"Pirates! Oh, Charlotte, how romantic! How do you know? Are you sure? Oh, how I should love to see a real live pirate!"
Charlotte smiled a little grimly.
"I'm not quite so sure of that, Adela; I rather think if you were to encounter him you would wish he were anything but a live pirate—you would much prefer him dead!"
"What a horrid idea, Charlotte!" and Adela shivered slightly. "But do go on! Tell me some more! I thought there were no pirates left now. Smugglers one knows abound; but pirates!"
"I truly hope that there are not many such wretches in the world as the man Gow seems by all accounts to be," said Charlotte, who, as the daughter of the High-Sheriff of the island and county of Orkney spoke with a certain amount of authority. "If half the tales they tell of him are true, such a monster in human shape has seldom walked the earth. He and his mate Williams have been a pair; but he found his subordinate one too many for him, made him a prisoner, and handed him over to some English man-of-war, under charge of various crimes, and the wretch has probably been hanged ere this. But Gow yet goes scot-free!"
"And is his vessel in one of our bays?" asked Adela, in a tremor of excitement.
"If the man's story be true, who came and asked speech of father last night. He told a wonderful and a terrible tale. Father has gone off to-day to make some particular inquiries into the business. He seems to think very gravely of it."
"And where is this terrible pirate vessel now?"
"We do not know exactly. The seaman who came to seek for a magistrate does not know the coast, and could not describe the place accurately. It is not very near to our homes, thank heaven! We do not want pirates for our neighbours!"
"Oh, but pirates only rob at sea, not upon land," exclaimed Adela; "we need not be afraid. I should love to see what a pirate ship looked like! Does it carry a black flag? And do the men wear crimson sashes round their waists, and black crape masks upon their faces?"
Charlotte laughed a little. From her position as the daughter of the Sheriff she knew a little more of the grim realities of crime than did the younger and romantic Adela, whose pretty head was stuffed with a good deal of nonsense. Sheriff Honeyman was very fond of his "little child," as he still called Charlotte, notwithstanding the fact that she had blossomed out into maidenhood of late years, and had left her childhood behind. She was always ready for a clamber along the cliffs with him, or a ride across the bare country on her sure-footed little pony. He talked to her with unusual freedom for those days of his own affairs, and was often amused by her shrewd comments and questions, as well as by her little airs of worldly wisdom and fragments of meditative speculation.
He noted in her with approval, too, an intrepid spirit, and a readiness of resource in moments of emergency, which she had inherited from him. He was sometimes caught in storms when his daughter was with him, both on land and on the sea, and he always admired her fearless spirit on these occasions, as well as her presence of mind and quickness to think and act.
Charlotte had no sister, and her brothers were all away either at school or college; but she was not lonely, for she had always plenty to occupy and amuse her, and for companionship there was ever Adela to be depended on; for Adela was an only child, and was devoted to Charlotte, who seemed to her to be like brother and sister in one.
Adela was the daughter of Mr. Fea, a wealthy gentleman (as wealth was accounted in those days and in those parts) of the island. He owned considerable tracts of land there, and he and Mr. Honeyman were intimate friends as well as near neighbours. In his youth he had been a poor man, but of late years things had greatly prospered with him, and he was accounted only second to Mr. Honeyman in importance in that district. As the two girls were walking up and down, and talking eagerly together over this matter, Mr. Fea himself appeared coming towards them.
Adela at once darted off, all eagerness to tell the news.
"Oh, papa, papa, what do you think! Charlotte says that there is a pirate vessel sheltering in one of the bays of our islands, and that we may all be murdered in our beds any day!"
Adela's face was quite glowing and beaming with excitement, and her father could not forbear a laugh, in which Charlotte joined.
"Well, my dear, that thought seems to give you wonderful pleasure! As the old proverb says, 'there is no accounting for taste!'" Then, turning to Charlotte, he asked: "But what is the sober sense of all this, my dear? What news has come to your father about pirates?"
"It is this, sir," answered Charlotte, turning to him quickly: "a poor seaman came early this morning and asked speech of my father, and when he was admitted he told a most terrible tale. Do you remember there living once in these parts a man of the name of Gow, who afterwards took to a seafaring life?"
"Gow? To be sure I remember him," answered Mr. Fea at once. "He and I were once at the same school—a hot-tempered, rather dangerous lad, of whom nobody spoke well. We were none of us sorry when he shipped himself off to sea. I have never heard of him since."
"Well, the man who came to speak to papa told him that Gow had been mate in a vessel called the George Galley, where he was a seaman. They had a very good captain and officers; but Gow got up a mutiny on board, shot the captain and some of the officers, got the well-disposed sailors shut up helpless, took possession of the vessel, and changed its name to the Revenge. Since then he has been scouring the seas, making the seamen who did not join in the mutiny do the work of the vessel under threat of cruel punishment or death, taking prizes, robbing and sinking small vessels of many nations in the most reckless way, and now, by stress of weather and through lack of water, they have put in here, where they hope the news of their many misdeeds will not be known. They know themselves to be in sore peril, for they have committed such depredations on the high seas that their doings have become notorious, and they are being watched for in many ports and on many oceans. But here Gow thinks he may be safe for awhile, and, perhaps, even yet he may elude justice, for he seems one of those men who carry charmed lives."
"Pooh-pooh, my dear; I don't believe in that sort of charmed life. Those fellows always come to the gallows at last. But how did this man dare to come with such a story? Gow will cut his throat if ever it comes to his ears."
"Yes; but he is not going back to the vessel. He escaped from her to give notice to the authorities, and papa took him away with him, and has promised him protection and help, though he will be wanted to give evidence when Gow is brought to trial, as we hope to bring him. Papa has gone off to take counsel with some others, and will not be back till to-morrow; but the man said there was no fear that the Revenge would leave her moorings in that time. Gow was resolved to come ashore and enjoy himself, and there were several more sailors who hoped to escape from the ship, and to find their way to the mainland, there to give notice of the pirate vessel."
Mr. Fea was keenly interested in this story. He was a law-abiding citizen, with a horror of bloodshed and violence, and he made up his mind that he would do everything in his power to assist in the capture of the pirate ship. It irked him to think that an Orkney man should have sunk to the level of Gow, and the very fact of having known him in his early days made him the more anxious to bring him to justice. It was a horrible thing that such men were still ranging the seas, plundering and murdering; and that honest seamen were forced to serve in such vessels on pain of instant death!
"I will see your father as soon as he returns," said Mr. Fea, "and we will talk together as to the best method of making the capture. A pirate sloop is not an easy prey to tackle; but we must see what can be done by strategy or by force."
Adela's eyes sparkled with excitement.
"Oh, papa, will there be a battle? Shall we be able to see it? Will there be danger and fighting, and all that sort of thing?"
"I hope not, my dear; at least, not too much. There is always a little risk in these affairs; but I hope most sincerely we may get off without bloodshed. I should think that Gow was already sufficiently notorious, without wishing to draw down upon himself the further ire of the representatives of the law. Perhaps if he finds himself overmatched, he may yield without much of a struggle."
Mr. Fea was not in any way alarmed for his own or his neighbours' houses, even though there was a pirate schooner lying hidden in one of the many indentations of their coast. It seemed to him, from Charlotte's story, that Gow had run in here in the hopes of lying safe and quiet for a short spell, and that his aim and object would be to avoid stirring up any sort of inquiry about himself and his vessel. He appeared to desire to enjoy himself on shore for awhile, and he certainly would not be able to do that if he incriminated himself by any acts of violence there. So again telling Charlotte that he would be over the next day to see her father, and would meantime think of some plan as to what might be done to entrap the pirate and his crew, and gain possession of the vessel, he took his daughter with him, as he turned to go to his house, and Charlotte sped over the few dividing fields, and reached her own home just as the dusk was beginning to fall.
She and her mother took their supper comfortably together. Mrs. Honeyman was an elderly lady, of considerable spirit and strength; but she was very hard of hearing, though a little sensitive about this failing, so that she was content often not to understand exactly what was passing, rather than ask for an explanation.
Charlotte did not mention the pirates to her; for she thought if she shouted out the story, that some servant would be certain to hear, and take alarm, and there might be a sort of panic in the house. The butler knew, as Mr. Honeyman had given him a few extra instructions about locking up the plate at night; but he did not wish his household needlessly alarmed; the more so as he was not able to be himself at home till the next day.
After supper, it came into Charlotte's head that, in her father's study there was generally on this day a considerable amount of gold, ready for the payment of the weekly wage to labourers and people of the place on the morrow. It occurred to her that she would do well to take her father's cash-box up to her own room that night. Ordinarily, there was so little fear of robbery here, that many people forgot to lock their doors at night; but perhaps, with a crew from a pirate vessel lurking somewhere near, it would be better to be on the safe side.
So after supper she went away quietly, took the heavy cash-box out of the drawer, and carried it up to her room. She had in her keeping, in an old-fashioned bureau, a good many family heirlooms in the shape of jewels, some of them of great value; and beside these there were some precious family documents greatly prized by her parents.
Charlotte could scarcely have told why it was that she took these out of their hiding-place, folded them carefully up, and strapped them to the cash-box, which she wrapped in a cloak and placed the bundle in her wardrobe, where a dark driving-cloak and hood hung from a peg. She was conscious of feeling a little restless and excited, though hardly uneasy.
"It is Adela's nonsense about being murdered in our beds, and all that," she said to herself; "I will go down and get a book, and not trouble myself about those stories any more."
Everything was very quiet as Charlotte and her mother sat beside the cheerful log fire with their books. The house was rather a rambling building, having only one upper storey of rooms, and covering a good deal of ground. The sounds from one part of the house did not easily penetrate to another; and Charlotte had not heard anything to awaken any uneasiness, when suddenly, hasty steps sounded outside the door, which opened to admit of Peter, the butler, who had such a white, scared face, that, instinctively, Charlotte jumped up and placed herself so that her mother might not see the man's expression of terror.
As a matter of fact, Mrs. Honeyman, being engrossed in her book, did not heed her daughter's movement, and, of course, had not heard the approach of the servant.
"The pirates! the pirates!" cried Peter, in strangled tones. "My mistress—my dear young mistress! Fly for your lives! They will murder every one who tries to thwart them!"
"How many are there?" asked Charlotte breathlessly.
"Ten; nine are to go through the house and take everything. The tenth guards the door. They say they will not hurt anybody who offers no resistance; but they will shoot the first one of us who tries to save his master's property!"
Charlotte's eyes flashed. Her spirit was rising within her; but she was no reckless fool to adventure herself and others in a futile struggle.
"The men are armed, of course?"
"To the teeth, with knives and pistols and cutlasses."
"Then, Peter, we cannot tackle them ourselves. We must get your mistress away at once. She must not even know what is happening in the house, else I am not certain she would not face the whole pirate crew herself, and defy and resist them. She must not run that risk. Be ready to follow up what I shall say. I do not like to deceive; but we must stoop to subterfuge for once."
Then, turning back into the room, she shouted to her mother—but rather slurring over her words, and making many breaks.
"Mamma—mamma, you are wanted. Something terrible has happened. Mrs. Fea—you must go there instantly. Please do not lose a moment. It may be life or death. Peter will take you. Your cloak and over-shoes are yonder in the lobby. That is the nearest way; and I will follow you quickly and see what is the matter."
Now Mrs. Honeyman was the most notable nurse in all the island, and in all cases of sudden emergency she was always sent for, and delighted to go and show her kindliness and skill. She was on her feet in a moment now, and hurried with Charlotte into a little lobby on the other side of the room, where her walking things for the garden always hung, and where a side-door led straight out into the garden on that side of the house nearest to the Feas'. Peter caught up a cap and gave his arm to his mistress, but bent an imploring glance upon Charlotte.
"Missy, Missy, you must come too. I cannot leave you."
"I will be after you directly. I have but to run up these stairs here to my own room for something. Don't lose a moment. I shall overtake you. But I have something I must secure first. Lose not a moment in acquainting Mr. Fea with what has happened."
Mrs. Honeyman, was by this time unlocking the door, and Peter had no choice but to follow his mistress. Charlotte, drawing a long breath of relief in the consciousness that her mother was now safe, darted up the little stairway to her own room, and already fancied that she heard strange steps and voices in the house.
Her heart beat to suffocation in the thought that at any moment the other door might be dashed open, and some ruffian suddenly come in and snatch away her precious treasure. What a mercy it was that she had thought of secreting it like this! Here it was under her hand. She was already wrapped in her cloak; her precious package was in her arms, she was about to run down the little stairs again, when, to her horror, she heard rough voices in the parlour below, and the sound of oaths as the men called one to another in their hasty search.
"'Tisn't here! There's nothing here worth laying hands on. They must have hid it somewhere. Let's be off upstairs. Here's another staircase. Let's see where that leads to!"
Charlotte darted back into her room again, and drew the little bolt across it. But that would only give her a moment's respite, she knew. One or two heavy blows would bring the door crashing inwards; and what then? She could not fly out by the other one, down the main staircase, without encountering the man on guard at the hall-door. The sight of her precious package would be certain to attract their instant attention, and they had threatened with death all who strove to resist their project of robbery.
But if she were to give up the valuables? Then she might well escape. They had no personal quarrel with her; and nobody had told her to constitute herself the guard of the family property. For one brief instant, Charlotte hesitated; then, with a snort of contempt at her own cowardly thought, she dashed open the window, threw her precious package down into the garden beneath, and herself vaulted lightly after it.
She had performed this feat occasionally before, in the days of her tom-boy pranks with her brothers, but she had not often practised such a leap of late, and the darkness made it more difficult. She was conscious of a sharp thrill of pain in her foot as she reached the ground, but, striving not to think of this, she caught up her bundle and fled; a light instantly flashing from the window of the room she had quitted, showed her that she had only just made her spring in time.
With a heart that thumped so loud in her ears as to deaden all other sound, Charlotte sped onwards as fast as the injured foot would allow over the rough ground that separated her home from that of her friends. But, in a few moments, she was certain that she was pursued. She heard angry, threatening voices in the garden behind her. Glancing back she saw flashing lights, and through the still night air came the sound of curses, which bespoke very real disappointment. Evidently, the men had heard of the cash-box to be found in Mr. Honeyman's house, and were enraged that it was not forthcoming.
"Somebody has taken it and made off!" cried a stentorian voice. "After him, men!—scatter, and scour the place. He can't have got far! Blow out his brains if he resists. That money I will have. I don't come all this way on a fool's errand!"
Suddenly, close above her, the steps came to a dead stop.
Charlotte heard, and instantly was aware of flying footsteps in many directions, some coming her way. What could she do? Try as she would her progress was not rapid. The distance to the Feas' house, so short on ordinary days, now seemed endless. There were no trees to give cover. That windswept island was bare of any save stunted bushes, and even of these there were none to serve her purpose. If the moon should shine out she would instantly be seen. She was not certain that some of those fierce shouts did not mean that she had been seen already.
Breathless and terrified, but still clutching her treasure tightly, Charlotte made for a great hole in the bank that she had known from childhood. Into this friendly, yawning chasm she crept, pushing her bundle before her, and here she crouched in darkness, covered by the folds of her sombre cloak, expecting almost moment by moment to feel a rough hand pulling her forth, or the threat of a bullet through her brain if she did not instantly give up her treasure.
Footsteps came nearer and nearer. She shrank closer and closer into her hole. She felt her flesh creep as the ground shook beneath the heavy tread; it was all she could do to keep from uttering a cry. The horror of that approaching discovery was so very real to her.
Suddenly, close above her, the steps came to a dead stop. She had been discovered! She knew she had! Her senses almost forsook her. It was a moment that she never forgot. Then a voice spoke, a rough, raucous voice:
"You'd best come back. It's no good staying here. They're coming out from that other house with lights and servants. They've got wind of something up, and the sooner we get off with what we've found the better."
A sudden rebound of feeling made Charlotte almost cry aloud. And as she strained her ears to hear, the heavy tread of feet shook the ground once more, now in full retreat. A few minutes later, limping in her gait, her face as white as death, her dress covered with sand, her hands still grasping the bundle that held the treasure, Charlotte almost fell into Mr. Fea's fatherly arms, and told him all her tale.
"I don't know what Mr. Honeyman will say when he hears how near his little girl went to losing her life for the sake of some valuables," he said, as he led her into the house; "but one thing I know: he will be mighty proud of having such a heroine for a daughter."
"If he doesn't think I was only a little goose," panted Charlotte, beginning to look like herself. "But, oh, I am glad those wretches have not got the things! And are you sure they have hurt nobody?"
That was the end of Charlotte's personal exploit with the pirates; but there were many exciting days to follow, for in trying to get their vessel away quickly, they put out on a stormy night, and were driven ashore in the bay called Calf Sound, not far from the houses of Mr. Honeyman and Mr. Fea. There, after much effort and some little stratagem, the crew was finally captured, and Gow met his richly deserved fate and perished on the gallows.