he
cried, "that the villain this very day walks about New York town
as though he were an honest man, ruffling it with the best of us!
But if we can only get hold of these log books you speak of. Go
on; tell me more of this."
When Tom Chist's narrative was ended, Mr. Chillingsworth's
bearing was as different as daylight is from dark. He asked a
thousand questions, all in the most polite and gracious tone
imaginable, and not only urged a glass of his fine old Madeira
upon Tom, but asked him to stay to supper. There was nobody to be
there, he said, but his wife and daughter.
Tom, all in a panic at the very thought of the two ladies,
sturdily refused to stay even for the dish of tea Mr.
Chillingsworth offered him.
He did not know that he was destined to stay there as long as he
"And now," said Mr. Chillingsworth, "tell me about yourself."
"I have nothing to tell, Your Honor," said Tom, "except that I
was washed up out of the sea."
"Washed up out of the sea!" exclaimed Mr. Chillingsworth. "Why,
how was that? Come, begin at the beginning, and tell me all."
Thereupon Tom Chist did as he was bidden, beginning at the very
beginning and telling everything just as Molly Abrahamson had
often told it to him. As he continued, Mr. Chillingsworth's
interest changed into an appearance of stronger and stronger
excitement. Suddenly he jumped up out of his chair and began to
walk up and down the room.
"Stop! stop!" he cried out at last, in the midst of something Tom
was saying. "Stop! stop! Tell me; do you know the name of the
vessel that was wrecked, and from which you were washed ashore?"
"I've heard it said," said Tom Chist, " 'twas the Bristol
"I knew it! I knew it!" exclaimed the great man, in a loud
voice, flinging his hands up into the air. "I felt it was so the
moment you began the story. But tell me this, was there nothing
found with you with a mark or a name upon it?"
"There was a kerchief," said Tom, "marked with a T and a C."
"Theodosia Chillingsworth!" cried out the merchant. "I knew it!
I knew it! Heavens! to think of anything so wonderful happening
as this! Boy! boy! dost thou know who thou art? Thou art my own
brother's son. His name was Oliver Chillingsworth, and he was my
partner in business, and thou art his son." Then he ran out into
the entryway, shouting and calling for his wife and daughter to
So Tom Chist--or Thomas Chillingsworth, as he now was to be
called--did stay to supper, after all.
This is the story, and I hope you may like it. For Tom Chist
became rich and great, as was to be supposed, and he married his
pretty cousin Theodosia (who had been named for his own mother,
drowned in the Bristol Merchant).
He did not forget his friends, but had Parson Jones brought to
New York to live.
As to Molly and Matt Abrahamson, they both enjoyed a pension of
ten pounds a year for as long as they lived; for now that all was
well with him, Tom bore no grudge against the old fisherman for
all the drubbings he had suffered.
The treasure box was brought on to New York, and if Tom Chist did
not get all the money there was in it (as Parson Jones had opined
he would) he got at least a good big lump of it.
And it is my belief that those log books did more to get Captain
Kidd arrested in Boston town and hanged in London than anything
else that was brought up against him.
JACK BALLISTER'S FORTUNES
WE, of these times, protected as we are by the laws and by the
number of people about us, can hardly comprehend such a life as
that of the American colonies in the early part of the eighteenth
century, when it was possible for a pirate like Capt. Teach,
known as Blackbeard, to exist, and for the governor and the
secretary of the province in which he lived perhaps to share his
plunder, and to shelter and to protect him against the law.
At that time the American colonists were in general a rough,
rugged people, knowing nothing of the finer things of life. They
lived mostly in little settlements, separated by long distances
from one another, so that they could neither make nor enforce
laws to protect themselves. Each man or little group of men had
to depend upon his or their own strength to keep what belonged to
them, and to prevent fierce men or groups of men from seizing
what did not belong to them.
It is the natural disposition of everyone to get all that he can.
Little children, for instance, always try to take away from
others that which they want, and to keep it for their own. It is
only by constant teaching that they learn that they must not do
so; that they must not take by force what does not belong to
them. So it is only by teaching and training that people learn to
be honest and not to take what is not theirs. When this teaching
is not sufficient to make a man learn to be honest, or when there
is something in the man's nature that makes him not able to
learn, then he only lacks the opportunity to seize upon the
things he wants, just as he would do if he were a little child.
In the colonies at that time, as was just said, men were too few
and scattered to protect themselves against those who had made up
their minds to take by force that which they wanted, and so it
was that men lived an unrestrained and lawless life, such as we
of these times of better government can hardly comprehend.
The usual means of commerce between province and province was by
water in coasting vessels. These coasting vessels were so
defenseless, and the different colonial governments were so ill
able to protect them, that those who chose to rob them could do
it almost without danger to themselves.
So it was that all the western world was, in those days, infested
with armed bands of cruising freebooters or pirates, who used to
stop merchant vessels and take from them what they chose.
Each province in those days was ruled over by a royal governor
appointed by the king. Each governor, at one time, was free to
do almost as he pleased in his own province. He was accountable
only to the king and his government, and England was so distant
that he was really responsible almost to nobody but himself.
The governors were naturally just as desirous to get rich
quickly, just as desirous of getting all that they could for
themselves, as was anybody else only they had been taught and had
been able to learn that it was not right to be an actual pirate
or robber. They wanted to be rich easily and quickly, but the
desire was not strong enough to lead them to dishonor themselves
in their own opinion and in the opinion of others by gratifying
their selfishness. They would even have stopped the pirates from
doing what they did if they could, but their provincial
governments were too weak to prevent the freebooters from robbing
merchant vessels, or to punish them when they came ashore. The
provinces had no navies, and they really had no armies; neither
were there enough people living within the community to enforce
the laws against those stronger and fiercer men who were not
After the things the pirates seized from merchant vessels were
once stolen they were altogether lost. Almost never did any
owner apply for them, for it would be useless to do so. The
stolen goods and merchandise lay in the storehouses of the
pirates, seemingly without any owner excepting the pirates
The governors and the secretaries of the colonies would not
dishonor themselves by pirating upon merchant vessels, but it did
not seem so wicked after the goods were stolen--and so altogether
lost--to take a part of that which seemed to have no owner.
A child is taught that it is a very wicked thing to take, for
instance, by force, a lump of sugar from another child; but when
a wicked child has seized the sugar from another and taken it
around the corner, and that other child from whom he has seized
it has gone home crying, it does not seem so wicked for the third
child to take a bite of the sugar when it is offered to him, even
if he thinks it has been taken from some one else.
It was just so, no doubt, that it did not seem so wicked to
Governor Eden and Secretary Knight of North Carolina, or to
Governor Fletcher of New York, or to other colonial governors, to
take a part of the booty that the pirates, such as Blackbeard,
had stolen. It did not even seem very wicked to compel such
pirates to give up a part of what was not theirs, and which
seemed to have no owner.
In Governor Eden's time, however, the colonies had begun to be
more thickly peopled, and the laws had gradually become stronger
and stronger to protect men in the possession of what was theirs.
Governor Eden was the last of the colonial governors who had
dealings with the pirates, and Blackbeard was almost the last of
the pirates who, with his banded men, was savage and powerful
enough to come and go as he chose among the people whom he
Virginia, at that time, was the greatest and the richest of all
the American colonies, and upon the farther side of North
Carolina was the province of South Carolina, also strong and
rich. It was these two colonies that suffered the most from
Blackbeard, and it began to be that the honest men that lived in
them could endure no longer to be plundered.
The merchants and traders and others who suffered cried out
loudly for protection, so loudly that the governors of these
provinces could not help hearing them.
Governor Eden was petitioned to act against the pirates, but he
would do nothing, for he felt very friendly toward
Blackbeard--just as a child who has had a taste of the stolen
sugar feels friendly toward the child who gives it to him.
At last, when Blackbeard sailed up into the very heart of
Virginia, and seized upon and carried away the daughter of that
colony's foremost people, the governor of Virginia, finding that
the governor of North Carolina would do nothing to punish the
outrage, took the matter into his own hands and issued a
proclamation offering a reward of one hundred pounds for
Blackbeard, alive or dead, and different sums for the other
pirates who were his followers.
Governor Spottiswood had the right to issue the proclamation, but
he had no right to commission Lieutenant Maynard, as he did, to
take down an armed force into the neighboring province and to
attack the pirates in the waters of the North Carolina sounds. It
was all a part of the rude and lawless condition of the colonies
at the time that such a thing could have been done.
The governor's proclamation against the pirates was issued upon
the eleventh day of November. It was read in the churches the
Sunday following and was posted upon the doors of all the
government custom offices in lower Virginia. Lieutenant Maynard,
in the boats that Colonel Parker had already fitted out to go
against the pirates, set sail upon the seventeenth of the month
for Ocracoke. Five days later the battle was fought.
Blackbeard's sloop was lying inside of Ocracoke Inlet among the
shoals and sand bars when he first heard of Governor
There had been a storm, and a good many vessels had run into the
inlet for shelter. Blackbeard knew nearly all of the captains of
these vessels, and it was from them that he first heard of the
He had gone aboard one of the vessels--a coaster from Boston. The
wind was still blowing pretty hard from the southeast. There were
maybe a dozen vessels lying within the inlet at that time, and
the captain of one of them was paying the Boston skipper a visit
when Blackbeard came aboard. The two captains had been talking
together. They instantly ceased when the pirate came down into
the cabin, but he had heard enough of their conversation to catch
its drift. "Why d'ye stop?" he said. "I heard what you said.
Well, what then? D'ye think I mind it at all? Spottiswood is
going to send his bullies down here after me. That's what you
were saying. Well, what then? You don't think I'm afraid of his
bullies, do you?"
"Why, no, Captain, I didn't say you was afraid," said the
"And what right has he got to send down here against me in North
Carolina, I should like to ask you?"
"He's got none at all," said the Boston captain, soothingly.
"Won't you take a taste of Hollands, Captain?"
"He's no more right to come blustering down here into Governor
Eden's province than I have to come aboard of your schooner here,
Tom Burley, and to carry off two or three kegs of this prime
Hollands for my own drinking."
Captain Burley--the Boston man--laughed a loud, forced laugh.
"Why, Captain," he said, "as for two or three kegs of Hollands,
you won't find that aboard. But if you'd like to have a keg of it
for your own drinking, I'll send it to you and be glad enough to
do so for old acquaintance' sake."
"But I tell you what 'tis, Captain," said the visiting skipper to
Blackbeard, "they're determined and set against you this time. I
tell you, Captain, Governor Spottiswood hath issued a hot
proclamation against you, and 't hath been read out in all the
churches. I myself saw it posted in Yorktown upon the customhouse
door and read it there myself. The governor offers one hundred
pounds for you, and fifty pounds for your officers, and twenty
pounds each for your men."
"Well, then," said Blackbeard, holding up his glass, "here, I
wish 'em good luck, and when they get their hundred pounds for me
they'll be in a poor way to spend it. As for the Hollands," said
he, turning to Captain Burley, "I know what you've got aboard
here and what you haven't. D'ye suppose ye can blind me? Very
well, you send over two kegs, and I'll let you go without
search." The two captains were very silent. "As for that
Lieutenant Maynard you're all talking about, said Blackbeard,
"why, I know him very well. He was the one who was so busy with
the pirates down Madagascar way. I believe you'd all like to see
him blow me out of the water, but he can't do it. There's nobody
in His Majesty's service I'd rather meet than Lieutenant Maynard.
I'd teach him pretty briskly that North Carolina isn't
On the evening of the twenty-second the two vessels under
command of Lieutenant Maynard came into the mouth of Ocracoke
Inlet and there dropped anchor. Meantime the weather had
cleared, and all the vessels but one had gone from the inlet. The
one vessel that remained was a New Yorker. It had been there
over a night and a day, and the captain and Blackbeard had become
very good friends.
The same night that Maynard came into the inlet a wedding was
held on the shore. A number of men and women came up the beach
in oxcarts and sledges; others had come in boats from more
distant points and across the water.
The captain of the New Yorker and Blackbeard went ashore together
a little after dark. The New Yorker had been aboard of the
pirate's sloop for all the latter part of the afternoon, and he
and Blackbeard had been drinking together in the cabin. The New
York man was now a little tipsy, and he laughed and talked
foolishly as he and Blackbeard were rowed ashore. The pirate sat
grim and silent.
It was nearly dark when they stepped ashore on the beach. The New
York captain stumbled and fell headlong, rolling over and over,
and the crew of the boat burst out laughing.
The people had already begun to dance in an open shed fronting
upon the shore. There were fires of pine knots in front of the
building, lighting up the interior with a red glare. A negro was
playing a fiddle somewhere inside, and the shed was filled with a
crowd of grotesque dancing figures--men and women. Now and then
they called with loud voices as they danced, and the squeaking of
the fiddle sounded incessantly through the noise of outcries and
the stamp and shuffling of feet.
Captain Teach and the New York captain stood looking on. The New
York man had tilted himself against a post and stood there
holding one arm around it, supporting himself. He waved the other
hand foolishly in time to the music, now and then snapping his
thumb and finger.
The young woman who had just been married approached the two. She
had been dancing, and she was warm and red, her hair blowzed
about her head. "Hi, Captain, won't you dance with me?" she said
Blackbeard stared at her. "Who be you?" he said.
She burst out laughing. "You look as if you'd eat a body," she
Blackbeard's face gradually relaxed. "Why, to be sure, you're a
brazen one, for all the world," he said. "Well, I'll dance with
you, that I will. I'll dance the heart out of you."
He pushed forward, thrusting aside with his elbow the newly made
husband. The man, who saw that Blackbeard had been drinking,
burst out laughing, and the other men and women who had been
standing around drew away, so that in a little while the floor
was pretty well cleared. One could see the negro now; he sat on a
barrel at the end of the room. He grinned with his white teeth
and, without stopping in his fiddling, scraped his bow harshly
across the strings, and then instantly changed the tune to a
lively jig. Blackbeard jumped up into the air and clapped his
heels together, giving, as he did so, a sharp, short yell. Then
he began instantly dancing grotesquely and violently. The woman
danced opposite to him, this way and that, with her knuckles on
her hips. Everybody burst out laughing at Blackbeard's grotesque
antics. They laughed again and again, clapping their hands, and
the negro scraped away on his fiddle like fury. The woman's hair
came tumbling down her back. She tucked it back, laughing and
panting, and the sweat ran down her face. She danced and danced.
At last she burst out laughing and stopped, panting. Blackbeard
again jumped up in the air and clapped his heels. Again he
yelled, and as he did so, he struck his heels upon the floor and
spun around. Once more everybody burst out laughing, clapping
their hands, and the negro stopped fiddling.
Near by was a shanty or cabin where they were selling spirits,
and by and by Blackbeard went there with the New York captain,
and presently they began drinking again. "Hi, Captain!" called
one of the men, "Maynard's out yonder in the inlet. Jack Bishop's
just come across from t'other side. He says Mr. Maynard hailed
him and asked for a pilot to fetch him in."
"Well, here's luck to him, and he can't come in quick enough for
me!" cried out Blackbeard in his hoarse, husky voice.
"Well, Captain," called a voice, "will ye fight him to-morrow?"
"Aye," shouted the pirate, "if he can get in to me, I'll try to
give 'em what they seek, and all they want of it into the
bargain. As for a pilot, I tell ye what 'tis--if any man
hereabouts goes out there to pilot that villain in 'twill be the
worst day's work he ever did in all of his life. 'Twon't be fit
for him to live in these parts of America if I am living here at
the same time." There was a burst of laughter.
"Give us a toast, Captain! Give us something to drink to! Aye,
Captain, a toast! A toast!" a half dozen voices were calling out
at the same time.
"Well," cried out the pirate captain, "here's to a good, hot
fight to- morrow, and the best dog on top! 'Twill be, Bang!
He began pulling a pistol out of his pocket, but it stuck in the
lining, and he struggled and tugged at it. The men ducked and
scrambled away from before him, and then the next moment he had
the pistol out of his pocket. He swung it around and around.
There was perfect silence. Suddenly there was a flash and a
stunning report, and instantly a crash and tinkle of broken
glass. One of the men cried out, and began picking and jerking
at the back of his neck. "He's broken that bottle all down my
neck," he called out.
"That's the way 'twill be," said Blackbeard.
"Lookee," said the owner of the place, "I won't serve out another
drop if 'tis going to be like that. If there's any more trouble
I'll blow out the lantern."
The sound of the squeaking and scraping of the fiddle and the
shouts and the scuffling feet still came from the shed where the
dancing was going on.
"Suppose you get your dose to-morrow, Captain," some one called
out, "what then?"
"Why, if I do," said Blackbeard, "I get it, and that's all there
is of it."
"Your wife'll be a rich widdy then, won't she?" cried one of the
men; and there was a burst of laughter.
"Why," said the New York captain,--"why, has a--a bloody p-pirate
like you a wife then--a--like any honest man?"
"She'll be no richer than she is now," said Blackbeard.
"She knows where you've hid your money, anyways. Don't she,
Captain?" called out a voice.
"The civil knows where I've hid my money," said Blackbeard, "and
I know where I've hid it; and the longest liver of the twain will
git it all. And that's all there is of it."
The gray of early day was beginning to show in the east when
Blackbeard and the New York captain came down to the landing
together. The New York captain swayed and toppled this way and
that as he walked, now falling against Blackbeard, and now
staggering away from him.
Early in the morning--perhaps eight o'clock--Lieutenant Maynard
sent a boat from the schooner over to the settlement, which lay
some four or five miles distant. A number of men stood lounging
on the landing, watching the approach of the boat. The men rowed
close up to the wharf, and there lay upon their oars, while the
boatswain of the schooner, who was in command of the boat, stood
up and asked if there was any man there who could pilot them over
Nobody answered, but all stared stupidly at him. After a while
one of the men at last took his pipe out of his mouth. "There
ben't any pilot here, master," said he; "we ben't pilots."
"Why, what a story you do tell!" roared the boatswain. "D'ye
suppose I've never been down here before, not to know that every
man about here knows the passes of the shoals?"
The fellow still held his pipe in his hand. He looked at another
one of the men. "Do you know the passes in over the shoals,
Jem?" said he.
The man to whom he spoke was a young fellow with long, shaggy,
sunburnt hair hanging over his eyes in an unkempt mass. He shook
his head, grunting, "Na--I don't know naught about t' shoals."
"'Tis Lieutenant Maynard of His Majesty's navy in command of them
vessels out there," said the boatswain. "He'll give any man five
pound to pilot him in." The men on the wharf looked at one
another, but still no one spoke, and the boatswain stood looking
at them. He saw that they did not choose to answer him. "Why,"
he said, "I believe you've not got right wits--that's what I
believe is the matter with you. Pull me up to the landing, men,
and I'll go ashore and see if I can find anybody that's willing
to make five pound for such a little bit of piloting as that."
After the boatswain had gone ashore the loungers still stood on
the wharf, looking down into the boat, and began talking to one
another for the men below to hear them. "They're coming in,"
said one, "to blow poor Blackbeard out of the water." "Aye," said
another, "he's so peaceable, too, he is; he'll just lay still and
let 'em blow and blow, he will." "There's a young fellow there,"
said another of the men; "he don't look fit to die yet, he don't.
Why, I wouldn't be in his place for a thousand pound." "I do
suppose Blackbeard's so afraid he don't know how to see," said
the first speaker.
At last one of the men in the boat spoke up. "Maybe he don't
know how to see," said he, "but maybe we'll blow some daylight
into him afore we get through with him."
Some more of the settlers had come out from the shore to the end
of the wharf, and there was now quite a crowd gathering there,
all looking at the men in the boat. "What do them Virginny
'baccy-eaters do down here in Caroliny, anyway?" said one of the
newcomers. "They've got no call to be down here in North Caroliny
"Maybe you can keep us away from coming, and maybe you can't,"
said a voice from the boat.
"Why," answered the man on the wharf, "we could keep you away
easy enough, but you ben't worth the trouble, and that's the
There was a heavy iron bolt lying near the edge of the landing.
One of the men upon the wharf slyly thrust it out with the end of
his foot. It hung for a moment and then fell into the boat below
with a crash. "What d'ye mean by that?" roared the man in charge
of the boat. "What d'ye mean, ye villains? D'ye mean to stave a
hole in us?"
"Why," said the man who had pushed it, "you saw 'twasn't done a
purpose, didn't you?"
"Well, you try it again, and somebody'll get hurt," said the man
in the boat, showing the butt end of his pistol.
The men on the wharf began laughing. Just then the boatswain
came down from the settlement again, and out along the landing.
The threatened turbulence quieted as he approached, and the crowd
moved sullenly aside to let him pass. He did not bring any pilot
with him, and he jumped down into the stern of the boat, saying,
briefly, "Push off." The crowd of loungers stood looking after
them as they rowed away, and when the boat was some distance from
the landing they burst out into a volley of derisive yells. "The
villains!" said the boatswain, "they are all in league together.
They wouldn't even let me go up into the settlement to look for a
The lieutenant and his sailing master stood watching the boat as
it approached. "Couldn't you, then, get a pilot, Baldwin?" said
Mr. Maynard, as the boatswain scrambled aboard.
"No, I couldn't, sir," said the man. "Either they're all banded
together, or else they're all afraid of the villains. They
wouldn't even let me go up into the settlement to find one."
"Well, then," said Mr. Maynard, "we'll make shift to work in as
best we may by ourselves. 'Twill be high tide against one
o'clock. We'll run in then with sail as far as we can, and then
we'll send you ahead with the boat to sound for a pass, and we'll
follow with the sweeps. You know the waters pretty well, you
"They were saying ashore that the villain hath forty men aboard,"
said the boatswain.
 The pirate captain had really only twenty-five men aboard of
his ship at the time of the battle.
Lieutenant Maynard's force consisted of thirty-five men in the
schooner and twenty-five men in the sloop. He carried neither
cannons nor carronades, and neither of his vessels was very well
fitted for the purpose for which they were designed. The
schooner, which he himself commanded, offered almost no
protection to the crew. The rail was not more than a foot high
in the waist, and the men on the deck were almost entirely
exposed. The rail of the sloop was perhaps a little higher, but
it, too, was hardly better adapted for fighting. Indeed, the
lieutenant depended more upon the moral force of official
authority to overawe the pirates than upon any real force of arms
or men. He never believed, until the very last moment, that the
pirates would show any real fight. It is very possible that they
might not have done so had they not thought that the lieutenant
had actually no legal right supporting him in his attack upon
them in North Carolina waters.
It was about noon when anchor was hoisted, and, with the schooner
leading, both vessels ran slowly in before a light wind that had
begun to blow toward midday. In each vessel a man stood in the
bows, sounding continually with lead and line. As they slowly
opened up the harbor within the inlet, they could see the pirate
sloop lying about three miles away. There was a boat just putting
off from it to the shore.
The lieutenant and his sailing master stood together on the roof
of the cabin deckhouse. The sailing master held a glass to his
eye. "She carries a long gun, sir," he said, "and four
carronades. She'll be hard to beat, sir, I do suppose, armed as
we are with only light arms for close fighting."
The lieutenant laughed. "Why, Brookes," he said, "you seem to
think forever of these men showing fight. You don't know them as
I know them. They have a deal of bluster and make a deal of
noise, but when you seize them and hold them with a strong hand,
there's naught of fight left in them. 'Tis like enough there'll
not be so much as a musket fired to-day. I've had to do with 'em
often enough before to know my gentlemen well by this time." Nor,
as was said, was it until the very last that the lieutenant could
be brought to believe that the pirates had any stomach for a
The two vessels had reached perhaps within a mile of the pirate
sloop before they found the water too shoal to venture any
farther with the sail. It was then that the boat was lowered as
the lieutenant had planned, and the boatswain went ahead to
sound, the two vessels, with their sails still hoisted but empty
of wind, pulling in after with sweeps.
The pirate had also hoisted sail, but lay as though waiting for
the approach of the schooner and the sloop.
The boat in which the boatswain was sounding had run in a
considerable distance ahead of the two vessels, which were
gradually creeping up with the sweeps until they had reached to
within less than half a mile of the pirates--the boat with the
boatswain maybe a quarter of a mile closer. Suddenly there was a
puff of smoke from the pirate sloop, and then another and
another, and the next moment there came the three reports of
muskets up the wind.
"By zounds!" said the lieutenant. "I do believe they're firing
on the boat!" And then he saw the boat turn and begin pulling
The boat with the boatswain aboard came rowing rapidly. Again
there were three or four puffs of smoke and three or four
subsequent reports from the distant vessel. Then, in a little
while, the boat was alongside, and the boatswain came scrambling
aboard. "Never mind hoisting the boat," said the lieutenant;
"we'll just take her in tow. Come aboard as quick as you can."
Then, turning to the sailing master, "Well, Brookes, you'll have
to do the best you can to get in over the shoals under half
"But, sir," said the master, "we'll be sure to run aground."
"Very well, sir," said the lieutenant, "you heard my orders. If
we run aground we run aground, and that's all there is of it."
"I sounded as far as maybe a little over a fathom," said the
mate, "but the villains would let me go no nearer. I think I was
in the channel, though. 'Tis more open inside, as I mind me of
it. There's a kind of a hole there, and if we get in over the
shoals just beyond where I was we'll be all right."
"Very well, then, you take the wheel, Baldwin," said the
lieutenant, "and do the best you can for us."
Lieutenant Maynard stood looking out forward at the pirate
vessel, which they were now steadily nearing under half sail. He
could see that there were signs of bustle aboard and of men
running around upon the deck. Then he walked aft and around the
cabin. The sloop was some distance astern. It appeared to have
run aground, and they were trying to push it off with the sweeps.
The lieutenant looked down into the water over the stern, and saw
that the schooner was already raising the mud in her wane. Then
he went forward along the deck. His men were crouching down
along by the low rail, and there was a tense quietness of
expectation about them. The lieutenant looked them over as he
passed them. "Johnson," he said, "do you take the lead and line
and go forward and sound a bit." Then to the others: "Now, my
men, the moment we run her aboard, you get aboard of her as
quick as you can, do you understand? Don't wait for the sloop or
think about her, but just see that the grappling irons are fast,
and then get aboard. If any man offers to resist you, shoot him
down. Are you ready, Mr. Cringle?"
"Aye, aye, sir," said the gunner.
"Very well, then, be ready, men; we'll be aboard 'em in a minute
"There's less than a fathom of water here, sir," sang out Johnson
from the bows. As he spoke there was a sudden soft jar and jerk,
then the schooner was still. They were aground. "Push her off to
the lee there! Let go your sheets!" roared the boatswain from
the wheel. "Push her off to the lee." He spun the wheel around
as he spoke. A half a dozen men sprang up, seized the sweeps,
and plunged them into the water. Others ran to help them, but the
sweeps only sank into the mud without moving the schooner. The
sails had fallen off and they were flapping and thumping and
clapping in the wind. Others of the crew had scrambled to their
feet and ran to help those at the sweeps. The lieutenant had
walked quickly aft again. They were very close now to the pirate
sloop, and suddenly some one hailed him from aboard of her. When
he turned he saw that there was a man standing up on the rail of
the pirate sloop, holding by the back stays. "Who are you?" he
called, from the distance, "and whence come you? What do you
seek here? What d'ye mean, coming down on us this way?"
The lieutenant heard somebody say, "That's Blackbeard hisself."
And he looked with great interest at the distant figure.
The pirate stood out boldly against the cloudy sky. Somebody
seemed to speak to him from behind. He turned his head and then
he turned round again. "We're only peaceful merchantmen!" he
called out. "What authority have you got to come down upon us
this way? If you'll come aboard I'll show you my papers and that
we're only peaceful merchantmen."
"The villains!" said the lieutenant to the master, who stood
beside him. "They're peaceful merchantmen, are they! They look
like peaceful merchantmen, with four carronades and a long gun
aboard!" Then he called out across the water, "I'll come aboard
with my schooner as soon as I can push her off here."
"If you undertake to come aboard of me," called the pirate, "I'll
shoot into you. You've got no authority to board me, and I won't
have you do it. If you undertake it 'twill be at your own risk,
for I'll neither ask quarter of you nor give none."
"Very well," said the lieutenant, "if you choose to try that, you
may do as you please; for I'm coming aboard of you as sure as
"Push off the bow there!" called the boatswain at the wheel.
"Look alive! Why don't you push off the bow?"
"She's hard aground!" answered the gunner. "We can't budge her
"If they was to fire into us now," said the sailing master,
"they'd smash us to pieces."
"They won't fire into us," said the lieutenant. "They won't dare
to." He jumped down from the cabin deckhouse as he spoke, and
went forward to urge the men in pushing off the boat. It was
already beginning to move.
At that moment the sailing master suddenly called out, "Mr.
Maynard! Mr. Maynard! they're going to give us a broadside!"
Almost before the words were out of his mouth, before Lieutenant
Maynard could turn, there came a loud and deafening crash, and
then instantly another, and a third, and almost as instantly a
crackling and rending of broken wood. There were clean yellow
splinters flying everywhere. A man fell violently against the
lieutenant, nearly overturning him, but he caught at the stays
and so saved himself. For one tense moment he stood holding his
breath. Then all about him arose a sudden outcry of groans and
shouts and oaths. The man who had fallen against him was lying
face down upon the deck. His thighs were quivering, and a pool of
blood was spreading and running out from under him. There were
other men down, all about the deck. Some were rising; some were
trying to rise; some only moved.
There was a distant sound of yelling and cheering and shouting.
It was from the pirate sloop. The pirates were rushing about
upon her decks. They had pulled the cannon back, and, through the
grunting sound of the groans about him, the lieutenant could
distinctly hear the thud and punch of the rammers, and he knew
they were going to shoot again.
The low rail afforded almost no shelter against such a broadside,
and there was nothing for it but to order all hands below for the
"Get below!" roared out the lieutenant. "All hands get below and
lie snug for further orders!" In obedience the men ran
scrambling below into the hold, and in a little while the decks
were nearly clear except for the three dead men and some three or
four wounded. The boatswain, crouching down close to the wheel,
and the lieutenant himself were the only others upon deck.
Everywhere there were smears and sprinkles of blood. "Where's
Brookes?" the lieutenant called out.
"He's hurt in the arm, sir, and he's gone below," said the
Thereupon the lieutenant himself walked over to the forecastle
hatch, and, hailing the gunner, ordered him to get up another
ladder, so that the men could be run up on deck if the pirates
should undertake to come aboard. At that moment the boatswain at
the wheel called out that the villains were going to shoot again,
and the lieutenant, turning, saw the gunner aboard of the pirate
sloop in the act of touching the iron to the touchhole. He
stooped down. There was another loud and deafening crash of
cannon, one, two, three--four--the last two almost together--and
almost instantly the boatswain called out, "'Tis the sloop, sir!
look at the sloop!"
The sloop had got afloat again, and had been coming up to the aid
of the schooner, when the pirates fired their second broadside
now at her. When the lieutenant looked at her she was quivering
with the impact of the shot, and the next moment she began
falling off to the wind, and he could see the wounded men rising
and falling and struggling upon her decks.
At the same moment the boatswain called out that the enemy was
coming aboard, and even as he spoke the pirate sloop came
drifting out from the cloud of smoke that enveloped her, looming
up larger and larger as she came down upon them. The lieutenant
still crouched down under the rail, looking out at them.
Suddenly, a little distance away, she came about, broadside on,
and then drifted. She was close aboard now. Something came
flying through the air--another and another. They were bottles.
One of them broke with a crash upon the deck. The others rolled
over to the farther rail. In each of them a quick-match was
smoking. Almost instantly there was a flash and a terrific
report, and the air was full of the whiz and singing of broken
particles of glass and iron. There was another report, and then
the whole air seemed full of gunpowder smoke. "They're aboard of
us!" shouted the boatswain, and even as he spoke the lieutenant
roared out, "All hands to repel boarders!" A second later there
came the heavy, thumping bump of the vessels coming together.
Lieutenant Maynard, as he called out the order, ran forward
through the smoke, snatching one of his pistols out of his pocket
and the cutlass out of its sheath as he did so. Behind him the
men were coming, swarming up from below. There was a sudden
stunning report of a pistol, and then another and another, almost
together. There was a groan and the fall of a heavy body, and
then a figure came jumping over the rail, with two or three more
directly following. The lieutenant was in the midst of the gun
powder smoke, when suddenly Blackbeard was before him. The pirate
captain had stripped himself naked to the waist. His shaggy black
hair was falling over his eyes, and he looked like a demon fresh
from the pit, with his frantic face. Almost with the blindness of
instinct the lieutenant thrust out his pistol, firing it as he
did so. The pirate staggered back: he was down--no; he was up
again. He had a pistol in each hand; but there was a stream of
blood running down his naked ribs. Suddenly, the mouth of a
pistol was pointing straight at the lieutenant's head. He ducked
instinctively, striking upward with his cutlass as he did so.
There was a stunning, deafening report almost in his ear. He
struck again blindly with his cutlass. He saw the flash of a
sword and flung up his guard almost instinctively, meeting the
crash of the descending blade. Somebody shot from behind him, and
at the same moment he saw some one else strike the pirate.
Blackbeard staggered again, and this time there was a great gash
upon his neck. Then one of Maynard's own men tumbled headlong
upon him. He fell with the man, but almost instantly he had
scrambled to his feet again, and as he did so he saw that the
pirate sloop had drifted a little away from them, and that their
grappling irons had evidently parted. His hand was smarting as
though struck with the lash of a whip. He looked around him; the
pirate captain was nowhere to be seen--yes, there he was, lying
by the rail. He raised himself upon his elbow, and the
lieutenant saw that he was trying to point a pistol at him, with
an arm that wavered and swayed blindly, the pistol nearly falling
from his fingers. Suddenly his other elbow gave way and he fell
down upon his face. He tried to raise himself--he fell down
again. There was a report and a cloud of smoke, and when it
cleared away Blackbeard had staggered up again. He was a terrible
figure his head nodding down upon his breast. Somebody shot
again, and then the swaying figure toppled and fell. It lay
still for a moment--then rolled over-- then lay still again.
There was a loud splash of men jumping overboard, and then,
almost instantly, the cry of "Quarter! quarter!" The lieutenant
ran to the edge of the vessel. It was as he had thought: the
grappling irons of the pirate sloop had parted, and it had
drifted away. The few pirates who had been left aboard of the
schooner had jumped overboard and were now holding up their
hands. "Quarter!" they cried. "Don't shoot!--quarter!" And the
fight was over.
The lieutenant looked down at his hand, and then he saw, for the
first time, that there was a great cutlass gash across the back
of it, and that his arm and shirt sleeve were wet with blood. He
went aft, holding the wrist of his wounded hand. The boatswain
was still at the wheel. "By zounds!" said the lieutenant, with a
nervous, quavering laugh, "I didn't know there was such fight in
His wounded and shattered sloop was again coming up toward him
under sail, but the pirates had surrendered, and the fight was
BLUESKIN, THE PIRATE
CAPE MAY and Cape Henlopen form, as it were, the upper and lower
jaws of a gigantic mouth, which disgorges from its monstrous
gullet the cloudy waters of the Delaware Bay into the heaving,
sparkling blue-green of the Atlantic Ocean. From Cape Henlopen
as the lower jaw there juts out a long, curving fang of high,
smooth-rolling sand dunes, cutting sharp and clean against the
still, blue sky above silent, naked, utterly deserted, excepting
for the squat, white-walled lighthouse standing upon the crest of
the highest hill. Within this curving, sheltering hook of sand
hills lie the smooth waters of Lewes Harbor, and, set a little
back from the shore, the quaint old town, with its dingy wooden
houses of clapboard and shingle, looks sleepily out through the
masts of the shipping lying at anchor in the harbor, to the
purple, clean-cut, level thread of the ocean horizon beyond.
Lewes is a queer, odd, old-fashioned little town, smelling
fragrant of salt marsh and sea breeze. It is rarely visited by
strangers. The people who live there are the progeny of people
who have lived there for many generations, and it is the very
place to nurse, and preserve, and care for old legends and
traditions of bygone times, until they grow from bits of gossip
and news into local history of considerable size. As in the
busier world men talk of last year's elections, here these old
bits, and scraps, and odds and ends of history are retailed to
the listener who cares to listen--traditions of the War of 1812,
when Beresford's fleet lay off the harbor threatening to bombard
the town; tales of the Revolution and of Earl Howe's warships,
tarrying for a while in the quiet harbor before they sailed up
the river to shake old Philadelphia town with the thunders of
their guns at Red Bank and Fort Mifflin.
With these substantial and sober threads of real history, other
and more lurid colors are interwoven into the web of local
lore--legends of the dark doings of famous pirates, of their
mysterious, sinister comings and goings, of treasures buried in
the sand dunes and pine barrens back of the cape and along the
Atlantic beach to the southward.
Of such is the story of Blueskin, the pirate.
It was in the fall and the early winter of the year 1750, and
again in the summer of the year following, that the famous
pirate, Blueskin, became especially identified with Lewes as a
part of its traditional history.
For some time--for three or four years--rumors and reports of
Blueskin's doings in the West Indies and off the Carolinas had
been brought in now and then by sea captains. There was no more
cruel, bloody, desperate, devilish pirate than he in all those
pirate-infested waters. All kinds of wild and bloody stories were
current concerning him, but it never occurred to the good folk of
Lewes that such stories were some time to be a part of their own
But one day a schooner came drifting into Lewes
harbor--shattered, wounded, her forecastle splintered, her
foremast shot half away, and three great tattered holes in her
mainsail. The mate with one of the crew came ashore in the boat
for help and a doctor. He reported that the captain and the cook
were dead and there were three wounded men aboard. The story he
told to the gathering crowd brought a very peculiar thrill to
those who heard it. They had fallen in with Blueskin, he said,
off Fenwick's Island (some twenty or thirty miles below the
capes), and the pirates had come aboard of them; but, finding
that the cargo of the schooner consisted only of cypress shingles
and lumber, had soon quitted their prize. Perhaps Blueskin was
disappointed at not finding a more valuable capture; perhaps the
spirit of deviltry was hotter in him that morning than usual;
anyhow, as the pirate craft bore away she fired three broadsides
at short range into the helpless coaster. The captain had been
killed at the first fire, the cook had died on the way up, three
of the crew were wounded, and the vessel was leaking fast,
betwixt wind and water.
Such was the mate's story. It spread like wildfire, and in half
an hour all the town was in a ferment. Fenwick's Island was very
near home; Blueskin might come sailing into the harbor at any
minute and then--! In an hour Sheriff Jones had called together
most of the able-bodied men of the town, muskets and rifles were
taken down from the chimney places, and every preparation was
made to defend the place against the pirates, should they come
into the harbor and attempt to land.
But Blueskin did not come that day, nor did he come the next or
the next. But on the afternoon of the third the news went
suddenly flying over the town that the pirates were inside the
capes. As the report spread the people came running--men, women,
and children--to the green before the tavern, where a little knot
of old seamen were gathered together, looking fixedly out toward
the offing, talking in low voices. Two vessels, one bark-rigged,
the other and smaller a sloop, were slowly creeping up the bay, a
couple of miles or so away and just inside the cape. There
appeared nothing remarkable about the two crafts, but the little
crowd that continued gathering upon the green stood looking out
across the bay at them none the less anxiously for that. They
were sailing close-hauled to the wind, the sloop following in the
wake of her consort as the pilot fish follows in the wake of the
But the course they held did not lie toward the harbor, but
rather bore away toward the Jersey shore, and by and by it began
to be apparent that Blueskin did not intend visiting the town.
Nevertheless, those who stood looking did not draw a free breath
until, after watching the two pirates for more than an hour and a
half, they saw them--then about six miles away--suddenly put
about and sail with a free wind out to sea again.
"The bloody villains have gone!" said old Captain Wolfe, shutting
his telescope with a click.
But Lewes was not yet quit of Blueskin. Two days later a
half-breed from Indian River bay came up, bringing the news that
the pirates had sailed into the inlet--some fifteen miles below
Lewes--and had careened the bark to clean her.
Perhaps Blueskin did not care to stir up the country people
against him, for the half-breed reported that the pirates were
doing no harm, and that what they took from the farmers of Indian
River and Rehoboth they paid for with good hard money.
It was while the excitement over the pirates was at its highest
fever heat that Levi West came home again.
Even in the middle of the last century the grist mill, a couple
of miles from Lewes, although it was at most but fifty or sixty
years old, had all a look of weather-beaten age, for the cypress
shingles, of which it was built, ripen in a few years of wind and
weather to a silvery, hoary gray, and the white powdering of
flour lent it a look as though the dust of ages had settled upon
it, making the shadows within dim, soft, mysterious. A dozen
willow trees shaded with dappling, shivering ripples of shadow
the road before the mill door, and the mill itself, and the long,
narrow, shingle-built, one-storied, hip-roofed dwelling house. At
the time of the story the mill had descended in a direct line of
succession to Hiram White, the grandson of old Ephraim White, who
had built it, it was said, in 1701.
Hiram White was only twenty-seven years old, but he was already
in local repute as a "character." As a boy he was thought to be
half-witted or "natural," and, as is the case with such
unfortunates in small country towns where everybody knows
everybody, he was made a common sport and jest for the keener,
crueler wits of the neighborhood. Now that he was grown to the
ripeness of manhood he was still looked upon as being--to use a
quaint expression--"slack," or "not jest right." He was heavy,
awkward, ungainly and loose-jointed, and enormously, prodigiously
strong. He had a lumpish, thick-featured face, with lips heavy
and loosely hanging, that gave him an air of stupidity, half
droll, half pathetic. His little eyes were set far apart and flat
with his face, his eyebrows were nearly white and his hair was of
a sandy, colorless kind. He was singularly taciturn, lisping
thickly when he did talk, and stuttering and hesitating in his
speech, as though his words moved faster than his mind could
follow. It was the custom for local wags to urge, or badger, or
tempt him to talk, for the sake of the ready laugh that always
followed the few thick, stammering words and the stupid drooping
of the jaw at the end of each short speech. Perhaps Squire Hall
was the only one in Lewes Hundred who misdoubted that Hiram was
half-witted. He had had dealings with him and was wont to say
that whoever bought Hiram White for a fool made a fool's bargain.
Certainly, whether he had common wits or no, Hiram had managed
his mill to pretty good purpose and was fairly well off in the
world as prosperity went in southern Delaware and in those days.
No doubt, had it come to the pinch, he might have bought some of
his tormentors out three times over.
Hiram White had suffered quite a financial loss some six months
before, through that very Blueskin who was now lurking in Indian
River inlet. He had entered into a "venture" with Josiah Shippin,
a Philadelphia merchant, to the tune of seven hundred pounds
sterling. The money had been invested in a cargo of flour and
corn meal which had been shipped to Jamaica by the bark Nancy
Lee. The Nancy Lee had been captured by the pirates off
Currituck Sound, the crew set adrift in the longboat, and the
bark herself and all her cargo burned to the water's edge.
Five hundred of the seven hundred pounds invested in the
unfortunate "venture" was money bequeathed by Hiram's father,
seven years before, to Levi West.
Eleazer White had been twice married, the second time to the
widow West. She had brought with her to her new home a
good-looking, long-legged, black-eyed, black-haired ne'er-do-well
of a son, a year or so younger than Hiram. He was a shrewd,
quick-witted lad, idle, shiftless, willful, ill-trained perhaps,
but as bright and keen as a pin. He was the very opposite to
poor, dull Hiram. Eleazer White had never loved his son; he was
ashamed of the poor, slack-witted oaf. Upon the other hand, he
was very fond of Levi West, whom he always called "our Levi," and
whom he treated in every way as though he were his own son. He
tried to train the lad to work in the mill, and was patient
beyond what the patience of most fathers would have been with his
stepson's idleness and shiftlessness. "Never mind," he was used
to say. "Levi'll come all right. Levi's as bright as a button."
It was one of the greatest blows of the old miller's life when
Levi ran away to sea. In his last sickness the old man's mind
constantly turned to his lost stepson. "Mebby he'll come back
again," said he, "and if he does I want you to be good to him,
Hiram. I've done my duty by you and have left you the house and
mill, but I want you to promise that if Levi comes back again
you'll give him a home and a shelter under this roof if he wants
one." And Hiram had promised to do as his father asked.
After Eleazer died it was found that he had bequeathed five
hundred pounds to his "beloved stepson, Levi West," and had left
Squire Hall as trustee.
Levi West had been gone nearly nine years and not a word had been
heard from him; there could be little or no doubt that he was
One day Hiram came into Squire Hall's office with a letter in his
hand. It was the time of the old French war, and flour and corn
meal were fetching fabulous prices in the British West Indies.
The letter Hiram brought with him was from a Philadelphia
merchant, Josiah Shippin, with whom he had had some dealings.
Mr. Shippin proposed that Hiram should join him in sending a
"venture" of flour and corn meal to Kingston, Jamaica. Hiram had
slept upon the letter overnight and now he brought it to the old
Squire. Squire Hall read the letter, shaking his head the while.
"Too much risk, Hiram!" said he. "Mr Shippin wouldn't have asked
you to go into this venture if he could have got anybody else to
do so. My advice is that you let it alone. I reckon you've come
to me for advice?" Hiram shook his head. "Ye haven't? What have
ye come for, then?"
"Seven hundred pounds," said Hiram.
"Seven hundred pounds!" said Squire Hall. "I haven't got seven
hundred pounds to lend you, Hiram."
"Five hundred been left to Levi--I got hundred--raise hundred
more on mortgage," said Hiram.
"Tut, tut, Hiram," said Squire Hall, "that'll never do in the
world. Suppose Levi West should come back again, what then? I'm
responsible for that money. If you wanted to borrow it now for
any reasonable venture, you should have it and welcome, but for
such a wildcat scheme--"
"Levi never come back," said Hiram--"nine years gone Levi's
"Mebby he is," said Squire Hall, "but we don't know that."
"I'll give bond for security," said Hiram.