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- The Voyage of the Hoppergrass - 6/32 -


"They laid the 'Angel' alongside the Spanish galleon, and grappled the two vessels together. Old Pedro led the boarding party, and when they got to the poop-deck of the galleon they found the Spanish captain, the first mate, and the cabin-boy waiting for them with cutlasses. The three Pedros, father, son, and grandson, engaged them according to rank, and finished them off at the same moment. The rest of the Spanish crew had been subdued in the meantime, and it only remained to make them walk the plank, then transfer the treasure to 'The Angel of Death,' and sail away, leaving 'El Espiritu Santo' on fire, so she would blow up when the fire reached her powder magazine.

"When the officers were killed, and the crew and passengers of the galleon were lined up on deck, awaiting their fate, old Pedro strode down from the poop-deck, wiping his cutlass.

"'Now,' he said, knowing that all eyes were on him, 'we'll feed 'em to the sharks!'

"And he roared: 'Fetch out The Plank!'

"There was a pause. No one moved.

"'Blood and Bones!' roared old Pedro, 'don't you hear me? Fetch out The Plank!'

"At this the bo's'n, Aaron Halyard, stepped forward.

"'Oh there you are, are you, Halyard?' bellowed the pirate chief, 'well, why don't you fetch out The Plank? It's your duty,--you're in charge of it.'

"The bo's'n pulled at his forelock, and bowed to his commander.

"'Beggin' yer pardin, Cap'n,' said he, 'kin I have a word with yer private-like? Lemme whisper in yer ear, if I may make so bold--'

"'No whispering,' returned his chief, 'no whispering here. What's the matter with you anyway? And why don't you fetch out The Plank?'"

'"Well, Cap'n,' said the bo's'n, rubbing his hands together, nervously, 'you know ME. I've been with you ever since you begun. I was with you in the days of the old 'Panther,' an'--' "'Cut it short!' shouted Pedro.

"'Well, Cap'n,' the bo's'n repeated, with his knees knocking together, 'I never was so mortified in all my life--specially in front of all the gentry here,' pointing his thumb toward the Spanish prisoners, 'but the fact is, Cap'n, I've clean forgot where I put The Plank!'

"'Forgot!' screamed old Pedro.

"'Yessir, plumb forgot. I jus' can't remember for the life of me, where I put her. I know I brought her aboard myself, an' I'd a- taken my affydavy I put her under my bunk, but when I looked for her, when we fust sighted this here galleon, strike me foolish if she was there at all! I asked the cook about it. He'll tell yer so hisself--an' he--'

"'Cut it short!' Pedro roared again.

"He glared around him--did old Pedro--like an infuriated lion. Once he raised his cutlass and seemed about to sweep off the bo's'n's head with it. At last he said in a choked voice--

"'Well, for goodness' sake, think! Can't you remember what you did with it?'

"Aaron shook his head dumbly. Then as he stood there, quaking, a sudden gleam of intelligence came into his eye.

"'That's it!' he said,'that's it. The cook wanted an ironin' board, he said, and he borrowed it--'

"He broke off, and scrambled hastily over the side of 'The Angel of Death.' Then he rushed below, and in a few minutes came back, nervously tearing off some sheets of white cloth, which surrounded the handsome, hand-carved, mahogany Plank.

"'Lucky for you!' bellowed Pedro, 'now put her in place, boys!'

"His men put her in place and the Spanish crew had the pleasure of starting the long procession of victims who were to go overboard by that route in the years to come.

"Such was the first fight of 'The Angel of Death' and just such success (excepting, of course, the hitch about The Plank) rewarded the efforts of old Pedro for over twenty years. Up and down the Spanish Main he sailed, and the sight of that foresail, with its terrible picture of the Black Angel, struck terror to the heart of every man afloat. Even men-of-war fought shy of the three Pedros. Once 'The Angel of Death' rounded the Cape of Good Hope and attacked a treasure fleet on its way back from the Indies. On that occasion it captured so many chests of gold doubloons that they quite blocked up the social hall, where the crew used to hold their revels, and they had to revel on deck, until 'The Angel of Death' got back to Rum Island, where they buried their treasure.

"Finally, old Pedro the First was taken sick. There was a fight, early one morning when the air was very damp, between the 'Angel' and a rich merchantman. The pirate captain got rather over-heated, during his usual duel with the captain of the merchantman, and then he foolishly sat down in a draft while he ate his breakfast. He had a bad attack of rheumatism, and it made it very hard for him to scramble over the bulwarks when he led a boarding party to the enemy's decks. The next time they put in at Rum Island the old man took his bed, dolefully predicting that his end was near.

"'Just at this season, when the plate-ships are all sailing for Spain,' he grumbled, 'I don't see what I've done to be put upon this way.'

"He got worse and worse, however, and the best doctors shook their heads over his case. He called in his son and grandson, and old Aaron Halyard, the bo's'n,--the same one who came so near to botching everything in the first fight. He said good-bye to them all, and gave some good advice to the youngest Pedro,--who was a fine, promising boy, by this time. Then he passed away, and they gave him the biggest funeral that had ever been seen on Rum Island.

"Of course, Black Pedro the Second took up the work right where the old pirate had left it. It was the season when the galleons were starting for Spain, loaded down with gold, and as soon as the funeral was over, the 'Angel' sailed on her regular autumn trip. Some of the Spanish captains had heard of the death of old Pedro, and so they weren't quite as cautious as they should have been. They found out their mistake very quick, however, and the 'Angel' had a most profitable voyage. Gold and silver from the mines of Peru, diamonds from Brazil, rubies and other kinds of precious stones,--oh, I tell you, the pirates sailed back to Rum Island that winter, chuckling with glee at the thought of the wealth they had won. They had with them the Governor General of the Antilles, a Spanish grandee of the very highest kind. They held him for ransom, and made the King of Spain pay fifty thousand dollars to get him back. 'The Angel of Death' got to be such a scourge of the seas that half a dozen men-of-war were sent out by England, Spain and Portugal to try to catch her. But she was the fleetest ship on the ocean, and she always gave them the slip. Once she got caught in a tight place, between Rum Island and Alligator Key. The pursuer was a Portuguese man-of-war, and the pirate vessel turned and fought so fiercely that the enemy was put to flight.

"So it went on for many years. The boy, Pedro, had worked his way up, by sheer merit--no favoritism--until he was now first mate. Then it came his father's turn to pass on, as the first Pedro had passed. The 'Angel' had put in at Alligator Key, for a few weeks one summer, and while they were there some friend presented the captain with a water-melon. He ate it at supper that night, and as it was unripe, it disagreed with him. Several glasses of ice- water, which he drank with the melon, had the effect of making him still worse. Next morning another of the Pedros was gone, and Pedro the Third was now captain of 'The Angel of Death' and leader of the pirate crew."

Mr. Daddles paused in his story and came and sat down with Ed and me in the cock-pit.

"When 'The Angel of Death' sailed on her next trip, she was probably the most dangerous pirate ship that was ever afloat. You see they were all of them experienced men. They had years of practice behind them. They knew their ship, and they knew the ocean. There wasn't a shoal or a passage, an inlet or a creek from one end of the Spanish Main to the other that they didn't know. Black Pedro spread terror into far corners of the ocean, where neither his father nor grand-father had ever been heard of. They would have been proud indeed, if they could have seen their son. He wore a black velvet suit, with a red sash, just like his grand- father before him. That had become the official costume in the family. He had made no change in it, except to add one or two more pistols in the sash.

"One autumn, after Black Pedro the Third had been captain for about a dozen or fifteen years, 'The Angel of Death' had a terrible fight with the biggest galleon she had ever tackled,-- 'The Santa Maria Sanctissima,' a ship so huge that she towered far above the pirate vessel. While the great guns were roaring, and the cannon-balls flying, Black Pedro stood amid the smoke, in his velvet suit, his black beard bristling with rage, and his face bearing an expression ten times more ferocious than his grand- father's at its worst. He noted carefully the precise moment when the scuppers were running with blood, and then gave the signal for boarding. 'The Santa Maria Sanctissima' was so high that they had to use scaling-ladders to reach her deck, but the pirates soon swarmed on board, the captain was slain by Black Pedro, the rest of the crew walked The Plank, and 'The Angel of Death' sailed back to Rum Island with her booty.

"It was the richest she had ever captured. 'The Santa Maria Sanctissima' carried an enormous cargo of gold, intended for a great castle in Spain, and it took four days to unload the treasure at the pirates' lair, and six more days to bury it in the ground. Think how they felt when the last shovelful of earth was put in, how the sense of work well done filled their breasts with satisfaction! But on that very day disaster of the most terrible kind was hanging over them, and less than twenty-four hours lay between them and dire calamity.


The Voyage of the Hoppergrass - 6/32

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