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- The Voyage of the Hoppergrass - 5/32 -
"What about Fishback Island, Captain?" asked Ed Mason.
"You never heard all them yarns, an' all that diggin' that went on over there?"
"No, I never heard of it," Ed replied, "are there pirates there?"
"Of course not," said Jimmy Toppan scornfully, "there aren't any pirates anywhere, now."
"Aren't there?" the Captain inquired. He slacked the sheet a little, and made it fast with great deliberation. "You better not be too sure of that, cos' I know where there's plenty of 'em."
"Around here?" I inquired.
Captain Bannister chuckled.
"No, not very near this place. In the China Sea."
"Have you ever seen any of them?"
"A whole junk full of 'em."
"What did they do?"
All four of us spoke at once. Mr. Daddles seemed to be as much interested as the rest of us.
"Well, they tried to ketch us. But they couldn't. That was all there was to it, then. But I see six of 'em 'bout a month later in Hong Kong."
"In Hong Kong! What were they doing there?"
"They was havin' their heads cut off, by a feller with a long sword. Anyway, I guess they was some of the same crew that chased us in the junk, cos' they was took by a man-of-war in 'bout the same place."
"How did they like having their heads cut off?" asked Mr. Daddles.
"Well, yer can't tell 'bout a Chinaman. They didn't seem to mind it much. They get used to it, yer see."
"Somehow," said Mr. Daddles, "a Chinese pirate doesn't seem like the real thing to me."
"That's so," I agreed. I came and sat down with the Captain and Ed Mason in the cock-pit. "I always think of a pirate as a man with a black beard, and--"
"A red sash around his waist," put in Ed Mason.
"All stuck full of pistols and things," added Jimmy.
"Guess that kind has all died off," said the Captain.
"All except Black Pedro," remarked Mr. Daddles.
"Never heard of HIM."
"Never HEARD of him?" This in a tone of great surprise. "You never heard of him either?" said Mr. Daddles, turning to each of us boys, one after the other. "What have your parents been doing to let you grow up in ignorance? I'll have to tell you about him,-- he's the very last of the pirates."
"Where does he hang out?" asked the Captain.
"On Rum Island or Alligator Key,--I'm not sure which. The accounts vary."
The Captain looked at Mr. Daddles in a quizzical fashion. "I guess you've got a yarn," said he,--"why don't yer let us have it?"
Mr. Daddles was perched on the cabin, swinging his bare legs over the cock-pit. The Captain was at the wheel, as usual, with his eyes fixed on the water ahead of us, part of the time, but now and then raised to look at Mr. Daddles. The latter had a serious, almost mournful expression on his face, as he told the story of the last of the pirates.
THE LAST OF THE PIRATES
"You know that a great many of the most famous pirates were really rather small potatoes. Take Captain Kidd, for instance. Why, they are still disputing whether he was a pirate or not. If he was one, he didn't take to it until late in life, and he'd been a perfectly respectable sailor up to that time. They sent him out to catch pirates, and according to one story he turned pirate himself."
"Well, they hung him for something," said Captain Bannister.
"Yes, sir. They did that because they said he was a pirate, and that he murdered his mate. He said his mate mutinied, and that he was justified in killing him. There were a lot of others who went out to catch pirates, but ended by turning pirates themselves. Then there were some who just carried on pirating as a kind of branch business, when other things were dull. What respect can you have for that kind of a pirate? Some of 'em were wreckers part of the time, and pirates the other part."
"What are wreckers?" I asked.
"Why, they," explained Mr. Daddles, "made a living by what they could steal from wrecks. Either they stayed on dangerous shores and waited for a wreck, or they would deceive sailors by building false beacons at night so as to toll the ships upon the rocks. That was a pretty mean sort of thing! They couldn't pick out a rich galleon, all full of gold ingots, and then fight for the treasure, like pirates and gentlemen! No; they had to take whatever came along, and, like as not, all they would get would be a miserable fishing-shack, loaded with hake and halibut! A real, simon-pure pirate would have refused to shake hands with a low- down wrecker, and it would have served him right, too.
"But Black Pedro was the very top-notcher of them all, the finest flower of piracy. He didn't go pirating just during the summer months, when his other business was slack. And he would have died before he'd have been a wrecker. It was a profession, with him. And an inherited one, too. He was the third of the name. He started in as cabin boy on the ship of his grand-father,--old Black Pedro the First. The old man, the grand-father, was captured once by an Admiral of the English Navy, and taken to Tyburn to be hanged. You see he was such a prominent pirate that they wouldn't just string him up to the yard arm, like a common buccaneer. He was tried with the greatest ceremony, and sentenced to death by the Lord Chief Justice himself. That was a great feather in his cap. But when they tried to hang him the crowd around the gallows liked him so well that they started a riot, and in the excitement he got away, and a year later he was back on the Spanish Main, pirating again, with all of his old crew who were still alive,-- about eight of 'em.
"He had to get a new ship, for his old one--the 'Panther,'--had been sunk in the fight with the English Admiral. So he had one built for him by a firm in San Domingo, who made a specialty of pirate ships. It was the very latest thing in that kind of vessel, strong, swift, heavily armed, and luxuriously furnished. The crew had a social hall for holding their revels and the cabins were fit for a king. Even The Plank was solid mahogany."
"What plank?" This from Ed Mason.
"WHAT plank? Did you ever hear such a question? I shouldn't think you'd ever been to school. Why, THE PLANK,--the one that the pirates' victims have to walk. Didn't you ever hear of walking the plank?"
"Well, old Black Pedro the First named his new ship 'The Angel of Death' and he had a picture of the Angel embroidered in black velvet on his foresail. He was a proud man, I tell you, when he sailed out of San Domingo on his first voyage. He had a black velvet suit--made out of some that was left over from the picture of the Angel--and a red sash around his waist, in the proper style. This was stuck full of cutlasses and flint-lock pistols,-- four cutlasses and eight pistols. And he had two or three more pistols in each boot. He had a fierce, black beard, and the most ferocious face you can imagine. He scared some people to death by just GLARING at them. And his own son was first mate,--he was almost as ferocious as old Pedro the First. And HIS son--the grandson, that is, of Pedro the First--was cabin boy. It was the boy's first voyage. Before they had been out a week they fell in with 'El Espiritu Santo,' a private galleon belonging to the King of Spain. It was loaded with bars of solid gold, and fifteen chests of gold doubloons. Black Pedro ordered the Jolly Roger hoisted at all three mast-heads, and went down to his cabin and stuck six more pistols in his boots. Then the two ships opened fire on each other with their big guns, and fought for about half an hour. At the end of that time, the first mate came to the captain and said:
"'Father, I think it's about time to board her.'
"'Are the scuppers running with blood yet?'
"Pedro the Second went and inspected the scuppers.
"'No,' he said, 'not yet.'
"'Continue firing till they are,' ordered the Captain.
"After about ten minutes more, the mate reported the scuppers running with blood in the regular manner. Then, and not till then, did old Pedro give orders to board. That was why he was the prince of pirates,--it was his attention to details, to the little things that make up the difference between a real pirate and a mere sea- thief. You can see what an inheritance the third Pedro had,--how he was brought up to reverence the best traditions of his calling.
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